After the final fixtures of a gripping Premier League season came to an abrupt close on Sunday afternoon, fans up and down the land discovered their final league standings.
There was sheer glee for some, whereas others ended their year with despair etched across their faces.
The season has been full of twists and turns and with just the small matter of the FA Cup, Europa League and the Champions League to be settled, we can finally look back and review the domestic league season for each club.
We kick-off with the top half of the table, and where better to start than with the new Premier League Champions, Chelsea…
League Position: 1st (Champions – Champions League Group Stage) (PTS: 93, GD: +52)
Top Scorer: Diego Costa (20)
Player of the Season: N’Golo Kanté
Moment of the Season: Michy Batshuayi scores a late winner at West Brom to secure Chelsea’s status as Champions, and clinch their fifth Premier League crown.
Where do you begin when talking about Chelsea? Deserved champions is probably not a bad place. After a 3-0 drubbing at Arsenal, in November, many Blues fans would have been forgiven for thinking that this wasn’t going to be their year. But Antonio Conte took the defeat in his stride and had produced a tactical masterclass in reshaping his team. Chelsea went unbeaten for 13 games after the defeat and the rest is history.
Initially, re-signing David Luiz from Paris Saint Germain in the summer was seen as a big risk, but the gamble has paid dividends and has been entirely worth it. He and Gary Cahill will surely feel confident of filling John Terry’s shoes, as the long-term Chelsea captain bowed out in front of the club that he has called home for over two decades.
If Chelsea can keep hold of the likes of Diego Costa and Eden Hazard then they will be in a good position to add a sixth crown next term. A close call between Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kanté for Player of the Season, both have had a huge hand in Chelsea’s success this season. Kanté has made it two out of two in terms of Premier League triumphs and has been the heart of the Champions’ midfield this year.
Hazard, meanwhile, has been the main source of creativity, displaying moments of brilliance all year long, with his solo goal against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge the pick of the bunch. But Kante has epitomised Chelsea’s unstoppable drive towards the top and ends the season with another winners’ medal, the PFA Player of the Year Award, the Football Writers’ Award and potentially a first FA Cup triumph in five years.
Adding a few new recruits in the summer will give Chelsea confidence that they can repeat this feat and potentially challenge in Europe as well. What a year it has been for Antonio Conte and Chelsea!
League Position: 2nd (Champions League Group Stage) (PTS: 86, GD: +60)
Top Scorer: Harry Kane (29)
Player of the Season: Harry Kane
Moment of the Season: Tottenham beat Arsenal 2-0 in the final North London Derby at White Hart Lane to secure their first finish above their rivals in 21 years.
So close, yet so far for Spurs this season. Mauricio Pochettino’s men finished seven points adrift of Chelsea this season and although they will be proud of their efforts, there is no doubt players and fans alike will be going into the summer months thinking what might’ve been. Two years in a row Spurs have missed out on claiming their first Premier League title, but the young squad will surely be there or thereabouts again next year. Of course, as long as they hold on to their top players that is.
Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen have led the fight this year, and have been well supported by the likes of Son Heung-min and the defensive duo of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. If Tottenham can recruit well in the summer surely the only way is up. A young, resilient squad put the pressure on eventual champions Chelsea, but Spurs will be hoping they can go one better next year.
If the Lilywhites do lift their debut crown next season it will have to be under the Wembley Arch, having now departed White Hart Lane. Harry Kane and Dele Alli seem to be constantly improving and were both deservedly included in the Premier League Team of the Year. Kane is undoubtedly Tottenham’s Player of the Year, having another superb season, and his second consecutive twenty-five goal plus campaign. His desire and love for the club was emphasised as he netted seven goals in his final two games, to finish the season with a club record twenty-nine Premier League goals.
Spurs will be back in force next year, with another Champions League campaign to look forward to. A couple of new arrivals in the summer and it could well be Tottenham lifting the title next May.
League Position: 3rd (Champions League Group Stage) (PTS: 78, GD: +41)
Top Scorer: Sergio Agüero (20)
Player of the Season: Kevin De Bruyne
Moment of the Season: Beating arch-rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford 2-1, without top scorer Sergio Agüero, back in September.
