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.

Sunday league in New York rallies around assaulted referee

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I had to share a nice, feel-good moment from my neck of the soccer woods on this fine Sunday in July.

It starts with something heinous, though.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Let’s begin here: The Buffalo District Soccer League (BDSL) is an 81-team men’s league in Western New York. It also conducts the Tehel Cup, the oldest amateur cup tournament in the United States.

Unfortunately, this post is about neither of the positives associated with those facts, as last weekend saw a player lose control after receiving a red card. The player in question hit referee Mike Crane, leaving the official with a head injury.

It’s not the first time we’ve written about referee assault; Unfortunately, typing the phrase “referee dies” in the PST search tool brings up multiple entries.

Yet the incident understandably caused a stir in the Buffalo soccer community, as the BDSL rallied around Crane and its officials.

Clubs assembled before their matches to take photos with the referee units, tagging each on Twitter with the hashtag #UnitedForCrane.

Let’s hope this post serves as a reminder to all weekend warriors and professional players alike: It’s still just a game.

 

What’s next for growing American would-be pro soccer clubs like Detroit City?

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As our attention switches from international football back to the club game, a new article coming out of Michigan recalls where American soccer was when the American soccer world hit pause for the World Cup in June.

That’s when the United States Soccer Federation rejected billionaire businessman Rocco Commisso’s plea for a 10-year runway to bring the North American Soccer League to Division 1 league status by virtue of a $500 million investment proposal.

As if on cue, a John Niyo article in The Detroit News drags the so-called “closed system” back to the forefront, and his writing on National Premier Soccer League side Detroit City FC makes an interesting case.

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DISCLAIMER: Before we go any further, it’s important to note I operate a club in the same league as Detroit City, and very much admire how they’ve built what they’ve built there. That said, my opinions may be buttressed by that fact but are not birthed by bias.

The would-be Cliffs Notes go something like this: Detroit City FC wants to move from the short-season, semi-pro National Premier Soccer League to a fully professional league with a longer season. The rub is that DCFC currently only has one path and it’s one neither they nor the lion’s share of their supporters would support at the given time.

That’s largely because the U.S. Soccer Federation has only sanctioned two options above the NPSL: The United Soccer League and Major League Soccer. If DCFC doesn’t want to play a part in either of those organizations, it has no other current option. And while Detroit City has continued to bring huge crowds to its restored Keyworth Stadium whether NPSL matches or friendlies against the likes of FC St. Pauli, Necaxa, or Venezia, its next step is currently stuck in a holding pattern despite the club’s achievements.

And — and this is where Commisso’s offer comes back into play — the USSF has no reason to sanction any league that doesn’t go by its current divisional guidelines, which demand a very wealthy owner and specific stadium requirements amongst other things. Infrastructure and fan support can be built, but asking these clubs to hand themselves over to someone with deeper pockets simply to meet a standard is real 2×4 to the gut.

“What you’re doing is awesome, but imagine if instead of you owning all of your success, you found a wealthier person to help you meet our standards?”

As we saw when MLS had its Detroit press conference without DCFC, there is no longer the ability to pretend soccer wasn’t already in town. DCFC may seem like an outlier, and may well be one, having had massive success with big crowds in a stadium they renovated themselves. Yet there’s little doubt there are myriad markets in this giant country that wouldn’t mind trying their hands with something new.

Put plainly, there are 172 clubs in the NPSL and Premier Development League alone, few of whom are in markets with MLS teams. Even eliminating the PDL teams with close relationships to MLS and the USL (The USL owns the PDL), and there are still well over 100 teams in play. Sure, some of those may not have the ambition to grow higher, but they are also currently also shackled by having to compete against the former NASL teams who had no alternative outside of the USL once their Division 2 league shut down last winter.

So Niyo’s article asks a question many have posited in the realms of social media: Why not go outside the structure of FIFA?

From The Detroit News:

Building a league outside the constraints of U.S. Soccer’s “Professional League Standards” could be one option for remaining NASL owners — New York, Miami and Jacksonville — and NPSL teams that are looking to grow pro. Detroit City FC was one of at least a half-dozen NPSL teams — clubs from Boston, Phoenix, Virginia Beach and Boca Raton, Fla. among them — poised to join the NASL with letters of intent last fall. But whatever path a new league pursues, it’ll require strength in numbers — at least 10 or 12 teams — and a geography that makes sense.

It’s a major risk, one that certainly is lined with the hopes that the influencers and money people behind the USSF might blink at significant competition.

But it still requires significant salesmanship: Getting top-notch players to commit to a league which several hampers their international aspirations is a hard sell (The NASL had capped players from 27 caps heading into the 2016 season).

[ MORE: LAFC 0-0 Portland ]

So, too, is convincing deep-pocketed investors that they are capable of slaying, or at least denting, a big machine which has grown in a dramatic way in the last two decades. If a guy like Commisso, who has since went deep into discussions for a takeover of AC-freaking-Milan, sees the value and necessity of USSF sanctioning, lawsuits or not, certainly most would have the same questions.

