Premier League season review

Top 10 Defenders of the Premier League season

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Defenders get no love.

Ask any defender and that’s what he’ll say. And if his teammates, manager, owner and, heck, even the fans are being honest, they’ll agree.

Fact is, there’s little glory being a defender. Goal line clearances are clearly just that but are not afforded even near the adulation given to actually scoring a goal. To a slightly lesser extent, the same applies for interceptions and key tackles in the defensive third. Noted but never lauded.

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So in this column we give some much-needed love to the big men who hold down the fort while the glamor boys are out poaching goals and dancing at corner flags. But before we do, let’s note a few guys who deserve recognition but didn’t get the nod: Cesar Azpilicueta, Dejan Lovren, Sylvain Distin, Steven Caulker and Laurent Koscielny. All five played key roles for their clubs and, with the exception of Koscielny (who was brilliant in 2012/13), each enjoyed the best season of his career.

But it takes a little bit extra to make ProSoccerTalk’s Top 10 Defenders of the 2013/14 Premier League season. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

source: Reuters10. Per Mertesacker (Arsenal)

With Thomas Vermaelen a shell of his former self, Mertesacker and Koscielny were left to forge a brilliant partnership that resulted in only 41 goals conceded. Mobility was always an issue for the big German but this year he looked lighter on his feet and was rarely left in the dust for pace. Highly intelligent, Mertesacker possesses brilliant organizational skills and leadership qualities that keep Arsenal’s back four in proper shape. Perhaps his best trait, however, is his perfectly timed lunging tackles that denied so many opponents a look on goal and rightfully earned the man who resembles Gandalf the Great a spot on the prestigious German 30-man World Cup squad.

9. Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)

Arguably the best center-back in the world, Kompany struggled at times this season. Maybe it was due to the time needed to adjust to Martin Demichelis or maybe it was the new manager but for much of the season Kompany seemed off. Missed tackles. Slip ups. Errant passes. In the end though, he remains an absolute beast of the back line and when City needed someone to step up, Kompany was there scoring the second goal of their title-clinching 2-0 win over West Ham.

source: AP8. Luke Shaw (Southampton)

Speaking of beasts, Luke Shaw is 6’1″ and 185 lbs of hulking mass with a ridiculous motor and the skills of an attacking midfielder. There’s a reason Manchester United is going to pay upwards of $45 million: Because at 18-years-old he’s a fully developed professional with a long and potentially very successful career ahead of him.

Commiserations, Southampton.

7. Gary Cahill (Chelsea)

A lot of pundits are sky-high on Cahill but press them as to why and they flounder. Cahill is a solid, no frills, dependable, center-back who can get forward and score goals. But he’s not Vincent Kompany. He’s not John Terry. And he’s definitely not, at least yet, world class.

source: Getty Images6. Curtis Davies (Hull City)

Davies flies under the radar when it comes to best center-backs in the Premier League. Without question Hull City’s most important player this season, Davies is the driving force in Steve Bruce’s back line. Strong enough to lead a back three and equally capable of organizing a back four, Davies is dominant in the air, has dialed-in concentration and is an exceptional tackler. At 29-years-old he’s getting up there in age but could be a sneaky good buy for a top club looking to add center-back depth this summer.

5. Leighton Baines (Everton)

Brilliant move by Roberto Martinez to hang onto Baines last summer. The best left-back in England, Baines provides skill, speed and goals down the left flank while remaining a stalwart defensively. Don’t be surprised if next year Bryan Oviedo’s return to health sees Baines move to holding midfielder a la one of the best full-backs in the world, Philip Lahm.

source: Getty Images4. Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea)

No one wants to play against Branislav Ivanovic. Defensively, he’s a nightmare. A brutal tackler, Ivanovic will stop at nothing to thwart his opponent. He’s dangerous going forward and equally strong at center-back as he is at right-back. Easily Chelsea’s most valuable defender, although one of his peers did enjoy a better season…

3. John Terry (Cheslea) 

After barely playing last year, most thought Terry was cooked as a player. But in comes Jose Mourinho and he decides he’s going to revive England’s Brave and boy did he ever. Terry was fantastic in defensive and an animal going forward making him a surefire member of Best XIs all around.

2. Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City)

Skillful, quick, calculating, tough-tackling, agile, fierce, intelligent. Zabaleta has it all and does it all every match for Manchester City. Their unsung hero by a mile.

source: Getty Images1. Seamus Coleman (Everton)

Every year since his $750,000 transfer from Sligo Rovers, Coleman has improved by leaps and bounds. Always eager to use his speed and skill going forward, this year Coleman hit pay dirt six times in the league. But more than that Coleman improved his defense, relentlessly pressuring opponents high up the pitch and refusing to get beat off the dribble. Once overshadowed by Baines, Coleman has provided a much needed balance to Everton’s pitch, making them the best full-back duo in the game.

Top 10 Strikers of the Premier League season

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As we roll through our postseason awards, it’s time to focus on the meat of every attack.

What do spectators want to see? Goals! Right?

Ok, well maybe not everyone, but there’s no doubt goals are exciting, and parked buses are not. Just ask Brendan Rodgers, I bet he has some choice words on the topic.

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While goals are certainly what every manager looks for when they pick a striker, that’s not the only way they can contribute and get themselves on this list.  Assists, work rate, and passing ability can all land a striker minutes even when he’s not scoring goals.

But ultimately, the goals will be required sooner or later for a frontman.  If they dry up, often players lose their place.

Look no further than Norwich City’s Ricky van Wolfswinkel.  The Dutch striker scored on his debut for the Canaries, and put in shift after shift of hard work and energy up top.  However, that debut goal would be his only in the Premier League across 25 appearances, and he’d find himself on the bench in nine of the club’s final 15 matches.

The top of the list may be somewhat obvious, but the bottom half will be intriguing to see. Let’s take a look at the top 10 strikers from the 2013/14 Premier League season:

10. Loic Remy – Newcastle (on loan from QPR)

Newcastle struggled mightily down the stretch thanks to turmoil in the front office, and Remy was (not coincidentally) on the sidelines for much of it with injury.  But when he saw the field, the Frenchman was a force, grabbing 14 goals on the season.

The Magpies won 15 matches in total this season – Remy scored in nine of them, including their final five.  He was a spark plug for the club, and if they can’t secure him on a permanent transfer from Queens Park Rangers, Remy could be headed to other clubs like Arsenal or Atletico Madrid, to name a few that have already been thrown around.

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Southampton’s Jay Rodriguez was an electric player at St. Mary’s this season, only to have it cut short by injury.

9. Jay Rodriguez – Southampton

A mentally and physically devastating injury ended his season – and World Cup hopes – prematurely, but that should not take away from what the young England international accomplished this year.  The 24-year-old academy product hit for 15 goals and three assists while playing in all 33 of his club’s Premier League matches before his injury.

His form earned him his England debut along with teammate Adam Lallana, and the two shone on the international stage as well. It’s a shame we won’t be seeing him in Brazil this year, but Rodriguez is on the big stage to stay and his name should pop up on plenty more of these lists throughout the years if he can make a full recovery from his ACL tear.

8. Edin Dzeko – Manchester City

He remains in the shadows of Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo at Manchester City, but he continues to provide goals up front. Dzeko is a striker in the true sense of the word, and doesn’t have a whole lot of other strengths, but 16 goals and a championship medal to his name this year earns him a place on the top 10 list.

The Bosnian picked up some enormous goals this season for Manchester City, including a winner over Crystal Palace in December when his team was struggling, and a brace in the penultimate match against Everton to keep them on top in the title race heading into the final weekend.

7. Wilfried Bony – Swansea

A Premier League debutant, Bony was bought from Vitesse with the intention of lightening the load of last season’s star Michu.  Bony did more than that, as he essentially took over for the Spaniard who struggled mightily with injuries all year.

