Another season of Premier League thrills and spills is coming to an end, and it is that time of year when our writers run the rule of who flew and who flopped in this campaign.
Erling Haaland took his first season in England by storm as Manchester City held off an unexpected challenge by Arsenal to win the title, their fifth in six seasons. Newcastle outstripped all predictions to finish in the top four, Brighton and Aston Villa produced outstanding campaigns despite managerial changes, while Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham all toiled.
At the other end of the table, Leeds United sacked Marcelo Bielsa but couldn’t revive their season under Javi Gracia, Everton and Leicester struggled as Frank Lampard and Brendan Rodgers paid the price with their jobs too, while Southampton sank.
Here are our writers’ end-of-season awards, and if you’d like a laugh you can take a look back at our pre-season predictions too.
Player of the season
Miguel Delaney: Erling Haaland. It can only be one, due to that number of goals. A month earlier and it might have been Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka but Haaland has personified City’s unprecedented force.
Richard Jolly: Kevin De Bruyne. There were points this season, safe in the knowledge the extraordinary Erling Haaland would win the awards, when I considered voting for Bukayo Saka or Marcus Rashford. In the end, I went for the outstanding individual in the two games against Arsenal which decided the title and the player whose best is better than anyone else’s, in De Bruyne.
Lawrence Ostlere: Erling Haaland. A look back at some pre-season predictions is a useful reminder that few thought Haaland would hit the ground running in his first season, let alone run away with the Golden Boot. He edges out Arsenal’s midfield, Newcastle’s defence and Harry Kane.
Jack Rathborn: Erling Haaland. A goal every 75 minutes. Astonishing.
Karl Matchett: Erling Haaland. Doesn’t feel as though there will be huge arguments to the contrary…
Alex Pattle: Martin Odegaard. I’ll admit that this is partly for the sake of variety, but in any case… The Norway international is still just 24 but legitimately emerged as one of the best midfielders in the world this season. Even when a young Arsenal team were faltering, he nearly dragged them to the Premier League title when he had no right to, contributing 15 goals and seven assists. A real joy to watch when he’s pulling the thread to fray defences.
Jamie Braidwood: Erling Haaland. Video game numbers – but shout out to Marcus Rashford, whose form after coming back from the World Cup was extraordinary, capping a tremendous comeback campaign after the lows of last season.
Sonia Twigg: Erling Haaland. It feels a bit like jumping on the bandwagon here but I can’t overlook Erling Haaland. Some players struggle to adapt to the Premier League and he’s taken to it better than anyone expected and blown records away in the process.
Luke Baker: Erling Haaland. I’ll be contrarian for the sake of variety in some of the other categories but I’ve got to establish credibility early on and any answer other than Erling Haaland (*cough* Alex *cough*) is just factually incorrect.
Kieran Jackson: Erling Haaland. The most clinical No 9 the Premier League has ever seen? Perhaps. All it took was a below-par Community Shield performance for the doubters to surface. How silly they all look now.
Michael Jones: Erling Haaland. It’s the boring choice but it couldn’t have been anyone else after such an incredible year. Can he replicate it next season?
Manager of the season
MD: Roberto De Zerbi. It feels like almost every coach who hasn’t been sacked has a claim to be manager of the season but De Zerbi stands out for three reasons: one was immense overachievement with a club who have grown organically, all the more so as it was without a pre-season. Two is the dazzling football played. Three is the reason for that football, which was genuine innovation.
RJ: Gary O’Neil. If Manchester City win the treble, it is Pep Guardiola. For now, however, this vote goes to the Bournemouth boss: he took over a side that had just lost 9-0, whose previous manager was open in his belief the players were not good enough and when he had never been a manager before. And, in a division featuring some of the world’s best managers, O’Neil kept Bournemouth up with several games to go.
LO: Mikel Arteta. They were widely predicted to finish fifth or sixth but Arsenal were the best team in the Premier League for a large chunk of the season, playing the kind of football that only comes from being extremely well-coached on the training pitch, and Arteta should get great credit for that.
