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

Report: USMNT keeper Steffen to be Man City No. 2 next season

Zack Steffen Man City
(Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
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United States men’s national team starting goalkeeper Zack Steffen will not be loaned by Manchester City next season, according to ESPN.

Steffen, 25, is set to back up Ederson for Pep Guardiola’s side next season after a year on loan to Fortuna Dusseldorf in the Bundesliga.

Steffen needed the loan because he had not yet qualified for a work permit in the United Kingdom. Instead, he starred in plenty of games for promoted Fortuna before suffering a nagging knee injury. Fortuna was relegated to 2.Bundesliga on the final day of the season.

[ MORE: Man City sets a very Pep record ]

There were rumors earlier this year that Claudio Bravo might head for New York City FC in MLS in order to make way for Steffen.

The 17-times capped USMNT bolted for Freiburg in Germany after making his name at the University of Maryland. He returned to the U.S. and became a star with savvy penalty-stopping ability with now-USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter and the Columbus Crew.

Guardiola has usually given his No. 2 plenty of time to shines in cup matches, and City expects to compete for every trophy it can. If the club’s European ban is upheld, however, there will far fewer matches on the schedule for the serial Champions League qualifier.

Sheffield United – Chelsea preview: How to watch, start time, stream, prediction

Sheffield United - Chelsea preview
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Sheffield United – Chelsea preview: Frank Lampard’s Chelsea begins life defending third place on the Premier League table when it visits Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Saturday (Watch Live at 12:30 pm ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues’ 60 points are one more than Leicester City and two clear of old rivals Manchester United.

Also of interest to Chelsea and USMNT fans: The Blues have posted a 20-minute video of every Christian Pulisic touch since Project Restart began earlier this Summer.

Sheffield United beat Wolves at midweek to pull within a point of sixth-place. If Blades stumble, there are three teams within a win of pushing them back beneath the Europa League places.

STREAM SHEFFIELD UNITED – CHELSEA LIVE


Team news

Billy Gilmour is a doubt for Chelsea while Mateo Kovacic is back in training and could be available to Frank Lampard. N’Golo Kante remains out and Jorginho may get a Starting XI recall on Saturday.

John Fleck, Luke Freeman, and John Lundstram are out for Sheffield United while David McGoldrick is a question mark.

What they’re saying

Blades boss Wilder to our own JPW after a 1-0 win over Wolves: “We like to think we’ve brought something in terms of our attitude and our performances to get the results that we’ve got. We had a stretched squad and really had to dig in to get a result. I don’t think you get the result and the performance tonight if you haven’t got something with the ball and I think we did have something with the ball and out of it everybody did a job and tried to stop a very, very talented side from gaining momentum and dominating us. Second half, especially, we looked and it felt like we were really desperate to go and get a winner. Regardless of how late its come, we’ve been rewarded for that attitude.”

Chelsea’s Frank Lampard on Christian Pulisic earning Eden Hazard comparisons: “Having played with Eden, he had special talent straight away and draws players towards him to open up space to others. Christian is more direct. He has the ability to break a line and run forward which is a great trait in the modern game. Why I shy away from it the other night is because Eden has been here and done it over a period of time to an incredible level. Christian has it in his hands to make a real impact over time. It’s great to see him [doing well] but there’s a lot of development to come. Christian is taking responsibility to change games.”

Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds here)

The Blades are +575 underdogs according to DraftKings, with Chelsea -167.

A two-goal game for Tammy Abraham was only enough for a Chelsea point at Stamford Bridge when the sides met in a 2-2 draw earlier this season.

Prediction

Chelsea’s had one more days’ rest than the Blades and that seems plenty given the congestion this time of year. Give the Blues a 2-1 win.

How to watch Sheffield United – Chelsea

Kickoff: 12:30 pm ET Saturday
TV Channel: NBC
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Man United’s fear factor, title hopes return

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Manchester United have regained their fear factor since ‘Project Restart’ arrived.

The Red Devils beat Aston Villa 3-0 to become the first team in Premier League history to win four consecutive games by a margin of three of more goals.

[ MORE: New PL TV schedule ]

Manchester United is an attacking juggernaut once again with Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford firing on all cylinders.

They are 17 games unbeaten in all competitions and this run means they are two points off third place and one point off fourth-place Leicester (who they play on the final day) as their quest for the Champions League looks likely to be successful.

