Premier League season talking points: Gulf between top six and rest widens and Moyes looks damaged goods

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Richard Jolly throws up five talking points following the conclusion of the 2016/17 Premier League season. Swipe left/right on your browser.

A league of two halves

The Premier League has never been more divided. If last season suggested it was more unpredictable and fluid than ever, with Leicester City’s extraordinary surge to win the title, this season brought the revenge of the established order. There was a top six, a bottom 13 and Everton marooned in between, though ultimately far closer to the superpowers. Sixth and eighth were separated by just three points last season and 23 this. It was telling that each of the top seven recorded more points this season than last, but it also pointed to the underachievement of some of the division’s middle class, teams like Leicester, Stoke City, Southampton and West Ham United (pictured).

Conte dominates the battle of the superstar managers

Go back 10 months and some were billing it as Pep Guardiola versus Jose Mourinho. Others, more realistically, pointed to the perhaps unique situation of five managerial Galacticos operating in the same league at the same time. As it was, four of them finished behind Mauricio Pochettino, who is yet to win any silverware. Yet the most remarkable, most impressive element of it was the scale of Antonio Conte’s dominance of his peers: he mustered a record 30 Premier League wins and finished 15 points ahead of Guardiola, 17 clear of Jurgen Klopp, 18 away from Arsene Wenger and with a colossal 24 more than Mourinho. Arsenal denied him the league-and-cup double, but Conte (pictured) won the competition that mattered most.

Moyes has become damaged goods

At the last, David Moyes (pictured) provided a reminder of why he once forged a reputation as an honourable man. He resigned from Sunderland without seeking a pay-off. The problem is that, on and off the field, his standing has been damaged. Threatening to slap a female reporter made him appear a dinosaur: Sunderland’s tactics and results made him look yesterday’s man. Moyes’s uninspired reunion, rounding up Everton and Manchester United alumni for an exercise in grim fatalism when his early prediction of a relegation battle became a self-fulfilling prophecy, makes it hard to see where his next job will be, unless it is in Scotland. And to think he could still have two years left on that six-year contract he signed with United.

Boards will get more trigger-happy

Sacking managers works. It may be an unpalatable truth to those who believe in stability, planning and incremental progress and who rejected knee-jerk short-termism, but it seems the lesson of the season. Or it does for those involved in the relegation battle, anyway: none of the top 11 finishers changed managers. But Leicester were revived by replacing Claudio Ranieri with Craig Shakespeare, Crystal Palace improved by axing Alan Pardew for Sam Allardyce and Swansea City were saved by Paul Clement’s great act of escapology after Francesco Guidolin floundered and Bob Bradley failed. Hull City went down, but only after Marco Silva gave them hope. With the benefit of hindsight, Middlesbrough should have fired Aitor Karanka (pictured) sooner and Sunderland ought to have dismissed Moyes.

Tactics are changing

The Premier League was not Serie A. It is quicker, for starters, but there has also been greater tactical uniformity, usually based around a back four, compared to a division of many systems. Until Conte arrived, imported his ideas about a back three and brought about a revolution. Pochettino (pictured) had similar success with a 3-4-2-1 shape. Even diehards of the back four like Wenger and Mourinho followed suit at times. So did many a mid-table manager. And while it is a safe bet that, sooner or later, someone will find a way to unlock those tactics, it suggests an era with more variation and more original thought.

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