Has the Premier League been boring this season? Far from it!
The Premier League campaign has petered out, and as a result, 2016-17 will perhaps be remembered as being a little bit underwhelming. Last season was powered by Leicester City, and their success became everyone's favourite fairytale. The widespread joy at a "smaller" club's success made the title race memorable.
This year, Chelsea's procession to the trophy ruthlessly killed off any notion that they would be caught, and few people outside west London take much pleasure in seeing silverware heading to Stamford Bridge. There also seems to have been an increasingly jaundiced view of Premier League football growing in recent weeks, summed up by Phil Neville's comment that "I'm turning off games because I'm bored watching them." That's quite a statement from a man who is quite literally paid to watch and analyse football.
There will always be dull games. As the season meanders to an end, there is always a middle tier of clubs with too few points to compete for the European places but enough points in the bag to avoid the threat of relegation. When two sides in this position meet, it does not make for a great spectacle.
One of the Premier League's problems is that so much of its appeal is based on spectacle: the 100 miles per hour, throw-yourself-into-a-tackle, anything-can-happen ethos in which errors as much as excellence are part of the excitement. When commitment wanes -- and teams with little to play for take their feet off the gas -- the entertainment factor can drop off significantly.
But boring? This season has been far from dull, and things are set up nicely for an even more intriguing 2017-18 campaign starting in August.
Antonio Conte's genius in turning a mismatched and thin Chelsea squad into runaway champions has not been heralded enough. They were a shambles in September, but thanks to his clever deployment of players and hard work on the training ground, he turned a side seemingly on a downward spiral into England's best. Their quick-breaking style is thrilling too. If Conte is backed in the transfer market and recruits judiciously, Chelsea will be a team to be feared in the Champions League.
Tottenham Hotspur have been the division's most balanced side. Their growth as a team has been one of the most impressive themes of the season, and while their learning process has meant that they have been disjointed at times and prone to lapses in discipline, they are rarely dull.
Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal have had roller-coaster seasons. They might have given their fans nightmares at times, but they would never send you to sleep. Tedium is not a problem at the Etihad, Anfield or the Emirates. Watching Pep Guardiola try to square philosophy with reality has been compulsive viewing. The Catalan's resistance to traditional methods -- hey, who needs a midfield! -- is in stark contrast to Conte's pragmatism.
Liverpool have been as erratic as Jurgen Klopp's sideline behaviour. At their best, there is a childlike freedom about them. At their worst, there is an infantile helplessness that takes over the team, especially in defence. Either way, it's worth watching.
There has been a different sort of childishness on display at Arsenal. It has been worth the admission fee just to watch the body language of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez on the pitch as the season unravelled. Arsene Wenger has frequently joined in the great north London sulk. Arsenal have been exciting in the same way a horror movie is compulsive viewing: You peek through your fingers, transfixed by the unfolding disaster.
If Neville has been turning off any of this, he needs to reassess his relationship with the sport. Perhaps he has been watching too much of his former club, Manchester United. Jose Mourinho's team are a very different animal to the sides that featured Neville. United no longer play at pace, and Mourinho has been too cautious, frequently trying to squeeze the life out of matches. At Arsenal earlier in May, he used Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in wing-back roles that required them to defend more than create. Little wonder that United lost 2-0.
Mourinho will plead that this was necessary because of his focus on the Europa League, United's route into the Champions League. The reality is that his side have looked disjointed all season. Even when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was in the team -- and it was a joy to watch the Swede plying his trade on English pitches -- United were stodgy, lacked pace and were panicky at the back.
Regardless, Old Trafford is always box office viewing. United's struggles are as avidly followed as their successes. They have more fans -- and more enemies -- than anyone else in English football. This season might have been one of the dullest in Mourinho's soap-opera career, but as it was during his time at Real Madrid, the 54-year-old is at a club that is much bigger than his persona. How he copes with it adds to the fascination.
There have been other great stories too: Leicester's fall and rise, Crystal Palace's resurgence under Sam Allardyce and Swansea City's great escape from relegation, to name just three. Yes, sophisticated football in which technique triumphs over physicality has been in short supply, but the Premier League settled into that pattern more than a decade ago. It's hard to believe that Neville has only just noticed and has suddenly developed a feeling of ennui.
English football has many flaws, but it is not boring. It has been a pretty good season. The next one promises to be even better.
Bilic's time is running out at West Ham
It was painful watching West Ham United's lap of honour at the London Stadium after their 4-0 defeat by Liverpool. The crowd had thinned to a scattered few with 10 minutes remaining, and by the time the players brought their children out to walk listlessly round the pitch, there could have been only 2,000 or so die-hard supporters left to salute them. The players looked embarrassed. Their manager did not join them.
The Slaven Bilic era must be coming to a close in the East End. It is a shame. There is much to like about him; unfortunately, Bilic had little control over West Ham's activities in the transfer market, and the breach between the manager and the boardroom has widened as the season has gone on. At the postmatch press conference after Liverpool, Bilic was asked one question. It was about referee's decisions, not his future.
The mood seemed to suggest that his exit is a foregone conclusion and there is no happy ending.
Tony Evans has been a sports journalist for more than 20 years. He writes for ESPN FC on the Premier League. Twitter: @tonyevans92a.