It’s been a mixed season for Manchester City. Qualifying for the Champions League group stage is no mean feat, but Pep Guardiola will no doubt be disappointed with his debut season in English football. For the first time in his managerial career, the former Bayern and Barcelona coach has gone trophyless.
Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Agüero have been two shining lights this season, and the rise of Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus will have given some hope for future campaigns. The return of Vincent Kompany will have no doubt boosted morale at The Etihad, but improvement must be made if City are to add to their two Premier League titles.
City have an ageing squad, and it looks as though a change of guard could well be on the horizon. Gael Clichy is to leave upon the completion of his contract, whilst long-term servant Pablo Zabaleta departs the club as a fan favourite, and they could be the first of many.
Guardiola looks like he will need to inject new energy into the squad if The Citizens are to wrestle the title from Chelsea’s grasp. Expect a busy summer for the blue side of Manchester.
City may have no silverware to show this season, but ensuring their place amongst Europe’s elite is at least one positive the fans can take from what has been a difficult season for Guardiola’s men.
League Position: 4th (Champions League Qualifiers) (PTS: 76, GD: +36)
Top Scorer: Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mané (13)
Player of the Season: Philippe Coutinho
Moment of the Season: Beating eventual champions Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge, with captain Jordan Henderson scoring one of the goals of the season.
It’s been a decent season for Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp. At one point the favourites to win the title, the Reds dropped off with a range of underwhelming performances against some of the ‘lesser’ sides in the league. Surprisingly, considering their fourth-placed position, Liverpool actually went undefeated this year against the top six.
The Anfield outfit’s season has been a mixture of the sublime and bizarre, ranging from a goalkeeping crisis to a magnificent away win against Arsenal on the opening day of the season. The Reds have faced a challenge of keeping their star names fit this year, with both of their leading scorers, Mané and Coutinho, spending damaging spells on the sidelines.
Liverpool and Klopp have got the job done, not in glamorous style, but in a dogged and determined fashion. A 3-0 win over Middlesbrough confirmed the Reds’ top four status and they will look forward to next year with high hopes. Again, Klopp has a lot of work ahead of him over the summer to continue to build on what is a promising end to Liverpool’s season.
League Position: 5th (Europa League Group Stage Qualification) (PTS: 75, GD: +33)
Top Scorer: Alexis Sánchez (24)
Player of the Season: Alexis Sánchez
Moment of the Season: Hammering eventual champions Chelsea 3-0 at The Emirates back in September.
Where to start with Arsenal’s car crash of a season? Wenger, Kroenke, fighting amongst fans – the problems just go on and on. If missing out on the Champions League for the first time in 20 years wasn’t bad enough, the ongoing dispute over Player of the Season Alexis Sánchez’s contract casts a dark cloud over the red half of North London.
Arsenal’s worst fears have finally been realised and it has become all too obvious that they are a side in decline. Embarrassing defeats at West Brom and Crystal Palace, as well as being played off the pitch at White Hart Lane, have well and truly summed up Arsenal’s horrendous season. Fans hoped it was finally their time, and they can be forgiven for thinking this way when they trounced Chelsea 3-0 in September.
To rub salt into the gaping wounds further, Arsenal’s defeat at Spurs also ensured they would finish below their rivals for the first time in Arsène Wenger’s tenure at the club. Wenger will soon announce his future at the club and it could go either way. If the fans’ feelings are anything to go by, and Wenger stays on, it could be a long, hard time for the Frenchman next year.
Triumph in the FA Cup final would ease the pain slightly for the Gunners, but it would likely only paper over the cracks at the club. Again, another club which has a big transfer window ahead of them, but the priority will be keeping hold of star man Sánchez.
League Position: 6th (Europa League Group Stage at worst – Champions League Group Stage at best) (PTS: 69, GD: +25)
Top Scorer: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (17)
Player of the Season: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Moment of the Season: Captain Wayne Rooney becomes United’s leading goal scorer, surpassing the great Sir Bobby Charlton with a superb free-kick against Stoke.
