Wednesday, 4 June 2014
Welcome to another end of year retrospective on what will surely go down as one of the most unpredictable and astonishing seasons in Premier League history. Here at The Ephemeric we like to take this moment to take stock of the season gone by and bestow our carefully considered accolades.
A three-way horse-race between Manchester City, Chelsea, and surprise package Liverpool ended up going down to the last day of the season, but ultimately it was City who ended up with the top prize. It marks a successful first season in English football for manager Manuel Pellegrini with what is surprisingly only his first major honour as a manager in the European leagues. It's a victory that will no doubt hold special significance for Pellegrini having bested the man who ousted him from Real Madrid, and arguably enjoyed the fruits of Pellegrini's teambuilding, José Mourinho.
Meanwhile Brendan Rogers stunned the country by bringing Liverpool back from midtable obscurity to barely a whisker away from their first league title in two decades. The nature of the club's late slip up, having been in the driving seat with just weeks to go, will undoubtedly sting for a while. This is matched equally by third place Chelsea, who also threw away the chance to win the title having been top with just weeks remaining. It's a testament to how close this race ran that all three sides found themselves in control of the title at different times in the final weeks, a title race unlike any we have seen since the league's inception in 1992.
Further down the table it's been a remarkable season for both Everton and Southampton who wildly exceeded expectations. Roberto Martínez and Mauricio Pochettino have fast become two of the hottest properties in the football management business and it's exciting to wonder what will come next for the club; will they build on this success, or be torn to shreds by bigger, opportunistic clubs.
At the bottom it was heartbreak for Norwich, Fulham and Cardiff City, the last of which imploded in particularly spectacular fashion off the pitch, dooming their fortunes on the pitch. And on that note let's not forget the horror show of Manchester United, who's defence of the title will go down as the worst in Premier League history.
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 2014:
Winners: Manchester City - In a squeaker of a season, it was slow and steady which won the race despite not actually being top of the pile until right at the death. Manchester City were the most consistent team this season, and that's why they're champions.
Relegated: Norwich, Fulham, Cardiff - Perennial yo-yo club Norwich paid the price for personnel changes and poor transfer policy, ending a solid three seasons in the top flight. Fulham will join them, marking a disastrous debut for the club's new owner that sees the established club's 13 year spell in the Premier League come to an end. Meanwhile Cardiff took the honour of finishing rock bottom, due in no small part to the seemingly never-ending boardroom sideshow that threatens to ruin the club.
Player of the Year: Luis Suárez (Liverpool)- His antics make him easy to dislike, but there's simply no denying the quality of Luis Suárez, and this season has seen him emerge as truly one of the best players in the world. It's no longer a stretch to compare him with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Suárez's unbelievable goalscoring feats this season are comparable to the best of all time, and the fact that he accomplished this in the much more defensive Premier League compared to La Liga makes it in many ways even more impressive.
U-21 Player of the Year: Raheem Sterling (Liverpool) - Pipped to the PFA's Young Player award on account of their bizarre criteria of considering 23 year olds like Eden Hazard to be "young", Sterling rightly picks up our far more sensible Ephemeric award. Sterling was absolutely electric for Liverpool this season, forming a key element in one of the Premier League's all time most dangerous attacks (their 101 goals scored this season came only 2 goals short of the current record set by Chelsea's magnificent attacking team circa 2010). Now a huge World Cup beckons for the youngster.
Best Goalkeeper: Petr Cech (Chelsea) - The veteran Chelsea stopper has had a phenomenal season, winning yet another Golden Glove having collected the most clean sheets of any keeper this season. Much of this can be owed to his formidable teammates in defence, but let nothing take away from his reliability this season. Cech has shown himself to be once again among the very best goalkeepers in the world.
Manager of the Year: Roberto Martínez (Everton) - It was a season full of outstanding candidates for the top managerial prize: Manuel Pellegrini for winning the title in his first season, Brendan Rogers for transforming Liverpool from also-rans into a top side again, Mauricio Pochettino for his astonishing work at taking Southampton from a lower league team into one of the most exciting sides in the country in just two years, and Tony Pulis for dragging the seemingly relegation-bound Crystal Palace back into the upper midtable. But ultimately we have given the prize to Roberto Martínez who has turned Everton into a side of the very highest calibre, coming within just a whisker of Champions League football.
Top Scorer: Luis Suárez (Liverpool) (31) - What more can be said about the league's top scorer, he's been absolutely devastating, running riot against teams and scoring almost a goal every game with 31 in 33 league appearances.
Most Assists: Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) (13) - An impressive comeback from a player who has looked a shadow of himself these past few seasons. Gerrard seems to have found a new lease of life under Brendan Rogers and has admirably driven his team's title charge this season until his cruel slip ultimately took the season out of their hands. That said, it is somewhat bemusing to read all this hype in the papers about how Rogers "reinvented" the marauding captain as a defensive midfielder, considering that this is the position Gerrard started in, played the better half of his career in, and quite frankly would have saved the England team a lot of stress had he continued in alongside Lampard, as he did during Euro 2004, arguably England's best tournament performance in decades. Sometimes the media gives one a headache, that's why you need non-bullshit analyses like this block, but we digress...
