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james debate

Saturday 19 May 2018

Welcome to another end of year retrospective on a great season of Premier League football. Here at The Ephemeric I'd like to use this moment to take stock of the season gone by and bestow a few carefully considered accolades.

Manchester City champions 2018
This season has been the story of an indomitable Manchester City team, proving once and for all that there is nothing Pep Guardiola can't accomplish when he has unlimited funds at his disposal (except apparently winning the Champions League with a team that doesn't include Lionel Messi). Still there can be no doubt that this City side is up there with the very best the Premier League has seen, the likes of Fergie's treble winning Manchester United, Wenger's invincible Arsenal, and Mourinho's record-breaking Chelsea. The experienced David Silva looks better than ever, while Sergio Aguero is still a goalscoring force with which to be reckoned. But the real highlight for City is the youthful talents of Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, and Leroy Sane, the three of whom could well dominate the Premier League for years to come.

Elsewhere among the league's top contenders we saw a Manchester United side much improved under Jose Mourinho, and the continued consistency of Pochettino's excellent Tottenham team. Perhaps most exciting has been Jurgen Klopp's swashbuckling Liverpool, bolstered in particular by the astonishing form of attackers Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino. Any of those three sides could easily mount a title challenge next year, and we expect a good open race.

Bringing up the rear of the top six are Chelsea who, as predicted, paid the price for a poor summer of preparations, and an increasingly irrelevant and predictable Arsenal. Even the "shock" departure of Arsene Wenger was, in the end, not so shocking, as The Ephemeric's prediction of this outcome back in August can attest. It's particularly grim viewing for Chelsea fans who saw three of the four teams above them being led by ex Chelsea youngsters. Serious questions need to be asked of the longterm strategy of a club that did not have the vision to hang on to a front three of Salah, De Bruyne and Lukaku.

Even outside the top clubs this was a season filled with fascinating drama. Sean Dyche has delivered an incredible result for Burnley, who began the season as most pundits' favourites for relegation (a view The Ephemeric did not share), but ended the season qualifying for Europe. This was also a season that saw the stock of Rafa Benitez and Roy Hodgson rise considerably, the latter of whom in particular must be due great credit for managing to turn around Crystal Palace's season.

But someone had to go down, and this year that burden falls to Swansea and Stoke sides that went into the season with glaring vulnerabilities and duly struggled, and somewhat more surprisingly to Tony Pulis' West Brom, who performed well under expectations.

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 2018:

Winners: Manchester City- Not just a comfortable win, but an intimidating one. No other team was even close to City this year, and unlike the last few Champions Chelsea, Leicester and Chelsea again, there is no hint of an impending downturn. City as a club appears to have the resources and the consistency of vision their rivals lack, and they have to be considered favourites again next season.

Relegated: Swansea, Stoke, West Brom - Swansea and Stoke entered the season with serious questions about their ability to survive the season, but West Brom in particular have had a disappointing season. Bouncing back next year will be no easy task.

Player of the Year: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) - It's been an astounding season for Mo Salah that is (perhaps slightly prematurely) seeing him compared to Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the world's best. Whatever the case, if he can maintain this form it will make Liverpool a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

U-21 Player of the Year: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) - A mainstay of this impressive Liverpool side through more unintended circumstance than intention, Trent Alexander-Arnold has nevertheless taken his opportunity and finds himself rightly praised as one of the season's standout youngsters and a place in the World Cup.

Best Goalkeeper: Davide de Gea (Manchester United) - The best part of the Man U team this season has once again been de Gea. In a team with few standout individuals, de Gea has to be seen as a key reason for the consistency that has seen them rise to second in the league.

Manager of the Year: Sean Dyche (Burnley) - A tough call. Pep's City team have been formidable, but taking a relegation-tipped side to European qualification is simply a more impressive accomplishment. Dyche's team this year have been remarkable to watch and fully deserve their success.

Top Scorer: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) (32) - Salah has used his pace to devastating effect this season. A goal tally in excess of 30 is remarkable for any player, let alone one who previously hadn't really be thought of as a stiker.

Most Assists: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) (16) - Another top class season for City's great creative force. Even more incredible when you consider that the league's top four assist-makers this season are all City players.

Overachievers: Burnley - A great accomplishment that no one saw coming. Many had tipped Burnley for relegation (The Ephemeric was one of the few outlets to disagree with this view at the start of the season), and now they find themselves in the Europa League next season.

Underachievers: Arsenal - Another unremarkable and trophiless season for a club that hasn't shown any noticeable improvement in a number of years. The lack of progress is especially damning given the vast sums spent by the club on players (some £400 million over the last 5 years). Maybe a new direction under a new manager will do them some good.

Best signing of the season: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) - As above.

