José Mourinho at Tottenham. José Mourinho... at Tottenham. José Mourinho at Tottenham? José Mourinho at Tottenham!
It's strange, isn't it? It just doesn't feel right, for now at least. I'm sure once he cups his ear for the first time, saluting a Tottenham Hotspur Stadium crowd giddy-drunk from those magic pints that fill up from the bottom after an unashamedly gritty 2-0 win over Burnley, it will all start to feel normal. Until then, well, I'm going to try and make it every bit as weird as possible.
What I've done is... what I've done is used Football Manager 2020 to sack every Premier League manager (other than the newly appointed José Mourinho) and swap them with ill-fitting replacements. Some (the lucky ones) have simply moved to other teams, whilst some (the unlucky ones) have been thrown into the airlock and blasted into space, never to be seen or heard from again. I'm looking at you Quique Sánchez Flores. Nobody knows anything about you Quique Sánchez Flores. For the last time: leave the Premier League alone Quique Sánchez Flores.
So in this beautifully daring and daringly beautiful alternate reality we have things like: Pep Guardiola in charge of Burnley, Jürgen Klopp in charge of Southampton and Kolo Touré in charge of Brighton (don't ask). In this alternate reality we have other things like: Sean Dyche at Arsenal eating worms with Gunnersaurus, Tony Pulis at Liverpool telling Trent not to venture past half-way and Big Fucking Sam at Manchester Fucking Citeh turning Bernardo Fucking Silva into the best fucking player in the entire fucking world.
In this alternate reality we have things like: the most nerve-wracking final day of the season the world will never see.
Here's everything that happened, with my personal favourite twist being Bournemouth manager Michael Carrick (don't ask) deciding that the only thing he needs to push the Cherries to the next level after all that impossibly hard work done by Eddie Howe is: Cheikhou Kouyate on loan. That's it. That's the entirety of Michael Carrick's management philosophy. DRINK IT IN.
Arsenal - Sean Dyche
League Position: 4th
Points Total: 77
Can you just imagine Arsenal, the fanbase you would most likely compare to a stinky, crying baby that needs changing, and Sean Dyche, the manager you would most likely compare to the kind of Dad who shouts "Love the baby needs changing again! Little shit." rather than actually changing the baby, together? What a world that would be. What a fucking world that would be indeed.
(I am aware Sean Dyche is actually a great dad. He took his kids to Reading Festival this year. I wish Sean Dyche was my Dad.)
And right from the get go it's everything you'd ever hoped. An uninspiring 1-0 home win over Craig Shakespeare's Leicester City (don't ask) to start the season. Four-four-two with Mesut Özil as a left midfielder. In the Robbie Brady role. Mesut Özil. I love Sean Dyche. I'm not sure what else needs to be said.
Still, he did something that Unai Emery never really managed and played his two star strikers a) together, b) up front and c) all the time. As a result Aubameyang and Lacazette finish as joint top Premier League scorers in this dystopian nightmare/fantasy, depending on who you support/how much you enjoy people like Tim Sherwood and Alan Pardew being back in a job, with 22 goals each.
In fact, one of my favourite moments of the season comes when Dychey's counter-attacking Arsenal team beat a ball-hungry Manchester City side (Sam Allardyce sends his regards) 2-0. The headline after the game? "Quality of possession not quantity". ¡Viva la Revolución!
Aston Villa - Tim Sherwood
League Position: 20th (Relegated)
Points Total: 24
Remember when Tim Sherwood opened the door to Villa's Bodymoor Heath training ground in the most Tim Sherwood way imaginable? By booting the disabled access button because he didn't want to put down his latte, iPad, wash bag or shopping bag full of laundry? That's why I'm bringing him back. Strap on the gilet son. We ride again.
You can just picture them, can't you? Tim Sherwood and his assistant John Terry, the most Tory-dressing managerial twosome the Premier League has ever seen.
Unsurprisingly, dressing like a Tory and acting like a Tory (out shooting, John? Really? You're from a council estate in Barking. Take off the flat cap you prick) gets you nowhere in the cut and thrust of the Barclays Premier League.
Tim Sherwood at Aston Villa is as predictably terrible as the first time Tim Sherwood was at Aston Villa. They're the only team without a point after four games and he is the first manager whose job status drops to 'insecure'.
