It’s hard to imagine a season in recent memory where there has been as much of a shake-up at the top of the English game as there has this season. The established order of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and, of late, Man City had been relatively well-established. With David Moyes filling the shoes of the indomitable Alex Ferguson at Man Utd and “The Special One”, Jose Mourinho, returning to the dugout at Stamford Bridge, this season was always going to be something different. I can’t believe many people would have predicted the title race that followed though, with Liverpool, Man City and Chelsea all vying for the championship in the final games of the season.
Man City were crowned Premier League champions on the final day with a comfortable 2-0 win over West Ham that was far less intense than the last time the English title went down to the wire. But overall this year’s title race was probably better. The lead changed hands 25 times over the course of the season, and with games in hand all the way from January, Man City barely spent any time atop the pile until the penultimate weekend. Liverpool were the main challengers as it happened, but two slip-ups against Chelsea and Crystal Palace saw to their chances. Chelsea fell away as the tolls of their Champions League run began to show, with Jose Mourinho consistently dismissing his side’s chances towards the end of the season even though he knows they could well have won it with a better striker. With a strength in depth that their rivals couldn’t quite match, Man City were deserved winners – with a scintillating attack that was a joy to watch.
Elsewhere in the league, Everton and Roberto Martinez showed their credentials as one of the top clubs and managers in the country this season with a stunning performance that saw them push for the Champions League for long enough in what is one of the strongest leagues in years. Martinez thoroughly answered critics’ questions towards his abilities, having just managed a relegated Wigan, and quickly built and improved upon the regime of former manager David Moyes. This season was Everton’s largest ever points tally in the Premier League, and despite falling just short in their last-ditch play for the Champions League spots, they can be more than happy with their achievements. It’s hard to see them pushing further on, with a budget that can’t hope to match those of the teams around them and star players that might be attracted by larger salaries elsewhere. Everton are already likely to lose striker Romelu Lukaku as he returns to Chelsea after the end of his loan spell and the club might be willing to accept big money offers for some of their top players, such as they did last season by offloading Marouane Fellaini to Man United. The Toffees have had a good year, but next season might not necessarily be as sweet.
Spurs may feel like their season was underwhelming, with high hopes at the start of the season after their previous finishes, but when you consider that they lost their star man Gareth Bale in August and survived for most of the season without any real replacement for his goals then a Europa League spot is just reward for their efforts. Andre Villas-Boas fell on his sword in December because of his team’s capitulations against Man City and Liverpool and coach Tim Sherwood took over. Sherwood started well in the role, making himself appear to be a candidate for the full-time position, but after a good run of games form started to decline again and the side trundled along to a 6th placed finish that the board were unhappy with. Spurs go into the close season without a manager and will need to find someone who can build the club into a Champions League challenger again even if the competition is fiercer than ever before.
I’ve already talked at length about the disastrous season of Man United under David Moyes, and it’s not a surprise that their poor performances haven’t been rewarded with European football. It was always going to be a season of transition this year, but next season could very well be the same with a top four that have better squads and more team togetherness and Everton showing signs of joining them. When the new manager takes over at Old Trafford, presumably Louis Van Gaal, they will face an enormous rebuilding task. I think they will do better next season, surely its hard not to, but the title will be far beyond them I feel.
As much as the real excitement of the Premier League for a neutral is the action at the top, the fight for survival at the bottom has been typically unpredictable as well. Sunderland pulled off a “Great Escape” that was as emphatic as any other, with Gus Poyet managing to finally pull his team out of the relegation zone in the final few games of the season after spending most of the campaign at the bottom of the heap. They even managed a League Cup final appearance which will go down in history and be remembered long after their efforts in the league. Crystal Palace, too, had somewhat of a revival but this came in the middle of the season and saw the side climb to their highest ever Premier League finish under the stewardship of Tony Pulis, a master of pragmatic football if ever there was one.
Elsewhere in England, Leicester won the Championship and will make their return to the Premier League after a 10 year absence. With a billionaire owner of their own, they have lofty ambitions of reaching the top 5 within three seasons, but it remains to be seen whether their fortunes follow a Man City/Chelsea route or a Cardiff/QPR route.
Arsenal ended their 9 year trophy drought with an FA Cup win against Hull to relieve mounting pressure on the club and their manager to achieve something other than Champions League qualification. The side could well have won the league this season if their star players Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey hadn’t been side-lined through injury for months of the season, but the FA Cup win will ensure that the Wenger dynasty lives on and may perhaps spur them on to greater things next year. As ever, Arsenal desperately need someone to spearhead their attacking brand of football – with Olivier Giroud not cutting it as a replacement for the goals of Robin Van Persie of a few seasons ago. With a few choice buys in the summer, something Wenger might be more inclined to do with the results of this season, Arsenal could maintain a challenge next season.
Overall it’s been a very dynamic season of English football, with the most clubs in recent memory in with a shout of success at the top. Next season could well be even more exciting, with the top four likely to all be in with a chance of winning the league and perhaps joined by Man United if they can refresh properly this year under a new manager. It’ll have to go some way to beat this season, but having said that after Sergio Aguero’s famous goal against QPR two seasons ago I wouldn’t bet against it.