Premier League hits and misses: Farewell Sergio Aguero, Liverpool's second chance, Arsenal's glimpse of future

Klopp’s Liverpool grind out chance to go again

“If someone told me five, six, eight weeks ago we can finish the season in third… it was out of reach, barely possible.”

Jurgen Klopp could hardly believe his injury-plagued squad’s achievement, and the same probably applied to the rest of the Premier League.

Seven points adrift of the top four prior to a sensational 10-game unbeaten run to the finish line, Liverpool’s capture of a remarkable 26 points from a possible 30 has salvaged their season and laid the foundations for their response in the campaign to come.

Not only did Liverpool secure Champions League football, their final day 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace, sealed by Sadio Mane’s double, wrapped up third spot and an automatic berth to the group stage of Europe’s elite club competition.


  • Liverpool 2-0 Crystal Palace – Match report and highlights
  • Jurgen Klopp bids emotional farewell to Giorginio Wijnaldum | Gini: I will miss Liverpool
  • Get Sky Sports | Premier League table | Top scorers

The standards Liverpool have set under Klopp mean this achievement, however unexpected, will not be the source of lengthy celebrations, but what it does do is provide the platform for Klopp dethroned champions to make amends.

The confirmation of Georginio Wijnaldum’s departure added to the significance of securing Champions League football. Players will still be attracted to the lure of Anfield, strengthening Klopp’s hand further as he prepares to mastermind his next assault on silverware.
Jack Wilkinson

Chelsea misfiring, but progress is marked

Thomas Tuchel said after Chelsea’s defeat by Aston Villa that this performance summed up their season. He is mostly right.

The defeat, irrelevant after Spurs ironically helped out their bitter rivals with the win over Leicester, was packed full of missed Chelsea chances, a familiar theme in a second half of a campaign that has nevertheless ultimately been successful. Since Tuchel joined, Chelsea’s conversion rate excluding penalties is 9.52 per cent, 17th in the Premier League. Jorginho finished their top league scorer with seven, all coming from the spot.

  • Aston Villa 2-1 Chelsea – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

Having taken Chelsea from 10th in January to the top four, it may make you wonder where this side would be had they been more clinical. But with a Man City-shaped ceiling on the division, anything above second was out of reach.

It does however bring encouragement for next season. They’re not doing a lot wrong, and the chances are being created in abundance – they’ve created 245 since Tuchel arrived, more than any Premier League side.

The hardest part, as they say, is putting the ball in the net, but the signs suggest that the floodgates will open, with the likes of Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and in particular Timo Werner now carrying a year of Premier League experience under their belt. Tuchel should resist any big changes this summer, as they are not far away. This top-four spot is a necessary mark of huge progress.
Gerard Brand

Super Kane shows importance to Spurs

Sunday was a momentous day for Harry Kane in a number of ways. Firstly, it could have been his last ever game in a Tottenham shirt, and what a remarkable way to bow out.

  • Leicester 2-4 Tottenham – Report and free match highlights
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His first-half equaliser was incredibly well taken – a side-footed volley with plenty of zip that nutmegged Kasper Schmeichel. It bought up his 23rd goal of the season and was enough to beat Mohamed Salah to the Golden Boot.

His latest victory bought his tally of trophies to three – level with Premier League great Alan Shearer. At the age of 27, Kane could easily double his Golden Boot tally, should he stay in the Premier League.

And then we move down to his assists – he racked up 14 in 35 Premier League appearances, also earning him the Playmaker awarded for the most assists in a season. His 14th came at the King Power too, finding Gareth Bale at the top of the area as the Welshman fired Spurs into the lead.

With 23 goals and 14 assists, he recorded his best Premier League season for goal involvements (37), overtaking his 36 from 2016-17 and he truly demonstrated how vital he is for Spurs, as well as his incredible individual talent.

Tottenham interim manager Ryan Mason said: “I’ve said all along that he’s the best players in the Premier League – most goals and most assists says it all.

