Originally posted on General Musings of an Idiot.
The curtain falls on another Premier League season, and what a season it’s been. We’ve had millions of pounds spent, consistent tantrums, wonder goals, massive flops, incredible comebacks, tight table crunches, grudge matches, derby games, stunning football, and that was just the beginning. I’m gonna try and sum up this season in a blog post, and see where we end up.
Obviously, as a United fan, there will be inevitable bias strewn throughout this post. But I’ll do my best to stay neutral… Kinda.
So, let’s start in pre-season. Hull, Burnley and Portsmouth left us after being relegated to the Championship, with Newcastle, West Brom, and Blackpool being promoted into the big time. Manchester City spent £116m to try and win some silverware, splashing the cash on the likes of David Silva, James Milner, and Yaya Toure. Rafael van der Vaart joined Tottenham in a cut-price £8m Deadline Day deal, whilst Sunderland spent £13m to buy Asamoah Gyan to partner Darren Bent up front, in the hope of European football. The transfer market was surprisingly dull, with the majority of money coming in from Spain – the likes of Javier Mascherano and Ricardo Carvalho joined the Spanish Revolution taking place between Real Madrid and Barcelona.
We also saw plenty of management changes. After Rafa Benitez left Liverpool, Fulham’s Roy Hodgson was seen as the man to fire them back to the big time. He was then replaced by Mark Hughes, who, after leaving Man City in December 2009, finally had an opportunity to come back to the Premier League. Avram Grant joined West Ham, and Martin O’Neill resigned on the eve of the new season, paving the way for Gerard Houllier to return to the English game. The managerial merry-go-round well and truly changed the familiar faces we see in the dugouts throughout the season.
And then we could begin. And what a way to start for Blackpool – their first game ended with a 4-0 victory over Wigan Athletic. August drew to a close with Chelsea and United at the top of the league, with West Ham, Stoke City and Everton in the relegation spots – a place West Ham knew very well come May…
But let’s not mull over month-by-month – let’s consider what has made this season a truly remarkable one.
We had a period in time where Liverpool, decorated in countless silverware and trophies, were very close to administration. Insiders within RBS, who help the loans and debts against the club, said there was half an hour to go before they went bust. That was, until, Hicks and Gillett finally agreed to sell to John W. Henry, when their season began to turn around, but more of that later.
Or what about the debacle surrounding who took control of the Olympic Stadium? West Ham took their eye off the ball and concentrated on securing a new home, whilst Tottenham plotted to take the stadium themselves, and shelve their own plans to redevelop White Hart Lane. Then we had issues with Leyton orient kicking off that they wanted the stadium. Obviously, since then we’ve discovered West Ham are the preferred candidates for the stadium, but this is still subject to legal proceedings. What more do you expect from football?!
The biggest story of the year took place during one October week. Wayne Rooney, Man United’s sweetheart, announced he wished to leave the club, as it ‘lacked ambition’. Suddenly, he became Judas, and fans burnt shirts – as only English fans would. But within three days, Fergie had turned it around, and Wayne signed a new five-year deal, worth a reported £250,000 a week. Disgusting money, and hardly a way to redeem yourself to United fans.
But Blackpool brought a breath of fresh air to the glamour of the Premier League. Ian Holloway built a team from relegation candidates in the Championship to the darlings of English football, all on a shoestring budget. They had grit and determination, and were a tough team, but had an attacking finesse we see the likes of Barcelona and Brazil have. A truly exciting team to watch. For the first half of the season, anyway.
Then there was December. England lost their 2018 World Cup bid, Chris Hughton was un-ceremonially sacked as Newcastle boss and replaced by Alan Pardew, Carlos Tevez says he wants to leave Man City, then stays, Sam Allardyce was binned by new Blackburn owners Venky’s, and Steve Kean was promoted from the coaching team, and Gary Speed becomes the new Wales manager. Throw into that a Manchester Top Two at the end of 2010, and Liverpool floating precariously above the relegation zone, and 2011 looked to be a cracker.
The return of King Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool after Hodgson had his contract terminated was met by jubilation amongst all Liverpool fans, and the media as a whole. Many saw this as an opportunity for Fergie to be ‘put in his place’, and for Liverpool to ‘return to their perch’. There was the retirement of Gary Neville, Man United’s club captain, after 602 appearances for the club in a 20-year career. And then January Deadline Day.
Goodbye Torres, Hello Carroll. Chelsea finally completed the saga that had dragged on for the month, by signing Fernando Torres for a British transfer record of £50m. Liverpool then used that cash to pay Newcastle £35m for Andy Carroll, and spent £20m on signing Luis Suarez from Ajax, rejuvenating their front line and stamping Dalglish’s name across the squad.
Saturday 5th February 2011 will live long in the memory of any neutral, too. A record 41 goals were scored in eight Premier League games, including a 19-minute comeback from Newcastle, who went from 4-0 down to draw 4-4 with Arsenal, a topsy-turvy game ending with Everton beating Blackpool 5-3, and an incredible 7-goal thriller between Wigan and Blackburn, finishing 4-3 to the Latics. A remarkable weekend that many are saying is the greatest in Premier League history.
