So, the race is run. The season is done. Once again, we head into the barren wastelands of summer, where transfer rumors and ITKs will rule for the next 12 weekends. We’ll find a short oasis in July, when the CONCACAF Gold Cup takes place, but that is about it once this weekend happens and the last major trophy – the UEFA Champions League – is settled. So I hope you enjoyed every bit of this past season cause here comes the lean times.
All that said, it’s time to once again take a look at how wrong I was by comparing the predictions I made all those months back for each one of the teams in the Premier League.
Arsenal (Predicted Title Contenders. Finished 4th): Right off the bat, I was wrong. In my defense, I did expect them to keep Robin van Persie and Alex Song when I wrote those words. How was I to know that RVP would end up becoming the next Frank Stapleton? Arsenal were 2nd in the league on defense – letting in only 37 goals. They end the season on a 10-game unbeaten streak. New boys Giroud, Cazorla and Podolski all scored double-digit goals while Theo Walcott did lead in scoring. I’ll have more to say on the Gunners next week. For now, let’s just look at one key stat: Arsenal finished third in Goals For with 72, 14 goals behind Manchester United. United’s top scorer? You guessed it; van Persie with 26.
Aston Villa (Predicted Midtable Comfort. Finished 15th): They flirted strongly with relegation — against what I expected — but managed to survive to fight another year. The best thing I can say is that they were equally poor both at home (5-5-9) and on the road (5-6-8). And the less said about that 8-0 drubbing they got at the hands of Chelsea, then the better. They found a great young star in striker Christian Benteke, who led them with 19 goals (nearly double that of 2nd-placed Gabriel Agbonlahor). Now the fight begins to hang onto him. Darren Bent will be on his way out and the Villains were too dependent on the Belgian prodigy to just lose him.
Chelsea (Predicted Title Contenders. Finished 3th): All the money spent and another year where they didn’t challenge for the Premier League? By season’s midway point, Roberto di Matteo — a manager Roman Abramovich didn’t want but was forced to keep — was gone and in his place entered Rafa Benitez — a manager the fans didn’t want but were forced to accept. While Frank Lampard led the club with 15 goals, it was Juan Mata who was their big performer. The Europa League trophy will soothe some feelings but there was a sense of regression at Stamford Bridge. Which is why Roman is swallowing his pride and bringing back the Special One.
Everton (Predicted Top 10 Finish. Finished 6th): What turned out to be David Moyes’ last season in charge at Goodison Park featured the usual flirtations with the top end of the table before they found themselves in their usual Europa League comfort. What did them in was all the draws – 15 in total, 9 away. At least they ended ahead of cross-town rivals Liverpool. Of all the clubs in flux this summer, none face a more daunting task than the Toffees. The right manager might convince players like top scorer Marouane Fellaini and defensive stalwart Leighton Baines to ignore the overtures from Moyes once he takes charge at Old Trafford.
Fulham (Predicted Midtable Comfort. Finished 12th): Well, they didn’t keep Clint Dempsey but Dimitar Berbatov was there to pick up the slack with 15 goals. No one else ended with double digit goals, so it’s good that the Bulgarian was there. I’m struggling to come up with further explanations to their season, but the fact is they delivered right to where everyone expected they would be: 11 wins, 10 draws, 17 losses. As comfortably midtable as it gets. There were rumors that Martin Jol might be sacked, but it’s unlikely that happens if he keeps Fulham safe from the relegation fight.
Liverpool (Predicted Top 4 Contenders. Finished 7th): Brendan Rodgers’ first season has to be described as slightly disappointing. The push back up the Premier League table didn’t happen. Borini and Allen failed to have the immediate impact expected of them. And Luis Suarez couldn’t help stay off the headlines. Good thing he can also score goals by the truckload as his 23 PL goals led the club by far. The January purchases of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho proved to be good additions to a forward group that, aside for Suarez, wasn’t firing. Rumors of Suarez and Pepe Reina departing for new destinations will fuel speculation in the summer. Liverpool need to improve on their +28 goal difference and losing their best striker and the keeper that helped get the 2nd most clean sheets would hurt that.
