As the end of the football season approaches – a season that will perhaps be remembered for a plethora of reasons off the field, rather than on it – it’s time to take a look at the if’s & maybe’s that have been resolved since the resumption of leagues around the world following the COVID pandemic.
Unless you’ve spent the last 3 or 4 months living under a rock or in a caravan in a desolate forest, you’ll have known for a while that Liverpool have finally clinched their first League title since the 1989/90 season – a long and at times painful wait for fans of The Reds.
Jurgen Klopp and his squad have however been unstoppable this season. 99 points. 85 goals. 55 points at home from a possible 57. Salah 19 goals. Mane 18 goals. Alexander-Arnold 13 assists from right-back. Simply and collectively incredulous.
Manchester City, despite a ludicrous 102 goals, falling 18 points short in a season that has seen a collar-full of pressure find it’s way upon Pep Guardiola.
1. Liverpool P38 GD +52 PTS 99
2. Manchester City P38 GD +67 PTS 81
Manchester United capped off a strong season by claiming 3rd in a year that has seen the emergence of the deadly and cohesive trio of Anthony Martial (17 goals, 6 assists), Marcus Rashford (17 goals, 7 assists) & 18 year-old Mason Greenwood (10 goals, 1 assist).
A Frank-Lampard-led Chelsea outfit managed an FA Cup Final and 4th place league finish in a season that The Blues can be pleased with despite not coming away with any silverware.
3. Manchester United P38 GD +30 PTS 66
4. Chelsea P38 GD +15 PTS 66
Leicester were the equivalent to a marathon runner making a fast start, enduring a steady mid-run, before tiring heavily and falling off the pace towards the end of the race.
Nevertheless, a 5th place finish, a Golden Boot winner, and automatic qualification into the Group Stage of the Europa League is nothing to be ashamed of for a club that looks continuously stronger under the leadership of Brendan Rogers.
Tottenham claimed 6th in a season that failed to live up to the hype after the arrival of football’s prime crotchety manager, Jose Mourinho.
5. Leicester P38 GD +26 PTS 62
6. Tottenham P38 GD +14 PTS 59
As is the case with every Premier League season, somebody has to be on the losing side and this edition was no different, with Bournemouth, Watford & Norwich’s fears of the drop becoming a reality at the conclusion of the football year.
Norwich, despite some promising signs early on with the likes of Teemu Pukki consistently finding the net, eventually showed their lack of Premier League class, managing just 21 points and 26 goals in what soon for them became a quite painful season to watch.
Watford have been relegated after a 5-season stay, perhaps unsurprisingly in what has become a club renowned for having more managers than days of the week, with the latest, Nigel Pearson, receiving his marching orders with just two games of the season left and the club still in a battle for survival. Somebody explain the logic behind that, please.
18. Bournemouth P38 GD -25 PTS 34
19. Watford P38 GD -28 PTS 34
20. Norwich P38 GD -49 PTS 21
Surprise package of the season – Bournemouth – opinions will be divided on this, and understandably so, but a squad that contains the likes of Callum Wilson, Josh King, Ryan Fraser, David Brooks, veteran Steve Cook, budding goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale as well as an impressive young manager in Eddie Howe, should not be finishing 18th, even in the Premier League.
This promise was shown with a final day thumping of Everton at Goodison Park, but as the old cliche rightly alludes to, too little too late.
What the future holds for The Cherries is now anything but certain, especially with the agreed mutual termination of Eddie Howe’s time at the reigns.
Spoiler – to get a glimpse of what one football club can mean to an individual, head over to the club’s Twitter page and watch their tribute to their ex-manager (and player), as well as reading up on Howe’s career journey so far, for some perspective.
As Liverpool fans have awaited a League title, Leeds fans have awaited a return to the top flight.
Marcelo Bielsa & co. have brought an end to that wait, which dates back to the 2003/04 season, at the same time ending a 10-season stay in the Championship.
Leeds United are Premier League again – for which I was fortunate to witness in person for 90 minutes shortly before the COVID pandemic rendered stadium’s empty for the remainder of the season.
Accompanying Leeds will be Premier League old boys West Brom & Fulham
The former have gone from strength-to-strength under the shrewd management of Slavin Bilic, whilst the latter, managed by Scott Parker who has proven his management credibility, came through the Play-Off’s and a Final where they were given little chance against a free-scoring Brentford side (bitterly disappointed we won’t be seeing the combination of Ollie Watkins, Said Benrahma & Bryan Mbeumo in the Premier League next season).
1. Leeds P46 GD +42 PTS 93
2. West Brom P46 GD +32 PTS 83
4. Fulham P46 GD +16 PTS 81 (PO)
On the flip-side, Charlton, Wigan & Hull suffered relegation in what was a closely run race at the bottom-half of the table.
