Contrasting fortunes for Premier League players and managers
It has been an extraordinary season in the Premier League with highs and lows for players and managers alike.
Here, we pick out five individuals who were on the rise in the 2018-19 season and five who were on the way down.
On the up
Virgil Van Dijk
— PFA | Professional Footballers' Association (@PFA) April 28, 2019
Eyebrows were raised when Liverpool paid Southampton £75million for Van Dijk in January 2018 – a world record fee for a defender. No more. The Dutch centre-half was the rock on which Liverpool built their assault on domestic and European glory, so impressive in fact that he became the first defender since John Terry in 2007 to be named the PFA Players’ Player of the Year.
Topping his 2017-18 season was a daunting exercise for Sterling. But the England winger did just that with another 20-plus goal campaign in which he became central to Pep Guardiola’s plans for domestic dominance. Sterling also emerged as a leader in football’s fight against racism, his courage off the field helping those looking to clean up the game.
Nuno Espirito Santo
Wolves were a breath of fresh air on their return to the Premier League. Yes, they were bankrolled by wealthy Chinese owners and benefited from their links with super-agent Jorge Mendes. But boss Nuno was the architect of some terrific football as Wolves finished the ‘best of the rest’ in seventh. A rare regret was missing out on an FA Cup final appearance as a 2-0 semi-final lead against Watford was lost.
The young West Ham midfielder started the season as a Republic of Ireland international and finished it as an England player. Rice had to face a backlash from Republic fans and some of his former teammates after choosing to play for the land of his birth. But it did not impact his form as he became a mainstay of an improving Hammers side, won England recognition and was regularly linked to top-six clubs.
The softly-spoken Spaniard bucked the Watford trend by lasting more than 12 months at Vicarage Road. It was not difficult to see why as Gracia recruited well and his high-energy football produced results. Watford improved on last season’s 14th-placed finish and reached the FA Cup final into the bargain. No wonder that Gracia, the ninth Watford manager appointed since 2012, was signed up on a long deal until 2023.
On the slide
Third season syndrome struck again for Mourinho as the Portuguese’s reign at Manchester United turned toxic. Mourinho fell out with star man Paul Pogba and others after complaining that he had been let down by the hierarchy over summer transfer funds. United were off the pace and a parting of the ways came after another defeat at Liverpool in December, raising the question whether the Premier League would ever see Mourinho again.
There was a shock return for Leicester’s 2016 title-winning manager in November. Ranieri was described as “risk-free” by Fulham owner Shahid Khan when he was named as Slavisa Jokanovic’s successor. But the 67-year-old Italian lasted 106 days after winning three of his 17 games. It was not all bad for Ranieri, though, as he resurfaced as Roma manager in March.
Sanchez’s stock fell at an alarming rate as his sad decline mirrored that of Manchester United’s. The Chilean managed just one league goal as he consistently struggled for form and fitness at Old Trafford. Sanchez was a pale imitation of the player who had shone at Arsenal and was regularly left out by Mourinho and his successor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Getting him off the wage bill would appear to be one of United’s summer ambitions.
The Austrian’s 11 goals had almost single-handedly kept West Ham in the top flight the previous season. Arnautovic was a fans’ favourite, but then came a January transfer saga with the striker keen to accept huge money on offer in China. Arnautovic eventually stayed at West Ham, signing a handsome new contract within days, but his form suffered as he failed to score in the Premier League again until May.
After spending two seasons out on loan from Manchester City at Torino and West Ham, Hart’s desire for some stability had apparently been realised. The former England goalkeeper penned a two-year deal at Burnley and had European football to look forward to. But Burnley were in the bottom three and Hart had conceded 41 goals in 19 games following a 5-1 Boxing Day drubbing to Everton. Hart did not play another game and he may well be on the move again this summer.