Winners and losers: Who defied expectations during the 2013-14 Premier League season

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On the field and off, here’s a quick look back on who exceeded (and failed to meet) expectations during the 2013-14 Premier League season:

On the field

Winners

Adam Lallana, Southampton – Nine goals. Six assists. The 2013-14 season was more than a just a statistical breakthrough for Lallana. It was a springboard to Brazil.

In the process, Lallana’s rise came to symbolize more than one player’s growth. Praise for the Saints attacker became shorthand for acknowledging Southampton’s broader success. Mauricio Pochettino’s team finished eighth while vaulting Lallana, Luke Shaw, Rickie Lambert, and the now injured Jay Rodriguez into the England national team picture.

Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool – Coming into the season, doubts about the post-Chelsea Sturridge centered on whether he and Luis Suarez could reach their potentials in the same attack. You don’t hear those doubts anymore. Still only 24 years old, Sturridge finished the season with 21 goals, with only Suarez eclipsing him on the league’s goal scoring chart.

Curtis Davies, Hull City – Once a promising Luton product that commanded a near-eight figure fee, Davies’ inconsistency eventually saw him out of the Premier League. Bought by Steve Bruce before the season, the 29-year-old’s return the first division turned into best season of his career. In addition to team of the year consideration, Davies earned calls for a spot in Brazil.

Luis Suarez, Liverpool – The Premier League hasn’t seen a weapon this dangerous since Didier Drogba’s peak. Suarez finished the season with 31 goals, becoming the seventh player in league history to join the 30-goal club.

source: APLosers

Marouane Fellaini, Manchester United – Just as Lallana came to symbolize Southampton’s rise, Fellaini represented Manchester United’s fall. Following David Moyes to Old Trafford, Fellaini vacillated between injured and ineffective. The Belgian only made 12 starts, but for some Red Devils’ supporters, that was 12 starts too many.

Roberto Soldado, Tottenham Hotspur – It was two months into Soldado’s Premier League career before the Spaniard scored from open play. Though he finished the season with six goals, four came from the spot, with the former Valencia forward eventually playing his way out of Spain’s World Cup squad.

Jozy Altidore, Sunderland – For the second time, Altidore took a crack at the Premier League, and for the second time, the U.S. international failed to produce. After a one-goal season, Altidore has two goals in 62 Premier League appearances.

Nicolas Anelka, West Brom – Anelka’s odyssey from Chelsea to China, Turin to The Hawthorns came to a disturbing end. Thanks to the former French international, Premier League fans became familiar with the quenelle.

source: Getty ImagesOn the sidelines

Winners

Tony Pulis, Crystal Palace – A club like Stoke may have the luxury of turning its back on a manager like Pulis, but for Crystal Palace, he proved a savior. In last place at the time of his appointment, the Eagles finished 11th, nine months after most pundits predicted they’d go down.

Roberto Martinez, Everton – Despite winning last year’s FA Cup, plenty of doubts surrounded Martinez after Wigan’s relegation. In David Moyes’ wake, the former Swansea City boss revolutionized the Toffees, leading them to their best Premier League point total.

Gus Poyet, Sunderland – The Uruguayan’s stock was on the rise before his time at Brighton came to a sudden end. At Sunderland, he was brought in to clean up the mess. With his in last place come mid-April, Poyet engineered a spring 180, with four straight spring wins securing another season in the Premier League.

Mark Hughes, Stoke City – Hughes’ departure from Fulham in search of a bigger job turned into an embarrassing move, but after Peter Coates picked him to change Stoke’s approach, the former Blackburn and Manchester City boss was redeemed. The Potters’ transition away from Pulis’s blunt approach saw Hughes guide the team to ninth – the team’s highest finish since 1975.

source: Getty ImagesLosers

Paulo Di Canio, Sunderland – The Italian manager’s Sunderland tenure came to an end five games into the season, after only 12 games in charge, overall. Repeatedly speaking out against the club in the wake of a player revolt, Di Canio ensured he won’t be back on a Premier League sideline anytime soon.

Andre Villas-Boas, Tottenham Hotspur – Turns out the player culture around Chelsea wasn’t the only problem. Given a second Premier League chance by Daniel Levy, the former Porto boss make if half-way through season two before losing his job.

Michael Laudrup, Swansea City – In year one, the Danish great led Swans to a League Cup. In season two, however, the club needed to go in another direction. Mentioned in connection with bigger jobs last summer, Laudrup is now out of a job entirely.