JR: Eddie Howe. The manner in which Pep Guardiola guides City to a treble might see him overtake Howe if all competitions are considered. But Newcastle’s top-four finish in the Premier League was a tougher feat than a fifth title in six years for City.
KM: Eddie Howe. To lose fewer and concede fewer than everybody but the champions will be a formidable achievement, especially if they go on to seal third too. There has been money spent, but this year’s cohesion and consistency is a feat of coaching.
AP: Eddie Howe. Newcastle’s squad is solid enough, but there’s no doubt that they’ve wildly overperformed. That’s largely down to Howe, who – one would suspect – will only have more success as the club increases its spending over the coming season or two.
JB: Pep Guardiola. Perhaps a boring answer given the resources at his disposal, but has a team ever looked this unstoppable in the Premier League era? Man City’s ownership has created this – but Guardiola tactical invention allows it to reach such heights. This season has been his magnum opus.
ST: Eddie Howe. It seems inconceivable that 18 months ago they were in the relegation zone. I know they have spent money, but a lot of the squad still remains from then and Howe has done exceptionally well getting the best out of them.
LB: Roberto De Zerbi. Is this the most open year for manager of the season in Premier League history? Guardiola, Arteta, Howe, Emery, Silva and O’Neil all have legitimate shouts but De Zerbi has been monumental for Brighton, leading them to European football for the first time. Even not being there the whole season isn’t enough for him to miss out.
KJ: Pep Guardiola. Special mention to Gary O’Neil, whose saving of Bournemouth was ultra-impressive for a rookie manager, but with Manchester City on the verge of a treble it’s hard to look beyond Guardiola. His ingenious move of shifting John Stones from defence into midfield – soon replicated by Jurgen Klopp with Trent Alexander-Arnold – just one indication of how he sees the game like nobody else from the touchline.
MJ: Pep Guardiola. Reorganised his team’s style of play to incorporate Erling Haaland, got the best out of Jack Grealish and others, led Man City on another insane run of wins to lift the trophy and could yet win a treble. Surely his best season since joining the club.
MD: Ben Mee. A player worth so much to Brentford, given he came for free.
RJ: Nick Pope. An unglamorous but inspired signing. Only Manchester City have conceded fewer goals than Newcastle. Only David de Gea has more clean sheets than Pope. His 14 have included some stunning saves; the most recent, from Timothy Castagne, secured Champions League football. At £10m, he was astonishingly cheap.
LO: Andreas Pereira. Signed for only £8m from Manchester United, the midfielder has been Fulham’s creative spark and chipped in with goals en route to a top-half finish. Honourable mentions to Ben Mee (free), Nick Pope (£10m) and Manuel Akanji (£15m).
JR: Looking beyond Enzo… Pervis Estupinan for around £15m just beats out Nick Pope after ensuring Brighton barely skipped a beat without Marc Cucurella, sold to Chelsea for around £60m. The Ecuadorian is in the conversation for team of the year.
KM: Neto, Ben Mee and Christian Eriksen on frees top the challengers list but from the paid-for crew, Joao Palhinha (£18m) was a steal. Huge impact for Fulham.
AP: Joao Palhinha to Fulham. Just £18m for that kind of impact? Profit on that…
JB: Wilfried Gnonto. He could be relegated, but how on earth did Leeds sign the 19-year-old for just £4m? It’s a ludicrous fee, also as mad as the club-record £35.5m Leeds would spend on striker Georginio Rutter in January (zero goals).
ST: Joao Palhinha. He’s been unstoppable, it is almost hard to believe how some of the top clubs overlooked the midfielder, he gives everything, every game.
LB: Pervis Estupinan. Nick Pope almost nicks this but, by shifting Marc Cucurella and bringing in Pervis Estupinan, Brighton got an upgrade at left-back, made a £45m profit and added to Chelsea’s descent into being the league’s banter club. Result!
