Since there was no actual football this week (that thing that happened last night doesn’t count), here’s a team by team round up of the Premiership season instead. I’ll also possibly be “covering” the Euros (undecided with what yet) and using the summer to complain about the Olympics some more. Ooh exciting…
Wolves – I’ve become convinced that Wolves as a football club don’t actually know what it is they’re supposed to be doing. Firstly, they started the season with Mick McCarthy as manager. A man who’s biggest managerial achievements revolve around sacking his best players and leading teams to record numbers of consecutive league defeats. Secondly, when this didn’t work they tried to play the trusted “new manager” card relegation threatened teams often use to escape trouble, except they didn’t actually appoint a new manager. They just sacked the old one and then did nothing, and so nothing happened, and they got relegated. Thirdly, their new stand…how come the entire thing is being constructed by a single fat bloke who seems to permanently be on his lunch break? Is this the same guy who built Wembley? Why do they even need a new stand when they can’t fill up the ones that are already there? Their fans have also become caught up in the confusion, attempting to help their team to victory by booing them furiously, and then booing them even more furiously for not reacting well to being booed at, and then going home before the end of the game, furiously, and whilst booing. It’s been a thoroughly miserable season for Wolves, the highlights being the games that were slightly less miserable than the others.
Verdict – 3/10. Wolves succumbed to the depths with all the resistance of a stone tied to an even bigger stone and tangled round an anchor.
Most notable player – Joe Kitely was the only one who seemed to show any kind of fight towards the end of a campaign which no one will be keen to look back on.
Blackburn - Gradually the good old days at Blackburn Rovers have downgraded from “that time when we were league champions”, to “that time when Sam Allardyce wasn’t our manager yet”, and now eventually to “that time when Sam Allardyce was still our manager”. It’s little wonder the fans have lost their minds. Becoming so vicious in their protests against Steve Kean, they managed to cause the rest of the world to feel sorry for him and effectively make him unsackable. Releasing random farm animals onto the pitch. Organising protests after games, even though more people leave Blackburn games early than actually turn up to watch them in the first place. Like Wolves, Blackburn have spent much of the season repeatedly punching themselves in the face. Unlike Wolves there have been some genuine highlights amidst the misery, such as the victory against Manchester United’s random raffle eleven, or…well, not being quite as bad as Wolves. Unfortunately this is also the team who managed to lose at home to Liverpool, despite being awarded two penalties and Liverpool’s goalkeeper being sent off.
Verdict – 4/10 Blackburn’s last-ditch attempt to avoid doom consisted of spending games refusing to come out of their own half, and bringing David Dunn back to prove how unfit he is…again.
Most notable player – Yakubu remains the Premier League’s chief fat man, but Junior Hoilett’s pace and menace on the ball is what gave Blackburn faint hope.
Bolton – When your club’s star summer signings include the likes of David Ngog and Nigel Reo-Coker, alarm bells should already be ringing. When this is followed up by being thrashed feebly in a succession of home games, the alarm bells should really be replaced by deafening sirens and a collection of 50ft neon signs flashing “you’re going to be relegated if you don’t sort this out”. Bolton did eventually make a fight of it, but there’s only so much fight you can have when your main weapons are Chris Eagles haircut, and Kevin Davies’s ability to foul people and think it makes him look clever. Owen Coyle is on the growing list of managers who look like animals of some kind. It can’t help matters when you’re 3-0 down to Manchester United, and look over to see a giant rat in a daft looking jumper bleating instructions at you from the touch-line.
Verdict – 5/10 Bolton went down with a bit of pride and genuine bad luck to bleat on about, but the backbone turned to jelly too easily a number of times.
Most notable player – Adam Bogdan has ginger hair and won Bolton’s player of the year award. That’ll do.
