No Liverpool or Man United players in John Giles' Premier League Team of the Year
THIS was the season when a good, knowledgeable football man with old school values won the Premier League and made an old pro like me happy. Take a bow, Antonio Conte.
It was a good season and I enjoyed it. The way it finished and the sub-plots around the title race mean that I’m already looking forward to the twists and turns which might happen next time out.
Pep Guardiola has shipped out eight players already and is already in the market and buying.
Jose Mourinho took a huge punt and it paid off. He’ll have the cheque book out before long.
Jurgen Klopp, on balance, was a disappointment and has a lot to prove during the summer, when we will see if he can bring in enough players to make Liverpool a real force.
Mauricio Pochettino made progress but fell short again and needs reinforcement in midfield to take Spurs up the final step.
And then there was Arsene Wenger. All I’ll say for now is that if Arsenal had played all season the way they played against Chelsea in the FA Cup, there would have been no need for any Board meeting.
But back to Conte, a very impressive man who I have no doubt will be one of the biggest players in management for the next ten years if he wants to be.
Some have suggested that the title win was based on a lucky decision he made when he switched to three at the back but I don’t buy that and Cesar Azpilicueta is the reason for that.
He has almost gone unheralded since Chelsea won the title but for me, he was the glue that held that three-man unit together and without him, David Luiz and Gary Cahill would not have been able to play so well.
Conte made the call to use him as the anchor man and that suggests football knowledge which had nothing to do with luck.
He had to make a decision on the run and it proved to be an inspired one, just as it was the smartest move in the transfer market to get N’Golo Kante into the club, although I can’t be entirely certain Conte was the main mover in that.
No manager in his right mind would say no to Kante if he was offered him and we will see in the summer how much independence he has on transfers.
If I was Roman Abramovich, I would be very wary about annoying Conte because he looks like a man who would walk without a second thought.
I was disappointed with Klopp and Mourinho and for many of the same reasons. Liverpool and Manchester United both lost a lot of games to weaker teams and, I think, should have done better.
Liverpool all but collapsed when they lost Sadio Mane to the African Nations Cup and then injury. Like Guardiola, I want to see what Klopp will do when he brings in some players and shapes the squad more to his liking. In the meantime, both have claimed that they hit their target for the season, which was a top-four finish and entry to the Champions League.
But both men will review their performance and if they are honest, which I think they are, will admit that the Premier League is a more difficult proposition than they might have thought and that flexibility will be required to survive and prosper in it.
Jose Mourinho knows all there is to know about the Premier League but I wasn’t bowled over by his first season at Old Trafford.
I keep going back to the games they lost at home to weak teams and how much closer to the top of the table they could have been before Mourinho waved the white flag and handed Klopp a walk-in to fourth place.
That’s why I can’t go along with the argument that United had a good season and that Mourinho’s pragmatism was admirable.
His pragmatism was necessary after he made so poor a shot at keeping pace with the top of the table and the three fingers he held up to indicate three trophies after he won the Europa League was ridiculous.
The Charity Shield was one of them, unless he meant that the Champions League pass United got from winning the Europa League is a trophy. I don’t know anyone who would make the League Cup a priority target for the season.
Mourinho’s excuses have been stacked up against Conte’s straight talking all season and there’s only one winner in that comparison.
Player of the Year
N’GOLO KANTE (Chelsea)
This lad is a throwback and the type of player managers would sell their parents for. He works quietly, effectively and he’s the glue that makes Chelsea’s midfield work. He’s a platform for lads like Hazard and as a nice bonus, he’s a modest lad who is professional to his fingertips. Two titles in-a-row now and both fully deserved.
Manager of the Year
ANTONIO CONTE (Chelsea)
Conte was the best by some distance. Behind Guardiola, Mourinho, Klopp and Wenger in terms of achievement and reputation last Augu st, he made one big tactical switch early in the season, went three at the back and won the title comfortably. Top class performance.
The Premier League directive on foul play in the penalty area surrounding set-pieces was supposed to fix a problem which has been getting worse for years and Mike Dean set about doing that with a flurry of red cards. He was promptly thrown overboard by his colleagues and the directive failed. It’s still happening.