Overachievers: Southampton - Hugely impressive work has been done to turn Southampton into as good a side as they are, and it's to the club's credit that so much of it has come from developing young players and the club's academy. Even more impressive is how consistently good they are across the squad, from starting the season with one of the league's very best defences, including Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne, Artur Boruc and Luke Shaw to the exciting attacking talent of Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana.
Underachievers: Manchester United - One of the worst, if not the worst, title defence since the Premier League's inception. Manchester United finished a poor 7th place, failing to qualify for any European competition for the first time in decades. It was always going to be a tough ask to follow in the footsteps of Sir Alex Ferguson, probably the greatest manager of all time, but no one would have expected new man David Moyes to take the former champions so far downhill so quickly. Even if, as the club itself admits, Mourinho was not an option having already agreed a deal with Chelsea, surely there were other options available?
Best signing of the season: Nemanja Matić (Chelsea) - Many eyebrows were raised when Chelsea spent £20 million on a player they had given away only three years previous as a makeweight as part of the deal for David Luiz. No one is questioning the move now; Matić, who was developed within the Chelsea youth team before being shipped off to Benfica with only a handful of first team appearances, has shown himself to be an absolutely world class purchase, and arguably the finest player in the league in his deep lying midfield position. Skillful, hard tackling, full of stamina and a surprising turn of pace make Matić one of the most feared names on Chelsea's teamsheet these days.
Worst signing of the season: Mesut Özil (Arsenal) - While no one is questioning the talent of Mesut Özil, a return of just 9 assists and 5 goals is looking like a fairly meager outlay for someone who cost a record £45 million and has been placed right at the core of his team. True judgement will wait until next season, but Arsenal fans will desperately be wanting to see some return from their expenditure, lest this transfer becomes a Fernando Torres-esque debacle.
The Ephemeric Premier League Team of the Season 2014:
Goalkeeper: Petr Cech (Chelsea) - It's hard to argue otherwise, the man at the heart of the league's best defence, who kept the most clean sheets. Petr Cech has had an excellent season and accordingly won our award for best goalkeeper.
Right Back: Seamus Coleman (Everton) - Everton has always been a defensively solid team throughout the Moyes era, and with Coleman's impressive 15 clean sheets this season, it looks like this will continue. But what has stood out from Martínez's new regime is the potent attacking drive from the back, led by two marauding fullbacks in Coleman and Baines. Coleman himself has an impressive 7 goals to his name, and has been a key element in Everton's resurgence.
Centrebacks: John Terry (Chelsea) & Gary Cahill (Chelsea) - There's no argument here, Chelsea have had the best defence in the league this season, and a large part of that is down to the partnership these two players have formed. Gary Cahill has established himself as one of the game's top centrebacks, full of the passion and bravery of a classic English centre half, but with an exceptional technical ability and positioning. Meanwhile John Terry is back to his best, without doubt ranking among the top three players in the Premier League this season. The imperiousness of this defensive pairing only raises further questions on the mismanaging of the England national team which has forced itself into a position where it is unable to make use of arguably one of the best defensive pairings in the world.
Left Back: Luke Shaw (Southampton) - A big debut season for the hotly tipped youngster, Luke Shaw has been electric down the flank for Southampton, as potent in attack as he is in defence. His Southampton defence was nearly impenetrable for the first half of the season, not bad for a teenager. A move to a bigger club surely beckons this summer.
Right Mid: Raheem Sterling (Liverpool) – Our young player of the year and a key part of Liverpool's exceptional attacking trifecta this season. Sterling has started to hit his potential at a very high level, and if he can carry this form to the World Cup and Champions League next season there's no telling what heights he can reach.
Centre Mids: Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) & Yaya Touré (Manchester City) - As we've said, something of a comeback from a player who has seemed well past his sell-by-date for quite some time, Gerrard has been on top form this season, leading his team's title challenge by example. Meanwhile Yaya Touré showed everyone why he's considered one of the world's best midfielders, superb all over the pitch in attack and defence, and arguably the champions' best player.
Left Mid: Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – A good season of progress for the Chelsea talisman. Hazard is fast approaching the level of the very best players in the world, and this season has clearly established himself as the primary weapon for one of the biggest clubs in Europe. Hazard is not just the best attacking talent on Chelsea, but the type of player who can singlehandedly turn a result for them, and frequently does in his own magical way. It has been an absolute joy to watch the young man's football this season as he takes a close runner up position for player of the season. If he continues to progress in this fashion it is only inevitable until we start to talk about Hazard as a potential World Player of the Year.
Forwards: Luis Suárez (Liverpool) & Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool) – There is certainly no doubt that our key man up front will be Luis Suárez, top scorer and easily the most influential player this season. His partner will be Liverpool team mate Daniel Sturridge, who came runner up for the Golden Boot with another very impressive season. Some of us have been saying for years that Sturridge is among the best goalscorers in the league, and now that he is finally being given the prominent role he deserves he's gone ahead and proved it.
So there we have it, another season of Premier League football gone by. We'll see you again next week for our preview of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil!