Wednesday 22 November 2017

This was a thrilling Premier League season to savour

City style and Liverpool energy add touch of magic to fantastic campaign, says Henry Winter

Steven Gerrard could be forgiven for thinking of what might have been as he applauds the Liverpool supporters at Anfield yesterday
Steven Gerrard could be forgiven for thinking of what might have been as he applauds the Liverpool supporters at Anfield yesterday

London Daily Telegraph

In the thrilling race to be crowned champions, the Premier League's game of thrones was more like musical chairs at times. Even Manchester United, who had a season penned by Stephen King, managed two days at the summit, briefly admiring the view. Arsenal spent 128 days there, Chelsea 64, Liverpool 59 and Manchester City 15. This turnover added to the wonderful unpredictability of one of the best Premier League title campaigns since its inception in 1992.

A three-horse chase is rare. Stylish City relied on the quality of Yaya Toure from midfield, the will to win of Pablo Zabaleta, and the goalscoring reliability of Edin Dzeko. David Silva and Samir Nasri graced games. Joe Hart reclaimed his top form after a period of mistakes and introspection. But most credit has to go to Manuel Pellegrini for keeping City composed and focused.

Sadly for Liverpool, Steven Gerrard's slip against Chelsea, letting Demba Ba through, proved the defining moment of the 2013-2014 Premier League season.

Other moments also cost Liverpool dear, from Kolo Toure's mad pass across his area that invited Victor Anichebe to score for West Brom or Joe Allen's shocking miss against Everton.

But this was a season that Liverpool fans should cherish, remembering all those amazing Luis Suarez goals, the energy of Jordan Henderson, the threat of Raheem Sterling and exuberance of Jon Flanagan. Above all, Liverpool know they are in good hands with Brendan Rodgers, who needs another experienced centre-back to ensure leads aren't thrown away.


Chelsea's player of the year dinner coincides with the LMA Manager of the Year awards tonight. Jose Mourinho was not in contention for his peers' award and Chelsea's season rather faded, but his capacities as an alchemist of a coach remain.

Willian's growing impact confirmed Mourinho's influence. John Terry and Gary Cahill delivered. Eden Hazard was a force for six or seven months. But the team were held back in finesse and ultimate finishing position by the absence of a heavyweight centre-forward. Diego Costa would be ideal.

A "fourth is fine" culture continues to inhibit Arsenal, although a new mood of proper ambition might return if they finally win a trophy with the FA Cup. Arsene Wenger has looked totally drained at points during the season, almost bereft of ideas. His failure to buy a striker has haunted Arsenal.

Olivier Giroud still looks below top class. In defence, Per Mertesacker has proved a leader. Aaron Ramsey's injury slowed their season. Mesut Ozil started brightly but faded, slightly impeded by injury. The absence of Ramsey and Theo Walcott denied Ozil the type of fleet-footed attacker he can pick out.

It said everything for the quality of Everton's season under the instantly popular Roberto Martinez that there was such a long shortlist for player of the year. Seamus Coleman prevailed, but legitimate claims were made by Ross Barkley, Gareth Barry and James McCarthy.

Romelu Lukaku averaged almost a goal every other game. Martinez has got Everton playing with more verve and fluidity. With a deeper squad, Everton could have pushed harder for a Champions League place. Few grounds are as atmospheric and loud as the grand old lady of Goodison Park was when Barkley scored against City.

Tim Sherwood's honesty upset a few people at Spurs. Good. A few home truths needed saying. The board needs to be more accountable for appointments. Some of the players needed shaking up.

Roberto Soldado and Erik Lamela have been particularly woeful, although the latter had occasional injuries as an excuse. Sherwood deserves praise for his work with Emmanuel Adebayor, while Christian Eriksen has increasingly placed his creative imprint on the team. Player of the season has to be Hugo Lloris, particularly for his athleticism in keeping a clean sheet at Newcastle.

There were few glimmers of hope in Manchester United's year in the dark.

David de Gea excelled in goal and, in the words of Ryan Giggs, "has been the one player who's played to his capabilities and maintained that consistently."

Wayne Rooney gave supporters a few reasons to cheer and Adnan Januzaj particularly gave fans optimism.

Such has been United's desire for saviours, James Wilson was awarded almost messiah status after his two-goal debut. Marouane Fellaini was poor.

David Moyes froze and was rightly dismissed. Giggs held the fort and will doubtless be full-time manager one day. Given the work required on the squad, United's new manager will have a busy summer getting ageing or underperforming players out as well as in. The new season needs to be accompanied by new players – and a new mood.

After Southampton's eye-catching season, their owner, Katharina Liebherr, needs to be strong. Wealthy suitors will come calling for the zestful Luke Shaw, the elegant Adam Lallana, perhaps even the occasionally precocious Jay Rodriguez. Liebherr needs to keep inspiring coach Mauricio Pochettino or the team could break up. Southampton's commitment to giving youth a chance and to giving fans entertainment makes them a role model among clubs.