QPR – It’s been proven that it’s possible to buy success in football. It’s also now been proven that it’s possible to buy not being relegated. Well, just about. QPR’s season has been a bit like watching someone try to balance a house on top of a pyramid. As soon as one area of the team was strengthened, another part would start to give way under the increased pressure. Meanwhile Neil Warnock was sacked for being too angry-looking, and then replaced with the only man in football who’s more angry-looking than him. This predictably brought about a spate of unnecessary red cards. For some reason despite the several waves of new players brought in, that guy who’s so old his hair has gone grey seemed to keep starting games (apart from when he was getting sent off). It’s not usually a good sign when one of your players looks like the manager’s uncle.
Verdict – 6/10 Judging by my QPR mate’s constant forecast of doom prior to and throughout the season, they’ll be more than happy with survival. Hard work was made of it though.
Most notable player – There were some solid performers on the pitch, all easily outshone by the staggering idiocy of Joey Barton and his unfortunate twitter account.
Aston Villa – The first golden rule of the Premier League: 1) Every season, Aston Villa must strive to be as pointless and predictable as possible, and not, under any circumstances, become relevant to anything remotely important. Think the rule didn’t apply this year just because they didn’t finish 10th? Well think again. At the start of the season, when Aston Villa appointed Alex McLeish as manager, every single one of us (probably including Alex McLeish) thought “well that’s a bit pointless. All that’ll happen is he’ll nearly get them relegated and then they’ll sack him”. Then, the season started, AlexMcLeish nearly got Aston Villa relegated, and they sacked him. An exercise in complete pointlessness that couldn’t sum up Aston Vila more perfectly if it tried. Like deciding to dedicate your morning to shutting your fingers in a car door just to prove to yourself that it hurts.
Verdict – 6/10 Aston Villa could still get away with having Gareth Barry’s face as the club emblem. A positional drop represented by a pointless managerial appointment and selling of their two best (most average) players from the previous campaign.
Most notable player – Richard Dunne. I can’t explain why, because I picked him at random due to all Aston Villa players being required to have invariably average seasons.
Wigan – The masters of the dark arts. As usual, Wigan decided to spend the season picking and choosing which games they’d bother to turn up for, plummeting themselves into trouble and then distorting the league table by mysteriously turning into the English equivalent of Barcelona for the last two months. No one can ever truly explain how Wigan time and again manage to not get relegated. Come around March each year, mysterious goings on start to occur, such as James McCarthur suddenly being allowed on the pitch twice during games, or Victor Moses suddenly transforming into the really good version of Charles N’Zogbia (the one who mysteriously only existed for the last few months of last season). People also suddenly start turning up for Wigan’s home games. Opposition teams become paralyzed with fear as Franco Di Santo inexplicably learns how to score from 35 yards, having previously been unable to do so from 3. It will be the same story again next season, and for each season forever more until someone uncovers whatever dark magic is responsible for this madness.
Verdict – 6/10 As usual, the question is, if they were capable of that, why were they so unbelievably pathetic for the rest of the season?
Most notable player – Victor Moses has pace, trickery and growing maturity. He’ll soon spend too much of a season playing well to be allowed to stay at Wigan.
Stoke – Here’s the problem I have with Stoke. If you took away all of the incorrect refereeing decisions in their games this season, either for or against, and then worked out their theoretical points total based on this, they’d probably be somewhere very close to the relegation zone, by which I possibly mean they’d be sitting in it…and yet, Tony Pulis had the cheek to play the “big teams get all the decisions” card after a game against Manchester United at Old Trafford. This would be the same Manchester United who were, like a host of other teams, denied 3 points at the Britania by terrible refereeing decisions. Another thing, after relegating Bolton on the final day (thanks mostly to terrible refereeing decisions), Pulis also proudly bleated on about Stoke maintaining the integrity of the Premier League. Two years ago Tony Pulis and Stoke maintained the integrity of the Premier League by losing 8-0 to Chelsea in a crucial title run-in game, and then trying to get a result at Old Trafford a few weeks later by time-wasting when they were 2-0 down…And on the subject of time-wasting, roughly 90% of Stoke’s season has consisted of the opposition waiting for them to take throw ins. Technically Stoke should only just have reached half time of their opening day fixture against Chelsea.
