Premier League 2021-22 review: flops of the season

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·4-min read
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Manchester United

It is difficult writing lists that point out individual failings, so it is quite pleasing how bad Manchester United have been across the board. On the player front Fred, Cristiano Ronaldo and David de Gea escape with their reputations relatively intact. The summer recruits Jadon Sancho and Raphaël Varane have struggled to fit in, which is quite difficult in such a poor team. Ole Gunnar Solskjær could not get much of a tune out of the squad and Ralf Rangnick has arguably been worse. England’s Harry Maguire and Marcus Rashford have endured a miserable time. Maguire has looked off the pace and was dropped for the April defeat by Arsenal. Rashford has come off the bench more times than he has started in the league, resulting in four goals in 25 appearances. Even the catering at Old Trafford is not up to scratch. The BT Sport presenter Jake Humphrey tweeted a photo of his offering – scrambled egg and mash potato – to rightful derision. Good luck, Mr Ten Hag.

Norwich’s recruitment

When a team finish bottom, you know something has gone wrong. Few expected Norwich to stay up but ending with 22 points will hurt. Teemu Pukki has 11 goals but their second-top scorer in the league is Josh Sargent with two, which he scored in a 3-0 win over Watford. The director of football, Stewart Webber, has received plenty of criticism for his recruitment strategy. Their most creative asset, Emi Buendía, was sold over the summer and not replaced, despite the club bringing in 11 first-team signings. Few had Premier League experience and the Chelsea loanee Billy Gilmour never looked like fitting into the system. Daniel Farke was sacked in October; Dean Smith has overseen a slight improvement and will be confident of bringing them back up. He will hope the players, like the hierarchy, will learn from their mistakes.

Premier League ownership test

“The Premier League has now received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club” is possibly the least reassuring sentence of the season. Some have accused Saudi Arabia of buying Newcastle as part of a sportswashing campaign but surely that cannot be true. Can spending £25m on Chris Wood really make the world forget about the awful human rights record in the country or the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi? Could the supposed new away kit design that would invite Newcastle fans to splash out on a Saudi Arabia national team replica with a different badge really make the country seem more acceptable? Yes, it can. “If it is true that Newcastle United is changing its away kit to match Saudi Arabia’s national colours, it exposes the power of the Saudi dollar and the kingdom’s determination to sportswash its brutal, blood-soaked human rights record,” Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK’s head of campaigns, said.

Yasir al-Rumayyan, the chairman of Newcastle, and Amanda Staveley, a part-owner, look on from the stands.
Yasir al-Rumayyan, the chairman of Newcastle, and Amanda Staveley, a part-owner, look on from the stands. Photograph: James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images

Watford

Roy Hodgson slammed a group of his players for failing to stand up and be counted in their relegation battle. “Perhaps I’m left to reflect that some of the players suggested to me as the ones who would resolve the club’s parlous situation weren’t, in fact, able to produce the performances that they’d been billed as being capable of,” Hodgson wrote in his programme notes before the 5-1 loss against Leicester. Hodgson is not alone in the Watford dressing room. Ben Foster said: “You just don’t really know what you’re going to get from us, to be perfectly honest. We’ve got too many players who are happy to put it in for an hour, 70 minutes, but then probably fall off and happily let it go in the last 20 minutes.” When your manager and goalkeeper are happy to call you out for abject failure, maybe it is time to take a long hard look at yourself and soon realise why you are a Championship player.

Romelu Lukaku

The Belgian returned to England to prove Chelsea and the Premier League wrong after being cast aside by the Blues earlier in his career and deemed surplus to requirements at Manchester United in 2019. Forty-seven league goals and a Serie A title at Internazionale meant Thomas Tuchel came calling with a £97m cheque. Sadly for Lukaku he has never looked like the striker Chelsea need to help them challenge Manchester City and Liverpool. He has started 16 Premier League matches and come off the bench 10 times, a sign of his status in the squad. Lukaku has 13 cup starts, making him very much a second-string option in a team without a prolific striker – Mason Mount is the top scorer in the league with 11, three ahead of Lukaku. If Lukaku stays, he or Chelsea will need to change, otherwise it could be another forgettable spell in England for the striker.

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