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

Reports: Antonio Conte will be next Inter manager

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According to a number of reports across Europe, including The Guardian and The Mirror, Antonio Conte has agreed to terms to become the next manager at Inter Milan and will take over this summer, with Luciano Spalletti departing.

Conte has signed a four-year deal at Inter that will earn him around $11 million per season, with the Italian excited to return home and face the challenge of finishing the task at Inter. The Italian giants have slumped in recent years, but this year showed promise that the project may finally be coming to an end. Spalletti appears to have turned the team into a Champions League contender again, but there are reports that he is struggling to maintain the support of the locker room and the front office.

Inter’s qualification to next year’s Champions League is no guarantee either, with the club sitting just a point ahead of rivals AC Milan for the final Serie A spot heading into the final week of the season. They have just three wins in their final nine matches, leaving them vulnerable.

Conte most recently managed Chelsea for two seasons, winning both the Premier League and the FA Cup in his first season but missing out on Champions League qualification last campaign before departing. He recently won a lawsuit against Chelsea that will see the Blues pay him an additional $11 million as part of his severance package. Other than his Premier League stint at Stamford Bridge, Conte has spent his entire career in Italy, managing Juventus, Atalanta, and the Italian national team among others. He has eight Serie A titles to his name between playing and managing.

Rumors say that Conte is zeroing Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku as his first transfer target of the summer.

Red Bulls slump to disappointing draw with Vancouver

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The New York Red Bulls coughed up a second-half lead in a disappointing 2-2 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday, pegged back by Freddy Montero’s equalizing penalty in the 61st minute that came just six minutes after the hosts had taken the lead.

New York dominated possession at home, holding just under 70% of the ball, but they struggled mightily in goal. New York had 18 shots to Vancouver’s 13, but could manage just three on target, whereas the visitors put seven on frame. Vancouver jumped in front right on the half-hour mark as Sean Nealis got burned down the left by Joaquin Ardaiz, and while his cross was deflected by Connor Lade, it fell to Scott Sutter at a tight angle for a roofed finish.

The hosts would level things up before halftime, as a looped cross by Kaku found the head of Amro Tarek who powered it on frame, but before it could reach the net it was slightly redirected by Brian White’s head and found the back of the net. In the celebration, a smiling White could be seen sheepishly apologizing to Tarek for stealing what may already have been a goal, but New York wasn’t complaining.

After the break, the Red Bulls went in front on an own goal as White’s effort was redirected into the back of the net by Andy Rose. That should have been the goal to see New York ease past the ninth-place Whitecaps and send New York to a strong fourth-place spot in the Eastern Conference table, but the visitors continued to attack and would eventually find a way through.

First, Luis Robles was required to turn a 8Felipe Martins header off the post and out, before eight minutes later when Montero would be the man to bring Vancouver back level after coming on at halftime. VAR determined correctly that Nealis whiffed on a header attempt and instead got his arm to the ball, giving Martins the opportunity from the spot, which he deposited cooly, sending Robles the wrong way.

That would leave the teams level, with New York desperately looking for more than a point to savor, but they were unable to do so. The draw leaves the Red Bulls in fifth, level on points with cross-town rivals NYCFC and two behind Atlanta United. They remain unbeaten in three, but the opportunity for three straight victories was there. Vancouver, meanwhile, sits in ninth in the West, drawing level on points with San Jose thanks to the road draw.

Ghana striker Gyan changes mind 2 days after retiring

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ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — Two days after announcing his international retirement, Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan has changed his mind and been included in a provisional squad for the African Cup of Nations starting next month.

Gyan says his change of heart came after speaking with Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo.

The 33-year-old Gyan said Monday he was retiring because he was replaced as Ghana captain by Andre Ayew.

Gyan says he had a phone conversation with Akufo-Addo, who asked him to reconsider, and “a presidential request is one that cannot be disregarded.”

Gyan was named in a preliminary 29-man squad on Wednesday. He made his international debut at 17 and is Ghana’s record goalscorer with 51 goals in 106 games although he hasn’t played for his country since late 2017.

U-20 World Cup preview: Ramos to make history

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The United States U-20 side is set to begin its 2019 World Cup campaign on Friday when it begins Group D play in Poland.

Tab Ramos will make history in the process, equalling the FIFA record of most championship tournaments participated as a player or coach. The 52-year-old will officially take part in his 11th FIFA championship event, matching the record held by Germany’s U-20 women head coach Maren Meinert.