KJ: Nick Pope. Newcastle’s rock behind a super-solid defence, at a mere £10m, and some stunning saves in there too. Red card against Liverpool, and subsequently missing the Carabao Cup final, his only blemish.
MJ: Casemiro. Hardly a bargain at £70m but the impact he’s had in Manchester United’s midfield has been priceless and Erik ten Hag’s team look lost when he doesn’t play.
MD: Darwin Nunez. It might be different if he had been bought for £30m, but at that money…
RJ: Todd Boehly, football genius. To take a high-quality team, spend £600m and make them dramatically worse is quite an achievement. So far, none of the 16 signings of the Boehly era can be deemed a success. Plenty are failures.
LO: Darwin Nunez. So much preseason talk was about who would triumph between Haaland and Nunez, and how it would decide the title, but only Patrick Bamford and Gabriel Jesus have a greater gap between their expected goals and actual goals, according to Understat, meaning Darwin missed an awful lot of chances. He is getting them, at least, and if he converts more next season then he could still transform into a bonafide hit.
JR: Richarlison. For almost £60m and the way he thrived for Brazil in Qatar, the return for Spurs on the pitch could barely have been less. One goal in 994 minutes.
KM: Kalvin Phillips. Nearly £50m to sign him and he played 104 minutes in the Premier League before they won the title. Quite a few to choose from in this category though with Philippe Coutinho, Mykhailo Mudryk, Marc Cucurella, Wout Faes and Richarlison all costing their clubs (relatively speaking) a lot of cash and contributing somewhere between absolutely nothing and a net negative impact. For fee vs expectation vs outcome, Antony would be a different type of consideration.
AP: Richarlison. One goal in 26 Premier League games for Spurs. What on earth happened?
JB: Darwin Nunez. The “agent of chaos” discourse was a low point for all involved. With only nine Premier League goals, Liverpool simply did not get what they expected from a club-record £85m this season. Stylistically, Nunez looks an even stranger fit.
ST: Richarlison. Although his fortunes have mirrored Tottenham’s this season…
LB: Georgino Rutter. Leeds needed a goalscorer in January to keep them in the division, splurged a club-record fee of £36m on Rutter, he scored zero goals and they’re being relegated. Oh, and now he’ll likely leave in the summer for a greatly-reduced fee. Disaster.
KJ: Richarlison. A season which couldn’t be summed up better than when he finally broke his Premier League duck against Liverpool. Shirt off, again, as this time the goal counted. But a point gained in stoppage-time? Nope. Liverpool scored a winner, two minutes later. The Brazilian’s face said it all.
MJ: Antony. It was a toss-up between two Brazilians, Antony and Richarlison, and for variety I went with the Man Utd winger who’s six goal involvements in 24 games wasn’t a great return on an £86m investment. He does cool stepovers though so that’s something.
MD: Evan Ferguson. In a football world short of strikers, the Irish teenager has already claimed a large place in it.
RJ: The Brighton award. It is hard to separate Evan Ferguson and Kaoru Mitoma, two revelations who have made Brighton more entertaining, attacking and potent. Different ages, different backgrounds, but it is tempting to wonder if either would had such an impact without the appointment of the bolder Roberto De Zerbi to replace Graham Potter.
LO: Kaoru Mitoma. His dribbling and decision-making in the final third stood out as the attributes of an elite winger. The 26-year-old will be a big player for Brighton over the coming seasons – if they can keep him.
JR: Eberechi Eze. Palace will likely lose Wilfried Zaha this summer, but Eze is ready now to step in as their talisman. With 10 goals and four assists, Eze has added substance to the magic he routinely sprinkles all over the pitch.
KM: Morgan Gibbs-White. Has been on the verge of top-flight stardom for several seasons, between loans and a backup role at Wolves, but has made a spot his own at Forest and produced so many points-winning moments for them, especially across the second half of the campaign. Five goals, seven assists and some wonderful consistency, most importantly.