Wigan in particular with a short straw, conceding a 12-point deduction at the conclusion of the season due to financial implications within the club.
Bizarrely, the absence of the deduction would have seen them finish in a comfortable 13th place after a remarkable solitary loss in their final 15 league games – the sometimes cruel world of football!
22. Charlton P46 GD -15 PTS 48
23. Wigan P46 GD +1 PTS 47
24. Hull P46 GD -30 PTS 45
In other news, the Football League will welcome two new faces in the form of Barrow & Harrogate Town who have won promotion from the National League.
Segunda Division (La Liga 2)
A nice story emerging from Spain’s second division with the promotion of Sociedad Deportiva Huesca, simply known as ‘Huesca’.
The club from the north east of Spain, gained promotion to the top division, La Liga, for the first time at the conclusion of the 2017/18 season after finishing in second place in La Liga 2, however, managed just 7 wins & 33 points in their debut season in the top flight (including conceding 8 against Barcelona at the Nou Camp), resulting in a 19th placed finish and an immediate demotion back to the second division.
Incredibly, Huesca’s home ground, Estadio El Alcoraz, seats just 7,638 at capacity.
Needless to say every one of those home supporters will be necessary if their club’s second attempt at La Liga is to be any more fruitful.
Accompanying Huesca will be Cadiz, who some might deem lucky to have held on to an automatic promotion spot after managing just 12 points in their final 10 fixtures (including a final day loss which saw Huesca pip them to the La Liga 2 title).
1. Huesca P42 GD +13 PTS 70
2. Cadiz P42 GD +11 PTS 69
Zaragoza, Almeria & Girona, who all have La Liga experience, in particular Zaragoza who have been unable to escape the second division for the past 6 seasons after spending all but 9 seasons in La Liga in the past 45 years, have all cemented their place in the Play-Offs, with Elche/Fuenlabrada battling it out for the final spot.
Fuenlabrada, who are in their debut La Liga 2 campaign, have a game-in-hand that requires nothing more than a draw in order for them to leapfrog Elche into 6th and claim the final spot for the Play-Off’s.
However, a large number of positive COVID results within the football club has resulted in the fixture being cancelled, postponed & now finally given the green light for Friday the 7th August by a Spanish judge, causing a delay in all the Play-Offs.
Girona will be predominantly indebted to the evergreen, Christian Stuani, who once again has consistently found the net for the ‘White and Reds’, bagging 29 goals to finish as the league’s top-scorer whilst taking his league tally for Girona to a remarkable 69 in 101 appearances – certainly giving Girona the edge in the forthcoming Play-Offs.
When these Play-Offs might occur is ,unfortunately for the fans of those clubs, is up in the air for the time being.
3. Almeria P42 GD +19 PTS 64 65
4. Almeria P42 GD +19 PTS 64
5. Girona P42 GD +5 PTS 63
6. Elche P42 GD +8 PTS 61
8. Fuenlabrada P41 GD +8 PTS 60
At the opposite end of the table, Numancia, Deportiva La Coruna, Extremadura & Racing Santander will be plying their trade in Segunda Division B, Spain’s third tier.
For Numancia supporters, this will be the first time in over 20 years that they have to watch their team play outside one of the top two Spanish divisions.
Despite having a game left to play, an inferior goal difference will see Deportiva La Coruna – with a pedigree of 46 La Liga seasons and two Spanish Cup wins to their name – play in Spain’s third tier for only the third time in the club’s 100-year history.
An astonishing fall from grace for a club with such a proud history.
19. Numancia P42 GD -8 PTS 50
20. Deportiva La Coruna P41 GD -18 PTS 48
21. Extremadura P42 GD -16 PTS 43
22. Racing Santander P42 GD -17 PTS 33
Real Madrid have finally managed to better their bitter rivals Barcelona and win their first La Liga title since the 2016/17 season.
Interestingly, this will be the first time they have won the league without Cristiano Ronaldo since before he joined the club, over a decade ago now.
For Barcelona, Leo Messi’s 25 league goals was enough to win him the Golden Boot, but not the title for the club, in a season where some bizarre results, such a 1-2 home loss to Osasuna in July, saw them relinquish top spot and the title.
The ever consistent Athletico Madrid claimed third whilst Sevilla concluded a strong season by claiming the final Champions League group stage qualification place.
1. Real Madrid P42 GD +45 PTS 87
2. Barcelona P42 GD +48 PTS 82
3. Athletico Madrid P42 GD +24 PTS 70
4. Sevilla P42 GD +20 PTS 70
Villarreal and Real Sociedad have secured qualification to the Europa League group stages, a drastic improvement for the more well known ‘The Yellow Submarine’ after their 14th place finish during the 2018/19 season.
5. Villarreal P42 GD +14 PTS 60
6. Real Sociedad P42 GD +8 PTS 56
Leganes, Mallorca & Espanyol have all been relegated to the Segunda Division in a season where the three clubs conceded a collective 174 goals.
