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Premier League Playback: 2013-14 season review

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THE MOST EXCITING SEASON EVER? WITHOUT A DOUBT

As Vincent Kompany held the Premier League title aloft on the final day of the Premier League campaign, you couldn’t help but marvel that after 382 PL games the title winners would be decided in the final 90 minutes. As we all know by now, Manchester City prevailed as their attacking prowess and experience of winning the PL crown two years ago made the difference.

Yet while the City slickers celebrated way into the night and around Manchester city center on Monday, it is easy to forget that they were only at the top of the PL standings for 14 days the entire season. That’s right.

FULL COVERAGE: Premier League Season Review

This season was one of the most exhilarating PL title races we’ve ever seen. On the final weekend we knew the likely destination for the PL trophy would be the Etihad Stadium after Liverpool’s incredible collapse, but during the course of the campaign the Premier League lead changed 25 times. To put that into context, last season it only changed four times. 25 is the highest figure since a PL-record of 29 in 2001-02, plus it was just the seventh time in 22 seasons that the PL crown had been decided on the final day.

All of that, coupled with the rise of Liverpool, Arsenal and Everton, coupled with demise of perennial powerhouse Manchester United, made the battle at the top the most intriguing I have ever seen. Here are some stats, courtesy of our mates at Opta, on why it was the most incredible campaign in PL history:

  • This is the first Premier League season to feature two teams scoring over 100 goals (Man City on 102, Liverpool on 101). Chelsea (103) in 2009/10 are the only other Premier League team to score 100 in a single season.
  • Sunderland have become only the second PL team to be bottom at Christmas and avoid relegation, after WBA in 2004-05. They secured survival with a win over West Brom.
  • Manchester United finished outside the top six in the top-flight for the first time since 1989-90 (13th).
  • Jose Mourinho lost his first home league game as Chelsea manager, in his 78th PL match at Stamford Bridge (1-2 v Sunderland in April).
  • Asmir Begovic became the fifth goalkeeper to score in Premier League history. The Stoke goalkeeper was also one of three players to score after 13 seconds this season (also Jesus Navas and Jay Rodriguez).
  • 2013/14 is the first season in Premier League history to see 10 managers leave a club before the final day.

 

Premier League Schedule – Week 38

Result Recap & Highlights
Cardiff City 1-2 Chelsea Recap and watch here
Fulham 2-2 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Hull City 0-2 Everton Recap and watch here
Liverpool 2-1 Newcastle Recap and watch here
Man City 2-0 West Ham Recap and watch here
Norwich City 0-2 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Southampton 1-1 Man United Recap and watch here
Sunderland 1-3 Swansea Recap and watch here
Tottenham 3-0 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
West Brom 1-2 Stoke City Recap and watch here

RISE OF SILKY SOCCER – Liverpool, Everton, Saints, Man City

Liverpool, Everton, Manchester City, Southampton… all of those teams have injected a new lease of life into the PL this season, as their flamboyant passing, high-pressing style and clever endeavor has enabled them all to surpass their goals at the start of the season.

MORE: Final Premier League Standings

Okay, City perhaps had the title in their mind, but apart from them Saints had their best-ever finish of eighth place, Everton finished fifth with a record points tally and Liverpool came so close to winning the damn thing but came up just short in second. They all did this with a possession based style which wore down the opposition and put them under relentless pressure from the first whistle. The pleasing thing for English soccer is that Liverpool, Everton and Southampton achieved their success by using young English players and provided a template that can be replicated by other PL teams willing to invest in youth and chuck them in at the deep end.

The PL has always been known as direct, fast-paced and rambunctious but this season we saw more depth to the play of teams, more thought, more intellect. The league’s core product of athletic prowess and breathtaking counter-attacks still remains but intertwined into those powerful teams is an enhances soccer IQ. We’ve seen that this season and it will only get more widespread. That’s something to look forward to.

City were deserved champions for the second time in three years as Manuel Pellegrini (known as ‘the Engineer’) added a solid foundation to City’s swashbuckling soccer. As they showed on the final day of the season, they were ruthlessly efficient and peaked at the right time. Below is a video which tells the story of their season, as City scored 102 goals (one shy of the record) and had the second best defense in the league. Quite simply, they were the most balanced side and over the course of the campaign the deserved to lift the crown.

 

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Click to enlarge – Howard kept 15 clean sheets on his way to a sensational season for Everton.

HOW THE USMNT PLAYERS RANKED

It has been a mixed bag for the U.S. players in the PL, as the likes of Geoff Cameron and Tim Howard have excelled with Stoke and Everton respectively, while Jozy Altidore and Brad Guzan had a season of struggle against the dreaded drop.