Manchester United awarded their own Player of the Season to Ander Herrera, but I have to disagree. There is only one word for me in relation to United this season: Zlatan. He has defied his age and the doubters to finish as United’s top scorer this season. He has carried the Red Devils at times, wearing the goal scoring burden remarkably well. A season-ending injury suffered in April may prove to be terminal on his United career, but if Zlatan’s tenacity is anything to go on then he is far from finished.
José Mourinho’s side has faced much criticism this season for a negative style of play, and fans will be hoping that this changes next season. United spent over £150m in the summer of 2016, and not much progress appears to have been made. Big signings such as Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have struggled and failed to make a notable influence. Eric Bailly has flourished in the heart of the United backline, in front of the ever-impressive David De Gea.
Manchester United may yet join their noisy local rivals in the Champions League next season, should they win their Europa League final against Ajax, and with an EFL Cup triumph too, it may not turn out to be such a bad season after all. Improvement needed, yes, but many sides have had worse seasons than Mourinho’s men.
League Position: 7th (Europa League Qualifiers Round 3) (PTS: 61, GD: +18)
Top Scorer: Romelu Lukaku (25)
Player of the Season: Romelu Lukaku
Moment of the Season: Giving Manchester City a 4-0 drubbing at Goodison Park in January.
What a good start Ronald Koeman has made to life on Merseyside. A seventh place finish this year for Everton is a pretty decent effort from a young squad. Koeman’s signings of midfield duo Idrissa Gana Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin have been two fantastic pieces of business for The Toffees. Encouraging performances from youngsters Tom Davies, Mason Holgate and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have given the Goodison faithful some real hope for the future.
Ross Barkley showed glimpses of his talent on a much more regular basis and was instrumental in Romelu Lukaku’s 25 goal haul, and the partnership bodes well for the club as long as they can keep them both at Goodison. Lukaku recently turned down a new deal, and Koeman prolongs the looming contract talks with Barkley and there is a genuine possibility that both could be gone come the transfer window.
Koeman himself has been linked with a move away from the club, with Barcelona reportedly interested taking him to the Nou Camp. It would be a disaster for Everton to lose any of these names, but for now, the focus will turn to next season and converting draws into victories and competing for a place in Europe. The Toffees have shown they are more than capable of competing, beating Arsenal and Manchester City convincingly at home, but have suffered big defeats to the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool away.
Plenty of positives to take from this season, but still, work to do for Koeman to do. Promising.
League Position: 8th (PTS: 46, GD: -7)
Top Scorer: Nathan Redmond
Player of the Season: Oriol Romeu
Moment of the Season: Nathan Redmond scores twice as the Saints come out on top in a thrilling 4-3 victory over Watford.
Oriol Romeu has been somewhat of a rock this season for Southampton. The Romanian has made more passes, tackles and interceptions than any other of his teammates. A typical battling warrior, the ex-Chelsea midfielder has thrived in the role given to him by Claude Puel. Puel himself has managed to fill the shoes of Ronald Koeman without setting the world alight, and there has been a persistent rumour that he will be dismissed in the near future.
Another top half finish for the Saints gives a positive end to a mixed campaign, in a season disrupted by injuries to key names such as Charlie Austin and Virgil van Dijk, where the Saints may well have gained a European place, had Manolo Gabbiadini’s goal in the EFL Cup Final not been wrongly ruled offside.
Regardless, positive results this season against Everton and Leicester have given the Saints something to build upon, and every hope of improving on eighth place next season. With any luck, Puel will be hoping that this is the start of a successful spell on the south coast.
League Position: 9th (PTS: 46, GD: -12)
Top Scorer: Josh King (16)
Player of the Season: Josh King
Moment of the Season: Plenty. A spirited 1-1 draw at Old Trafford after being reduced to ten men, following the infamous Zlatan/Mings incident optimised Bournemouth’s fight and team spirit.
Eddie Howe has done a fantastic job at Bournemouth this year. Despite being one of the smallest clubs in the league, Howe’s men have enjoyed playing free-flowing football which has rivalled even Arsenal’s at times.
The Cherries scored six goals in a demolition job against Hull City, and four more in a convincing win over Middlesbrough. Josh King has been the architect behind a lot of the club’s goal-scoring prowess and they will do well to keep hold of the Norwegian international in the summer.
