Seven years after the most improbable Premier League title triumph of all, Leicester was relegated from English soccer’s top division on Sunday while Everton pulled off another last-day escape to extend its 69-year stay.
Leeds was also consigned to the drop with Leicester and already-relegated Southampton as the league season reached its conclusion.
Everton’s 1-0 win over Bournemouth meant Leicester’s 2-1 victory against West Ham was ultimately meaningless. Leeds’s miserable campaign ended in a 4-1 loss at home against Tottenham.
Leicester’s demise stands out because of the dramatic nature of its fall after experiencing the most spectacular period in its history in recent years.
By winning the title as a 5,000-1 long-shot in 2016, it provided the Premier League with its greatest fairy tale – being crowned champion in only its second season after being promoted from the second tier
Just two years ago it was celebrating victory against Chelsea in the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium, a period that also saw it achieve back-to-back fifth-place finishes.
Relegation was not seen as a realistic threat this season – even after a summer in which Leicester failed to make major moves in the transfer market.
In the Premier League, however, fairy tales do not guarantee happily-ever-after endings and Leicester now faces an uncertain future with interim manager Dean Smith out of contract and a host of its star players likely to leave in the summer.
“The Premier League is where everybody wants to be playing,” Smith said afterward. “It feels raw now, it hurts and everybody will be devastated. But with the infrastructure it’s got it will bounce back.”
While those words were encouraging, there is no guarantee that Leicester will be back in the top flight any time soon.
Top players such as James Maddison, Youri Tielemans and Harvey Barnes could all depart and will have suitors from leading clubs.
Smith could offer no guarantees about his own future, saying his interim deal was now over after completing the final eight games of the season.
“There have been plenty [of clubs] over time where you’ve had knocks and your job is to bounce back and make sure you improve on the things that have let you down and I’ve no doubts the club will.”
Relegation closes a chapter on a remarkable period in Leicester’s history and it remains to be seen how the club’s chairman, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, reacts to the disappointment.
In March the club announced a pretax loss of £92.5-million (US$114-million) for the previous financial year.
It is likely to have to spend again to rebuild from here.
While it was a day of anguish for Leicester, Everton was celebrating once again as the league’s great survivor.
Having been in the top division since 1954, it pulled off another great escape, having avoided relegation on the final day of the season in both 1994 and 1998 previously.
The Merseyside club, which only narrowly avoided the drop last year, took it to the wire yet again this season.
Abdoulaye Doucouré smashed home a 57th-minute goal to earn the win that sparked jubilant scenes at Goodison.
Everton’s fate was always in its own hands, starting the day in 17th place, two points above Leicester and Leeds.
It is a triumph for manager Sean Dyche, who was hired in January and tasked with the job of turning the club’s season around.
“I’ve just told the players we can’t be in this state,” he said. “A magic day but at the end of the day we shouldn’t be in this shape.
“You are only a big club if you are doing big things. It is one and we need to get it back to being one.”
UNITED FINISHES THIRD
Two cup finals and now a third-place finish in the Premier League. For Erik ten Hag, it has been a strong first season at Manchester United. United rallied to beat Fulham 2-1 thanks to goals from Jadon Sancho and Bruno Fernandes to move above Newcastle into third place on the last day. Newcastle could only draw 1-1 at Chelsea. A run of four straight wins to end the league campaign sets up United for its shot at Manchester City in the FA Cup final on Saturday. United has already won the English League Cup.
VILLA INTO EUROPE
Aston Villa will play in Europe next season for the first time in 13 years after beating Brighton 2-1 to finish in seventh place. Villa, which lost in the Europa League playoffs in 2010, will feature in the Europa Conference League and will fancy its chances with Unai Emery in charge. Emery has won the Europa League with Sevilla and Villarreal. Villa’s win meant Tottenham finished in eighth place and out of the European positions.
Manchester City striker Erling Haaland finished his first season in English soccer with the Golden Boot award as the Premier League’s top scorer. He didn’t get to add to his 36 league goals this season, though, with the Norway international not getting off the bench in City’s 1-0 loss at Brentford, which completed the home-and-away double over the champions. Harry Kane was second in the scoring charts on 30 goals.
Roberto Firmino finished his eight-year Liverpool career with two goals in a wild 4-4 draw with Southampton. A slew of other scorers on Sunday might yet have played their last games for the clubs, too. Such as Granit Xhaka, who scored two of second-place Arsenal’s goals in its 5-0 thrashing of Wolverhampton. Xhaka has been linked with a move back to Germany. James Ward-Prowse led Southampton’s fightback from 2-0 down against Liverpool in what is likely his final game for a club where he came through the academy. As for farewells among managers, Frank Lampard signed off his interim spell in charge of Chelsea with the draw against Newcastle ahead of the team’s likely appointment of Mauricio Pochettino. Chelsea finished in 12th place, despite the club spending more than US$600-million on players in the past two transfer windows.