I know that there’s one more game left to go in the club season. One final fight for a trophy before the football world is turned over to the World Cup and all its preoccupations this summer. But I wanted to get this down before the Champions League Final since the English season is over. This is a more general looking back on the season and my predictions from back in August. (If you feel compelled to go back and read it all, by all means click here).
Arsenal. Predicted: Top Four Contenders. Final Standing: 4th. “As things stand, they’ll be right around where they were last year” is what I wrote about the Gunners back in August. That was before they smashed their transfer record with Mesut Ozil’s purchase and spent the first half of the season nailed on atop the table. So while I can stand back and try to feel content about getting it right, it’s hard to feel happy knowing that there was a chance for Arsenal to regain that Premier League crown they’ve not worn in a decade. Two things I’ll note here: there were four big losses for Arsenal. 6-3 at Man City, 5-1 at Liverpool, 6-0 at Chelsea and 3-0 at Everton. The next game after those losses were all draws – one of them the one against Wigan in the FA Cup Semifinal that went to penalties. Win those three league draws and it’s a whole different ending. I’ll have more thoughts on Arsenal’s season and that FA Cup triumph on their own post.
Aston Villa. Predicted: Midtable Comfort. Final Standing: 15th. The season started amazingly for the Villains thanks to a 3-1 win at Arsenal. Alas, it never got better for them. Well, there was that 1-0 win against Chelsea at Villa Park. But these two wins mask that they conceded the most goals of any non-relegated team with 61 and ended with the worst goal differential of any non-relegated team with a negative 22. Perhaps turned by all the rumors of clubs after him, Christian Benteke had only half of his goal-scoring tally (10) as he did last season (19). But that pales in comparison to the fall in form of Gabriel Agbonlahor, who has yet to score anywhere near the 13 goals he tallied in 2009-10 (only 4 this season). Another poor start next season may mean the end of Paul Lambert’s tenure.
Cardiff City. Predicted: Relegation Fighters. Final Standing: 20th (Relegated). By anyone’s reckoning, the fall of Cardiff back down the relegation trap door is no surprise. The 2012-13 Championship winners scored the 2nd fewest goals in the league (32) while conceding the 2nd most (74). They lost the 2nd most games (22) while tied for winning the fewest (7) with West Bromwich Albion. The shame of Cardiff’s season is that most of the excitement was occurring mostly off the pitch. Owner Vincent Tam was busy getting involved in Malky Mackay’s management and eventually sacked him during the holiday season. New boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer couldn’t manage to turn their fate around and the Bluebirds finished with their poor record and a spot in the Championship.
Chelsea. Prediction: Title Contenders. Final Standing: 3rd. The return of Jose Mourinho meant expectations were at the highest they could possibly be for the Blues. And they managed a solid finish in the Premier League thanks to a great defensive setup that conceded the fewest goals in the league (27). This was bolstered by Petr Cech who tied with Wojciech Szczesny for the most clean sheets (16). The story for them became the issues with strikers as Samuel Eto’o (9 goals), Demba Ba (5 goals) and Fernando Torres (5 goals) were accused of not being up to par with other contenders’ top strikers. It fell to Eden Hazard to lead Chelsea with goals (14) and given that they scored the 3rd most goals (71) this year, it seems odd to complain about your scorers. Still, this season will be mostly remembered for the loss to Sunderland that ended Mourinho’s unbeaten run at the Bridge and the 6-0 pasting they gave Arsenal.
Crystal Palace. Prediction: Relegation Fighters. Final Standing: 11th. So how did the Eagles manage to stay in the top flight? Thank the brilliant work of Tony Pulis. (I know. I’m shocked I typed that sentence too). After the disastrous start under Ian Holloway, the former Stoke manager took over in November and proceeded to find a way to get Palace 12 wins and 5 draws out of 28 games. That’s 41 points right there, which allowed Palace to sit comfortably away from the relegation zone. Besides a 3-0 loss to Newcastle, they were never more than 2 goals down in any defeat. They scraped for every point – most famously taking the big scalps of Chelsea, Everton and dealing Liverpool’s title aspirations a knockout blow. While their defense – and specially keeper Julian Speroni were great – alarm bells have to ring for the team that scored the fewest goals without being relegated (33).