While Michu scored just two goals in 17 matches, Bony shrugged off a slow start to the season to finish with 16 goals and earn Swansea’s player of the year honors.  With a healthy Michu next season, the two should be a force if they can both be utilized in the lineup properly by Garry Monk.

6. Olivier Giroud – Arsenal

While he may have had too much to do as the only capable striker in the Arsenal ranks, Giroud is still one of the best in the league at scoring goals and playing the attractive brand Arsene Wenger asks of his players. The Frenchman struck 16 times this Premier League season and set his teammates up eight for eight more.

Giroud benefited heavily from the arrival of Mesut Ozil at the end of the summer transfer window, but the striker still remains a great litmus test for how Arsenal will finish – all but two of his goals this season came in Arsenal wins.  If he can figure out how to shorten the doldrums he sometimes seems to disappear into at times, he can be one of the best three in the league and lead Arsenal to heights of old.

5. Sergio Aguero – Manchester City

While his sole importance to the Championship-winning Manchester City attack isn’t that of those below on this list thanks to a deep squad, Aguero still leads Pellegrini’s squad up front.

Aguero posted 17 goals and six assists this year in a season where he only saw the pitch 23 times due to a serious battle with a hamstring and knee problems that lasted nearly five months.  Despite the lack of time, Aguero is a dangerous force when he is on the field, and he’s only a bigger threat still thanks to the additions Pellegrini made this season up front.

If he can keep that pace throughout a 38-match season (which would give him about 28 goals this season), Aguero could challenge the numbers Luis Suarez put up this year and earn himself even higher individual honors.

4. Romelu Lukaku – Everton

Lukaku’s loan spell at Everton did its job – it made many Chelsea fans furious with Jose Mourinho’s decision to let him go in the first place. While the manager blamed Lukaku for his departure to Goodison Park, it was ultimately Chelsea’s final call to send him away.

source: Getty Images
Thanks to his incredible form, Lukaku’s future is in question, having made Jose Mourinho regret sending him away.

No matter who’s fault it was, the decision will no doubt net Lukaku a lot of money in the future.  At only 21 years old, the towering Belgian scooped up 15 goals and six assists, including a strong finish where he scored six times in the club’s last 11 matches fresh off a serious ankle injury.

The talisman of the Belgian national team’s attack in Christian Benteke’s absence, Lukaku has a lot on his shoulders at such a young age.  And with Diego Costa’s imminent arrival at Stamford Bridge, there will be plenty of Lukaku’s name sprinkled throughout the papers this summer.

3. Daniel Sturridge – Liverpool

The Robin to Suarez’s Batman, the 24-year-old picked up 21 goals for himself while assisting another seven, meaning the SaS pair picked up 52 of Liverpool’s 101 goals this year – over half.  Add Gerrard’s 13, and the trio had a whopping 64% of Liverpool’s goals this season.

Sturridge’s statement came early on, when Suarez began the season on the bench, scoring in eight of Liverpool’s first nine games.  Injuries slowed him down at times, or forced him out of the lineup altogether, but he still finished with three goalscoring streaks of four or more matches, including one seven-match stretch where he scored nine times.

Even with Suarez’s PoY performance, the Reds wouldn’t be close to what they accomplished without Sturridge’s contributions.

2. Wayne Rooney – Manchester United

Despite his inferior goals tally to Sturridge, Rooney gets the nod in the second position because of how he was far and away the best player on the pitch for Manchester United all season.  Rooney bagged 17 goals and 12 assists while the Red Devils struggled under enormous media scrutiny all season.

Rooney doesn’t just provide goals and assists, either. He was successful in 64% of his take-ons this season, according to Squawka statistics, and created 58 chances for teammates, tops on the team and third in the Premier League among strikers.

The English international is a leader on the field, and it’s no wonder the club threw every resource they had at him to get him to sign back on for next season, despite the lack of European play.