Heading into the World Cup in Brazil this summer, the U.S. national players plying their trade in the PL were under intense scrutiny from fans back home who watched their every move intently and prayed for their full fitness. Cameron has been the big success story as he’s become one of the most consistent right backs in the league and is truly Mr. Dependable. His Stoke side finished in ninth, their highest-ever position, while Howard led Everton to their highest-ever points tally and a fifth place finish.

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Click to enlarge – Cameron had a stellar season at Stoke, ranking 9th in total tackles.

As you can see in this photo, Cameron is loving life in the PL and from the end of season stats pack he ranked ninth in the PL in total tackles made with 108. As for Howard, he has kept the second highest number of clean sheets in the league (15) and has made the fifth most saves (111).

We all know about Altidore’s struggles in front of goal but you have to say that playing for Sunderland for most of the season meant his chances to score were extremely limited. That said, 1 league goal in 31 league appearances tells its own story. Guzan has battled on all season as Villa just beat the drop once again, with the former MLSer ranking seventh in saves made (110) and his impressive distribution helping to set up plenty of goals.

All in all, a decent season for the four USMNT stars who played regularly in the PL. Other such as Brek Shea and Cody Cropper failed to make an impact, while Maurice Adu moved back to MLS.

Read more here on how the U.S. quarter marked out of 10, here.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE SEASON

After 382 matches, it is hard to pick out a few… but I have given it a go complete with a link to the recaps so you can watch the highlights in amazement. You’re welcome.

  • RECAP: Everton 3-3 Liverpool, November 23, 2013 – A pulsating match at Goodison Park saw a fantastic Merseyside derby ebb and flow. The Toffees looked to have snatched a famous win following a rousing comeback but Daniel Sturridge popped up late on to seal a draw. What. A. Game.
  • RECAP: Liverpool 3-2 Manchester City, April 20, 2014 – Liverpool raced into a 2-0 lead at Anfield in what was dubbed as the title-decider and the Kop was in dreamland. Then a David Silva inspired City came roaring back to make it 2-2 in the second half but a late Philippe Coutinho goal gave Liverpool the win as Anfield erupted.
  • RECAP: Manchester City 4-1 Manchester United, September 22, 2013 – Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas tore United apart at the Etihad as City embarrassed their neighbors. It was derby day delight for the home team and they really could have scored double figures. This win was symbolic of United’s shambolic season to come.
  • RECAP: Crystal Palace 3-3 Liverpool, May 5 2014 – Liverpool needed to win and win big against Palace to keep the pressure on Man City going into the final weekend. Brendan Rodgers’ men were leading 3-0 with 11 minutes to go… then imploded as they went all-out attack to try and chip away at City’s superior goal difference. Palace’s comeback at a raucous Selhurst Park was something else.
  • RECAP: Manchester City 6-3 Arsenal, December 14, 2013 – At the time this was a top of the table clash as Arsenal’s superb early season form carried into the festive period. However their trip to the Etihad would bring them back to earth with a bump. It wasn’t as if the Gunners played too badly, City were sensational in front of goal and so clinical. Even late on Arsenal hit the woodwork and had goals wrongly disallowed as this match really could have ended up 8-8. A terrific advert for the PL.

MANCHESTER UNITED’S DEMISE

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The demise of United came courtesy of David Moyes’ mismanagement, poor transfer policies, a change at the top which saw Ed Woodward take over from long-term Chief Executive David Gil and, most importantly, an aging squad that was past it.

Moyes was given his marching orders four games before the end of the season and he simply didn’t fit in at United. The players didn’t work for him, his tactics didn’t please the fans and the man Sir Alex Ferguson chose to succeed him lasted less than 10 months at the helm. The superb video above takes you on Moyes’ ill-fated journey as he was doomed from the start at Old Trafford. Ryan Giggs came in to try and steady the ship but the new man in charge from next season is rumored to be Louis van Gaal.

Regardless, United’s title defense was pathetic as they finished outside the top four for the first-time in PL history and failed to qualify for a European competition for the first time since 1990. It was a record-breaking season at Old Trafford… but none were of the good kind.

MANAGERIAL MERRY-GO-ROUND

This season in the Premier League a record number of managers were dismissed during the campaign. The price of success at the top has made soccer a cut-throat industry, we saw that this season more than ever. The stat below (which we used earlier, as it is so fitting) from our friends at Opta says it all.

  • 2013/14 is the first season in Premier League history to see 10 managers leave a club before the final day.

Why were owners so ruthless this season? Money. It’s always about money with them, isn’t it?

