Ten biggest storylines of the Premier League season that was

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All week at ProSoccerTalk we are reviewing the dramatic 2014-15 Premier League season. From dishing out awards to looking back at the highs and lows in the 380 games as 20 teams battled it out, we’ll have every angle covered.

[ FULL COVERAGE: Premier League season review ]

For the full archive of our review content, just hit the link above. Now, it’s time to take a look back at — in no particular order — 10 storylines that helped make the Premier League season a memorable one.

10. Pardiola — Newcastle United started very poorly this season, and the Magpies’ fan base was livid with high-talking manager Alan Pardew before a five-game win streak pushed the club from the bottom to the top half.

Pardew’s departure for Crystal Palace was met with good humor by the Toon Army. That changed to misery when Pardew led the Eagles from the bottom to a 10th place finish, while Newcastle absolutely fell apart over a string of miserable performances under former Toronto FC boss John Carver.

source: AP9. Saintly surprises — Perhaps its fitting that some Saints and a Monk featured in ‘miraculous’ seasons for Southampton and Swansea City. Though they faded down the stretch, Southampton was expected to fall apart after selling stars Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert and Luke Shaw. Instead, they contended for the Top Five all year under new boss Ronald Koeman (left).

And how about Swans under Garry Monk? The former player helmed the club to survival last season and then spearheaded one of the most fun sides in the league this season. Swansea finished eighth despite selling Wilfried Bony in January, as Monk coaxed career years out of Ki Sung-yeung, Jonjo Shelvey and Ashley Williams amongst others.

8. Catch for us the Foxes — Nigel Pearson was as good as fired, you know? And wasn’t Leicester City as good as in the Championship? Nope. Left for the managerial scrapheap after a “choking” incident with Crystal Palace’s James McArthur and a long string of poor results, Pearson orchestrated a big winning streak that allowed the Foxes to clinch safety before Championship Sunday.

7. Style vs. Title — As Chelsea’s forward corps dealt with injuries, the soccer world turned to debate whether their title should count, what with Arsenal flying up-and-down the pitch but not within sight of the first-place Blues. It was a horrible debate that pretended Chelsea was constantly hanging back in Tony Pulis-like banks of four, across the 18 and begging for a single mercy point.

6. Quitting QPR — Harry Redknapp and Queens Park Rangers’ return to the Premier League lasted less than a season, as the Loftus Road club saw its brash manager skip town at the end of the January transfer window on account of wonky knees. QPR could not rebound to safety, as Redknapp left another club in the lurch.

source: Getty Images5. Timmy Tactics — Tim Sherwood somehow got the Spurs job last season, then caused a fuss when he battered the club for not giving him a long-term deal. His name was bandied about for seemingly every potential opening in England, before landing at Aston Villa where he… actually got the club humming to safety. His longterm prospects are still a major question, but “Timmy Tactics” can put the first-half of 2015 in the win column, and he can still guide his club to an FA Cup title.

4. Struggles in (and for) Europe — Liverpool failed to make the Round of 16, while its three UEFA Champions League peers were gone by the end of the first knockout round.

The Reds were bounced from their group by Real Madrid and Basel, and nearly finished bottom of the group. Arsenal went down big to Monaco before “almost” climbing back. Manchester City fell to Barcelona over a yawn-worthy two legs of effort, while Chelsea fell to PSG on away goals.

Certainly more is expected in 2015 with Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United.

As for Europa, all English contenders fell in the competition, and there was question as to whether anyone wanted in the competition moving forward. Down the stretch, and be honest, did you wonder whether Southampton and Tottenham were trying to qualify for the Europa League, or avoid the tournament altogether?

3. Don’t call it a comeback — Louis van Gaal is getting a lot of love for Manchester United’s resurgence to the UEFA Champions League after buying Angel Di Maria, Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw and others, but is his six points better finish that much more impressive than hard-luck David Moyes’ 2013-14 campaign? It’s worth discussing, as replacing Sir Alex Ferguson has now seen two seasons as the lesser-finishing side in Manchester.

source: Getty Images2. Wire-to-wire — While some were debating their “boring” nature, Jose Mourinho was masterminding Chelsea’s unquestioned dominance. The Blues went from start to finish as the Premier League’s top club, with debatably the best forward (Diego Costa), attacker (Eden Hazard), destroyer (Nemanja Matic), back (John Terry) and keeper (Thibaut Courtois). You don’t have to like those characterizations, or agree, but in terms of being in the debate, there is no doubt. Special One? Indeed.

