The Premier League has come to an end for yet another season and it has been another terrific season. The next season will really feel like a new era with four of the top six starting the next campaign with new managers. Rafa Benitez, Roberto Mancini, David Moyes and of course Sir Alex Ferguson will all go their separate ways and it could be a period of rebuilding for the top sides. It will be interesting to see how teams who just stayed up fare and of course how the newly promoted sides do. With this season ending it seems right to reflect on the winners and losers of this year and here are three of each.
1. Manchester United
This season has been tremendous for Manchester United in more ways than one. It may seem silly to label a team that is expected to finish in the top at least as a success this season but winning the title shouldn’t be taken for granted. Last season Manchester United were seconds away from the title but they had the title ruthlessly taken away from them by Manchester City.
To respond in the manner they did tells you so much about the football club and about the mentality of those who run the club. Last season it was just goals that separated the two sides, eight of them in fact but this year is different. Eleven points and eleven goals have been the difference between the blue and red halves of Manchester and that is why one manager is departing on a plethora of euphoria and the other dismissed and cast aside.
2. Swansea City
I must admit when Brendan Rodgers and Joe Allen left Swansea for Liverpool and Scott Sinclair announced he wanted to leave to join Manchester City I really did worry for Swansea. Losing such key components of their side, combined with the failure to recapture Gylfi Sigurdsson just didn’t seem like something they could recover from. How wrong they, and Michael Laudrup have proved me, they really have had a wonderful season.
If you’d offered a Swansea fan a top 10 finish at the start of the season he would have bitten your arm off. If you’d offered him a top 10 finish and a major trophy he would have laughed at you and told you that you were mad. Nevertheless this is the scenario that Swansea City find themselves in and it is not without merit. Laudrup has been excellent in his debut season but so too have Michu, Chico and Jonathan de Guzman, proving that foreigners do not always need a season of adjustment.
3. West Ham United
This may seem like a strange one but West Ham really have impressed me this season and given what has gone on at their fellow promoted sides their season is one well worth noting. The club do not operate on the strongest budget and Sam Allardyce has had to be shrewd in his transfer dealings. He has made some very astute signings in Andy Carroll and Mohamed Diame and to finish 10th, ahead of the likes of Newcastle and Fulham is a very commendable achievement.
If I had one criticism of West Ham this season it would be that they are far too conservative away from home. At Upton Park they are more than a match for anyone and if they could try and replicate that in their away matches they could really break into the top 10 next season.
1. Manchester City
Whatever way you look at it this has been a disastrous season for Manchester City. There has been one disappointment after another and it started in the summer when Robin van Persie chose to sign for rivals Manchester United ahead of the Citizens. How apt that it was the Dutchman who scored the hat trick against Aston Villa that confirmed the title as Manchester United’s. There have been embarrassing publicity scenes as well but above all else there have been the disappointing performances on the pitch.
For the second season they crashed out in the Champions League group stages which just isn’t good enough for a team of City’s stature. The performance in the FA Cup final against Wigan was lethargic and frankly pathetic. If Manuel Pellegrini is the man to replace Roberto Mancini he will seriously need to get the players to buck up their ideas if they’re going to challenge again next season.
2. Newcastle United
There can be few teams in world football that experienced such a dramatic U-turn in fortunes in the last twelve months than Newcastle. A year ago Alan Pardew’s side were celebrating a remarkable 5th placed finish, ahead of European Champions Chelsea and were many people’s outside bet to be the next side to break into the top four. Unfortunately injuries and a Europa League campaign have taken their toll although you could argue this flirt with relegation could have been avoided.
Pardew refused to strengthen heavily in the summer, arguing that it would be unfair to the current squad and in the first half of the season it certainly showed. Panic-buying in January only temporarily solved the problem and despite a couple of impressive impact performances the new signings were thrown in right at the deep end. If the players had been bought in the summer they could have had ample time to become accustomed to English football. In fairness to Newcastle they have been unlucky with injuries and it would be a real shock to see them in a similar situation next season.
Reading were inexperienced and Wigan were at times a total liability defensively but no team has disappointed me more this season than QPR. The club has been poorly run since Tony Fernandes, who seems blissfully unaware that you can’t throw money at all of life’s problems, took over and I could easily see them not returning for a good few years. And that would be a great comfort to me because this season QPR have made mistakes left, right and centre.
They have bought in players on ludicrous wages and for silly transfer fees and they haven’t bought enough players with real Premier League experience. They have been optimistic in their transfer targets and when they haven’t worked out they have gone to some really strange places for their back-ups. Oh, and quite why Redknapp continued to persist with Adel Tarrabt for so long I’ll never know. As far as I’m concerned it’s good riddance to bad rubbish.