james debate
james debate

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Welcome to another end of year retrospective on what has been an extraordinary and unpredictable season of the Premier League. Here at The Ephemeric we like to choose this moment to take stock of the season gone by and consider what the future looks like for each of its 20 contenders.

manchester city champions 2012
A nail-biting finish sees Manchester City crowned champions for the first time in 40 years, winning the big prize on the last day of the season and becoming the first team ever to win it on goal difference. There was plenty excitement elsewhere as Spurs and Newcastle made an impressive push for Champions League qualification, while each of the three newly promoted clubs incredibly managed to up. At the other end of the table Bolton, Blackburn and Wolves sadly tasted the bitter finish of relegation.

We'll begin with our season summary and team of the season, and then follow with a team-by-team review.

2012 Premier League Summary:

Winners: Manchester City
Relegated: Bolton, Blackburn, Wolverhampton Wanderers
Player of the Year: Yaya Touré
Young Player of the Year: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Manager of the Year: Alan Pardew
Top Scorer: Robin Van Persie (30)
Most Assists: David Silva (15)
Overachievers: Newcastle United
Underachievers: Liverpool
Best signing of the season: Juan Mata
Worst signing of the season: Stewart Downing

2012 Premier Team of the Season:

premier league best team xi of the season 2012
Goalkeeper: Joe Hart - Arguably one of the best young goalkeepers in the world today and without doubt the greatest English goalkeeper since David Seaman; Hart's maturity and composure shines through every game and this year it has guided his team to a historic Premier League title. Such assuredness for his age, it's easy to forget that he's been bringing the goods at top flight level since he was 21, and now it has been justly rewarded with silverware.

Right Back: Kyle Walker - The PFA's young player of the year (but not mine), Walker has had something of a coming of age since Tottenham snapped him up in 2009, one that has seen him usurp internationally acclaimed teammates and receives accolades in the press tipping him as the next Roberto Carlos (wrong flank, but whatever). All hype aside, Walker is a fantastic talent with pace, intelligence and a heck of a strike for a fullback.

Centrebacks: Vincent Kompany & Laurent Koscielny- The Man City captain Kompany has just finished the season of his life; imperious at the back, and bringing home the Premier League title, it doesn't get much better. Kompany is finally starting to vindicate the hype that he has borne since a young age and at 26 still arguably has his best years ahead of him. It is to the Premier League's credit that he will spend those years here. Koscielny meanwhile has had a defining year. Formerly the butt of jokes regarding the leaky Arsenal defences of years gone by, no one is laughing now. Koscielny has really come of form this season with all the deft touches and class one would expect of a top European centreback, but with the physical instinct that is necessary for the English league.

Left Back: Ashley Cole- No surprise here for the man voted England’s player of the year by the fans and with good cause. Cole has been one of the most consistent footballers of the past decade, and in a season characterised by an inconsistent and stuttering Chelsea side, continued his fine attacking and defensive form. This was particularly crucial in the latter stage of the season where he rightly drew plaudits for his performances in the Champions League, culminating in what many have described as his finest ever game again Bayern Munich in the final.

Right Mid: David Silva – The little magician showed this season why City had spent all that money, leading the assists table and in some considerable style as Man City fought their way to the title. If beautiful football is expected of the champions then it is through this man that it will come. This season Silva has propelled himself into the ranks of the very finest playmakers in Europe, but with this high standing comes increased expectation next season.

Centre Mids: Yaya Touré & Michael Carrick- If last season was Yaya Touré's better than expected welcome to the Premier League, this was the season where he blew it apart completely. With pace, strength, technique and a killer strike, Yaya is just about the complete player, but this season he added to that with the goal-scoring instinct of Lampard and the sheer doggedness of Gerrard to make pretty much the perfect midfielder. Michael Carrick meanwhile took this season to prove all the doubters wrong. Hardly the showiest of players, Carrick revels in the dirty work, and this season he has excelled in ticking over Man United's midfield as they pushed (and failed) for glory. The statistics speak for themselves, more successful challenges than any other midfielder, and the second highest pass accuracy. Every midfield needs a man like this and right now there are few better.