Are there enough of the renegade rich to self-sustain a league outside of the MLS-USL set-up, and even get to sanctioning? Probably, as evidenced by Commisso’s belief that he’d be able to go from multi-club ownership of a D-1 NASL to 10 owners within a decade.

And there’s no denying the allure of safety for new markets. NISA founder Peter Wilt left his nascent D-3 league to helm USL soccer in Madison, and it’s easy to envision his safer new venture an almost automatic success.

So would that same group of risk takers be willing to do it outside of USSF sanctioning, without name players?

That’s where DCFC’s status as an outlier might really come into play. For everyone tooting the proverbial horn of MLS’ rapid and impressive evolution in quality — academies and foreign recruitment alike have made the league very entertaining — there’s no doubt that players with the name quality of Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, or Carlos Vela still put butts in seats.

Consider this: For all its growth, MLS’ top performing players remain almost overwhelmingly foreign-developed. Using an advanced rating site like WhoScored, the Top 20 finds only two players with any sort of U.S. or Canadian development in their lockers (and that’s being gracious with Kei Kamara, who came to U.S. for college at the age of 20).

You get to No. 23 before another U.S. developed player, Sean Davis, hits the list. It only gets to seven by No. 40 if you allow foreign-born players who largely grew their games in college soccer (including Mark-Anthony Kaye from TFC’s Academy and York University in Ontario).

Suffice it to say, there’s plenty of quality American and foreign talent which would benefit from more jobs.

As DCFC CEO Sean Mann says in The Detroit News piece: “It was frustrating: Why are there so many obstacles? We’re not zealots. We’re not crusaders to reform American soccer. We just want to play at a higher level. We want to naturally grow. And U.S. soccer doesn’t allow that.”

This nation is gigantic, and there are few fans out there who genuinely believe MLS will stop expanding any time soon. In fact, it’s a safe bet that the long play is to one day announce a knockoff of promotion and relegation within the confines of the Major League Soccer umbrella.

The question isn’t who’s right and who’s wrong. Let’s face it: the answers seem likely to fall along the lines of one’s political alliances. Those who fear the risks of the new and unusual will worry about short-circuiting the current path, while the other side will beg to give ideals and theories a chance at practice in the name of something better.

But something does have to change. Soon, more and more major success stories are going to be held short of their goals because of the current structure. Whether that’s Detroit City or Chattanooga seeking a next level and not finding it, or the Sacramento Republic not getting its shot at MLS, or a fan base and market like Columbus getting waylaid by a slimy contract and inaction from on high, they will keep coming into your news feed.

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And if we keep making the mistake of letting these conversations regress to simple “pro-rel” banter, then we’re all going to lose. And it’s going to take a bunch of risk takers who put aside their egos to find common ground.

Here’s a quick way to put the American soccer landscape in perspective: Look at a map. As this sport continues to grow, and the country’s young players are coached and encouraged by generations of fans who were coached and encouraged by fans themselves, the markets for summer sporting entertainment will continue to explode in the United States (with only baseball to compete with them thanks to the given calendar implemented by the USSF).

Are there more than 26 markets fit to host a top-tier side? Yep. Are there more than the 60-plus when tossing in USL (but subtracting MLS reserve sides)? Yep.

And if Commisso’s offer tells us anything, anything at all, it’s that there are figures out there who love the game and have an appetite for something not currently satisfied by the current structure. So either MLS or the USSF is going to announce its plan for a much bigger league with more than a couple dozen markets, or someone is going to challenge from the outside (Of course, both could happen and that would be very intriguing).

Either way, let’s hope it happens before the next guys who want to take up Detroit City’s example decide they’d rather not rattle their skulls against an unnecessary ceiling.

What’s the solution given the current power and success of the USSF? Your takes are welcome.

Nothing to separate Portland and 10-man LAFC

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There was entertainment value in Los Angeles FC’s potential playoff preview with the Portland Timbers on Sunday in the City of Angels, but all that arrived was a scoreless draw.

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Both Giovani Savarese’s Timbers and Bob Bradley‘s nickname-free expansion club remain in the West’s Top Four. PLAFC remains unbeaten at home during their maiden voyage through Major League Soccer.

Adama Diomande came close for the hosts, who finished with 10-men when Lee Nguyen went studs-up on Sebastian Blanco‘s thigh for a pretty easy red card (though it took some time for Silviu Petrescu to produce the red).

VIDEO: France stars projected onto Arc de Triomphe

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If France’s players had any doubt about the level of import their World Cup title had back home, it was erased when their photos were projected onto one of the most celebrated monuments in the world.

The photos of Hugo Lloris, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, and company made their way onto the Arc de Triomphe on Sunday, hours after France defeated Croatia 4-2 in the World Cup Final.

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The Arc de Triomphe honors those who died in the French Revolution and early 19th century wars, and sits above France’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

How humbling must it be for those players to grace such a heavy monument (both in weight and substance).