If Christmas is almost here, it means we’re almost halfway through the 2016-17 season. So much has happened already that we asked Iain Macintosh to sum it up through the medium of GIFs.
You want a dramatic, Aaron Sorkin-style cold open? Oh, the Premier League gave us one. Leicester City, all conquering champions by an astonishing margin of 10 points in May, up against newly promoted Hull City, ravaged by injuries and hamstrung by indolent owners. And then this happened.
Is it Arsenal’s year? Is it ever Arsenal’s year? Well, actually, it seemed like it might be this summer. They had an expensive new midfielder. They were about to buy an expensive new defender. What could possibly go wrong? Well, the first game went wrong. Liverpool put four past them at home. But at least the Arsenal fans took it in stride.
At long last, Pep Guardiola arrived in the Premier League this summer and unveiled his new formation against Sunderland (the first of many): a very fluid sort of 4-2-3-1 with inverted full-backs and midfielders who occasionally sit deeper than the centre-backs. The pundits reacted accordingly.
West Ham took up residence in their all-new, taxpayer-funded stadium, but there were a few teething problems. Nothing much, mind you: just a couple minor disagreements among supporters.
Swansea City’s new owners had big plans. A few new faces. A new manager. A chance to really take the next step.
Under Jose Mourinho, Manchester United started well. They won their first four games. It was really impressive. Then they met Manchester City. And then Feyenoord. And then Watford. And let’s be honest, they made hard work of Northampton too.
Not that Man City kept their impressive run going for much longer. After 10 straight wins in all competitions, they were thrown off their stride by Celtic and didn’t win again for more than a month.
Everton could have taken top spot after six games, but what appeared to be a convincing push for a top-four place very quickly ran out of momentum.
Chelsea and manager Antonio Conte seemed to be in a bit of a bother in September. They were beaten at home by Liverpool and then were battered by Arsenal. But Conte was about to execute an astonishing transformation, complete with 11 straight league wins …
After a year in charge, Jurgen Klopp turned Liverpool from an inconsistent mob of upper mid-table chancers into a ferocious attacking force. The improvement was startling.
Then again, so was Liverpool’s defending. In fact, you could usually see what was going to go wrong some time before it went wrong.
Most people agreed that if anyone were going to sort out Sunderland, it would be David Moyes. His sensible, cautious brand of football management was exactly what they needed, wasn’t it? Yeah, they lost eight of their first 10 games.
Last season’s surprises seemed to suggest that the era of big club domination was at an end, that the smaller teams, enriched by all that TV money, could finally compete on something approaching a level playing field. But as 2016 drew to a close, it turned out that the big clubs weren’t in quite as much trouble as we thought.
As for Leicester … well, it really isn’t looking good.
Nevertheless, the excitement ahead of the second half of the season is palpable. Not least because we have nearly three months until the next tedious international break.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.