So, the 2016-17 season ends with the kind of three-way race between big-name managers and big clubs that many anticipated before it began; nonetheless, it’s a deflating feeling such a race is for a place in the Champions League rather than the title itself.
The fact that the two games that require upset for any tension – Watford vs Manchester City and Liverpool vs Middlesbrough – seem like the two more predictable fixtures only adds to this feeling.
Perhaps that is as fitting an end to the season as any, though, since it was a season that actually become rather predictable but still always had just enough on it to maintain a sense of life and energy about it.
Premier League final days ranked
Either way, a campaign that was probably the most hyped since the Premier League began due to the arrival of so many star managers is set to end with one of the drabbest final days, with the least on the line.
It is certainly a long way from the glorious chaos of 2011/12, when almost everything from the title to relegation was still in contention, or even the tension of 2007/08. It seems unlikely right now that we’re going to witness an eyebrow-raising moment such as Ludek Miklosko’s save of 1994/95, or the kind of drama that saw Tottenham Hotspur metaphorically choking on lasagne on one of the last occasions when it was the Champions League places just up for grabs, back in 2005-06.
Part of the beauty of such moments, though, is that they’re unexpected. This is the irony of all this, too.
The situation actually adds even more value to a Champions League place, at least for the managers.
Because, for all that this ‘league of star managers’ was hyped, one aspect of it from before the season remains so true and so exacting. Six into four doesn’t go, so two have to fail. It’s that simple.
If the Premier League trophy that Antonio Conte and Chelsea will on Sunday receive itself is the one tangible thing that signifies pure success, a Champions League place at least indicates at best a qualified success; at worst an acceptable season. If you finish outside them, it’s failure.
Arsene Wenger’s men have staged a late surge for a top-four spot (Getty)
That’s what this race represents, with the consequence you will literally not be in football’s elite competition only deepening the meaning of it all. It is effectively an examination on management.
That is why the fact that Manchester United are so far away, and so out of the picture, feels so underwhelming and smacks of underperformance. Jose Mourinho can look to spin it all he wants with talk of fixture congestion and how he is prioritising the Europa League, but that looks little more than expectation management, especially since those priorities so visibly evolved – or, rather, devolved – as the season went on.
United might rescue their campaign by claiming that Champions League place and winning a second trophy with the Europa League,…