Verdict – 6/10 Standards have dropped a little this season, though help from main assist provider, reffy the ref, has allowed Stoke to pick up notable points against the likes of Liverpool, Spurs, United and Chelsea. Bizarrely the draw against Manchester City was earned purely on the back of playing well.
Most notable player – Peter Crouch. He continues to combine being useless with being undeniably effective. He also scored arguably one of the best goals of the season, behind about 10 of Newcastle’s.
Sunderland – What I didn’t understand with Sunderland was, they were given money to splash out, and then chose to splash it out on John O’Shea and Wes Brown. Not that there’s anything especially wrong with John O’Shea or Wes Brown, but no matter how good or bad your team is, it doesn’t really become better because you can suddenly have John OShea provide adequate cover in a variety of positions he can’t really play, or because you can use Wes Brown for about 5 games a year. It just seems there’s this rule at Sunderland where everyone has to be either Manchester United, or Irish, or both. So it was a case of “they’ll do”. Subsequently the first half of the season was spent realising that in truth, no, they wont. Fortunately Martin O’Neill is Irish, and was able to turn things around after Steve Bruce was, slightly harshly, given the boot. Niall Quinn’s decision to leave Sunderland so he could mither around on Sky Sports supporting Manchester City is also a slightly bizarre one, though he comes across as too nice of a chap for me to hold it against him.
Verdict – 7/10 The same old road to nowhere for Sunderland in the end, though seeing as it diverted from a cliff edge en route, they wont be too displeased
Most notable player – James McClean’s not Manchester United, but he is Irish, and he’s been forcing his country to sit up and take notice.
Norwich – Grant Holt’s name has been banded about so much in relation to one thing or another, that he’s now more or less the only thing I can remember about Norwich’s entire season. Holt, now apparently responsible for Norwich’s entire existence, has subsequently handed in a transfer request. I suspect this is because players of his ilk are somehow magnetically drawn to Tony Pulis. Holt is in fact rotating helplessly around the outside of Pulis’s house as we speak, along with Peter Crouch and Kenwyn Jones, unable to break away and live a normal, hoof free life. Norwich were deadweight at the start of the season in many people’s eyes, yet they’ve never even looked likely to be relegated. There is no obvious reason why other than maybe the manager and club having a bit of sense in a league system full of panic and turmoil.
Verdict – 8/10 Not only did Norwich not get relegated, they didn’t even look like one of the teams who might, which is impressive since usually their kit and club badge alone is enough to make you think “Championship side”
most notable player – Grant Holt, obviously. Holt committed more fouls last season than the entire rest of the league combined. Often managing to commit infringements on defenders purely by thought, or more likely by elbowing them square in the face.
Swansea – If Barcelona were to play Swansea, you’d almost have trouble telling which team was which…well, apart from the fact that one of them would probably be about 8-0 up by half time. Swansea, like Barcelona, or Arsenal when they were good enough for anyone to care, have no plan B. They believe so strongly in their ability to execute plan A, that they simply don’t care for an alternative. This is commendable and brave when it works, and obviously, arrogant and foolhardy when it doesn’t. Seeing as Swansea’s realistic aim for the season was probably not to finish bottom with a record low points total, the former may apply in this instance. Confidence has grown as the season has progressed and it’s become apparent to opponents that a team of Michael Carrick clones might not be such a pushover after all. On the negative side, Syrrell the Swan has spent the season in a disappointingly unviolent mood.
Verdict – 8/10 Any team from Wales who dress up for games as a flock of sheep have their work cut out not to be a laughing-stock. Mission more than accomplished.
Most notable player – There’s a curious irony in Leon Brittain being both understated and compared to Xavi at the same time.