1. Luis Suarez – Liverpool

This was a relatively obvious top choice. Having already received the PFA Player of the Year award, in addition to our very own ProSoccerTalk Player of the Year award.

Suarez matched the Premier League record for goals in a 38-match season with 31 goals, and he missed the first six matches of the season, making the feat that much more incredible.  Add to it the media and fan pressure he faced from his negative image stemming from the previous year, and the stars had to align for him to have an outstanding season – and they did.

Oh, and he also bagged 12 assists (which is an objective statistic, with transfermarkt totaling 21 assists for the Uruguayan), meaning if soccer did points like hockey or lacrosse does, Suarez would have the most in the Premier League by fourteen. Yea, this one’s an easy choice.

Top 10 midfielders of the Premier League season

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Discussing and dissecting the quality of midfielders can be a touchy subject. If the player in question is regularly playing wide in the top band of a 4-3-3, does he get to be dubbed a midfielder? How do you account for defensive mids, if the majority of your list is focused on the excitement and trickery of attacking players?

Should you take a fantasy league approach, in which just one appearance at midfield qualifies a player to be eligible for a top ten list? And what, exactly, makes a player truly top in his position?

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In this case, the top ten footballers for the 2013-2014 Premier League season have been chosen based on their clear, definable numbers, like goals scored and assists provided. But the players on the list were also selected according to their value to their team…which is why you might see some interesting names:

10. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)
With Aaron Ramsey healthy, the Gunners were challenging for the title. With Ramsey injured, they were worried about losing out on Champions League. Despite missing over three months of the season, the Welshman still had 17 goals and 9 assists in all competitions – that’s in 37 appearances. Who knows where Arsenal may have finished this season if they’d been able to count on a fit Ramsey? It’s a question plaguing supporters’ dreams, it’s certain.

9. Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle/PSG)
It’s probably not kosher to bestow top honors on a player who only spent the first half of the season in the Premier League. But Cabaye’s worth to Newcastle is perhaps best demonstrated by his absence. His seven goals and two assists for the Magpies don’t tell the full story. After his move to Paris Saint-Germain, it became painfully clear that Cabaye was the architect of Newcastle’s entire game. After his move, Newcastle failed to score in their next four matches. They went on to win four of their final sixteen matches, failing to score in ten of those.

8. Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
What is Liverpool without Stevie G? The Reds are hoping they won’t have to find out for a few more years. Brendan Rodgers, hoping to keep the Liverpool captain on as a valued member of the side, moved the 33-year-old into a deeper role in midfield. There were a couple blips – most notably the 2-2 draw with Aston Villa in January – but Gerrard now looks as though he will flourish there. In total he notched 13 goals and 13 assists in Liverpool’s impressive season, and his impressive form shouldn’t be overshadowed by an unfortunate slip…

7. Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United)
Giving a top-ten spot to a player with only 15 starts and 4 goals seems a bit odd. But then again, Manchester United finishing in 7th also seems a bit odd. It’s been known for ages that United are lacking in the midfield, so when an exciting teenager comes along and seems to be able to create more in his few minutes on the field than the entire rest of the team, it’s worth acknowledging him. Particularly when, in his first start with the team, he sinks two goals in seven minutes to give his side a comeback win over Sunderland.

6. Adam Lallana (Southampton) Lallana, now 26, has been at Southampton since he was born, more or less. He was part of the club when they were sent down to League One and with them as they rose up, and up, up to 8th place this year. He’s now come into his own, displaying a quiet brilliance throughout the entire Saints’ season. Lallana has six recorded assists to his name, but he also works to set up his teammates – or takes the goals himself, bagging nine this season. His performances have earned him a place in England’s World Cup squad, with him likely to see some starts in Brazil.

5. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)
This may just be another case of a quality player shining for a disappointing team, but it seems Eriksen is the real deal. It took him a bit to find his Premier League feet after joining from Ajax in the summer, but once he was established in the side it became clear that Erikson was one of the few buys upon which Spurs definitely did not waste their money. He might not score many goals but he certainly can set them up, particularly with his tremendous free kicks. Now Tottenham fans will be hoping whoever comes in to take the helm will be able to get even more out of their favorite Dane.

4. Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace)
The Palace captain very nearly played every minute of every Premier League game this season – he came off injured in the final match against Fulham, losing out on the last 30 minutes of the match. But worry not, Socceroos fans, Jedinak is confident it’s just a minor injury and he’ll be fit to play in Australia’s first World Cup match. The defensive midfielder played a key role in Crystal Palace’s 11th-place finish, sweeping up in front of the defense to ensure that the Eagles could hold off many of the league’s strongest attacks.

3. Ross Barkley (Everton)
Barkley, just 20 years old, filled a variety of roles for Roberto Martínez this season. He’s played behind the striker, out wide in a band of three, or in a more withdrawn role – much of the time to great success. Barkley’s made it difficult to remember that this was really his first season in the Premier League (he spent much of the last on loan to Sheffield Wednesday) and that it’s still not certain where his best role on the field might be. But his versatility and his creativity make him a quality addition to any squad. That fact was not lost on Roy Hodgson, who named him in England’s World Cup squad.

1. Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Some want to call Hazard a “forward”. Let’s face it – Chelsea’s forwards are Demba Ba, Samuel Eto’o and Fernando Torres, who have under 20 goals between them. Hazard, an attacking midfielder, has 14, in 32 starts. Just a few months ago, his playmaking abilities were being talked up as among the best in the world. But manager José Mourinho apparently didn’t feel the same, dropping him after the Champions League loss to Atlético Madrid and now telling him he needs to work harder at his game. Mou, most teams would kill to have such a talented player in their squad – enjoy it!

1. Yaya Touré (Manchester City) There’s no official ranking of these ten players, but you’ll have to admit we’ve saved the best for last. Yaya is the king of the Premier League midfield, a consistent gem in the center of the pitch. In 35 games he scored 20 league goals for Manchester City, ending the year as their top scorer. He absolutely terrorizes defenses, either with his own shots on goal or by placing a perfect pass to the likes of Sergio Agüero or Edin Džeko. Snubbed for the Player of the Year award, Touré decided to go ahead and win the title instead.

Top 10 goalkeepers of the Premier League season

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Some would like you to believe goalkeeping is all about how many goals you allow which, at its essence, makes a heck of a lot of sense, doesn’t it? But when to rank the best performances over the course of a season, looking at a stat line could be a pretty big mistake.

For one thing, is Simon Mignolet a horrible keeper because Liverpool pushed forward and sometimes lost the defensive plot? Is Petr Cech a wizard simply because Chelsea didn’t allow a ton of shots?

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Advanced stats can only tell us so much, too. Take a look at this season’s Squawka goalkeeper stats for players who appeared in 20 or more Premier League contests:

source:

Now does that mean we’re going to stick with that list? Heck no. There are defensive and attacking philosophies, jaw-dropping saves and plain-old, splendid performances to consider. Let’s find a happy medium.

10. Joe Hart, Manchester City
England’s No. 1 backstopped his club to a Premier League title, but not without some mid-season questions as to whether his backup should get the No. 1 seat. Not many players on this list had their job status questioned this year.

9. Hugo Lloris, Tottenham
The Frenchman is very, very good. Appears poised to make the move to a great keeper soon, but needs to eliminate the baffling performances

8. Vito Mannone, Sunderland
Of all the “great keeper on a bad team” arguments, Mannone’s leaps above David Marshall of Cardiff and John Ruddy of Norwich. Much like his Northeast counterpart, Tim Krul, there have been so many matches where Sunderland could’ve conceded many more goals with an inferior keeper.