Villa do manage to earn their first win away to Pardew's Newcastle, 2-1, thanks entirely to Jack Grealish. The team then promptly goes on a run of six straight defeats and are bottom on three (3!) points, five behind Southampton, with Sherwood still in a job.
Miraculously, he lasts until December 9 before being given the chop after two league wins and 14 losses in 16 games. JT happily steps up into the role of caretaker manager, promptly loses his first game 3-0 to Arsenal at Villa Park with some of the worst player ratings I think I've ever seen and perhaps realises that management might actually be quite hard when you're sat in the big boy chair.
Leeds United's Marcelo Bielsa is hired on December 30 but even the Argentine's famed idiosyncrasies aren't enough to keep Villa up as they are relegated with four games remaining. Thanks Tim. Thanks a lot. Clearly you didn't have enough 'proper men' or 'good British lads in and around it'.
Bournemouth - Michael Carrick
League Position: 14th
Points Total: 39
The only thing Michael Carrick achieves in the golden managerial opportunity he is granted by moi (which I only granted him because both Lampard and Gerrard also have Premier League jobs in this reality. If I could have made Owen Hargreaves manager of Norwich City believe me, I would have) is, like I said, to loan Cheikhou Kouyate. And to play him as a spectacularly un-Michael Carrick-like holding midfielder. Weird. Just very, very odd from him.
Brighton & Hove Albion - Kolo Touré
League Positions: 19th (Relegated)
Points Total: 27
Gun to my head, I can't really explain why I decided to put Kolo Touré in charge of Brighton. Maybe it's because I still find the idea of him being Brendan Rodgers managerial protégé funny. Maybe it's because I couldn't think of anyone who would even be semi-interesting as Brighton manager. Maybe it's because I'm endlessly fascinated by the life and times of the Touré brothers. Yaya won the China second division with Qingdao Huanghai recently, for instance. It's probably a little bit of all three.
I don't pay much attention to Brighton as there is a lot going on elsewhere but Kolo is sacked on February 29 after a 2-0 defeat to Liverpool - the club where he cemented legend status after scoring the sixth goal in a 6-0 against Aston Villa, via his shoulder, and then celebrated as though he had just pulled off Zidane's volley in the Champions League final against Leverkusen.
Nevertheless, I am still quite surprised he is binned off. I go to check out their form. I see 12 defeats and two 0-0 draws from his last 14 games. Fair enough then. There is no need to be upset.
He is replaced by Luciano Spalletti, a man who has only ever managed in Italy and St.Petersburg, and Brighton are relegated with three games remaining. Of course. Sounds about right.
Burnley - Pep Guardiola
League Position: 7th
Points Total: 56
Where is Pep Guardiola's place in the footballing pantheon? Depending on which side of the fence you sit with regard to the former Barcelona string-puller, it's either as the most influential manager in modern football or as the biggest, baldest fraud in modern football. We really do live in a world of absolutes. Grey areas are for cowards, not us.
Which is why I'm sending him to deepest, darkest Lancashire to see how his all-conquering midfield triangles work when you swap out Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets for Ashley Westwood, Jeff Hendrick and Jack Cork. And unsurprisingly, just as he did in his first season in England with Manchester City, Guardiola struggles. It isn't all plain sailing. He succumbs to a shock 2-1 defeat to Mick McCarthy's Wolverhampton Wanderers in the first game of the season and it is clear from the get-go that Pep will have to adapt to Burnley and not the other way around if this new, strangely erotic relationship is to be a successful one.
It doesn't take long. Pep wins his next game 1-0 against Kolo Touré's Brighton after Ashley Barnes prods one home in the first minute, because that's what he does, and then Erik Pieters gets needlessly sent off for a reckless tackle in the first half, because that's what he does, and Burnley happily see out the rest of the game without any drama whatsoever. Because that's what they do.
Indeed, Ashley Barnes finishes as Burnley's top scorer with a mighty 11 goals but is mercilessly transfer listed at the end of the season anyway. Classic Pep. Probably trying to bring in a 32-year-old Cesc Fabregas to play as a clunky false nine. Elsewhere, Joe Hart's 'Playing Time Happiness' is listed as 'Happy' despite one appearance all season. He'll take what he can get at this stage, I suppose. And be grateful for it.
Burnley qualify for the Europa League thanks to a goal difference of +3, compared to the +1 and 0 of Everton and Wolves respectively, who both also finish on 56 points. They also score the most goals from corners out of the entire Premier League. Classic Pep.
