Premier League 2015-16: The season that defied expectations

By John Stanton & Ashleigh JacksonBBC Sport
Jamie Vardy and Eden Hazard

It was a season that defied logic in so many ways - Leicester won the Premier League while Chelsea were talked about as relegation candidates.

And yet some things did not change - Arsenal flirted with the title before fading into a top-four finish, and Sam Allardyce performed a relegation rescue act.

Here, we look back on an unforgettable campaign.

The most unpredictable Premier League season?

It certainly proved that way for BBC Sport's pundits.

In August, we asked 30 of them to pick their top four, with not one of them suggesting eventual champions Leicester or third-placed Tottenham would finish in the Champions League places. Instead, 22 predicted Chelsea would retain their title.

We also asked chief football writer Phil McNulty to forecast how the league would look come May. Whoops.

Graphic showing Phil McNulty's predictions compared to final positions. Phil's predictions: 1 Chelsea, 2 Arsenal, 3 Man City, 4 Man Utd, 5 Liverpool, 6 Tottenham, 7 Everton, 8 Stoke, 9 Southampton, 10 Swansea, 11 West Ham, 12 Crystal Palace, 13 Newcastle, 14 West Brom, 15 Aston Villa, 16 Bournemouth, 17 Sunderland, 18 Norwich, 19 Leicester, 20 Watford. Final positions: 1 Leicester, 2 Arsenal, 3 Tottenham, 4 Man City, 5 Man Utd, 6 Southampton, 7 West Ham, 8 Liverpool, 9 Stoke, 10 Chelsea, 11 Everton, 12 Swansea, 13 Watford, 14 West Brom, 15 Crystal Palace, 16 Bournemouth, 17 Sunderland, 18 Newcastle, 19 Norwich, 20 Aston Villa
Only four Premier League champions have won the title by a greater margin of points than Leicester this season (10) - Manchester United in 1999-2000 (18), Chelsea 2004-05 (12), Arsenal 2003-04 and Manchester United 2012-13 (11)

Of course, it was not just the emergence of Leicester which made a mockery of pre-season predictions. The campaign proved a tale of two champions, with the Foxes' rise coming alongside Chelsea's demise - the Stamford Bridge club's points tally of 50 being the lowest of any defending top-flight champions since Everton in 1971.

The year when money didn't talk

So Leicester were the biggest over-achievers and Chelsea under-performed in spectacular fashion - but who else punched above their weight and who failed to deliver on the money spent building their squad?

This - like so many of their team's matches this season - makes uncomfortable viewing for Aston Villa fans.

Graphic showing cost per point of each Premier League squad: Leicester £63m - 81 points = £0.8m per point, Bournemouth £43m - 42 points - £1m, Watford £53m - 45 points - £1.2m, Swansea £56m - 47 points - £1.2m, Stoke £73m - 51 points - £1.4m, West Brom £62m - 43 points - £1.4m, Norwich £55m - 34 points - £1.6m , Crystal Palace £72m - 42 points - £1.7m, West Ham £106m - 62 points - £1.7m, Southampton £139m - 63 points - £2.2m, Tottenham £159m - 70 points - £2.3m, Everton £112m - 47 points - £2.4m, Sunderland £112m - 39 points - £2.9m, Arsenal £231m - 71 points - £3.3m, Newcastle £145m - 37 points - £3.9m, Liverpool £260m - 60 points - £4.3m, Aston Villa £93m - 17 points - £5.5m, Chelsea £280m - 50 points - £5.6m, Man Utd £395m - 66 points - £6m per point, Man City £415m - 66 points = £6.3m per point
Aston Villa led for just 243 minutes this season, less than any other team in Premier League history

In fact, money guaranteed very little this season.

When it came to star performances, none of the 10 biggest signings of the 2015-16 campaign - Kevin de Bruyne (£55m), Raheem Sterling (£49m), Anthony Martial (£36m), Christian Benteke (£32.5m), Nicolas Otamendi (£32m), Memphis Depay (£31m), Roberto Firmino (£29m), Morgan Schneiderlin (£25m), Son Heung-min (£22m) or Pedro (£21m) - feature in lists of the most effective performers.

Graphic showing most goals and most assists this season: Most goals Harry Kane 25 goals, Sergio Aguero 24 goals, Jamie Vardy 24 goals. Most assists: Mesut Ozil 19, Christian Eriksen 13, Dimitri Payet 12, Dusan Tadic 12
Mesut Ozil created more chances (146) in a single Premier League season than any player since 2003-04. Ozil recorded 19 assists - only Thierry Henry (20 in 2002-03) has recorded more in a Premier League campaign
Graphic showing how goals were scored in the Premier League this season: Total goals 1,026, headers 180, right foot 539, left foot 263, other 6, own goals 38, inside box 883, outside box 143, penalties 74, direct free-kicks 25, open play 715
The total of 1,026 goals this season is an increase from 975 in 2014-15
Graphic showing best shot conversion rate in the Premier League this season: Callum Wilson 45.45%, Kelechi Iheanacho 43.75%, Aaron Lennon 35.71%. Most passes: Cesc Fabregas 2,669, Andrew Surman 2,286, Mesut Ozil 2,205Graphic showing the three players with the highest average distance run in the Premier League: Andrew Surman 12.1km, James Milner 12.1km, Gareth Barry 11.4kmGraphic showing most touches and most saves this season. Most touches: Cesc Fabregas 3,393, Simon Francis 3,021, Mesut Ozil 2,963. Most saves: Heurelho Gomes 121, Lukasz Fabianski 115, Jack Butland 103Graphic showing most tackles and most interceptions this season: Most tackles N'golo Kante 175, Idrissa Gueye 143, Erik Pieters 115. Most interceptions: N'golo Kante 157, Idrissa Gueye 141, Laurent Koscielny 126

How promotion and relegation battles unfolded

With the league more unpredictable than ever, it made for fascinating competition at both ends of the table.

