11th to 14th Place
11th place. West Ham . 6 out of 10. The Hammers were all over the option for large parts of the season but came good at the end to command a respectable 11th place but nothing more. More was expected of the team at the start of the season but in truth they just weren’t good enough. Slaven Bilic’s troops were off the pace and although his position has come into question, the boardroom at West Ham has usually backed their managers and I see no reason why Bilic won’t be in charge for the beginning of next season. One defeat in their last 7 matches made the grass greener than it really was as West Ham struggled throughout their campaign and the 67 goals conceded was 11 more than relegated Middlesbrough! The defence needs strengthening and already Bilic is looking to bolster up the ramparts with the likelihood of Pablo Zabaleta coming in on a free transfer from Manchester City. It would be easy to say 1 down and 3 to go at the back but this summer transfer window is Bilic’s biggest and he has to make it work or he will be out on his ear. How can a team beat the indomitable Spurs at home 1-0 and then fall at home to Liverpool in a 4-0 thrashing just 9 days later beats me. Changes are required almost everywhere or next season could be a slippery slope for the Hammers.
12th place. Leicester City. 6 out of 10. The Foxes were Champions last year but only ended up safe from relegation this season towards the last couple of months. The thing is if comparing with last season it’s difficult to mark Leicester City. Last season they were that very rare bird that managed a 10 out of 10 and talking about Bournemouth punching about their weight Leicester were the ultimate David v Goliath story. If they were punching above their weight last year then it was Bonnie Langford versus Frank Bruno so this year it was hard to put into perspective. After a poor run left Leicester just a point above the relegation zone the owners sacked the manager who had brought them gold in Claudio Ranieri and so all respect for Leicester’s owners went flying out the window. Craig Shakespeare was promoted to try to steady the ship and did a good job in keeping the Foxes heads above water. They missed N’Golo Kante in the middle of the park tremendously and it goes without saying he was the engine room for the team but just like Chelsea the year before so many players of the current champions were off form. Mahrez was conspicuous by his absence, Vardy was left on the subs bench, Huth was starting to look a bit old and Drinkwater was injured for part of the campaign and with Kante gone they were not the side they were. Leicester got out of jail in the end but in truth Leicester in 12th place has a certain correct ring to it. Fortunately or unfortunately they just played on planet cloud 9 the previous season when they were simply out of this world. It remains to be seen if Shakespeare is in charge next season although I suspect not although I do believe Mahrez will be gone after making noises of wanting to leave this May and the dismantling of the most outlandish, unexpected title champions of all time may be in the offing. Shame really as they were brilliant in that one season.
13th place. Stoke City. 5 out of 10. Underachieved badly this season as the majority of new signings did not live up to expectations. Two wins in their last 10 games saw Stoke slip down the table to 13th but Mark Hughes must be disappointed in this seasons displays and overall finish. They looked a bit staid and boring if being honest and only a few Peter Crouch goals helped them to extra points when it was really needed. Giannelli Imbula, Stoke’s record signing from Porto for £18.3 million has been a major flop and it’s difficult to see where the club go from here to avoid being in a relegation scrap next season. Recouping half the Imbula money would be a help in the summer but things are looking so run of the mill down in Stoke that something needs to change and fast. They need goals and can’t rely on Peter Crouch coming off the bench to save them every single game.
14th place. Crystal Palace. 5 and a half out of 10. With the worst record of any team in the year 2016 Palace were looking at relegation big time when big Sam Allardyce came in to salvage something from their season in early January. What followed only Allardyce could do. Having been sacked by England in 2016 – resigned my foot – he started a dreadful run of 7 or 8 games without a win for the Eagles in January and then suddenly the fairy dust came out and Sam saved yet another team from relegation following his magic wand exploits at Sunderland the previous season. He keeps Crystal Palace in the division and of course wants to rebuild the team, doesn’t he? Nope, not Big Sam, he decides to quit Palace as manager, quit the football world and go travelling. Not that I can see Allardyce in Goa with backpack and a bandana but Palace have to start the search for a manager again. As I wrote in January the team on paper looks good but you don’t play football matches on paper. Benteke can still be exceptional and Palace haven’t seen the best of him yet. Zaha has signed a new 5 year deal and with two or three worthy acquisitions could be top 10 next season. Things are looking up, down in South London. Who is up for the job? Claudio Ranieri anyone?