Johnny Phillips: What a finale...but a two-horse race is not healthy competition

The final day of the Premier League season lived up to expectations in terms of drama.

Manchester City's Fernandinho lifts the Premier League trophy following the the Premier League match at The Etihad Stadium, Manchester. Picture date: Sunday May 22, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire...RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications..
Manchester City's Fernandinho lifts the Premier League trophy following the the Premier League match at The Etihad Stadium, Manchester. Picture date: Sunday May 22, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire...RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications..

Very few seasons go to the wire at both the bottom and top end of the table, but 2021/22 will not be forgotten in a hurry.

Add in the battle for European places and last Sunday had plenty of storylines up and down the country.

Before the last fixtures nobody could have denied either Manchester City or Liverpool as worthy champions, such is their quality over the rest of the pack.

The way City ran out winners with such a dramatic turnaround against Aston Villa illustrated the quality of their expensively assembled squad, which just about pips Liverpool’s in terms of depth.

When Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker and Ilkay Gundogan can’t make the starting XI you know that Pep Guardiola has an embarrassment of riches.

Liverpool have the considerable consolation of a possible cup treble on offer if they can overcome Real Madrid tonight.

Jurgen Klopp deserves huge credit for taking his team to the final match of every competition this season with something to play for.

While we are witnessing two of the greatest club teams in history, the duopoly is not healthy for the league in general.

It feels a long time since there were challengers at the top from elsewhere.

Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur are the best of the rest but they still lag a long way behind. Both need significant strengthening in the summer if they are to change the status quo.

At the other end of the table Burnley finally succumbed to the drop. Sacking Sean Dyche for the run-in probably wasn’t the wisest move, given that he consistently worked wonders with a measly budget at Turf Moor.

Just as City proved that money talks at the top, so it does at the bottom. Burnley simply don’t invest enough in their squad to compete. And, without sounding harsh, their brand of football won’t be missed.

With Norwich City and Watford proving utterly incapable of producing anything close to a respectable season on the pitch, there can be no argument that the league has lost its three poorest teams.

Leeds United’s stoppage-time winner at Brentford was a fitting end to their chaotic season.

The jury is still out on Jesse Marsch, who will have plenty of work to do during the summer to ensure Leeds fans don’t get put through this again.

Leeds are great on the eye and full of flair going forward, but their defence is still staffed with players from League One and they need far better organisation next season.

Everton fans will want to forget the last 10 months but they have reason to be optimistic if Frank Lampard is given the opportunity to clear out the mistakes of recent seasons.

Supporters have warmed to the man who replaced Rafa Benitez midway through the campaign. Lampard proved to be the unity candidate and helped end the toxic atmosphere that had enveloped Goodison Park.

He clearly understands what makes the fans tick and cares deeply about the club.

Elsewhere, a special mention to the job Thomas Frank has done at Brentford.

Thirteen victories in their Premier League debut season is some achievement.

They survived a wobble in the second half of the campaign to stave off the threat of relegation and rallied to finish one point and one place above Villa in mid- table.

Steven Gerrard has already given his honest assessment of Villa’s season.

The highs of signing Philippe Coutinho and that win away at Manchester United were accompanied by the lows of dropping so many points from winning positions, succinctly encapsulated in five mad minutes at the Etihad Stadium last Sunday.

Gerrard knows the frailties in this team, and I’d back him to put out a far more resilient Villa side next season.

Brighton & Hove Albion’s improvements under Graham Potter went under the radar but a strong finish to the season saw them finish ninth, above Wolves on goal difference.

Marc Cucurella looks a real find at left wing-back, but there is quality elsewhere with Leandro Trossard improving all the time.

The 4-0 home demolition of Manchester United was a season highlight at the Amex Stadium.

United just about clung on to a Europa League place, but their fans will be dismayed at the direction the club headed in this season.

They finished 35 points behind City and the gulf between the two sides is huge. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s spell in charge deserves to be remembered for more than that 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool in October, but it stands out as a defining moment in the season.

His replacement, Ralf Rangnick, could not motivate a squad that regularly produced under par performances.

The statistics suggest that Cristiano Ronaldo’s season was a success but it’s hard to escape the thought that his arrival unbalanced the team.

Many around him have had poor seasons, with Bruno Fernandes and Jadon Sancho failing to live up to expectations. Erik ten Hag has an enormous task ahead if United are to reclaim a Champions’ League place next season.

And to finish on a quick nod to today’s Championship play-off final, I’d love to see Nottingham Forest back in the big time, adding their own colourful story to the ones we witnessed in the 2021/22 Premier League season.

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