Everton. Prediction: Midtable Comfort. Final Standing: 5th. It was a banner year for Roberto Martinez at the helm of his new club. He managed to hang onto his best defender. His additions to the squad gave it a new attacking verve. As his Toffees took big scalp after big scalp, his predecessor was having his worst season possible. It all culminated in the 2-0 defeat of Manchester United at Goodison Park – the first time the Liverpool club had done the double over the fabled Mancunians in a generation. Built on a solid defense – third best in the Premier League – Martinez’s Everton flirted with a top 4 finish before finishing just outside in a comfortable 5th place. If there’s any doubts going forward is that top scorer Romelu Lukaku (15 goals) is set to go back to Chelsea.
Fulham. Prediction: Midtable Comfort. Final Standing: 19th (Relegated). What the hell happened? Let’s see: The Cottagers accumulated the most losses (24), conceded the most goals (85) and had the worst goal differential (-45). They didn’t record their first victory until October – by then they’d lost 5 games and drawn 1. So what happened? Goals dried up: Dimitar Berbatov finished with only 4 while newly-acquired Darren Bent had only 3. Their defense gave away more than they could score and manager Martin Jol was shown the door; replaced by Rene Meulensteen who was replaced by Felix Magath just a few games later. By that point, the Cottagers were in a tail spin that saw them flushed down to the Championship.
Hull City. Prediction: Relegation Fighters. Final Standing: 16th. For the longest time, it felt like Hull’s season would be defined more by the supporters’ fight with owner Assem Allam over the name change to “Hull Tigers.” While the FA eventually denied Allam’s application, it’s unlikely this is the end of that feud. In the meanwhile, Steve Bruce managed to keep his Tigers in the top flight by taking just enough points. Although somewhere in there they managed to give Fulham a 6-0 drubbing and Cardiff a 4-0 beating and also took 3 big points from a rampant Liverpool with a 3-1 win. Combine that with a solid FA Cup final run and the Tigers find themselves now in the Europa League. Not bad, huh?
Liverpool. Prediction: Top Four Contenders. Final Standing: 2nd. So, so close. How much would Brendan Rodgers and all Liverpool supporters give to go back and replay those last 10 minutes against Crystal Palace? Liverpool’s season was all about challenging for that long-missed League title and they came tantalizingly close – just 2 points off. Built around the best striker in England, Liverpool scored second most goals in the league (101 total). And remember, Luis Suarez still sat 6 games due to his suspension. But between him, Daniel Sturridge, Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling, Liverpool put teams to the sword. So what kept them from winning it all? Their defense which conceded 50 goals – more than even Southampton or Crystal Palace. That was the dirty secret: Liverpool had to be the destroyers they were to stay in the race. Building a tougher defense will be Rodgers’ mission this summer. That and keeping Suarez from the Real Madrids and the PSGs.
Manchester City. Prediction: Title Contenders. Final Standing: 1st (Champions). By a single goal, the Citizens were the most prolific attack in England (102 vs Liverpool’s 101). What separated the two clubs was their defense and the effect it had on goal difference. City’s conceded only 37 goals (2nd best) and had a goal difference of +65 (Liverpool’s was +51). Much of that was built on terrific home form at the Etihad, where they lost only once (1-0 to Chelsea) and drew only once (2-2 to Sunderland). Their away form was far less amazing, but it didn’t matter. They won the most games this season (27). Yaya Toure (20 goals), Sergio Aguero (17 goals) and Edin Dzeko (16 goals) led their attack as they put teams to the sword – beating Newcastle 4-0, Manchester United twice 4-1 & 3-0, Norwich 7-0, Spurs twice 6-0 & 5-1, Arsenal 6-3, Fulham twice 4-2 & 5-0 and Aston Villa 4-0. They added a League Cup to their haul and now must try and build on that success with UEFA’s FFP restrictions looming over them.
