Posts Tagged ‘Chelsea’

Yes this is a bit late and you’ve already read everyone else’s summation of the Premier League season by now, but time is money, and nobody pays me shit for this. But these are always fun to do and read, to see the opinions of other people and compare notes. So indulge me a little, why don’t you?

It was another thrilling season in England, even though it all came to an end a bit soon and we were left with a fairly non-descript final day of the season, with very little to play for.

Still there were plenty of talking points to come from the season, and in the interest of fairness to every club in the division, I shall be dividing up these awards into one for the top six, and one for the rest of the league. Poor Everton, I honestly had no idea which section to put you in initially. But you end up in the rest for this season.



Top Six – Chelsea/Antonio Conte


Not a bad start to life in England for Conte

Some might put these as two categories, but I fail to see why you would treat manager and team performance as separate things as they are somewhat co-dependent. Some might have fancied Spurs to edge this award as their ‘success’ was far less expected than that of Chelsea, but Conte’s achievements have been fantastic in his first season in English football.

This was a largely similar squad last season finished down in tenth and was in all sorts of disarray. Conte deserves credit not only for turning around the fortunes of these players, helping them rediscover their form, but realising that changes could and should be made and simply implementing them with little fuss.

He changed English football’s way of thinking from insisting on a flat-back-four, with his switch to a back three system helping Chelsea overcome a shaky start to go on a 13-game winning run, which essentially had the title wrapped up by the turn of the year, regardless of how game Tottenham’s pursuit of them was.

The Rest – Bournemouth/Eddie Howe


Eddie Howe enhanced his burgeoning this reputation this season

There was often little to choose between the remainder of the teams in the division, given they all had runs in the season where things were good, and then a subsequent slide down the table. Everton basically matched expectations to be the bridge between the two, Southampton managed top-half again, but were largely uninspiring, and West Brom (the runaway winners of this award for a while) simply hit 40 points and we went back to forgetting about them.

Bournemouth by no means had a fantastic season, but a final position in the top-half, despite many (including myself) worrying that second-season-syndrome would kick in and relegation could be in the offing.

With key players repeatedly being laid low with major injuries and results faltering, that fate did look a distinct possibility at one point, but Howe marshalled a still relatively inexperienced team at this level away from danger and led the side to their finest ever league finish. You can’t say fairer than that.



Top Six – N’golo Kante (Chelsea)


The best player in the Premier League. Another sterling season for Kante

The choice between pundits was between Kante and Eden Hazard for the gong, but I’ll plump with the majority and go for the little French midfielder, who was the difference for Chelsea and has won back-to-back titles with different clubs, which is impressive on its own.

His energy has allowed the likes of Hazard to focus on wreaking havoc in attacking positions instead of being coaxed into defensive duties, and helped improve the previously flagging performances of Nemanja Matic.

Plus, his arrival was probably key in John Obi Mikel no longer playing Premier League football anymore. These are always things to be celebrated.

The Rest – Romelu Lukaku (Everton)


It is surely a matter of time until Lukaku ends up at a top club

I wouldn’t call it a cop out. You might, but I wouldn’t, as Lukaku has not just continued to motor along at a level that is honestly beneath him, but improved his record and reputation even further by enjoying his finest ever goal-scoring season.

Goals may not be everything and he still has plenty of detractors wondering if his all-round game is yet good enough for the move up he clearly so desperately craves, but 25 goals is not an easy tally to record in the Premier League and he would have claimed the Golden Boot were it not for the crazy late-season form of Harry Kane.

Lukaku was the standout player of the sides outside of the top six. How long that is the case remains to be seen.



Top Six – Ander Herrera (Manchester United)


Captain in shithousery. Future captain of Man Utd?

Sure some might call for Christian Eriksen at this point, but it’s only this season that people have actually begun to notice how much he does for this Spurs team. Plus as a fan, I’m far more aware of what he has been doing, so he’s just motoring along just nicely for me.

Instead I’ve gone for Herrera, who has gone from popular yet flawed midfielder struggling to hold down a place under Louis van Gaal, to being probably the most important player in this Manchester United team.

Having been underappreciated by management staff since his arrival from Athletic Bilbao, Jose Mourinho has seen him as the ideal partner to help Paul Pogba shine – only to complete outshine his more illustrious teammate.

He might be an awful shithouse of a player for fans of the opposition and his tendency to flop to the ground does grate somewhat. But you can’t knock what he’s doing in general and try to enjoy the other, more pleasing aspects of a game that has come on leaps and bounds.