West Brom – Most of my time focussing on West Brom this season has been spent arguing about whether Roy Hodgson is secretly a giant pigeon, or a giant owl. Whilst I concede there is a distinct owl resemblance in his facial features, the head movements and general posturing are clearly closer to that of a pigeon, and lets face it, it was only a matter of time before a pigeon gained control of England. As for West Brom themselves, well, in truth they’ve spent the season being largely average and unnoticed, which represents their most succesful season since that other one no one can actually remember. There must also be some sense of satisfaction in taking Aston Villa’s place as that pointless team in 10th place who no one can remember doing anything noteworthy.
Verdict – 7/10 Hodgson has a habit of guiding teams to mediocrity, what it comes down to is whether the team in question would consider mediocrity a good thing. In West Brom’s case a break from nearly being relegated is more than welcome.
Most notable player – Jonas Olsson has been named West Brom’s player of the year, and I haven’t watched enough West Brom to disagree.
Fulham – I’ll admit, the first part of the season I spent repeatedly forgetting that Mark Hughes didn’t manage Fulham anymore, then for much of the middle park I kept getting Martin Jol confused with Christian Gross. This gives some indication to how much attention I’ve paid to Fulham’s season. This still however makes me more of a Fulham fan than 90% of the people who seem to turn up to watch them play. In fact, the only real Fulham fan I know is a teddy bear called “Fulham Bear” which has been kidnapped from its unidentified rightful owner by a bunch of Manchester United fans, and sent on a round the world trip. Fulham bear will have therefore missed seeing Clint Dempsey score from 30 yards nearly every single week to the delight of his tube ticket clutching manag…no wait…screw it…to the delight of Mark Hughes.
Verdict – 7/10 It’s hard to say. What do Fulham generally expect from a season? Where do they usually end up? Does anyone actually know?
Most notable player – Clint Dempsey. A midfielder who can’t really play in midfield but compensates by scoring about 20 goals a year…didn’t someone say Frank Lampard was getting on a bit?
Liverpool – It’s hard to believe, but at the start of the season I actually quite liked Kenny Dalglish. He seemed to want his team to play football, he gave the impression of having an old school respect for the game, and, most importantly, he kept spending vast sums of Liverpool’s money on rubbish players. Then, the season started, and every time he appeared on a TV screen or radio anywhere, he was talking down at someone or being thoroughly dislikable. Then he started alluding to daft conspiracy theories and making strange threats, and then he decided to defend racism, all the while letting his team’s already faltering season unravel around his crusade of bafflingly rude stupidity. For a while Liverpool’s season seemed like a contest where each week they’d challenge themselves to find a way to be slightly more embarassing than the last. Whenever the outside world may have begun to feel a slight sense of pity, Dalglish would come out and be interviewed, invoking a new wave of simultaneous disgust and laughter. There’s something strange in the water on the red half of Merseyside. Never has a person in football who isn’t called Sepp more deserved to be removed from a position of responsibility than King Kenny, and yet the cult still don’t want to give up their cloaks.
Verdict – 5/10 Imagine spending over £100m on something, and then not being able to figure out what it is you’ve bought.
Most notable player – Luis Suarez likes rolling about needlessly in the dirt, smearing mud all over the emblem on his chest in the process.
Everton – Everton have seemingly spent the season on a mission to be as opposite to Liverpool as possible. While Liverpool have capitulated in a soaring blaze of destruction, Everton spent their time gradually and quietly easing into over achievement. While Liverpool splash vast sums of money on big name, average game players, Everton spend the net total of about 20p on understated footballers who exceed their reputation (and Darron Gibson). While Liverpool draw world-wide attention to themselves, blowing up nothing incidents into full-scale, long running news scandals, you get the impression Everton could have signed Lionel Messi on a free transfer and no one would have said anything or even noticed for about 2 months. David Moyes repeatedly works with resources that give him no right to not get his team relegated, and somehow uses them to build an effective unit that’s pleased to simply not be getting up to much.
Verdict – 8/10 Being predictable and pointless can be an achievement when your club seemingly has less spare money to spend than most of its players.