Manchester United. Prediction: Top Four Contenders. Final Standing: 7th. Even the biggest United hater (me!) could not have predicted such a quick fall from grace. The David Moyes Era will now stand in memory as one of the biggest mistakes in club football history. To be fair to the Scot, his team got old fast, injuries hurt and the second-guessing from every angle started from the moment the summer business was messed up. Losses at both home and away to Liverpool, Manchester City and Everton were just part of this fall from grace. Newly-minted star Adam Januzaj wilted after a fast start. Big money purchases Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata failed to right the ship. Top scorers Wayne Rooney (17 goals) and Robin van Persie (12 goals) could do nothing to stem the tide. A big summer under new boss Louis van Gaal awaits with a big clearout expected.
Newcastle United. Prediction: Midtable Comfort. Final Standing: 10th. It may look like a safe spot for Alan Pardew, but this season was anything but comfortable. Even though the Toon had the fewest draws in league (only 4), they were on the receiving end of a lot of pastings: Man City 4-0, Swansea 3-0, Sunderland 3-0, Chelsea 3-0, Tottenham 4-0, Everton 3-0, Southampton 4-0, Man Utd 4-0, Arsenal 3-0. Things got worse after January when they lost Yohan Cabaye to Paris St Germain. This left only on-loan Loic Remy to score goals and, for their sake, he did (14 total). What happens next season when he’s the target of other clubs? I said another bad season wouldn’t be tolerated at St James’ Park, but it seems Mike Ashley is set to make me look a fool and will bring back Alan Pardew, who’s gone from hero to villain in the eyes of many a Geordie.
Norwich City. Prediction: Midtable Comfort. Final Standing: 18th (Relegated). Losing 21 games – including the most away losses in the league (14) – will mean you’re going to fall into the relegation battle. And that’s what happened to the poor Canaries. They managed to score the fewest goals in PL (28), scored the fewest goals at home (17), tied for fewest away wins (2 with Cardiff) and conceded most away goals (47). When your top scorers can only put up 6 goals each (as did Gary Hooper and Robert Snodgrass) while you’re getting beaten by 7-0 to Man City, 5-1 to Liverpool, 4-0 to Man Utd and 4-1 to Aston Villa, it’s unlikely you’ll find enough points to stay up. Their purchases didn’t live up to par and their defense collapsed to often. That they were in it so late is a mark of how congested the bottom of the table was this year. By the time Norwich sacked Chris Hughton (April 2014) and appointed Neil Adams, the fall through the trap door appeared all but certain and 7 losses on the trot sealed their fate.
Southampton. Prediction: Midtable Comfort. Final Standing: 8th. On paper it looks like the Saints had the most average of seasons. They won 15, drew 11 and lost 12 – winning as many games (6 games) as they lost by a 1-goal margin. They scored 54 goals and conceded 46. Their goals were nearly evenly spread out between Jay Rodriguez (15), Rickie Lambert (13) and Adam Lallana (9). And yet, going to St Mary’s became one of the hardest propositions this season and the Saints proved to be a tough out for others: beating Liverpool at Anfield, doing the double over Man United and taking points off Man City and Arsenal. Now comes a crucial summer where they’ll see their core pulled by the bigger teams. It’s fait accompli they’ll lose young Luke Shaw. But can they hang onto Lallana, Marcus Schneiderlin and even Mauricio Pochettino himself?
Stoke City. Prediction: Relegation Fighters. Final Standing: 9th. Mark Hughes managed to keep the Potters well away from the relegation fight and actually built on their 13th place finish of last season. It was all built on an impressive home form, where the Brittania became a fortress that helped them to a 10-6-3 record with a +10 goal differential for a total of 36 points/+10 GD. By way of contrast, away from home, the Potters were a measly 3-5-11, had a –17 goal differential and only secured 14 points. All the same they took points off Man City and Everton and beat both Man Utd and Arsenal. And did it all with no scorer getting above 10 goals: Peter Crouch (8), Charlie Adam (7), Peter Odemwingie & Jonathan Walters (5). A solid season for the team that refuses to fall down the trap door.
