Undoubtedly, this has been the season of the overachievers.
Being a sports pundit is not an easy task. Even though it sounds easy enough since all they have to do is just talk smoothly and discuss opinions - the opinions that are mostly general - the sheer amount of time they've spent in the game makes them the sort of people we want to listen to. And that's why those general opinions they propagate are always taken seriously.
When this Premier League season started Manchester City was declared the favourite, to be closely challenged by Liverpool. Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal and Man United were to complete the top 6 in whatever particular order. Most pundits omitted Arsenal and Man United from the top 4. Newcastle and Brighton weren't given the tiniest of chances to crack the top 6.
The wonderful thing about football is that it has a way of springing surprises in unusual manners. However, in most cases those surprises rarely happen at the top end of the league. This season though, the top end of the league is the abode for those pleasant surprises. Arsenal competing fiercely for the league is definitely a surprise. Newcastle added a new layer to it last night when they clinched the Champions League spot for next season. Brighton? They're definitely off to the Europa League next season. Their season projection was 10th position.
We've seen surprises before, but they rarely last. Leicester once sprung the mother of all surprises by winning the league; they will be having a romantic relationship with the Championship next season. Spurs once competed for the title; they may end this season 8th on the log. Will this season's surprise packages stick around or fizzle out like the ones before them? Will Arsenal compete for the league title next season or revert back to type where they fight tooth and nail for a Champions League spot only to end up in 5th? Will Newcastle implode under the weight of additional fixtures and end up in mid-table?
Admittedly, these high flying teams got those lofty positions because the big ones failed, just like they did when Leicester won the league. Chelsea dropped a stinker, Liverpool lost their way for a while and Spurs were just erratic all season. What happens if those rich clubs fixed the bugs that ate deep into their season and got back on their feet?
The "big six" are rightly tagged because they're probably the six richest teams in England. Well, that's no longer the case with Newcastle boasting a bottomless pit of money (what I call 'ìyálaya owó'). Even though it may sound absurd, I think it's time we started drawing parallels between Newcastle and City. The only reason why Newcastle will not enjoy City's meteoric rise is simply because of the scary Financial Fair Play rules, something which wasn't in existence when City suddenly became wealthy and stole a quarter of Arsene Wenger's squad. Just imagine Newcastle adding Declan Rice, Mbappe, Lewandowski and Bukayo Saka to their squad.
Now, I've lived long enough to understand that teams like Newcastle may fizzle out, and Chelsea may just find their groove next season. However, this present Newcastle team looks scary. For all the talk about Guardiola's City playing impressive football, what we always omit is the physicality of their game. Pep accumulated physically imposing players with brilliant technicality; the short guys in the team - Bernardo, Alvarez and Foden- worked extra hard without the ball. This is similar to what Newcastle has, by parading tall guys with broad shoulders in virtually every position; those guys hunt like a pack of Wolves. If their technicality doesn't get you, their physicality will. Whenever I see Joelinton running at a defender with the ball it always looks like he was going to crash into that defender.
For me, I've always been an advocate of close contests. Why can't we have a league where there is no clear favourite at the beginning of the season, where there are no obvious shoo-ins for the top 4? The ups and downs are what makes football interesting - especially when one's team is not the dominant one.
It's been a season of pleasant surprises. I hope those surprises become regular top teams next season. I hope another team will win the league next season.
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