Chelsea: the rise and demise
To describe Chelsea’s 2015 as “up and down” is a massive understatement. After winning the 2014-15 Premier League title with Jose Mourinho leading the way, the Blues looked to be at the start of becoming English soccer’s next great dynasty.
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Then, the walls caved in on them in one of the most shocking, and rapid, demises in PL history. Just months after new stars Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas, Thibaut Courtois and Diego Costa gave the Blues a new core — augmented by the magic of Eden Hazard — to take the PL by storm, the defending champs started their title defense in miserable fashion and are still reeling. Their poor start to the season cost Mourinho his job as the Portuguese coach was fired on December 17, 2015, just under seven months after he clinched his third PL title in five seasons at Chelsea.
Guus Hiddink has been placed in charge on an interim basis until the end of the current campaign but after a tumultuous end to 2015, an uncertain 2016 awaits for the reigning champs. Long-term, they seemed to be locked in a battle with other PL giants to land Pep Guardiola as their manager. Short-term, they’re in a relegation battle as the squad Mourinho built and then led to the title is on the verge of breaking point.
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Shocking. Remarkable. Astounding. Stamford Bridge has become the setting of a soap opera. Grab the popcorn. 2016 could be even more dramatic.
Rise of the “little guys”
In conjunction with Chelsea’s demise we have seen the rise of some of the more unfashionable clubs in the Premier League.
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Leicester City have led the way but the likes of Crystal Palace, Southampton, Stoke City, Watford and West Ham United are all threatening the long-established upper echelons. Especially this season.
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Newly-promoted Watford have been a huge surprise, while fellow newcomers Bournemouth had back-to-back wins against Chelsea and Manchester United. Something strange is going on throughout 2015 and is intensifying. The big boys don’t seem as untouchable anymore and the so-called “little guys” are using their new found riches to great effect while the perennial giants continue to seemingly waste big bucks on players not cutting it in the PL.
With an even bigger TV deal coming into play from the start of next season, expect this dramatic turnaround to not only carry on but become more extreme. Parity in the PL is a beautiful thing.
Arsenal the champs… of the calendar year
Congrats, Arsenal. You earned more points (81) in 2015 than any other PL team. Unfortunately that doesn’t win you any silverware. Arsene Wenger and the Gunners have kicked on in 2015, surging through the second half of last season and are right up there this time as it seems like a straight shootout between themselves and Manchester City for the title.
With plenty of injuries piling up (you know the script, Arsenal fans) to end 2015, a familiar battle lies ahead in 2016. Can they rise to the challenge and win their first PL trophy since 2004? Wenger will have to spend in the January transfer window to add the required quality and bodies to push on in both the PL and try to cause a shock against Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League last 16.
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There’s no doubt they’re heading in the right direction after a year which saw the emergence of Francis Coquelin as a mainstay and the Gunners acquire a more solid defensive base to build from following the addition of Petr Cech. They still have the occasional wobble but they are a much better team than 12 months ago.
Managerial madness: champs and chumps
Jurgen Klopp – Ahead of Klopp’s unveiling as the new Liverpool boss, you could be forgiven for thinking you had time-traveled and gone back to the days of Beatlemania. No joke. From his first, perfectly maneuvered press conference to his many memorable sideline celebrations in his opening months at Liverpool boss, Klopp is box office and the perfect man to help propel the Reds back among England and Europe’s elite. Give him a couple of transfer windows and 12 months in charge and there are plenty of rivals worried about “Kloppmania” taking over the PL.
Alan Pardew – Leaving Newcastle right at the start of 2015 for a Palace side in the relegation zone was risky for Pardew, but his South London homecoming has gone incredibly well. 12 months on, Pardew is already in talks about a new long-term deal and the Eagles are battling for a top four spot amid fresh investment from the U.S. which has everything going swimmingly at Selhurst Park. Pardew’s stock continues to rise as the England job or one with a perennial PL giant could be next.
Brendan Rodgers – After failing to clinch the PL title in the dying embers of the 2013-14 season, you always got the sense that the failure to seal the deal was always going to haunt Rodgers and his squad. The Northern Irishman spent so much cash on young new players and many let him down. He will be back but his philosophy and ideas ran out of splendor at Anfield as he failed to deliver any silverware during his three and a bit campaigns in charge.
Jose Mourinho – Wow. Where do we start? The fact that just seven months after delivering the Premier League he was fired says it all. Mourinho, 52, watched on in disbelief as his Chelsea team unraveled at the seams and lost nine of their first 16 games this season. That — coupled with his scathing attack on members of his own medical staff Eva Carneiro and Jon Fearn plus plenty of post-game meltdowns — cost Mourinho his job as one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game fell by the wayside for the second time at Stamford Bridge. Nobody saw this coming in 2015. Nobody.
Notable mentions: Garry Monk initially leading Swansea superbly but then being fired after a dreadful run this season. Mauricio Pochettino kicking Spurs on with shrewd additions and cutting the deadwood. Tottenham look highly likely to return to the top four.
LVG conundrum continues
One theme which has been consistent over the past 12 months is Manchester United’s ongoing identity crisis.
With Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal spending almost $400 million in transfer fees since arriving at Old Trafford 18 months ago, it’s hard to see if any progress has been made. Van Gaal, 64, has a strict philosophy and demands total respect from his players. Even though star names may respect him, LVG isn’t getting the best out of them with the severe struggles to end 2015 heaping plenty of pressure on Van Gaal.
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Currently struggling to score goals, without a win in seven-straight games in all competitions and on a three-game losing streak in the PL after crashing out of the UEFA Champions League, its been a bad few weeks for Van Gaal. He may not survive until the end of the season. With Mourinho lurking in the background and United’s supporters growing increasingly frustrated that their team aren’t fun to watch or close to winning any silverware, it’s safe to say the Van Gaal era has seen little to no progress so far.
Top goals of 2015
Philippe Coutinho – Southampton vs. Liverpool, Feb. 22 2015
Matt Phillips – QPR vs. Crystal Palace, Mar. 14, 2015
Charlie Adam – Chelsea vs. Stoke City, Apr. 4, 2015
Jermain Defoe – Sunderland vs. Newcastle, Apr. 5 2015
Christian Benteke – Manchester United vs. Liverpool, Sep. 12, 2015
Cuco Martina – Southampton vs. Arsenal, Dec. 26 2015
Leicester City and Vardy’s party
Aha, you didn’t think I was going to mention them, did you? Well, there’s no doubt about the surprise package of 2015: Leicester City.
Heading into the final months of the 2014-15 season the Foxes looked dead and buried with Nigel Pearson‘s side all but relegated back to the second-tier at the first time of asking. Then, they went on an incredible run to win seven of their final nine games to survive in memorable fashion.
Despite Pearson being fired over the summer Leicester have rebounded with Claudio Ranieri in charge and largely the same squad. Riding the momentum they gained from fighting off relegation last season, record-breaking Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have scored the goals –between them they have 28 of Leicester’s 37 this season — to lead a workmanlike outfit to joint-top of the Premier League at the halfway point of the season. Whether or not the Foxes can keep it up in 2016 remains to be seen but no Leicester fan will ever forget 2015.