The Premier League season culminated with a gripping “Showdown Sunday”, and at the end of it, the same side who had started out as champions 10 months earlier were crowned the same again.
Manchester City might have made a habit of claiming English football’s major title in recent times, but they have not monopolised all the glory in the Premier League this season.
Best Agueroooo tribute – Ilkay Gundogan
When Ilkay Gundogan completed a heart-stopping five-minute turnaround against Aston Villa to seal the title for Manchester City, it was like life imitating art, imitating life.
Nine days earlier, City had unveiled a statue honouring perhaps the Premier League’s most famous goal, on the 10-year anniversary of Sergio Aguero’s stoppage time winner against Queens Park Rangers.
Sculptor Andy Scott may now have to be recommissioned to create another galvanised steel monument to City’s latest last-day epic.
Back then, there had been 93 minutes 20 seconds on the clock when Aguero clinched it. This time, Gundogan turned in Kevin de Bruyne’s cross with 12 minutes to spare. Never in doubt.
Team of the season – Brentford
Arguing against Manchester City or Liverpool in this category is a fool’s errand. City lost just three times, and have taken the game to new levels of excellence in winning four titles in five years.
They have had to, just to keep their noses ahead of Liverpool, who have been a match or two away from the perfect campaign.
The Reds have won the two cups available to them so far, and they are favourites to pick up a third when they face Real Madrid in the Champions League final on Saturday, too. Plus, finishing within a point of this remarkable City side is an achievement in itself.
It feels as if they have managed all that with a side in transition, too. Jurgen Klopp is remodelling his first great Liverpool side, with Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz, in particular, growing in prominence.
But, anyway, here goes. No team over-performed more than Brentford over the course of the Premier League campaign.
Finishing snugly in mid-table was a remarkable achievement for a squad assembled on a relative shoestring, whose players had more experience of non-league football than Premier League football at the start of the campaign.
Although they did, of course, get a timely bump midway through the season …
Best signing – Christian Eriksen
Cristian Romero to Tottenham Hotspur was decent business. Diaz and Bruno Guimaraes are going to megastars at Liverpool and Newcastle United respectively.
But no arrival was as transformative as Christian Eriksen at Brentford.
Rival fans cheered him. Some opposition players even hugged him when he had cynically fouled them. And the Danish playmaker revelled in it, all while guiding his new team away from the drop zone.
His return to the playing field after recovering from his cardiac arrest at Euro 2020 was a triumph all the sport could enjoy, no matter who you follow.
Goal of the season – Mohamed Salah
Joao Cancelo. Phil Foden. Bernardo Silva. Aymeric Laporte.
No, not a list of contenders for the Premier League’s player of the season award.
Rather, those are the players Liverpool’s Egyptian King left trailing in his wake with his mesmeric dribble in the 2-2 draw between the league’s two pre-eminent sides in October. An absolute stunner, even by Salah’s vaulted standards.
Worst take – Pep Guardiola
Everyone wants Liverpool to win it? Not so, Pep.
Biggest flop – Ralf Rangnick
Romelu Lukaku was not exactly red-hot at Chelsea, especially given the eye-watering outlay to bring him in from Inter Milan. But he did at least score some goals at vital times.
It seems startling to think now that Manchester United were runners-up last season, when they finished five points ahead of third-placed Liverpool.
By the time Ralf Rangnick arrived at the end of November to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United were a basket case.
The German interim manager was feted as a football visionary on his arrival, who was going to arrest the slide of a rotten club. But the performances that followed could scarcely have been any more tepid.
Losing to Liverpool 4-0 was predictable. A bigger indictment was the fact that their loss at Brighton and Hove Albion by a similar margin hardly felt a shock, either.
Parting with a drab final-day 1-0 loss at Crystal Palace seemed just about par for the course.
Manager of the season – Eddie Howe
Yes, yes, Guardiola and Klopp. Obviously, neither of them was too shabby.
Thomas Frank was savvy in taking Premier League debutants Brentford to safety. Antonio Conte transformed Spurs. Patrick Vieira performed above expectations at Crystal Palace, and Graham Potter’s halo was buffed at Brighton.
Eddie Howe might have only been employed for around 70 per cent of the season, but he recorded an achievement that bettered anything anyone else managed.
Not necessarily in taking Newcastle United away from the relegation zone. Who knows, Unai Emery might have managed just the same had he taken the job when it was offered, given the funds available.
Howe did, of course, manage exactly that with panache, and by fostering a sense of togetherness that bled beyond his new squad of players and into the stands at St James’ Park.
His finest accomplishment, though, was in turning Joelinton – someone who hitherto had appeared to need Google Maps to locate his feet – into a serviceable No 8. Nobody saw that coming.
Worst appointment – Rafa Benitez
Steve Bruce at Newcastle feels like a bad dream now. But he was already in situ when the season started.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s spell at Spurs actually started brightly enough. But after beating Manchester City on the opening day, and following that up with two wins in succession, it promptly fell off a cliff.
Rafa Benitez to Everton always did feel like it was going to end in tears. And the former Liverpool boss cannot say he wasn’t warned.
Ahead of him joining, one set of Toffees supporters left a banner near his house saying: “We know where you live. Don’t sign.”
He did anyway, and it always felt as though he would only ever be one defeat away from a crisis. A run of nine in 13 games meant he was binned.
Biggest miss – Marcelo Bielsa
So his Leeds United team had lost four in a row and conceded 17 goals in the process. Maybe they really were on a chronic slide, tumbling towards relegation, and needed a change to save them from the inevitable.
Sure, they were eventually saved on the final day, when their win at Brentford sent Burnley down instead. And Jesse Marsch seems passable enough, too.
But the Premier League is a less fun place without Marcelo Bielsa. Can someone bring him and his bucket back soon, please?