Perhaps Guardiola's finest achievement during his season in the relative wilderness is a 2-0 away win against his old nemesis Mourinho's Tottenham. He has 35% possession to Jose's 65% but two goals from Bath's answer to Gabriel Milito - Ashley Barnes - are enough. It's quite a majestic thing to see, Pep and José's complete role-reversal, each doing their best impression of the other, and makes you wonder if it really is the manager who presses his style upon the players, or whether it is the respective abilities of the players that force the manager to play a certain way.
Anyway, Big Sam gave him a 4-0 walloping with his old team Man City. Makes you think. Really does make you think.
Chelsea - Steven Gerrard
League Position: 5th
Points Total: 69 (nice)
Giving Steven Gerrard the Chelsea job was nothing other than a perverse bit of thinking on my part. I thought it would be at least semi-interesting to see how he'd stack up against the man who is essentially his Waluigi - Frank Lampard - and how he'd actually fit in at Stamford Bridge given he spent a large portion of the mid-00s turning down moves there and claiming he would rather win one title with Liverpool than several with Chelsea. Which is obviously why the Demba Ba thing happened. The universe is cruel like that.
There is no sign of two of Chelsea's standout performers this season, Mason Mount and Fikay Tomori, in the team but Tammy Abraham does generally start up top. I'll be honest. I had Gerrard pegged as a Giroud man. Fair play to him. Remarkably, N'Golo Kante scores six goals and provides 12 (twelve!) assists playing as a pure CDM, proving Gerrard to be an even more talented midfielder-whisperer than his rival.
And things start remarkably well for Stevie G as his team apologetically beat the club he actually cares about, Liverpool, 3-0 in the European Super Cup with Kepa and Jorginho the standout players. He even wins 3-2 in the Golden Generation central midfield derby to Lampard's West Ham. After that, things quickly go pear shaped.
Former striker Lukaku knocks them out of the Champions League First Round and they lose 2-1 to Lampard in the Golden Gen rematch. Given virtual Roman Abramovich has even less patience than actual Roman Abramovich, Gerrard's job security jumps to 'insecure' at start of Feb after a couple of significant defeats, first to Lampard and then to Mikel Arteta, a central midfielder he really should be getting the better of. He manages to cling on until the end of the season but is then ruthlessly sacked anyway.
Crucially, Lampard keeps his job at West Ham, finally fulfilling the prophecy that when one goes the other must stay.
Crystal Palace - Mark Hughes
League Position: 12th
Points Total: 47
Steve Parish needs only one more stamp on his middling British managers loyalty card, having already collected Neil Warnock, Ian Holloway, Tony Pulis, Sam Allardyce and Roy Hodgson. Enter Mark Hughes, and a free 1/2 chicken at Nando's as worthy reward.
Hughes signs Jarrod Bowen for £16.25m, which is exciting, I guess, and then goes about the rest of the season in typically unexciting, uninspiring fashion. They guarantee safety from relegation (good) but then lose five games straight as soon as they are safe (obviously very bad), but it's all textbook Sparky. Jordan Ayew scores 17 (seventeen!) goals in 25 games and nothing else of note happens. Which is textbook Palace.
Everton - Mikel Arteta
League Position: 8th Position
Points Total: 56
Mikel Arteta and Mikel Arteta's finely carved eyebrows have been linked to a whole host of real-life big jobs recently, not least the current Arsenal throne being occupied by Freddie Ljungberg sat cross-legged in a pair of Calvins.
Arteta endears himself to Everton fans even more than he did as a player thanks to a 2-1 win at Anfield in the Merseyside derby. It's a cracker, too, as Alex Iwobi puts down his Lucozade Sport and takes his backpack off just long enough to slam in a 90th minute winner. Cue virtual limbs. That's the good. He also brings Shkodran Mustafi back (yes he did play for Everton) on loan. That's the bad.
Iwobi finishes top for assists (7) and goals (7) and Everton are Moyes-ey era shithouse Everton all over again. Lovely stuff.
Leicester City - Craig Shakespeare
League Position: 13th
Points Total: 41
You might not know this about Craig Shakespeare but I do: He was the first manager EVER to achieve 3 goals per game in his first three matches, and then the first English manager EVER to win four on the bounce.
