Premier League Playback: Looking back at a memorable 2014-15 season

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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.

[ ARCHIVE: 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 an incredible season as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor files his final PL Playback of the season…

PL LEGENDS BID FAREWELL

As we said goodbye to the 2014-15 Premier League season, we also said goodbye to two legendary players who have epitomized what the PL is all about for almost two decades.

Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, take a bow. Both players said farewell in a fitting manner during their final appearance in the PL as Lampard captained Manchester City and scored a stereotypical goal as he timed his run into the box perfectly and side-footed home in a 2-0 win over Southampton. As for Gerrard, well, Liverpool lost 6-1 to Stoke City but Gerrard got the lone goal as he burst through the defense and coolly slotted home.

Class is permanent for these two.

For fans of soccer in the United States, don’t fret. You will get to see Lamps and Stevie G on American soil very soon. Lampard, 36, will play for New York City FC in MLS, while Gerrard, 34, is joining the LA Galaxy.

[ RELATED: Gerrard gets fitting farewell at Anfield ]

In the video below you can get a quick look at the legacy both men leave behind in England’s top-flight. For years they played in central midfielder together for the English national team and although that partnership failed to flourish, as individuals they drove on two English giants as goalscoring midfielders who always popped up when it mattered most.

[ RELATED: Friedel looks back on incredible career ]

Lampard and Gerrard have been inspirational and synonymous with the PL for over 17 years. Now, they take their talents Stateside. Other legends of the PL called it quits at the end of this season too as Didier Drogba and Brad Friedel also ended their playing days in England. Congrats and thanks to those four for some wonderful memories over the years.

CHELSEA WORTHY CHAMPS

Premier League Season Review

READ
Top 10 storylines Read the review, here
Story of managers Read the review, here
Top 10 goals Read the review, here
USMNT focus Read the review, here
2014-15 Grades Read the review, here

“Boring, boring Chelsea!” became the chant of the season from… Chelsea’s fans. Lambasted by the outside world and soccer purists for “parking the bus” in the second half of the season to secure the clubs first PL title since 2010, Jose Mourinho looked on smugly as John Terry lifted the title aloft on the final day of the season and the Portuguese held eight fingers in the air to signify how many trophies he has now won as the boss at Stamford Bridge.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays ]

Mourinho, 52, is enjoying his second spell in charge of the west London club and his side showed every facet needed to win the championship in 2014-15. When all was said and done, the Blues lost just three times in 38 games. They finished eight points clear of Man City in second. Chelsea kept the most clean sheets (17) and had the best defense in the PL with 31 goals conceded. They scored the second highest number of goals despite missing Diego Costa for most of the second half of the season. In Cesc Fabregas they had the player with the most assists (18) and Eden Hazard created 101 chances, more than any other player in the PL. Nemanja Matic made the most tackles, 129. Whatever way you want to slice it up, Chelsea were deserved champions as they spent a record 274 days at the top of the table during the 2014-15 season.

Now, the real challenge will be kicking on and fending off Man City, Arsenal and Manchester United next season. Chelsea will likely add a few key signings over the offseason as Mourinho knows it will be tough to defend their crown. The man who has won three titles in five seasons in charge of Chelsea knows exactly what he wants to bring in as he must balance expensive additions with a young core of talented players coming through the ranks at the Bridge. Plus, when you have reigning PL Player of the Season Eden Hazard around, you always have a chance. The “Special One”, as always, will do whatever it takes to win. Fans and other managers may despise his tactics and his persona but as Mourinho said it best…

“I think we are what every team would like to be.” Yep, that would be the Champions of England.

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK

This season saw plenty of expensive foreign imports bursting onto the scene and some young Englishmen making a name for themselves as new heroes were born across the league.

Harry Kane

The local lad is good. Real good. Kane, just 21, didn’t start a PL game until November but finished as the second-highest scorer in the league with 21 goals and was named the PL Young Player of the Year as Tottenham Hotspur finished fifth. Kane made, and scored, 79 seconds into his England debut and plenty is expected of the youngster from north London in the coming years. No pressure, H…

Alexis Sanchez

“Alexis Sanchez, baby! Alexis Sanchez, ohhhh!” Sung to the tune of “Don’t you want me baby?” by Human League, Sanchez’s song has been belted out loud and proud by Gooners this season. The Chilean has been a revelation since arriving from Barcelona for $53 million last summer. Sanchez’ pace, power and trickery saw him score 24 times in 51 games in his debut season for Arsenal in the PL as Arsene Wenger’s men finished third. His attacking ability is one thing but Sanchez’ relentless work-rate has turned him into an instant legend with Arsenal’s fans.

