Premier League Season Review
The ticker tape has settled, time to look back on the Premier League season by Charles Warren McGinnes
CHELSEA – Champions, Capital One Cup Winners
To be perfectly honest with you, Chelsea were champions as early as February just without the mathematics to back up their claim to the Premier League title. It’s easy to say they are worthy champions with consistent results, if not performances, from the start of the season to the finish and a manager who has his rivals playing a desperate game of catch just to keep pace with the blues let alone overtake them.
Chelsea finished last season without a single trophy but invested wisely in the summer, especially in bringing Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas to the club, and now have a squad packed to the rafters with world-class talent. Even the considerable abilities of Kevin de Bruyne and Andre Schurrle, both players who could grace the squads of any of the teams in the top six, were considered to be dispensable.
With further strengthening on the horizon for the Champions, it looks like Chelsea are in pole position to retain their Premier League crown, especially if their nearest challengers Manchester City continue their current period of strife.
If you were to pick any real holes in their Championship it would be the way their performances suffered towards the back end of the season, even if results for the most part continued to go in their favour. The lack of a real challenge from the winter months into the spring allowed Mourinho the breathing room to take his foot off the accelerator. If Chelsea can win titles at a walking pace then god help us when they hit top gear.
MANCHESTER CITY - Runners-Up
The 2013 Champions will look back at this season as one to forget, especially when you take into account the fact that City drew level on points with Chelsea over the Christmas period only for a serious drop-off in form threaten to dump them out of the top-four let alone leave them with any real designs on a successive title.
The biggest failing of City’s season was that there were few faces who could pick their side up when their star turns failed to perform, namely Yaya Toure. Sergio Aguero once again finished as the side’s top scorer but once again a season in and out of the treatment room did little for his side’s title aspirations.
If Manuel Pellegrini’s failure to retain the Premier League title threatened his position at the club, his inability to win anything season could be the final nail in the coffin of his Manchester City career. With quite a number of successful managers now on the market Pellegrini faces a real fight on his hands to remain manager. That being said, there is clearly more wrong with the side than the manager as their squad continues to age.
ARSENAL - 3rd, FA Cup Finalists
Another seaon, another top four finish and another imaginary trophy to add to Arsene Wenger’s trophy cabinet. He’s now ‘received’ eighteen consecutive top-four finish ‘trophies’ and Wenger will be pleased with a season that saw the Gunners’ obligatory slow start, fast recovery and flirtation with a title challenge.
There is still massive room for improvement although the soft underbelly that used to be like a red rag to a bull for many teams in the Premier League has begun to shrink in size. Add Morgan Schneiderlin to the mix and that target may become even smaller. A top quality striker and Arsenal could find themselves better placed than Manchester City to be Chelsea’s real title rivals next term.
At the time of writing, Arsenal are still trophyless this season but go into next weekend’s FA Cup final as firm favourites over a revitalised yet still vulnerable Aston Villa. If they defend the FA Cup then the season can be seen as a roaring success, if they fail to then Gunners’ fans will be unlikely to call it a failure.
On a side note, Arsenal may need to have a look at their rehabilitation and treatment policies as too many key players continue to struggle with injuries on a far too regular basis. Healthy players and Arsenal can be a major player once more.
MANCHESTER UNITED - 4th
Last year will forever remain a blank spot in united fans’ memories as they desperately try to scrub away the relative embarrassment of a finish away from the business end of the table they’d become so accustomed to residing in.
The first introduction Man United fans will have had to Louis van Gaal will have been the preceding World Cup and the season rather mirrored Holland’s tournament. Many gave them little chance, they performed well throughout much of the season but didn’t quite have enough to push themselves into the mix for the top honours.
Another season to invest in the squad and reinforce defensively and Man United could be back to the red devils of old. With Leicester remaining in the Premier League they’ll do well to avoid another embarrassment at the King Power stadium.
TOTTENHAM - 5th
Spurs finish in fifth so regularly that it’s almost become part of their name. I wouldn’t look twice if I saw a white and navy shirt with the words ‘Tottenham Hotspur 5th” embroidered over the badge.