And then the season began to climax. Man City beat Man United 1-0 in a bitter derby game to reach the FA Cup Final, which was duly won by City, when they beat Stoke City 1-0 in May. Queen’s Park Rangers had a storming season in the Championship and secured promotion to the Premier League for the 2011/12 season at the end of April, and were joined by Norwich City, who secured back-to-back promotions. And after a 2-1 victory against Chelsea, Manchester United gained the point they needed to win their 12th Premier League title, and 19th Championship, after a 1-1 draw with Blackburn in May. This made them the undisputed greatest domestic side England has ever seen.
But with victory, there is an inevitable heartbreak. West Ham, after being in the bottom three for the majority of the season, were relegated on the penultimate game of the season after six seasons in the Premier League, and within hours Avram Grant had his contract terminated. A second-division team who will potentially have the keys to an Olympic Stadium.
And today, we had the showdown between five relegation-threatened teams, and with two spots to fill, all was to play for. Blackpool suffered a 4-2 defeat to Man United, which relegated the club, to every fan’s discontent. This did, however, mean United had taken 55 points from a possible 57 at home this season – a breathtaking display of a home fortress.
But with Blackpool and West Ham down, one of Wigan, Wolves, Blackburn, and Birmingham had to be relegated too. Having been 3-0 down to Blackburn at half time, Wolves lost 3-2, but this was enough to keep them in the Premier League on goal difference, and gained Blackburn the three points they needed to remain for another season. And this left Wigan needing a win and to just hope Birmingham had a result which was worse than theirs. Which they did. Wigan pulled off an incredible escape, having beat West Ham 3-2 the previous week, and beat Stoke City today 1-0 to keep their Premier League status.
Unfortunately, for Birmingham, a 2-1 defeat was not enough. Despite winning the Carling Cup for their first silverware in 48 years, Alex McLeish could not keep them in the Premier League. So we’ll see a Championship club playing Europa League football next season – quite a prospect.
Also playing Europa League football will be Tottenham, whose Champions League campaign lit up the competition, but as they took their eye off their domestic season, the chance of doing the same again next season vanished. A battle between Tottenham and a revitalised Liverpool emerged, with Spurs taking the spot on the final game of the season.
A similiar situation emerged for the third automatic Champions League spot. Back in January, Arsenal were facing the possibility of winning the Quadruple. However, their season imploded in spectacular fashion, and they dropped out of three competitions within a week in February, and lost precious points in the Premier League, leaving them destined for qualification into Europe’s major club competition. Man City then put this issue to bed, qualifying by finishing in third position – their highest league finish in 34 years, and their first foray into the Champions League.
A quite incredible finish to a sensational season, which included a record 1,063 goals, and 17 hat-tricks. Unconsolable faces were met by rapturous applause and cheers in each and every game this afternoon, with results swinging in directions leaving the Premier League table in a completely different state than at any other point during the season. Just 10 points separated 8th and 19th – an incredibly close season. With the added incentive of an extra £750,000 for every place higher they finished in the league, the need for a win today had never greater.
So, the final table. We see Manchester United crowned champions, with Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal qualifying for the Champions League. Tottenham pip Liverpool to the Europa League qualification spot, who in turn finish just above bitter rivals Everton. Fulham, Aston Villa, and Sunderland finish off the Top 10 – three clubs who have been towards the foot of the table in recent weeks.
West Brom and Newcastle are 11th and 12th respectively, whilst Stoke City, who qualify for the Europa League thanks to being FA Cup Finalists, finish 13th. Bolton finish 14th, after a very poor finish to teh season, just ahead of Blackburn, Wigan and Wolves, who survived on the final day. Finally, the bottom three of Birmingham, Blackpool and West Ham make up the 2010/11 Premier Legaue table.
So what next?
Well, already tonight, we’ve seen Chelsea sack Carlo Ancelotti, in a manner that many are saying is disgusting. He has led Chelsea to a top two finish, and won the Double for the club last season, but still ends up as a failure to the Chelsea boardroom. According to some leaks via Twitter, his severance pay-off includes a clause stating he cannot manage another club in England for a year, so it will be the last we see of him for a while. Already there are strong rumours we’ll be seeing a Guus Hiddink-Marco van Basten dream team.
We’ll see Man City splashing further millions in the off-season, to try and push for a Premier League title next season, but Man United will have something to say about that. We may even see Arsene Wenger leave Arsenal, as some fans are now calling for his resignation due to the distinct lack of silverware for six years.
Aston Villa are likely to be looking for a new manager, after Gerard Houllier’s recent ill-health, whereas Liverpool will be looking to cement their place in the league next season and push for the top. Likewise, QPR and Norwich will both want to appear and do well, and become regular Premier League participants. And there will be the mid-table battles that take place every season, and excite fans up and down the country.
Whatever happens though, it will take a lot to beat the 2010/11 season.