Some teams surpassed expectations, others failed to live up to theirs, but there was an air of order being restored to the English top flight with all of the big teams qualifying for Europe once more.
It will also be remembered as the year that a nominal “top four” truly expanded: we now have a clear-cut top six, where each of those teams is a realistic title chance for years to come.
Exactly how that plays out for others remains to be seen but – barring another Leicester-like miracle – the powers of the Premiership have re-formed and are about to enter a television-fuelled arms-race to build the most powerful football teams the planet has ever seen.
But as we look back over the year that was, how did your team score on the The World Game’s end-of-season 2016-17 Premier League report card?
1st – Chelsea
Summary: This was as close as you can get to the perfect season in the current climate. Antonio Conte managed brilliantly, from the day he was appointed to the final game of the year, putting his side in front early and stoically pushing all the way to the finish line.
Losses were never allowed to derail momentum, while victories were achieved through a combination of graft, grit, class and courage – everything you would expect from a Conte-managed team. Chelsea had to be disciplined, tactically and mentally, but they were all that and more. Even the Diego Costa-to-China furore was handled with aplomb.
Eden Hazard, N’Golo Kante, Pedro and Thibaut Courtois were outstanding but unsung heroes like Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso made a huge difference. The most telling fact? Depth was so good that John Terry, Cesc Fabregas, Willian and Michy Batshuayi were largely confined to the bench, while Oscar, Branislav Ivanović and John Obi Mikel all left. There’s also a big chance of Romelu Lukaku returning to Stamford Bridge next year.
2nd – Tottenham Hotspur
Summary: When Spurs finally tapped out of the title chase, it was interesting to note how negative the reaction was, with many suggestion they’d 'bottled' it at the crucial stage.Perhaps, but over 38 games, this was another stunningly successful campaign for Tottenham, who said farewell to White Hart Lane in fitting fashion.
Harry Kane wrapped up the Golden Boot, Dele Alli became world class and Hugo Lloris was a one-man fortress. They’ll be back at the Lane in a couple of years, however, and the opportunity to have the world’s highest average attendance at Wembley next season won’t be lost on anybody. With a young squad, a great manager and new digs awaiting, it’s a fantastic time to be a Spurs fan. Only a title is missing now and next year might be their time.
3rd – Manchester City
Summary: Flew out of the blocks early and then suffered a shocking turn of form that proved even beyond the genius of Pep Guardiola. The Spaniard has never had it this bad in his managerial career and only now will he begin to understand the scope of the challenge before him.
Unfortunately, he copped a double-whammy on arrival: City’s aging squad peaked two years ago and the other teams in the top six being stronger than ever. Guardiola will get funds to invest, but half the challenge will be clearing out those players who are no longer up to the task and re-training those that are. Keep faith in what he’s doing, but the road there might be longer than we all first thought.
4th – Liverpool
Summary: Regained their place in English football’s top four with a solid year of progress under Jurgen Klopp, who seems to love the sense of history that being on Merseyside brings. This was a strong campaign not only in terms of results, but development. Lots of players took steps forward in their careers, none more than new arrival Sadio Mane, who established himself as one of the league’s very best.
UEFA Champions League brings investment impetus and the gaps in the squad should be filled without too many dramas. An exciting summer awaits and the Reds look ripe to stay in the top four.
5th – Arsenal
Summary: This is Arsenal's lowest league finish since 1996. Not good enough from a side that, for the second successive season, was right in the mix for the title and then faded badly.
This year, the Gunners drifted so far back that a title shot in February was cooked by March, and by May they were out of the top four altogether. The unrest concerning Arsene Wenger means he’s lost the confidence of the supporter base, although not – most importantly – of owner Stan Kroenke.
Would an FA Cup triumph ease the pain? Maybe, but this was a year of disappointment when expectations were sky high. It’s also unlikely the summer transfer window will bring any marquee arrivals.