Manchester City (Predicted Title Contenders. Finished 2nd): They expected to challenge for the Premier League again and were, for all intents, out of it by February. They expected to progress in the Champions League and a tough draw and some bad performances saw them crash out at the group stage. They reached the FA Cup Final against Wigan and lost. All this underachieving cost Roberto Mancini his job and will likely force another clear-out of highly-paid players once Manuel Pellegrini arrives from Malaga. He’ll find the league’s best defense – surrendering only 34 goals and keeping the most clean sheets with 18 – but a forward line that, for all the money that went into it, scored only 66 goals – 20 behind Manchester United. It’s why they’re linked with every big-name striker in the world.
Manchester United (Predicted Title Contenders. Finished 1st): If I’m honest, I thought United would struggle back to stay in the Top 4 this season. Of course, they went and bought the best striker in the league after I thought that and managed to walk to the Premier League title. They scored two goals for every one they allowed. They kept 13 clean sheets. It was as clinical a season as one can have – their march undaunted even by losses in the Champions League and FA Cup. The loss of Sir Alex Ferguson may expose one or two fault lines in United’s side — ageing defense, uneven midfield, Wayne Rooney — but it’d be wrong to deny them their lap of honor. David Moyes has gigantic shoes to fill.
Newcastle United (Predicted Top Four Contenders. Finished 16th): Talk about a comedown. The Toon were expected to improve on the previous season’s successes and instead found themselves in the relegation fight. Bad way to prove your new eight-year contract was worth the paper it was written on, Alan Pardew. To be fair, the Demba Ba transfer saga did affect them as did the January purchasing spree. That much overhaul midstream is not good. They lost 19 games, didn’t score in 11 games and ended with a –23 goal difference – the worst of any non-relegated team. Massive changes must be made in order to avoid another fight with the drop.
Norwich City (Predicted Relegation Fighters. Finished 11th): I said they needed to find a way to concede less than their league-leading 66 in 2011-12. And they found a way cause they only conceded 58. While they found a way to spread the scoring load around, Grant Holt was still their key scorer with 8 goals. The reason for their success was their home form – 8 wins and 7 draws for 31 of their 44 points. Chris Houghton will have to hope that Carrow Road remains such a fortress for his team to avoid more relegation fights
Queens Park Rangers (Predicted Relegation Fighters. Finished 20th): If the Hoops thought that Harry Redknapp had enough magic to overturn all their previous mistakes, they found out he wasn’t. To be fair to Harry, it’s unlikely that Sir Matt Busby and Brian Clough together could have fixed that much that quick. They conceded twice as much as they scored – leading the league with 11 games in which they didn’t score at all. They won only 4 games all season long. Their best scorer was Loic Remy – who joined in January. The fight to get back starts this summer with overhauling the roster for a third year in a row. Too many managers have been bad with Tony Fernandes’ money.
Reading (Predicted Relegation Fighters. Finished 19th): Just like their fellow relegated QPR, Reading lost way more than they won and let in way more goals than they scored (only 6 wins and –30 goal difference). Just like QPR, Reading also fired their manager midstream, jettisoning Brian McDermott for Nigel Adkins. Not that it helped as they lost the most games in this season – 22 in total, 7 in a row – while keeping the fewest clean sheets – 5 (tied with Wigan and Aston Villa). One more way they differ – Reading won’t have to sell their entire team due to overpriced contracts. That ought to make life in the Championship more manageable.
Southampton (Predicted Relegation Fighters. Finished 14th): “It may come down to other teams’ form as much as their own.” It’s no surprise that the Saints struggled. They lost more than they won or drew – 15 losses, 14 draws, 9 wins. However, they did enough and got help from teams below the table to stay in the Premier League for another year. The club might put that down to new manager Michael Pochettino, who took over for Nigel Adkins. With wins over Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea in the time since taking over, they might be right. They’ll need Rickie Lambert to continue to score goals and find a way to lower their tally of 60 goals conceded.
Stoke City (Predicted Midtable Comfort. Finished 13th): On the surface, it seems odd that the Potters would fire Tony Pulis after they found a way to stay in the Premier League for another season and right at the level I predicted too. Problem was that the cracks began to show on Pulis’ tactics. A club that puts defending ahead of attack found itself conceding more than they scored. No Stoke player scored more than 8 goals and didn’t score a goal in nearly half the games they played. This would have been acceptable if not for the 45 goals conceded and the 78 yellows they collected. They had 4 of the most booked players in the league – Steve Nzonzi, Dean Whitehead, Ryan Shawcross and Charlie Adam. They managed only 9 wins and flirted strongly with the relegation fight before the teams below them did what they did. It was time for a change.