Worst signing of the season: Tiemoue Bakayoko (Chelsea) - A bit harsh perhaps, but it has been a very poor first season for a player who cost a good £40 million to sign. It's a folly made all the more embarrassing when one considers the talent who made way to accommodate this signing: the experienced Nemanja Matic who has been excellent for Manchester United, and Academy product Ruben Loftus Cheek, who has been one of the revelations of the season on loan at Crystal Palace, and rightly earned a place in the England World Cup squad.

The Ephemeric Premier League Team of the Season 2018:

english epl bpl premier league best team xi of the season 2018

So there we have it, another season of Premier League football gone by. We'll see you again next season!

Saturday 12 May 2018

Created by Ryan Murphy, Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Network FX
Starring Darren Criss, Edgar Ramirez, Ricky Martin, Penelope Cruz
Genre True crime
Running Time Varies

american crime story horror glee OJ simpson assassination gianni versace best show 2018

In its first season, American Crime Story tackled what is arguably the most famous criminal trial of all time, the People v. O.J. Simpson. As the first major dramatic depiction of one of the defining events of modern times, that first season generated a great deal of interest, and went on to garner widespread critical acclaim and a litany of awards. Now the question must be: how do you top the trial of the century?

For newcomers, American Crime Story is the brainchild of Ryan Murphy, creator of Glee and American Horror Story. Much like the latter, ACS is an anthology series, with each season focusing on a completely separate true-crime story, with a different cast and production crew.

The great success of those earlier series has established Murphy as genuine TV royalty, but it's fair to say he is not to everyone's taste. Murphy is known for a very specific style, one that is generally camp and flashy. Whether it’s the high-school musical antics of Glee, or the teen-slasher pastiche of American Horror story and Scream Queens, his shows can often feel like something of a guilty pleasure. It’s a style he brought with him to the first season of ACS, capturing the absurd circus and cartoon characters of the O.J. Simpson trial with typically ostentatious aplomb. But for the show’s sophomore season, ACS is going for a new, darker tone, one that is quite different to any of Murphy’s previous work.

Despite the name on the title-card, season 2 is the story of serial killer Andrew Cunanan and his violent rampage that lasted three months, culminating in the murder of fashion icon Gianni Versace. Unlike O.J., the story here is not the trial or the larger than life personas that turned a crime into a pop culture sensation. This season is about the killer and his story. It’s about unravelling the sequence of events that would lead an intelligent, charismatic, and otherwise unassuming kid to perpetrate such horrific acts. Anyone expecting something light and fluffy like the first season may be disappointed. What follows is a far more serious and considered exploration of events.

The new tone of the second season is apparent from the start with its stunningly shot opening sequence. Cameras pan across a sumptuous Miami sunset, where an obviously pained Cunanan howls at the sea, scars all over his legs, and a gun in his backpack. This contrasts with Versace’s luxuriant lifestyle, taking breakfast by the pool of his mansion, more Venetian palace than Floridian boardwalk. The two move wordlessly through their respective preparations against a backing of Adagio in G minor until coming together in a cruel symphony of violent fate.

Immediately the production quality stands out. This is a visually striking show with great attention to detail and cinematography that can often be jaw-dropping. The direction is as stylistically bold as one would expect from a Ryan Murphy show, and uses music and other sensory inputs to great effect (a particularly terrifying scene featuring Phil Collins' Easy Lover stands out). It's clear that a great deal of artistry has gone into the crafting of these episodes.

From this introduction the season works backwards, each episode revealing a little more of the events that led to the previous episode. I can imagine that such non-linear storytelling can be off-putting for some, but in this case it works brilliantly. Each episode really feels like peeling another layer from an onion, constantly challenging any preconceived notions you may have formed about Cunanan. One’s first impression might be of an unstoppable Patrick Bateman-esque psychopath, but you’ll soon come to see Cunanan as a jilted lover, an outcast, and a desperate fantasist.

As with the first season there’s a clear focus on the social pressures surrounding the tragedy. In OJ, it was about the racial tensions and how that played into the course of events. In Versace, it’s the stigma regarding homosexuality. ACS never tries to excuse or justify Cunanan’s actions, but by the time you get to the final episode you will at least understand how someone could pushed to the point of breaking. Indeed you might find the Andrew Cunanan story is one of sadness more than revulsion.

And all of this is held together by the career-making performance of Darren Criss. To be brutally honest, I would never have had him pegged for such a good actor, but in Versace he delivers a performance that has blown the critics away. Simultaneously charming and terrifying, monstrous and strangely sympathetic. It is no hyperbole to say that it's one of the best depictions of a serial killer in recent memory, and Criss will almost certainly find himself a frontrunner for this year's awards season.

The second season of ACS is quite remarkable. A more serious and mature affair than what one might expect following the debut season, with a bold narrative structure that explores the mind of a serial killer better than most TV series ever have. It may not have the name brand recognition of OJ Simpson, but marks a step up from the first season in nearly every way.

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