While Tottenham once again missed out on Champions League qualification, both via the league and Europa League, the ermegence of Harry Kane as the next great English striker is reason enough to be positive.
Pochettino won’t be overjoyed with his first season at White Hart Lane but considering his squad is still very much made up of players signed by prior regimes, he’ll be content with his work. If you add to that the fact that former employers Southampton threatened to finish above Spurs and the Argentinian should be pleased.
It’s difficult to say what will turn Tottenham into the Top-four side they desperately want to be as untold investment has gone into that playing squad over recent years.
LIVERPOOL - 6th
Having just missed out on the Premier League title last year, Liverpool fans went into this season with higher expectations than usual; a feat that seems nigh on impossible thanks to their obligatory inflated view of their club.
Steven Gerrard set out on a personal quest to finish his last season at Anfield with the only medal missing from his collection but it quickly became clear that it’s very difficult to win the Premier League from the bench.
Sadly for Gerrard, Liverpool’s season can be reduced to three parts; two periods of abject performances sandwiching a brief three month stint where they looked back to their imperious best. It’s no surprise that their end of season slump coincided with an embarassment at the hands of Liverpool in the FA Cup Semi-Final.
The humiliation in Steven Gerrard’s final two games for Liverpool, a 2-1 home defeat to Palace and an embarrassing 6-1 annihilation away at Stoke City, rubbed salt in the wounds, added insult to injury and had me searching for every sports cliché under the sun to describe such an unfortunate end.
Knocked out of the Champions League, League Cup, FA Cup and Premier League races at a stage far too early for Liverpool’s pedigree, the spotlight has now turned to Brendan Rodgers who famously proclaimed upon his unveiling in 2012 “Judge me in three years”. It’s now three years down the line and the Jury is ready to deliver its on Rodgers. Watch this space.
SOUTHAMPTON - 7th
Southampton’s season can be summed up by the fact that they finished only one place and two points behind the team that stripped them of star assets Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren last summer. The exodus of talent from St Mary’s was striking, as was the astronomical amount of cash recouped for said players by Southampton.
With Ronald Koeman at the helm, Southampton invested wiser than anyone could have imagined and brought some fantastic quality to the Premier League for very little outlay. Toby Alderweireld was brought into partner Jose Fonte, Sadio Mane for Lallana and Graziano Pelle for Lambert. While Saint’ recruits fired, Liverpool’s did not and the predicted relegation dogfight many envisaged for Southampton never materialised.
8th is their joint highest finish to a Premier League season and they will be overjoyed with such an achievement.
Never joined the band expecting Saints to be relegated but never expected such an outstanding season either after Pochettino left for Spurs and players such as Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren and Calum Chambers were sold.
New manager Ronald Koeman made some magnificent acquisitions and guided Saints through a season that was a delight to everyone at St Mary's. Outstanding.
SWANSEA - 8th
Many looked at Garry Monk’s appointment as full-time manager in the closing stages of last season with raised eyebrows but he fulfilled his brief of keeping the Swans in the Premier League and was rewarded with loyalty going into this season.
Monk has not only kept his long-time club in the Premier League but has broken records in doing so. Swansea’s haul of 56 points is more than they have ever achieved in their admittedly short Premier League history.
With a somewhat thin squad made even thinner by the departure of Wilfried Bony in January, Monk’s ability to depend on a core group of players meant he was able to focus on developing his keen grasp of tactics.
STOKE - 9th
It’s very difficult to look outside of mid-table for the Premier League’s standout teams and managers and Stoke’s story is now different. Mark Hughes continued to build on the foundations he set after taking over for Tony Pulis in 2014 by securing a club record Premier League points tally (where have I heard that before).
With a somewhat damaged reputation thanks to his QPR connections, Hughes has all but silenced all of his doubters and has managed to make wholesale style changes without sacrificing results. They also spent the least amount on players and wages as a percentage of their turnover and managed to finish well inside the top half of the table.
