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.

USMNT’s Arriola likely will miss MLS season, six World Cup qualifiers

Paul Arriola
AP Photo/LM Otero
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WASHINGTON (AP) D.C. United midfielder Paul Arriola had major knee surgery Monday and likely will miss the entire Major League Soccer season and the United States’ first six qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup

The operation was to reconstruct his right anterior cruciate ligament. The team said there was no additional cartilage damage.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The 25-year-old midfielder injured his knee Feb. 15 during D.C. United’s preseason match against Orlando in Tampa, Florida.

Arriola has been a regular starter for the U.S. national team under coach Gregg Berhalter. Arriola has five goals in 33 international appearances.

After failing to reach the 2018 World Cup, the U.S. starts qualifying for the 2022 tournament this year. The Americans have two matches each in September, October and November, then complete qualifying with two games apiece in March and September 2021.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

State of play in CONCACAF Champions League

CONCACAF Champions League
AP Photo/Carlos Gonzalez
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Four of five Major League Soccer clubs alive in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 are in fine shape to reach the quarterfinals after one leg.

The fifth has a tall hill to climb.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

LAFC trails Club Leon by two and did not collect an away goal in Mexico during first leg play last week.

“It’s 2-0, but we’re going to work hard,” said LAFC attacker Latif Blessing. “We’re going to prepare ourselves to win the next game. … We did good, but we want to win. It couldn’t happen that way but we’re going to prepare next game to win this game. We need to win.”

The second leg in L.A. is one of the last two matches of the round, kicking off at 10 p.m. ET Thursday just as Seattle Sounders square off with Olimpia.

The Honduran side managed a controversial comeback in the 2-2 draw with Jordan Morris-fueled Seattle last week, but the Sounders will be happy to have those two away goals and home field.

Montreal Impact has the same situation for Deportivo Saprissa’s visit at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, while Atlanta United scored an away goal in a draw with Motagua and hosts the visitors from Honduras’ capital at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday.

That leaves us with NYCFC, who got a Heber hat trick amongst five away goals at Costa Rican side San Carlos in a 5-3 win. The second leg begins at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday at Red Bull Arena (yes, you read that correctly).

Elsewhere, Liga MX sides don’t have it much better. Cruz Azul leads Portmore 2-1 heading back to Mexico, while Club America scored an away goal in a draw with Comunicaciones.

Finally, Tigres UANL trails 2-1 after one leg with Alianza in El Salvador.

CCL second leg schedule
all times ET

Atlanta United v. Motagua (1-1) — 8 p.m. Tuesday
Cruz Azul v. Portmore United (2-1) — 10 p.m. Tuesday
NYCFC v. San Carlos (5-3) — 6 p.m. Wednesday
Montreal Impact v. Deportivo Saprissa (2-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tigres UANL v. Alianza (1-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Club America v. Comunicaciones (1-1) — 10 p.m. Wednesday
Seattle Sounders v. Olimpia (2-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday
LAFC v Leon (0-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday

Eleven to go: Ranking obstacles on Liverpool’s unbeaten path

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Liverpool has won all five of its matches since the last time we evaluated its path to an unbeaten Premier League season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Those matches were ranked 14th, 12th, 11th, 10th, and 4th on our first rankings of obstacles to immortality, so very little of the heavy lifting has been conducted.

Let’s get something out of the way: If Liverpool is unable to overturn their first leg deficit against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, you can probably etch that zero in the league loss column into stone.

That said, many expect the Reds to overcome that 1-0 disadvantage from Madrid, so here’s where we slot the difficulties moving forward.

Unranked — Crystal Palace at home (March 21) and Brighton away (April 18) — Both of these dates are very easy on the eyes, but will be moved if Liverpool is alive in the FA Cup.

9. Newcastle away, time TBD May 17 — We’re now calling this the easiest date left. Klopp’s men aren’t going to lose an unbeaten season at the altar just because Steve Bruce bunkers down. St. James’ Park is a hassle, but

8. Watford away, 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday Klopp probably feels like he’s already playing with house money in the FA Cup, so there’s no reason to think he’ll hand any priority at all to the following FA Cup meeting with Chelsea.