Most notable player – Sylvan Distin epitomizes Everton’s solidarity. Apostolos Vellios also deserves a mention for having such a ridiculous sounding name.
Chelsea – It’s amazing how even when they themselves are too awful for you to do anything but laugh at, Liverpool FC still find away to be extremely irritating by proxy. Chelsea, ladies and gentlemen, finished fourth. Of course they didn’t actually finish fourth. In fact in the end they didn’t even particularly try to. They’ve been artificially moved there after the season finished, as a result of Liverpool FC throwing their toys out of the pram back in 2005. Getting what you don’t earn or deserve has in the brutally honest sense been a theme of Chelsea’s season though. The blues started the season under the guise of Villas Boas (aka the man of a thousand cigarette voices), and were by their standards, awful, until John Terry took time out from being a national disgrace in order to sack him. After this Chelsea responded by..still being quite awful, except they won the European Cup, mostly by being awful. It would appear that the purchasing of Fernando Torres was a masterstroke after all, as he seems to possess the ability to single-handedly absorb all of Chelsea’s bad luck.
Verdict – 5/10 no season which includes a European Cup win will ever go down as a failure, but the rating and comments are based on league form alone, and even pre-Abramovic Chelsea would have considered anything below 4th a failure.
Most notable player – Juan Mata. The poor man’s David Silva who no one really wanted has turned out to arguably be the signing of the season. As effective as his City counterpart and even sporting the trademark arrogant looking Spanish facial hair hat Silva lacks. He also joins the growing list of Premiership players who look like they should be playing for Arsenal.
Newcastle – How do you sum up how crazy a Premiership season its been in just one sentence? Here’s an attempt: Of all the top six teams, Newcastle were by far the least turbulent and prone to calamity. There! …Not only that, but for the first time in living memory, Newcastle have actually done better than they were expected to at the start of the season. This was previously thought to be a scientific impossibility, as studies have shown that Newcastle fans start every season already disappointed with how it ended. Newcastle’s journey hasn’t been without its usual mishaps. Joey Barton started the season on the books, then, to the surprise of all, went insane. The stadium is now named after some shop I bought a pair of shorts in once, and there was an ill advised attempt to buy Ravel Morrison. Through all that though has emerged a genuinely formidable team who finished where they did on merit, and were perhaps slightly unlucky not to finish higher. A return to calamitous catastrophe is surely in order next season.
Verdict – 9/10 A disappointingly sane season for Newcastle. Unusually, highlights consisted of memorable team performances and what must be one of the best single team goal of the season contests in living memory.
Most notable player – Someone’s missed the boat with signing Ben Arfa before doing so would have commanded a ridiculous fee. Now Newcastle’s challenge will be to keep hold of him when team’s who can afford said ridiculous fee come sniffing.
Tottenham – At numerous points in the season it had been pointed out that this Spurs side is different. Unlike previous Spurs sides, it has a backbone, and a solid foundation, and wouldn’t just crumble away or “do a Spurs” as would have been the case in previous years. This, curiously, all seems to be based on the fact Harry Redknapp is manager. Here are the other Premiership teams who have benefitted from Redknapp’s apparently infamous backbone and solid foundation building: Championship side and financially troubled West Ham, Championship side and financially troubled Portsmouth, and Championship side Southampton. Needless to say, when the business end of the season came around, Spurs “did a Spurs” and simply crumbled away, eventually finishing 4th in a 3 horse race, and then even managing to drop down another place after the season had finished. Keen observers who weren’t too busy worshipping the wrong next England manager, or pretending Tottenham “play the best football in the league” for some reason, would note Spurs had actually been playing reasonably well, but choking all season whenever an important game rolled around.
Verdict – 7/10 The situation with Chelsea and the Champions League final aside, Spurs would have gladly taken fourth if offered it back in August, but the fact remains that in a season where no one at the top could hold their nerve, Spurs still managed to lose theirs notably more than anyone else.
