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
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 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 main 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.
As the 2018/19 Premier League season draws to a close, Press Association Sport details some weird and wonderful facts from what has occurred over the last nine months.
1 Liverpool could finish the season on 97 points and still finish empty-handed. If Manchester City win at Brighton on the final day of the season, it will be of scant consolation to Liverpool to know they are, by some distance, the best second-placed team in the history of the competition.
It seems illogical that a team who have only lost once all season could finish runners-up but that is the situation Jurgen Klopp’s men are faced with as their destiny lies out of their hands.
2 Barring Sergio Aguero running riot at the Amex Stadium on Sunday, Mohamed Salah will retain the Golden Boot after finding the net 22 times. Unless the Egyptian scores a hat-trick against Wolves, it will be lowest tally since Manchester United forward Dimitar Berbatov collected the award in 2011 after scoring 20 goals.
3 Aguero moved level with Alan Shearer’s record of 11 hat-tricks. The Argentinian bagged a treble on three occasions this season, putting Huddersfield, Arsenal and Chelsea to the sword in virtuoso displays.
4 Tottenham became the first club to go the whole season without signing a player in a campaign where they belatedly moved into their new stadium.
It has largely been all-or-nothing for Spurs this season, who have only drawn once and been beaten on 13 occasions, as they juggle the demands of domestic and European fixtures, but the Champions League finalists remain poised to finish in the top-four.
5 Manchester United have already set a new benchmark for the most goals they have ever conceded in a Premier League season, with their defence breached on 52 occasions already. Not since the 1978/79 campaign (63 goals) have the Red Devils shipped more goals.
6 David Silva’s six assists this season moved him on to 81 in total and into the all-time top 10 list. The Spanish playmaker is often at the heart of City’s moves going forward so it is perhaps no surprise to see him up to eighth.
Liverpool’s James Milner, with 82 assists, is the only active player ahead of him.
7 Peter Crouch made a surprising return to the top-flight after swapping Championship Stoke for Burnley in the January transfer window. The former Southampton, Aston Villa, Portsmouth, Tottenham and Liverpool target man has now represented seven Premier League clubs.
Marcus Bent holds the record with eight clubs, having represented Crystal Palace, Blackburn, Ipswich, Leicester, Everton, Charlton, Wigan and Wolves.
8 Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson overtook Sir Bobby Robson’s record as the oldest Premier League manager when, aged 71 years and 199 days, he was at the helm for his side’s game against Leicester on February 23.
Hodgson and Robson are among the four managers to take charge of a Premier League game in their 70s – Sir Alex Ferguson and Cardiff’s Neil Warnock are the others.
9 Huddersfield equalled Derby’s record for the earliest relegation in terms of fixtures remaining when their return to the Championship was confirmed after a 2-0 defeat at Crystal Palace with six matches of the season left.
Derby, however, were relegated a day earlier in the calendar on March 29, 2008, while their record low of 11 points still stands, with the Terriers on 15 ahead of the final game of the season.
A relentless title race between Manchester City and Liverpool went right to the wire and will live long in the memory for fans of both clubs and neutrals alike.
But this season has also seen plenty of moments some players would rather forget.
Penalty points for Mahrez
Perhaps we should be grateful to Riyad Mahrez because without his horrible penalty miss in October, the title race might have been very different.
Manchester City went to Anfield looking for their first league win away to Liverpool in 15 years, and were handed a glorious chance to take it when Virgil Van Dijk fouled Leroy Sane in the 85th minute. But Mahrez, having waved Gabriel Jesus away, hit a wild penalty kick way over the bar.
De Gea’s debacles
Having been Manchester United’s rock for so long, a string of mistakes from David De Gea contributed to the collapse of their top-four hopes in the final weeks of the season.
Although it was a draw at Huddersfield which finally ruled them out of contention, the key result was a 1-1 draw with rivals Chelsea at Old Trafford, when Marcos Alonso capitalised on a mistake from De Gea to cancel out Juan Mata’s opener.
De Gea failed to hold what should have been a routine save from Antonio Rudiger, allowing Alonso to fire in the rebound.
Several England players seemed to carry a World Cup hangover into the Premier League season, but Jordan Pickford’s lasted the longest. There was his meltdown against Newcastle, rivals of his boyhood club Sunderland, and unsavoury scenes on a night out back home, but the biggest howler came in the Merseyside derby.
Everton were on course for a valuable point at Anfield until his inexplicable mis-handling of Virgil Van Dijk’s soft, looping header in stoppage time gifted Divock Origi a stunning winner.
There is not much Fulham will want to remember about a wretched season which saw them get through three managers on their way straight back to the Championship despite huge investment last summer.
But the worst moment of all came in December when they were awarded a late penalty against Huddersfield. Aboubakar Kamara wrestled with team-mate Aleksandar Mitrovic – the team’s designated penalty taker – for the ball but, having won the right to take it, saw a tame effort saved by Jonas Lossl.
Kamara earned the scorn of manager Claudio Ranieri and, following a training ground incident a few weeks later which led to his arrest, was farmed out on loan to Yeni Malatyaspor for the rest of the campaign.
Miss of the season?
There are a few candidates for this crown. Southampton’s Shane Long hitting the post of an open goal against rivals Bournemouth; City’s Sergio Aguero firing wide from point-blank range against Chelsea (mitigated by the fact he went on to score a hat-trick).
But the winner is surely Matt Ritchie, who missed the target from less than a yard against Burnley in November. His only saving grace is that Newcastle won 2-1 despite it.