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Postmortem on the 2014-15 Premier League

Once again, the day has come to bid farewell to England’s top competition of soccer.  The trophies have been handed, the parades held and those who cheer for their lot – or mourn their fall down to the Championship – know their fates.  Time to parse through what happened to come to some sort of conclusions.  I’ll go back and look at what I got right and wrong in my Predictions Piece from back in August.  I also wanted to add two new wrinkles.  First, let’s throw in a verdict for how their season went.  Second, I’ll suggest one area they need to strengthen in the upcoming transfer season.

Prem Post - FA CupArsenal.  Prediction: Title Contenders. Final Standing: 3rd; FA Cup Winners. For the Gunners, it was a mixed bag of a season.  Positive in that they cut out the epic losses to fellow rivals like Chelsea or Manchester City.  They even managed to beat a few of them.  In Alexis Sanchez, they had arguably the transfer of the season as the Chilean forward carried the team for much of the first part of the season.  And despite having the usual run of injuries, players like Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal and Francis Coquelin stepped up to reveal themselves as viable alternatives.  Anchored by Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud, they went on an 8-game winning streak that had them sniffing the top of the table.  However, they still could not get a victory against Chelsea or Manchester United in the league.  And though they were third in goals scored with 76, it still felt like there were games where Arsenal could have pushed for more.  The sense remains that Arsenal are, though very good, still a step below their usual rivals.  It now falls to Arsene Wenger to close that gap.
Verdict: Good season that only got started after too many draws.
Transfer Suggestion:   A super-scorer (striker or wide attacker) to add to Arsenal’s tally.

Aston Villa.  Prediction: Relegation Fighters.  Final Standing: 17th; FA Cup Finalists.  Another year, another relegation battle.  It was fair to expect difficulty for the Villans once again. While their defense was poor, it was their issues up front which had them battling the drop.  Villa scored the second-fewest total of goals in the league with 31 and their minus-26 goal differential was second-worst in the league.  Christian Benteke led them with 13 goals but no other player had anywhere near that many and every expectation is that the Belgian will leave soon. Home soil offered no respite as they were equally poor at Villa Park and away — with 5 wins obtained in each. Not surprisingly, Paul Lambert was fired after the 2-0 loss to Hull punctuated a string of 10 winless results — including 5 straight defeats.  Tim Sherwood took over and managed to scrape 5 wins — including against Spurs and Everton — and 1 draw to ensure Premier League survival. While an FA Cup Final date put salve over some of this season’s wounds, Sherwood will have to work hard as more flirting with relegation could doom them.
Verdict: Lucky to have survived…again.
Transfer Suggestion: Someone who can create goal-scoring chances to replace Benteke.

Burnley. Prediction: Relegation Fighters. Final Standing: 19th (Relegated).  Life in the top flight proved much different for the Clarets.  Whereas they had won 9 of 12 in 13-14 in the Championship, they opened their Premier League campaign without a win in their first 10 games.  In fact,they didn’t grab the first victory in the league until November 8th (1-0 against Hull). Their next win didn’t occur till December 13th (1-0 against Southampton).  They eventually tied for the fewest wins in the league (7 total) and had the fewest wins at home with only 4.  At least one of those 7 wins was against Manchester City.  Burnley also led the league in fewest goals scored with 28 — 11 of which came from the foot of Danny Ings.  The expectation is that Ings will remain a Premier League player with another club while Sean Dyche and company find a way to win another promotion battle next season.  I won’t lie.  I hope they find a way to return after next season.  Burnley was a club that attacked and fought against anyone that they faced. There’s a level of respect for that kind of heart.
Verdict: Sadly predictable.
Transfer Suggestion: Find a goal scorer to help them come back up
.

Chelsea.  Prediction: Title Contenders.  Final Standing: 1st (Champions); League Cup Winners.  The tale of Chelsea’s season could be split in two.  The first part featured newcomers Diego Costa, league-assist leader Cesc Fabregas and PFA Player of the League Eden Hazard leading one of the most potent attacks in the league — 49 goals scored versus 19 conceded through January 17th.  The second half — 24 goals for versus 13 conceded — instead relied on the most tenacious defense of the season as attackers succumbed to injury.  Anchored by Thibault Courtois, John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic, the Blues became less flamboyant, but more tenacious.  This helped them amass the most wins in the Premier League (26) and the fewest losses (3).  Their 15 wins at home and 11 wins on the road were also best in the league this season. So while the second half wasn’t as flamboyant, the Blues did the job they needed while the rest of the competition fell behind and found themselves unable to contend.  They’ll expect to challenge again next season.
Verdict: Mission accomplished.
Transfer Suggestion:  Depth in bench. Drogba and Cech are likely gone in the summer.Prem Post - Chelsea