AP: Kaoru Mitoma. I have to agree with Lawrence; the Brighton winger’s composure in the attacking third was so impressive, and his influence on the team may yet grow next season. He could even emerge as Brighton’s most important player next year, if he is not already, with Alexis Mac Allister among those expected to leave.
JB: Evan Ferguson. Looks the complete package at just 18 years old. Only made his first start in the Premier League in January after beginning the season in the Under-23s but already seems to be the perfect forward presence for Roberto De Zerbi. Brighton appear to have unearthed another absolute gem.
ST: Evan Ferguson. Has impressed on his first few games in the top-flight as a teenager and slotted in well into a high-flying Brighton side.
LB: William Saliba. You’d heard he’d done alright on loan in France and that irritating Arsenal mate of yours wouldn’t shut up about how he’s the second coming of Sol Campbell but he had zero Gunners appearances before this season and now he’s one of the best centre-backs in the Prem. The fact Arsenal’s defence fell apart as soon as he was injured tells you all you need to know. The Saliba song (to the tune of ‘Tequila’) can absolutely do one though.
KJ: Stefan Bajcetic. Bit of variety on this one but many Liverpool fans had not heard of the Spanish midfielder before he scored as a substitute against Aston Villa on Boxing Day. Took his chance, wowed with his composure and maturity, and signed a new long-term contract. Man-of-the-match display in the Merseyside Derby was soon followed by an unfortunate season-ending injury.
MJ: Miguel Almiron. Does he qualify for this? He’s been at Newcastle since 2019 but absolutely no-one was expecting the goalscoring run he went on leading up to Christmas. He scored eight times in nine matches to set up Newcastle’s successful push for the top four.
MD: In terms of moments of the campaign where jaws dropped, it’s hard to pick between Manchester United’s 4-0 by half-time at Brentford and the 7-0 at Liverpool. Maybe the latter for the scale of it, especially since United had really got on track for an encouraging season by that point.
RJ: For surreal scorelines, it is hard to separate Roberto Firmino putting Liverpool 7-0 up on Manchester United and Newcastle scoring their fifth goal in the first 21 minutes against Tottenham. But, quickly and dramatically as each happened, there was a direction of travel. But when Spurs came back from 3-0 down at Anfield to 3-3, Diogo Jota’s winner seconds later felt still more stunning as an actual moment.
LO: Ivan Toney’s 99th-minute winner at the Etihad Stadium on the final weekend before the World Cup break felt momentous at the time for both Brentford and the title race.
JR: Reiss Nelson’s pure strike in a 97th-minute winner for Arsenal, completing a comeback from 2-0 down to win 3-2. It made you think it was their year, then the City juggernaut gathered pace.
KM: Amid an otherwise tortuous season, Liverpool shattering history with a 7-0 humiliation of Manchester United was pretty memorable.
AP: Nelson’s last-gasp winner for Arsenal against Bournemouth. A brutal strike of the ball, a brutal explosion of noise in the Emirates. If only they would have produced more moments like that later in the season, they would have been champions.
JB: Remember when Cristiano Ronaldo decided to call up Piers Morgan and torch his relationship with Manchester United? Great stuff.
ST: Liverpool’s 7-0 demolition of Manchester United – straight into the history books.
LB: Despite it being one of their worst seasons for years, Liverpool beat a supposedly resurgent Manchester United 7-0. Simply remarkable.
KJ: Brentford 4-0 Manchester United. Feels like a lifetime ago doesn’t it, as the Bees steamrolled United in a scintillating first-half performance last August. Cristiano Ronaldo shellshocked – he’d soon be out the door – and “Erik Ten Weeks” was trending online. Ten Hag’s turnaround from that low point was striking… until Anfield in March.
MJ: Eddie Nketiah proved his worth to Arsenal during Gabriel Jesus’ absence in January, popping up in the 90th minute to complete a 3-2 win over Manchester United. At the time it felt like a realisation that Arsenal could actually compete for the title.
