THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Leicester 17th, Chelsea champions and Watford relegation – what WSC contributors got right and wrong about the previous season

LeicesterOutside

12 August ~ “The arrival of manager Claudio Ranieri doesn’t seem to be the most reassuring,” wrote Leicester City fan Simon Tyers in WSC’s 2015-16 season guide last summer. “I’m still confident we’ll survive… but probably with someone else at the helm.” He wasn’t alone, with the Foxes averaging 17th position among the rest of the Premier League contributors’ forecasts.

We all know what happened next, and Simon wasn’t the only one whose predictions were made to look ridiculous as Ranieri’s team romped to the club’s first ever League title. Still, there might be a warning for Leicester fans this season in Simon’s answer to the question about who would make the most appropriate sponsor for the club. “A payday loan company – a glorious short-term boost followed by stark, largely financially related realism.”

2016PremTable300Chelsea were widely expected, at least among our writers, to take their second title in a row, though Blues supporter David Hearn was a little more cautious: “It’ll be harder to win this season, but we’ve still got to be hopeful.” It did indeed prove harder to win, with Chelsea stuttering to 16th place in December before replacing manager José Mourinho with Guus Hiddink and finishing tenth.

Instead of Chelsea it was Arsenal and, to many people’s surprise, Tottenham challenging Leicester at the top. “We’ll end up finishing between fifth and eighth, with a burst of good form somewhere in the middle that suggests something better is on the horizon but peters out into nothing,” said Spurs fan Luke Chapman.

Their highest finish since 1990 isn’t quite nothing but Spurs will have cause for frustration, not necessarily for failing to overhaul Leicester but certainly for taking just two points from their final four games, allowing Arsenal to pinch second place on the final day. Still, at least Luke’s suggested sponsor seemed appropriate: “Cillit Bang! Bang and the hope is gone.”

For Arsenal fan Jon Spurling, meanwhile, that last-day switch of places with their north London rivals meant the expected Groundhog Day of “third or fourth in the Premier League, bowing out early in the Champions League and another FA Cup tilt” was only just wrong. They went out of Europe in the last-16 and fell to Watford in the FA Cup sixth round.

Meanwhile both Manchester clubs performed slightly worse than their overall second-third predictions, while also failing to live up to the relatively modest hopes of their own fans. “I am going for top four again,” wrote Manchester United fan Joyce Woolridge, “based on the reasoning that surely not all Louis van Gaal’s signings will experience the mysterious and near total loss of form which seems inevitably to follow a move to M16.” They finished fifth and Van Gaal was gone by at the end of the season, though they did at least win the FA Cup.

Across the city Ian Farrell was expecting “something similar to last season” when Manchester City finished second. “I fear Chelsea could be set for a period of domination,” he added. The Blues’ season will have come as a relief to Ian, then, but his own team struggled to keep up with the pace of Leicester, slipping to fourth.

At the other end of the Premier League Norwich lived up to the expectations of the majority by heading straight back down to the Championship, which made Paul Buller look slightly optimistic. “Alex Neil will march us up the Premier League with a fair wind and a favourable fixture list, then we’ll run out of puff around March,” he said. “A heady 11th.”

The other two relegated teams came as a shock to our contributors as a whole, who had Aston Villa 15th and Newcastle a comfortable 13th. Yet Villa fan Brad Woodhouse won’t have been too surprised. “We’ve lost the spine of the team,” he suggested after the departures of Ron Vlaar, Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke. “If everything goes well we’ll finish around tenth. If it doesn’t – relegation.” Virtually nothing went well, and they went down with just 19 points.

“Better than last year,” was Newcastle supporter Mark Brophy’s predication. “Steve McClaren is an upgrade on what’s gone before.” Yet the manager was sacked in March with the team 19th and the arrival of Rafa Benítez at St James’ Park couldn’t rescue them as Newcastle lost out in a relegation battle with neighbours Sunderland. “We’ll just about survive. Again,” Ed Upright had accurately predicted for the Mackems.

Watford and Bournemouth both performed above the expectations of our Premier League contributors. Cherries fan Simon Melville said: “I will allow myself to dream this season of 17th. Our style of play may give us a chance.” Eddie Howe’s team went one better, finishing 16th, and earned praise for the way they did it in the process.

Watford fan Kevin Wright was defiant about relegation predictions for his team, saying they would “surprise everyone who has written us off by managing to avoid relegation”. In the end they finished a surprise 13th, just five points behind Chelsea.

Elsewhere, Rob Hughes' assessment of Liverpool’s chances – “we’re still not strong enough to breach the top four. And Tottenham score more goals. I’ll go for sixth” – turned out to be optimistic as they struggled to eighth under Jürgen Klopp. Above them were West Ham (“A top-ten finish would be the minimum required by the owners given the money they’ve spent,” said Mark Segal, though he suggested the nightmare would be relegation in their final season at Upton Park) and Southampton.

Saints fan Tim Springett wanted a Europa League group stage campaign, which he didn’t get after they were knocked out in the qualifiers by Midtjylland. “Improving on last season’s seventh place finish will be a tall order,” he went on, “but with some good quality signings a repeat of it is looking very possible.” They went one better, finishing sixth, their highest since 1985.

The WSC 2016-17 Season Guide is out now

Top photo by Paul Thompson/WSC Photography: Outside Leicester City’s King Power Stadium before their match with Manchester City

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