The Rest – Joshua King (Bournemouth)


King’s improvement have seen him linked with a big move

No contest here, as quite frankly this time last year, I had serious doubts about Josh King making a long-term career as a Premier League footballer, with the inkling being he would be more at home in the Championship.

Even a few months into the season I could have been forgiven for harbouring that point of view as he struggled to break into the first-team at Bournemouth, but once he took his chance, he really broke into a fine footballer.

Nobody doubted his desire or his running, but there seemed to be an issue with the final ball, the final pass and for an attacking player his returns previously were just not good enough to warrant a regular place in a top flight side.

This season it all appears to have come together for him and a leap from six to 16 Premier League goals is a testament to the work he has done away from the pitch. Plus a man with such a basic English name being a Norwegian international can only make you more endearing.



Top Six – Victor Wanyama (Tottenham Hotspur)


Wanyama’s success at Spurs has surprised a lot of people

“No Kante? But you made him your player of the season!” I hear you cry. But I’m not on board for the same player winning two awards, and this is my page and I’ll do what I want. So there.

Anyhoo, Wanyama’s arrival at Spurs was met with very little fanfare really, more an acknowledgement that he would be a useful addition to the Tottenham squad with the added burden of Champions League football and Eric Dier having been quite frankly run into the ground over the course of the previous campaign and European Championships with England.

So few people expected Wanyama to essentially oust Dier from a midfield spot he had suddenly looked extremely comfortable in, with many at Spurs putting the Kenyan powerhouse among their star performers throughout an impressive season that saw many steal the headlines.

At just a reported £9m, Wanyama was nearly a third of the price of Kante, and was just as important to another side that exceeded expectations to leave the Manchester clubs in their wake, despite all pre-season talk of the title heading back up north.

Acknowledgements to Sadio Mane and Zlatan Ibrahimovic who certainly exceeded expectations as well, but it’s Wanyama who gets the nod here.

The Rest – Joe Allen (Stoke City)


Allen continued his good form over from Euro 2016 with Stoke

I really wish I could bend my rules and include January signings. But they only played half a season, so I can only apologise for not including Wilfred Ndidi or Kamil Grosicki. This goes double, because the summer transfer window last year was tragically bad, making it rather difficult to pick a winner for this ‘award’.

There’s a sense that if some of the sides in the division hadn’t twisted so much last summer, we may not have been talking about half the division as serious relegation candidates at some point in the season. Because there was an awful lot of crap signed, and for a lot of money as well.

Fernando Llorente did fairly well, but annoyed people for not sprinting much. Christian Benteke finished with a decent tally for Palace, but yet we still expected more from him. Few others jumped out.

So it’s Joe Allen that wins this one. Humble upon arriving with that price tag despite never really impressing at Liverpool, with his stock boosted once more by an impressive showing at the Euros with Wales.

He did pretty well, became an integral part of a Stoke side a lot of us forgot were in the Premier League and improved his goal-scoring record. Hilariously, only Peter Crouch scored more goals for the Potters this season. Allen even got a brace in one game.



Top Six – Shkodran Mustafi (Arsenal)


We thought Mustafi would be a big player for Arsenal. We were wrong

Remember how I mentioned last summer’s transfer activity was a bit rubbish? This goes for the top six as well, with a gluttony of candidates available for this. Claudio Bravo, John Stones, Vincent Janssen, Moussa Sissoko, Michy Batshuayi, the list goes on. This is just the ‘bad’ ones, let alone those that just didn’t live up to expectations.

While many would expect Sissoko to win this, there was always a sense that he was brought in to bolster an already strong squad, replacing Nacer Chadli more than any first-team regular.

Mustafi on the other hand was supposed to – along with the equally disappointing Granit Xhaka – be the final works in the Arsenal puzzle, the expesive, established stars that bounced them into a serious title tilt, with the gold up for grabs following Leicester’s unexpected success.

Finally a competent partner for Laurent Koscielny had arrived in the form of Mustafi. Well, that was the thinking anyway, as the German was cumbersome, clumsy, slow and just looked all over the place as Arsenal’s defence looked worse, not better for his arrival.

For £35m, you expect so much better. You at least expect him to not end the season potentially as fourth choice, with youngster Rob Holding and the returning Per Mertesacker looking far more composed at the back for the Gunners.

The Rest – Ahmed Musa (Leicester City)


It has not gone well for Musa at Leicester. Pitifully bad, in fact

The first signal of Leicester’s intent to not simply slip away into the pack once again after their shock title win. Also the first signal as to why they did.