As I've explained before, nobody actually knows how this happened. It's one of those completely baffling spontaneous occurrences that the simulation in which we are living throws in sometimes just to convince us we are not, in fact, living in a simulation. It's clever really, but don't be fooled.
Big Craig, given his old job back, proceeds to sign an appropriately lumpy striker in the form of Paraguay's Federico Santander for £10 million, dropping the Premier League's most notorious Bagsman, Jamie Vardy, in the process. Whilst Santander has great strength and decent interest rates on savings accounts he is nowhere near as prolific as the Vardmeister General. Shakespeare's stint goes from comedy to tragedy to history when he gets the sack in December after a 4-0 defeat to Manchester City, a team coached by his hero, Big Sam Allardyce.
He's replaced by Manuel Pellegrini in January and Leicester finish where Leicester used to finish back when Jamie Vardy drank Red Bulls for breakfast and chewed Snus. Those were the days. They're a bit too consistently good now tbqhwy.
Liverpool - Tony Pulis
League Position: 2nd
Points Total: 84
*cut to a shirtless man on the street in the rain shaking his fists to the sky and screaming "PULISSSSSSSSS"* That's it. That's the intro.
With the complete and total backing of the board his first move is to spend £51 million on Polish striker Arkadiusz Milik to compete for a place with Liverpool's famed front three. This is Pulis, remember. He wants nobody resting on their laurels because they only have The Artist Formerly Known as Divock and Xherdan Shaqiri behind them in the pecking order. (This line was written before their 5-2 win over Everton last night. I'm not taking it out. Fuck you. I'm not taking it out.)
Liverpool defeat Man City 3-2 in the Community Shield but lose 3-0 in the Super Cup to Chelsea. Fortunately both cups are as meaningless in the game as they are in real life. Pulis responds by signing Alex Telles from Porto for £31.5m. This is a man who is used to signing players like Danny Higginbotham for £225,000 remember, of course he is going to splash the cash now he has it, even if he doesn't really need two very very good left-backs.
In Liverpool's first proper game they demolish West Ham 3-0 with unbelievable player ratings and lots of possession. The #PulisEffect, everyone.
The defining moment of the season, however, comes in the Champions League, where Barcelona hold Tony's mouth open and force down a spoonful of his own gloopy medicine by grinding out a 1-0 aggregate victory, despite Pulis' Liverpool dominating both legs of the tie.
Elsewhere he manages to add another completely pointless trophy to the cabinet - the Club World Cup - and produces a wonderful Stoke City throwback in the form of a run of six straight clean sheets. Jürgen Klopp could never.
The Brazilians in the squad also flourish under the Welshman's tutelage. Fabinho provides 14 assists in 50 and Firmino finishes as top scorer with 25 in 47, all competitions. £51 million signing Milik makes 7 starts all season and Pulis wins Manager of the Year. If I could explain why, I would.
Manchester United - Steve Bruce
League Position: 6th
Points Total: 66
Steve Bruce back at Manchester United after all this time, eh. You just couldn't write it. (You definitely could. You obviously could.) And Brucey's story really is just one of contrasting Cup finals. Yep, in this reality Steve Bruces gets to Cup finals. Not one, not two, but three. Three!
The first is a tightly tested League Cup showdown against José Mourinho's Spurs team (could you write it? You could). Thankfully Anthony Martial delivers the goods deep into extra time to give Bruce his first taste of top level silverware as manager and, more importantly, his first taste of sweet, sweet Carabao Apple Green flavour Energy Drink. Ahhhhhh. That's some good Carabao.
Despite that win, and the prospect of two more finals to come in the Europa League and FA Cup, Bruce's job status still reaches insecure as the season winds down.
With his job very much on the line, Brucey rallies from a 2-0 defeat to City in the FA Cup to overcome Valencia by the same scoreline in the far more prestigious Europa. (That's a joke. Please don't get angry at the joke.) A first United goal for Slabhead and an 85th minute strike by Mason Greenwood seal the victory.
There is some good stuff in Brucey's reign at Old Trafford, I'm not going to lie to you. They have a 17 game unbeaten run early in the season and that infamous gammon-winder-upper Paul Pogba plays some of his best football, scoring 15 goals and providing 12 assists over the course of the campaign. Even more impressively, Fred, Andreas Pereira, Matic and Bailly are all on the transfer list by the season's end. Whether he can actually sell them remains to be seen, but credit to him for having a go. You might as well try.
