Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 June 2019

English football's 2018/19 season review: the sublime and the ridiculous

From Raheem Sterling's stand against racism to Mohamed Salah surviving second season syndrome, we take a look at the defining moments

Vincent Kompany of Manchester City lifts the trophy following the FA Cup Final match between Manchester City and Watford at Wembley Stadium. Getty Images
Vincent Kompany of Manchester City lifts the trophy following the FA Cup Final match between Manchester City and Watford at Wembley Stadium. Getty Images

Now Liverpool have etched their name on Europe's greatest prize, the 2018/19 season was a high mark for English football.

Manchester City completed an unprecedented domestic treble by pipping Liverpool to the Premier League title. They thrashed Watford in the most lopsided FA Cup final since the Second World War.

City's silver rush started in February with victory against Chelsea on penalties in the EFL Cup final. Perhaps if goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga hadn't defied manager Maurizio Sarri by refusing to come off for the shootout, this season may have been very different.

There was some solace for Sarri and Chelsea, though, with the London club taking Europe's second prize late in May with a 4-1 win against Arsenal in Baku.

Here's a look at the defining moments, the biggest talking points, the best goals and the most ridiculous of howlers that shaped the season.

The sublime: The 10 best goals of the season

The talking points: City's treble winning year

Manchester City made history in 2017-18 by being the first Premier League side to reach 100 points.

Matching that would be a daunting prospect to most teams. Not to Pep Guardiola and his men though.

Yes, they missed out on three figures as a points total, but they still got 98, which they ended up needing as they held off Liverpool's fierce challenge and became the first side in 10 years to win back-to-back titles.

They also became the first English side to complete the domestic treble, as they won the League Cup in February on penalties against Chelsea and then routed Watford 6-0 in the FA Cup final.

Not even United in their pomp under Sir Alex Ferguson did that.

The Uefa Champions League still remains outstanding for City but domestically they statistically proved themselves the most successful over one season in England.

The introduction of VAR

VAR will be part of the Premier League in 2019/20 and it is likely to have dramatic consequences.

English teams in Europe and those competing in the semi-finals and final of the FA Cup had an early taster of it.

City and Tottenham Hotspur will certainly never forget it after their Uefa Champions League quarter-final.

City thought they had reached the semi-finals thanks to Sergio Aguero's last-gasp goal. However, it was agonisingly, but correcly, ruled out by VAR for offside and Tottenham went through.

VAR will take some getting used to in the Premier League. But if City v Tottenham is anything to go by it will provide some unforgettable moments and create more talking points.

Has Solskjaer made Man Utd any better?

It was a period of two halves for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in his return to English football as a manager.

He took over as a caretaker manager initially, before getting the job full-time, after United had fired Jose Mourinho in December.

He got off to a flier, winning his first eight games. Beating Paris Saint-Germain 3-1 in Paris to reach the Champions League quarter-finals was the high point.

But form fell away horrifically in the final weeks and they lost 2-0 at home to already relegated Cardiff on the final day of the season.

Solskjaer enjoyed an early boost but then the same issues that faced Mourinho hit home. Inconsistent form from key players, injuries, and silly mistakes on the pitch.

Starting next season strongly will be vital for Solskjaer, otherwise he could be following in Mourinho's footsteps with a mid-season exit.

Top 6 dominating as top 6 should

Leicester City's 2016 title win feels a long time ago. The big six took the top six spots and emphatically so.

The nine-point gap from Wolverhampton Wanderers in seventh to sixth-placed United is flattered by the Old Trafford's wretched end to the season.

Indeed the sides in third to sixth - Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and United - all ended the season poorly. If their form in April/May had been nearer that in earlier months they would all have been nearer 80 points, painting a more realistic picture from the gap between the leading six and the other 14 sides.

Tottenham did their bit for entertainment by losing 13 times, still finishing fourth though, with six of those losses being to sides who finished seventh or below.

Mohamed Salah avoids second season syndrome

He was not as spectacular as he was in 2017-18, but Mohamed Salah still had a second fine season at Liverpool.

His 22 goals was 12 less then in his debut year, but he helped fire the Merseyside club to a thrilling title challenge. It also got him a share of the top scorers prize in the league, along with teammate Sadio Mane and Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

His pace and trickery still causes teams headaches. There were less standout solo displays this time around, but there didn't need to be as Liverpool were a stronger side than the year before, with Mane particularly stepping up.

Salah is still box office and Liverpool fans will hope he can maintain his level in 2019/20.

Sterling against racism

The ugly side of football was on show in December when pictures of Raheem Sterling being racially abused at Chelsea in a Premier League game came to light.

It highlighted an issue that remains prevalent in European football.

Sterling, excellent on the field again for Man City this year, wrote sensibly and honestly on social media about his lack of surprise at the incident.

"Regarding what was said at the Chelsea game, as you can see by my reaction I just had to laugh because I don’t expect no better," he wrote on Instagram.

He was later joined by Tottenham's Danny Rose, who discussed his frustration with the lack of significant sanctions by Uefa after Montenegro fans were found to have made racist chants at England players, which included Sterling.

The incident in Italy where Juventus forward Moises Kean was abused by Cagliari fans, and then was criticised by his own manager and a teammate for having the temerity to celebrate a goal in front of those who had insulted him, summed up the backwards attitude in parts of Europe.

Sterling's mature handling of a horrible situation raised awareness on the problem, but it is depressingly something likely still to be an issue next season.

Newcastle takeover saga

It was another season of survival and effectively pulling a rabbit out of the hat for Newcastle United.

They had not won a game until November yet Rafa Benitez's season ended up comfortably clear of the relegation zone in 13th place.

There is hope that better could be ahead for Newcastle as fans hope this finally could be the summer their much derided owner Mike Ashley departs.

The club administrators are in talks over a possible sale to the Dubai-based Bin Zayed Group at present.

Hazard's fond farewell

Chelsea are facing the prospect of life without Eden Hazard next season, with the Belgian set to join Real Madrid.

He deserves to leave on a high after a superb season in which he played a huge role in the club finishing third in the league and winning the Europa League.

He will be a huge hole to fill at Stamford Bridge. Six trophies, two of them titles, in a period of instability between the summer of 2012 and now in which he has played under seven managers, is no mean feat.

Chelsea and the Premier League's loss is Real Madrid's gain.

Kepa's league Cup final meltdown - player power

Player power is on the rise in football it is believed. They can demand transfers these days and generally have the upper hand in politics off the field.

Kepa Arrizabalaga proved that also now counts in game action too. His refusal to come off the pitch in the League Cup final remains one of the most memorable moments of the season.

It was put down to confusion as Maurizio Sarri, the Chelsea manager, had thought he was injured, but Kepa's refusal to even come to the touchline when his number was held up was tantamount to a rebellion.

Just to compound things he then allowed a penalty in the shoot-out to slip through his hands as they lost to Man City.

Villa back where they belong

Aston Villa were given a royal seal of approval on their return to the Premier League after a three-year gap in May.

Prince William roared Villa on from a corporate box as they defeated Derby County 2-1 in the play-off final to join Norwich City and Sheffield United in being promoted from the Championship.

Villa were title challengers in the 1992-93 season when English football's top tier had been rebranded as the Premier League.

Not even the most wildly optimistic Villa fan will expect Dean Smith's men to be pushing Man City next season, but how the Midlanders do should be fascinating.

The ridiculous: The haunting howlers

Updated: June 2, 2019 03:36 PM

SHARE

SHARE

Editor's Picks