Diego Costa

Chelsea’s new goalscoring hero, and a feisty one at that, Costa missed a huge chunk of the second half of the season through suspension and injury. If the Spanish international wouldn’t have got injured, Chelsea could have easily won the PL by a 15-point margin. At 26, his best years are ahead of him and after 20 goals in 26 PL appearances during his debut season, you get the sense that Costa is only just getting started.

Honorable mentions: Jack Grealish, Graziano Pelle, Diafra Sakho, Ryan Mason, Sadio Mane, Eric Dier

 

MAN UNITED: SLOW PROGRESS

The Red Devils recovered well after an incredibly slow start to finish in fourth and qualify for the UEFA Champions League. Louis van Gaal met his minimum requirement in his first season in charge at Old Trafford but boy, did they make hard work of it.

[ RELATED: Final Premier League standings ]

On Nov. 3 United sat in 10th place and had just 13 points from their opening 10 games. A run of six-straight wins in the Spring propelled them into the top four but LVG has a lot of work to do if United are going to challenge for the PL title next season, which is what he expects.

The big money signings of Radamel Falcao, who has returned to Monaco after his loan, and Angel Di Maria didn’t work out this campaign but in the case of Di Maria, he will be expected to take United to the next level next season. The emergence of Ander Herrera, Juan Mata, Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini is promising for LVG but the situation surrounding David De Gea and a possible move to Real Madrid could see the Red Devils lose arguably their most player. Huge investment is needed to kick on again, with Memphis Depay already signed on, but United will likely need a new center back, a top-class central midfielder, a star striker who Wayne Rooney could play in behind and potentially a new world-class goalkeeper. That won’t be cheap but United now have the carrot of the Champions League — as long as they get through the knockout round in August — to dangle at prospective signings.

Slow progress for United, but Van Gaal has them on a steady ascendancy back to where they believe they belong.

MANAGERIAL UNDERDOGS

Ronald Koeman. Garry Monk. Nigel Pearson. Alan Pardew. Those four managers stunned many during the season as Koeman led Saints to seventh and a record points tally after a mass exodus last summer, Monk led Swansea to eighth and a record points tally in his first full season in charge, Pearson kept Leicester City up against all the odds with an incredible late run and Pardew switched Newcastle for Palace midseason and led the struggling Eagles to a top 10 finish.

We talk a lot (and I mean a lot) about the managers of the top five or six PL teams but 2014-15 was without question the year of the managerial underdog.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The most exciting thing about the success of these so-called smaller clubs is that their progress has now become sustainable and if they invest the huge amounts of cash they are getting wisely then they can challenge the top six or even the top four.

Elsewhere, Tim Sherwood saved Aston Villa when they looked dead and buried. Mark Hughes led Stoke to a record points tally and ninth-placed finish, while Tony Pulis performed his annual Harry Houdini impression to save West Bromwich Albion with another midseason turnaround.

TOP GOALS

The studio team looks at the top 10 goals from the PL this season.

Agree? Disagree? Any you think should have made it? Let us know in the comments section below.

THAT SINKING FEELING

Ah, amid the euphoria of celebrating and analyzing another superb season in the PL, there has to be some losers. Relegation for Queens Park Rangers, Burnley and then Hull City (on the final day) means fans of those clubs will have a summer of soul-searching as their clubs prepare for life in the rough and tumble of the Championship.

Let’s take a look at why the three aforementioned teams had that sinking feeling at the end of the season:

QPR

Harry Redknapp left the R’s languishing in the relegation zone in February as QPR hadn’t gained a single point away from home at that point. Chris Ramsey was thrown in at the deep end and although the R’s rallied in March and April, their Achilles heel sent them down: shocking defending. QPR conceded 73 goals, the most in the PL, and had far too many veterans on huge wages who, quite simply, couldn’t care less if the west London side went down. Ramsey is now in charge for the next three-years. After Tony Fernandes and his board chucked hundreds of millions at veteran players, expect a philosophical change at Loftus Road as youngsters will get the chance to shine.

Burnley

Sean Dyche’s men put up a brave fight but after hardly spending any cash after promotion from the Championship, relegation was always inevitable. Sure, the Clarets are on a sound financial footing but not investing in more quality really hurt them. They hung in so many games but scoring goals became a real issue in the second half of the season. Danny Ings was their top scorer with 11 and he will leave on a free transfer this summer. Burnley could well be back in 2016-17 as continuity is the key word at Turf Moor for the tiny Lancashire club.

