By: Andrew Pasco
So the 2013-14 season of the Premier League came to an end on Sunday. It was somewhat surprising that a season of so many twists didn’t have one last turn to give us, as it ended with Man City winning their second title in three years and Norwich joining Fulham and Cardiff in relegation to the lower leagues. Now it’s time for a team by team review, starting from the bottom.
20) Cardiff City, 30 pts
Nobody is going to feel bad about seeing owner Vincent Tan suffer relegation. He changed their team colours to appeal to foreign markets, fired their most successful manager of all time, and displayed a general disregard for their fan base. It was a difficult year to support the Blue Birds/Red Dragons. Goal keeper David Marshall was the star player, without him they would have been hopeless.
19) Fulham, 32 pts
Blame for this season has been aimed at everything from manager firings to the removal of the Michael Jackson statue from outside the stadium, but the simple fact is they just weren’t very good. Some promising youngsters like striker Moussa Dembele offered hope for the future, but there wasn’t much else to smile about at The Cottage.
18) Norwich City, 33 pts
Record signing and fantastically named Ricky Van Wolfswinkle started his Norwich career well with a goal of the opening day of the season, but that’s where it all ended for him. With a league lowest 28 goals, the threat of relegation always loomed large over the Canaries. Norwich’s biggest contribution to the season were the collection of highlight goals they conceded, Suarez and Wilshire strikes in particular.
17) West Bromwich Albion, 36 pts
This was a nervous year for WBA; safety from the drop was only assured in the last week of the season and even that didn’t save manager Pepe Mel from the sack. They made a positive start to the year, staying in the top half for the first ten weeks. A steady decline followed and they ended the season looking over their shoulder. Fans will hope for a less stressful season next year.
16) Hull City, 37 pts
It was their first season back in the Premier League and they achieved their goal of remaining in the division for another season. Add to that a tremendous run in the FA cup, this season has been a success for the Tigers. If they can beat Arsenal in the Cup final it will be an incredible year.
15) Aston Villa, 38 pts
It was a strange season for Aston Villa. They seemed to crumble under the pressure of playing in front of their own fans but on their travels the put together some impressive results. An unfortunate injury to their main striker, Christian Benteke, deprived them of the goals needed to push them into the top half, as a result their season fizzled out and they were one of a few sides with very little to play for. The future of coach Paul Lambert is uncertain moving forward to next year.
14) Sunderland, 38 pts
What a ride for the Weirsiders. Only once before has a team been in last place on Christmas day and managed to recover and avoid relegation. The manner in which they did it, with late season wins against Chelsea, Man U, and a draw against Man City, was quite incredible. Gus Poyet took over the coaching mid-season from the condiment hating Paolo Di Canio and achieved a minor miracle. Removing the ketchup ban was his first master stroke.
13) West Ham United, 40 pts
West Ham fans pride themselves on playing attractive attacking football. As such, it was no surprise that anti-football manager Sam Allardyce was booed so often by the home support (even after wins). You can only work with the players at your disposal though, and Andy Carroll is the target man you want leading your line in a Big Sam setup. Player recruitment will be needed if they wish to change their style and appease the fans.
12) Swansea, 42 pts
It wasn’t a bad season for the Welsh side. Long serving defender Gary Monk took up the managers job halfway through the season and guided them to a comfortable mid-table finish. They lacked the flair of recent seasons but still produced a respectable season.
11) Crystal Palace, 45 pts
Palace were last place with only four points when Tony Pulis took over. They had been written off as guaranteed last place. The transformation was incredible and Pulis is well deserving of his Manager of the Year award. High profile results against Liverpool and Chelsea had a major impact on the league title as well.
10) Newcastle United, 49 pts
A great first half led many to believe qualification for Europe was a possibility. Those hopes came crashing down in the January transfer window when star player Johan Cabaye was sold to PSG for a tidy sum of £20 million without any replacement being sought. Toronto sports fans can relate to the notion that a teams management group only care about profit margins. Once a mid-table finish was secured all ambition seemed to evaporate from the club. A team record run of consecutive losses and the humiliation of losing twice to local rivals Sunderland made this a disappointing season for a passionate group of supporters. The lowest point of the season came when manager Alan Pardew was suspended for seven games for “headbutting” Hull’s David Meyler when the player was attempting to take a throw in. The high point from the rest of the leagues perspective was any time Joe Kinnear opened his mouth.