Left Mid: Clint Dempsey – The talented American has seen through a number of seasons in London now, but this has been easily his most notable. With 17 league goals to his name and a whole bunch of assists, Dempsey has become one of the more feared opponents in the league and massively influential for this Fulham side. Expect to see many transfer rumours this summer as the big clubs pursue one of the big up-and-comers of English club football.

Forwards:  Wayne Rooney & Robin Van Persie – Inspirational as always and now consistently on the scoresheet, this season might have been one of Wayne Rooney's finest all around team displays despite ending trophiless. Now he needs to go and do the same for England over the summer. Meanwhile Van Persie has had the absolute season of his life, avoiding the injury problems that have plagued him in the past and carrying his Arsenal team to a top 4 finish, winning the Golden Boot in the process. Now he heads to Euro 2012 with a very real chance of winning it, and will no doubt be attracting plenty of attention from bigger clubs shortly, with Man City rumoured to be waiting in the wings.

Team by team Review

Predicted Position: 4th
Final Position: 3rd

Arsenal have enjoyed their most consistent season in many years, buoyed by the unstoppable goalscoring form of Robin Van Perise and the return to fitness of Thomas Vermaelen. Nevertheless they have failed to end their trophiless run, which now extends to almost a decade without success.

Arsene Wenger has proved himself once again to be among the very top managers in the world by not only holding together the team after the loss of two of their most influential players, but by recovering from their disastrous start to the season to achieve one of their better league finishes in recent history. What's more, the club look set to strengthen well over the summer with the signing of Lukas Podolski (who will hopefully avoid the same fate as Arshavin, Gervinho, Chamakh et al) and potentially Yann M'Vila, while talented young players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain appear to be on the precipice of greatness. Their American/Russian billionaire owners seem prepared to bankroll some real spending in the summer, so this could be a big year for Arsenal.

The most pressing concern will be the club's continued lack of success and silverware as they endeavour to hold on to their top assets. Arsenal simply can't afford to let Van Persie go, but as he approaches the later stages of his career how much longer will he be content to stay at the Emirates without a few medals to show for it? If Real Madrid or Manchester City come calling after Euro 2012 the striker faces a major dilemma, especially with his contract almost up. The other element is the financial one; in order to grow and compete with the top clubs in the world, Arsenal will desperately need more commercial revenue, currently just barely making the top 20 in Europe in this regard. Improving this will be a tall order without some success with which to attract big name players and sponsors.

Best Player: Robin Van Persie
Worst Player: Andrei Arshavin
Summer transfer targets: More attacking depth and a combative central midfielder

Predicted Position: 10th
Final Position: 16th

If the departure of successful manager Martin O'Neill didn't do enough to create acrimony between club owner and fans, then the appointment of Alex McLeish fresh off the back of relegation with arch rivals Birmingham certainly did. This discontent has been exacerbated by a lack of squad depth and the seismic impact of captain Stiliyan Petrov's medical ailment. In addition promising signings like Charles N'Zogbia haven't panned out as well as hoped, a major disappointment for the club.

Not surprisingly it's been a poor season that has seen Villa sucked into a relegation battle from which they narrowly escaped, and McLeish has been shown the door after one season at the club. On paper it's a team that shouldn't be in such a poor state, but such is the lack of confidence that they haven't played anywhere near their level. The defence in particular has looked simply incapable of dealing with set-pieces.

Major rebuilding will be needed, and the likes of Darren Bent will need to be held onto for dear life.

Best Player: Darren Bent
Worst Player: Charles N'Zogbia
Summer transfer targets: Everywhere, more attacking options in particular.

Predicted Position: 16th
Final Position: 19th (relegated)

It was expected to be a tough season for the club and so it proved, with Rovers relegated and manager Steve Kean surely on the way out of Ewood Park. I attended their last game of the season against Chelsea, and even though they only lost narrowly it was a result that flattered them greatly, especially as they were up against a Chelsea side consisting mainly of reserve and youth players. Throughout the afternoon the only thing I heard their fans chant was "Kean out".

