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.

Top Storylines for Premier League Week 6

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After a week of League Cup action domestically, the Premier League returns this weekend with a myriad of interesting matchups and storylines.

Let’s take a look at some of this week’s top story’s to follow:


Can Manchester City continue its torrid form?

Manchester City has finally found its groove under manager Pep Guardiola.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The club has won five successive games, the last three coming on the road while scoring a combined 19 goals. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are a terrific 1-2 punch while David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne have been stars in midfield, with De Bruyne pulling the strings for Man City all season.

There’s every likelihood that Man City will continue its impressive run on Saturday. The club hosts floundering Crystal Palace, which is still adjusting to new manager Roy Hodgson.

(more…)

On This Day: The Battle of Old Trafford

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Fourteen years ago today, Arsenal headed north to Manchester for a famous matchup with Manchester United.

Taking the field at Old Trafford, Arsenal were unbeaten to start the season, having won its first four Premier League matches before drawing a week prior at home against Portsmouth. Manchester United meanwhile had four wins and one loss in that span.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

By way of Arsenal’s FA Cup title and Man United’s Premier League title the year before, the two teams met for the annual Community Shield a month earlier, and the game descended into a physical battle. Five yellow cards were shown, Arsenal substitute Francis Jeffers was shown a red card and defender Sol Campbell was later banned for kicking at an opponent, and Man United – backed by a young Tim Howard in goal – won 4-3 on penalty kicks after the score was tied at 1-1 after extra time.

With numerous physical encounters over the years, the September 21 encounter was shaping up to be another monumental showdown, and in terms of physicality, it didn’t disappoint.

Each team were shown four yellow cards and there was a combined 31 fouls. The match took a turn when Patrick Vieira was shown a second yellow card and subsequent red card for kicking out at Man United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy after Van Nistelrooy had fouled Vieira going for a header. The decision set off a scrum in the middle of the field.

Despite being down to ten men, Arsenal held on until the final minutes, when Martin Keown was whistled for a foul in the box on Diego Forlan, giving Man United a penalty kick. But whether it was karma or lady luck, Van Nistelrooy’s penalty clanged off the crossbar and away to safety. Arsenal held on for a goalless draw, which helped boost the team’s belief in itself.

The Gunners went on to finish the 2013-2014 season undefeated, the only team to finish a Premier League season without a defeat. Man United wound up taking the FA Cup crown, settling for third place in the Premier League.

Watch some highlights from the match below.

Former Sunderland forward Scocco scores five goals for River Plate

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Veteran forward Ignacio “Nacho” Scocco is quickly endearing himself to the River Plate faithful.

Nearly three months since joining River, Scocco scored an incredible five goals in the second leg of his team’s Copa Libertadores quarterfinal matchup with Bolivian side Jorge Wilstermann. Scocco scored a first half hat-trick and added two more in the second half as River turned around a 3-0 deficit heading into the second leg.

Scocco had a mostly frustrating spell in 2014 ahead of the World Cup with Sunderland, joining the club as they staved off relegation by one point. Scocco failed to score for Sunderland in eight appearances, all off the bench.

However, since then, he returned to his native Argentina and starred for his hometown club Newell’s Old Boys before moving this summer to River as a replacement for Sebastián Driussi, who completed a transfer to Zenit St. Petersburg.

Here’s a look at all of Scocco’s goals Thursday evening.

Tammy Abraham denies switching national teams

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Fans of the England National Team may still have a chance to see Tammy Abraham don the Three Lions crest one day.

Abraham refuted reports from earlier Thursday that he was in the process of switching his national team to Nigeria from England. The 19-year-old Swansea City forward on-loan from Chelsea has played as high as the England Under-21 Men’s National Team but because of his Nigerian father, he’s eligible for the African nation.

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Abraham confirmed that he had met with Nigeria Football Federation chief Amaju Pinnick after Swansea’s last game, but denied that he was looking to play for the Super Eagles.

“I have informed The FA that I remain available for selection for England,” Abraham said, via the BBC. “Contrary to reports in the media I would like to clarify that I have not agreed to switch my national team allegiance. I can confirm I met the President of the NFF after our last game against Tottenham at Wembley on Saturday given he is a friend of my father. However, any suggestion that I have made a decision to change my international representation is incorrect and wide of the mark.”

Earlier in the day, reports emerged that Pinnick said the process was underway for Abraham to switch his international allegiance.

Abraham’s apparently decision to remain with the England set-up is good news for his club Swansea City, who will get to keep him closer to Wales on a regular basis, but Abraham may be missing a chance to play senior national team soccer at a young age.