And then there was just one round of fixtures remaining.
Chelsea have already been crowned champions, the top four is all but set, and the three teams dropping down a division have been confirmed. All that’s left to do is to assess the 2016-17 Premier League season and everything it offered up.
It was one of the most anticipated English topflight campaigns to date, with Pep Guardiola’s appointment at Manchester City and Jose Mourinho corresponding arrival across the city at Manchester United hinting that all eyes would be on the Northwest of England. That materialized to a certain extent, but mediocracy rather than supremacy came to define their campaigns.
Instead, it was another new appointment who stole the silverware for himself, with Antonio Conte tying Chelsea’s ribbons to the trophy in his very first year as a Premier League manager. He’ll likely call home to tell all his Serie A friends just how easy it was. “I even played Victor Moses as a wing back,” he’ll laugh into his phone. “And Claudio Ranieri won it the season before.”
Indeed, from the moment Chelsea strung together a record 10 straight wins, the trophy was theirs. Tottenham put up something of a belated fight, but at no point did the Stamford Bridge side look likely to relinquish control of top spot. Conte deserves credit for instilling such consistency, particularly in his first year at the club, but it is also an illustration of the lack of competition they faced.
This was billed as the season the big boys would rise again. After Leicester City’s astonishing triumph of 2015-16, the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United were expected to enjoy a resurgence having hired big and spent even bigger. That never happened, though. In fact, there are questions whether City and United in particular have progressed at all.
Guardiola even admitted that had he been at Barcelona or Bayern Munich, he would have been sacked for performing as he has this season. “In my situation at a big club: I’m sacked. I’m out. Sure. Definitely,” he confessed recently, underlining the progress that still has to be made if Manchester City are to one day count themselves among the European elite.
But this lack of quality has resulted in one of the most entertaining, unpredictable Premier League seasons on record. Never before has it been truer that anyone can beat anyone in England’s topflight. Even Chelsea’s march to the title was momentarily halted by a surprise home defeat to Crystal Palace.
Manchester United, with all their big money summer signings, have finished a lowly sixth, with Arsenal also likely to finish outside the Champions League places for the first time in the Arsene Wenger era. Liverpool are set to achieve their objective of clinching a top four place, but even they have suffered their struggles, winning just one of the 10 fixtures to start 2017.
That is something that came to define the 2016-17 Premier League season as a whole: inconsistency. Chelsea were the only side not to suffer an almighty dip in form at one point or another, with Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United all missing for big chunks of the campaign.
Whether that is down to a decline in these teams or an improvement in the rest of the league is open to debate. Another poor showing by Premier League clubs in the Champions League suggests the former, possibly coupled with some of the latter. Throughout the division, entertainment has taken precedent over quality.
So, has this been the best or worst Premier League season ever? That depends on what you personally look for in a soccer league. In terms of pure quality, England’s topflight right now has nothing on La Liga or the Bundesliga. Even Ligue 1 side Monaco showed up Manchester City in the last 16 of the Champions League.
The Premier League is undoubtedly a goldfish bowl, but that doesn’t mean watching what goes on inside can’t be enjoyed.