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Greetings, PL enthusiasts, and welcome to the offseason.
The summer is just getting into gear for yours truly, but I felt it would be nice, amusing, and probably embarrassing to take a look back at the predictions that were made before last season, a tradition we have been carrying in the PL department of NBC Sports Edge for a few years now.
This year, before I sat down to compile the results, I had an idea that I would personally deem "fun". How anyone reading this will define it shall eventually come to pass, but it seems a more enjoyable way to both put this piece together and for the reader to digest it. Perhaps during the Covid era, like me, maybe you spent a lot of down time rifling through YouTube videos, going down one rabbit hole after another. One such hole I found myself going down often, and continue to this day, is the "reaction video". It is simple - someone watches a movie, listens to a song or takes in a stand-up comic routine for the first time, and the viewer gets to see a genuine reaction to something they have an established interest in.
So, after describing it in the most boring way possible, let's dive straight into this. You will have to go with the honor code but I will do these one question at a time, carefully scrolling through the column last year to stop and write my reaction. There are very, very few answers to questions I gave myself that I can remember. In fact, only one thing comes to mind and I know I got that wrong, so this should really be a treat to do...
YOUR TOP FOUR
Andrew - Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham
Chuck - Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham
Neal - Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal
Steve - Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United
Okay...okay...This isn't as bad as I thought. Sure, I could get some flak for being the only person to get the title-winner prediction wrong (these were listed in order of 1st-4th, FYI). But, hold on just a second here. I see only one staffer who accurately predicted who the top four would be and YES!, I will take those honors!
Nah, the other lot were living in a more stable reality, aware that City was way more likely to take the title, rather than witness Liverpool repeat - a feat that is not easy to do, particularly in the modern era. However, I will say this - the loss of Virgil Van Dijk for the Reds at the beginning of the season lost them that title right then and there. He is the central figure of last year's trophy, it stands to reason he's also why there is not one to put in this season's cabinet.
But yeah, the big pick was at #4. Three of us went with north London sides, and your boy here went rogue. I'd like to think Neal predicting his Gunners making top four while I omitted my Spurs from such heights really speaks to the mentality of Arsenal and Tottenham supporters. One, perhaps a bit too optimistic, the other, mired in eternal pessimism...for good reason. Sadly, leaving Spurs out, for me, was the easiest aspect of this question. I may not know much, but I knew from the jump that José Mourinho in charge would be a disaster.
YOUR BOTTOM THREE
Andrew - Brighton, Aston Villa, Fulham
Chuck - Aston Villa, Leeds, Fulham
Neal - West Brom, Crystal Palace, Fulham
Steve - Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, Fulham
Right, okay, if there is anything to be embarrassed about here, at least I am sharing it with everyone else. We all whiffed on Aston Villa...completely. I mean, in hindsight, how silly is it to think that it was universally agreed upon that, not only would Villa be for the drop...but that we were all convinced Sheffield United were going to survive? Apparently easily? Wow, anyone got a spatula handy, because we all have egg on our face there.
Neal was the only one of the staff to predict two out of three correctly. Naturally, they were the two other promoted sides, so it was not exactly a stretch, but an accurate call nonetheless and deserves its recognition. Meanwhile, Fulham were the only side that we all got right. Again, not too much in terms of an "on a limb" predicting here, Fulham simply did not bring much in to beef up their side for the top flight, and I think Alphonse Aréola's loan signing had not gone through yet. Chuck had it rough here, dismissing Leeds chances along with Villa.
In fact, that should be a through line for the Villa prediction because, come to think of it, they made several of their additions on the eve of the season's start, right up until deadline day, so I am thinking the likes of Emiliano Martinez were not in the equation yet. Quality keepers folks - they can make or break your club. Martinez lifted Villa to a higher level, there is no doubt. Conversely, I do not think there is a more obvious reason to point to Sheffield United's demise than the loss of Dean Henderson between the sticks.
CLUB THAT MOST EXCEEDS EXPECTATIONS
Andrew - Everton
Chuck - West Brom
Neal - Leeds United
Steve - Brighton
Well, this one is a bit tougher to dissect because, well, it all depends on your definition of what the expectations were for these clubs. I think without a good measuring stick, one can still give Neal the honors for predicting the best here. Leeds finished higher in the table than all of these other sides and their home record against the "big six" this season was one of the more impressive storylines of the 2020-2021 campaign.