Hull

On the final day of the season Hull needed to beat Manchester United and hope that Newcastle slipped up at home to West Ham. That didn’t happen as the Tigers’ meager tally of 33 goals from 38 games was their downfall. Steve Bruce will now look to bring Hull back up, just as he did three seasons ago, but a lot of their players will look to move on as the wage bill has to be decreased rapidly at the KC Stadium. Injuries to forwards Nikica Jelavic, Abel Hernandez and Dame N’Doye were costly but when it came down to it, Hull deserved to go down.

LEICESTER’S GREAT ESCAPE

Talking of the teams who succumbed to relegation, Leicester came back from what looked like an unassailable position to win seven of their final nine matches and stun everyone to stay in the Premier League. Their manager Nigel Pearson had some strange episodes along the way as he called a journalist an “ostrich”, grabbed Crystal Palace’s James McArthur around the throat during a game and blurted out expletives at his own fans. Yeah, that’s the pressure of a relegation battle.

[ RELATED: Premier League stats ]

But Leicester’s form in the final nine games was remarkable. They had won just four of their previous 29 matches but when you have experienced professionals like Esteban Cambiasso pulling the strings and a hungry forward like Jamie Vardy running at opposition defenses, you have a chance. Leicester’s luck changed at the tail end of the season and they pulled of one of the greatest “Great Escapes” the PL has ever seen.

EURO STRUGGLES

The less said about this the better for PL teams, but it has to be addressed. Three of the PL’s four teams in the UCL made it into the knockout stages, Liverpool did not, but only Chelsea made it to the quarterfinals and they lost to Paris Saint-Germain in extra time.

In the Europa League both Tottenham and Liverpool crashed out at the last 32 stage, while Everton were beaten in the last 16 after breezing through the group stages.

With eight of the PL’s 20 teams involved in either the UCL or Europa League next season, a much needed improvement is needed to keep England’s UEFA coefficient high and safeguard the fourth UCL spot for the PL in the foreseeable future. After dominating European club competitions for quite some time, 2014-15 was a year to forget for English clubs on the continent.

THE JURY’S STILL OUT IN MERSEYSIDE

Liverpool

Brendan Rodgers is under severe pressure at Liverpool after a disappointing season which saw the Reds exit the Champions League at the group stage and finish six in the PL. Rodgers blew the $128 million Liverpool received for Suarez last summer on the likes of Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert, Lazar Markovic, Mario Balotelli and Alberto Moreno. All of the aforementioned players under-performed as the Reds are once again out of the UCL and now without their legendary captain Steven Gerrard to keep digging them out of troublesome situations. Add into the mix Raheem Sterling’s contract situation — the 20-year-old winger is refusing to sign a new contract at Liverpool with two years still left on his current deal — and you have a real mess for Rodgers to try and sort out. The Fenway Sports Group are backing Rodgers to turn things around next season but make no mistake about it, after three years in the job and no trophies to show for his efforts, all of a sudden Rodgers has gone from the messiah to a mess. What a difference 12 months makes in soccer…

Everton

Talking of a difference in 12 months… Liverpool’s crosstown rivals Everton had a season to forget at Goodison Park. Roberto Martinez’s side finished in 11th and although a run into the last 16 of the Europa League excited the crowd it probably had an adverse impact on their league play. Martinez, 41, is one of the brightest managers around. After guiding Everton to fifth last season that was clear to see. Romelu Lukaku suffering injuries and Ross Barkley struggling for form undoubtedly hit the Toffees hard but the lack of evolution in Martinez’s tactics has been questioned. This season Everton became predictable and failed to cause new problems for teams who adjusted to the way they prevailed most weeks during the 2013-14 campaign. Martinez’s position isn’t as precarious as Rodgers’ but a bad start to next season could see the Spaniard in a bit of trouble.

GRIT EVADES CITY IN TITLE RACE

On January 1 Manchester City and Chelsea were level at the top of the PL standings with identical goal differences.

The second half of the season was set up perfectly for a two-horse title race and then, just like that, City crumbled.

Key players Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure were either injured or suffered huge losses of form and as City suffered a debilitating run of four-straight away defeats in March and April in the PL, the pressure began to mount on Pellegrini. Similar to Rodgers and Martinez, the jury is still out on Pellegrini and it would not be surprising if he is axed from the hot seat at the Etihad Stadium this summer.