Crystal Palace. Prediction: Relegation Fighters.  Final Standing: 10th.  I guess the Palace bosses did know who the right man was after all.  They quickly hired Neil Warnock to replace Tony Pulis and he lasted a total of 17 matches, winning only 2. If that was a failure, their next move was a masterstroke.  Alan Pardew succeeded him and proceeded to win 11 of his 16 matches in charge, including victories at Stoke, at Liverpool and against Manchester City.  Led by Jason Puncheon with 6 goals and 7 assists and supported by the work of Joel Ward and Scott Dann in defense, Mile Jedinak, Yannick Bolasie and James McArthur in the middle of the park and Julian Speroni in goal, the Eagles became a far greater threat in the second half of the season.  Now Pardew has to find a way to continue his run next season and hope to keep the good vibes at Selhurst Park going.  Step one has to be to add to their goal tally from their forward line, which ended with a total of 18 goals this season.
Verdict: A second half for the ages wiped away a bad start.
Transfer Suggestion: Someone who can add a few more goals; whether up front or in midfield.

Everton. Prediction: Top Four Contenders. Final Standing: 11th.  What the hell happened? After a good first season and a solid summer, the expectation was that the Toffees would keep challenging for the top of the table.  Instead, they started the season with 4 draws and 3 losses out of their first 10 games.  Romelu Lukaku still led the team in goals with 10 and provided 5 assists.  But they scored less goals than last year (48 this season vs. 61 last season) and conceded more (50 surrendered this season vs. 39 surrendered last season).  End result: half as many wins and twice as many losses. Questions will have to be asked about the performances of the defense and of keeper Tim Howard (who had half as many saves this season as last).  Wins against Manchester United and Southampton were highlights of a pretty average season that will raise lots of questions for which Roberto Martinez better have answers – lest we forget, his Wigan side won the FA Cup the same year they were relegated to the Championship.
Verdict: It better be an odd blip on the road back up the table.
Transfer Suggestion: Someone to challenge Timmy Howard’s long-standing position as #1 keeper.

Hull City.  Prediction: Relegation Fighters.  Final Standing: 18th (Relegated).  Though it came down to the final weekend of the season, the sad fact is that Hull fought against the drop all season long. On the one hand, they were never embarrassed — no 4 or 5-nil defeats tainted their season.  But they didn’t score anywhere near the number of goals required (33), with 8 coming from Nikica Jelavic.  This resulted in only 8 wins all season long – tied with QPR for second-worst and relegation.  The good news for Steve Bruce is that the drop shouldn’t have come as a surprise.  Hull weren’t anywhere as good in this latest Premier League stay and they’ll need to become stronger to fight against their fellows if and when they come back up.  If they can hang onto players like Ahmed Elmohamady, Jake Livermore and Abel Hernandez, they may be able to climb back up the ladder next season.  It won’t be an easy turnaround.
Verdict: Expected fall down the trap door.
Transfer Suggestion: Players that can assist in winning the Championship.

Prem Post - 5-3Leicester. Prediction: Relegation Fighters. Final Standing: 14th.  How did they do it?  Through March, the Foxes were nailed on in the relegation spots and looked a certainty for the drop. They then went on a tear in the last 2 months and won 7 of their last 9 games. Led by newcomer Leo Ulloa’s 11 goals, Jamie Vardy’s 5 goals and 8 assists and Esteban Cambiasso in midfield, Leicester provided some of the best moments of the season. None of them were bigger than their 5-3 victory against Manchester United.  The mission for Nigel Pearson will be to find a way to cut down on the 55 goals surrendered this season. Otherwise, expectations of another relegation battle will follow them next season. And things are not starting well this summer if the recent stories of orgies and racism in Thailand are anywhere near the truth.
Verdict: A surprising first season.
Transfer Suggestion: More help and youth in the back four. Upson is 36 and Konchesky is 34.