So what went wrong? Well clearly the sale of star defenders Chris Samba and Phil Jones took its toll on the once formidable Blackburn backline and, Yakubu aside, the team found itself sorely lacking in quality performers. In the end the team proved too inconsistent, with great victories against big teams often followed immediately by pedestrian defeats. Unfortunately a likely exodus awaits this summer which could see their already threadbare squad depleted further.

It keeps going from bad to worse for the club, and before a true fight for promotion back to the top flight can begin there will be serious work required to steady the ship and rebuild.

Best Player: Aiyegbeni Yakubu
Worst Player: Gaël Givet
Summer transfer targets: Damage control

Predicted Position: 13th
Final Position: 18th (relegated)

A major blow following on from a strong season in which manager Owen Coyle looked to be taking the club forward. The departure of key players and worries regarding the health of Fabrice Muamba culminated in a year of disappointment with Bolton looking bereft of their characteristic grit. Now it's back to square one as the fight for a speedy return to the Premier League begins.

Injury problems didn't help, but they only serve as a smokescreen for the greater problems at the club. The motivation wasn't there, the tactical efficiency that characterised the Bolton of old wasn't there. Is Owen Coyle still the man for the club? Well I'm starting to have my doubts. If he gets another shot then there is much rebuilding to be done.

Captain Kevin Davies remains one of the few shining lights for the club, and the man's declaration of loyalty even in the face of relegation is deeply admirable. Assuming he stays put Blackburn will still no doubt face departures in the summer, but for the most part these players are expendable. Only the future of goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen gives major cause for concern.

Best Player: Kevin Davies
Worst Player: David N'Gog
Summer transfer targets:  New striker and possibly replacement goalkeeper

Predicted Position: 3rd
Final Position: 6th

It serves as a perfect embodiment of this Chelsea team that their season ended up simultaneously as one of the worst and best of the club's history. On the one hand they made history by becoming the first London club ever to be crowned Champions of Europe, having already claimed a milestone 7th FA Cup, whereas in the league they slumped to their worst finish of the new millennium. It's safe to say that the André Villas-Boas experiment was a failure, and a great deal of the club's success since his dismissal can be attributed to the different approach to player management of Roberto Di Matteo.

Club insiders attribute AVB's fall to his relentless focus on the future of Chelsea, losing sight of the present. Whatever the case, there remains a lot up in the air for the club's foreseeable future. The position of permanent manager has yet to be settled, and the same goes for many of the more senior members of the playing staff. On the bright side the club's younger investments have started to pay dividends, with Mata, Ramires, Sturridge and David Luiz all playing key roles in the first team, and the likes of Bertrand and Lukaku making cameo appearances, the former starting in the Champions League final. A second youth cup winning team in three years was the cherry on top for the promising youth of Chelsea.

More of that will be needed, but the club must press on with negotiations for more established players as well to fill certain weak points if they wish to challenge again in the next few seasons. With Drogba moving on and Torres struggling for consistency, a new striker may be necessary. More pressing is the need for offensive quality in the midfield, particularly on the wing and centrally as a long term replacement for Lampard. Lastly defensive dilemmas in the final weeks of the season have emphasised the need for increased depth, particularly at the right back position. If this squad still needs to rely on the likes of Malouda, Meireles and Bosingwa next season then it is hard to see any potential for improvement.

Best Player: Petr Cech
Worst Player: Raul Meireles
Summer transfer targets: Striker, attacking midfielder(s), right back

Predicted Position: 7th
Final Position: 7th

A familiar story for Everton; a shaky start to the season saved by a more impressive return to form in the second half as David Moyes continues to do a fine job of keeping Everton on the fringes of the big time. With no investment from the clubs’ owners there appears to be little prospect of that changing, but at the very least Moyes seems to have solved one of the club's more pressing long term concerns.

Ever since the departure of Rooney the club has been on the lookout for one decisive and consistent striker, and with 9 goals in 13 games since his January transfer Nikica Jelavic could be the answer. Yet they find themselves in a position they know all too well. Sure, David Moyes is running the team well, but where do they go from here in a league that is becoming more competitive than ever?