That, sadly, is the way it should be in the modern PL and that is why so many clubs chopped and changed their managers to try and avoid relegation. I wrote about this during the season, but the pitfalls of dropping down to the second-tier of English soccer don’t bear thinking about. Norwich City, Cardiff City and Fulham all changed their gaffers to try and alter their downward trajectory. It almost worked for all three but ultimately stability, not quick fix solutions, paid dividends in the PL. Crystal Palace replaced Ian Holloway with Tony Pulis and that worked wonders, West Brom’s decision to sack Steve Clarke and bring in Pepe Mel worked to keep them up… but now he is gone. Elsewhere Sunderland where the only other team who got their managerial switch spot on as the eccentric Paolo Di Canio went out and Gus Poyet came in to guide his team to safety after stating he needed “a miracle.” They got it.

Whatever way you look at it, the shelf life of a PL manager decreased significantly this season.

GOALS OF THE SEASON – YOUR FAV?

Let’s finish the last Playback of the season in style with a montage of 10 wonderful goals. Below are the best strikes of the season as the incredibly quality on show week in, week out in the PL is there for all to see.

Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekend’s action from the PL, it comes out every week.

MLS Snapshot: Houston Dynamo 0-2 New York City FC (video)

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: David Villa #7 of New York City FC celebrates his first half goal with teamate Andrea Pirlo #21 againd the Toronto FC at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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The game in 100 words (or less): With one goal already accomplished for New York City FC this season, Patrick Vieira’s group made positive strides in capturing another on Friday night in Houston. David Villa’s 20th and 21st tallies of the season gave the visitors the lead after halftime and NYCFC managed to hold onto the points from there. With just two matches remaining following the win over the Dynamo, NYCFC currently sits atop the Eastern Conference on 51 points. Meanwhile, the Dynamo remain nine points out of the final spot in the West with four matches to play.

[ MORE: NYCFC’s Vieira gets big praise from Dynamo counterpart ]

Three moments that mattered

27′ — Harrison tests Willis from distance — Chances were at a minimum in the opening stanza, but Joe Willis had to get down quickly here to deny Jack Harrison on this blast.

52′ — Villa hits his 20th on the season — The Dynamo defense won’t be pleased when they watch this one again, but in his typical fashion, David Villa found his way in on goal.

73′ — Saunders watches as Rodriguez hits post — It can be a game of inches at times and the Dynamo were certainly on the wrong end of this one as Raul Rodriguez’s effort struck the post and stayed out.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: David Villa

Goalscorers: David Villa (52′, 90′)

SKorean soccer club loses points over corruption scandal

JEONJU, SOUTH KOREA - MAY 24:  Besart Berisha action during the AFC Champions League Round Of 16 match between Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Melbourne Victory at Jeonju World Cup Stadium on May 24, 2016 in Jeonju, South Korea.  (Photo by Han Myung-Gu/Getty Images)
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) The South Korean soccer league deducted nine points from league leader Jeonbuk Hyundai on Friday after one of the club’s employees was convicted of bribing referees in 2013.

The K-League also fined Jeonbuk 100 million won ($90,600). The club, which saw its 14-point lead over second-place FC Seoul reduced to a five-point margin, issued an apology and vowed to take measures to prevent it from happening again.

A court in Busan on Wednesday sentenced a Jeonbuk scout to a suspended prison term of two years for paying referees in exchange for favorable decisions in several league matches in 2013.

An official from Jeonbuk said the scout has been suspended by the team and it will soon make a decision whether to terminate his employment. He refused to be named, citing office rules.

The K-League had vowed reforms after being rocked by a massive match-fixing scandal in 2011, when 52 players were indicted for taking bribes in return for trying to manipulate the outcome of matches or betting their own money on the games.

Mangala replaces Mathieu in France squad

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 03:  Kolbeinn Sigthorsson of Iceland and Eliaquim Mangala of France compete for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 quarter final match between France and Iceland at Stade de France on July 3, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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PARIS (AP) Barcelona defender Jeremy Mathieu has been removed from the France squad for upcoming World Cup qualifiers for an unspecified reason.

[ MORE: What’s Arsenal’s best XI in the Arsene Wenger era? ]

The French football federation gave no explanation for coach Didier Deschamps’s decision to replace Mathieu with Eliaquim Mangala, only saying he made the move “following a discussion” with the Barcelona player. Mangala is currently on a season-long loan at Valencia from Manchester City.

France takes on Bulgaria on Oct. 7 at the Stade de France before traveling to Amsterdam to play the Netherlands three days later in Group A.