I think Andrew and I would take the tie for the bronze medal here. Everton got off to a terrific start and were certainly going to give Andrew the honors for this prediction were they able to keep it up, but injuries were a factor throughout the season and seemed to really interrupt the flow of the Toffees. Brighton - I refuse to consider this a bad call, I simply made it one season too soon. I see lots of growth in Brighton and, if you believe in the metric of Xg (expected goals), you will find that the Seagulls really should have flown higher than they did this season. I am the writer of this column, that is my excuse, that is what we are going with.
The only pick here that stands out a bit "cringe", I suppose, would have to be West Brom. I am sure singling out Chuck will not be a running theme here, but 19th in the table would be an example of exceeding expectations for the Blades. To be fair, most of us thought the Baggies would do better than they did. Remember, three out of four of us had them safe from relegation.
FIRST MANAGER SACKED
Andrew - David Moyes
Chuck - Dean Smith
Neal - Roy Hodgson
Steve - David Moyes
Alright, alright, now we can have a proper laugh. Boy, did we all misfire on this one, and I will say it, especially myself and Andrew. Turns out, Moyes put in his best managerial effort in a decade, guiding West Ham to darn-near a top four finish and finishing above my beloved Spurs. Why did I not put Mourinho on this list? It would have still been wrong, but I knew that marriage wouldn't last. I cannot speak for Andrew, but I recall there being some reported dissent in the West Ham clubhouse and Moyes' career had been taking a downward path for years at that point. I figure one or two bad, bloated signings and a slow start would show him the door. I was way, way wrong.
The other two picks did not misfire as much as the Moyes one did, but they certainly missed the target. Dean Smith enjoyed a solid season managing an Aston Villa side, during their peak in midseason, capable of giving any opponent a run for their money. Yet another pick who, not only was not sacked early, but still holds the job as we speak...in good standing. Technically, Roy Hodgson's Palace career may be through, but it was not due to being fired. He finished out the season guiding the Eagles to safety when I thought they were in jeopardy of dropping - a side that had aged another season with too many starters on the wrong side of 30 years old.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR -
Andrew - Raheem Sterling
Chuck - Mo Salah
Neal - Kevin De Bruyne
Steve - Trent Alexander-Arnold
None of us had Bruno Fernandes? Really?
Yeah, I remember this one in the moment. I was considering Fernandes, honestly. My being the only one on staff to have Manchester United finishing top four should lend some credibility to the claim. However, I also saw Liverpool taking the title and thought about the impact on both sides of the ball that Trent Alexander-Arnold would have, and I pictured a player that had to at least be in the conversation. Both Andrew and I were farther down the spectrum of "wrong" on this one, with Andrew taking Sterling, who was arguably not even a top five player on his own team.
As of this column's writing, the PL Player of the Year has not been announced - but there is a shortlist and both Mo Salah and Kevin De Bruyne are on it, so credit due to Chuck and Neal for being in the ballpark. Obviously, had KdB stayed fit all season, it may have made Neal the clear winner of this prediction. When you look at the "super-short" list for POY honors, we all missed the mark. Fernandes, along with Harry Kane and Tomas Soucek, are the front-runners for the honor. I think you have to give it to Fernandes here, though Soucek is a fantastic shout.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Andrew - Gylfi Sigurdsson
Chuck - Alexandre Lacazette
Neal - Adam Lallana
Steve - Ben Davies
Right, we knew this had to get cringeworthy beyond measure eventually, and I do believe we have finally arrived. Wow! Not only is this a bad list, but half of these picks barely even cracked the XI throughout the season.
Let's give credit where it is due first. Sure, if one of us would have guessed Jesse Lingard, we would be entitled to gloat about it until the end of time. But Chuck's pick of Alexandre Lacazette deserves credit. It was not a great season, fantasy or otherwise, for the Gunners, but Lacazette was probably their most dependable attacking player when things were going right for Mikel Arteta's side. And to Andrew's credit - Sigurdsson did become more of a fantasy factor in the second half of Everton's season.
But when it comes to Neal and myself - oof. I have a bit of an excuse. Clearly, when this was written, Tottenham had yet to sign Sergio Reguilón and it was looking more and more like Davies would start, with perhaps Ryan Sessegnon offering a challenge as the next one down the depth chart. Of course I would not have gone Davies had Reguilon already been on board, but to be fair, it is still an awful choice on my part. Neal might take the cake, though. I remember the day that Brighton signed Lallana and the FPL community getting Lallana Fever. To be fair, he did way less than even I was imagining, but I knew the hype was just nostalgia getting in the way. It was too much to expect Lallana to magically relive his gloriously productive days at Southampton when he has spent half a decade spending the bulk of his time sitting down.