A disastrous season for bottom club Espanyol who will play outside La Liga for the first time since 1993, whilst Mallorca – despite some strong performances at home throughout the season – drop straight back down after their promotion last season.
Leganes will play in Spain’s second tier after 4 seasons in La Liga where they never managed a finish higher than 13th.
18. Leganes P42 GD -19 PTS 36
19. Mallorca P42 GD -25 PTS 33
20. Espanyol P42 GD -31 PTS 25
Surprise package of the season – Granada – following their promotion from the Segunda Division in 2018/19, the Andalusian club secured themselves a 7th place finish and a place in the Europa League second qualifying round.
Arminia Bielefeld have won promotion back to the Bundesliga for the first time in over a decade, with talisman Fabian Klos firing a league-high 21 goals for ‘Die Blauen’ (The Blues) in a career that has now seen the 6 ft. 4, 32 year old German forward, score 137 goals in 316 appearances for the club.
Stuttgart, 5-time winners of Germany’s top division, make a return after a roller-coaster 5 seasons in which they have been relegated to 2. Bundesliga twice, only to gain promotion back to the Bundesliga straight away on both occasions.
1. Arminia Bielefeld P34 GD +35 PTS 68
2. VfB Stuttgart P34 GD +21 PTS 58
A third place finish for FC Heidenheim saw them earn a shot at gaining promotion to the Bundesliga through a Play-Off with Werder Bremen, who finished 16th in the Bundesliga, however, after two tightly contested matches which finished 0-0 and 2-2 respectively, ‘Die Werderaner’ retained their place in Germany’s top division on away goals after a second-leg that saw 94th & 97th minute goals.
SV Wehen Wiesbaden and Dynamo Dresden have been relegated to 3. Liga, whilst Nurnberg have a 96th minute goal by Fabian Schleusener to thank for their retention in 2. Bundesliga, after their relegation Play-Off against Ingolstadt ended 3-3 on aggregate, seeing them come out victorious on away goals.
17. SV Wehen Wiesbaden P34 GD -20 PTS 34
18. Dynamo Dresden P34 GD -26 PTS 32
Bayern Munich have continued their utter dominance, winning their eighth consecutive Bundesliga title, with Dortmund, Leipzig & Monchengladbach filling out the top four & securing themselves a spot in the group stages of next season’s Champions League, yet offering little resistance in breaking Bayern’s streak.
Robert Lewandowski has once again outdone himself, even by his own standards in the Bundesliga, managing an incredulous 34 league goals in 31 appearances.
1. Bayern Munich P34 GD +68 PTS 82
2. Borussia Dortmund P34 GD +43 PTS 69
3. RB Leipzig P34 GD +44 PTS 66
4. Borussia Monchengladbach P34 GD +26 PTS 65
Bayer Leverkusen and Hoffenheim ended strong seasons in 5th and 6th respectively, although Leverkusen fans will perhaps feel slightly aggrieved that the club slipped outside the top 4 given the strong positions they were in throughout various stages of the season.
Hoffenheim with a noteworthy improvement from 9th in 2018/19, Andrej Kramaric once again doing the bulk of their scoring, with 12 goals in 19 league appearances in a season marred with injury, including that no-look penalty in the 0-4 demolition of Dortmund in June.
5. Bayer Leverkusen P34 GD +17 PTS 63
6. 1899 Hoffenheim P34 GD 0 PTS 52
Paderborn and Fortuna Dusseldorf have endured catastrophic seasons, managing just 10 wins between them, and deservedly find themselves playing in 2. Bundesliga next season.
An immediate relegation for Paderborn after their promotion last season, whilst Dusseldorf end their two-season stay in the top flight despite German forward Rouwen Hennings managing 15 league goals (5th most in the league).
17. Fortuna Dusseldorf P34 GD -31 PTS 30
18. SC Paderborn P34 GD -37 PTS 20
Surprise package of the season – 1. FC Union Berlin – an 11th place finish, including 12 wins and 41 points, in their first ever season in the Bundesliga is an impressive effort.
The Stadion An der Alten Forsterei could prove a difficult place to travel to in the future for away teams, after a league 8th best points tally at home for ‘Die Eisernen’ (The Iron Ones).
The conclusion of Italy’s second tier has seen Benevento and Crotone safely secure themselves a place in Serie A for the 2020/21 season.
Benevento will compete in Serie A for only the second time in their history after comfortably winning this season’s Serie B, having previously played in Italy’s top flight during the 2017/18 season, where they managed just 6 wins, 21 points & the unwelcome bearer’s of the league’s wooden spoon.
Crotone, interestingly one of few clubs (if not the only) worldwide to include sharks within their badge, have earned their third attempt at Serie A after relegation in 2018/19.