1. Stevie G — Here’s another thing you don’t have to like, but there’s no doubt Steve Gerrard was a bit part of the season’s headlines from opening day (Could he come back from “The Slip”?) to mid-season European flopping (Are they better without him in the lineup?) and finally his exhaustively-covered departure from Anfield (Did Ryan Giggs or Frank Lampard get this sort of service last year?).

Still, Liverpool’s hero left Anfield with class, and will now begin his adventure in the United States.

Bonus storylines: Harry Kane; Frank Lampard’s no-celebration vs. Chelsea; the Blues’ swarming referees like bees; Burnley nearly punches above its weight; Sunderland survives thanks to Advocaat; West Ham surges forward, then falls flat; Jonas Gutierrez returns from cancer.

Hyndman, Hamid seal permanent MLS deals

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Two players who have featured for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the past signed permanent MLS deals on Monday, after spending the all or parts of the 2019 MLS season on loan in the league.

The question is, should we be disappointed? It’s two USMNT-eligible players in their prime who are leaving Europe for regular playing time? Will that playing time get them back in the USMNT picture? Or were their old club teams simply the problem before?

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

It was a return for Bill Hamid, who was a D.C. United homegrown player and arguably the first player on the team sheet between 2009-2017. Hamid actually returned from Europe in 2018 and spent all of the last year and a half on loan from FC Midtjylland in Denmark.

Hyndman on the other hand signed a permanent deal with Atlanta United, after the former MLS Cup champions signed the 23-year-old midfielder on a loan deal from Bournemouth in the Premier League. It was Hyndman’s fourth club in four years – including three loan moves – and perhaps Atlanta is a place he can put down roots and stay for the long term.

Per both D.C. United and Atlanta United, both players signed multi-year deals. D.C. United reportedly even paid a transfer fee for Hamid.

Both players are solid to good players in MLS, and as Americans, they add quality and don’t cost a team an international spot. But for the U.S. Men’s National Team, it’s unclear how this could affect the pair.

On one hand, USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter has shown a preference to certain players he had in the 2019 January camp, including guys like Nick Lima, Paul Arriola and Christian Roldan, even if performances don’t necessarily merit them playing each match. On the other hand, as someone who has played in Germany, and England, Berhalter surely understands the benefits of challenging yourself every few years to play and train at a higher level. It doesn’t have to be Jurgen Klinsmann levels, where every single year they have to step it up, but finding a new way to freshen things up in a tough environment can have positive benefits for everyone, assuming there is playing time.

For Hyndman, who moved to Fulham’s academy in 2011 at the age of 15, it marks the end of seven years in Europe trying to break in. He had decent half-season spells with Hibernian and Rangers in the Scottish Premier Division, but one can argue that Atlanta United is itself on a higher level of play. That being said, Hyndman has clearly decided that regular gametime is best for his development as a player than relocating to the Netherlands, Italy or Germany to play. He wasn’t likely to get any at Bournemouth, even with their current Premier League struggles.

In Hamid’s case, he took a chance on Europe with FC Midtjylland. However, pretty quickly he realized that it wasn’t the right situation for him and within six months, he was back on D.C. United on loan for the next year and a half.

In both cases, there may have been options to continue their European adventures. Whether it was in the Championship or another “mid-major” European league, in the past, two players entering their primes might have tried to stay in Europe a little longer. But the lure of MLS, with a decent salary, less competition for places and the opportunity to play at home in front of family is a strong one, and the national team will have to adjust with it.

 

Would Saul make sense at Man United?

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As Manchester United prepares its roster construction for the future, one player that’s reportedly on the shortlist is Atletico Madrid central midfielder Saul Niguez.

Although originally from Elche, in southeast Spain, Saul has been on the books of Atletico Madrid since 2008 (other than a season on loan with Rayo Vallecano), making his first team debut in 2012 and growing from a scrawny midfielder into an international-calibre box-to-box star for both club and country. Per Diario AS, Man United has been interested in signing Saul before, and now it’s been revived. The report states, “The interest from Manchester is very real, and strong.”

[READ: Arsenal comes back to beat West Ham]

So, what kind of a player is Saul?

As mentioned before, he’s a sturdy, powerful box-to-box midfielder who can win headers defensively and knows how to play well in a Diego “Cholo” Simeone system. At the same time, he’s certainly not afraid to make a late run into the box. Last season he tied a career high with four goals in La Liga and also scored in the UEFA Champions League.

At 25-years old, he’s a hardened veteran player. But is he what Man United needs?

