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Chelsea secure the title while Man United must improve: Heroes & Villains

Craig Burley and Mark Donaldson predict how this year's top six will fare in the Premier League next season.

Liverpool and Man City took a big step towards locking up the remaining top four spots and Chelsea cemented their title, but the season isn't over just yet. Iain Macintosh rounds up another dramatic Premier League weekend with the latest edition of Heroes & Villains.

Heroes

Congratulations to Chelsea, worthy winners of the 2016-17 Premier League. No result could better encapsulate the reasons for their success than a 1-0 win away at West Bromwich Albion. It's the sort of fixture that gives managers sleepless nights, and in accordance with expectations, the Blues found it tough going. But Antonio Conte has inculcated this team with vast reserves of resolve and what looks suspiciously like genuine team spirit. They found a way. They were always going to find a way. They have been outstanding this season.

Spare a thought for Tottenham Hotspur, though, whose disappointment at missing out probably won't be soothed by the knowledge that this second-place finish will be the club's highest since 1963. Nevertheless, everyone at the club should proud of how they have performed this season and the send-off they gave White Hart Lane on Sunday. From the first moment to the last, they outclassed Manchester United. Now read that sentence again and imagine someone reading it to you five, 10, 15 or 20 years ago. That's how much progress they've made. And that's why they should be so proud.

Erm -- what's going on at Arsenal? After the horrors of White Hart Lane at the end of April, the Gunners have strung three consecutive wins together, and given that it's Sunderland at home this week, it should be four before too long. They looked good at Stoke, too. Granit Xhaka was excellent in the middle. Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil are adjusting to their new roles. They're still learning but the progress is obvious. Is this the dawn of a new age of Arsene Wenger?

Daniel Sturridge
Sturridge and Liverpool have control of their top-four destiny after Sunday's win. Can they do it?

It will all be too little too late for Arsenal if Liverpool put in a performance like this against Middlesbrough next week. The Reds ran rampant at the London Stadium, smashing their way through a packed West Ham defence to register the sort of victory they picked up for fun in the first half of the season. Daniel Sturridge, back in the starting lineup after multiple absences, brought a much needed touch of class and ruthlessness to the front line, and Philippe Coutinho was superb behind him. One more win and a Champions League place is secure for only the second time in seven years.

Kneel before Big Sam, you unbelievers. Humiliatingly fired from the England job he'd always coveted, mercilessly lampooned by social media and written off by some sections of actual media, he has bounced back with his second successive Premier League rescue job. Saving Crystal Palace was always going to be a little easier than saving Sunderland but better teams than the Eagles have gone down in the past. It's mission accomplished for Allardyce, and a last laugh is comfortably secured. And you know how Sam loves to laugh.

Villains

Hull City weren't relegated on Sunday. They were relegated a week before the season began when it became apparent that their owners had squandered the summer, hoping in vain that someone would take the club off their hands. Steve Bruce saw it coming. Tom Huddlestone saw it coming. The early form enjoyed by Mike Phelan was a false signifier, and the remarkable work of Marco Silva wasn't enough. Newly promoted Premier League teams cannot afford to give the rest of the division a head start. This campaign will serve as a case study for future owners. This is not how you do it.

Jose Mourinho may end the season with two trophies and a Champions League place, but boy, has he got some work ahead of him this summer. It is most disconcerting to see a team like Manchester United, rightly renowned for their attacking football, turn up at White Hart Lane and offer a performance like this. With the exception of a late rally, they were negative, ponderous and swept aside by a team they used to crush with ease. It's entirely understandable that the focus is on Europe now, but the United fans will expect better than this after the summer.

Few will have expected Mourinho's first season at Man United to be so average. Things must improve next year.

So much for the theory that once stripped of their relegation anxiety, Sunderland would restore a bit of pride as their horrible season ground to a halt. There was nothing to be proud of at the Stadium of Light on Saturday. The Black Cats wrecked Hull's survival hopes last weekend but were easily brushed aside by Swansea. How David Moyes must wish the season could end today, but it's not over yet. Arsenal and Chelsea still await. Somehow, this could actually still get worse.

Outsiders might think it curious that the Stoke City fans are losing patience with manager Mark Hughes. After all, the Welshman led the Potters to three successive top-10 finishes and currently has them in 13th. But here are some more numbers. They conceded four times against an Arsenal team that was in free-fall a few weeks ago. They've only won once in their past 10 games. They've only kept two clean sheets in their past 10 games. Their five league wins in 2017 were against five of the bottom six. For some reason, Hughes is struggling to get the best out of what seems to be a fairly good squad. He'll have to do better next season.

Hughes isn't the only manager whose position is in doubt. There have been rumours about the future of Slaven Bilic at West Ham for months now, and Sunday's dire performance against Liverpool will only intensify the gossip. After such a miserable first year in their new stadium, it seemed strangely appropriate that the last home game of the season was such a wretched thrashing. Bilic's hopes of starting the next season are probably only 50-50 as of now, but if he does survive, he really can't afford another season like this.

Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.

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