Let me break from my usual Game of Thrones running thread for a quick look back at the just ended Premier League season. Last August, I posted my predictions for this upcoming season. Figured I’d give a quick look back at how close or off I ended up coming:
Arsenal. Predicted: Another Top 4 Finish. Ended: 3rd. If I’m honest, it was touch and go until the very last day. The Gunners made a right mess of their season’s start, built up a good run during winter, had a poor January, then a great spring, but nearly faltered at the end. I’ll say more about Arsenal in their own blog piece later on. I’ll just say right now: Whew! HAPPY ST. TOTTERINGHAM’S DAY!
Aston Villa. Predicted: Bottom Half of the Table. Ended: 16th. Alex McLeish nearly got them relegated and it was just the poor results elsewhere that saved their bacon. 7 wins out of 38 games and a –16 goal differential aren’t relegation fodder. Not surprising, he was canned on Monday morning. How does Villa rebuild from a near rock-bottom position? It’s a difficult spot to be in.
Blackburn Rovers. Predicted: Relegation Fighters. Ended: 18th (Relegated). It was no surprise Blackburn dropped. The greater concern from here on out is the major disconnect between the supporters and the owners, which may get worse. There’s every indication that the club will bleed talent and won’t bounce back as quickly.
Bolton Wanderers. Predicted: Midtable Comfort. Ended: 19th (Relegated). My first mistake. I thought Bolton would have enough to avoid the drop. Even with 22 losses, they even had their future in their hands, up 2-1 at Stoke. But a draw wasn’t enough. Still, they’re the most likely of all 3 relegated teams to bounce back.
Chelsea. Predicted: Title Contenders. Ended: 6th. Mistake numero dos. The Andres Villas-Boas Era ended as quickly as the Luis Felipe Scolari Era did. He tried to get Chelsea’s old dogs to learn new tricks and it bit him in the ass. Roberto DiMatteo was smart enough to revert back to type to get them the FA Cup and a spot in the Champions League Final. Win that and all might be forgiven.
Everton. Predicted: Another Top 10 Finish. Ended: 7th. Everton had their usual poor start, but they were able to turn things around thanks to the form of newly-arrived Nikila Jelavic, who would be Transfer of the Season but for 2 guys at Newcastle. Still, ending above Liverpool has to feel good for the blue half of Merseyside.
Fulham. Predicted: Top 10-12 Finish. Ended: 9th. Martin Jol’s side was once again one of the stalwarts of the Premier League. They took points off the big boys but lost to them. They beat the minnows below them. Reliable. Steady. Threatening, but never a threat. It was the most Fulham-ish of Fulham seasons.
Liverpool. Predicted: Top 4 Contenders. Ended: 8th. On the other hand, Liverpool were a mess for most of the season, on and off the pitch. It took them till the very end but it seems as if Andy Carroll is finding his form. Unfortunately, that inability to score hurt them in too many games. Big questions are there for Kenny Dalglish in midfield and in defense – if he survives into next season.
Manchester City. Predicted: Title Contenders. Ended: 1st (Champions). The noisy neighbors are definitely making a great ruckus now. It came down to injury time and 2 goals but Manchester City somehow got their hands on that Premier League title they’d been built to win. It papers over some cracks, but let’s face it: pointing at the Champions’ flaws is like pointing out the zit in Kate Upton’s butt.
Manchester United. Predicted: Title Contenders. Ended: 2nd. It’s unlikely that today will be quickly forgotten in Manchester. Being just moments away from winning their third title in a row and 20th overall, United were pipped at the end by their city rivals. That will sting for the while but there’s got to be every expectation that United will make the purchases to regain their lost crown.
Newcastle United. Predicted: Midtable Comfort. Ended: 5th. The surprise of the season. Newcastle could have had Champions League football had they won at Everton and other results gone their way. Instead they will settle for Europa League for next season and begin the fight to keep Demba Ba, Papiss Demba Cisse, Hatem Ben Arfa and the rest of the best Newcastle side in a decade at St. James Park.
Norwich City. Predicted: Relegation Fighters. Ended: 12th. One of the surprises of the season. Paul Lambert’s side were able to take points off Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal and they managed to beat Newcastle and Tottenham. They will look to continue life in the Premier League next season but must first try to keep Lambert from leaving for a new job.
Queens Park Rangers. Predicted: Relegation Fighters. Ended: 17th. Rangers began the season with Neil Warnock as manager, but a poor string of results meant he was jettisoned for Mark Hughes. Hughes did enough to ensure QPR remained in the Premier League but will have his work cut out for him to make sure they don’t fall back down the trapdoor next season.
Stoke City. Predicted: Midtable Comfort. Ended: 14th. Stoke City continued life in the Premier League as they have always done: by being physical, tough and brutish. Somewhere in there, Peter Crouch scored one hell of a sweet goal. Still, one win out of seven to end the season is not good form and they were lucky that there were poorer teams out there.
Sunderland. Predicted: Another Top 10 Finish. Ended: 13th. Steve Bruce began the season in charge, but was dumped as results went against him. Martin O’Neill came in and seems to have righted the ship enough to ensure their survival. If he can replicate his Aston Villa form at the Stadium of Light, the Newcastle-Sunderland derby could become rather tasty.
Swansea City. Predicted: Relegation Fighters. Ended: 11th. Of the 3 promoted sides, the Swans ended the highest and proved to be a revelation. Brendan Rodgers’ side played with aplomb and attack. They rode Michael Vorm’s good goalkeeping and their attack let them beat Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool. They will have a hard time keeping Rodgers if he wanted to move to a bigger club, but here’s hoping he stays.
Tottenham Hotspur. Predicted: Top 10 Finish. Ended: 4th. For a while, Tottenham were close to the Premier League title race. Then they went and only managed 5 wins since February, managing to shoot themselves in the foot when Arsenal or Newcastle failed to grab maximum points. Ending 4th is a minor triumph, but they must now sweat the Champions League Final if they hope to be in that competition.
West Bromwich Albion. Predicted: Midtable Comfort. Ended: 10th. Roy Hodgson’s team managed a slightly better finish from last year (11th to 10th) but they were taken more seriously by opponents this time around. Hodgson leaves a good side behind as he takes the England national team job. Whoever follows him will have a pretty big spot to fill.
Wigan Athletic. Predicted: Relegation Fighters. Ended 15th. A horrific first half of the season (3 wins-10 losses-6 draws) had Wigan with one foot in the Championship. But an incredible run at the end (9 wins-3 losses-6 draws) which included beating Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Newcastle saved them. Roberto Martinez is highly coveted but here’s hoping he can stay.
Wolverhampton Wanderers. Predicted: Bottom half of the table. Ended: 20th (Relegated). Mick McCarthy’s side didn’t have a good year. Then they fired McCarthy and the bottom fell off. Only 5 wins and a –42 goal differential meant that Wolves were relegated with several weeks to spare. Now they must hope that new boss Stale Solbakeen can find a way to get the back into the Premier League.
And finally, here’s my Team of the Season:
GK: Michael Vorm, Swansea
RB: Kyle Walker, Tottenham Hotspur
CB: Laurent Koscielny, Arsenal
CB: Vincent Kompany, Manchester City
LB: Jose Enrique, Liverpool
CM: Clint Dempsey, Fulham
CM: Juan Mata, Chelsea
CM: Yaya Toure, Manchester City
RW: Demba Ba, Newcastle United
LW: Sergio Aguero, Manchester City
ST: Robin Van Persie, Arsenal