If you look at the current squad at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s disposal, he’s got quite a few No. 8’s, right? There’s Paul Pogba, Andreas Pereira, and Fred. You can argue Scott McTominay has at times played like an 8, as has Jesse Lingard on occasion. One might argue that what Man United really needs is a better No. 6, someone who can be a destroyer and cover a lot of ground, freeing up that side of the game so Pogba could feel more comfortable attacking.

If Man United were to sign Saul in January – or next summer – we could potentially see him line up in a midfield three, though he’d be center right with Pogba to his left. Behind the pair would be McTominay to clean up the messes.

On paper, it’s a decent midfield for sure, but it’s just one step on Man United’s path towards becoming a team that can challenge for the Premier League and Champions League.

Of course, this is all theoretical. Saul carries a $166 million transfer release clause, and for the player he is, considering he doesn’t score many goals and affects the game in little ways, it’s a lot to spend for a guy who isn’t a guarantee to improve his team enough to make it back to the Champions League.

But if Man United was able to negotiate a better transfer fee for Niguez, they could do worse than a talented midfielder from Atletico Madrid. The question then will be – is Saul a system player (only successful under Simeone), or can he find success in the Premier League too?

USWNT’s Rapinoe named SI Sportswoman of the Year

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In 2019, Megan Rapinoe won a World Cup title, Golden Ball, Golden Boot, FIFA World Cup MVP, and the Ballon d’Or. Now, she can add her name to another distinguished list.

Sports Illustrated on Monday revealed that Rapinoe had been named SI’s 2019 Sportsperson of the Year. She’s the first individual soccer player from any gender to win the award, and she follows the 1999 U.S. Women’s National Team as the second USWNT-related athlete to garner the award.

[READ: Rapinoe wins 2019 Ballon d’Or]

Other notable winners of this award are Serena Williams, LeBron James, the Golden State Warriors, Michael Jordan, and Muhammad Ali.

“Even in a year with many great candidates, choosing Megan as the Sportsperson of the Year was an easy decision,” Steve Cannella, co-editor-in-chief of Sports Illustrated said in a statement released by the magazine. “She is a force of nature on and off the field, a trailblazing soccer player who also proves every day how large and loud a voice a socially conscious athlete can have in 2019.”

Rapinoe has had about as good of a year as a player can have, and she did it under enormous pressure. She withstood verbal and online taunts from the U.S. president for her noted opposition against his political decisions, as well as dealt with injuries during the tournament. Even if she wasn’t always at her best on the field, she found a way to score key goals at important moments.

Every Women’s World Cup seems to raise the profile of the USWNT and soccer in this country, but beyond her work on the field, Rapinoe’s hair, media savvy and ultimately, her performance won over any critic she could have. What she’s done for soccer in this country is immeasurable, and hopefully there are people that have a desire to keep watching the beautiful game after the World Cup, thanks in some part to Rapinoe.

Rapinoe will grace the cover of Sports Illustrated for the Dec. 16 issue.

Ljungberg on Pepe: He ‘showed his quality’

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Arsene Wenger used to say that players needed around six months once they came to the Premier League to get adjusted to both living in England and getting acclimated to the pace and physicality of the league.

For Nicolas Pepe, it was advice well heeded.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Offensively, Pepe was outstanding as he scored a goal and an assist in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over West Ham. At the same time, Pepe worked hard on the defensive end, making life difficult for West Ham left back Aaron Cresswell and anyone down West Ham’s right flank.

On Monday, Pepe showed that he was worth his $87 million transfer fee, and he only needs a yard of space to create something magical.

“People always ask me about Nico and I try to explain,” Ljungberg after the game. “He comes from the French league, he comes to the Premier League – in my opinion the best league in the world – and it’s a lot faster and a lot harder. He needs to adapt. People put pressure on him but that’s not so easy, and I thought what he did today was he worked really hard offensively and defensively and showed his quality.

“I’m so pleased for him because at the same time he was a big, big buy for the club and then comes pressure with that as well. He will fall asleep with a smile tonight.”

In the 66th minute, Pepe found himself isolated on the wing with just Cresswell to beat. After cutting inside, Pepe curled home a beauty which ended up being the game-winning-goal. It was just his second Premier League goal of the season and his first from open play. Perhaps now after five months of bedding in at Arsenal, Pepe is ready to shine.

There’s no doubt that with Arsenal’s defensive issues, they need their attacking stars to score in bunches from here on out. If Pepe can finish the season with ten goals and ten assists, it will be a wild success, and set him up well for the next season.