Highlights of Bournemouth season includes a magnificent 4-3 victory over Liverpool, in October, and an arguably even more impressive display against Manchester United at Old Trafford, holding the 13-time Premier League winners to a 1-1 draw, despite playing with ten for the entire second half.
The emergence of young Ryan Fraser has been a bright spark for Bournemouth, and they have done marvellously well to avoid the drop and finish in the top half of the league for the first time in their history.
Jack Wilshere’s loan may not quite have gone the way that Howe hoped, but the signing of Jermain Defoe from Sunderland will excite many Cherries fans.
Plenty of positives for Bournemouth to take into next season.
West Bromwich Albion
League Position: 10th (PTS: 45, GD: -8)
Top Scorer: Salomón Rondón (8)
Player of the Season: Ben Foster
Moment of the Season: Dismantling Arsenal 3-1 at The Hawthorns, and with it, their season too.
West Brom fans can be very pleased with their season. They have made decent progress without really pulling up any trees. At one point the Baggies looked set to push Southampton and Everton all the way for a higher placed finish, but a nine-game winless run scuppered their chances towards the end of the campaign. Prior to this, West Brom had won nine out of sixteen games, including a resounding victory against Arsenal.
The Baggies enjoyed their first top-half finish since the 2012/13 season, and never looked in any danger of being relegated. Tony Pulis has a well-drilled outfit, but could perhaps do with signing a new striker in the close season as Rondón tailed off as the season went on. Nacer Chadli, Jake Livermore and Matt Phillips all were successful new signings and Pulis will look to add similar quality to his squad for the next campaign.
However, the star of the show down at The Hawthorns is undoubtedly Ben Foster, without whom the Baggies would surely not be as high as they are. Foster missed not a single second of the campaign for his club and will remain a key player for years to come.
Pulis will be hoping for the same next season, only with a stronger finish next time round. The only way is up for West Brom.
Tottenham Hotspur fans react to Danny Welbeck dive
Tottenham Hotspur fans were not pleased with Danny Welbeck’s dive v AC Milan.
Arsenal successfully knocked AC Milan out of the Europa League last night with a 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium. The hero of the night was England forward Danny Welbeck. The striker scored two goals as Arsenal completed a deserved 5-1 aggregate victory over the Rossoneri.
But Milan had taken an early lead through Hakan Calhanoglu’s bamboozling long-range strike. Arsenal, at that stage, were looking on the ropes. Welbeck though won and then dispatched a penalty to level the scoring. The word ‘won’ being the optimum word.
Welbeck dived for the penalty, there is no doubt about that. Ricardo Rodriguez barely breathed on the Arsenal man, who tumbled to the ground hopefully. When the penalty was given, he looked in disbelief.
For Tottenham Hotspur fans it was a moment they did not appreciate.
Spurs have seen Dele Alli victimised throughout the season, and some would say rightly so, for his diving. There is no doubt that the England midfielder has dived this season and not many Tottenham fans would suggest not.
But the anger here lies with what Tottenham fans believe is hypocrisy. There is also a certain level or irony given a thinly veiled dig by Arsene Wenger against Spurs’ players this season.
After the highly controversial 2-2 draw at Anfield, where Harry Kane was accused of diving v Liverpool, Wenger had this to say, as reported by the BBC:
“I remember there were tremendous cases here when foreign players did it.
“But English players have learned very quickly and might be the masters now.”
“Sometimes players play a little bit with the rules. How far can you go? That is down to the referees.”
With Arsenal their next Premier League opponents, Arsene Wenger’s barb was not hard to see.
When that statement came out Tottenham fans quickly pointed out occasions when Arsenal’s English stars had been caught diving. Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott were prominent examples. Now, in Welbeck, Tottenham have seen another.
Arsenal fans will be happy that their team have booked a place in the next round of the Europa League. On balance it was more than a fair result as over two legs Arsenal outplayed the Italian giants.
But the Welbeck moment certainly put an asterix on the game for Spurs fans.
