The 2021 English Premier League year in review

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At the end of another testing year, what annual rating should the big Premier League clubs receive?

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Manchester City – B+

That might seem harsh on a team that are the current champions, but the major City assignment has been a UEFA Champions League title for quite some time now and 2021 looked like the year only to fall short at the final hurdle against a Chelsea team that finished below them in the league.

Domestically, they were unmatched in the calendar year. They were the only team to reach 100 points in 2021 as well as 100 goals. If you’re betting on a team to win a game 8-0, you would have placed that bet on City.

It’s usually unfair to pin the hopes of an entire year or season on a bit of knockout football, but City have built up a legacy of overcomplicating matters in the do-or-die stages of the tournament and effectively knock themselves out. Last season’s final was no exception.

New year’s resolution: Their Premier League title race can crash and burn in 2022, but a Champions League final win will get them all smiling from Manchester to Abu Dhabi.

Chelsea – A

A sensational year for Chelsea that started out with hiring Thomas Tuchel who went on to dreamily secure the club’s second UEFA Champions League title four months later.

Domestically, he inherited a team that was eighth on the table and put them into the coveted top four to cap off a half-season that could not have realistically been any better. The second half of the year has eliminated any doubt that under Tuchel, Chelsea are a title-challenging team.

Fans tend to undersell any Chelsea manager’s success and write it off based on how “easy” it is to be given such a strong squad to work with, but the manner in which the German plans, rotates and adapts around his massive group of quality players should have every fan and neutral nodding their head.

New year’s resolution: Get back to defending tightly. A rise in conceded goals in the latter part of the year was what cost them getting an A+ rating.

Liverpool – B

It’s almost a compliment to Jurgen Klopp that another quality year for Liverpool doesn’t get them full marks.

While the team is still performing at a really high standard, the truth is the Reds didn’t win any silverware in 2021. These days, that’ll always be disappointing.

They can point to the horrific run of injuries that harmed their title challenge last season (there's a good argument that says they did a good job by just finishing in the top four all things considered), but a drop in league position followed by knockout exits to Manchester United, Arsenal and Real Madrid should have them thinking more about what they missed out on more than what they achieved.

New year’s resolution: Build more depth in the squad. AFCON could give them a rude awakening to what life is like without the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and others. They need to add more depth to guarantee being up with Manchester City and Chelsea.

Manchester United – D

A year for the Red Devils’ scrapheap.

Defensive fans might point to a second-place league finish and demand that mark to be higher, but it’s not in Manchester United’s culture to celebrate runner-up finishes.

Speaking of runner-up finishes, missing out on the Europa League final might have turned out to be a blessing in disguise (how much longer would Solskjaer been given had he won that cup?), but a loss in a final to a Villarreal side that’s so much lower in international pedigree just highlights how far they dropped.

2021 included some of United’s most embarrassing results in their history as they spent most of the year looking more obsessed with content creation than winning football. Celebrating the romance of ex-players being managers. Signing Cristiano Ronaldo for shirt sales and retweets.

Ralf Rangnick might look very different to the past United managers, but surely even Sir Alex feels a bit more at ease with some German engineering at the wheel.

New year’s resolution: Decide on the best way to win football matches, not the best way to play in a “United Way”. As the years go by, those are two very different things.

Watch: The United Way, the epic story of Manchester United. 

Arsenal – B

A few years ago, any Arsenal finish outside the top four would be nowhere near a positive mark, but when you look at how the team has risen slowly under Arteta, you finally get the sense that something positive is happening post-Wenger.

They didn’t win any trophies and Arsenal’s history means that they should be there, but it’s a club that needs plenty of rebuilding to get back to that stage, and some positive football under a manager that’s ruthless enough to drop marquee players for disciplinary reasons is a good start.

New year’s resolution: Invest wisely. Currently, Arsenal look young and vibrant, but they still need to shake off some effects that some money wasted on bad player recruitment has brought to the squad.

Tottenham – D

They brought in Jose Mourinho as manager to win trophies only to sack him on the eve of the Carabao Cup final.

Then they scurried around trying to replace him only to land on about their eighth choice in Nuno Espirito Santo only to sack him a couple of months into the new season.

Oh, and they dropped into the third tier of European football where they lost to a Slovenian team that has a ground that holds 4 500 spectators.

Look elsewhere if you want a positive spin on their 2021.

New year’s resolution: Listen to Antonio Conte. He might not be around for long, but he wins things.

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