Manchester City - Sam Allardyce
League Position: 1st
Points Total: 85
Big Sam is back with a pint of white wine in hand and a bone to pick with everyone questioning the legitimacy of his 100% win record with England - the greatest in the history of international football.
Straight away he sets his stall out. "I AM NOT PEP" he seems to cry, purchasing Daniele Rugani for £25 million, "I WILL NOT GO INTO A SEASON WITH EVEN THE SLIGHTEST CHANCE I WILL BE UNDER-EQUIPPED WITH CENTRE BACKS. IN FACT MY SINGLE FAVOURITE THING IN THE WORLD IS TO BE OVER-EQUIPPED WITH CENTRE BACKS. GIVE ME AS MANY CENTRE BACKS AS POSSIBLE. I WILL FIND A WAY TO PLAY THEM ALL."
Let me tell you something ladies and gentleman: Big Sam with Man City's squad and resources really is a potent cocktail. It really is a heady mix. He pulverises Guardiola's Burnley 4-0 and treats the rest of the league like a massive, hungry orca treats seal pups. In December he beats Villa and Sherwood is sacked. In the next game he beats Leicester and Shakespeare is sacked. He's a stone cold killer. HE BEATS REAL MADRID 4-0 IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE AND THEY FINISH TOP OF THEIR GROUP BY 4 POINTS. THE MAN IS A JOKE AND HE CANNOT BE STOPPED. YOUNG BOYS NEVER STOOD A CHANCE.
They comfortably move past Galatasaray and then the mighty Barcelona before Big Sam's Champions League dream is cruelly ended by Juve - thanks to a bullshit Cristiano Ronaldo penalty - in the semis. Even so, it is one stage further than Guardiola has managed with the same team.
As alluded to, the title race is insane. With eight games remaining, Mourinho's Spurs team have a five point lead over Pulis' Liverpool. Big Sam's City side are nowhere to be seen, all the way back in fourth place and with eight points to make up on the league leaders.
I will tell you how Spurs Spurs-ed it all up, in the Spursiest way imaginable, when we get to Spurs, but the situation going into the final game is this: Win away at Michael Carrick's Bournemouth and Big Sam takes the league in his hefty mitts.
A João Cancelo wonder goal 10 minutes in has them 1-0 up and it looks as though City will cruise to the title on the final day like they did last year. They get a penalty just eight minutes later but Asmir Begovic temporarily forgets he is Asmir Begovic and manages to tip Sergio Agüero's spot-kick around the post.
At half-time, City are top of the league thanks to Norwich holding Liverpool (who are down to ten men) to a 1-1 draw. Things are turned on their head, however, when Sadio Mane does that thing Sadio Mane does and scores an absolutely beyond crucial goal for Liverpool, whilst in the City game Philip Billing does that thing I don't think Philip Billing has ever done and marauds into the box to power home a header. Cat meet pigeons.
Those two goals leave Manchester City in third with around 25 minutes to find a winner, and the title. They plug away. And they plug some more. And they keep plugging. They dominate the match but time, as it does, drifts on and there are no highlights appearing on screen. They always seem to vanish at the worst moments and all seems lost, until it isn't.
Enter Raheem Sterling in the 77th minute slipped through by Benjamin Mendy. Enter Raheem Sterling with a first time shot on his left foot from a narrow angle. Enter Raheem Sterling finding the bottom corner.
As this is still a Big Sam team, albeit one containing Bernardo Silva (more on him shortly), they see out the rest of the game without so much as a sniff from Bournemouth. The title is theirs, and looking at the stats after the game you can't say they don't deserve it.
Better yet, Big Sam makes it a double with a comfortable FA Cup win over those noisy neighbours Manchester United, who, as mentioned, must content themselves with the Tesco's own brand double of the Carabao and Europa League.
What is most telling about Big Sam's spell at City is just how ruthless his team were during the business end of the season. They lost a crucial match at home to Mourinho's Tottenham in March - which suggested Spurs were going to secure a first league title since the start of the 1960s - but then decided they basically weren't going to lose again for the rest of the season. I mean, look at this form. It is #scintillating.
Beyond that, he draws performances from City's star players that Guardiola can only really dream of. Sergio Agüero breaks the club's goalscoring record for a season. Kevin De Bruyne does the same for assists. Ederson does for clean sheets, and Bernardo Silva does for highest player rating and man of the match awards in a season (just an FM thing).