Here is some of the best reaction from Twitter…
Özil against Watford was falling down when a gust of wind went past him. It was appalling. Welbeck yesterday was one of the worst dives
— Joe B ??????? (@JblincoTHFC) March 16, 2018
Only just seen the Welbeck dive, he must be embarrassed even appealing for that.
— Joshhh (@JJonesTHFC) March 16, 2018
— Harry Hotspur (@HarryHotspurWHL) March 15, 2018
If you had any doubt about how this country treats Dele Alli (one of its brightest prospects in years) look at the difference in how the media and in particular fans, are talking about the #Welbeck dive. ? #COYS #THFC
— Gary Ford (@Spursfordie) March 15, 2018
Imagine if this was @dele_official who did this and the media onslaught! Danny Welbeck you diving cheat! Hope the likes of @talkSPORT @GaryLineker @alanshearer to name a few subject Danny to the same treatment they have subjected Dele too this season! https://t.co/MXFMAkOGcN
— H (@LittleMissTHFC) March 15, 2018
— Lucas (@MoughtTHFC) March 15, 2018
Welbeck is a cheat end of. Ruined a good game.
— THFC (@RaoullyT69) March 15, 2018
Look how everyone destroys Dele over diving. No one will comment on Welbeck’s dive. Shocking! #THFC
— Harry Hotspur (@HarryHotspurWHL) March 15, 2018
— Steve Williams (@spurssteve69) March 15, 2018
Welbeck dives. Dele will be in trouble in the morning. #THFC
— Stephen Vincent (@StevieV14) March 15, 2018
If Dele Alli did what Welbeck just did?
— Billy Adams (@ThfcAdams) March 15, 2018
Victory in Milan, but is this another false dawn for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger?
Arsenal were triumphant in Milan despite their recent miserable form.
Arsenal ended their losing run of four matches with an excellent performance away to AC Milan in the Europa League. This competition has the potential to save the Gunners season and the commitment from every player suggested that they want to go all the way.
They were coming up against a team full of confidence under Gennaro Gattuso. Milan hadn’t lost a match since the end of December. The Serie A club hadn’t conceded a goal in six and had won five of those inside ninety minutes.
These sides came into this fixture in remarkably different form, but football is played on grass and not on paper.
Despite Milan having more attempts, it was Arsenal who created the better chances. They had a couple of half-chances early on before the opening goal.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has had a hot and cold start to life in a Gunners’ shirt, but he was one of the best players on the pitch in Italy. His goal was emphatically taken as he drove the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma.
It is important to capitalise when you are on top, especially away from home in European competitions and Arsenal did just that. As the first-half progressed, they continued to create the better opportunities. Both Danny Welbeck and Mkhitaryan had good chances to double the visitors’ lead, but they were squandered.
In stoppage-time of half-time, Arsenal scored a second to give them a commanding lead in the tie. It was a great move from the team and Mesut Ozil found Aaron Ramsey who coolly rounded Donnarumma before putting the ball into the net.
The first-half performance from Arsenal was one of the best that supporters have seen this season. They were better all over the pitch and showed the work rate that they had lacked in previous weeks. Milan pushed in the second half, but they couldn’t penetrate the Gunners’ defence.
Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi were both excellent. Arsene Wenger will be hoping that both are returning to their best after some uncharacteristic errors in previous matches. The centre-back pairing made eight ball recoveries and were always in the right position on Thursday.
Patrick Cutrone is a teenager with a big future, but the young striker had no luck out of the Arsenal defence and that will encourage the manager.
Another player to emerge with credit is Danny Welbeck. The ineligibility of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the injury of Alexandre Lacazette means that the Englishman started the game up front for Arsenal. It was a huge opportunity for him after being pushed down the pecking order at the club and he took it with both hands.
The Englishman worked tirelessly and caused problems with his movement.
Although his final product wasn’t great, he was a constant threat and led the defensive effort from the front. Welbeck will never be a leading Premier League striker, but he is effective in matches such as this one. He deserves more opportunities during the run-in.
It would be too soon to get carried away for Arsenal fans. There are still questions regarding Arsene Wenger and the work rate of the players, but this was an excellent performance that finally provides the club with positive momentum. They have had a miserable few weeks and the supporters can get excited about their team once again.