Liverpool. Prediction: Title Contenders. Final Standing: 6th. Let’s get the obvious out of the way: this season was a major disappointment on all fronts.  Newly-acquired forwards Rickie Lambert, Lazar Markovic and Mario Balotelli (5 goals between the three of them) couldn’t make up for the loss of Luis Suarez.  Daniel Sturridge spent most of the season injured and couldn’t contribute. This left the scoring onus on Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling — two players who look set to leave Anfield for different reasons.  To be fair, things in defense weren’t better as the Reds conceded more goals this season (52) than they did last season (50) — 6 of which came in that final game against Stoke.  Surprisingly, Simon Mignolet ended tied with second-most clean sheets this season (13). This would indicate that the issue remains the back four, which between injuries (Skrtel, Sakho) and poor performances (Lovren, Toure) never seemed to gel like it was required. So the question becomes: can Rodgers turn things back the right way? In Coutinho, Can, Lallana and Sturridge, there’s talent. But they keep losing goal-scorers and can’t fix their defense. It doesn’t bode well after a major transfer spree last season and clouds will hound Rodgers unless a quick turn around starts happening next season.
Verdict: Where have you gone, Stevie G? Anfield turns its lonely eyes to you.
Transfer Suggestion:  Find the best striker available this summer. Pay whatever it takes to buy him.

Manchester City. Prediction: Title Contenders. Final Standing: 2nd.  Their final table position might indicate that City were a worthy challenger to Chelsea. They scored the most goals this season (83) and tied for second-fewest draws (7) and second-fewest losses (7).  Prem Post - AgueroMuch of the credit for this has to go to the league’s top scorer Sergio Aguero (26) and to David Silva, one of the league’s best assist makers.  However, fact is that things didn’t go as hoped at the Etihad. Losses at West Ham, at Burnley and at Crystal Palace along with draws at QPR, Burnley and Hull are huge indicators of a dip in form for the Citizens.  The blame has to start in the lack of form from the defense in front of Joe Hart, who despite it all led the league with 14 clean sheets.  Players like captain Vincent Kompany and newcomer Eliaquim Mangala were very poor at times in front of Hart.  Mangala, Fernandinho and Fernando had a difficult time adapting to the league. Add the very average seasons for many of the highly-paid attackers not named Aguero or Silva – Stevan Jovetic, Edin Dzeko — and it’s more surprising that City’s title challenge lasted as long as it did.  For the moment, Manuel Pellegrini retains his position, but changes are expected to occur now and patience won’t last long.
Verdict: More was expected from such a talented bunch.
Transfer Suggestion: A midfield general who can replace Lampard and Milner. Paul Pogba?

Manchester United. Prediction: Top Four Contenders. Final Standing: 4th. On paper, it is job done by Louis Van Gaal’s Red Army. In truth, I doubt any United supporter will think back on this season with any fondness. They started the season losing to Swansea and things didn’t get much better. A poor traveling record — 6 wins, 8 draws and 5 defeats with a -1 goal differential — was a strong reason for their woes. Dropping points at Leicester, Manchester City, Arsenal, Southampton, QPR, Swansea, Chelsea and West Brom were but some of the low points of the season. How much worse would things have turned if David De Gea hadn’t saved their bacon?  Van Gaal spent much of the season tinkering with formations and starters, desperately trying to find a winning combination. British-transfer record buy Angel Di Maria and 20-million pound loanee Radamel Falcao arrived to much fanfare in August. Yet when May came, Di Maria was on the bench and Falcao had his bags packed for Monaco. United made the Champions League but another roster overhaul is coming this summer as players like Van Persie and Rafael will need to be improved upon.
Verdict: A poor season that accomplished the minimum.
Transfer Suggestion: World-class defenders. At least two. More would be better.

Newcastle United. Prediction: Midtable Comfort. Final Standing: 15th. Part of the Toon’s issues this year were caused by the rift and separation from Alan Pardew, who was getting booed by fans at every turn. Interim coach John Carver took over on January 26 and Newcastle won against Hull 3-0 in his first game. And that’s the game that likely ensured their survival over the Tigers. He would only manage two more wins in his short tenure — against Aston Villa and West Ham.  Considering they beat Spurs, Liverpool and Chelsea under Pardew, it was a major slide in 2015.  Newcomers Jack Colback, Daryl Janmaat, Ayoze Perez and Remy Cabella were solid additions and Papiss Cisse managed 11 goals this year, despite injury and a ban for spitting. But too many of the old guard like Tim Krul, Fabricio Coloccini, Cheick Tiote and Moussa Sissoko were sadly lacking this year. Newcastle surrendered the second-most goals in the Prem with 63 – worse than even relegated Hull City and Burnley.  It took a great strike by Jonas Gutierrez to ultimately save Newcastle’s bacon this season, but nothing seems to indicate another relegation battle isn’t in the making. Owner Mike Ashley is apparently after Patrick Vieira to rebuild the Toon Army and avoid that fate.
Verdict: A lucky escape for a club in turmoil.
Transfer Suggestion: Since a new owner isn’t an option, how about improving the defense?