There is great potential for investors at the club, Everton is no small brand in the football world, but the club appear reluctant to go down that route. In the meantime if they are to invest anywhere it looks likely to be in the form of some new blood in the midfield, with strong links to the permanent signing of Steven Pienaar and Fulham's Clint Dempsey. On the other hand rumours persist that Leighton Baines could be on his way out after another strong season.

Best Player: Nikica Jelavic
Worst Player: Diniyar Bilyaletdinov
Summer transfer targets: Attacking midfield

Predicted Position: 11th
Final Position: 9th

Martin Jol appears to have finally hit his stride as Fulham manager after a baptism of fire, aggravated by the poor attitude of Bobby Zamora, the lack of confidence of new boy Bryan Ruiz and his own tactical stubbornness. A solid top 10 finish sets the club up in a good position for next season.

The summer ahead will be crucial for the club. Jol has made some astute moves lately with the signings of Pogrebnyak and Diarra but more important than adding further to the squad will be warding off the interest being expressed in key players like Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembélé. If they can do that, and make the Pogrebnyak signing permanent, then investing in a little more defensive strength should be just what the team needs to mount a good campaign next season.

Best Player: Clint Dempsey
Worst Player: Bobby Zamora
Summer transfer targets: Defensive strength, possible replacements in attacking midfield

Predicted Position: 5th
Final Position: 8th

A Carling Cup victory and FA Cup runners up medal were not enough to save the job of club legend Kenny Dalglish after a very disappointing league campaign which culminated in an 8th place finish. The club needs to renew again, with rumours linking the club with a move for Wigan boss Roberto Martínez, Fabio Capello and André Villas-Boas. This failure is even more disturbing in the context of the amount new owners Fenway Sports Group have spent since taking over the club last year, close to £120 million.

The new man will have his work cut out for him. He'll need to try and get the best out of mercurial talents like Andy Carroll, while keeping the more temperamental players like Luis Suárez under control. A lot of deadwood will have to be cleared out, and in many cases that may require the club to cut its losses on expensive recent acquisitions that haven't really panned out.

As for this summer's transfer targets, first priority is preventing any of the top talent from leaving. A club of Liverpool's stature has never had this problem before, but on the back of yet another mid table finish one would assume eventually their credit will have to run dry. The consensus is that a new striker and some creative midfield reinforcements are on the cards, but to ignore the defensive frailties they've shown this season would be foolhardy.

Best Player: Luis Suárez
Worst Player: Stewart Downing
Summer transfer targets: Attacking talent

Predicted Position: 2nd
Final Position: 1st (Champions)

Historic victory for the Citizens who claimed their first league title in 44 years and deservedly so. A squad full of supreme talent and led with determination enough to come back from the brink when all else counted them out; their late season surge from 8 points behind in the final weeks will undoubtedly go down as one of the great comebacks in Premier League history. Yaya Touré simply dominates the midfield with his presence while David Silva carves the opposition open. Vincent Kompany has become the rock upon which the rest of the team is built and with safe hands like Joe Hart behind him it's no wonder City had the best defensive record in the league this season. These players in particular stole the show, but take nothing away from the likes of Sergio Agüero, Edin Dzeko, and the rest of the squad, it's a remarkable achievement that will keep their fans jubilant for a long time to come.

Low points include their weak showings in Europe and cup competitions, as well as off the pitch problems with the more unique personalities of Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli. The future of these players remains in doubt; Tevez's shameful actions are inexcusable from a professional footballer and should be shown the door in the summer, while Balotelli might actually be certifiably insane, but damned good entertainment value. New defensive signing Savic was also a bit of a disappointment this season and almost cost the club the title on the last day of the season, but as a youngster there is still time for him to recover.

When it comes to future signings the sky is the limit for any club with this owner's resources. Expect to see movement on some new defenders, particularly a centre back and potentially a better left back. Let's face it, they'll bring in a new winger or two as well, add to the already extensive collection.

Best Player: Yaya Touré
Worst Player: Carlos Tevez
Summer transfer targets: Winger, depth in defense.

Predicted Position: 1st (Champions)
Final Position: 2nd

It would be harsh to say that Manchester United have had a poor season, despite ending it without any silverware, but they will still be crestfallen at having thrown away the title so late in the season having held such a comfortable advantage. It's not what we've come to expect from Sir Alex's team but a challenge that they more than anyone will be up for meeting next season.

