The 2015-2016 Premier League season was one of shocks and surprises from seeing the likes of Newcastle and ever present Aston Villa relegated to seeing last season’s relegation fighters Leicester City crowned Premier League champions.
Players rose to prominence whilst others tarnished their reputations with shocking performances.
Here’s the run-down of my most surprising stories in a jaw dropping Premier League season…
5. Tottenham’s rise under Pochettino
Mauricio Pochettino’s debut campaign as Tottenham manager saw a sixth place finish, it hardly moved the needle as Spurs looked better under the Argentine manager but still suffered from their age old problem of inconsistency.
Many suggested that Pochettino’s intense training regime as well as an exodus of players during the summer that saw the likes of Aaron Lennon, Paulinho and record signing Roberto Soldado amongst others leave White Hart Lane would beget another season of mediocrity. Instead we saw a youthful, fit, well oiled machine with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity.
Their title charge came as a surprise especially with their early season inconsistency but when things clicked it looked like they would, for the first time since the 2010/11 season, return to the Champions League. Instead they exceeded that and were well in the title race up until a draw against West Brom at the end of April gave them too great a mountain to climb.
The style that Pochettino has implemented in North London is fantastic, an intense, high press game with added importance in maintaining this level from minute one to minute ninety with and without the ball.
Pochettino has guided the club to their first title race in the Premier League era and the squad will have undoubtedly benefited from an exhilarating second half to the season. With a large core of English players in Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Deli Alli, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose, they certainly have a base to work from to compete again next season.
4. The Bilic effect
Some suggested he wasn’t the right man for the job, but the effect Slaven Bilic has had on West Ham since becoming manager last summer has been nothing short of phenomenal.
If you told a West Ham fan at the back end of last term they would be in with a chance of Champions League football on the penultimate weekend of the season, they would’ve most likely laughed in your face.
The acquisitions of Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini have given the Hammers a real edge in the final third of the pitch. We’ve seen the effect Payet has made at Upton Park first hand, adding genuine (world class?) quality to the East London side with the ability to pick a pass, score goals, assists or turn defence to attack.
Last season under Allardyce they lacked fluidity and rhythm but this term they have the ability to adapt to the opposition and even simple things like having full backs joining in with attacks that they didn’t do previously, have been added to their arsenal which adds variation and problems for teams.
A fantastic season which could see them playing Europa League football in their first season in the Olympic Stadium if Man United win the FA Cup, shows the strides made under Bilic and the potential they have to go even further in the coming years.
3. AFC Bournemouth
Similarly to a West Ham supporter, if you told an AFC Bournemouth supporter than Eddie Howe would guide the club to safety with games to spare, the reaction would’ve been rather similar.
The fact that they even made it to the Premier League was a surprise in itself; it was only a few years ago the club were fighting off relegation in League Two so to secure their Premier League status with games to play is testament to the work Eddie Howe and the players have done this season.
A club with limited resources, losing key players so early on in the season in Tyrone Mings, Max Gradel and Callum Wilson hampered their progress, however surprise victories at Stamford Bridge and against Man Utd instilled belief that they can avoid the drop.
Eddie Howe has done the unthinkable with the Cherries and had Leicester not been so impressive, more would be praising the south coast club but he won’t want to rest there; he’ll want to kick on and with more luck injury wise why not? They just have to be weary of the dreaded ‘Second season syndrome’.
2. Chelsea’s demise
One of the biggest shocks of the campaign was seeing the champions Chelsea slide down the table week by week, a 2-2 draw on the opening day to Swansea City was followed by a humiliating 3-0 defeat at the Etihad a week later and they never really recovered.
The downturn in performances saw poor performances and defeats to the likes of Crystal Palace, Liverpool and Bournemouth with manager Jose Mourinho being sacked after his side’s lacklustre 2-1 loss at the hands of Leicester at the King Power Stadium in December.
Rumours of discontent between manager and players meant something had to be done and ultimately the man that all Chelsea supporters adored was the one to be shipped out.
In came Guus Hiddink, and despite improving ever so slightly in results, the Dutchman failed to see a real upturn in performances consistently. Hiddink, who also took over the reins in 2009, became a draw specialist with eleven draws in the league preventing the West London club from picking up any real momentum.
I fully expect the Chelsea of old under Antonio Conte, with the Italian national team manager taking charge after this summer’s European Championships. He doesn’t need to be told he faces a huge task in reforming a side that finished tenth into back title contenders.
1. Leicester City
The surprise of all surprises! On May 2nd Leicester City defied the odds and shocked the world when they were crowned Premier League champions, a 5000/1 shot back in August.
No one in their wildest dreams would have expected to see the Foxes top of the summit come May. Despite a strong start many thought they would eventually fade away, with concerns of the quality within the squad however this tight knit group were able to fend off all their challengers to make the dream possible.
The likes of Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and N’Golo Kante made crucial contributions, Mahrez had a magnificent campaign picking up the PFA Player of the Year while Jamie Vardy record breaking goal streak saw him become the Football Writers Player of the Year.
Despite the work of the three above, the key element in the success of Leicester City was the squad and the willingness to make the unthinkable, thinkable. Everybody brought something to the table and bought into Ranieri’s ideas and style of play with the main ethos of team spirit and togetherness at the forefront of every performance.