EXCLUSIVE: Michael Bradley on Toronto FC’s long-awaited renaissance

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Michael Bradley #4 of Toronto FC heads over to take a corner kick during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Times have changed in Toronto for the local football club. The Reds are no longer, to put it bluntly, the bad club that failed to deliver results to a passionate fan base expecting so much more.

A club that missed the playoffs in each of its first eight seasons has clinched a postseason berth for a second-straight season. And this year, for the first time ever, TFC will finish this season with more wins than losses.

You read that right. For the first time ever. Yes, it was that bad.

[ MORE: JPW talks with USMNT prospect Gooch ]

It would overstate things to say Bradley showed up and fixed things for the Reds, turning them from a bad big club to a big, bad one overnight; For one thing, TFC missed the playoffs during his first season and Bradley only netted twice in a return to MLS which was expected to be dominant (though he was, per 90, one of the best possession players in the league that season).

Yet as time as gone on, in an organization that frankly had not seen much winning at all, Bradley has not just led the way as a battler emerged from BMO Field; The 29-year-old TFC and USMNT captain now leads a winner, one he’s quick to point out comes from an organization, not any single personality.

“I’ve tried every day since I got here to spill my heart and soul into it and to try to help in every way that I can,” Bradley told ProSoccerTalk.

“For a lot of people who have been here for the last years to see the way that things have continued to move forward and progress, there’s a big sense of pride. We’re by no means where we want to be. There are big goals around here in terms of continuing to turn this into a team and a club that can compete and win on a regular basis.”

Yep, times have changed for the better. And at the center of it all, whether he admits it or not, is the steely reserve of an American in Canada.


[ MORE: Wisconsin sophomore set to face Mexico, USMNT ]


Michael Bradley is deliberate in his choice of words, and pauses several times to make sure his point is clearly made.

The train powers along once he finds the right track, however.

It’s fitting, because Greg Vanney’s defensive system with Bradley works in a similar way. Patiently wait for the right time to take the ball, then surge forward and take no prisoners. Find Sebastian Giovinco. Find Jozy Altidore. Find Jonathan Osorio, or another attacker… or just fire away.

“On our best days, we have a team that plays in a real good way,” Bradley says. “When we have our best group on the field, our football is good, the ball moves quickly, we’re a team that is able to put the game on our terms with the ball but not do it in a way that’s not just needless possession.

“We circulate the ball, but also do it with an eye toward playing forward and make sure we get it to our dangerous attacking players quickly and in good moments. Defensively we’re able to tighten things up and found a way to make it very hard on other teams to play against us.”

Heading into Saturday night’s home match with DC United, TFC has won seven of its last 12 MLS matches. That stretch has seen Toronto lose just once, and the Reds have weathered an injury to reigning MLS MVP Giovinco with a win and three draws.

TORONTO, ON - MAY 10: Michael Bradley #4 of Toronto FC during an MLS soccer game against the Houston Dynamo at BMO Field on May 10, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Bradley’s deliberate expression of feeling comes into play again when he considers the challenges of TFC’s summer, injuries not withstanding. The captain is thrilled with how the Reds have found contributions from all over the field, but would love to see their best XI for a sustained stretch of action.

Finding chemistry with a team during the MLS season, where a club can lose its best players for weeks at a time thanks to the unorthodox calendar, is a massive challenge. Bradley knows it’s not just Toronto who’s troubled by it, but he also senses how good the team could be with a season’s worth of build-up.

The excitement ratchets higher and higher in his voice as he contemplates the complementary pieces in a healthy, non-international break hampered Greg Vanney lineup. TFC went 1-2 during the Copa America, losing to the Red Bulls and Orlando City. Those points loom with Toronto in a three-way battle for the top of the East.

“We feel like we’re on a very good team, and I mention the other stuff because it’s a shame that over the course of a 34-game season there are so many other things that go into it,” Bradley said. “Which means you are not able to play your best team on as consistent a basis as you’d like.”


[ MORE: LA’s Dos Santos gets Mexico call-up ]


The conversation turns, briefly, to the United States men’s national team.

The leader of the unit, Bradley has been through the highs and lows of wearing the stars and stripes since a very young age.

KANSAS CITY, KS - MAY 28: Michael Bradley #4 of USA directs a header away from the Bolivia forwards in the first half of an international friendly match between Bolivia and the United States on May 28, 2016 at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

The captain has 121 caps and 15 goals, a journey that began when he was capped at age 18. He’s seen the improbable Confederations Cup comeback run, the thrills of the 2010 World Cup, and several Dos a Ceros. He’s also seen the 2015 Gold Cup failure, the disheartening loss to Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup, and more positional banter than any player in U.S. history.