6th – Manchester United
Summary: Half-full or half-empty? That’s the big question. Whatever your view on the season just gone, United look quite good going forward, with a young squad that believes in the mission of Jose Mourinho, despite a terrible start to the year. They also scored a League Cup win and should claim the UEFA Europa League.
However, it wasn’t all peaches in the domestic league, with their 15 draws a staggering five more than anyone else. Then there’s the question about Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He was amazing, scoring 28 goals in all competitions, but an injury has made United think twice about handing him a new contract.
Given they scored almost 30 goals less than each of the top three sides (even Bournemouth scored more), it would seem silly to not to extend his deal – and find another forward who can help him. Antoine Griezmann would seem to be that man.
7th – Everton
Summary: If you could break the Premier League into chunks right now, it would probably read: top six, Everton, the rest. It’s hard to see Everton finishing much higher or lower in years to come if the Premier League’s biggest teams continue their arms race, one the Toffees can’t afford to match unless owner Rashid Moshiri embarks on a spending splurge.
While Ronald Koeman seems open to selling both Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku, which could net close to £150 million ($260 million), are there like-for-like replacements actively available? Making the Europa League next season could also take a toll on this squad, which needs an injection of class in any case.
8th – Southampton
Summary: Given Southampton seem to have their best players taken year after year – and managers, for that matter – it’s a tremendous effort to see them this high again. Technically, they finished one place below the Europa League but the truth is that they were 15 points behind Everton and just six points above Watford, nine places below.
Fans are surprisingly restless on the South Coast – especially with manager Claude Puel, who was booed after the final-day defeat to Stoke City – but what this club has achieved in the past five years is remarkable.
9th – Bournemouth
Summary: The second-season syndrome often afflicts promoted clubs but not Bournemouth, who continue to swing from strength to strength under the astute guidance of Eddie Howe. Most punters wouldn’t have known where Bournemouth was a few years ago and now they’re top-10 team in the world’s toughest league.
It has been a belter of a season for the Cherries and they play a brand of football which suggests they could be in the Premier League for many years to come. Bravo.
10th – West Bromwich Albion
Summary: After a slow start, they burst to life and spent most of the year looking at a top-eight spot but eventually dropped off Everton’s tail and ultimately ran out of steam. But a four-month, mid-season charge either side of Christmas was what made this campaign a winner for the Baggies.
Often a team linked with the drop, they only thing they dropped this year was a chance to play in Europe. Tony Pulis has made this squad his own now and, crucially, they have a brilliant goalkeeper: Ben Foster. Salomon Rondon’s form drop after Christmas was a concern, however. They need him scoring freely next season and more squad depth wouldn’t hurt.
11th – West Ham United
Summary: There were moments when it threatened to go pear-shaped, but ultimately the Hammers survived their transition to the Olympic Stadium, grabbed enough points where necessary and avoided the kind of trouble they all-too-frequently end up in. The challenge for West Ham is three fold: becoming a top-ten club, capitalising on their London status and working out how to get the best from their new home.
They’re still battling with all of those but a pleasing fact is having the third-highest average Premier League crowd and the eight-highest in all Europe. Losing Dimitri Payet didn’t help their on-field cause but manager Slaven Bilic deserves a new deal. A marquee name might be required to put the belief back into the East End.
12th – Leicester City
Summary: No club fell further in the Premier League over the past 12 months, to put it bluntly. However, given they spent so much of the year flirting with relegation, the spectacular return to form under Craig Shakespeare means they avoided the dreaded 'F'.
We’re not counting Champions League form here, but it’s improbable to completely discount it. While more championship heroes could be sold off in the summer, it’s important the younger nucleus needs to be kept together. Demarai Gray has been linked with Liverpool, Everton and Tottenham, but he’s an example of a player they need to nurture and develop.