Musa was the first player Leicester broke their transfer record to sign last summer. Islam Slimani came next, another striker in a team with a couple of stars already in their attack, with Shinzi Okazaki hardly disgracing himself either. So you already you wondered how things were going to fit together.

Slimani at least grabbed a handful of goals when he managed to be fit, but Musa on the other hand was an unmitigated let-down. Like, to the point where you forgot he was even there come the end of the season. Never before has a black player wished they were back in Russia.



Top Six – Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur)


When will Alli get a challenge for this award? He should be a shining example

We all know how good Dele Alli is. We all know what a good season he had. Want to know why he won this? Because no other young player was quite frankly given anything that could be deemed a regular chance.

Gabriel Jesus may well be fantastic when he gets a full season behind him, and Hector Bellerin could well get back to his previous levels, but there are very few opportunities being offered to young players of any nationality, let alone English.

The success of England’s under 19s at the World Cup will hopefully lead to change, but with all the money going round in the game, clubs are always more likely to sign established stars than give a youngster a chance. They will keep signing promising kids, loan them out a tonne and eventually they’ll be able to toddle off somewhere in their 20s, failing to have kicked on and disillusioned with a nomadic lifestyle and a lack of chances at the place that was supposed to be home.

The Rest – Tom Davies (Everton)


Davies is evidence of what can happen when faith is put in youth

It’s not just the money men by the way. The rest of the division is not much better for giving young players a chance, with only a couple of clubs seeming like a place to be given that chance to impress in the Premier League.

Southampton have developed a reputation for it, and Everton have also thankfully taken it upon themselves to give their impressive academy a chance to shine, with Tom Davies being the pick of the bunch.

The youngster has taken to life as a Premier League regular like a duck to water, pouring shame on Ross Barkley in the process. Davies looks comfortable and willing to kick on, with a number of Everton fans now happy to see Barkley moved on if it means Davies can be the main man driving forward from the midfield.

Alfie Mawson deserves a mention as well, but frankly the pool is still far too small to choose from. Given the disaster of last season’s transfer window, it is perhaps more pertinent to look to the academies for ways to improve the squads.

Chelsea Champions

Chelsea emerged champions last season. Will they do it again?

The football season is back! Rejoice! The tedium that is the close season and the rubbish that fills our newspapers and websites desperate to fill column inches is finally at an end, and we can focus on the football itself. Well, nearly. I’m looking at you Daily Mail.

The Premier League has opted to kick-off at the same time as the other divisions in England this season due to a major tournament appearing next summer and it looks set to be potentially the most interesting season in a while, with a number of teams well equipped to mount a title challenge and nobody looking quite weak enough to be dead certs for the drop.

Thus I have compiled a quick preview of every side in the division, rated and/or slated their summer transfer activity and attempted the fools’ game of predicting where they will end up. Enjoy and feel free to add your own comments at the bottom!

Here’s part one, taking us from Arsenal to Crystal Palace:

Arsene Wenger

Can Wenger finally deliver another league title?


Last Season: 3rd

Transfers In: Petr Cech (Chelsea)

Transfers Out: Lukas Podolski (Galatasaray), Ryo Miyaichi (St Pauli), Abou Diaby (Marseille), Yaya Sanogo (Ajax, Loan), Wojciech Szczesny (Roma, Loan), Carl Jenkinson (West Ham, Loan), Chuba Akpom (Hull, Loan)

Every pre-season we are forced to talk about Arsenal as title contenders due to the quality of players they possess, before eventually placing our bets elsewhere because….well it’s Arsenal isn’t it? Sure there’s plenty of quality there, but mental factors will eventually play against them and/or injuries will hit, proving a very shallow depth of quality. That would be the norm.

This year feels very different. The strength in depth that the Gunners have is incredible and one would be comfortable claiming that they potentially possess the best bench in the Premier League now. This might be the first year for a while in which it has seemed Arsenal have all their ducks in a row, with no real glaring weaknesses in the squad.

Olivier Giroud is made out to be a far worse player than he actually is, and when you have such a multitude of goal-scoring talent around you, he is hardly required to net 20-odd goals to ensure success. The likes of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla provide some of the best attacking back-up in England currently, so there is no shortage of goals, especially when you throw the likes of Aaron Ramsey into the equation too.

With the purchase of Petr Cech they have addressed the biggest flaw in their squad from last season, and with the emerging Francis Coquelin now marshalling that previously-flimsy midfield role in front of a more than capable back four, it’s hard to not see them as genuine favourites, especially when they have real quality to call upon when the annual injury event strikes once again.