David Moyes, Manchester United – The long-time Everton boss proved the same man with the Red Devils that he was at Goodison Park. Unfortunately, it was a terrible fit. For all his success at Everton, Moyes will forever be known as the man who took Manchester United to seventh place, the club’s worst finish in 24 years.

source: Getty ImagesIn the standings

Winners

Everton – The Toffees only finished one place better than they did in 2012-13, but the manner in which they did so has rejuvenated the club. People are no longer dwelling on Everton’s limitations. They’re talking about the club’s potential.

Stoke City – Had Stoke finished in the bottom half of the table, 2013-14 would have still been considered progress if the team played a better brand of soccer. Under Hughes, the Potters not only began that stylistic transition but also climbed the table. By season’s end, Stoke was only six points behind a much more ballyhooed Southampton.

Crystal Palace – In August, some though Cardiff’s spending has produced a survivor, while fewer had faith in Hull. Almost nobody, however, thought Crystal Palace would stay up. Thanks to Pulis’s appointment, the Selhurst faithful will enjoy another season in the Premier League, having defied expectations with a finish just outside the top half.

Liverpool – Ten days removed from its collapse at Selhurst, Liverpool’s disappointing finish obscures the fact that Brendan Rodgers’ team was the story of the season. In a league that’s rarely has surprise title contenders, the Reds jumped from seventh to within two points of the crown.

source: Getty Images

Losers

Manchester United – Following in the rivals’ footsteps, United fell from its perch among the league’s elites, but whereas the Liverpool’s’ fall came after a series of poor choices by Rafa Benitez, one choice undid the Red Devils. Liverpool spent four seasons outside the top four. Manchester United will hope for a quicker response.

Fulham – Blame Michael Jackson, blame the three managers who couldn’t turn the team around, or blame the new owner. In fact, blame them all. The Cottagers ended up five points from safety, giving up 85 goals while punching their ticket to the second division.

Norwich City – The acquisitions of Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Johan Elmander, and Gary Hooper should have provided enough goals to avoid relegation. Instead, thanks in part to Chris Hughton’s conservative approach, the Canaries only scored 28 goals, losing six of their last seven en route to the Championship.

Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs sold Gareth Bale, but as Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal showed, it’s possible to compete for Champions League without the Welsh international. Tottenham had the talent but never found the right formula, with a series of one-sided results against the league’s top teams forcing Spurs to regroup.

source: Getty ImagesFar afield

Winners

John Henry, Liverpool – Whoever returned Liverpool to glory would also win Anfield’s hearts. While Rodgers has received much of the credit, Henry’s also gotten his due. His management team’s first choices weren’t the right ones, but four years after purchasing the club, Henry and Fenway Sports Group have made the Reds title contenders. And they’re back in Champions League.

Peter Coates, Stoke City – His decision could have blown up in his face. Pick the wrong man to replace Tony Pulis, and Stoke would go down. For Coates, however, change was worth the risk. For the first time in 39 years, the Potters finished in the first division’s top half.

The Class of `92 – From their deal to buy Salford City FC, to Gary Neville’s continued, prominent place in English soccer, to Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, and Paul Scholes’ seats on United’s bench, the club’s famous Class of `92 class returned in more than just documentary form. Their influence off the pitch may never match their impact on, but Manchester United’s golden generation will continue to play a role around the Premier League.

Gareth Bale, Real Madrid – When Bale arrived at White Hart Lane, he was a left back/left winger project, albeit one with tremendous potential. At the beginning of the season, Tottenham cashed in on their investment with a world record transfer fee, giving Bale a path to the Champions League final.

source: Getty ImagesLosers

Alex Ferguson – Moyes wasn’t the only manager whose legacy was harmed by his move. Once his poor fit at Old Trafford became apparent, fans started questioning the man who picked the former Everton boss for Manchester United’s post. For all the right choices Ferguson made at United, his final call was the wrong one.

Assem Allam, Hull City – Allam’s quest to change his club’s name to Hull Tigers was eventually rejected by the Premier League. Along the way,  the team’s owner alienated many of the club’s long-time fans. It almost feels awkward calling them “Tigers” after this year’s ordeal.

Randy Lerner, Aston Villa – News of Villa’s impending sale was met with hope, not trepidation. The reaction was telling. Three straight relegation battles have left supporters disillusioned. Now they’re counting on new ownership to resuscitate the club.

Vincent Tan, Cardiff City – The Bluebirds’ eccentric owner was the object of ridicule during his battle with Malky Mackay. Once the former Cardiff manager was gone, Tan’s true troubles began. After convincing Ole Gunnar Solksjaer to join up, Tan saw his club sink to the bottom the table, relegating the second division winners back to the Football Championship.