At the top, Leicester took control in January and never looked back. In fact, what seemed an exciting battle actually ended up with clubs barely changing positions in the final four months, although a final-day defeat for Spurs meant they slipped below Arsenal.

Graphic showing battle for top four and how league positions changed during the course of the season for the top six clubs

At the bottom, Aston Villa flat-lined in November and could not recover. It proved a slow death.

Norwich might consider themselves hard done by, slipping into the Championship despite spending 177 fewer days in the bottom three than Sunderland, who eventually avoided relegation - but not until their fans had had to endure another season at the wrong end of the table.

Graphic showing the battle to avoid relegation and how the bottom four clubs changed positions during the course of the season
Days spent in bottom three: Sunderland 237, Aston Villa 233, Newcastle 206, Norwich 60

The sack race

Dick Advocaat, Sunderland's manager at the start of the campaign, was the fourth favourite in the pre-season betting to be the first boss sacked. The bookies weren't far off - the Dutchman was the first to leave his post on 4 October, just a matter of hours before favourite Brendan Rodgers was dismissed by Liverpool.

Garry Monk was the surprise dismissal of the campaign - the 66-1 shot left Swansea in December just seven months after guiding the club to a highest top-flight finish of eighth in his first season as a manager.

Graphic showing pre-season odds on managers to be sacked and showing which ones kept their jobs and which ones lost their jobs: Brendan Rodgers 5/1 (Gone), Quique Sanchez Flores 5/1 (Stayed, but will leave at end of season), Steve McClaren 5/1 (Gone), Dick Advocaat 7/1 (Gone), Claudio Ranieri 10/1, Roberto Martinez 10/1, Tim Sherwood 11/1 (Gone), Jose Mourinho 25/1 (Gone), Mauricio Pochettino 33/1 (Stayed), Mark Hughes 33/1 (Stayed), Ronald Koeman 40/1 (Stayed), Tony Pulis 40/1 (Stayed), Slaven Bilic 50/1 (Stayed), Garry Monk 66/1 (Gone), Alex Neil 66/1 (Stayed), Arsene Wenger 66/1 (Stayed), Eddie Howe 66/1 (Stayed), Manuel Pellegrini 66/1 (Stayed, but will leave at end of season), Louis van Gaal 66/1 (Stayed), Alan Pardew 80/1 (Stayed)
Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores and Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini completed their club's seasons, but are being replaced this summer

But did sacking the manager work? For Sunderland, swapping the winless Advocaat for seasoned relegation-avoider Allardyce proved decisive.

In fact, of the six new managers brought in during the season, five had a positive impact. Only one - Remi Garde at Aston Villa - failed to improve his team's fortunes.

Graphic showing how clubs changed positions after sacking their manager
Note: Everton's sacking of Roberto Martinez on 12 May not included as no full-time replacement appointed yet

A British breakthrough?

The performances of two of the top three, Leicester and Tottenham, owed much to a British core in both sides, hinting at a reversal in fortunes for homegrown players, who have long found their playing time limited by the presence of overseas imports.

But, in fact, the figures show that British players completed fewer minutes this season than in the previous four seasons.

Graph showing minutes played by British players this season compared to previous seasons: 2011-12, 410839 mins, 2012-13, 347539 mins, 2013-14, 343378 mins, 2014-15, 365544 mins, 2015-16, 319145 mins

The goals of Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy - two of the top three in the goalscoring charts - ensured more goals were scored by British players than last season, but that is still down on the three previous years.

Graph showing minutes played by British players this season compared to previous seasons: 2011-12, 475 goals, 2012-13, 435 goals, 2013-14, 426 goals, 2014-15, 385 goals, 2015-16, 393 goals
Harry Kane became the first English player to be top scorer in a Premier League season since Kevin Phillips in 1999-2000

Spain 3 Premier League 1

And there is another note of caution when it comes to enthusiasm about the achievements of homegrown players and their clubs.

For all the excitement around the Premier League title race, English teams were upstaged by Spanish sides in Europe's two club competitions - the Champions League and Europa League.

While Liverpool could yet win the latter - at the expense of Spaniards Sevilla - the Premier League can boast only one team in those two finals, while Spain has three. Spain also had twice as many semi-finalists across the two competitions, and three times as many quarter-finalists.

A reminder about the Premier League's standing at the end of one of its greatest seasons?

Graphic showing progress of teams from different countries in Europe's two main club competitions this season, the Champions League and Europa League: Final: Spain 3, England 1. Semi-finals: Spain 4, England 2, Germany 1, Ukraine 1. Quarter-finals: Spain 6, Germany 3, England 2, Portugal 2, Czech Republic 1, France 1, Ukraine 1. Last 16: Spain 7, England 6, Germany 4, Italy 3, Belgium 2, Portugal 2, Ukraine 2, Czech Republic 1, France 1, Netherlands 1, Russia 1, Switzerland 1, Turkey 1

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