Queens Park Rangers. Prediction: Relegation Fighters. Final Standing: 20th (Relegated).  By any standard, QPR were horrible this season.  On the bright side, QPR had the fewest draws this season (6). But that also went with a league-worst in losses (24), goals allowed (73) and goal differential (-31). Things started off poorly — 2 wins in their first 10 games — and they only got worse.  They were bad at home, but horrendous away from East London, winning only twice and ending with a -30 goal differential on the road.  A team full of high-priced talents that failed to deliver in almost every way and will be dismantled quickly as players will be dismissed or sent back to parent clubs. The worst part is that their one bright shining light of this season — Charlie Austin and his 18 goals — is likely to depart. for a new club in the Prem. The mission for new boss Chris Ramsey is to find a better balance between the players allowed to remain and the kind of Championship talents that will need to come in to help the Hoops make another promotion back to the Premier League a reality.  It’ll not be easy.
Verdict: Ugly, ugly, ugly.
Transfer Suggestion: Find a new Charlie Austin.

Prem Post - SaintsSouthampton. Prediction: Relegation Fighters. Final Standing: 7th. Lose their manager? No problem. Have their roster ripped up? Watch this! Though they started the season with a loss to Liverpool, they proceeded to rack up points through the first part of the season and were near the top of the table in what was a surprise to many. Even when the expected adjustment back down the table happened, the Saints were keeping toe to toe with the bigger clubs for European qualification and obtained it.  They tied for the fewest draws this season with QPR (with 6) and had a goal differential on par with the biggest clubs (+21). Much of this stems from one of the league’s best defenses anchored by Nathaniel Clyne, Ryan Bertrand and Jose Fonte and the great work of Fraser Forster in goal.  With them, St Mary’s became a fortress for the Saints. Up front, Graziano Pelle, Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane all had big seasons replacing the departed attackers. Now the work for Ronald Koeman starts. Clubs hungry for talent are after his players once again, with Clyne and Morgan Schneiderlin topping many shopping lists. Here you go again, Saints.
Verdict: An incredible season by the Saints.
Transfer Suggestion: Goalkeeper. Forster suffered a knee injury that may keep him out till 2016.

Stoke City. Prediction: Midtable Comfort. Final Standing: 9th. Much like last season, the Potters find themselves in the top 10 of the Premier League at its end. How did this happen again? Not surprisingly, thanks to their normal stout defense and the work of Asmir Begovic on goal. But for the rare occasion here and there — losing 4-1 to Man City or 3-0 to Arsenal — Stoke were often involved in tough games where one goal was the difference. They also gave as good as they got. Mame Diouf, Jonathan Walters, Peter Crouch and Charlie Adam led the team in goals and helped the team score such crucial victories like their 3-2 win against Arsenal, 3-0 against Spurs and that 6-1 finale against Liverpool. While one can expect some tinkering from Mark Hughes, it’s unlikely that Stoke will change its methods any time soon.  They’re working well for them and ensuring they continue life in the Prem.
Verdict: Another comfortable season in the top flight.
Transfer Suggestion: A forward to take over for the aging Peters (Crouch and Odemwingie).

Sunderland. Prediction: Relegation Fighters. Final Standing: 16th. With 2 games to go, it was looking like the Black Cats were all set for a potential drop.  A big point secured at Arsenal, however, saved them and ensured they will return to the Premier League.  The work of retiring manager Dick Advocaat, who took over the club with 9 games to go and steered it to wins against Newcastle, Southampton and Everton along with draws against Stoke, Leicester and Arsenal. They scored 31 goals – tied with Aston Villa for second-worst in the league – as Steven Fletcher and Connor Wickham managed no more than 5 each. Now a new manager must come in and sort out the wheat from the chaff in a roster that has been hauled and overhauled by many different hands.  While he’s at it, this new man ought to find a way to keep their number of bookings down as they led the Premier League with 94 yellows and Lee Cattermole nabbed the inglorious title of Most Booked Player this season (14 yellow cards).  Sunderland tied for least number of wins in the League with relegated-Burnley (7).  That will not get it done next year.
Verdict: A great escape that hides an ugly season.
Transfer Suggestion: A CB to take over Wes Brown and John O’Shea. Maybe Sebastian Coates?