CRYSTAL PALACE -10th
Somewhat of a groundhog day experience for Palace fans, only with a sweeter payoff at the end. Palace’s season was split down the middle, as it was in 2013/14, with one half of dismay and poor performances made up for by second half that, had the season started in January, would have the Eagles knocking on the door to Europe.
Neil Warnock was installed quickly to replace Tony Pulis, who walked out only 48 hours before their opening fixture but, struggled to get the same performance levels from his side as his predecessor.
With Palace in the bottom three, Steve Parish wielded the axe and brought Warnock’s second Selhurst spell to a conclusion, replaced him with under-fire Newcastle manager Alan Pardew and the rest, as they say, is history.
Famous wins over Liverpool and Manchester City and away at Sunderland have almost become part of the Palace way and Eagles fans will hope the club can finally turn its attention to what goes on above them rather than the trapdoor at the bottom.
Incidentally Alan Pardew achieved a record this season in being the first manager to take a team who were in the bottom three at Christmas into the top half.
EVERTON - 11th
Last season’s almost-qualification for the Champions League now reads like a distant past and Everton’s decline was sharper than anyone expected. The honeymoon period that Roberto Martinez almost exploited to the ultimate goal came to a juddering halt with his second season in charge at Goodison.
Martinez’ possession based style has been criticised by some but as the side began to find the defensive solidity that gave them their foundations for so long, they began to pick up points.
While Romelu Lukaku struggled for any fluency in front of goal for much of the campaign he still ended the season with twenty goals in all competitions and will draw attention from those higher in the table.
As will Ross Barkley. His future is almost a direct reflection of Everton’s potential. Stay and Everton have a talent to mold and build around, leave and he sets a dangerous precedent. It could be a difficult summer for Martinez and Bill Kenwright.
WEST HAM - 12th
It would normally be described as a pretty acceptable finish for West Ham but their incredible start to the season juxtaposed with their poor second half is what makes this year somewhat of a failure for the club.
With the Olympic Park looming, West Ham would have bitten your hand off had you offered them the start to the season they enjoyed but it came at a cost as the loss of Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho to injury left the without a cutting edge.
Without that cutting edge, Allardyce reverted to type, shut up shop and the results dried up.
With Allardyce leaving the club, something that was revealed only moments after the end of their final game against Newcastle, West Ham are in somewhat of a transitional period; something they’ll be desperate to avoid next year with the impending move to the Olympic stadium.
WEST BROM -13th
West Brom looked like virtual certainties for relegation considering how they just about scraped home under Pepe Mel last year and replaced the Spaniard with the largely unsuccessful Alan Irvine.
Irvine struggled to get much out of his meagre squad, bar the precocious talents of Saido Berahino, and by January the scotsman was out of the door. Enter Tony Pulis and his magical escape act and once again West Brom avoid relegation.
Under the stewardship of Pulis safety was achieved without any real hurdles and a thirteenth place finish is more or less the best the baggies could have hoped for.
A great win at Old Trafford will be a highlight for Baggies fans.
LEICESTER - 14th
Warning – do not get caught up in the hype surrounding Nigel Pearson. Just because Leicester put together a great run in April does not mean that the other seven months of the season did not happen. Granted they’ve finished about six places higher than anyone expected but that expectation was based on concrete evidence.
The foxes were bottom of the table from November until last month and Pearson looked more like a man on the verge of a mental breakdown than an elite coach. Fracas’ with James McCarthur and even his own fans were embarrassments for the club as was his bizarre altercations with journalists.
There’s no doubt that Pearson was the catalyst behind his team’s late season surge but how much of it was planned and how much was beautiful coincidence but it is one of the greatest escape stories in the modern era.
Leicester’s escape could be described as the greatest in Premier League history if it weren’t for the hero that is Jonas Gutierrez.
While the Magpies season was marred by constant protests against anything linked to Mike Ashley’s administration, the first half wasn’t all that bad. It took Newcastle a little time to get going but once they did they accrued a decent tally of points. That is until Alan Pardew finally jumped ship before being pushed and his successor John Carver failed spectacularly.
