Following the end to another emphatic Premier league season, I look back on the last ten months with a whistle stop tour at each club.
My Prediction: 3rd
The Gunners were United’s closest title rivals up until April and were an outside shot of being champions. Their season fell apart when they were knocked out of the title race, Champions League, FA Cup and Carling Cup in the space of a month. The purists were happy due to the inevitable attractive play and the stand out performances of Samir Nasri and Robin Van Persie. Yet the realists are left a little more skeptical, even raising question marks over Wenger’s future. Six seasons without a trophy isn’t brilliant, consistency and more decisive defending is key for a better return next season.
My Prediction: 8th
Despite having a nightmare start to the new season, losing midfield maestro James Milner plus manager Martin O’Neill; then appointing Gerard Houllier was a recipe for disaster. Villa were counting the cost of these unfortunate events up until January, they were even flirting with relegation at this point. They were dependent on youngsters such as Barry Bannan, Eric Lichaj and Mark Albrighton and even veteran Robert Pires. They all impressed (besides Pires), yet results weren’t always as expected or deserved. Darren Bent was brought in for a questionable £24 million, despite the price tag, he banged in nine league goals to fire Villa into the top half of the table. If they can hold on to the likes of Young and Downing, 2012 could be a much improved year for the Villa.
My Prediction: 17th
2011 has been quite a success story for Scottish managers: Alex Ferguson won another title; Dalglish lead lost Liverpool into the top six and Walter Smith retired as SPL champion one more. Alex McLeish didn’t quite continue this trend, with his Birmingham side relegated on the final day of the season – despite winning the illustrious Carling Cup. That final win at Wembley has been highlighted as a turning point as City’s form declined from there on in, leading to relegation on the final day at White Hart Lane. Birmingham have instantly bounced back when sticking with their manager in 2007 and 2009; will McLeish make it a hat trick come May 2012?
My Prediction: 11th
With Big Sam in charge, I think Rovers may have achieved the mid table finish I predicted, although I would say that wouldn’t I? The Indians instant firing of Allardyce rose many conspiracy theories, especially when the inexperienced Steve Kean was announced as his successor. Blackburn sank like a stone after new year and were over reliant on a tight defence to get them points. Christopher Samba was a rock and without him, Rovers may not have survived. Junior Hoillet’s promising form was a rare highlight, he provided technical skill in an otherwise flair starved squad. Blackburn need to strengthen in the summer for a successful season next year.
My Prediction: 20th
There’s very little I can say about Holloway’s outfit that hasn’t been said already. This was so close to a fairy tale, just missing the happy ending. Blackpool endured the same treatment we got in the summer of 2005 following promotion, with nobody giving them a chance. Few gave them great credit after the 4-0 win at the DW on the opening day, simply because it was Wigan they beat not Man Utd. It was a case of, ‘well done on that one lucky win I suppose, it might be your last for a few months.’ Yet Blackpool carried on surprising and beat Liverpool home and away as well as beating Spurs 3-0. Blackpool suffered by the fact their manager was a far bigger figure than any of their players, he attracted unnecessary media attention that can’t have helped his players. Yet we loved him as a crazy character and his team’s gung ho philosophy was daring and at times successful. Unlucky to go down with 39 points, Blackpool must pick themselves up for a promotion challenge next term.
My Prediction: 14th
One of the few predictions I actually got correct, Bolton finished in a disappointing 14th after being in the top half for much of the season. Johan Elmander fooled us all by actually hitting some early season form, losing his place later on meant normal service was resumed. Owen Coyle continued to encourage attacking football and refused to abandon his terrible fashion habits which made him look like a tool. Why people complain about Bobby’s shoes I have no idea. Daniel Sturridge shone when brought in from Chelsea on loan, scoring eight in 12 including some belters. Despite promising so much, Bolton’s season tailed off towards the end. Never mind, there’s always next year…
My Prediction: 2nd
Carlo Ancelotti lost his job after failing to win a single trophy after his double season of 2010 raised expectations. Chelsea did a Newcastle by firing their boss a little hastily. Spending £50 million on the, lets say disappointing, Fernando Torres can’t have helped his cause though. Torres actually scored more goals against Chelsea (two) than he did for them (one) this season, and even that one was against West Ham. Chelsea’s mid season blip which saw United run away with the title cost them dearly, will Drogba be at Stamford Bridge next season, or will he jump ships to Spurs? Who will succeed Ancelotti? Can Chelsea accommodate Anelka, Torres and Drogba? Only time will tell.