Prediction: Champions

Tim Sherwood

A first full season as a manger for Sherwood. Presuming he lasts that long

Aston Villa

Last Season: 17th

Transfers In: Jordan Ayew (Lorient), Jordan Amavi (Nice), Idrissa Gueye (Lille), Scott Sinclair, Micah Richards (Manchester City), Jose Angel Crespo (Cordoba), Mark Bunn (Norwich), Jordan Veretout (Nantes), Rudy Gestede (Blackburn)

Transfers Out: Christian Benteke (Liverpool), Fabian Delph (Manchester City), Andres Weimann, Darren Bent (Derby), Yacouba Sylla (Rennes), Matthew Lowton (Burnley), Antonio Luna (Eibar), Shay Given (Stoke), Ron Vlaar, Chris Herd (Released)

When you finish just one place outside of the drop zone, quite frankly you don’t want things to get much worse. Yet that is exactly what has happened at Aston Villa, who have had the entire spine of the side ripped out, with Vlaar, Delph and Benteke all departing the club this summer.

Couple that with a rookie manager experiencing his first transfer window in charge of a club and you have a seriously unpredictable scenario in which one of two things could happen: A) Villa could be the surprise package of the season and achieve a top half finish, or B) they implode in farcical fashion and earn their first relegation since the advent of the Premier League.

If we take the examples of Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool though, when you lose your best player(s) and then spend wildly on a number of players with little to no Premier League experience, it doesn’t often go too well and that’s unfortunately what I see happening with Villa now.

I haven’t watched enough of Ligue Un football to really cast judgement on the players that have so far been drafted in from France, but more learned people than me have already casted doubt on the ability of these players to be much of a success in the Premier League. Protracted moves for Emmanuel Adebayor and Dimitar Berbatov are yet to yield any fruit and Villa are running out of time to put together a side that will not have a serious battle on their hands to remain in the division.

Prediction: Relegation

Eddie Howe

Eddie Howe can finally test himself among the best


Last Season: 1st (Championship)

Transfers In: Artur Boruc (Southampton), Adam Federici (Reading), Joshua King (Blackburn), Christian Atsu (Chelsea, Loan), Tyrone Mings (Ipswich), Sylvain Distin (Everton), Filippo Costa (Chievo), Max Gradel (St Etienne), Lee Tomlin (Middlesbrough)

Transfers Out: Ian Harte, Miles Addison (Released), Ryan Fraser (Ipswich, Loan) Brett Pitman (Ipswich)

It’s always a difficult thing to judge just how well a club coming up from the Championship will fare in their first season and with this being Bournemouth’s first return to the top flight since the advent of the Premier League, it is even harder to judge.

Coming up as champions suggests they should be the strongest of the promoted trio, yet I fear for them in their attempts to retain their position in the top flight. They seem to have recruited well, with a good mix of experience and raw hunger, yet I still feel they will be lacking in the quality to achieve survival come the season’s end.

Eddie Howe always demands that his side play an attractive brand of football and that could just prove their undoing in the end. You feel whatever happens, Howe will still have his managerial reputation intact, but I just feel he is raising this Bournemouth side to just be too nice to handle the fight in the end.

Prediction: Relegation

Jose Mourinho

Never a dull a moment with this man around


Last Season: 1st

Transfers In: Nathan (Atletico Paranaense), Asmir Begovic (Stoke), Radamel Falcao (Monaco, Loan), Danilo Pantic (Partizan Belgrade)

Transfers In: Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid), Christian Atsu (Bournemouth, Loan), Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact), Petr Cech (Arsenal), Marco van Ginkel (Stoke), Patrick Bamford (Crystal Palace)

After finally bringing the Premier League trophy back to Stamford Bridge, now comes the hard part for Chelsea and Jose Mourinho (I am contractually obliged to make him sound as important as the club itself).

Many people feel that retaining the title is harder than winning it in the first place and Chelsea will not be able to be so reliant on the failings of their rivals to wrap up consecutive first place finishes, with the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United having strengthened heavily over the summer months and addressed their glaring flaws.

There is an air of Chelsea that is akin to Manchester City of a year ago, in that they have stood practically still over the summer months. Not that they had any big weaknesses to address, but sometimes a bit of fresh competition can just be healthy, rotating around some of the squad players.

Changing the back-up ‘keeper doesn’t necessarily do much for that, whilst they have only otherwise seen Radamel Falcao come in for another crack at the Premier League following his disastrous spell at Manchester United last season, in place of the departing Drogba.

