Friday, 7 June 2013
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 bestow our carefully considered accolades.
Ultimately Manchester United ended up winning the title with time to spare, a fitting end to the legendary career of outgoing manager Sir Alex Ferguson. His successor will have his work cut out for him, but that's a matter to be dealt with later in our preview of the upcoming season.
Elsewhere Manchester City's disappointingly distant second place finish proved insufficient for Roberto Mancini to keep his job, while Chelsea recovered from their traditional mid-season turbulence to a relatively comfortable third place finish. Arsenal rounds off this season's Champions League qualifiers, squeaking fourth place ahead of Tottenham by one point on the last day of the season.
Further down the table there was much to be praised regarding up and coming managers Steve Clark of West Brom and Michael Laudrup at Swansea, while Wigan Athletic's luck finally ran out as they drop out of the top flight despite their historic FA Cup success. They will be joined in the parachute payment queue by the disappointingly fragile Reading and the humorously self-destructive millionaires at QPR.
Now without further ado it is time to move on to the Ephemeric end of season awards, followed by our carefully selected Premier League team of the year.
The Ephemeric Premier League Awards 2013:
Winners: Manchester United - In a season where no team ever really hit their finest form, Manchester United win almost by default. Sir Alex pushed them across the finish line in typical fashion, by efficiently and consistently grinding out the points, their style of play only fleetingly glamorous.
Relegated: Wigan, Reading, QPR - After several years of last minute escapes Wigan finally succumbed, and in ironic fashion having just days earlier claimed their first ever major trophy. Reading meanwhile are one of those teams it was easy to forget was actually in the Premier League this season, but no matter because they aren't anymore. And finally QPR, whose expensively assembled squad and manager (allegedly working under the name Rosie for tax purposes) remind us that money alone will not buy you success, but it can provide much amusement for the rest of us.
Player of the Year: Gareth Bale - 2013 will be remembered as the year where Gareth Bale matured into a truly world class player. Bale often appeared to carry Tottenham in their ultimately fruitless pursuit of a top four finish, and contributed 21 Premier League goals, ending up as the league's third top goalscorer. Without Champions League football on the horizon his time at White Hart Lane will surely be coming to an end, if not this year then the next.
U-21 Player of the Year: Matija Nastasić - Manchester City's 20 year old signing from Fiorentina greatly exceeded any expectations he may have had upon arrival last summer, cementing a first XI place ahead of the established Joleon Lescott and playing a key role in the his team taking the honour of being the Premier League's tightest defence this season.
Manager of the Year: Steve Clarke - The accomplishments of Clarke's debut managerial season have often been overlooked by pundits who would prefer to focus on Michael Laudrup and his team's exciting brand of football, but the results speak for themselves. For a completely untested manager to take a respectfully weak side like West Brom and marshall them to an 8th place finish right on the heels of Liverpool and Everton in his first season is a phenomenal achievement, especially for a manager who has faced so many obstacles and detractors in his pursuit of a management role for so long. Clarke's success reminds us that sometimes it's worth taking a chance on unproven talent.
Top Scorer: Robin Van Persie (30) - The latest in a long line of Arsenal players to move to a new club and win silverware, Van Persie's departure was somewhat more acrimonious than most. Selling one of Europe's finest goalscorers in his prime to an arch rival marked the moment where Arsenal fans realised that they simply are no longer on the same level as the top clubs. More than that it proved to be the driving force behind United's latest title triumph as Van Persie claimed the Golden Boot.
Most Assists: Juan Mata (12)- This was a game changing season for the Spanish magician, topping the league's assist charts and notching up an incredible 20 goals as he became the key player in a star studded Chelsea side. Mata is arguably becoming one of the finest playmakers in Europe and looks set to take a central role in the Spanish national team as Xavi nears the end of his career.
Overachievers: West Brom - There is no logical explanation for why a side whose best player (aside from revelational on loan striker Lukaku) is Shane Long could enjoy such a strong season, finishing right behind the top tier clubs. Steve Clarke has done a wonderful job, but it remains to be seen whether he can repeat these exploits next season.
Underachievers: Newcastle - From Champions League contenders to just barely escaped relegation in one season. Questions will need to be asked of Pardew and what's gone wrong. The last thing Newcastle can afford to do is drop back down to the Championship. The question is, were they overachieving last season, or underachieving this season?
Best signing of the season: Michu - One of the more inspired signings in recent years, and yet it raises questions of why no one else was looking at him. After all this was a man who scored 15 year goals from midfield in La Liga, and duly delivered a similar standard at minnows Swansea having signed for less than £3 million. All this while playing out of position as well.
The Ephemeric Premier League Team of the Season 2013:
Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan - An outside of the box choice for this year's top man between the sticks, but it is not an exaggeration to say that without Guzan's heroics Aston Villa would most likely have been relegated. In one season he has transformed his career, and usurped the talented Shay Given in the process.
Right Back: Pablo Zabaleta - It's been a disappointingly inconsistent year for Manchester City, but one man who has delivered is Pablo Zabaleta. A constant fixture in the Premier League's best defensive side, Zabaleta has mastered that rare balance of attacking threat and defensive prowess and made more tackles this season than any other player in this team.
Centrebacks: Matija Nastasić & Laurent Koscielny- This year's tasty centreback pairing begins with Nastasić, arguably the surprise package of the season and it's easy to see why when an unknown 20 year old forces his way into being the linchpin of an expensively assembled Manchester City squad, which also happens to be the best defence in the league. Koscielny meanwhile is another obvious choice: having struggled early in the year with injury the difference he made to Arsenal's fortunes upon his return could not be more clear, and without him a top four finish may very well have been beyond them.
Left Back: Leighton Baines - A very strong year from the Everton man now in the peak of his career. Baines is arguably one of the better left backs around these days and has been instrumental in his side's strong season which sees them finish in 6th right behind the very top teams in England.
Right Mid: Eden Hazard – One of the more successful signings of the season, Hazard has been tipped for great things on the world stage and has shown every sign this season that he can meet those expectations. His pace and technique ranks among the very best in the league, despite him only being 22. Being so young, one can only assume that there's even more to come in subsequent seasons.
Centre Mids: Juan Mata & Michael Carrick- Beauty and the beast. Our central midfield is composed of one attacker of sublime quality and one defensive minded battler. Juan Mata was my runner up for player of the season, leading the assists table and contributing a remarkable number of goals at the same time. Michael Carrick meanwhile was the fulcrum of this seasons title winners Manchester United. Carrick does the donkey-work, and without him United would not be half as consistent as they are.
Left Mid: Gareth Bale – The obvious choice: most pundits' choice for player of the year, ourselves included. Gareth Bale could walk into any team in Europe right now, and probably will if Tottenham can't attain Champions League football in the near future.
Forwards: Michu & Robin Van Persie – This season we have opted once again for Robin Van Persie as the frontman of our team's attack. Van Persie led the league in goals and effectively won the title for United. Playing just behind him is Michu, the talented goalscoring midfielder signed by Swansea this season and played out of position up front, to surprisingly positive effect. In this team he drops deeper into the hole to combine his natural midfield playmaking ability and his goalscoring prowess.
So there we have it, another season of Premier League football gone by. We'll see you again after the summer for our preview of the next season!