Given his lofty status within the federation, and his early start, he’s the right person to ask about the USMNT’s teenage sensation Christian Pulisic. And he’s happy to talk about the kid, though not about the big picture, and mentorship. Yeah, he talks to the kid about soccer. No, that’s not for media consumption. So stop asking.

“Christian is a really good kid,” Bradley said. “He’s smart, he’s into it, he’s talented, motivated.

“(But) Everybody needs to stop asking what kind of advice to give him. The most important thing for him is, and I said this to somebody last week, is to continue to find the most joy every day in playing, in training, in improving, in stepping on the field on Saturday and competing and trying to be as good as possible. As long as he never loses the joy of what it means to step on the field and play football, then he’s going to continue to improve and take himself to great places.”

You get the sense that, consciously or not, Michael Bradley has ushered these thoughts from personal experience.


The captain of America loves his adopted hometown north of the border.

And Bradley isn’t exactly measuring Toronto against a one-light city in the sticks. After leaving New Jersey as a teenager in 2005, Bradley has lived amongst the abbey and villages of Monchengladbach, the Dutch windmills of Friesland, and the many wonders of the Eternal City, Rome.

But there’s something in the fourth biggest North American city that works for Bradley.

“It’s a city that is so incredibly diverse,” Bradley begins. “When you get around different parts of the city, the types of people you meet and see who come from all over the world, that part is special. Since the first day that my family and I got here, this has felt like home.

“Our daughter was born here. Our son goes to kindergarten here now and comes home; He’s an American, he was born in Rome, but goes to kindergarten in Toronto and comes home every day singing, “O Canada”, because at the beginning the day that’s what they do. It’s an amazing city, and a place we’re proud to call home.”

Bradley is signed through the end of 2019, and Toronto has turned down several overseas pleas for the midfielder.

Orlando City's Kaka, center, battles with Toronto FC's Michael Bradley, right, as Amando Cooper looks on during the first half of a soccer game, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
(Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

And TFC should be good for a long time. Only two rostered players are over 30: outstanding back Drew Moor and Benoit Cheyrou. This on a team that has won the joint-most road games in MLS, allowed the second-fewest goals, and ranks third in goal differential (plus-12).

“We’ve in some ways have such a high standard for ourselves that when you get home and you have a few games at home and you’re not able to find the winner, you’re not able to make that final play to win the games and take all three points, when you’re only able to come away with a tie, that people — and we include ourselves in this — are disappointed,” Bradley said.

“The feeling inside our group on certain days, lately even when we’ve tied a few of these games at home has been disappointment and frustration, and feeling like there was more there for us. That’s a positive thing. We’ve gotten ourselves to the point where we expect to step on the field every weekend and compete to win. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing against, and where we’re playing. That’s the mentality that we have.”


[ MORE: MLS Playoff picture — Who can clinch? ]


To sum it all up, a personal angle that might underscore the impressive turnaround in Canada’s largest city.

Living in Buffalo and loving the sport the way I do, my friends and I got in on TFC season tickets in 2008, Toronto’s second season. We’d make the 90-minute or 3-hour drive, depending on the city’s unholy, construction-driven traffic, and revel in the soccer paradise created by the Red Patch Boys.

Visits by River Plate, Pachuca, and Real Madrid sustained interest in the team, but in a way we became numb to names: Amado Guevera, Torsten Frings, and Danny Koevermans were trotted out and left without a playoff run. Taking a dozen or so day trips to watch losses that made the average at-best Maple Leafs look like 1980’s Oilers became too much to justify the cost.

Oddly enough, TFC went from hot new Toronto property to one that started to feel like just another entity. When Jermain Defoe and Julio Cesar didn’t spur a playoff run, morale seemed at an all-time low. As a soccer writer now with no true allegiance, it was more with a sigh of “Wouldn’t it be cool if they were good?” when Altidore, Vanney, and Giovinco joined Bradley. When Clint Irwin, Will Johnson, and Drew Moor joined mainstays Justin Morrow and Jonathan Osorio, there was even more legitimate reason for hope.

But hope is different from getting the job done, and that’s something for which Bradley and Vanney deserve a ton of credit. There are more Toronto demons to overcome — there’s little doubt a sports teams’ playoff stench can linger over a town once the postseason hits (Again, I’m from Buffalo) — but for now it’s worth lauding a club which has found its forward-thinking despite the skeletons in their Ontarian closet.

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07: Michael Bradley #4 and Jozy Altidore #17 of Toronto FC celebrate a goal by teammate Tsubasa Endoh #9 during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)