Sunderland. Prediction: Relegation Fighters. Final Standing: 14th. You can be a dictator if you’re getting results. But 1 point from 5 games is not getting results and that meant the end of Paolo Di Canio’s short but passionate reign at the Stadium of Light. In came Gus Poyet, but things didn’t get much better as the Black Cats flirted with relegation due to a horrendous form at home. They managed to get the second fewest wins (5) and tied for most home losses (11) with relegated Fulham. Not that their away form was that much better, only 5 wins versus 9 losses. How they managed to beat Everton, Man City, Man United and Chelsea (at Stamford Bridge no less) is a riddle we don’t have the ability to solve. They survived the drop, but must work on avoiding another bad season at home.
Swansea City. Prediction: Midtable Comfort. Final Standing: 12th. How quickly the table turns. One year ago, Michael Laudrup was the toast of the town as his Swans, led by Michu, flew and struck with panache. But a bad run of form at the turn of 2014 ended Laudrup’s stewardship at the Liberty Stadium. In came Garry Monk, who managed to get enough points to stave off a relegation fight. Part of the problem was that, besides new signing Wilfred Bony and his 16 goals, no one was firing – least of all Michu who ended with just 2 goals due to an ankle injury. The other part was that they surrendered as many goals (54) as they scored. They’ll be hoping for better health and better defending next season.
Tottenham Hotspur. Prediction: Top Four Contenders. Final Standing: 6th. “100 Million pounds and you fucked it up!” was the refrain for most of this season that Gooners loved to throw. Spurs spent the money they got from the sale of Gareth Bale to build nearly a new side full of bright European stars. Sadly for them, none of the new players could fill the Welshman’s heart-shaped hole. They still relied on Emmanuel Adebayor to score most of the goals (11) with new arrivals Eriksen netting 7 while Soldado and Paulinho added 6 goals each. (We’ll just move on without touching on Erik Lamela. No sense piling on). They weren’t bad per se. It’s just that they lost to all the teams you’d expect them to lose and they lost big: 6-0 to Man City, 5-0 Liverpool, 5-1 at Man City, Chelsea 4-0, 4-0 at Liverpool and twice 1-0 to Arsenal. Andres VIllas-Boas was shown the door and Tim Sherwood (Who is a Gooner) couldn’t do much more. They’ll be back in the Europa League and hope the next manager is the savior.
West Bromwich Albion. Prediction: Midtable Comfort. Final Standing: 17th. How tight was the margin for the Baggies? That April 5th 1-0 win over Norwich became, for all intents and purposes, the decider between which team survived the drop and which team fell into the Championship. It was one heck of a fall this season for West Brom as they tied for the fewest wins overall in the league, had the fewest wins at home and the fewest away wins of any non-relegated side. So how did they survive? 15 draws, the most of any team this season, gave them just enough points to stave off the drop. Not that it helped manager Steve Clarke By December, he was put on “gardening leave” and was shown the door as soon as the season ended. Where do the Baggies go from here?
West Ham United. Prediction: Midtable Comfort. Final Standing: 13th. Another typical season for Sam Allardyce and his team. They were never in danger of relegation and never threatened the teams above them. They won squeezed enough points (40) to be comfortable even as they lost 20 games this season. They managed to do a double over Tottenham (3-0 and 2-0) and beat Southampton 3-1. Thanks to Kevin Nolan’s 7 goals and Carlton Cole’s 6 goals, they got enough points to find themselves right back where they started the season – in the middle of the pack.
With that said, let me just add my Team of the Season:
GK: Wojciech Szczesny, Arsenal
RB: Seamus Coleman, Everton
CB: Gary Cahill, Chelsea
CB: Laurent Koscielny, Arsenal
LB: Luke Shaw, Southampton
CM: Yaya Toure, Manchester City
CM: Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal
CM: Adam Lallana, Southampton
CM: Steven Gerrard, Liverpool
ST: Sergio Aguero, Manchester City
ST: Luis Suarez, Liverpool
And with that, we close the book on this season in the Premier League. Bring on the World Cup!!!
Poor David Moyes…