The expected arrival of Baba Rahman from Augsburg will freshen up the battle on the left-hand side of defence, but one feels that an injury or two to their defensive line could actually leave them a bit short handed at the back, which is a worry.

Last season, Diego Costa’s dodgy hamstrings aside, Chelsea got rather lucky with injuries and they will have to hope that they can achieve the same again this year, as a bit of digging beyond the impressive surface sees John Obi Mikel as back-up to Nemanja Matic and nobody to cover for a crippled Fabregas. Chelsea simply have not reacted to the strengthening of their rivals and could pay for their dalliances.

Prediction: Runners-Up

Pardew & Cabaye

Pardew and Cabaye reunited again in one of the shock transfers of the summer

Crystal Palace

Last Season: 10th

Transfers In: Yohan Cabaye (Paris St Germain), Patrick Bamford (Chelsea, Loan), Alex McCarthy (QPR), Connor Wickham (Sunderland), Bakary Sako (Wolves)

Transfers Out: Shola Ameobi, Owen Garvan, Jerome Thomas (Released), Stephen Dobbie (Bolton)

I think everyone is curious to see how Crystal Palace will fare this season. The signing of Cabaye has made everybody sit up and take notice of Palace and their intention not to dwell on an impressive top half finish from last season, with Pardew claiming he wants to take Palace into Europe.

And why the hell not? With Cabaye pulling the strings in midfield and an endless supply of pace in Jason Puncheon, Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha in front of him to utilise, now ably backed up with the arrival of Sako on a free transfer, Palace have the attacking credentials to really push the likes of Southampton and Swansea.

Yet the questions still remain over their defensive attributes. Re-signing Brede Hangeland for a further season is the only thing they have done for the back-four so far, with only an optimistic chase to prise Ashley Williams from Swansea the only other news to emerge on fixing an area of the pitch that needs some work if these lofty ambitions are to come true.

Palace could improve on their 10th place finish of last season, and yet as we have seen with Pardew so many times before, it could also yo-yo from season to season and last season’s impressive run-in could have already been the upward motion they required. Either way it should be an interesting season at Selhurst Park that has definitely piqued my interest.

Prediction: 9th


With just the FA Cup Final to come, the football season is almost behind us following an exhilarating Premier League campaign that saw Chelsea emerge triumphant, Manchester United return to the Champions League and Hull City, Burnley and QPR all sink back into the Championship.

In truth the season proved something of an anti-climax in the end as the majority of issues were solved before the final day, but it was still a campaign that provided plenty of talking points.

I have plumped weighed up the nine month tournament and compiled a list of winners and losers for the 2014/15 season: And we start with the niceties, seeing who has impressed and/or exceeded expectations throughout and enjoyable campaign.

Costa & Fabregas

Costa & Fabregas have been key to Chelsea’s success

Chelsea’s Transfer Committee

Last season we saw a Chelsea side that were still very close to winning the title despite some glaring inefficiencies, but having had a year to evaluate his squad, Jose Mourinho and his scouting network had identified everything they needed to fix over the summer and made their moves in emphatic fashion.

The forward line had proven the biggest problem of all over the previous campaign, so out went all three men, with Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba all shipped out of the country.

In their stead came the returning Didier Drogba to provide some feel-good nostalgia after the defection of Frank Lampard to Manchester City (via New York), Loic Remy to provide ample back-up after impressive spells with QPR and Newcastle and of course Diego Costa.

Costa hit the ground running in his first season in England following his move from Atletico Madrid, netting 20 Premier League goals and solving that little problem to give Chelsea the firepower necessary to secure the title.

He was adeptly helped out by Cesc Fabregas in the midfield, recruited to provide some creativity in the midfield to really release the likes of Eden Hazard and Oscar into more offensive roles, with the Spaniard recording 18 league assists since ending his association with Barcelona for a second time.

Kurt Zouma was technically signed last January from St Etienne, but he has given Chelsea further alternatives at the back, a useful commodity given John Terry’s ageing legs and Gary Cahill’s loss of form in the middle of the season.

With Thibaut Courtois brought into the squad following successful loan spells in Spain, we have even been able to overlook Filipe Luis’ minimal usage, given Mourinho’s satisfaction with Cesar Azpilicueta at left-back and the Brazilian’s supposed homesickness, and even the strange signing of Juan Cuadrado at big expense, merely to receive two minute cameos.

Any expenditure has been off-set by the sales of Kevin de Bruyne and Andre Schurrle back to Germany for exorbitant fees, so it’s a good job all round at Stamford Bridge as the title returned to West London.