Going forward, Sir Alex is still the best manager in the world, and with Wayne Rooney they have one of the best frontmen in the world. They undoubtedly suffered from injuries this season to the likes of Nemanja Vidic and Darren Fletcher, and there lies more than just a whiff of desperation about their continued reliance on Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, but make no mistake they will be right back in it again next year.

With a full strength squad and the continued progression of young players like Javier Hernández there's no pressing need for new players, but with certain players likely to move on there could be room for a new full back and attacking midfielder as the Red Devils look to reclaim their crown.

Best Player: Wayne Rooney
Worst Player: Rafael
Summer transfer targets: Fullback, attacking midfielder

Predicted Position: 12th
Final Position: 5th

The great success story of the Premier League this season, Newcastle showed considerable boxy in challenging for a Champions League place right up until the end of the season, and in only their second season back up in the top flight.

Alan Pardew took the reigns at the club amid some skepticism after Chris Hughton's successful tenure was mystifyingly cut short, but that move has been fully justified now. Pardew's work with the club has been remarkable and seen some absolutely inspired signings such as Papiss Cissé, Demba Ba and Cheick Tioté. However he's done it, Newcastle can once again claim to be one of the big clubs in England.

Of course this is only one season. Next season could tell a completely different story, and Newcastle can't rest on the laurels of their strong performance this year. For starters many of their starlets are likely to have attracted interest from bigger teams after their heroics this season. Top of the agenda for this summer has got to be keeping these players together. This club could be on the cusp of great things, and Pardew needs to convince the players of that fact and ask them to provide at least one more season of service in the black and white. If he can manage this, then on the shopping list will be a new fullback, especially if Danny Simpson leaves, and some more midfield depth.

Best Player: Fabricio Coloccini
Worst Player: Danny Simpson
Summer transfer targets: Fullback, midfield depth

Predicted Position: 15th
Final Position: 12th

Another impressive season from manager Paul Lambert and his men on their return to the topflight. There is a surprising sense of belief about this club and in particular talismanic striker Grant Holt who has been a revelation this year.

Lambert raised eyebrows this past summer by signing mainly hungry lower league players as opposed to those with some Premier League experience, but once again the promising manager has vindicated his decisions. Strong form in particular around the start of 2012 saw the club carve out a comfortable spot in midtable.

Still there is always a danger of second season syndrome, an affliction we see all too often in English football. Of course, this is not a club blessed with limitless resources or the pull of a top club, and the task ahead of them this summer to ensure longevity is a tough one. They will need to be astute above all else in the transfer market, and be prepared to dig in deep next season.

Best Player: Grant Holt
Worst Player: Andrew Crofts
Summer transfer targets: Striker, winger, central defender

Predicted Position: 20th (relegated)
Final Position: 17th

A tough season for QPR on their return to the Premier League, but they just about did enough to survive and almost enjoyed a surprise role as title spoilers on the last day of the season. Their impressive home form has played a big part, seeing QPR pick up a few major scalps including Chelsea and Arsenal.

Of course, another major part of their survival has been the injection of capital from new owner Tony Fernandes. One thing this club does have is resources, and they have used this advantage to bring in some real talent this season like Djibril Cissé, Bobby Zamora and Taye Taiwo, to say nothing of existing talent like Adel Taarabt and Jamie Mackie. The addition of Mark Hughes as manager has also provided a good boost during the tail end of the season.

However another outlay will be needed to ensure survival next time around. For the summer, targets include a new striker and a battling central midfielder.

Best Player: Jamie Mackie
Worst Player: Shaun Wright Phillips
Summer transfer targets: Striker(s), midfield general

Predicted Position: 9th
Final Position: 14th

A somewhat anonymous season for Stoke who failed to challenge the established top 10 of the Premier League but were equally untroubled by the pull of relegation. It could be the case now that Tony Pulis has simply done all he can for the club, that they are at their peak under him. Indeed the critics have begun to come out against his approach lately, some from within his own team. Make no mistake though, the club and fans should be indebted to him for all he has accomplished.