[ RELATED: What did it go wrong for Man City? ]

That said, Pellegrini should stay. In two seasons at City he has won the League Cup and the PL title, been knocked out of the UCL by Barcelona two years on the spin and finished second this season. Questions will be asked about the arrival of Fernando and Eliaquim Mangala last summer but if Pellegrini can wheel and deal this offseason and is given the chance to bring in two to three key players then City could become the favorites to lift the PL title next year. They were the top scorers in the PL with 83 goals this season. They are not far off becoming champions but with the average age of their squad the highest in the PL, some housekeeping is long overdue as we should expect plenty of players going in and out of the door this summer.

Despite Joe Hart winning the golden glove with a league-high 14 assists, City’s defensive core crumbled when it mattered most. If they can get their defensive solidity back, key players return to top form and new additions settle in right away, the Citizens will put 2014-15 behind them and become the team to beat next season.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

USMNT Player Ratings from win over Ecuador

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Gregg Berhalter’s United States men’s national team extended its clean sheet run to 180 minutes under the new coach with a 1-0 defeat of Ecuador in Orlando on Thursday.

[ RECAP: USMNT 1-0 Ecuador ]

The longtime Columbus Crew coach handed notable chances to several MLS mainstays who stood out in January camp, but also re-introduced Christian Pulisic to the fold.

The results were mixed, but the win was deserved as the U.S. did not allow much danger to reach Sean Johnson’s cage.

LINEUPS

Sean Johnson — 6.5 — Had to catch, what, one ball? Still, nice for him to get a clean sheet.

Tim Ream — 7 — A couple of dicey moments, sure, but the man with the captain’s band stood out at left back not just for his assist but his aggression in pressing high up the left flank.

John Brooks — 6.5 — Not much to do, but effective when needed with a win-saving stop. Here’s hope the thigh injury isn’t a notable one. Intelligent and accurate in his passing out of the back.

Aaron Long — 6 — His passing was a bit off early, and that will need to be better at the back of Berhalter’s defense, but overall he was composed and well-drilled.

Tyler Adams — 7.5 — Given he was playing an unusual position with immense responsibility (right), Adams deserves a lot of credit for keeping his motor high over 90 minutes. He only attempted two dribbles, staying in his shoes and venturing wide and forward on occasion. A very promising sign for an ambitious move by Berhalter. That’s a lot of green over there, and green is good —>

Wil Trapp (Off 59′) — 5.5 — He’s not supposed to be the guy who stands out in a game, and should be known for doing the little things, but he’s still not standing out from the pack as someone who should keep Michael Bradley or Tyler Adams from the center of the park.

Weston McKennie (Off 68′) — 5 — Potentially scary injury aside, he will have much better days for the U.S. than this and certainly didn’t show chemistry with Trapp. Second guessing is easy, but flipping McKennie and Adams might’ve been the play.

Paul Arriola (Off 77′) — 6 — An energetic, productive night on the wing takes a hit due to his inability to finish the match’s best scoring chance (even if the save was legit).

Christian Pulisic (Off 62′) — 7 — Not at his sharpest, but still quite lively in producing many American attacks. Had an memorable moment working over Antonio Valencia near the end line.

Jordan Morris (Off 68′) — 6 — Still learning how to be a winger, but a decent and industrious effort for the Seattle Sounders man.

Gyasi Zardes — 7 — It was the goal that did the trick for him over 90 minutes, and it was good to see the Columbus Crew man score a USMNT for the first time since 2016.

Subs

Michael Bradley (On 59′) — 6.5 — Quick decisions and possession-aiding passes with precious few mistakes (See Opta chalkboard from MLSSocccer.com at right).

Sebastian Lletget (On 62′) — 6 — Has to be a bit more careful in his own half, but we’d like to see him get a start against Chile.

Cristian Roldan (On 66′) — 5 — Sloppy with the ball in a short stint.

DeAndre Yedlin (On 66′) — 6 — Busy and ready to produce chances from the right side.

Jonathan Lewis (On 77′) — N/A —

Zardes goal pushes controlling USMNT past Ecuador

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
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  • Yanks have not allowed goal in 3 matches under Berhalter
  • Pulisic returns to USMNT set-up
  • MORE: McKennie stretched off
  • Zardes scores deflected winner off Ream feed
  • American control ball, but struggle in final third

Gyasi Zardes scored his seventh international goal and first since the Copa America Centenario as the USMNT handed Ecuador a 1-0 defeat at Orlando City Stadium on Thursday.’s

The win marks the third clean sheet victory in three tries for USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter, who leads the Yanks against Chile on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Player ratings ]

The U.S. came out of the gates flying, connecting passes with their wings and fullbacks sitting very wide to stretch the surface.

When Ecuador did collect the ball, the Yanks pressed very hard and won it back.