John Terry

Terry has rolled back the years at Chelsea this season

John Terry

After that remark as to Terry’s age, I would be remiss in not praising him for his performances in a season that has now said goodbye to two of it’s long-term stalwarts in Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

With Lampard playing a bit-part role at Manchester City and Gerrard seeing his importance to Liverpool dwindle, 34-year-old Terry has played every single minute of the league season for the champions and re-established himself as a key member of the side.

Jose Mourinho admitted he thought he was seeing the end of Terry’s Chelsea career upon returning to the club in 2013, but with some senior sportswriters even suggesting Terry was unlucky to miss out on a Player of the Year nomination, it just goes to show there is plenty of life in the old dog yet.

He may not be the most popular man in the country, but one can hardly deny how impressive he has been in an already impressive side, while his peers have dropped out of the spotlight.

Kane v Arsenal

Kane has been the success story in the Premier League

Harry Kane

Eden Hazard may have gotten the individual award (and rightly so), but we already knew how good he was. The individual success story has to be Harry Kane, having finished the season with 21 Premier League goals, despite not starting a game until November for Tottenham Hotspur.

Being a Spurs fan, I can testify that there were not many in the crowd that thought he could make that final step up, with many wondering if he was good enough to be third in the pecking order for that central striking berth, let alone lead the line on a regular basis.

But after snatching up every single opportunity he received in the Europa League and League Cup, coupled with the inadequacies of Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor, Kane was given his chance and has never looked back, with doubles against London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal highlights in already brightly-lit campaign.

Being the first Spurs player to break the 30-goal barrier since Gary Lineker was another added touch, while he made his senior England debut as well and scored within the first 90 seconds. It’s just fairytale stuff, and one can only hope it doesn’t prove as brief as one, with Kane still needing to prove it wasn’t a fluke come next season.

Jonas Gutierrez

Who didn’t enjoy Gutierrez being the saviour for Newcastle?

Jonas Gutierrez

Speaking of fairytale stuff, was there anymore of a perfect man than Gutierrez to be the man to secure Newcastle’s place in the Premier League.

With the Magpies’ potentially facing the drop, pending a victory for Hull against Manchester United (which never happened), Gutierrez played a major part in ensuring that even such an eventuality would be irrelevant be sealing victory over West Ham.

Gutierrez has spent much of the past two years battling with testicular cancer and only returned to first team duties in March, with Newcastle having threatened to release him during that time period.

But having secured his own survival, he helped do the same for the club, moving quickly to dedicate it to the long-suffering fans of St James’ Park. A real cult hero and it would take a far more cynical man than me to not be extremely chuffed for one of the more likeable members of that squad.

Ronald Koeman

Koeman has steadied a Southampton side that many feared for at the start of the season


There were a lot of doomsday mongerers around last summer as the Saints were gutted after a successful season, with manager Mauricio Pochettino leaving for Spurs and several key players exiting the club for ‘bigger clubs’.

Some were even suggesting relegation for Southampton, and while I was not one of those, I was hardly expecting them to be pushing for European qualification, let alone a prolonged involvement in the race for a Champions League spot.

Incoming manager Ronald Koeman has done a wonderful job of steadying the ship, with new signings such as Graziano Pelle, Dusan Tadic and Toby Alderweireld easily outshining the departed at St Mary’s, while Jose Fonte has proven to have been the bedrock of last season, with Dejan Lovren having struggled without him following his move to Merseyside.

With three of last season’s star ending up at Liverpool, Southampton finished just two points behind Brendan Rodgers’ side, further emphasising how impressive this campaign has been.

Garry Monk

Monk has impressed in his first full season as a manager

Garry Monk

A spot of humble pie for myself here, as seeing Swansea appoint Monk on a full-time basis after an indifferent caretaker spell last season saw me book the Swans in for a relegation battle.

How wrong I was, as the rookie manager steered Swansea to a record points total in the top flight and an eighth-placed finish, despite losing top-scorer Wilfried Bony to Manchester City in January.

With Monk high on the list when talking the ‘Manager of the Year’ award, one can only doff his cap to a job extremely well done. Cap, doffed.

Mark Hughes

Hughes has done a terrific job since succeeding Pulis

Mark Hughes/Stoke

Alas, this was not the first time I made this mistake, as I had done the same with Stoke City upon appointing Mark Hughes as manager, fearing their Premier League bubble would burst in their attempts to implement style over substance after the Tony Pulis years.

It’s now back-to-back ninth placed finishes for the Potters, despite spending far less than any other of his Premier League rivals over that two-year period and that transition to playing attractive football looks near to being fully complete.

