Spurs and Newcastle face interesting futures
As near dead rubbers go, Newcastle’s 5-1 hammering of Spurs was quite extraordinary. The already-relegated Magpies destroyed the once title challengers with a scintillating counter-attacking display, while Spurs left Tyneside on the back of a lifeless performance their manager labelled as his worst in football. It may be easy to see this result as a surprisingly typical end to both side’s seasons. Newcastle, now unburdened by relegation stress, show the quality hiding behind their disastrous season, while Spurs end a season like any Pochettino side does: utterly leg-weary thanks to a campaign of relentless pressing football.
However, it could also be a sign of things to come. Newcastle, now looking likely to keep Rafa Benitez, could well build strongly down in the Championship, with the new manager’s popularity with the fans likely to buy him a level of control unprecedented under the Ashley regime. Spurs, on the other hand, risk turning a last-minute slump to a successful season into a disastrous beginning to the start of next. The manner in which they ultimately dropped away from the title run-in, and especially the cave-in at Stamford Bridge, rang alarm bells of a side that had completely lost its cool and mental professionalism. Hopefully the summer will allow them time to reset, but such a collapse runs the risk of spreading far beyond one end-of-season blip.
Saints hope to avoid a further summer dismantling
After a superb 2016, Ronald Koeman’s Southampton guaranteed a top-six finish which, without Leicester’s title magic, may well have been the story of the English top-flight. Having been in the third tier not too long ago, the Saints are a defiantly established top-flight club who nobody likes to play: a side that has consistently been full of skill and bite and that has been the birthplace of some excellent recent stars, both from the youth ranks and sly foreign investment. This has been all the more impressive when considering this sustained success has come whilst losing (along with a manager) their star left-back; right-back; centre-half; central midfielder; attacking playmaker and their most prolific striker. With suitors circling once again for the likes of Mane, Wanyama and van Dijk, as well as the manager, the Saints well have to march on next season having lost more of their successful stars. If there were to hold onto them, and build further depth in the squad, then this consistent good may yet become great.
Chelsea crowd class hide club embarrassment
Before JT stole the headlines with his half-thanks, half-F you to his beloved Chelsea, it was genuinely pleasing to see just how respectful the Stamford Bridge crowd were to the new champions as they played out a decent 1-1 draw. Ranieri was treated like a god, and throughout there was a thoroughly respectful atmosphere from a crowd who could well have taken the chance to vocally lament their own team’s failings in the face of the new Premier League kings. Indeed, Chelsea’s fans were almost too classy in their respect for the champions, and it hides the real horror of the end of a truly terrible season. Scraping into the top-ten, after months of woeful underachievement, a lost manager and uneasy relationships between players and fans could, and maybe should, have deserved more end-of-season distaste from the home faithful. As it turns out, the arrival of the loveable champs may have saved Chelsea from the deserved wrath of their home support.
An unwanted whimper after the fake bang
After the drama and ultimate farce of the abandoned game against Bournemouth, Manchester United faced the thankless task of playing out a dead rubber in front of a hugely-depleted ground that largely want their manager, LvG, gone. United deserve more praise both for their handling of the earlier evacuation and the reimbursements and free replay travel provided for fans who had had to miss the initial game. However, the manner in which they closed the season seems to have not pleased anyone. In truth, they played against Bournemouth, and scored some very attractive goals. However, this leisurely win to confirm missing out on the Champion’s League was almost worse than if they had lost the game. By winning this, and probably winning the FA Cup this weekend, the much-maligned LvG could yet keep his job, which the Old Trafford majority would not be pleased with. A defeat, while immediately horrifying, may have resulted in what the crowd want long-term. In reality, it seemed as if some of those goal-celebrating cheers carried a reserved sense of “oh no… he’s staying”.