Ryan Shawcross has been outstanding for Stoke City, a rock in their defence. Marko Arnautovic and Asmir Begovic were among others who impressed for a side given more variety by Mark Hughes. Gone is the game of throw-ins. In a sport where owners are often criticised, Peter Coates remains one of the good guys, who runs the club sensibly and cares for it strongly.

Tension rules at St James' Park. Newcastle United are where their owner, Mike Ashley, wants them, comfortably mid-table, ticking over financially, bathing in the lush broadcast revenue streams, but they are not where their short-changed fans want them to be. Newcastle's competitive edge has been compromised under Ashley. Alan Pardew manages with one hand tied behind his back, having his best player in Yohan Cabaye sold, and offered no replacement of note. Will Mathieu Debuchy be off next?

Tim Krul deserves praise for doing well, despite the changes in front of him.

Crystal Palace have great fans, a conscientious chairman in Steve Parish and a miracle worker of a manager in Tony Pulis. Before kick-off against Liverpool, Parish wandered around Selhurst Park, chatting to a steward here, a photographer there, and many, many supporters. If only every club had a chairman like Parish – or a manager like Pulis. Julian Speroni, Damien Delaney and Joel Ward were Palace's best players, but the star was Pulis.

There is sadness that Michael Laudrup let things slip at Swansea City. Huw Jenkins is the type of chairman, like Parish, who is a trusted guardian of his club. He has backed Garry Monk, who deserves his chance. Monk kept Swansea up and kept to Swansea's playing credo. He now needs to keep Wilfried Bony.

Jonjo Shelvey's 45-yard half-volley against Aston Villa ranks as one of the goals of the season.

West Ham are apparently preparing their divorce from Sam Allardyce. It was always a loveless marriage; one party wanted fun and bubbles, the other wanted security, stability, survival. It is a huge gamble, with West Ham needing to stay in the Premier League as they make the difficult, but understandable, move to the Olympic Stadium.

For all his limitations as a purveyor of entertaining football, Allardyce does keep teams up. The player of the year, Mark Noble, remarked on receiving his award last week that "the Gaffer has never asked me to boot it."

Gus Poyet joins Pellegrini, Pulis, Rodgers and Martinez in the manager of the year running. Poyet's personality has proved the jump-leads applied to stalled Sunderland. He guided them to the League Cup final, kept them believing in survival, held back Lee Cattermole from too many rash challenges. Vito Mannone kept them in some games. Connor Wickham finally began living up to the early hype as the great escape was staged.

Aston Villa endured a strange old season of drifting because of a weak boardroom hand on the tiller. Paul Lambert continues to do Randy Lerner's bidding, keeping the team just about competitive while keeping costs down. Holte End frustration at this lack of ambition is understandable. At least there has been Fabian Delph's dynamism to admire.

Tipped by many to go down, Hull stayed up and reached Wembley through a combination of teamwork, Curtis Davies' defending and leadership, the energy of Ahmed Elmohamady, passing of Tom Huddlestone and, above all, manager Steve Bruce.

West Brom survived, but will Pepe Mel? The Aberdeen manager, Derek McInnes, a former Albion player, could be a target. Jeremy Peace has to choose well. Few beyond Ben Foster, Youssouf Mulumbu, Billy Jones and Graham Dorrans enhanced reputations this season.


Under Neil Adams, Norwich City sleepwalked towards relegation and his failure to throw on any centre-forwards, like Gary Hooper or Ricky van Wolfswinkel, at Chelsea was bizarre at the time and madness in retrospect.

Chris Hughton may well have taken Norwich down anyway, but at least he had some experience. Norwich put a learner driver behind the wheel. Hooper should score goals in the Championship. But will John Ruddy stay? Will Malky Mackay come in? Nine out of the last 25 managers had Norwich connections.

Fulham's relegation has been put down by Mohamed Fayed to the removal of the Michael Jackson statue, another of the former owner's off-the-wall ideas. Fulham had players like David Stockdale and Steve Sidwell who gave everything. Hull shaped Fulham's demise. There was the 6-0 Humberside humiliation when even Tom Huddlestone scored, chopping his locks. Being 2-0 up against Hull at home and then drawing were killer minutes. The timing of managerial sackings felt strange.

The decision on Martin Jol should have been in the summer. The board naively panicked just as performances were improving under Rene Meulensteen.

David Marshall was one of the players of the season despite Cardiff City's demise. Cardiff's supporters were some of the fans of the season: their passion for the team and their desire to stand up to a meddling owner were laudable. Vincent Tan will not be missed. Red was clearly not lucky in the game of ruthless roulette at the bottom of the table. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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