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Exciting finish masks poor EPL Season

4

The English Premier League finally concluded on Sunday following a season which provided high drama but little in the way of true quality. With the Championship already wrapped up the main focus of attention was at the bottom of the table, where Birmingham, Blackburn, Blackpool, Wigan and Wolves fought it out to avoid joining West Ham in next season’s Championship. At the end of the Sky Sports sponsored Super Dooper Survival Sunday it was Alex McLeish’s Birmingham and Charlie Adam’s Blackpool who were contemplating life in the Championship.

If the last weekend of the season proved anything, it was the Premiership is fast becoming a race to avoid the bottom and no longer a race to the top. For the seventh consecutive year it was Manchester United or Chelsea who took the league honours. Pundits used to talk about the top four and then the top six but perhaps in reality the Premiership has followed the SPL and La Liga in becoming a strictly two-horse race.

United triumphed despite a fairly inconsistent season by their standards, a poor away record was compounded by inconsistencies in their forward line. Berbatov, Rooney and new kid on the block Javier Hernandez all showed glimpses of class this season but failed to shine for sustained periods of time. This was no vintage United team built not on panache or flair but on efficiency, there were no Cantonas, Beckhams or Ronaldos but the Carricks, Andersons and Parks personified this United team’s style of play.

The Red Devils nearest rivals were predictably Chelsea once again. At one stage Ancelloti’s side looked destined to run away with the title, but the bizarre sacking of Ray Wilkins followed by a mid winter collapse saw them slide down the table. Their £50million January signing Fernando Torres failed to inspire and goals were hard to come by. The fact that Chelsea still managed to scrape home in second place is perhaps more an indictment on the teams around them than of any great success for The Blues.

London rivals Arsenal were sitting pretty in second in the league and after a swashbuckling 2-1 victory over Barcelona the possibility of a unique quadruple became ever more real. However defeat in the Carling Cup final by Birmingham signalled the start of a spectacular collapse which saw the Gunners dumped out of all three cup competitions and pick up a measly 12 points in 11 games. Arsenal conceded a staggering 53% of their goals from set pieces and will need to sign a centre defender who is strong in the air if they are to challenge next year. Near neighbours Spurs will be content with their fifth place finish after a season where their Champions League heroics appeared to take it’s toll on their league form. Sensational wins over both Inter and AC Milan were punctuated by too many draws in the league, meaning Tottenham won’t be returning to the Champions League next season.

Jumping above both north London clubs into third place were Man City, who are beginning to see a return on the vast sums of money spent by their owners. Manager Roberto Mancini’s style of play hasn’t won many plaudits, but a first trophy in 35 years and with Champions League football next season, the City fans will expect Mancini’s side to serious challenge for the title next time around.

Over in Merseyside it has been a turbulent old season. Liverpool have been the Jekyll and Hyde team in what was a kind of Jekyll and Hyde season. A horrific start to the season saw them thumped at Eastlands by City and lose at home to both Wolves and Blackpool. Roy Hodgson was soon replaced by Kop legend Kenny Dalglish who has since steadied the ship and recorded fantastic wins over both Chelsea and Man United. With a promising strike duo of Andy Caroll and Luis Suarez now on board, the Anfield legions will be expecting a higher league finish next time around. Across Stanley Park, Everton had typically Evertonian season. A poor start saw them briefly flirt with the relegation places before their usual mid-season run saw them make a late charge for Europe before settling for a commendable seventh place.

Beneath Everton were a whole host of clubs whose main objective of avoiding the drop. Up in the North East, comedy club Newcastle once again had the nation in hysterics when they fired manager Chris Hughton after a successful start to the season. Journeyman manager Alan Pardew was next to take the hot seat and to be fair the Toon were never in any serious danger of relegation. Sunderland meanwhile looked surprise Champions League contenders after a superb 3-0 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Things went pear-shaped in January when talisman Darren Bent left for Aston Villa which sparked a tumble-down the league table, a late season revival secured a decent 10th place finish and ensured they finished above Newcastle in the standings for a third consecutive season.

