Fitting finale to mixed bag of a season

NO BANG but lots of interesting noise for our last buck. With precious little at stake, the Premier League season was never going to give us another "Aguero moment" yet still managed an eventful finale.

City reached their century of points with a late intervention from a man called Jesus. Mo Salah took the Golden Boot and ensured Liverpool will be in the Champions League. Spurs won from 4-1 down and Arsene Wenger quipped that he should retire every week!

So, as the sun shone and the goals rained down, what to make of the EPL's 26th season?

City were simply too good. Too good for the rest as their monopoly of both ball and stats suggests, but too good for their own good at times. And for all their brilliance, they are not yet loved – they have too much money.

Having the most cash and the best coach seems unfair – City getting Pep Guardiola was like the governors of El Dorado hiring Midas.

Success seems inevitable and they appeared to be playing a different game to the rest. Most of their games were too one-sided to be contests – even those they lost.

Yet for all their superiority, the ultimate fantasies eluded them: those of lifting Old Big Ears and the once-in-a-lifetime clinching of the title against their neighbours in front of their own fans.

An inspired Liverpool and a cussed United managed to deny them both but we may never see another season like it – well, until next season perhaps. No one looks like getting close as long as Pep Guardiola stays and a dynasty appears his for the taking.

Still, football being football, you can't see them having it quite so easy again. Defenders began to stifle them as the season wore on. But it only reduced their winning margins.

Pep predicts that the strongest challenge will come from Liverpool next time around and not just because the Reds beat them three times out of four. And Jurgen Klopp's squad should be significantly stronger.

The dynamic Naby Keita is already coming but with the Philippe Coutinho money burning a hole in their pockets, expect at least a couple more marquee additions.

Having seen the improvement Virgil van Dijk has brought to the defence, the manager appears as good a judge of a player as he is motivator. Goalkeeper and another centre-back are the main areas of concern, but perhaps another striker is needed. After all, can we expect the magical Mo to score another 44 goals?

If City's season was ending in anti-climax until Gabriel Jesus brought up the century in such dramatic fashion, Liverpool's greatest moment may be still to come.

Victory over Real Madrid in Kiev would mark not just a remarkable turnaround in their campaign but would be a major landmark in the history of the club.

Liverpool have nowhere near the financial resources of City's backers, but are still blessed with a pretty special combination – a similarly inspirational manager and a fan base that makes up for the cash shortfall by being worth their weight in gold.

How Manchester United fans must envy their two closest rivals! They managed to rain on City's parade and got a win and a draw against Liverpool, but it was another season of dreary under-achievement that not even an FA Cup win over a disintegrating Chelsea would gloss over.

Just how a side that was as bad as any in the league at times managed to finish second is as great a mystery to Devils as it is to the rest of us. The Champions League loss to Seville was as lamentable any by a British club in Europe in living memory.

The recent draw with West Ham, the losses to Brighton and West Brom, earlier ones to Newcastle and Huddersfield, and, let's face it, even many of their wins were stupefying in their dullness and negativity.

And now with Jose Mourinho publicly shaming several of his squad, only a massive summer spend can give United fans any cause for optimism. At least they know there can't be another season like this.

With the consensus saying that Arsene Wenger began to lose the plot halfway through his reign at Arsenal, it is looking as if the same thing is happening before our eyes to Mourinho. He was once a great manager but since Inter Milan, his trajectory has been undeniably downward.

He's caused chaos at Real and Chelsea and now finds himself playing second and third fiddle to Guardiola and Klopp. Not only are they getting more of a tune out of their players, they are playing with that priceless commodity that used to be in United's DNA. Somewhere along the line, Mourinho left it on a bus.

The London challenge to the northern dominance is likely to depend on the managerial carousel. At Wembley, Mauricio Pochettino punctured the euphoria of a terrific fightback by putting a gun to his chairman's head.

With Chelsea in disarray and Arsenal at the end of an era, the Cockerel could be throwing away their best chance in half a century to rule the capital's roost – if they allow the Argentine to go.

He has demanded more money from Daniel Levy for new players, not to mention more wages for existing ones, but there's no guarantee it will be forthcoming. The cost of the new stadium could do to Spurs what the Emirates did to Arsenal if Levy holds tight.

With Everton having blown their big chance of muscling into the Big Six, the elite will almost certainly be in place next year which presents its own huge problem for the competitiveness of the league.

The new money — both petrodollars and broadcasting — has basically created two divisions within the Premier League with all that that entails for future finances. Another story for another day, but suffice to say this column will be on the front row next season. Pep vs Klopp Round Two should not be missed.


GOOD - Manchester City

The elation at reaching the century of points was telling. City were in danger of ending their magnificent season in scoreless anticlimax. Until a spot of divine intervention. Pep doesn't get the credit he deserves – he's broken every record - points, goals, wins – and won by a street yet some still say it's all down to money. It's not. See rich club below.

BAD - Chelsea

Liverpool were more nervous about their last game than they let on. But they need not have been. They could have slipped up against Brighton and still qualified for the Champions League thanks to Chelsea's abject no-show at Newcastle.

As it was, the Reds won 4-0. Chelsea's millionaires lost 3-0 to a bunch of bargain buys from Mike Ashley's sports shop. Shameful!

STUPID - Ernesto Valverde

This is a first. With two games to go to become the first club ever to go through an entire Spanish season unbeaten, the Barcelona boss decides to rest Lionel Messi at lowly Levante.

There was no big Champions League final coming up and the little maestro wasn't even nursing a knock. What happens?

Little Levante race into a 5-1 lead. Barca hit the panic button and claw back to 5-4.

But without their talisman, they can't conjure up an equaliser and the shot at history is lost. Senor Valverde has a lot of explaining to do.