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How else to remember the worst Premier League season ever?

We pick out the moments that will endure from a season played almost entirely without supporters.

Pep Guardiola embraces Phil Foden and Kyle Walker.
Pep Guardiola embraces Phil Foden and Kyle Walker.
Image: PA

ONCE MORE UNTO the breach, then, dear friends, as we enter the final weekend of what has been beyond doubt the worst Premier League season there has ever been.

A concertinaed season staged in empty grounds has not exactly stiffened sinews nor summoned up blood, has it?

It has had its moments, of course – the first-ever winning goal scored by a goalkeeper; an early-season 7-2 defenestration of the champions; Southampton’s annual 9-0 defeat; Big Sam – but a coalition of energy-sapped players, silent games, little late-season jeopardy and the seeming ceaseless television coverage of Burnley bled enthusiasm for the whole endeavour.

This was The Pandemic Season: the diminished, desiccated experience whose Premier League Years will be scored to a slight and dejected sigh by its channel-hopping viewer.

It did at least begin by threatening to make a virtue of its oddity.

Liverpool lost 7-2 to Aston Villa, City conceded five to Leicester, Jose Mourinho was top of the league, Gunnersaurus was sacked and nobody really knew what to believe anymore.

But even in a season of utterly bizarre circumstances that won’t be replicated again, we learned that, even in football, chaos has a shelf life that doesn’t run to a full season.

Gradually much of what we assumed rang true again. The side with the deepest squad won the title, Liverpool hauled themselves back into the Champions League places, and Jose Mourinho was sacked amid bad football, worse results and a swell of training ground discord. Even Gunnersaurus got his job back.

Manchester City’s season will be defined by the Champions League final, but a third title in four seasons means they will be remembered as the dominant Premier League team of this era. This will also be marked as a high point for Pep Guardiola, who once again showed his capacity to tweak and innovate to conquer a compressed schedule by flooding his team with even more midfielders, running less and distributing the goalscoring burden.

Many managers become more firmly entrenched in their ideas and a prisoner to dogma as their careers go on – Mourinho being the most obvious example – but Guardiola continues to resist this trend.

“Football is evolution”, he once told writer Marti Pernau. He continues to practice what he preaches. 

Manchester United will finish second, in so doing dispelling most but not all of the questions about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Few managers have been subject to a sustained level of doubt as Solskajer, and while his side have greatly improved this season, there may be a quiet disappointment behind the scenes at United at having potentially missing their chance to finish ahead of City.

The title will be won with a maximum of 86 points, the lowest winning total since Leicester were champions in 2016.

In spite of an astonishing run of injuries at centre back, Roy Keane may ensure Liverpool will be remembered as “bad champions.”

Their defence – in both senses of that word – ultimately lay crumpled with Virgil van Dijk at Goodison Park last October. They may yet salvage Champions League football to give their late winter/early spring slump the sheen of aberration, but this was the season they first hit a true crisis of form under Jurgen Klopp and look in desperate need of refreshment next year. That said, if they can claw their way back to the Champions League with fifth and sixth-choice centre backs, some of the old tenacity abides. 

burnley-v-liverpool-premier-league-turf-moor Jurgen Klopp. Source: PA

Meanwhile, Chelsea proved their slash-and-burn tactics continue to work: Roman Abramovich again reached into his deep pockets and then quickly sacked his manager when he didn’t see results. Thomas Tuchel has been delivering them since.

Arsenal looked a side unsure of where they are going, while Spurs have taken a terribly wrong turn, and are now reckoning with the exit of Harry Kane as they battle for the Europa League and forage Europe for a new manager to clear the lingering stench of Mourinho.

While Arsenal haven’t had a whole lot of genuine optimism in the last three years, Spurs have quickly wasted theirs.

Leicester, meanwhile, won silverware but missing out on the Champions League again would leave Brendan Rodgers looking at a worrying end-of-season trend. 

Otherwise, we will remember this as the one in which injury deprived Jack Grealish of the Player of the Year as Kane and Mo Salah led the scoring charts in spite of their teams’ abundant problems. 

Anything else? 

Leeds were a revelation as David Moyes were revitalised. 

Carlo Ancelotti may not be able to root out Everton’s familiar troubles, while Sheffield United shocked us with a scale of problems nobody really saw coming.

Big Sam came back and lost his record of having never been relegated as Scott Parker failed far more suavely. 

Caoimhin Kelleher and Jayson Molumby made their Premier League debuts but Seamus Coleman shone brighter than any other Irish player. 

This is what we will remember the 2020/21 Premier League season for, but we may come to remember it for something else yet.

chelsea-v-real-madrid-uefa-champions-league-semi-final-second-leg-stamford-bridge Source: PA

The global crisis brought the shock of Project Big Picture and then the unprecedented convulsion of the Super League, which withered and died primarily because of the scale of supporter outrage in England.

If the end of last season will be remembered as the year players stood up on social issues, this was the season of their supporters. It was their fury on which the breakaway foundered, and it has triggered a wave of protest and reform in England.

The Glazers are suddenly open to some form of dialogue with Manchester United fans, while Liverpool and Chelsea will now have supporter representation on their boards. The clamouring for an independent regulator of the game has grown louder, and is being slated for a parliamentary debate.

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This was the season where everybody took a step back from the Premier League’s rattling news cycle and asked themselves deeper and more fundamental questions about the game: who truly owns a football club, and what purpose does that football club serve?

We don’t yet know the true impact of all of this, or whether the reform momentum will stall. If there are big changes to come, however, we won’t remember this Premier League season for its dreary and echoing games, but instead as one of the most significant ever.

The season concludes with a deep irony: this was the Premier League season in which supporters were locked out of their stadia but found their voice.

Premier League fixtures 

Sunday (all kick offs at 4pm) 

Man City vs Everton 

Wolves vs Man United 

Aston Villa vs Chelsea 

Liverpool vs Crystal Palace 

Leicester vs Tottenham 

West Ham vs Southampton 

Arsenal vs Brighton 

Leeds vs West Brom 

Fulham vs Newcastle 

Sheffield United vs Burnley 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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