The 2018-19 season of the Premier League saw football fans witness arguably the greatest title race in the history of the competition, with Liverpool and the eventual champions Manchester City setting new benchmarks in terms of quality and the relentless winning of matches.
It may have been Pep Guardiola’s outfit that emerged victorious on the last day, and claimed the League and FA Cups too, but Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool will go down as the best ever runners-up, having accumulated 97 points - just one shy of City’s total.
The Anfield club would have won the league in 25 of the seasons in the Premier League era with their 97 points, but in 2018-19 they were just, just shy of matching the ruthless champions in Man City. It was a season of failure for Fulham, Cardiff City, and Huddersfield Town, who all dropped down to the English championship.
With City have broke the 100-point barrier in the Premier League the season before, Guardiola didn’t feel the need to break something else - the bank - in the summer of 2018, with their net spend coming at just over £20m after the sale of various fringe players helped fund the purchase of Riyad Mahrez from Leicester. Manchester Utd spent a little more, but Jose Mourinho was left frustrated at their inability to secure a top-drawer centre-back, with just Diogo Dalot and Fred coming in of note. The biggest spenders were Liverpool, who signed Alisson, Fabinho, and Xherdan Shaqiri, with Naby Keita also finally joined after his agreed transfer in January. For Chelsea, they shelled out £72m on the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga, from Athletic, while new head coach Maurizio Sarri brought in Jorginho from his former club Napoli as well as Mateo Kovacic and Gonzalo Higuain, with the latter joining in January. They would also arrange a 2019 summer transfer for Christian Pulisic of Dortmund. As well as at Chelsea, there were new managerial eras at Arsenal with Unai Emery, Everton with Marco Silva, and West Ham Utd with Manuel Pellegrini. The division also welcomed Cardiff, Fulham, and Wolves from the Championship.
City were attempted to become the first team in a decade to successfully defend as champions, and they started the season with that in mind, winning 13 of their opening 15 fixtures, with their first loss coming at the hands of Chelsea. Despite not playing poorly at Stamford Bridge, City succumbed to a 2-0 smash-and-grab win from the hosts, with N’Golo Kante and David Luiz scoring. This would present the first wobble of the season for the champions who would lose two out of the next three games in the league against Crystal Palace and Leciester, with Andros Townsend scoring a goal-of-the-season contender from 40 yards out for the former at the Etihad.
Liverpool, meanwhile, were looking like real contenders as they went unbeaten in the entire first half of the season, winning 17 of their opening 20 games. They came undone, however, in the pivotal moment of the campaign at the turn of the year. At the Etihad, they lost 2-1 to City with Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane scoring for the home side, with John Stones providing the defensive moment of the season to deny Sadio Mane with a clearance off the line - by just 1.12cm! That cut Liverpool’s lead to four points, and from there, City were like an unstoppable train gunning for the title. Guardiola’s men, incredibly, won every one of their last 14 matches, while Liverpool dropped points in draws against Leicester, West Ham, Man Utd, and Everton.
The Reds were relying on other teams to do them a favour in the last few fixtures, and it nearly came on the penultimate evening of the season as it seemed like Leicester would hold City to a draw, only for Vincent Kompany to produce a moment of magic with a 25-yard thunderbolt into the top corner. From there, City easily dispatched of Brighton on the final day, when they were crowned champions. For Liverpool, they became the first team ever not to win the league after just losing one game.
While one side of Manchester enjoyed their time, the other was down in the dumps, as the tenure of Mourinho started to affect the team before on and off the pitch. Reported tiffs with star players such as Paul Pogba, again, were becoming a weekly occurrence, with the boring certainty of a fall-out within the squad only being surpassed by the action on the pitch at Old Trafford. No new signings worked out, while the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez played at points like they had their talent stolen by the aliens of Space Jam. The ‘Special One’ was eventually sacked and replaced by former player and fan hero Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who gave the team an instant lift, only for form to plummet towards the end of the season. They lost five out of their last nine games, including a last-day horror show against already-relegated Cardiff.
With Man City and Liverpool competing for the league and Man Utd in chaos, it became apparent that the London sides - Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham, would all be competing for the two remaining Champions League positions. All three had their ups and downs, but any dip in form could be slightly forgiven as each of them progressed to a European final - Arsenal and Chelsea in the Europe League and Spurs in the Champions League.
Maurizio Sarri desperately attempted to implement his ‘Sarriball’ philosophy, with mixed results, as for every defeat of Man City came a loss to Wolves or Wolves or Bournemouth. Coincidentally, City would get revenge for that loss later on in the season with a 6-0 drubbing of Chelsea at the Etihad.
Unai Emery had big shoes to fill, and was continually forced to patch up a leaky defence. The Gunners, however, had the luxury of relying on the striking duo of Alexandre Lacazette and the superb Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to bail them out on more than one occasion.
This was the toughest league title win of my careerPep Guardiola
Spurs, meanwhile, were immediately written off as title contenders in the summer as Mauricio Pochettino did not spend a single penny in the transfer market. Even though there were no new additions, they managed to finish third and make it to their aforementioned first ever Champions League final. To top it all off, they (eventually) moved into their brand new stadium.
The surprise package of the season came in the form of Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves, who blew away the competition in the Championship the previous year. With the excellent Ruben Neves, Diogo Jota, and new arrivals Raul Jimenez and Joao Moutinho blending in superbly with the English talent at their disposal, they finished seventh and even claimed the scalps of Chelsea, Spurs, and Man Utd.
Down at the bottom end of the table, Huddersfield’s complete inability to score goals saw them looking doomed from fairly early on, while Fulham’s £100m splurge on new talent in the summer didn’t exactly work out, as they went through three head coaches before being relegated. Cardiff, whose season was sadly defined by the death of star signing Emiliano Salo in a plane crash shortly after signing, also finished in the bottom three.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
MANAGER OF THE SEASON
The league’s greatest ever runners-up were bettered thanks to one man, Pep Guardiola.
YOUNG PLAYER OF THE SEASON
At 24-yeard-old, it may seem daft that Sterling won the young POTY, but take nothing away from his performances. Guardiola has moulded him into one of the most potent attackers playing today.
PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG, MOHAMED SALAH, SADIO MANE
The Golden boot of the 2018-19 season belongs to Africa.
TEAM OF THE SEASON
EDERSON; ALEXANDER-ARNOLD, VAN DIJK, LAPORTE, ROBERTSON; DAVID SILVA, FERNANDINHO, POGBA; STERLING, AGUERO, MANE.
GOAL OF THE SEASON
With the ball supposedly cleared out of the danger area, ANDROS TOWNSEND tries his luck with a volley from around 35 yards, and boy does it pay off, as he nearly bursts the net behind Ederson.
MOST EXPENSIVE TRANSFER
Athletic Bilbao to CHELSEA
KEY MOMENT OF THE SEASON
John Stones miraculously clearing the ball off the line against Liverpool
Vincent Kompany’s dramatic long-range winning-goal against Leicester.
If just one of these things never happened - Liverpool would be champions.