“This game belongs to the players” Wenger downplays Guardiola success

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Arsene Wenger has stressed that Pep Guardiola has not changed the game of soccer over the last decade or so, maintaining that the players are the ones who make a team truly great.

Asked if Guardiola has “raised the bar” of managing in his time at the top, Wenger said, “No, because you look at Barcelona and they are still the best team in Europe. You have to accept that the modern game has changed with the recruitment of the best players in a short number of clubs.”

[ MORE: EFL Cup final preview ]

“We, as managers, can maybe impart our philosophy but this game belongs to the players because the importance of the players has become bigger than ever before.”

In fact, Wenger showed a twinge of jealousy at all the attention Guardiola is getting with the team blowing out the rest of the Premier League this season, referencing trophies in the recent past Arsenal has hoisted. “We are maybe underdogs but we have to believe in our quality. The history, the fact we have done it before, shows why not do it again?”

“At the end of the day, you have to be cool,” Wenger said, “because Manchester City is dominating the league in the head of everybody and so maybe we are more underdogs than in the FA Cup semi-final [last season when Arsenal beat Man City].”

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

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MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.

Conte says he believes in his selection regarding Willian

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Antonio Conte has lashed out at anyone questioning why Brazilian winger Willian hasn’t played regularly until recently, saying

“Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?” Conte fired back at reporters when he was asked about Willian’s earlier lack of playing time at his pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s match on Sunday against Manchester United.

[ MORE: Heynckes squashes Lewandowski to Premier League rumors ]

“I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?”

The 29-year-old has made 29 Premier League appearances, but only 13 starts. He started in the midweek Champions League match against Barcelona and not only scored Chelsea’s only goal but also proved their most incisive player, prompting questions about his selection.

“Now he is playing because he deserves to play, not because there is some regret from the past,” Conte said. “For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, [he will] stay on the bench, stay in the stands.”

Instead of saying he wishes Willian had played more earlier in the season, he praised himself for giving the Brazilian the start at the appropriate time.

“He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice. Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

EFL Cup Final preview: Arsenal, Manchester City fight for different types of glory

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  • These two clubs have never met in a major Cup final
  • With a win, Arsene Wenger would become the 8th PL manager to win all 3 major English trophies
  • Sergio Agüero has scored in all of his last 4 appearances against Arsenal

For Manchester City, it’s the first step of a potentially record-setting season. For Arsenal, it’s the Gunners’ best chance at securing a trophy.

The two teams are fighting for very different levels of glory as the two meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Manchester City, despite losing to Wigan in the FA Cup just a week ago, would still be on track for a Double this season with a win against the Gunners. Meanwhile, Arsenal is outside the Premier League top four, and – as they have done each of the past two seasons in the FA Cup – could salvage an otherwise disappointing league season with a major Cup trophy.

Both teams will be struggling with selection in certain areas. Manchester City is likely missing Raheem Sterling, who could sit out due to an unspecified muscle injury according to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, while Fabian Delph is suspended after his sending off against Wigan in the FA Cup. That means either Danilo or 21-year-old Oleksandr Zinchencko would start at wing-back. Zinchenko is the likely candidate there, having appeared in four of City’s five EFL Cup games this season so far and playing almost every minute of those four matches. Gabriel Jesus, who missed more than two months with a knee injury, could be ready to make his early return. Claudio Bravo will continue to play in goal for the domestic Cup competitions.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is without new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is cup-tied to his previous club Manchester United, while Alexandre Lacazette is not yet recovered from his knee injury suffered in the North London derby, and Mesut Ozil could miss out with an illness. The Gunners are likely, however, to get Aaron Ramsey back in midfield after recovering from a groin injury, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can return to the lineup after his own cup tied absence in the Europa League midweek.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on playing Arsenal twice in a week: “We will be happy if we win, sad if we don’t but after the game we have another match against Arsenal. We are going to try and maintain our level, but finals are different, it is not what you have done in the past.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on playing Manchester City: “Manchester City have so many players that you think you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan than rather than on any individual. It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players.” 

Prediction

Arsenal has often come up big in hotly contested Cup matches, despite poor form in the surrounding competitions, so it would not be surprising to once again see Arsene Wenger hoist a trophy on Sunday to temporarily distract the fanbase and media from larger struggles. However, picking against this Manchester City team would be selection suicide, even after their disappointment against Wigan and considering the absence of under the radar star Raheem Sterling. Manchester City wins 3-1 with a pair of late goals to sink the Gunners, with a newly healthy Gabriel Jesus providing an influential injection off the bench in the final 20 minutes. Pep Guardiola raises another trophy at the site where he won the 2011 Champions League.