As is often the case on the final weekend, fans in stadiums around the Premier League are not only glued to the pitch in front of them, but to the scoreboards across the league as well.
With technology the way it is these days, news of changing scorelines can spread swiftly to those fans of teams that need results outside their own.
In the final edition of I Was There this season, watch as Manchester City and Liverpool fans watch their teams and feel a roller coaster of emotions as the games ebb and flow through the 90 minutes, ultimately capping in Manuel Pellegrini’s City taking home the crown.
City fans invade the pitch to celebrate, as Liverpool supporters feel a stinging pain in the Anfield seats but support their club’s near miss nonetheless, as it still far exceeded expectations for this season.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
In a season with at least four different significant title contenders throughout different points of the year, there will be ups and downs, there will be adversity. Through the adversity, Manchester City weathered the storm…barely.
A tactical strategy built on the predication of long-term success instilled by Manuel Pellegrini has paid off, and the Citizens have rewarded him with the ultimate prize in the English top flight.
They led the league for the fewest amount of time among the top four teams – and yet they timed their moves perfectly. Or, maybe they didn’t do it on purpose, it kind of just happened.
Manchester City spent much of the season in second place, not first, and while it may seem like they were waiting for the right moment to pounce, that image doesn’t exactly do their journey justice.
Rather than sitting to “strike” or “make their move,” City simply stayed the course while others used a more engaging but more risky brand of play.
Liverpool relied on a surging counter-attack and predatory offense, but one too many times, when it gets bogged down by a packed box by vehicles such as Chelsea’s double-decker bus, the team grew frustrated and fell apart.
Arsenal played a possession game, and while it overwhelmed many inferiors, injuries took their toll and a shallow squad was hurt by a manager not able to adapt his game to the replacement players in the patchwork roles.
Chelsea worked their opponents to the brink using a game of attrition, and while a number of clubs – including top ones – withered to their knees in front of Jose Mourinho, one too many times they were left hung out to dry without capitalizing on an opposition not fully broken after 90 minutes.
Pellegrini, however, didn’t possess just one describable trait used week-in and week-out. Sure, City stumbled. They took a while to figure things out under their new manager away from the Emirates. They succumbed to Chelsea’s strangling effect twice. They were even shellshocked by Liverpool’s blitzkrieg.
But none of the blows turned out to be fatal, and when Liverpool became the last team to fall behind City’s long-term plan, it was just Pellegrini standing, bruised but not beaten.
Yaya Toure was essential, only falling to the mesmerizing brilliance of Luis Suarez’s record-setting season.
The offense didn’t have one superstar, but a combination of Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo, David Silva, Samir Nasri, and Edin Dzeko was quality enough to outlast any significant injuries and swarming enough to keep defenders guessing as to where the next attack would come from.
The defense wasn’t as solid as it could be, but when the going got tough, an experienced cast led by Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta was determined enough to lock down just enough.
But the glue that held the squad together was their manager, the soft-spoken Pellegrini who didn’t let an ego get in the way of his ability to adapt his squad to the needs of the next match.
Those were the odds on Liverpool winning the Premier League title on opening day.
At the moment, nothing will soften the blow to Liverpool fans who saw their team clutch the trophy with a vicegrip only to see it slip out like a buttered up watermelon.
However, what they accomplished is by far the most surprising result of the Premier League season, at least in the top half of the table.
And while at the moment the disappointment of missing a once-in-a-career result is resounding, it would behoove fans to see how far the club has come, and how they’ve accomplished something far greater than winning a title.
Brendan Rodgers has pulled the club out of the quicksand grasp that had held the club down for so long.
Seventh. Eighth. Sixth. Seventh.
Those are Liverpool’s last four table finishes in the Premier League. Reds fans can kiss those days goodbye. Rodgers has assembled himself a sustainable club that should fare just fine in its first season back into Europe’s upper echelon.
The club, for one, is young. There are just three players on the entire roster over 30 years old, with one being backup goalkeeper Brad Jones and the other the timeless Steven Gerrard. Meanwhile, eight players are in the prime 24-27 range, while plenty still are even younger and still proved vital this season.
Additionally, the growth – and failure – this squad faced over the course of the season will be invaluable to their title search in future years. Players like Joe Allen, Jordan Henderson, Simon Mignolet, Daniel Sturridge, and even Luis Suarez now know what it’s like to come so close and yet not seal the deal. That kind of chip on the shoulders of these players should scare the rest of the league next season.
So fans, do your grieving, comfort the lump in your throat knowing the title was so close and yet lost forever. It’s inevitable.
But remember this – the club’s illustrious history aside, none of what Liverpool accomplished this season was remotely conceivable this summer. The club was mired in a four-year seemingly unbreakable slump and wrapped in player turmoil.
Now, that all seems ancient history, and it’s on to bigger and better things. Congratulate Manchester City on their victory this time around, and log this time in your memory, because come next year, it’s likely to be a whole different feeling.