TOP PLAYER NEW TO PL
Andrew - Matheus Pereira
Chuck - Kai Havertz
Neal - Timo Werner
Steve - Kai Havertz
Right, the pain continues on here. All things considered, Andrew nailed the pick, as Pereira finished with more FPL points than any of the Chelsea picks, and you could toss Hakim Ziyech into the equation if you wanted to. Yet, for now, Pereira is out of the league, and he really did not come into his own until about the final third of the season.
Still, dishonors have to go to Andrew and myself here for backing Havertz out of all the players we could have chose. It just goes to show, and this will be a philosophy I intend to apply going forward, that the best "talent" new to the league does not always, in fact usually not at all, translates to the biggest impact player. I think for the three of us that backed a Chelsea player, it was the mental picture of a club with deep pockets, able to dip into the market and spend again. We all had the Blues finishing top four, it would stand to reason that one of their new outside-the-league signings would stand out as a major reason why. And yet, what an odd season for what turned out to be champions of all Europe - their top goal getter in the PL was Jorginho.
BIGGEST FLOP NEW TO PL
Andrew - Hakim Ziyech
Chuck - Rodrigo Moreno
Neal - Thiago Silva
Steve - Eberechi Eze
Ok, my face is starting to turn red...I am not sure if I want to continue this exercise. Yeah, I am going to go ahead and say my Eze call was easily the worst of the bunch here. I think the call fell in line with my thoughts on Palace, who I had as being one for the drop before the season began. Eze, for me, felt like one of those signings that had the good young talent that they desperately needed, but he was really the only fresh face they brought in and I thought it would be too much pressure for him. I apologize, Mr. Eze. You developed nicely in your first season in the top flight and will probably be putting you on my watchlist ahead of next season.
The other three calls were not bad. Chelsea once again were under the microscope, as two of the four picks came from Stamford Bridge. I will give the honors to Andrew on this one though, as Ziyech was meant to be a top attacking player with regular playing time, while Thiago Silva was more like adding depth than anything else. Rodrigo is an interesting call. On the one hand, you could technically say he flopped, given his career resume and resulting numbers from this past season, but it had less to do with him flopping and more to do with all the great attacking talent around him that kept him a substitute option more often than not.
MOST OVERRATED/OVERPRICED FANTASY PICK
Andrew - Roberto Firmino
Chuck - Adam Lallana
Neal - Hakim Ziyech
Steve - Paul Pogba
Well, you have to give our staff credit for one thing - none of us seemed to be impressed by the Ziyech signing. A flop to some, the most overpriced to others, he fit both bills snugly. Props to Chuck for going against what was, at the time, a love fest for Adam Lallana, and considering his fantasy output this season, he was overpriced at any price, but I am going to go with my pick as the winner here - and should be every season. After his first season with United, it has become tradition every year when the FPL game goes live to scan the player price list, find Pogba's name, and chuckle. Hey, under a different scoring system than FPL, Pogba has plenty of value. But at that set FPL price with FPL scoring, he is never, ever going to be in my team. Ever. And that, to me, is the definition of overpriced.
The least convincing pick of the three here would have to be Firmino, who, if anything, had a pretty underrated fantasy year. He actually may have been more consistent when you factor in his price than either Mo Salah or Sadio Mané. To be fair, his role changed somewhat this past season, and he has been better utilized for it. He started the season priced at 9.5m and finished 9.1m, so the love was never there from the entire community.
MOST PRODUCTIVE BUDGET/UNDERRATED FANTASY PICK
Andrew - Aleksandar Mitrovic
Chuck - Allan Saint-Maximin
Neal - Phil Foden
Steve - James Maddison
And here is our final category. Do we have a winner here? I don't think so. Just varying degrees of losing. Someone has to take the dishonors, so I would have to say that Andrew's pick of Mitrovic looks the worst here, as the striker could not even make the XI of a side destined for relegation all season and in desperate need of a source for goals. Mitrovic might win honors for most overrated underrated pick, but that is about it. Chuck and Neal were in the ballpark and made solid choices I feel. I will give Chuck a bit more credit, because his pick could have looked much better had Saint-Maximin stayed fit, whereas in the case of Phil Foden, playing time was always going to be a concern so, thought we got to see a step up in his young career, anointing him as a productive budget pick probably came one year too soon. Let's hope the FPL gods give Foden a fair price to start next season.
Finally, there is Maddison, who I will say was a poor pick from me. Honestly, if he were a bit cheaper in price, I would not be so hard on myself, but I set a limit as to what defined a "budget" player and Maddison only just qualified. Once again though, as much talent as there may be to come from the playmaker, Maddison could not crack his own XI in weeks when he was fit. But hey, maybe the lack of expected production will keep his price down for next season and I will back him once more.