7. Bournemouth home, 7:30 a.m. ET March 7 Situated between Chelsea in the FA Cup and the home UCL second leg versus Atleti, it’s not easy…  but the Cherries have given us less reason to believe they’ll threaten the Reds than any other team besides Newcastle.

6. Aston Villa home, 11:30 a.m. ET April 12Dean Smith‘s desperate Villans will have Villa Park rocking before Liverpool’s possible UCL quarterfinals 2nd leg days later.

5. Burnley home, 7:30 a.m. ET April 25 — Taking place just before a possible UCL quarterfinal first leg, Burnley will try to trouble the Reds in a similar manner to West Ham.

4. Chelsea home, time TBD May 9 — Both the Blues and Reds could be coming off UCL semifinal second legs. Don’t forget that Chelsea took the Reds to the wire in the UEFA Super Cup despite it being very early in Frank Lampard‘s tenure.

3. Arsenal away, time TBD May 2 — Both sides may be days away from needing a result to qualify for the UCL or UEL final.

2. Everton away, 4 p.m. ET March 16 — This may as well be the only match left on the Toffees’ docket that matters more than another, as Carlo Ancelotti and his men know the message they could send regarding the building up of Everton.

Not only that, but Everton has nothing else left to circle, no other competitions, nothing.

1. Man City away, 11:30 a.m. ET April 5 — Taking place 3-4 days before the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals and on the heels of an international break, it’s the lone date on the calendar that Liverpool won’t be heavy favorites to win.

Champions League: Chelsea, Napoli aim to slow Lewandowski, Messi

UEFA Champions League preview
Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images
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Four of the most dangerous attacks in Europe begin their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

For Chelsea that means trying to find a way to limit the damage of away goals when Bayern Munich visits Stamford Bridge.

Of course, that means trying to slow lethal Robert Lewandowski. The 31-year-old Polish striker has scored 38 times in 32 appearances this season.

Here’s Frank Lampard, via Football.London:

Form of his life means something special with Lewandowski because of how well he’s been consistently in Europe for the last, how many years, I don’t know,” Lampard said. “Everything about him, from a distance, from afar, is just top class. Having the opportunity to watch a lot of Bayern in build-up to this game, that shines through. Of course, he’s going to be a huge threat. He’s not the only threat but he is a spearhead.”

Lampard points to the Blues work without the ball and away from it that will determine whether they can limit Lewandowski and Bayern.

“We traveled to Ajax and had a fantastic game off the ball,” he said. “We’ve had games like that this year in the league as well. But the levels have to go up.”

The Blues won’t have Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and N’Golo Kante, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek is finally available after a long injury absence. Pedro may play.

[ MORE: JPW’s score predictions ]

Tuesday’s other first leg sees Napoli hosting Barcelona, which means Gennaro Gattuso trying to find a way to cool down Lionel Messi.

The world’s top player scored four goals at the weekend and had six assists in his three previous La Liga outings.

Another player who’s helped Barcelona reclaim the league lead will be critical to controlling the midfield against Napoli, and that’s Frenkie de Jong.

The 22-year-old has had fits and starts at Barca, especially this month. He admits that he’s had an odd time adjusting to Messi, the teammate, though it hasn’t been part of the problem. From FCBarcelona.com:

“When I began training with him it was strange, because when I was 12, still in secondary school, I used to watch a lot of football. He was already the best in the world. He won the Ballon d’Or back then, so I was a fan, or whatever you want to call it.”

Napoli boss Gattuso was a bit more effusive when addressing Messi, via Football.Espana:

“I have read whether to make a cage or not, but we need the collective game to combat someone like him, and it is not just him,” Gattuso said. “He is the best in the world, for how he has lived his entire career. He is always perfect, never a misplaced word, he is an example for everyone. He does things that I only see on the PlayStation. He has an incredible quality and for years he has been the best of all-time.”

Both matches kick off at 3 p.m. ET Tuesday.