Most notable player – Gareth Bale has become obsessed with pretending he’s Ronaldo. He isn’t, but when he sticks to being Gareth Bale he’s still Tottenham’s best player.
Arsenal – It’s commendable that even in a season where Arsenal had reached no level of pressure or expectation worth bottling, they still managed to very nearly bottle it. The Spirit of Wenger’s title throwing away sides apparently still lives on. Arsenal were expected to struggle in midfield this season with the loss of Fabregas, Nasri and the injury sustained to Wilshere. Arsene Wenger though has an endless supply of clone players who are experts at fannying around with the ball in the middle of the pitch while Alex Song makes them look good. What doesn’t work out so well is when Wenger has to start playing them at fullback, or generally when anyone in Arsenal’s back line has to start doing things. Arsenal’s underlying fault this season has remained that they don’t seem to account for what might happen if the other team get the ball. There was a brief spell in the second half of the season where the other team didn’t seem to ever get the ball, but unfortunately you can’t play Tottenham every week.
Verdict – 7/10 The constant over the top criticism and forecasts of failure (mainly from Piers Morgan) have been avoided, though the hopeful predictions of unexpected success and domination (mainly from Piers Morgan) have also failed to materialise. Wenger continues to defy the odds and doubters in a world where he can’t really compete.
Most notable player – Robin Van Persie scores when he wants. Apart from that spell where he couldn’t score at all, but to be fair that barely lasted as long as one of Rooney’s annual sulks.
Manchester United – If there was a motto for United’s season, it’d probably be “Out with the old, in with the…old again”. At the start of the season, United blooded a young new team, full of life and energy, and devoid of fear or negativity. One whose first act was to ruthlessly blow Manchester City away inside 45 minutes. Conversely, by the time United faced Manchester City at the end of the season, Paul Scholes had come out of retirement in order to replace himself, out of form and ageing players like Park had been selected purely on the basis that they’ve done this sort of thing before, and there couldn’t have been more negativity in the way United set up and played if they’d put Marvin the Paranoid Android in goal. There’s always been a kind of unwritten rule that to continue being successful at the top, you can never afford to just stand still or stop climbing, and after a commendable effort throughout the season, towards the end United painted the picture of a side who thought they merely had to sit there holding on to what they already had, rather than go out to fight and earn it over again.
Verdict – 8/10 A solid and commendable effort which this time last year would have been enough with a bit to spare. The noisy neighbours have raised the bar to United’s level though, and then been able to raise it that tiny bit more.
Most notable player – Paul Scholes has stuck out for both the right and wrong reasons. Right because his class and experience rescued United’s season. Wrong because this shouldn’t still be happening when he retired before the season actually started.
Manchester City – It’s taken 1 billion pounds, about 500 new players, some of the most shameless soul selling you’ll ever witness, and for some reason Owen Hargreaves, but City finally got what they were after…and then threw it away again…and then got it back again…then tried to throw it away again…then just about got it back again. It’s hard to know how to sum it up. City have been a bag of nerves and calamity at times, and ruthlessly brilliant at others. The heroic work of players such as Kompany, Hart and Aguero has been annoyingly overshadowed by the sulky figure of Carlos Tevez (to be fair if Tevez gets any larger he’ll block out the sun itself), and the constant, pointless debate about whether Mario Balotelli is “worth the hassle”. Tevez did at least become the first player to score a hatrick whilst never playing for his club again. Balotelli also never played for his club again on several occasions. The idea that a club with City’s resources and talent already on the books couldn’t realistically do without either is frankly laughable.
verdict – 9/10 Accusations about buying the league will be labeled with a degree of merit, but someone still had to win the games on the pitch, and beating Sir Alex Ferguson is never as simple as just throwing money around.
Most notable player – While others were busy playing golf or stamping on opponent’s faces, Vincent Kompany remained a platform of consistent class, and then used his oddly lovable shaped head to finally loosen United’s grip on the crown.