13th – Stoke City
Summary: A middling campaign in the Potteries - Stoke neither scaled any great heights and tended to do just enough to stay away from trouble. Goalkeeper Lee Grant couldn’t get a game in the Championship when he was snapped up by Stoke (to replace the injured Jack Butland) and his form thereafter was probably the highlight of the season – alongside the evergreen displays of Peter Crouch.
Goalless Saido Berahino failed live up to his price tag and needs to find form next year, but fellow big-money signing Giannelli Imbula will probably leave. More should have come from a team boasting Xherdan Shaqiri, Marko Arnautović and Bojan Krkić. Underwhelming by almost every measure.
14th – Crystal Palace
Summary: It was a big fall from grace for the side that made the FA Cup final last season and spent the first half of the campaign looking as though they could be headed for relegation. A late-season flourish under Sam Allardyce savde their skins, however, and they were able to secure safety without any final-day worries.
But with Allardyce now quitting the club, and retiring from football, Palace will need to find a replacement.
Like Stoke, with players like Christian Benteke, Yohan Cabaye and Wilfried Zaha, they should have been too good to end up in the predicament they did, this season, in the first place. Their final placing probably flattered them.
15th – Swansea City
Summary: Surged incredibly at the last minute to jump out of the relegation zone, picking up points by stealth and confounding all the odds to stay alive. Their final day 2-1 win over West Brom even catapulted them up to 15th.
Manager Paul Clement earned himself a very handy pay-day for keeping Swansea alive but he should use the money to fund a statue to honour Fernando Llorente. With 15 goals in 33 games, it was his goals at crunch time that made the difference. The mid-season experiment with Bob Bradley feels like a lifetime ago and the Swans, somehow, remain in the big league yet again.
16th – Burnley
Summary: For Burnley to survive is a testament to what is happening under Sean Dyche, having been relegated after solitary seasons in the Premier League in 2009-10 and 2014-15. It’s still hard to predict whether the Clarets will become a solid citizen at this level but with Dyche at the helm, they look a stable, committed unit.
Concerning, however, is that defender Michael Keane will probably head to a bigger club and that forward Andre Gray will be subject to some big offers. If Liverpool have forgotten about Danny Ings after all those injuries, could he make a surprise return to Turf Moor?
17th – Watford
Summary: Watford were sailing along for most of the campaign before losing six of their last seven games and collapsing in such a heap that fans are already worried about next season. The final-day 5-0 defeat to Manchester City did nobody any favours, least of all departing manager Walter Mazzarri.
There’s some big questions that need asking at Vicarage Road if the Hornets are to survive next season. Marco Silva – who took Hull down but made a huge impression during his short stay in the north – has already been linked with the job.
18th – Hull City
Summary: Exited the Premier League in truly abominable fashion – a 7-1 thrashing at the hands of Tottenham sent Hull down in disgrace. It looked like Marco Silva would pull off a dramatic turnaround at time but the damage done under Mike Phelan early in the season was ultimately too great.
Robert Snodgrass and Jake Livermore were sold – and it wasn’t a wise decision. Top defenders Harry Maguire and Andy Robertson will now also probably leave. Unlucky to be given a fail mark, but the whole season has to be taken into consideration.
19th – Middlesbrough
Summary: Finally made it back to the holy grail of the top flight after almost a decade away and have dived down just as quickly.
It was never going to be easy on Teeside but there was some hope early in the year that names like Alvaro Negredo and Victor Valdes might provide the on-field class, while Aitor Karanka would do the same on the touchline. It didn’t work out like that and chairman Steve Gibson will spend the summer wondering where it all went wrong.
20th – Sunderland
Summary: Never even looked like staying up under David Moyes, who suffered the worst season of his managerial career. Their squad is littered with players going nowhere (some on big wages) and there is no guarantee they’ll be able to fight for promotion next season.
A long stint in the Championship looms unless they can find some fresh investment and a desire to turn things around. Losing Jermain Defoe will be the cherry on top. Worst of all will be seeing rivals, Newcastle United back in the top flight.