“I feel very honoured to have played with him, we had some amazing experiences coming through the ranks and I’ve been very fortunate in these past five weeks to have coached him, to have managed thing and he turned up again today.

“He scores important goals in important moments and showed moments of brilliance. I’m very pleased that Harry has got another Golden Boot to add to the collection.”

It serves as a timely reminder too with summer approaching and Kane looking likely to leave. Tottenham will have one hell of a job on their hand finding another striker like him.
Charlotte Marsh

Leicester stumble at the final hurdle

It’s another agonising near-miss for Leicester. Heading into the final half an hour of the Premier League’s final day, things were going the Foxes’ way and they were heading into the Champions League.

But a freak Kasper Schmeichel own goal sparked a dramatic collapse from Leicester. A sensational cameo from Gareth Bale sucker-punched Brendan Rodgers’ side as they slipped into fifth for a second successive season.

After a sensational FA Cup victory, there just wasn’t enough left in the tank to see them over the line and into Europe’s top competition. Leicester have had their own share of struggles this season and the loss of key defender Wesley Fofana early in the game, plus Jonny Evans in midweek, had a huge impact.

  • Thomas Tuchel: We’re lucky Spurs did job for us | Brendan Rodgers: It hurts
  • Leicester 2-4 Tottenham – Report and free match highlights

Brendan Rodgers said: “We said before that if we didn’t make it, we’d be disappointed. We were twice up in the game, we struggled without the presence of Wesley, who went off early, and Jonny not being in there.

“It hurts at the moment and probably will do for a few days. But when I look back overall and reflect on what the players have given, despite the obstacles we’ve had, I’ll have great pride in what they’ve achieved.”

And Rodgers is absolutely right. Plenty of teams wanted that fifth spot – just ask Tottenham. And when we look back on this season, the Premier League finish won’t be the first thing we talk about, it will be Leicester’s FA Cup triumph and that is something to be immensely proud of.

Progress takes time and this season Leicester took another big step towards their overall ambitions and showed they can compete at the top. Next season? Compete again in the trophies and secure the Champions League. They have the talent both on and off the field to do both.
Charlotte Marsh

Pepe gives Arsenal hope of brighter future

An eighth-placed finish and no European football for the first time in 25 years. Throw in an angry fanbase staging protests at every opportunity and Arsenal don’t look like a very happy club right now.

But are there signs of encouragement amid the turmoil? The Premier League table since Christmas suggests so – only Manchester City and Manchester United have accrued more points than Arsenal in that period – and so too does the form of Nicolas Pepe.

The Ivorian has endured difficult spells in England since his arrival at Arsenal from Lille for an eye-watering £72m fee two summers ago but his match-winning double against Brighton made it five goals in his last three appearances – and eight in his last 10.

  • Arsenal 2-0 Brighton – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

They are the kind of numbers Arsenal were hoping for when they paid a club-record fee for him two years ago and his overall total of 16 goals and five assists this season is all the more impressive when you consider a third of his appearances have come from the bench.

Now, though, a player who has drifted in and out of the team for much of his time at Arsenal looks to have established himself in the starting line-up.

Mikel Arteta says he has “changed his mindset” and his performance at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday showed once again how he and Arsenal are feeling the benefits. Pepe played with confidence and intensity and he took his goals brilliantly.

Academy graduates Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and perhaps even the on-loan Joe Willock have been held up as the flagbearers of the club’s future. But at 25 and with plenty of room for further improvement, Pepe looks set to play a significant role in it too.
Nick Wright

Villa improve by 20 points… now depth is key

Aston Villa have finished the season 20 points better off than last term. Only West Ham (26 points) can boast a better improvement than Dean Smith’s side as they saved two of their best performances for last with wins over Spurs and Chelsea.

Smith inferred after the Chelsea win that while Villa have been defensively solid on the whole this year, they lacked creativity with Jack Grealish out of the side. They won just 21 per cent of their games without him, and won 54 per cent with their skipper.