A mediocre league campaign was made up for with an impressive attempt at the knockout stages of the Europa League. In particular Peter Crouch has begun to look at home in a Stoke shirt, and suits their play style perfectly, while elsewhere the strong defensive partnership of Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross continues to shine. On the downside the Wilson Palacios signing hasn't had the expected impact, while the likes of Kenwyne Jones and Ricardo Fuller appear set for the exit having found it harder to get a game this year.

On the transfer front while the likes of Etherington, Whelan and Whitehead have served Stoke well thus far, the obvious area for improvement is in this midfield area. A new left back could also be needed if Marc Wilson moves back to his preferred central midfield position.

Best Player: Peter Crouch
Worst Player: Wilson Palacios
Summer transfer targets: Midfield, fullback

Predicted Position: 8th
Final Position: 13th

A very disappointing start to the season saw Steve Bruce replaced by Martin O'Neill, who has since gone on to do what he does best by breathing new life into a club. A strong second half of the season followed with a much more consistent steel to the performances and some much more promising performances from the playing staff.

Stephane Sessegnon has been an absolute revelation with his pace and incisiveness, and if Sunderland can somehow manage to hold on to him through the summer he will be a key part of their team. Elsewhere bright young players like James McLean and Jack Colback have been brought through by the new manager with success.

Sunderland are in good hands going forward, with Martin O'Neill one of the great team builders in British football. Top of his shopping list will be a new central midfielder and a proper replacement for the gap in attack left by Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan.

Best Player: Stephane Sessengnon
Worst Player: Titus Bramble
Summer transfer targets: Central defender, striker

Predicted Position: 18th (relegated)
Final Position: 11th

One of the great overachievers of this Premier League season, Swansea have been wonderful entertainment. Ex-Chelsea coach Brendan Rodgers has done some incredible work not only to keep the Welsh club in the Premier League when no one gave them a chance, but to do so in style. They have played excellent football, and shown that newly promoted teams can stick to their attacking principles without being overwhelmed by the big clubs. Indeed they have even claimed some major scalps this season such as Arsenal and Man City.

Pacy, dangerous players like Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer have given the team an edge this year, bolstered by gifted midfielders in Leon Britton and above all Gylfi Sigurðsson. The latter is only on loan, but after a phenomenal season he will no doubt be a target for a permanent move, and may attract the attentions of some bigger clubs as well.

A repeat performance next season is the goal, although it will be difficult. The club will be looking to add some top flight experience to the squad, and some defensive graft to bring some balance to the team.

Best Player: Gylfi Sigurðsson
Worst Player: Luke Moore
Summer transfer targets: Defenders, Gylfi Sigurðsson

Predicted Position: 6th
Final Position: 4th

An incredibly positive start to the season which saw the club keep pace with the early league leaders almost imploded in spectacular fashion as they fell down the table after Christmas. Fortunately they were able to pull themselves together and make a final push to achieve a 4th place finish. An impressive feat, unfortunately they will miss out on a Champions League place next season anyway due to Chelsea's success.

Their midseason lull owes much to speculation linking Manager Harry Redknapp away to the England job. This move did not come to pass, and the final weeks of the season saw a resurgence once this unnecessary distraction was put out of the way. Unfortunately the club now faces much graver threat, with key players eyeing up the exits due to the lack of Champions League football to look forward to next season. Players like Luka Modric and Gareth Bale have threatened to move on in the past, and now they may feel their patience has run out.

Holding on to these players will be crucial, but even then they will be looking to improve the squad. A new striker will be coming in with Defoe not fancied, Saha not pulling his weight and Adebayor back off to City (for now). In addition a new long term goalkeeper is a must, with Brad Friedel now 41.

Best Player: Scott Parker
Worst Player: Louis Saha
Summer transfer targets: Striker, goalkeeper

Predicted Position: 14th
Final Position: 10th

Roy Hodgson has done it again, not only keeping WBA safe but taking them to a very respectable mid table finish. It's a fitting season for the man before he heads off to take the reigns of the England national team. It will be a tall order for the club to continue in this fashion without him, but attention now must be turned to the search for his successor.