My Prediction: 7th
Unlike Bolton, one other side whose league finish I correctly guessed/predicted, Everton, started badly then improved drastically. As Moyes’ Blues always seem to do, they find themselves in the lower reaches of the table and then kick on later in the season. Where they finish depends on when they start to pick up. Whilst having few star performers, players had spells of good form, with Seamus Coleman, Leon Osman and Phil Jagielka sharing the limelight. Up front Jermaine Beckford wasn’t as clinical as the optimists hoped and Louis Saha was, you guessed it, injured. Leighton Baines was the only consistent performer along with Phil Neville, Everton need to kick their reliance on Tim Cahill to challenge the top six next year.
My Prediction: 16th
God I made a hash of that prediction. Fulham looked vulnerable at one point due to the lack of options up front as Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson were on the sidelines for much of the season. Dembele and Dempsey shared the goalscoring duties. Dempsey hit form later in the season, realising that very few keepers will concede from shots the trickle along the ground from the edge of the box, unlike Rob Green. Mark Hughes made Fulham a hard outfit the face and earned a creditable top half finish.
My Prediction: 4th
Like neighbours Everton, Liverpool made a terrible start to the season. The final straw was a 3-1 defeat to Blackburn which left the reds down in 12th. With a misfiring Torres; a disappointing Joe Cole and a captain surrounded my incompetent fools, only one man could salvage the situation. King Kenny was back. The big personality Liverpool needed returned, he got the best of out the likes of Kuyt, Maxi and even made Lucas look half decent. Dalglish decided to spend a questionable fee of £35 million on Andy Carroll and a further £22 million on Luis Suarez. Both are undoubtedly talented, yet huge fees could provide pressure on young heads. With Gerrard back and with new faces in August, Liverpool could be the team to look out for.
My Prediction: 5th
City proved that actually, you can buy success. A team whose heart and soul is at risk of being lost through money, City’s team of stars such as Tevez, Toure and Silva managed to secure a top four finish and an FA Cup victory. I think deep down, City fans miss being so unpredictable and well, crap. The phrase ‘typical City’ was used often under Keegan and Pearce, with City typically losing when it seemed impossible and vice versa. No other club could get away with putting David James up front, none. City have lost the spontaneous feel that the likes of the eccentric Corradi, Anelka and Samaras contributed too. I think deep down, some fans will think although they have success, it was more of a laugh back then. I just hope their money doesn’t overtake the whole of English football.
My Prediction: 1st
Fergie proceeded to defy the odds in 2011, his side were often accused of being ‘not good enough’. Yet with a bit of help from number one fan Howard Webb, they won the league and have made it to the Champions League final. Not bad for a team not good enough. Despite their lack of star performers like Ronaldo and Cantona have been in the past, United’s never say die attitude and uncanny ability to grind out wins has made them deserved title winners. Not always the best team, but the most consistent throughout, United bagged their 19th top flight trophy to overtake Liverpool, and Fergie’s not done yet.
My Prediction: 18th
The Geordies are a funny bunch. They kept up their tradition of an annual sacking, with Chris Hughton being the fall guy. Mike Ashley then vowed to beat Freddie Shepherd’s record of ‘worst managerial appointment’ by giving Alan Pardew the job, beating the previous title holder Graeme Souness. Typically inconsistent, the Toon completed the greatest comeback of the season by clawing back a 4-0 deficit, against Arsenal, to draw 4-4. Proving they can be equally as poor they lost 2-0 at home to Blackpool, the undoubted highlight of the season was hammering rivals Sunderland 5-1. Like a dog rescue home, Newcastle had rejects Peter Lovenkrands, Shefki Kuqi, Steven Ireland and Wayne Routledge on their books, despite this they managed a respectable 12th place finish.
My Prediction: 10th
I was a worried man in January when Stoke signed John Carew on loan. Would the arrival of yet another target man lead Stoke to abandon their free flowing passing game and go to a more direct approach, verging on rugby? To be fair, their style of play gets them the results they need and they do have genuine width from Jermaine Pennant and Matty Etherington. A team full of rough diamonds that have been knocked back from other clubs (Pennant, Etherington, Whelan, Shawcross) Stoke have never been easy to play against and even managed an FA Cup final appearance. Despite the great day out, Stoke lost 1-0 to Man City. Personally I was in the unfortunate position of wanting both sides to lose, as impossible as it may sound. I was half satisfied I suppose when Stoke lost, one out of two desires being fulfilled isn’t bad going.