But it’s mission accomplished yet again as Smith reflects on his third season at the club. After promotion, Villa’s first season in the Premier League was about surviving. The second was about consolidating, and the third will be about improving on that solid base.

Only Leeds made fewer than Villa’s 47 starting XI changes this season, only Leeds and Crystal Palace used fewer players, and Villa fielded the youngest average starting XI at just 25 years and 71 days.

Smith has a bunch of raw, eager, talented players, but they’ll need back-up. Squad depth should be priority.
Gerard Brand

Willock shows the way – but will it happen?

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Newcastle’s season on the pitch, personnel have made the difference for Steve Bruce’s side and no one more than Joe Willock, whose goalscoring feats since his January move from Arsenal have catapulted his loan team up the table.

Steve Bruce looks likely to remain as manager next season and not by popular demand, so being pragmatic, the only answer is to get more bodies like him in the door at St James’ Park. He, Allan Saint-Maximin, and to a lesser extent the likes of Matt Ritchie and Miguel Almiron can turn the quality of the team.

  • Fulham 0-2 Newcastle – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

If you’re looking for a player like Joe Willock, then the best player to sign is probably Joe Willock. That looks a difficult possibility after Mikel Arteta’s words last week but Bruce again said he wanted to “test Arsenal’s resolve” over a permanent move after a seventh goal in as many games to beat Fulham, and give Newcastle their highest points tally since their return to the Premier League four years ago.

Even if he doesn’t come, investment of his quality will get Newcastle back to somewhere approaching where they believe they belong. Allan Saint-Maximin said exactly the same to Sky Sports last week, in an interview which almost felt like a tapping-up exercise with his desire to see his friend and team-mate stay at St James’ Park.

The million-dollar question is will it happen. The multi-million dollar answer, given Newcastle have been in this state of unhappy equilibrium for most of the last two decades now, is probably not.
Ron Walker

The only way is up for Bielsa and Leeds

There were big doubts at the start of the season as to whether Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds would have the quality, or staying power, to make a success of their return to the Premier League.

Would the Argentine’s relentless playing style and ferocious training methods wear his players out in the second half of the campaign like at so many of his previous clubs? And how would the Leeds players adapt to life in the top flight?

  • Leeds United 3-1 West Brom – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

Well, those questions have well and truly been answered by the club’s impressive ninth-placed finish, secured after a fourth straight league win on Sunday, the club’s best top-flight run for 19 years.

And not only that, but the three goals Bielsa’s free-flowing and attack-minded side netted against West Brom at Elland Road means Leeds are now the highest-scoring promoted team in Premier League history.

Add in that none of the top six managed to win at Leeds this campaign, coupled with their improved defensive displays in the second half of the season, then Bielsa’s side have plenty to look forward to next season.
Richard Morgan

Aguero signs off in style, but Foden’s importance shines through

In the 65th minute, the Manchester City fans got their moment as Sergio Aguero came on for his final Premier League appearance in a Manchester City shirt.

Man City’s record goalscorer, who is leaving the club after next week’s Champions League final, hit a quickfire double in a fairy-tale Etihad Stadium farewell as the champions wrapped up their Premier League campaign by thrashing Everton 5-0.

Aguero's record breaking Man City career in numbers

It was the dream way to sign off for Aguero, who got his hands on the Premier League trophy for a fifth time before the club paid their own tributes to the Argentinean striker.

“We cannot replace him,” said City boss Pep Guardiola in an emotional interview to Sky Sports after the game, and while that may be true, the future is still extremely bright for City, who have the chance to add the Champions League to their Premier League and Carabao Cup successes.

  • Man City 5-0 Everton – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

There is a plethora of talent in his squad to take up the mantle, including the sensational Phil Foden.

Foden once again showed his importance to Guardiola’s side, making them tick alongside Kevin De Bruyne and scoring his side’s third.