WBA seems to have some genuine quality in Peter Odemwingie and the safe hands of Ben Foster, but credit needs to go to the entire squad for the effort they've put in. They have achieved a consistency that's most uncharacteristic for this club and if they bring in the right man there is a solid basis to build on here.

It's hard to predict in what direction the new manager will take the club, but it seems pretty clear that solidification at the back is a priority, as well as any replacement for Odemwingie if he gets snapped up by another club this summer.

Best Player: Peter Odemwingie
Worst Player: Martin Fulop
Summer transfer targets: Defensive strength

Predicted Position: 19th (relegated)
Final Position: 15th

Year after year Wigan see the same old story, a brush with relegation followed by a heroic last minute escape. This season Roberto Martínez's boys looked destined for the drop until a stunning run of late season form that saw them beat Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle.

This was the season where Victor Moses finally came of age with some magnetic displays in the tail-end of the season, and the youngster will likely attract a fair bit of attention in the transfer market this summer. Meanwhile Maynor Figueroa has been impressive at times alongside the rock at the back Gary Caldwell. For Martinez himself the future is not so clear, with rumours linking him with a move to Anfield.

This summer's priorities lie in preventing an exodus of talent like Rodallega and Moses. Aside from this rumours have the club linked with Stoke's Ricardo Fuller and an array of lesser known talents in the attacking midfield area.

Best Player: Gary Caldwell
Worst Player: Jean Beausejour
Summer transfer targets: Attacking midfield, striker

Predicted Position: 17th
Final Position: 20th (relegated)

This was always going to be a difficult season for Wolves, and indeed it ended up being a disaster as the club returns to the Championship. Sacking Mick McCarthy was an inexplicably poor decision from the club owners and with the new management lacking the support and confidence of his players, the club has promptly been relegated.

What makes it even more disappointing for Wolves fans is how solidly the club started, with 7 points on the board early on. Sadly this would not continue and a haul of 18 points from the next 35 games would see them finish last.

An exodus of Key players like Kevin Doyle and Matt Jarvis is likely this summer. But this also presents an opportunity to rebuild, shed expenditure from the wage bill and put that parachute money to good use. This is what the club will need to do next season if they want to bounce back quickly.

Best Player: Matt Jarvis
Worst Player: Christophe Berra
Summer transfer targets: New beginnings

So there we are for another year, we hope you enjoyed that. Stay tuned for our big preview of Euro 2012 coming up later this month. Until then.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Theatre remains one of London's great treats, and the 2012 season is off to a great start. How does the Donmar hold up in the post-Grandage era? Will Simon McBurney see a return to form? We answer all these questions and more as we look at the early notables of London theatre in 2012:

"The Master & Margarita" Theatre Review
Directed by Simon McBurney
Written by Mikhail Bulgakov
Starring Paul Rhys, Henry Pettigrew, Angus Wright
Theatre Barbican, Complicite

master and margarita barbican I don't normally start a review with my conclusion but in this case I will make an exception; holy cow what a show. When it comes to Simon McBurney's Complicite theatre group you are never quite sure what awaits you; sometimes ingenius, sometimes vapid, this is entirely the former.

The Devil and his retinue visit Moscow in the 1930s to attend a gala with a demonic talking cat while Jesus and Pontius Pilate debate the nature of good and evil; in reality an allegory for Stalinism. This is the fevered imaginings of Mikhail Bulgakov whose seminal masterpiece the Master & Margarita has been hailed as one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, and at the same time a notoriously unadaptable piece of work.

Yet the biggest surprise is not simply that the production manages to hold together, but the panache with which this has been pulled off. It is perhaps to be expected that any adaption of such eclectic source material would involve an unorthodox approach and it is precisely this sort of area where Complicite are known for excellence. The audience is treated to technical marvels including clever use of music, video and 3D animation, and some extraordinarily choreographed climactic scenes.

Fortunately there's more substance here on offer than just a sensory feast, and the acting is equally remarkable. Paul Rhys is simply beguiling as the Bulgakov-like Master and the demonic Woland, a performance so deliciously offbeat that it is impossible to take your eyes off of him. Angus Wright almost steals the stage as the frenetic Koroviev along with Ajay Naidu as Woland's retinue, in equal parts menacing and camp.

