Belfast Telegraph

Chelsea lead the way in the season where the super powers struck back

This was meant to be the season where Manchester was football's epicentre. Instead it was Chelsea who succeeded Leicester as champions.

Leicester's title success was an unlikely underdog story becoming reality. The 2016-17 campaign was a response of the established super powers - but not in the way many anticipated.

With Jose Mourinho at Manchester United and Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and both spending freely, many thought the Premier League title would be decided in one metropolitan area.

Spain was not big enough for the both of them, let alone Manchester.

And in the wider Premier League there were other managerial heavyweights seeking to join the slugfest: Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham, Antonio Conte at Chelsea and Arsenal's Arsene Wenger.

It was Conte who outshone them all. Only Tottenham applied pressure as the others fell short of their own expectations.

With N'Golo Kante, Eden Hazard, David Luiz and others thriving, Chelsea delivered. Kante swept up individual awards after playing a crucial role in his second title in as many seasons.

Another Italian is the Premier League champion, but Conte's next task is balancing Europe with domestic duty and avoiding the sack.

Leicester's Claudio Ranieri joined Mourinho, Chelsea's 2014-15 title-winning boss, in being dismissed just a few months after lifting the trophy. The fairytale was over as the Foxes slipped back into mid-table.

The six-way battle meant two would miss out on Champions League qualification.

Mourinho conceded defeat early in United's bid, insisting his focus was on winning the Europa League, turning his ire on those who compile the domestic fixture list.

If United missed out on a return to Europe's elite competition, he would not be solely culpable for prioritising actual silverware.

Mourinho may have taken some pleasure in his rival Wenger, who has likened a top four spot to a trophy, missing out on a top-four finish for the first time in his near 21-year tenure.

Arsenal's 13-year wait for the title goes on, as does clarity regarding the future of the Frenchman.

Klopp's Liverpool continued the progress made under the German, reaching the Champions League.

Guardiola, meanwhile, acknowledged his performance as City boss might have seen him sacked at Barcelona or Bayern Munich as his side looked to sneak into the top four before an anticipated summer overhaul after his first trophyless season as a manager.

Wenger could yet finish the season with the FA Cup for the third time in four years.

Chelsea stand in the way on May 27, when Conte will be targeting the first double since compatriot and friend Carlo Ancelotti achieved it in 2009-10.

Chelsea captain John Terry will hope to lift a 16th major trophy of his career then, before leaving Stamford Bridge after 22 years.

Conte has handled the talisman's departure respectfully, while Wenger appears to be in danger of damaging his legacy by hanging on too long.

The growing supporter sentiment is that it is time for Wenger to go. An update will follow the Wembley date.

Alexis Sanchez and other members of the Gunners' squad whose contracts expire in 2018 are waiting with interest. Sanchez has been linked with Chelsea and City.

Expect United to keep spending as well. The £89million on Paul Pogba and the 'free' capture of Zlatan Ibrahimovic on his astronomical wages has papered over some cracks.

Mourinho also appears to have phased out Wayne Rooney, United's record goalscorer, and a busy summer is expected at Old Trafford.

The managerial axe was wielded frequently at the bottom of the division.

Swansea survived despite having three permanent managers, rallying with wins over Stoke, Everton - the best of the rest in seventh - and Sunderland as Paul Clement secured safety.

Aitor Karanka left Middlesbrough, who returned to the Championship with a whimper.

Marco Silva has attracted admirers despite Hull's demotion, but Sunderland manager David Moyes' detractors have grown in number and he may yet leave.

Moyes admitted the Black Cats were up against it in August.

The Scot arrived at the Stadium of Light seeking to build on the work done by Sam Allardyce, who left for England, and restore a reputation damaged at Manchester United after a brief sojourn at Real Sociedad.

Now the profile hard earned at Everton needs further attention, not least after he threatened to 'slap' a female reporter. He later apologised, but faced Football Association disciplinary action.

Allardyce's England spell lasted one match after under-cover journalists reported some ill-advised comments, but he returned to work when Alan Pardew left Crystal Palace.

Things looked bleak as Palace were booed off at half-time when trailing 4-0 to, of all teams, Sunderland.

The Eagles soared again as wins over Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Hull confirmed safety.

That loss at Selhurst Park confirmed Hull's fate. Hull suffered one of the most traumatic injuries this season, as Ryan Mason fractured his skull following an aerial collision with Gary Cahill. He continues to recover.

For all the doom and gloom around Sunderland, one of the few positives was the way the club and wider game rallied behind Bradley Lowery.

Striker Jermain Defoe embraced the terminally ill six-year-old boy whose smile lit up grounds where he was mascot.

Lowery, more than anyone else, left an indelible mark on the 2016-17 season.

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