United States

The United States side is one of the best ever on paper, with a mix of emerging domestic talent alongside youngsters from the best clubs in Europe. They will take on Ukraine, Nigeria, and Qatar in high-leverage group stage play. Riding on the result of group play is a place in the knockout phase, with a massive gulf in difference between finishing first and second in the group. The first-place finisher in Group D draws the strongest third-place side from Groups B, E, and F – possibilities include the likes of Mali, South Korea, Panama, or Italy. Meanwhile, the second-place finisher from Group D takes on the winner of Group E, which will almost definitely come in the form of championship hopeful France.

An exciting group of young American players with more well-known names including Timothy Weah and Paxton Pomykal mixes with supreme talents like Barcelona youth product Konrad de la Fuente in attack and Bayern Munich teen Chris Richards who will look to anchor the defense. While the U.S. isn’t exactly a favorite to win the tournament, they are a strong contender looking to reach at least the quarterfinals if not further.

US U-20 squad

GK: CJ Dos Santos (Benfica), David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake), Brady Scott (Koln).
DEF: Sergino Dest (Ajax), Chris Gloster (Hannover 96), Aboubacar Keita (Columbus Crew/Richmond Kickers), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union), Matthew Real (Philadelphia Union), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich).
MID: Edwin Cerrillo (FC Dallas), Chris Durkin (D.C. United), Richard Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven), Alex Mendez (Freiburg), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Brandon Servania (FC Dallas).
FWD: Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC), Konrad De La Fuente (Barcelona), Ulysses Llanez (Wolfsburg), Justin Rennicks (New England Revolution), Sebastian Soto (Hannover 96), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain/Celtic FC)

Potential breakout players

Aside from the United States squad, there is a host of young talent at the tournament in Poland. These are the players you should keep a close eye on.

Diego Lainez (winger, Mexico) – Mexico’s 18-year-old winger has been a fixture for the national team at every youth level, playing every minute for the U-17 side in the 2017 World Cup. He has since earned a quartet of senior side call-ups and looked electric in his time on the field.

Radoslaw Majecki (goalkeeper, Poland) – At just 19 years old, Majecki has been the starting goalkeeper for Champions League regulars Legia Warsaw since he won the job in November. While he has yet to make his CL debut (having earned the starting job after Legia Warsaw was eliminated from the competition in the qualifying stages), he is as experienced as they come for players in this competition and a huge asset for his country.

Jackson Porozo (defender, Ecuador) – The 18-year-old was an absolute monster in the South American U-20 championships back in late January and early February, helping Ecuador keep five clean sheets and finish the competition on a stunning 298-minute streak without conceding a single goal as they shocked the continent by winning the tournament. Porozo, who joined the Santos youth setup last summer, was a man among boys in the South American championships, and long with his goalkeeper Moises Ramirez – who also has high expectations for a solid future – this Ecuador side has a shot at making it out of an absolutely loaded Group B.

Interesting storylines

Group B – The most loaded group in the tournament sees Mexico, Italy, Ecuador, and Japan all come together for a brutal battle. While the top two teams are guaranteed to advance, it could also be a factor for one of the coveted third-place spots, of particular interest to the United States, who would take on a Group B third-place qualifier should they win Group D. Mexico won the CONCACAF U-20 championships, Ecuador stunningly reigned supreme in CONMEBOL over traditional superpowers Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia, while both Italy and Japan performed quite well in their own tournaments, each reaching the semifinals. This is easily the most fun early storyline.

France as favorites – Portugal, Poland, Nigeria, and Argentina are all firmly in the mix, but France is considered the favorite according to most oddsmakers. Bernard Diomede will have a challenge as Lyon’s young star Amine Gouiri will be missing as he takes part in the U-21 UEFA championships this summer, but he does have Borussia Dortmund youngster Dan Axel-Zagadou leading the back line. While the French senior side is on top of the world, the youth team has plenty of talent coming down the pipeline.

Can Argentina bounce back? – The six-time champions slipped a bit at the CONMEBOL championships earlier this year, falling to both Ecuador and Brazil in the final stage while beating Uruguay and Colombia by just a goal. The traditionally dominant South American powerhouse has proven fallable over the last year or so, and while they most certainly have a squad capable of placing in this tournament, they will need more consistency. The squad sports Atlanta United winger Ezequiel Barco, who has four goals in eight MLS appearances this season and is in good form. Other big names include Atletico Madrid defender and youth team captain Nehuen Perez, Boca Juniors goalkeeper Manuel Roffo – who trained with the senior team earlier this year – and midfielder Santiago Sosa who has dabbled in the River Plate senior squad at just 19.