When the draw was made, a lot of supporters checked their expectations when it came to the Europa League. Milan were the overwhelming favourites, but Arsenal have taken a dominant position in the tie and should be able to finish the job in London.
If they can do that, they will move into the quarter-final stage. Although it will be difficult to win it, they will have as good a chance as any.
There have been many false dawns for Arsenal in recent years and this could be another one. That said, it takes enormous character to go away to a huge stadium like the San Siro after a poor run of form and win comfortably.
Considering the criticism that they have had for their lack of desire, few would have thought the Gunners to be capable of a result like this.
It is now up to Wenger to prove that he can get this level of effort and performance out of his players on a regular basis. The Frenchman remains in a difficult position with no margin for error. If he is going to keep his job, he needs to finish the season strongly and win the Europa League.
It won’t be an easy challenge, but this performance and result will give him hope that he can upset the odds to claim his first European trophy.
Brighton 2-1 Arsenal: Three talking points from the Amex
Arsenal lost for a fourth successive game as Brighton & Hove Albion bullied their opponents into submission.
Arsenal suffered their fourth consecutive defeat in all competitions as Brighton & Hove Albion took a giant leap towards Premier League survival.
The pressure on Gunners boss Arsene Wenger, which has intensified since the turn of the year, looks set to reach new heights after another dismal day at the office for his charges.
Goals from Lewis Dunk and Glenn Murray put the Seagulls in control before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang pulled one back for the visitors on the stroke of half-time.
Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, Arsenal were unable to muster an equaliser.
For Brighton, this was a huge result that lifted them seven points clear of the relegation zone.
Here are three talking points…
Is beleaguered Wenger’s position now untenable?
It lurches from one disaster to another for Wenger.
He probably thought the nadir had been reached after last weekend’s limp performance in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City, when his future became the main topic of debate.
The Frenchman would have hoped for a reaction from his players in the subsequent fixtures.
Instead, his side were brushed aside against City in the Premier League before producing another sub-standard display here against Brighton.
Added to their shock Europa League reversal at home to minnows Ostersunds, it is the first time Arsenal have lost four successive matches since 2002.
After last season’s FA Cup triumph, Wenger penned a new contract that takes him through to the summer of 2019.
Now, however, it’s difficult to see how he can last beyond the end of the current campaign.
Perhaps only by lifting the Europa League, which would automatically qualify Arsenal for the Champions League, could Wenger realistically remain in situ.
Even then, it may not be enough. His players look devoid of any confidence and need an injection of new ideas.
Brighton take a massive step towards safety
The focus will understandably be on Arsenal, but Brighton’s display should not be overlooked.
This victory extended their unbeaten run in the Premier League to four games and has all but banished thoughts that they might be dragged into a relegation scrap.
Yes, it was a good time to face Arsenal, but Chris Hughton’s side made a fast start with two early goals that went a long way to recording their first win over the Gunners since 1982.
Brighton’s performance bore all the hallmarks of their season so far.
Despite being one of the lowest scorers in the division, they took their chances when they came, exploiting Arsenal’s weakness from set pieces and aerial balls.
In the second half, the home side remained very organised defensively, which was key when the Gunners upped the tempo.
Modest and unassuming, Hughton has done a terrific job on the south coast.
Defensive shortcomings continue to haunt Arsenal
Wenger has regularly spoken of his belief that Arsenal cannot compete on a level playing field with the likes of Manchester City.
And while his side’s record against fellow ‘Big Six’ clubs is regularly scrutinised, the Gunners’ results against the lesser lights have not been good enough for a club with Champions League aspirations.
In 2018 alone, Arsenal have been beaten by Swansea City, Bournemouth and now Brighton in the Premier League, while losing to Nottingham Forest and Ostersunds in cups.
A lack of leadership has long been an issue on the pitch and it’s an area Wenger has consistently ignored.
Defensively, the Gunners are too easy to bully.
Take Shkodran Mustafi’s defending for the first goal in the Carabao Cup final last weekend, for example.
Particularly away from home, Arsenal are prone to imploding.
Despite the attacking talent Wenger has at his disposal, his failure to invest in proven defenders at the top level looks set to cost him dearly.
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