In fact, Bernardo does far more than that. He literally becomes the best player on the game thanks to Big Sam. Just take a look at these #numbers.
22 goals and 19 assists in 52 games. Yikes. 19 goals, 14 assists and 10 MOTMs in the league alone. Oh, and he also wins just about every individual award known to man.
Lionel Messi eat your heart out.
As a team, City finish with the most goals (79) and joint highest average possession stat (59% with Pulis' Liverpool) in the league. They are miles ahead at the top of the passes completed table. Which begs the question, in a vacuum, with the exact same tools at their disposable, is Big Sam a better manager than the great Pep Guardiola?
It's not for me to say.
(But yes he is. Obviously he is.)
Newcastle United - Alan Pardew
League Position: 10th
Points Total: 50
Here's a fun fact for you: The eight (8!) year contract extension Alan Pardew signed at Newcastle United will run out next summer. Eight fucking years of Pardew. Can you imagine?
It was only fair then that I reinstate him at the Toon to see out his final year the way God, or in this case Mike Ashley, intended. In notable things that Alan Pardew does at Newcastle category we find only one item: loaning Phil Foden. Which is quite good I guess. They are also top of the league after two games, which is very briefly amusing (at least until Mick McCarthy's Wolves team kick into gear).
Not much else happens. They finish 10th on exactly 50 points. Foden finishes as top scorer with 11 whilst Jonjo Shelvey, currently my favourite person in the entire world, is probably their best overall player with five goals and nine assists. I don't know what else to say about Newcastle so I'll leave you with the fact that Andy Carroll makes two (2!) substitute appearances all season and his stats deteriorate to 7 acceleration and 8 pace. Which is... yeah.
Norwich City - Roy Keane
League Position: 18th (Relegated)
Points Total: 36
Full disclosure, I put Roy Keane in charge of Norwich with no intention other than to infuriate his virtual counterpart. I succeed. Keano reaches 'insecure' on his job status faster than anyone not named Tim Sherwood. Even worse, Norwich get relegated on goal difference. Even worse than that, it's by a single goal. Even worse than both of those things, the team that survives by a single goal is Sheffield United. Managed by Neil Warnock.
Even worse than everything is that virtual Roy Keane, somehow, isn't even sacked at the end of the season so now has to grind through another long, pointless season in the Championship drawing every other game and howling at fourth officials all whilst yearning for the comfort of the Sky Studio, his safe space, where he can just sit and turn purple and mutter to himself about everything being shite. The only place he really belongs.
He does make some good signings though. Santiago Ascacibar, a combative defensive midfielder who occasionally veers into abject recklessness (sound familiar?) joins for £15 million from Stuttgart and Chicharito moves to Norfolk on an emergency loan in a bid to keep the Canaries up and Delia Smith happy. He scores a decent amount, seven in 13, but it isn't enough.
Sheffield United - Neil Warnock
League Position: 17th
Points Total: 36
Do you... do you want to know what my favourite quote of all time is? You don't? You don't care at all? Well, here it is anyway. It's: "By all means enjoy it, but enjoy it by being fucking disciplined". No, not Immanuel Kant. Neil Warnock said that. And I think about it every day.
Those words came to him during his time at Sheffield United, back when he was stomping about the Bramall Lane dressing room like an enraged dinner lady. So the question was always why not take him back to where the magic happened? See if it could conjure some of it up again? And conjure he does.
Despite winning exactly one (1) of their last nine (9) Premier League games, the Blades cling to survival by a single goal at the expense of Norwich City. If that wasn't shithouse enough, their last three games were a 1-0 defeat, a 1-0 defeat and a 1-0 defeat. Phil Jagielka makes 33 league starts. Enjoy it, but enjoy it by being fucking disciplined.
Southampton - Jürgen Klopp
League Position: 16th
Points Total: 36
Jürgen, Jürgen, Jürgen.
Jürgen, Jürgen, Jürgen, Jürgen, Jürgen.
Not quite as easy when you have Moussa Djenepo, Nathan Redmond and Danny Ings instead of Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino, is it? Can you hear me Jürgen? Not quite as simple when Maya Yoshida is organising your defence instead of Virgil van Dijk. Not quite as straight forward, is it?