Industry and speed was the story of the USMNT game, with Christian Pulisic and Jordan Morris leading the way in forcing the match on Ecuador.

Weston McKennie did some heavy lifting in nice combo play with Pulisic and Gyasi Zardes for a chance that was just missing the finishing touch from Paul Arriola (and got a nice save).

Pulisic was felled by a hard foul just inside the Ecuador half in the 55th minute, but carried on and Paul Arriola took a yellow for fouling Jefferson Orejuela in response.

Michael Bradley entered the match for Trapp in the 59th minute, and Pulisic exited for Sebastian Lletget three minutes later.

McKennie then suffered a painful ankle injury and eventually accepted stretcher help to get to the bench.

Zardes put the U.S. ahead when his powerful strike from atop the 18 took a huge deflection off the calf of Robert Arboleda and looped over the head of a flailing Alexander Dominguez.

The play began when Sebastian Lletget’s pressing pushed a poor Ecuadorian clearance to USMNT left back Tim Ream, who spotted Zardes in the middle of the Ecuador half.

USMNT, Schalke mid McKennie stretchered off with ankle injury

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Schalke and USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie limped off the pitch during the second half of a friendly against Ecuador on Thursday in Florida.

McKennie appeared to twist his ankle shortly after being called for a foul in the match, which stood 0-0 at the time.

[ MORE: Hazard, Real, and the back-up plan ]

He left the match with trainer help, and was eventually carted to the bench while seated on a stretcher.

A key piece of the program’s future, the 20-year-old midfielder has been a utility knife in the Bundesliga, playing everywhere from right back to left mid.

Only six players have played more league minutes for Schalke than McKennie, who earned his eighth cap on Thursday.

Making the case: Raheem Sterling as PL Player of the Year

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Even a year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined someone making this case in a rational manner any time soon.

I especially didn’t think it would be me.

But as the Premier League takes a deep breath ahead of the stretch run, I’m going to have to say it.

[ MORE: JPW ranks the candidates ]

Raheem Sterling has been the best attacking player in the Premier League this season, and quite possibly the best player period.

Whether he earns the nod over defender Virgil Van Dijk is another story altogether, as it will probably comes down to wins and losses and one or two titles, but consider how deadly, consistent, and deadly consistent Sterling has been since the start of the season.

Of the four Premier League players who’ve accounted for some combination of 24 goals and assists, Sterling gets the least amount of positive publicity. Eden Hazard has largely been the Chelsea attack, Sergio Aguero has tied the PL hat trick record, and Mohamed Salah is riding his 2017-18 season through a remarkable cold snap of form.

But there’s Sterling, with 15 goals and nine assists in the second-fewest minutes of the bunch (Aguero).

How about these numbers — via WhoScored.com — in 2,149 league minutes?

Sterling is also averaging a tackle and .6 interceptions per match, the best of the bunch, while committed the fewest bad touches per game (most remarkable considering his second touch haunted him for several seasons).

A concession: For what it’s worth given the above stats, Hazard is easily in second of the bunch if not competing directly with Sterling. But Sterling hasn’t been a part of underachieving teams for three different managers, so we’ll abide.

There are two things going against Sterling, neither of which are his fault. The first is that Man City’s dominance of last season and run back into a title right this season has people imagining that the feast of talent at the Etihad Stadium makes numbers an afterthought; That is to say that Sterling, Aguero, and the Silvas (not to mention Leroy Sane) aren’t producing much more than their theoretical replacements.

And maybe there’s something to that, but here’s how important Sterling’s production has been to City.

In Premier League matches in which Sterling neither scored, assisted, nor drew a penalty, City has four wins, two draws, and four losses. When he has, that mark is 17-0 (He sat out wins over Huddersfield Town, Burnley, and Watford to complete Man City’s 24W-2D-4L record).

Aguero, for his part, racked up nine of his goals in three matches. I’m not here to hat trick shame, but Sterling feels a less replaceable part of Pep’s team.

The second thing going against Sterling is a bit more nefarious, linked to articles and conceptions about his gun tattoo or hairstyles. This part, hopefully, doesn’t require us to refute it.

Van Dijk has been phenomenal, and as a longtime defender admirer — those who can’t do it, love those who do it well — I’d be thrilled to see him join N'Golo Kante in non-scorers to claim such an honor.

But VVD was also on the scene for a moment that encapsulates what Sterling has become to City’s attack. He’s arguably been this season’s Leroy Sane, and coincidentally cues up the German with this incisive pass from well outside his office for the January winner against Liverpool.