Nigerian forward Simeon Nwankwo firing ‘Lo Squalo Calabrese’ (The Shark of Calabria) into automatic promotion with a league high 20 goals.
1. Benevento P38 GD +40 PTS 86
2. Crotone P38 GD +23 PTS 68
Spezia and Pordenone will be the first two teams to make up the Play-Off Semi-Finals after earning themselves automatic qualification after finishing 3rd & 4th respectively, the latter by the barest of margins of goal difference.
Cittadella, having finished 5th, Chievo, having finished 6th, Empoli, having finished 7th (with a final day victory coupled with other results turning in their favour), as well as Frosinone in 8th, have all made up the final battle to seal a spot in Serie A and trips to the likes of Juventus next season.
The Play-Offs commenced on Tuesday 4th August.
3. Spezia P38 GD +14 PTS 61
4. Pordenone P38 GD +2 PTS 58
5. Cittadella P38 GD 0 PTS 58
6. Chievo P38 GD +10 PTS 56
7. Empoli P38 GD -1 PTS 54
8. Frosinone P38 GD +3 PTS 54
A remarkably close bottom half of the standings saw a mathematical possibility of every club being unsafe from the danger that is the relegation zone, albeit plenty goals and some astounding winnings margins would have been necessary.
Livorno, after a season that has included just 21 points and a goal difference of -37, are to be relegated along with Juve Stabia & Trapani.
Pescara and Perugia, two clubs who were tipped to battle it out for promotion, will instead be clashing one final time this season to see who remains in Serie B, in the Play-Out taking place over two-legs beginning on Monday the 10th August.
16. Pescara P38 GD -7 PTS 45
17. Perugia P38 GD -11 PTS 45
18. Trapani P38 GD -12 PTS 44
19. Juve Stabia P38 GD -16 PTS 41
20. Livorno P38 GD -37 PTS 21
Much like Bayern Munich in Germany, Juventus have solidified their superiority of Italian football with their ninth consecutive title, amassing 83 points, 75 goals (of which 31 came from the luminary that is Cristiano Ronaldo) and losing just 5 times in the league all season.
Inter Milan, under the guidance of one Antonio Conte, managed just a point less than Juventus, albeit a large portion of that gap was minimised after the title was already mathematically The Old Lady’s, with a touch of complacency lending to 3 losses in their final 4 league games.
For Inter, Romelu Lukaku delivered 23 league goals in 36 appearances in his first attempt at Italian football. Unsurprising numbers for an immensely talented striker that receives criticism despite his career statistics being well above average, and a striker that Manchester United bizarrely let slip through their fingers (subjective opinion).
Atalanta further cemented their growing reputation as a powerhouse of Italian football with a second consecutive 3rd place finish, scoring an incredible league-high 98 goals, shared mainly between Duvan Zapata (18), Luis Muriel (18) & Josip Ilicic (15).
After giving themselves a fighting chance of their first Scudetto since the 1999/2000 season, Lazio succumbed to 6 defeats and a draw in their final 12 league games to finish in 4th, a respectable season nonetheless, particularly for Golden Boot winner Ciro Immobile & his 36 league goals.
1. Juventus P38 GD +33 PTS 83
2. Inter Milan P38 GD +45 PTS 82
3. Atalanta P38 GD +50 PTS 78
4. Lazio P38 GD +37 PTS 78
AS Roma and AC Milan rounded-out the remaining European places, albeit some distance off the top four, with Roma securing automatic qualification to the Europa League Group Stage, whilst AC Milan, now containing the services of the idiosyncratic yet undeniably brilliant Zlatan Ibrahimovic, will battle it out in the Qualifying Rounds.
The Swede and self-proclaimed ‘God’, managing 10 goals and 5 assists in 18 appearances.
5. AS Roma P38 GD +26 PTS 70
6. AC Milan P38 GD +17 PTS 66
Lecce, Brescia and Spal were unable to avoid relegation, with the latter two in particular experiencing two very poor seasons, with Spal accumulating the same amount of points as their final place in the standings.
Brescia, with the likes of Mario Balotelli (who managed more cards than goals) & Alfredo Donnarumma (who hit a Serie B league-high 25 goals last season) in their arsenal, managed just 7 goals in a disappointing season for the club from the northern part of the country.
18. Lecce P38 GD -33 PTS 35
19. Brescia P38 GD -44 PTS 25
20. Spal P38 GD -50 PTS 20
Surprise package of the season – Hellas Verona – after achieving promotion to Serie A through the Play-Off’s in 2018/19, a 9th place finish in the club’s first season back in the Italian top-flight is an effort to be proud of for fans of ‘I Mastini’ (The Mastiffs).
Rest of the World
For those who’s hunger for football is still not properly fed, we have the commencement of the Champions League & Europa League alongside the Chinese Super League & Scottish Premiership which have both just recently begun again.