7. Petr Cech, Chelsea
Classic game orchestrator. Not taking slots away from the team in front of him, but his reputation would place him higher than his game at this point. Still a fantastic netminder.

source: Getty Images6. David De Gea, Manchester United
Once he eliminated the excessive taco eating — this was a story, folks — De Gea found his place as perhaps the most effective player on his underachieving team. Making the Spain roster is sign enough he’s announced his arrival.

5. Tim Krul, Newcastle United
Watch this team for more than 10 minutes and you might think Krul deserves to be No. 1. His early season was incredible, but his form dipped with his team’s late in the year. Krul rarely gives up a bad goal, and that happened a few times in the final couple months.

4. Simon Mignolet, Liverpool
Left out to dry on many occasions, Mignolet can play with the best of them. Get him an average defense and you might just see that next year.

3. Tim Howard, Everton
Tied with our No. 1 for clean sheets, the American backstop was phenomenal in completing Everton’s rise. Under-appreciated for distribution, especially lengthy kicks.

2. Asmir Begovic, Stoke City
He’s very, very good… a complete keeper already at the age of just 26.

1. Wojciech Szczesny, Arsenal
He’s brilliant in all aspects of the game, from shot-stopping to positioning a defense to distribution. And despite what his almost impossibly-awkward lack of sideburns (read: dad haircut) might tell you, he’s only 24. And in our book, already the best.

VIDEO: Top 10 Premier League games of the 2013-14 season

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As we continue our review of the incredible 2013-14 Premier League season, it is time to look back on the top 10 games.

Believe me, it was tough to pick out these matches from a season of pulsating drama…. but we got there.

FULL COVERAGE: Premier League season reviews

Below we have a recap, brief analysis and video highlights of the most stunning games since last August.

Do you agree with these picks? Even if you don’t, soak in the beauty of the PL by reliving some of the best moments of the past nine months.

Enjoy.

  • 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.
  • RECAP: Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal, March 22, 2014 – Chelsea scored twice early on and didn’t stop as they piled misery onto Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side in his 1000th games as Gunners boss. A bizarre handball decisions then marred the first half as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain punched the ball off the line… but referee Andre Marriner sent off Kieran Gibbs instead. The Blues were on a roll at this point of the season, while Arsenal collapsed against another big side away from home.
  • RECAP: Cardiff City 3-6 Liverpool, March 22, 2014 – Luis Suarez put on a clinic (shock) of clinical finishing as the Reds urged ahead in South Wales against a stubborn Cardiff side. The Bluebirds went ahead and were creating plenty of chances, but Suarez bagged a hat trick to send the away fans home dreaming of a PL title charge.
  • RECAP: West Brom 3-3 Cardiff City, March 29, 2014 – A relegation battle for the ages as West Brom surged into a 2-0 lead but Cardiff came flying back to make it 2-2. The Bluebirds were in the ascendancy going into stoppage time but then the Baggies broke and Saido Berahino put West Brom 3-2 in the fifth minute of stoppage time. However Cardiff scored with virtually the last kick of the game through Daehli as a pulsating clash had a fitting finale.
  • RECAP: Chelsea 1-2 Sunderland, April 19, 2014 – This was the game where Chelsea’s title hopes crashed and burned as Sunderland become the first team to ever win at Stamford Bridge in the PL while Mourinho was in charge of Chelsea. Chelsea scored early through Samuel Eto’o but Connor Wickham equalized. Late on Jozy Altidore won a penalty that Fabio Borini converted as Mourinho 78-game unbeaten run at home came to end against relegation strugglers Sunderland.
  • RECAP: Aston Villa 4-3 West Brom, Janaury 29, 2014 – A stunning first half saw this West Midland derby come to life in dramatic fashion. West Brom raced into a 2-0 lead as Chris Bunt lashed in a beauty to open the scoring however Villa came surging back and were 3-2 up as Fabian Delph’s stunner off the bar put the home side ahead. Youssouf Mulumbu made it 3-3 at half time, then Christian Benteke proved pivotal with the winner in the second half.