Elsewhere, Aston Villa replaced Martin O’Neill with Gerard Houllier and the signing of Darren Bent helped secure a top ten finish. Roy Hodgson’s new club West Brom had an excellent first season back in the Premiership and his former club Fulham also continued to progress with a credible top half finish. Long throw merchants Stoke reached the FA Cup final after a thumping 5-0 win over Bolton who tired towards the end of the season and finished in a slightly disappointing 14th.

Down at the bottom of the league, the three W’s, Wigan, Wolves and West Ham spent most of the season in the bottom three. The Hammers suffered following a poor appointment in manager Avram Grant, despite the best efforts of the excellent Scott Parker, a 3-2 away defeat to Wigan sealed their demotion to the Championship. Wigan themselves looked destined to join the Hammers but that stirring 3-2 victory, where they came from two goals down and the subsequent
1-0 victory at Stoke ensured Roberto Martinez’s men would be playing Premiership football for the seventh consecutive season. Meanwhile Wolves had spent big in the summer bringing in highly rated Scottish striker Steven Fletcher. The gambled had looked to have backfired as they struggled to break out of the bottom despite memorable victories over Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool. However their luck changed towards the end of the season as Fletcher hit a purple patch scoring five in as many games as Wolves reached safety by a single point. Midlands rivals Birmingham were less lucky, following a sensational Carling Cup Final victory over Arsenal, Brum went into freefall picking up only 9 points from their remaining 12 games. A last-minute defeat at the hands of Tottenham, meant that they will be playing European football in the Championship next season. A lack of goals was City’s undoing having netted only 37 times, the lowest in the league. Goals were never going to be a problem at Blackpool. Led by the charismatic Ian Holloway, the Seasiders played with a
refreshing carefree energy that would put to shame some of the Premier League’s more experienced teams. Ultimately the strategy failed as they shipped too many goals and subsequently were relegated back to the Championship at the first time of asking. Their final game at Old Trafford perhaps epitomised the Premier League season as a whole, flashes of brilliance were undermined by poor quality defending and United ultimately sneaking home at the end.

English Premier League Team of the Season

GK: Edwin van der Sar (Man United) – Impeccable season, will be sorely missed when he hangs up his gloves after the Champions League Final.

RB: Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea) – Despite an indifferent season Chelsea still managed the joint best defensive record. Ivanovic was integral to that success.

LB: Leighton Baines (Everton) – Excellent second half of the season helped propel the Toffees into the top of half of the tabe. At only 26 looks like an adequate long term replacement for Ashley Cole.

CD: Vincent Kompany (Man City) – Sterling season where he helped Man City amass an impressive 18 clean sheets.

CD: Nemanja Vidic (Man United) – Captain marvel for United, strong in the air and a danger at set pieces, the type of player Arsenal would love to get their hands on.

Mid: Samir Nasri (Arsenal) – Had a great start to the season but his form dipped along with his team mates. May take on more responsibility if captain Cesc Fabregas moves to Barcelona in the summer.

Mid: Scott Parker (West Ham) – Almost single-handedly kept West Ham up. Ultimately his efforts were in vain. Unlikely to be with the Hammers next season.

Mid: Charlie Adam (Blackpool) – Deadly from set pieces coupled with an ability to pick the perfect pass. Like Parker will be back in the Premier League with a different club next season.

Striker: Peter Odemwingie (WBA) – A choice out of leftfield. But Obenwingie 15 goals helped jolt Albion from the relegation places into a comfortable mid table position.

Striker: Robin van Persie (Arsenal) – Scored in a record 11 consecutive away games for Arsenal. Arsene Wenger will be praying his main man stays fit for the whole of next season.

Forward: Luka Modric (Tottenham) – Delightful player who has a touch of the Xavi about him, without Champions League football next season Spurs may struggle to hold on to him.

Written by Allan Rennie

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