Ultimately The Master & Margarita achieves an almost impossibly addictive concoction of zaniness, existential terror and pure excitement. An absolutely unmissable show, easily the best of the year so far and probably comparable to the best of recent years.

"All New People" Theatre Review
Directed by Peter DuBois
Written by Zach Braff
Starring Zach Braff, Eve Myles, Paul Hilton, Susannah Fielding
Theatre Duke of York's Theatre

zach braff all new people duke of yorkWhat does one do after starring in a hit TV show for a decade, and making waves in Hollywood with an award winning debut film? In Zach Braff's case the answer was simple. The star of TV's Scrubs and his writer/director debut Garden State returned to his first love the theatre.

After a moderately successful run in America, All New People has come to the West End. Fans of Braff will recognise his handiwork immediately upon entering the theatre; the very signature Braff  style of soundtrack that typified the production of Scrubs and his various movies plays over loud speakers, featuring many of the same songs. The script even features its share of slapstick comedy and ironic humour with which he has become associated.

However this is a much darker brand of comedy than we are used to, with Braff beginning the opening scene standing on a chair, his neck in a noose. That this scene manages to be hilarious is a testament to both his writing chops as well as his impeccable comedic timing. In addition the script goes into far darker areas including hitmen, prostitution and considerably more profanity than he has ever been able to get away with on TV.

This is a plot that reaches quite close to my heart: a neurotic Jewish guy and a beach house setting in my own childhood haunt of Beach Haven, Long Beach Island. Yet at the same time this is a particularly surreal experience, with amusingly over the top situations and the usual cast of larger than life characters. The mostly tight writing keeps the jokes smart and the gradual reveal of plot points engrossing, while also making time for his trademark moments of tender contrast. What ultimately lets the production down is the clumsy pacing towards the end.

Braff excels at earnest and naturalistic writing, but by forcing his script into a 90 minute running time he is forced to wrap things up in far too abrupt a fashion. Plot threads take awkward twists out of nowhere, and characters turn violently bi-polar in the blink of an eye. It's an unfortunate and uncharacteristic narrative flailing after what is otherwise a reasonably neat and well executed production.

Nevertheless, this stakes a claim as one of the more noteworthy of early 2012 stage productions, and one would be foolish to pass on it while it's in town.

"Making Noise Quietly" Theatre Review
Directed by Peter Gill
Written by Robert Holman
Starring Ben Batt, Susan Brown, Jordan Dawes, John Hollingworth, Sara Kestelman, Matthew Tennyson
Theatre Donmar Warehouse

making noise quietly donmarA lot of eyes have been on, Josie Rourke, the recently installed artistic director of the famed Donmar Warehouse. It is interesting then that Rourke has made the bold choice of reviving Making Noise Quietly, an unsettling, inscrutable piece that has never been to everyone's taste. Sadly on the evidence, it seems a poor choice.

The production takes the form of three short plays each presenting an intimate peek at how personal lives are affected by the spectre of war. The first concerns a troubled conscientious objector's encounter with a precocious homosexual man against the backdrop of countryside bomb raids, the next gives us a sorrowful perspective of a young soldier delivering bad news to a grieving mother, and the last concerns an ill equipped single dad suddenly saddled with a troublesome mute child as a result of war.

It's an interesting concept with the potential for a lot of personal insight. The problem is that this last paragraph contains the entirety of the content of the play. Any psychological or philosophical analysis rarely goes further than skin deep, and the rest of the production's running time is filled with pretentiously vague dialogue the sole purpose of which appears to be to mask the absence of substance and the condescendingly telegraphed "subtext" between characters. This is a script that isn't even half as clever or deep as it thinks it is, and doesn't trust the audience to connect the extremely obvious dots, instead spelling things out as painfully and melodramatically as possible.

To its credit, the acting in this play is perfectly serviceable. Particular mention must go to Matthew Tennyson's performance in the first segment. But this is a rare positive moment for what is otherwise a dull and tedious three hours. An unfortunate and disappointing blip on the record of the Donmar.

The unfortunate truth is that this is a play with little to say, and it takes a long time saying it.

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