The England international has now played a direct hand in 26 goals for Manchester City in all competitions this season (16 goals and 10 assists), the second-most of any City player after Kevin De Bruyne (28).

His importance was highlighted when Guardiola, who will have had next week’s Champions League final in mind, went to his bench for the first time and the player brought off was Foden.

The 20-year-old not only has a crucial role to play next week against Chelsea but in City’s future, and Guardiola knows it.
Oliver Yew

Work to be done for Ancelotti and Everton

A season that promised so much for so long for Everton, ends in a whimper.

The Toffees started the day still in with a chance of securing European football but the 5-0 defeat to champions City saw them drop to 10th, which is the lowest position they have been all season.

It will be easy for Carlo Ancelotti’s side’s capitulation at the Etihad to linger in the minds of the Everton fans through the summer, but it’s important to remember there were positive signs for the club this season.

There were the wins at Anfield and the Emirates Stadium and for so long this season it looked like European football would be back at Goodison Park.

However, their poor home form, in amongst other things, proved extremely costly in the end and it will be something Ancelotti, who suffered the heaviest defeat of his managerial career in what was his 1,167th game in management, will be looking to solve.

And he insists he, and the club, have a clear idea of what improvements needed to be made to a squad, which just run out of steam on the home straight.

He said: “We have 10 more points on the table, we had some fantastic results – we won the derby, we won against some top teams but we were not good at home and this is where we have to improve and work in the summer to find the right players to improve the squad.

“We have an idea, a clear plan on how we can improve the squad. In the summer we will follow this plan. We have to put, in general, more quality in the squad to try to play more attractive football, to have more quality from the back. This is where we are working.”

So, a disappointing end to Ancelotti’s first full season in charge, but many a successful side wasn’t built in one season.

In amongst the disappointment, the facts are Everton have made improvements, but another important summer awaits Ancelotti and the club, who need to kick on again next season.
Oliver Yew

Moyes redefining the West Ham way

“I hope you’re all vaccinated and passports are up to date – as we’re going to Europe,” bellowed David Moyes on the microphone as he serenaded 10,000 West Ham on the pitch in the aftermath of their 3-0 win over Southampton. He spoke with great authority and confidence in front of a fanbase that has struggled to really appreciate him. Up until now that is.

  • West Ham 3-0 Southampton – Match report and highlights
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Moyes has skilfully built a robust yet dangerous side that is all about team cohesion. Declan Rice is probably their only player bordering on world-class but despite his important role, this isn’t a team built around him. Each member of Moyes’ squad complement one another.

The Czech duo of Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal, who were on the pitch at full-time with their young children looking very much at home, define what West Ham under Moyes are all about. Reliable, strong, ruthless and able to produce big moment at big times in matches.

Pablo Fornals was the one to step up to that role against Southampton, scoring two goals within three minutes of one another to put West Ham firmly in control in what was a stress-free afternoon for the returning Hammers fans, who are going on a European adventure.
Lewis Jones

Will Man Utd build on fine away record?

It would have pained some managers to pick the team that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer felt compelled to select for the final game of the season given their proud away record.

But with the Europa League final against Villarreal looming on Wednesday night, the Manchester United boss had to rest players – and his back-ups delivered for him.

Goals from Anthony Elanga and Juan Mata earned United the 2-1 win at Wolves that means they become only the fourth team in history to finish a top-flight season unbeaten away.

Solskjaer even felt able to joke that he was grateful to be forced into the decision given that this was his first victory as a manager at Molineux at the fifth attempt.

  • Wolves 1-2 Man Utd – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

And the truth is that Solskjaer is unlikely to have been concerned at all about trusting in youth. As someone who keenly understands the club’s traditions, he will take pride in it.

“It was a game in the spirit of Manchester United, Sir Alex and Sir Matt, that you give these players a chance,” he said afterwards. United supporters will appreciate that.