Swansea City. Prediction: Midtable Comfort. Final Standing: 8th. They started the year with 3 wins, including beating Manchester United at Old Trafford. Though the season would have some ugly hidings — 5-0 to Chelsea for one — the Swans managed to be a tough team to beat. Much of that credit will go to new keeper Lukasz Fabianski, who had 13 clean sheets and the defense in front with Ashley Williams and Neil Taylor. Further up midfielders Ki Sung-Yeung, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jonjo Shelvey created and scored key goals while forward Bafetimbi Gomis stepped up to lead the line when Wilfried Bony left in January for Manchester City.  Garry Monk has built a squad of solid players who were disciplined and have equally adept on the road as they are at the Liberty Stadium. Can Swansea build on this solid season and become the next challenger to the top clubs?
Verdict: A good season
Transfer Suggestion: Someone to help Gomis. How about Charlie Austin?

TPrem Post - Kaneottenham Hotspur. Prediction: Top Four Contenders. Final Standing: 5th, League Cup Finalists. It’s happened again, Tottenham. Though not losing to their hated rival will salve some wounds, Spurs finished once again outside the coveted top four spot as their run-in featured the usual dropped points against lower opposition. Losses to Aston Villa and Stoke as well as draws with Burnley and Southampton ensured that they fell behind to Arsenal and the Manchester clubs in the race for 4th. The good news for Spurs was that many of the maligned players bought in the last few years began to come good with Nacer Chadli scoring 11 goals and Erik Lamela leading with 7 assists. Christian Eriksen was big in midfield and Hugo Lloris was his usual quality self. The big story this year, of course, was Harry Kane, who emerged out of North London to lead them with 21 big goals and win the PFA Young Player of the Year award. Good thing too as Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado were woeful once again and Mauricio Pocchetino will probably look to ship them out. Somehow, even with one of the best strikers and best keepers in England, Tottenham ended with just a +5 goal differential.  Not good enough.  Their season-highlights DVD will feature their 5-3 victory against Chelsea, Kane’s many goals and a race in which they fell just short. Again.
Verdict: A new cast of characters with an old ending.
Transfer Suggestion: Keep Lloris. And Kane.

West Bromwich Albion. Prediction: Relegation Fighters. Final Standing: 13th.  Poor Alan Irvine didn’t last his first full year in the top flight.  Good thing for WBA too, as Tony Pulis parachuted in at the right time to ensure they did not have to face relegation. The Brummies found their goal scorer though in young Saido Berahino and his 14 goals.  Now they’ll have to fight hard to keep him.  Pulis will need to find stronger, sturdier defenders to put in front of Ben Foster, who managed 11 clean sheets, as well as someone besides Chris Brunt to help generate the chances for Berahino to finish.  I’m sure Pulis will build his usual team of tough fighters in the Midlands. So expect The Hawthorns to become a bitch to play at next season. Good thing as their road record was rather poor, with just 4 wins and 8 losses.
Verdict: The right man at the right time saved them.
Transfer suggestion: Defenders to help cut down on 51 goals allowed.

West Ham United. Prediction: Midtable Comfort. Final Standing: 12th. Another year, another boring midtable finish. Sam Allardyce’s team wasn’t exciting and it ended the season with a run of 1 win, 2 draws and 5 losses in April and May.  Led by Stewart Downing’s 6 goals and 8 assists and Diafra sakho’s 10 goals, the Hammers started the season well and managed victories against Liverpool and Manchester City.  Anchored by Winston Reid, Adrian and newcomers Alex Song, Aaron Cresswell, Cheikhou Kouyate and Carl Jenkinson, the Hammers were a solid and difficult opponent. They even managed to qualify for the Europa League via the Fair Play ranking. But a lot of questions will now have to be answered. The Hammers need a new manager and Alex Song and Carl Jenkinson are both set to return to their parent clubs as their loans end. So prepare for another year of transition at the Boleyn Ground. They may hope for boring next season.
Verdict: Delivered on their expectations.
Transfer Suggestion: Find the money to keep the loanees.

Finally, before we go, here’s my pick for Team of the Season

GK:    David de Gea (Manchester United)
RB:    Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton)
CB:    John Terry (Chelsea), Phil Jagielka (Everton)
LB:    Ryan Bertrand (Southampton)
CM:    Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea), Francis Coquelin (Arsenal)
AM:    Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)
ST:    Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)

Subs: GK Joe Hart (Manchester City), D Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea), D Jose Fonte (Southampton), M Nemanja Matic (Chelsea), AM Santi Cazorla (Arsenal), F Charlie Austin (QPR), F Harry Kane (Tottenham)

Put a button on this season. Now onto the silly season!  OK, let’s end with what’s becoming a yearly tradition!

Prem Post - Brendan

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