Only Bojan was recruited for any fee last summer – a success until his season-ending injury – and the Potters have continued to go from strength to strength, with even Steven N’Zonzi starting to look like a really good player.

Big victories over Champions League hopefuls in Spurs and Liverpool – in which they completely outplayed both sides – further display how far they have developed under Hughes and one can only wonder that given a little extra investment, could he lead them into a challenge for European football soon enough?

Either way, following that disastrous spell at QPR where everybody seems to fail, Hughes’ reputation as a manager is fully restored and there may be plenty of bigger clubs looking at him as a potential replacement, should managers higher up the food chain be given the elbow.

Alan Pardew

Pardew’s stock as a manager has risen this season

Alan Pardew

Finishing off manager appraisal, and one has the dirty job of lavishing praise on Alan Pardew. The man comes across as incredibly sleazy, but you can’t deny that he has had a fine season in charge of two different clubs and could actually claim to have kept both in the Premier League.

Newcastle would not be a top flight side without his run of six consecutive victories throughout November given their end of season form, with Pardew having relented to fan unrest to take on a much cosier job at his old club, Crystal Palace.

Palace had made a daft decision in appointing Neil Warnock as manager following the surprise resignation of Tony Pulis, but having righted that wrong, brought in Pardew and the rest is history.

Pardew took a side seemingly destined for relegation and ended the season as a top half side, making the likes of Jason Puncheon and Yannick Bolasie look players of real quality following an indifferent first half of the campaign, while re-introducing Glenn Murray into the fold to great effect.

You don’t have to like him, but you do have to respect the job Pardew has done with both of the sides he has managed this season.

Alexis Sanchez

Alexis Sanchez has enjoyed a fantastic debut season with Arsenal

Alexis Sanchez

While Chelsea’s pairing of Costa and Fabregas might quibble with such an accolade, it would be hard to look past Alexis Sanchez as the big-money signing of the season, having arrived at Arsenal from Barcelona and taken to the Premier League like a duck to water.

16 goals in his debut campaign despite largely playing a supporting role to Olivier Giroud or Danny Welbeck is an impressive feat and one expects him to be even better next season, having had a year to bed in.

It’s worth noting that when it comes to spending big money on overseas players, Arsenal don’t really get it wrong anymore. Since Andriy Arshavin, the Gunners have spent big money on plenty of players from abroad (La Liga in particular), but have not seen as many flops as the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool or even Spurs, with Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil and even Giroud all deemed successes by this writer.

If they could replicate this with a couple of competent defensive players, Arsenal would be a serious threat, but until that happens, they will forever be an attractive attacking side that will wonder what could have been.

Esteban Cambiasso

Cambiasso has been superb for Leicester

Esteban Cambiasso

I’ve opted to differentiate between big-money and bargain signings of the season due to the amount of pressure placed on a player with a heavy price-tag around his neck, but if you were to combine the two, it would still be hard to look past Cambiasso as a contender.

After years upon years of being tipped for a move to England, he finally made the jump aged 33 and has been a highly integral member of a Leicester side that defied the odds to stay up.

It takes a special type of player to adapt to the Premier League so quickly and one wondered whether he had the legs now to make in England, but he has been absolutely fantastic and fully deserved the Foxes’ player of the year award.

With Spurs having at one point been linked with a move for the Argentine international, they may regret not taking the punt on Cambiasso to really anchor their midfield now.

Ashley Young Marouane Fellaini

Both Young & Fellaini have come in from the cold for United

Ashley Young/Marouane Fellaini

Everybody loves a story of the outcast that forces themself back into the side to earn the plaudits once more and few saw  Young and Fellaini as players that would be part of Louis van Gaal’s plans at Manchester United this season.

David de Gea has stolen the show at Old Trafford this season, but with these two seeming destined for the exit door last summer, it has shown great character on the part of both to force themselves not just back into the squad altogether, but as regular first team members of a side that has returned to Champions League football after a years sabbatical.

Fellaini has benefitted from simply being played in his correct position, while Young has been a complete turnaround, providing more assists this season than in the last two combined.

With further recruits expected at United this summer, one still fears for the future of Young at Old Trafford, but this season’s performance will at least ensure he has a multitude of top half sides to choose from should he be ousted, instead of joining the masses of ex-United players at Sunderland.

Danny Ings Charlie Austin

Both Ings & Austin will be back in the Premier League next season

Danny Ings/Charlie Austin

Two sides just plainly not good enough for the Premier League, but both Burnley and QPR can at least say they have provided the top flight with two impressive English strikers.