He has one of the more difficult jobs in football but eight straight defeats culminating in a three nil defeat to Leicester and a subsequent verbal attack on his own player Mike Williamson had little to do with Ashley and everything to do with a man well out of his depth.
Jonas Gutierrez was having treatment for testicular cancer only months ago but it was he who scored the winning goal to ensure safety for Newcastle and spare John Carver’s blushes.
Bizarrely safety could be a bad thing for Newcastle as a return to the Championship could have forced the change that is clearly so required at St James’ Park.
SUNDERLAND - 16th
It was a fantastically unspectacular season marked by a handful of heavy defeats, a series of solid but unspectacular draws and a sprinkling of victories in enough volume to drag Sunderland over the line.
Their squad reads like a good team four years ago but it’s a poor side these days but not deserving of Premier League relegation.
Gus Poyet was given the heave-ho late on to accommodate Dick Advocaat who oversaw safety and broke his usual stoic exterior to cry tears of joy after earning the point required to guarantee their Premier League future in another 0-0 draw, this time at the Emirates.
ASTON VILLA -17th
The man clearly has no-confidence issues and this assessment will do little to change that but Tim Sherwood is clearly the saviour of Aston Villa’s season.
Under Paul Lambert Villa weren’t so much in free fall but were attached to a very moth-eaten parachute. Their seemingly inveitable descent to the Championship was not dramatic but a long drawn out affair of punishment to their fans.
It took longer than expected for Paul Lambert to finally be given the chop but when, in February, he was relieved of his duties, the Gileted Messiah rode into town and reinvigorated a squad lacking any confidence.
Sherwood’s management electrified Christian Benteke and kept Villa up by the skin of their teeth. A potential FA Cup victory could be the icing on the cake.
HULL - 18th
Hull’s went about their business last year, finishing well out of the relegation places, without much of a fuss when all around them teams were doing it the hard way. They’ve attacked the Premier League with that same under-the-radar style but with massively differing results.
A terrible run of form in the middle part of the campaign saw them plummet into relegation contention and even excellent wins over Palace and Liverpool were not enough to drag them back towards safety at the back end of the season.
Too much money was spent on flops Tom Ince and Abel Hernandez while Dame N’Doye showed glimpses of the player he could have been but Steve Bruce will no doubt be forced to axe swathes of his playing staff as he rebuilds for a Championship season.
BURNLEY - 19th
Despite being relegated quite comprehensively Burnley will look at their one season return to the Premier League with pride, especially with regards to their excellent manager Sean Dyche.
With limited playing and spending resources at his disposal, Dyche got the best out of what he could, built the team around the threat of Danny Ings and caused teams from all reaches of the league problems.
Their commitment has been admirable but the moment they went into their first game of the season without really strengthening their squad was the moment they were doomed.
In the Championship you can afford to carry one or two players and depend on one to drag you towards promotion. In the Premier League any weak links will be broken without hesitation by even the least illustrious of opponents.
QPR - 20th
While the circus behind the scenes at Newcastle has been forced into the spotlight by fan power the lunacy at QPR hasn’t really been given the same treatment but this season suggests it should have been.
Very few involved in QPR’s Premier League season can walk away with their heads held high, least of all Harry Redknapp whose ‘lame’ excuse as he walked away after failing to strengthen in the January transfer window was insulting if not cowardly.
Chris Ramsey could do little to end the dismal run of defeats but QPR have done well in keeping the coach on for their assault on the Championship next season. Many had feared that relegation would cost him his job and rob the club of one of the only bright sparks behind the scenes.
The other shinging lights from a dismal season will be much harder to keep hold of. Charlie Austin and Rob Green are both Premier League standard players and have been attracting attention for some time.
It’s going to be a tough ask for Ramsey to take the hoops straight back up, especially considering the massive fine looming on the horizon as punishment for flouting the financial fair play rules.
So there we have it. Ten Months of Premier League football have come to an end and, with no summer tournaments to provide a distraction, the countdown to the start of the season begins. Arsenal and Aston Villa will bring the curtain down on the English domestic season next Saturday in the FA Cup Final as all eyes turn to August and that first game of the year.
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