9) Stoke City, 50 pts
Stoke City offer a template of how a team can climb from the lower leagues and establish themselves as a Premier League regular. Since gaining promotion in 2008, they created an identity of a hard to beat, defensive side that will kick teams into submission. A throw back team to oldschool British football, they never won the hearts of the purists but they have maintained their Premier League status with such tactics. With the introduction of Mark Hughes as manager last summer, this season was about gradually changing the style of play to a more modern passing approach. While they didn’t draw comparisons to Barcelona, they did play a more entertaining style of football, only reverting to the bully tactics when the big sides visited. A first ever top half finish was an excellent return for Stoke City, they will be looking to push on and add to the squad over the summer.
8) Southampton, 56 pts
High pressing with an English core and a young manager building a reputation for attractive attacking football, Southampton were fantastic this year. Captain and youth academy product Adam Lallana has been with the team since they were in the 1st Division and his rise mirrors that of the club. Lallana was rewarded with his first call up to the England squad, a spot on the World Cup roster, a place in the EPL team of the season and was voted Southampton player of the season by his teammates and fans. It seems unlikely he’ll still be a Southampton player next season with some big names looking at him, and with Manchester United looking at a £30 million pound purchase of 18 year old defender Luke Shaw, Southampton may look very different next year, albeit with a hefty sum of money to reinvest.
7) Manchester United, 64 pts
I’ll preface this review with notice that I’m a Liverpool supporter. United’s failings this year were a joy to watch! David Moyes was not a football genius, he was never the man to take over from Sir Alex Ferguson and it seemed like the players knew it from day one. Enough has been written about the negatives this season, I’d rather look at the positives. Adnan Januzaj came from nowhere to be a bright creative spark from midfield. The young Belgian performed well above his years and will be a bright spot for Man U for years to come.
The only other positive I can see are the fans. They had to endure months of terrible football but the continued support they showed the players was immense. While there was vocal dissatisfaction with the team throughout the season, during the 90 minutes on the pitch the fans fought for the cause, often times with more spirit than the 11 players. It was a defiant support to the rest of the league, they knew they were having a terrible year but they also know that it won’t last forever. Manchester United will certainly be back, probably as soon as next season if they sign the right players this summer.
6) Tottenham Hotspur, 69 pts
If you have no choice but to sell you best player to Real Madrid, you make sure you get as much for him as you can. Tottenham did that with Gareth Bale, £86 million pounds came there way for their star man with plans for it to be fully reinvested into the playing staff. A 5th place finish in 2013 was expected to be improved upon, 4th was the minimum, and a title challenge was expected. Chairman Daniel Levy, who did such a great job negotiating the Bale sale, proceeded to take a scatter gun approach to player recruitment. Seven big name players were brought in to minimal effect. Of the recruits only Christian Eriksen could be called a success. Coaching has to take part of the blame. AVB showed tactical inflexibility, trying to force players into a system that they weren’t fit to play while his replacement Tim Sherwood showed little regard for tactics whatsoever. Both were failures which is why both no longer work for the London club. A new manager next season, same old Tottenham.
5) Everton, 72 pts
After 11 successful years under the management of David Moyes (who was snapped up by Man U prior to this year), a new era under Roberto Martinez began. Never a financial super power, Everton used the loan market to great effect bringing in three players who would have a massive effect on their season. Surplus to requirements at Man City and Chelsea respectively, Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku were brought in on a season long loan and were star players, bossing the midfield and scoring goals that would push them very close to Champions League qualification. Only a late season loss to party poopers Crystal Palace cost them a shot at competing with Europe’s Elite. A first win at Manchester United since 1992 was the highlight of a terrific season. If they can bring in players to replace their loan signings then they should be pushing for the top four again next year.