Klopp at Southampton, the club that Liverpool has so often pilfered for talent, and once pilfered for Rickie Lambert. Forced to take his transfer business elsewhere, Klopp signs Gustavo Scarpa from Palmeiras for £18m. I don't *honestly* know much about the player but he sounds as though he should be good. He really sounds as though he should be good. You can't have a name like Gustavo Scarpa unless you're fucking class. Those are just the rules.
Regardless, Klopp really struggles. Southampton have one point after their first four games, a draw against Liverpool during which Mane, Lallana and Lovren all probably felt a bit sorry for them. They are mercilessly dumped out of the Carabao by Rotherham, who clearly don't feel as sorry for them and Klopp's job status reaches 'insecure' by December. They are 19th with nine points, Tim Sherwood's Aston Villa the only team beneath them.
Sensing the toxic relegation-form atmosphere slowly consuming the club, Klopp does arguably the most inappropriate thing he can do in that position, not just for himself, but for the team and the fans, and loans Granit Xhaka in the January window. Unsurprisingly, he is sacked by February. Who takes temporary charge? Who else but Radhi Jaïdi! Things improve even further when the most underrated footballer of all time, Michael Laudrup, is eventually hired as Klopp's successor and the great Dane manages to keep the Saints up.
Congratulations to him and a further congratulations to Shane Long, who agrees to join CSKA Moscow on a free at the end of the season in the most Football Manager transfer imaginable. One can only hope his streak of 'just not scoring very many goals, hardly any goals at all to be honest' continues as he journeys across Siberia. Godspeed Shane. We'll be watching with interest.
Tottenham Hotspur - José Mourinho
League Position: 3rd
Points Total: 84
Oh LORD, José in that lilac winter jacket. There's just something about it. And the hologram crest is to die for. His season, however, is a turbulent one. It starts off well with a 3-2 win over his former employers Manchester United, even if I am beyond appalled at his choice of midfield three - Moussa Sissoko and Eric Dier ahead (AHEAD) of Tanguy Ndombele. Only Mourinho would use a player like Tanguy Ndombele to give more licence to a player like Eric Dier, but alas. In a perverse way it kinda works.
Despite drawing with and then losing to his old bugbears Barcelona in the Champions League, Mourinho still has his dogged apostles finish top of the group on 11 points. Should probably note that this is largely because Barcelona somehow conspire to draw to both PAOK and Lyon at home. In January he signs Alfredo Morelos (who will henceforth be referred to by his proper name 'The Buffalo') for £28.5 million and Emre Can (remember him?) for £43 million.
What happened to no funds in January, Mr Levy? What must Poch think? Seeing you lavish successor with such riches? Over 40 million pounds on the German Dale Stephens? Shame on you Mr Levy. Shame on you.
As mentioned, Mourinho flips the script with a 1-0 away win at the Etihad in March. To that point, all three of Spurs, City and Liverpool had been vying for top spot but it appears to give Tottenham the edge in the title race. They're three points ahead of Pulis and Liverpool, four ahead of Sam 'Allardicio' and City. And then, precisely then, the wheels come off. They only go and Spurs the whole thing up.
It all starts to fall apart a couple of weeks later when the aliens from Space Jam give Christian Benteke his powers back in time for him to score an 89th minute winner at Selhurst Park. 2-1 Palace and the lead over Liverpool is cut to five points with eight games remaining. Squeaky bum time? Oh God yeah it's squeaky bum time.
Two games later and they're pegged back again, this time by Frank Lampard's West Ham. The title lead becomes four points with five remaining and they are swiftly dumped out of the Champions League by Napoli, with the two legs bookending a much-needed victory against Norwich.
There is no respite, however, as James Milner arrives at Tottenham Hotspur stadium, gets subbed on as a left winger after 31 minutes, for some reason, scores a brace to swing the title race wide open and leaves. Quietly and respectfully.
That result closes the gap to a single point and sets up a huge North London Derby against Sean Dyche's Arsenal. To make matters worse, Spurs are without the injured Harry Kane, meaning that a reinvigorated Dele Alli will lead Mourinho's line for the next few games.
They see off Arsenal in a 3-2 thriller and Liverpool themselves slip up, drawing away to Pep's Burnley, whilst Allardyce's ruthless City machine keep the pressure on with a 2-0 win over Chelsea. In their next game, Dele scores a brace in a 2-1 win over Leicester and Spurs hold a two point lead with just two games remaining.