My Prediction: 9th
Never one to fluctuate too far from mid table in recent years, Steve Bruce’s Sunderland outfit matched expectations, even if they weren’t too spectacular in doing so. In the same way that a good X-Factor contestant isn’t necessarily the best one yet the ones that entertain you, a good football team should be judged through similar criteria. In the same way that Blackpool were the Premier League’s response to Wagner, Sunderland were the Rebecca Ferguson of the season. Not one to make you laugh but they finished about where expected, quite where Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole fit into this analogy I have no idea. Any suggestions are welcome.
My Prediction: 6th
I have to say, Spurs are my favourite Premier league team to watch (maybe that’s where Cheryl Cole fits in?) Fast and fluid with two direct wingers and creative midfielders like Van der Vaart and Modric, there’s not much not to like about Spurs. They even have their own version of Wagner in the form of their erratic goalkeeper Gomes. Just like our Gomez, he has some undoubted ability, yet has a tendency to go missing. Spurs were like a steam train at the start of the season, and no, I’m not referring to Younes Kaboul’s acceleration. Van der Vaart and Gareth Bale smashed everything in their way, Spurs were flying in the league and in Europe. Their season ended poorer than expected, just like the two aforementioned players’ form, their star performer for me was Luka Modric, despite Bale winning the PFA gong. Consistently crafty and diminutive, Modric was Spurs’ integral cog and a top class playmaker. The top four might be an unsustainable long term goal, yet get a top striker like Drogba and a tighter back line, Spurs could surprise a few next season.
West Bromwich Albion
My Prediction: 19th
The undoubted surprise package of the season, West Brom, were driven on by energetic star man Paul Scharner following a big money move from a big club; and deceived many by avoiding a relegation battle. With contender for signing of the season amongst their ranks, Peter Odemwingie bagged 15 goals in the debut Premier League season. It just goes to show that not all foreign imports are lightweight frailties that fail to adjust to the game, despite what Mr Boselli may suggest. Roberto Di Matteo was harshly sacked in February as the board feared the team lacked the steel needed for the fight. Up stepped Roy Hodgson to lead the team to safety and prove that he performs far better as an underdog than at a big, expectant club.
West Ham United
My Prediction: 12th
Of all my predictions, this was the worst. Led by Avram Grant, the Hammers’ season started poorly, got worse in the middle and the less said about the end the better. It wasn’t that West Ham lacked quality, they had the Football Writers’ Players of the season Scott Parker after all, they just lacked hunger, desire and leadership. The fact Avram Grant earned himself the status of ‘Millwall Legend’ by May says it all really. In abysmal financial state and in desperate need of takers for their over paid prima donnas, it couldn’t get much worse for West Ham. Definitely a season to forget.
My Prediction: 13th
Now we reach the gracious and most illustrious kings of the division. Renowned for their huge support and positive fans, the team littered with superstars managed a creditable 16th place finish. Majestically earning survival on the final day, mastermind Martinez had achieved what many thought was impossible. A title challenge next season looks likely, with the leading figures of football Messi, Ronaldo and Villa looking set to arrive at the DW in place of Di Santo, Gomez and Boselli; the future looks bright for Wigan. Lets just hope the fans don’t slag off the new super signings and sent them home in tears.
*Considering we get unfairly criticised so often, I thought a bit of unjustified optimism and crazy exaggeration was needed to level it all up.
My Prediction: 15th
Mick McCarthy was one of a number of managers who went weeks without sleep following the intensity of the relegation battle. Although unlikely to admit it, McCarthy must have been fearful when his side went through a run of just one win in seven from March through to May. Two wins from their final three games sealed safety, with Steven Fletcher the hero with three goals during those two games. It’s reasonable to say it’s a case of job done for Wolves.
Finally, I must mention other great achievements of the season. DJ Campbell secured the golden boot with 40 goals in Blackpool’s relegation season. Man Utd brought back Gary Neville and David Beckham for their Champions league final against Juventus last night, which they lost 2-1. Also, West Ham have agreed a deal to sell Rob Green, Manuel Da Costa and Danny Gabbidon to Chelsea in a £40 million deal. Finally, Ryan Giggs confirms fears that it was him who was the ‘Premier League footballer’ involved in a super injunction following his affair with Will Young. That’s all from me folks, see you all soon.
Foot note: I was rushing towards the end LMB so I’m sorry if I’ve made a couple of small mistakes, yet I’m confident there’s no glaring errors. Please notify me if there is, I had little time for research.