They will appreciate it even more if the man who has brought that sense of identity back to Old Trafford can now follow it up by fulfilling the key part of his remit – winning trophies.

United will be favourites against Villarreal but the hope is that victory in Gdansk could be a springboard for future success, and a real tilt at the Premier League title next season.

The three previous teams to go a season unbeaten away from home all won the title, with two of them – Preston in 1888/89 and Arsenal in 2003/04 – being unbeaten at home too.

If United can improve the home form with supporters back at Old Trafford, while maintaining anything like this away record and there is cause for optimism next time around.
Adam Bate

Hodgson’s worth cannot be underestimated

Spoiling his former club’s late surge into the top four would have been a fitting way to go out but, in the end, the ending Roy Hodgson had hoped to bring the curtain down on his four years at Crystal Palace wasn’t to be.

Defeat at Anfield may well prove to be the final chapter in the career of one of English football’s pioneering managers. After 22 managerial appointments at club and international level, Hodgson departs the Premier League as one of the game’s good guys, a man who stuck to his principles and added Crystal Palace to the list of clubs to benefit from his astute stewardship.

Hodgson has refused to rule out a return to management in the future, but at the age of 73, and with avenues opening away from the dugout – notably, his recent invitation to join the government’s panel for a review into the governance of English football – we may well have seen him for the last time.

It’s a realisation that will only truly sink in with time. As the saying goes, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’. You sense that phrase will resonate through the Premier League in the coming years, but nowhere more than Selhurst Park.

With Hodgson departing, and with a number of his stalwart players facing uncertain futures, Palace are faced with a rebuilding job similar to the one Hodgson inherited from Frank de Boer four years ago. Finding someone of Hodgson’s calibre to oversee it is the challenge placed in front of the Eagles.
Jack Wilkinson

Big summers ahead for Blades and Burnley

Sheffield United and Burnley will compete in different divisions next season but big summers lay ahead for both sides.

There were contrasting emotions for returning supporters at Bramall Lane: the relief at the conclusion of a miserable season, the joy of pushing through the turnstiles again and celebrating a fitting David McGoldrick goal on their Premier League farewell; the sense of what might have been – few clubs could have boasted the deep connection between manager, players and supporters in the Chris Wilder years; the feeling of trepidation about the club’s prospects as Wilder’s successor is yet to be named.

Paul Heckingbottom called for clarity ahead of a bittersweet afternoon but even after his side’s final flourish, admitted he remains in the dark as to what the future holds: “Players, staff need talking to – it’s really important we have a quick decision.”

  • Sheff Utd 1-0 Burnley – match report and highlights
  • Sheff Utd down – and now in need of direction

It is the end of one era but only with clarity can Sheffield United truly start to look ahead to the next. Only can they then begin remodelling their squad, healing the psychological wounds of relegation and boosting their chances of doing what Norwich and Watford have done in making an immediate return.

Heckingbottom’s selections have reflected the emergence of an exciting new crop of academy talent – Daniel Jebbison impressed again here under the watchful eye of McGoldrick – but strategic investment in the club’s infrastructure is needed if the Blades are to bounce back stronger.

“Burnley have a fantastic new training facility that will be there forever,” Heckingbottom shrewdly noted. “There has to be a legacy for being in the Premier League.”

Burnley, secure of a place in the top flight for a sixth successive season, were long the template for Wilder before his acrimonious departure but they too have work to do this summer.

Sean Dyche, who has one year left on his contract, laughed when asked whether the game at Bramall Lane might be his last in charge and yet he also warned earlier in the week that the game of football holds no guarantees.

Dyche has continued masterful work in keeping Burnley heads above water on modest resources – just £1m was spent across the last two windows – but chairman Alan Pace has vowed to back him in the transfer market. ALK’s leveraged takeover deal for the club attracted scrutiny in December but only by the end of August will supporters have a truer sense of the owners’ vision and the Clarets’ direction.
Kate Burlaga

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