Ever feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach watching football? Ever actually been punched in the stomach watching football? If so then you probably know how myself and thousands of other Manchester United supported felt at around 16.55 yesterday…you probably don’t care about that though.
First off…congratulations to Manchester City. I’ve said all along that the team who wins the league deserves it and they do. They scored the most goals, conceded the least and that was, literally, the difference. It’s easy to look at where the title was won and lost but ultimately City won it by “doing a United”; destroying opponents and pulling it out of the bag when the cause looked lost.
As a United fan today is disappointing but you’ve got to hold your head up high. We finished on level points with a team far more expensively assembled, we were blighted by injuries to some of our most important players (what we wouldn’t have given for a fully fit Nemanja Vidic or Darren Fletcher all season) and we had some glorious results along the way. Here’s some highlights from the season for me…
* The Drubbings – There has never been a Premier League season quite like this one, and where better to start than the absolute thrashings that some teams have doled out. Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal, Tottenham 1-5 City, Tottenham 4-0 Liverpool, Arsenal 7-1 Blackburn, Fulham 6-0 QPR…I think that covers them all…oh yes, I forgot the 6-1…Norwich 1-6 Manchester City.
Some of the performances have been out of this world, I mentioned on last week’s show that I don’t think a thrashing can be classed as a truly great game but to be fair those will all live long in the memory.
* The Attackers – La Liga is currently home to the two best attacking players in the world (and maybe 3rd, 4th and 5th) but the Premier League definitely has it’s world class talents. Robin van Persie has finally turned years of potential into world class talent, Sergio Aguero has had the best debut season for a striker since van Nistelrooy and Wayne Rooney has, strangely for him, gone about proving that he is indeed a world class striker with his best goal haul yet (although he’s still not fully forgiven for THAT contract negotiation).
We’ve had Danny Graham and Grant Holt step up fantastically from the Championship, Newcastle’s Senegalese strikeforce terrorise defences up and down the land and the likes of Yakubu and Emmanuel Adebayor roll back the clock when they looked like their careers were petering out.
* The Defenders – And on the flip side, the defenders have been equally fantastic. I still galls me that Vincent Kompany did not win either the PFA or FWA Player of the Year (he didn’t even get short listed for either prize) and alongside him Joleon Lescott has almost become City’s Denis Irwin – you don’t necessarily notice him but he rarely puts in a bad performance. For United Jonny Evans has returned from the brink to be one of the first names on the team sheet and Rio Ferdinand actually stayed fit for most of the season (and played something like his best)!
Fabricio Coloccini was imperious for Newcastle, finally living up to the potential he had at Milan, alongside the excellent Mike Williamson, Danny Simpson, Ryan Taylor and James Perch. Leighton Baines is finally challenging Ashley Cole as England’s No.1 left back and Kyle Walker, Micah Richards and Phil Jones offer some hope for the future. And that’s before mentioning the ever brilliant Bacary Sagna and the infinitely improved Laurent Koscielny at Arsenal
- The Comebacks – Yesterday’s finish, for a neutral anyway, is on a par with Liverpool 0-2 Arsenal 1989 in terms of drama (I hope they don’t make a crap film out of this one as well). But even before that it was a season of comebacks. Chelsea 3-3 Manchester United, Manchester United 4-4 Everton Arsenal 5-2 Tottenham, City 3-3 Sunderland, QPR 3-2 Liverpool…the drama this season has not been seen since 1998-99 and, arguably, surpasses it.
- The Managers – Firstly a doff of the cap to Roberto Mancini, there’s harder jobs than managing a team with endless fortunes but he’s done a fine job and conducted himself with dignity throughout the season. Likewise Sir Alex Ferguson has taken one of the worst Man Utd sides in the Premier League era to an 89 point haul – the joint third best United points haul since 1996.
But the real stand out managers have been lower down the league. Roy Hodgson’s reward for solidifying West Brom as a mid table team has been the England job, Paul Lambert and Brendan Rodgers have both done fine jobs with promoted clubs and David Moyes continues to be the best manager in the second half of the season. If this was limited to the last 10 games then Roberto Martinez would also get a nod. But the undoubted manager of the season was Alan Pardew. After losing most of his senior players in the summer most people had him down as the first manager to get sacked and Newcastle as relegation fodder but the job he has done has been exceptional. The tough job now will be repeating it next season and holding on to his star players.
* The Over-Performers
I’ve already covered Newcastle above but what a year it’s been for them. It’s a great shame that they couldn’t grab the fourth Champions League place but hopefully the club can move on next season. But it’s been a year for the underdog, and for the first time in many (unfortunately blue) moons that both City and Everton finished above their red rivals.
Norwich and Swansea have been fantastic this season, never looking in danger of the drop and, the latter especially, playing great football. Fulham meanwhile have quietly gone about their business and finished in the top half and Wigan have somehow pulled off another Houdini job.
* The Under-Performers
If it wasn’t for Roberto di Matteo (or Lampard-Terry-Drogba, depending on who you think really wears the trousers) then Chelsea would get quite a kicking here. But as it is they’re now a game away from the Champions League so it’s difficult to call that underachievement.
Liverpool have bought some light relief at some of the darkest times this season with their bad PR and even worse performances. They might have a trophy but an 8th place finish can’t be papered over, truly a season to forget. Owen Coyle has done what Gary Megson failed to in relegating Bolton and Venky’s and Steve Kean are clearly Burnley fans but it’s two teams in red and white that stand out for me…
Sunderland struggled under Steve Bruce first half of the season despite a busy summer in the transfer market. Then Martin O’Neill came in and for a while they were flying, but a 13th place finish is very disappointing and a terrible end to the season doesn’t bode well.
And Stoke look like dark horses for relegation next season. They’ve been poor all season, scraping out results in a manner that is increasingly being found out and finishing near the bottom of a lot of stats tables. It’s telling that the Real Premier League Table (a table that takes debatable decisions into account and says whether a team should have got a result or not) has them in the bottom three and next season looks like it’s going to be a struggle.