And this is where it gets juicy. First off, their next game is against Pep Guardiola at Turf Moor. Second of all, Alli is dropped for a disastrously unfit Harry Kane. Those two things combined mean that Jack Cork scores the scrappiest of set piece goals in the first half and Pep's Burnley keep the ball the rest of the game to hold onto to a 1-0 win from exactly two shots on target.
How do you say 'inject it' in Spanish?
Spurs go top very briefly on the final day right after the Billing equaliser for Bournemouth whilst Liverpool were still drawing but it just wasn't to be. Probably because they are Spurs. Definitely because they are Spurs.
In terms of player performances, Mourinho's dropping of Alli (who had scored 14 goals in 24 games) for Kane (12 in 31) is completely baffling. As is his treatment of The Buffalo, who scores four goals in three appearances, wins Player of the Month, and is dropped for the rest of the season for no apparent reason. It's weird, but you have to say it is very Mourinho. Eriksen agrees a move to PSG, Alderweireld agrees to join AC Milan and Moussa Sissoko is transfer listed at the end of the campaign. Ryan Sessegnon plays exactly one (1) game.
Watford - Brendan Rodgers
League Position: 15th
Points Total: 37
You know when I said Shane Long joining CSKA Moscow was the most Football Manager transfer imaginable? Yeah, scratch that, Brendan Rodgers sells Sebastian Prödl to Flamengo. What the fuck.
B-Rodge himself doesn't last much longer with the Hornets and is sacked with the club in a comparatively lofty 16th position in March. Given their dire real-world situation, and the fact that they have gone through two immediately forgettable managers already this season, we must therefore assume that both virtual Watford and real Watford hire managers simply so they can sack them. It appears they just love firing managers. They have a genuine addiction to it. They have an actual manager-firing problem.
Do you know who they appoint, to replace Brendan Rodgers? Alexandrs Starkovs. Do you know who Alexandr Starkovs is? No? Good, neither does anybody else on the planet other than Alexandrs Starkovs himself, his family and maybe his dentist. And even his family aren't too sure. Sometimes that seems to be the only criteria to becoming Watford manager: nobody must know or care who you are. You imagine the hiring process is just Gino Pozzo scouring Wikipedia for a man no-one has heard of just so the appointment sounds a bit more impressive than it actually is.
Starkovs (I'll save you the Google search - he's current manager of Latvian giants FK Liepāja) only manages to improve Watford's league position by one place and will therefore be sacked for Quique Sánchez Flores at the earliest possible juncture next season. I told you before, Quique Sánchez Flores. Damn you Quique Sánchez Flores.
West Ham United - Frank Lampard
League Position: 11th
Points Total: 49
Frank Lampard (extremely functional) and West Ham (extremely dysfunctional) basically cancel each other out, to be honest. They have an irritatingly normal season. The only notably West Ham thing that happens is them signing Fabio Borini, which, yeah, after analysis, is just so fundamentally West Ham.
Fabio Borini, by the way, is somehow still only 28. Which makes absolutely no sense given that was his age when he joined Liverpool seven years ago. He has been 28 for the past decade. Fabio Borini has escaped the confines of time and space. He was born 28 and he will die 28. That's just the way it is.
The other West Ham thing that happens is Mark Noble ending the season with 10 assists. Do you remember when actual transcendent playmaker Dimitri Payet used to play for West Ham? Because that didn't happen. We have to erase that timeline. That never happened. This is the new world order and the new world order is this: Mark Noble, provider of double-digit assists.
Wolves - Mick McCarthy
League Position: 9th
Points Total: 56
Mick McCarthy's Wolverhampton Wanderers are - and I cannot stress this enough - a riot. He masterminds a 2-1 victory over Pep Guardiola's Burnley side on the opening weekend and never looks back. Well, until he looks back. They're top of the league after six games! They're undefeated! Then they lose to Pardew and Newcastle! But jump straight back to the top of the table with a win over Villa! They romp through their Europa League group! Then get knocked out by Espanyol in the first round! They finish ninth after a terrible second half of the season! João Moutinho finishes the season with 22 assists! Willy Boly finishes the season with 269 headers won! Nine more than Virgil van Dijk! That's an average of over seven headers a game! He loves heading footballs! It is almost certain he has very few brain cells left! It feels as though I don't either after all this nonsense and I don't know how to end this article but I'd quite like to go back to reality now! So here's the final league table! Weird how completely normal it looks! Goodbye!