Speaking after the game, Paul Pogba told Sky Sports that challenging for the Premier League has to be the standard Manchester United sets for itself.

After the win at Villa, ProSoccerTalk asked Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for his reaction to those comments.

“I’m sure Man United will mount a challenge and get back to winning the league. When that is going to happen, that is up to every single person here and how quickly we can make this process go. We are definitely improving as a team, developing but we have to remember we’ve come a long way in one season. Let’s just take Paul’s words into the dressing room and expect and demand more from each other every single day,” Solskjaer said.

This team is brimming with confidence and hunger, as they’ve scored 100 goals in all competitions this season and have playmakers and forwards who are creating 10 or 15 chances every game and have a largely sturdy defense.

When Manchester United turn up to play an opponent, there is now an inevitability they will win. Solskjaer knows all about that fear factor from his playing days, but does he feel other teams now fear them again?

“I don’t know about how teams feel when they want to play us but we scored three today and talking about goal difference, the defenders have done their job. We created chances and could have scored three, four or five more. Of course, you are happy with the way we create chances but we need to be more clinical though,” Solskjaer told ProSoccerTalk.

“Coming into half time 2-0 up, I don’t think our performance warranted a 2-0 lead but I thought second half we played really well. Of course we had the game where we wanted. They had to press and leave gaps and space but it is not easy, there is game after game  after game. We have to keep doing the right things on the pitch and off the pitch.”

Manchester United could easily finish this season by winning eight of their final nine games and it is these results against teams they ‘should’ be beating that will make the difference. Yes, they have a long way to go to reach the levels of Liverpool and Manchester City but they are on that path and making progress.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired the fear factor around Man United disappeared. Almost overnight teams felt like they could beat them, and did, under David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.

There have been shock defeats under Solskjaer too, but this feels different now. This feels different to brief winning spells and FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League trophies won under LVG and Mourinho.

This Man United side is relentless and Solskjaer not only wants to keep winning, but keep scoring goals too.

“We could have scored many, many more goals and we keep keeping clean sheets. We go into every game wanting to win. If you win 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0, it doesn’t matter, you get the points. Hopefully the goal difference won’t be the deciding factor in the end because we should have had 10 more goals the last few games,” Solskjaer said.

With Leicester City to come on the final day of the season in what could be the pivotal clash in deciding whether or not the qualify for the Champions League, the hunger and belief is evident among the Manchester United squad based on Pogba’s reaction.

“We are really pleased with ourselves but know we have to carry on. We talked before the game, we talked in training that we have to carry on. That’s what Manchester [United] is it is a big club. We want to keep the level up, always, and the performance today and the past few weeks, they are very good and they are the standards of Manchester United,” Pogba said. “We didn’t win the Premier League and that is the goal. We didn’t win anything this year. We have to keep working and there is a lot to do. A lot.”

Pogba: Manchester United hoping to win FA Cup, Europa League

Aston Villa - Manchester United recap
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Paul Pogba and Manchester United are cruising through matches and sending a message to the Premier League.

The Red Devils won by three-or-more goals for the fourth-straight match, something that hasn’t been done in the history of the PL, and moved within a point of fourth place thanks to a 3-0 demolition of Aston Villa at Villa Park on Thursday.

[ RECAP: Aston Villa 0-3 Man Utd ]

Injured for most of the year, Pogba scored his first goal of the season in the win. He’s been looking tremendous in the midfield since returning from the coronavirus pause, and has even triggered hope that he’ll sign a new long-term deal with United.

Pogba was asked how he’s feeling about his time at Old Trafford and where it may run:

“Right now I’ve been injured for a very long time,” Pogba said. “I focused on myself to get back and help the team as much as I can. This year I have two goals, to go for the Europa League and the FA Cup so we focus on that.”

United faces Chelsea in the FA Cup semifinal and has one foot, well, most of its body in the Europa League quarterfinals.

The Frenchman says it’s good that the Red Devils are playing as well as they have been, but he’s not getting carried away with accolades.

ASTON VILLA – MANCHESTER UNITED FULL MATCH REPLAY

“We didn’t win the Premier League,” he said. “That’s the goal. We didn’t win anything this year so obviously we have to keep working. There’s a lot to do.”

Pogba thinks United can achieve all of their season goals regardless of what the top four chasers do, but cautioned that the Red Devils cannot ignore their poor start to Thursday’s win.

“We are our own enemy. We have to play not like we did the first 15 minutes but how we finished the game.”