4) Arsenal, 79 pts
First place for most of the season, injuries to key players and a failure to sign a goal scorer cost them what could have been a glorious season. The signing of Mesut Ozil was hailed and his initial impact was outstanding. However, when midfielder Aaron Ramsey missed most of the second half of the season through injury, the German lost the engine behind him and his form suffered as a result. The January transfer window was screaming for Arsenal to sign a proven goal scorer to eleviate the burden from the clubs only striker, Olivier Giroud (no, I’m not counting Bendtner as a legit option).
Instead they opted to sign 31 year old defensive midfielder Kim Kallstrom on a free transfer, failing to note that he had a microfracture in his spine and would be unavailable for at least six weeks. The first game after the window closed was the 5-1 hammering against Liverpool which saw them lose first place and never regain it. Arsenal had to settle for 4th place but could yet end their 10 year trophy drought if they beat Hull in the FA Cup final later this month.
3) Chelsea, 82 pts
Jose Mourinho returned to England and his beloved Chelsea after five years abroad and proclaimed himself the “Happy One” in reference to his “Special One” claim upon his first arrival in Chelsea. The happiness didn’t last long. Constant sulking about the limits of his playing staff, especially his striking options were seen as a cheap excuse for poor results. Yes, Torres, Ba, and Eto weren’t doing the job but it’s hard to feel sorry for a team who have made the investments Chelsea have made in recent years. If a striker was needed, the money was available in the summer and in January to invest.
Worst of all was Mourinho criticizing Sunderland after beating Chelsea for using defensive tactics to spoil a game and then claiming tactical genius when employing identical tactics a week later. I hate him! [Ed. Note: Easy does it.] He’s the worst personality in the game even some of his star players aren’t pleased with his tactics. Eden Hazard is one of the top young players in the world and there are rumours he wants to leave with Paris St. Germain monitoring his situation. John Terry had a great season in defense which made Chelsea even more difficult to like. Signing a quality striker is the main objective this summer, Diego Costo and Fermino appear to be ear marked for the move to London. Add them to the best defense in the league and we’ll see a strong challenge from Chelsea next season.
2) Liverpool FC, 84 pts
What a season! It was heartbreaking to miss out on the league title on the last day but the challenge was never expected in the first place. Top four was the goal at the start of the season and was considered unrealistic by most analysts. Fan optimism hadn’t been seen like this in Liverpool since the 80’s. Mind blowing results like 5-1 away to Tottenham, 4-0 vs. Everton, 5-1 vs. Arsenal, 3-0 at Man U and Southampton and the thrilling 3-2 win against City on the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough were unbelievable. A return to the Champions League will see the Reds compete for the best players this summer, defensive signings are a must. The 101 goals scored this season are the 3rd highest ever in the league, but the goals against are what ultimately cost them. Letting three goals in the final 11 minutes against Crystal Palace on the second last day of the season was unacceptable, that 3-3 tie killed all hope for this season. Fans will be expecting more next year.
1) Manchester City, 86 pts
Champions, and rightly so. Ever cool manager Manuel Pellegrini never panicked, never lost his cool in the media, and expertly managed a team of world class players. The first crisis he managed was when first choice England keeper Joe Hart lost form and made a series of errors. Foreign managers are often targets of media attention and dropping the National Team goalie in his first months at the job was a brave decision. Joe Hart eventually bounced back better than ever and City were unstoppable from then on. They had a succession of injuries to key players, and had Sergio Aguero been fit all year it’s hard to argue that they would have ran away with the title. Yaya Toure was the league’s stand out midfielder and David Silva is one of the most creative players I’ve ever seen. Despite missing all three for prolonged periods they still emerged as Champions on the final day.
Now that the season is over my general feeling is sadness, not for how any team finished, but because of the simple fact that it is indeed over. I could have had August 2013 to May 2014 on endless loop. The season was absolutely incredible and I can’t wait until August for it to all kick off again. Between now and then there is still the madness of the transfer window and the small matter of the World Cup. It’s going to be a dull couple months.