Sunderland (Prediected Midtable Comfort. Finished 17th): Talk about being disappointed. Martin O’Neill got poorly ought of the gates. Finding themselves in the relegation fight, the brass at the Stadium of Light sacked him and brought the combustible Paolo Di Canio onboard. Whatever you want to say about him is probably right. He did find a way to barely keep them in the Premier League. 9 wins is the lowest total for any club that’s still in the top division. At least the purchase of Steven Fletcher proved a boon as he led the club with 15 goals. Expect a clear out this summer again as O’Neill’s purchases are replaced by those willing to buy on Di Canio’s fire and brimstone style.
Swansea City (Predicted Midtable Comfort. Finished 9th): “Key will be to integrate new players like midfielder Miguel Perez Cuesta (AKA Michu) and defender Jose Manuel Flores (AKA Chico)” was what I wrote last August. I guess you can say they did well as Chico was a solid part of their defense while Michu was one of the gems of the season. He didn’t have as much of an impact in the second half of the year, but by then his legend had been made. To coincide with that second half dip, Swansea were tied with QPR for most games without scoring – 11 in total, but 8 of them came after January. Michael Laudrup’s first season ended with a top 10 finish and a major trophy (the League Cup) on their cabinet. Now comes the hard part: keeping Michu and Ashley Williams.
Tottenham Hotspur (Predicted Top 10 Finish. Finished 5th): It came down to the last game of the season and they were relying on a helping hand from Newcastle to earn Top 4 status. It didn’t happen but not for a lack of trying – 5 wins and 3 draws since beating Arsenal for 18 points in their last 8 games. A lot of that credit will go towards Gareth Bale, who earned praises from everyone for his influence this season. None of Clint Dempsey, Emmanuel Adebayor or Gylfi Siggurdson managed to get into double-digit goals. That meant the scoring nous was carried by Bale and Jermain Defoe while Jan Vertonghen and Hugo Lloris helped lead a tough defense. In short, it was a good year for Tottenham, but a reliable scorer and keeping Bale around are mandatory for next season.
West Bromwich Albion (Predicted Midtable Comfort. Finished 8th): Steve Clarke’s first season at The Hawthorns was a simple continuation of the foundation laid by Roy Hodgson. Don’t think that’s a slap in Clarke’s direction. He managed to keep Albion well away from the relegation fight and his team were difficult to beat – as Manchester United found out on the last day. A lot of that success came from the strong Romalu Lukaku, who will return to Chelsea and leave big boots to fill. You’d think those boots were Peter Odemwingie’s but after his foolish actions this past January, I wonder if he’s long for the Midlands. They scored almost as much as they conceded. They were involved in lots of good games. A good season all around.
West Ham United (Predicted Midtable Comfort. Finished 10th): So they didn’t score 81 goals like they did in the Championship the year before. But just as before, Sam Allardyce made sure his team were nowhere near the drop zone. Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll led the line. Jussi Jaaskalainen was his usual self, helping the club keep 11 clean sheets. And they hung onto Mohamed Diame to help their midfield. In short, they took care of business at home (9 wins) while being notably weaker on the road (12 losses). Allardyce will now have to work on convincing Carroll to stay for good at Upton Park.
Wigan Athletic (Predicted Relegation Fighters. Finished 18th): The trap door had been beckoning the Latics for the last few seasons and it finally got them. At least, it came down to the second-to-last game of the season and after they had shocked the world by beating Manchester City for the FA Cup. Losing Victor Moses put all the scoring responsibility on Arouna Kone, Shaun Maloney and Franco Di Santo. But what really damned them was their defending, which allowed 73 goals and led to them having only 5 clean sheets. No way they were going to score that many. Wigan’s return to the Premier League may hinge on whether Roberto Martinez opts to stay at the DW Stadium or whether he’ll take one of the many options that are opening up for him both in England and abroad.