Despite the limited nature of their squads, both Austin and Ings have thrived in their first season of Premier League football and will have no problems in making a return this summer, with a whole host of interest in the pair.

Austin has himself earned a call-up to the England squad for the summer matches, while Ings would himself have been in with a shout were he not set for Under-21 tournament football. It will be interesting to see how they fare once they move to bigger ponds.

Bradford overcome Chelsea

Bradford celebrate knocking out Premier League leaders Chelsea

January 24th proved something of a strange day in the world of football, as one of the craziest days of FA Cup action saw several of the top ranked sides in the competition dumped out at the fourth round stage.

It was a coupon buster for sure and gave many a person the perfect opportunity to issue the ‘magic of the FA Cup’ line that has become synonymous, despite being tainted in more recent years by clubs fielding weakened sides in order to focus on more pressing matters in the league campaign.

“It isn’t dead yet,” said the romantics of the world, pointing to a number of true giant-killings that saw the top three in the Premier League all handed an early exit from the competition, with two going out to lower league sides.

League One side Bradford City produced a remarkable comeback from two goals down to triumph 4-2 at Stamford Bridge and topple Premier League leaders Chelsea, while Championship high-flyers Middlesbrough were able to make the trip to reigning champions Manchester City and come away with a comfortable 2-0 victory, ensuring that neither of the runaway leaders in the top flight would be bothering the business end of the competition.

Mourinho congratulates Parkinson

Mourinho congratulates Phil Parkinson on Bradford’s cupset

With both Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur also making swift exits in home defeats to lowly Premier League opposition in the form of Crystal Palace and Leicester City respectively, four of the top six in the English football pyramid would all take no further part in the FA Cup, while Swansea’s exit and Liverpool’s home draw against Bolton Wanderers confirmed further top half sides either out or facing a nervous replay to ensure their progression.

A remarkable day of football, one would happily agree. Those invested in the beautiful game were quick to point out that the ‘magic’ of the historic competition was still alive and well to produce such incredible results, setting up a chance for many sides to clinch a maiden FA Cup trophy, or a first for the best part of a century in many cases.

Come Tuesday however and the conclusion of Stoke City’s routine 4-1 victory over Rochdale, and the mood was somewhat different as various parties sat down and looked at the draw for the fifth round, only to find no interesting fixtures.

A ‘dull draw’ was the verdict by many, and I will pick on in particular (though I do love and read the site on a regular basis) for lauding the ‘magical’ results of Saturday before bemoaning the lack of any stellar ties in the next round, with a number of the glamorous sides having been knocked out.

For we football fans cannot have it both ways. If you want stunning results like that on Saturday to make it seem less of a procession for the larger sides, then you have to accept that they will not take any further part in the competition and some ties will not have the same sparkle about them – we all know Derby County v Reading for a place in the quarter-finals doesn’t have the greatest appeal, with greatest respect to both sides.

Those bemoaning Bradford being rewarded for their valour with a home tie against the winners of Sunderland and Fulham’s replay forget that after dumping out the Premier League leaders and most people’s pick to land the league title at the end of the season, very few ties were going to have the same wow factor – especially with a host of other top sides falling at the same hurdle.

Only Middlesbrough were rewarded with a further big tie, only to find a large number of people merely shrugging their shoulders and proclaiming their trip to Arsenal to be the end of their nice cup run, ignoring the fact they have already been to the home of a better side and come away triumphant.

Bamford celebrates City goal

Patrick Bamford celebrates Middlesbrough’s opener at the Etihad

Aston Villa v Leicester gives two of the Premier League’s worst sides the chance to battle for a place in the last eight, while Blackburn’s half empty stadium in their victory over Swansea hardly sets the pulses racing when it is Stoke that come to town – a side Premier League fans stopped caring about/hating when they stopped playing rugby; even the novelty of seeing former Barcelona wonderkid Bojan playing for a side that formerly used a throw-in as a main offensive weapon has been ripped from us with his cruciate knee injury.

For all the joy we had in seeing these results shake up the competition in stunning fashion, the snobbery of the elite immediately kicked in as they saw a bunch of fixtures in which few sides have the prestige of having won it a few times and/or are an entertaining club to watch in the top flight.

People who want upsets to display ‘magic’ and still expect stellar ties in the next round are those who want to have their cake and eat it too.

It just doesn’t work in practice and we should just take a step back from our Premier League high horses and just enjoy what we have remaining, lest we tread on the eggshells used to make our recently devoured cake.