MD: The extent of the discussion about it. It clearly isn’t working as it should, but do we have to hear about it quite so often, at the expense of all other discussion?
RJ: People banging on about VAR is the lowlight of every season. Jake Humphrey banging on about VAR is the lowest of the lowlights every season.
LO: There have been an alarming number of clangers this season but the moment when Lee Mason forgot to draw the lines which would have ruled out Brentford’s goal at Arsenal was arguably the nadir, given it led to Mason losing his job.
JR: Maxwel Cornet’s late equaliser for West Ham at Chelsea being disallowed after Jarrod Bowen brushed his boot over Edouard Mendy’s body. The Hammers were understandably livid.
KM: Lee Mason in general. But also the weekend two wrong players were used as the last defender in separate matches, resulting in two goals wrongly disallowed for Estupinan and Harvey Barnes.
AP: Mason forgetting how to do his job, to the detriment of Arsenal in a (once) dramatic title race, was unforgivable. But I’ll go with the disallowance of Cornet’s late equaliser at Chelsea. Imagine seeing that replay and making that decision. No, seriously. Imagine.
JB: I would love to say Tomas Soucek’s handball against Chelsea – but then, I missed it too and submitted my first match report from high up in the stands at the London Stadium without realising how blatant it was. At least I corrected my error – VAR didn’t, but I’ll stay quiet about it.
ST: There have been a lot to choose from this season. But it’s Stuart Attwell’s dismissed penalty claims for Brighton during their match against Tottenham – with both sides pushing for European places – and the referee did not go to the monitor. PGMOL even issued an apology for the decision.
LB: Plenty of head-scratching decisions across the campaign but, frankly, I can’t bring myself to care enough about/remember each of them individually as the incompetence pretty much evens out in the end. When other sports use replay so well, it’s baffling that football still hasn’t sorted it out (the arrogance of being the biggest sport on the planet and thinking you know best, I guess).
KJ: Brighton’s loss at Tottenham in April. Three debatable calls went against them, one an absolute clanger as the clearest of fouls on Mitoma in the box was somehow missed. A PGMOL apology soon followed.
MJ: West Ham were seemingly on the worse end of VAR decisions from their games this season much to David Moyes’ fury. Maxwel Cornet’s disallowed equaliser at Chelsea being the most egregious error.
Team of the season
MD: Pope; Stones, Dunk, Saliba, Zinchenko; Guimaraes, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Odegaard; Saka, Haaland
RJ: Pope; Stones, Saliba, Botman, Ake; Odegaard, Rodri, De Bruyne; Saka, Haaland, Rashford
LO: Alisson; Trippier, Schar, Akanji, Zinchenko; Odegaard, Palhinha, De Bruyne; Saka, Haaland, Martinelli
JR: Alisson; Trippier, Schar, Saliba, Estupinan; Odegaard, Rice, Gundogan; De Bruyne; Haaland, Kane
KM: Alisson; Stones, Schar, Botman, Estupinan; Odegaard, Guimaraes, De Bruyne; Saka, Haaland, Joelinton
AP: Alisson; Trippier, Schar, Saliba, Estupinan; Gundogan, Odegaard, De Bruyne, Saka; Haaland, Kane
JB: Alisson; Trippier, Stones, Saliba, Akanji; De Bruyne, Rodri, Odegaard; Saka, Haaland, Rashford
ST: Alisson; Trippier, Schar, Saliba, Akanji; Gundogan, Odegaard, De Bruyne, Guimaraes, Saka; Haaland
LB: Pope, Trippier, Dias, Saliba, Estupinan; Odegaard, Casemiro, De Bruyne; Saka; Haaland, Kane
KJ: Pope; Trippier, Saliba, Dias, Estupinan; Rodri, De Bruyne, Odegaard; Saka, Haaland, Kane
MJ: Alisson; Trippier, Botman, Saliba, Akanji; Odegaard, Casemiro, De Bruyne; Saka, Haaland, Rashford