2015 festive features

PST’s Premier League Player of 2015 comes down to a mini-North London Derby

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So many Premier League players have thrilled us in 2015.

Some did it during strong second halves of last season, with Chelsea’s duo of Eden Hazard and Nemanja Matic helping the Blues to a title, David Silva impressing with runners-up, and David De Gea backstopping Manchester United back into the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Premier League’s Best XI for 2015 ]

Then there’s this season’s hot-starters: Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy of Leicester City have been incredible, while Ross Barkley looks to be proving his rumor mill value in real life with Everton. That Romelu Lukaku character is pretty good, too, and Stoke City goalkeeper Jack Butland has been close to unbeatable.

And how about guys who’ve done it across seasons, like David Silva, Philippe Coutinho and Jose Fonte?

But what the battle boils down to is a mini-North London Derby.

In one corner, we have Spurs forward Harry Kane, the big hope of the English set for Euro 2016 and a man who started his year by scoring two goals and adding an assist in a 5-3 win over Chelsea. The Spurs’ hitman ended up the second half of 2014-15 with 16 goals, and has 11 so far this season.

[ MORE: 2015 end-of-year table — Arsenal are January-to-December champions ]

Mesut Ozil, Arsenal FC

On the other side is German playmaker Mesut Ozil, who missed three months for the Gunners last season before returning in January. A critical part of Arsenal’s possession and ball movement, the Gunners won 10 of the next 12 Premier League games with Ozil in the fold, and picked up another FA Cup.

While the traditional stat metrics don’t back up his performance last year, this season it’s all aces. Ozil has 20 assists over the course of 2015, and 16 have come to start this season. The German needs just five assists the rest of the way to break the PL’s season assist record, currently held by some dude named Thierry.

Because the playmakers rarely get the love of the finishers, the foreigners often get the shaft from the Englishmen, and — frankly — because Ozil’s been a thrill to watch in the center of the park and moving forward, Mesut Ozil is our Premier League Player of the Calendar Year. He wins a sandwich and a high-five. Call us to pick up your prize, Mes.

Hey look: I agreed with Kyle.

Premier League Best XI for the calendar year 2015

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With less than four hours to go in 2015, it’s safe to say no player with make an error that would doom the first 364 days of their year.

So combining the second half of last season’s Premier League, won by Chelsea, with the whirlwind start to this year, led by Leicester City, who really fits the bill of a PL Best XI of 2015?

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This won’t be a team that is able to function, rather a culling of the best players with a GK, D, M or F by their name in the position column.

Lots to consider here: Sergio Aguero is unquestionably the deadliest goal scorer in the Premier League, but missed a lot of time. Phil Jagielka has been out for a while as well, but was dominant at the back for Everton.

[ MORE: 2015 end-of-year table — Arsenal are January-to-December champions ]

Jamie Vardy, Jack Butland and Yohan Cabaye have been electric in the first half of this season, but the first two didn’t star last season and the third wasn’t even plying his trade in England.

Let’s give it a go.

Premier League Best XI — 2015 — (3-4-3)

Goalkeeper – David De Gea (Manchester United)

Honorable mention to Butland’s season so far and Hugo Lloris for Spurs is a close second over the duration of 2015.

Defenders Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Chris Smalling (Manchester United), Jose Fonte (Southampton)

Ashley Williams of Swansea was incredible last season, but Fonte gets our last slot ahead of Jagielka due largely to the Englishman’s injury.

Midfielder – Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City), David Silva (Manchester City), Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

This is basically a batch of five international midfielders who play similar games. Hazard’s drop-off isn’t enough to undo his first half of 2015, though Ross Barkley‘s amazing start to the year doesn’t make up for a fairly difficult finish to last season. Santi Cazorla, David Silva and Philippe Coutinho also earn an honorably-mentioned shout.

ForwardsHarry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Jamie Vardy (Leicester City), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)

Aguero still gets his look here despite injury, and Alexis Sanchez deserves a shout, too. Both are guys you’d instantly select over Vardy, and probably Kane, in a world free of fitness worry. But that’s not what we’re doing here.

Premier League table for the calendar year 2015

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5…4…3…2…1… Happy New Year! OK, OK, so 2016 is still a few hours away (depending on where you are in the world), but for all intents and purposes, it’s 2016 in the Premier League.

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With 19 rounds of fixtures already played to begin the 2015-16 PL season, and 19 rounds of fixtures having been played to conclude the 2014-15 season, it all makes for a nice and tidy league table for the entire year.

Without further ado, we present to you, the Premier League table for the calendar year 2015…

Team 1st half 2nd half Total GD
1 Arsenal 42 39 81 +39
2 Manchester Ciy 36 36 72 +38
3 Tottenham Hotspur 33 35 68 +23
4 Leicester City 28 39 67 +17
5 Manchester United 34 30 64 +17
6 Liverpool 34 30 64 +3
7 Crystal Palace 32 31 63 +13
8 Chelsea 41 20 61 +8
9 Stoke City 29 29 58 +6
10 Everton 26 26 52 +7
11 Southampton 27 24 51 +7
12 West Bromwich Albion 27 23 50 -9
13 Swansea City 28 19 47 -12
14 West Ham United 16 29 45 -5
15 Sunderland 18 12 30 -30
16 Newcastle United 13 17 30 -32
17 Watford N/A 29 29 +4
18 Aston Villa 17 8 25 -34
19 Norwich City N/A 20 20 -10
20 Bournemouth N/A 20 20 -12
21 Hull City 19 N/A 19 -10
22 Burnley 17 N/A 17 -10
22 Queens Park Rangers 12 N/A 12 -18

Congratulations, Arsenal, you’re the 2015 Premier League champions! Unfortunately, as we all know, each PL season runs from August to May, not January to December, which means to win the this season’s league title, you’ll have to put together a third consecutive stellar half-season. Is it too much to ask? Only time will tell.

Man City and Tottenham finish the calendar year second and third, respectively, but find themselves one spot lower in the real-life table, thanks to those pesky Foxes from Leicester, who have been the fourth-best team in the PL over the last 12 months. For a club that spent less than $57 million combined during the last three windows (Arsenal, Man City and Spurs spent $147 million, $325 million and $114 million in that same time), Leicester are currently punching roughly five classes above their weight.

[ MORE: Top Premier League stories of 2015 | American soccer ]

No matter how much money Man United and Liverpool spend, or how many managers the two northwest clubs hire and fire, or how much they may hate each other, they eventually end up together again. The Red Devils and Reds mirrored one another during both halves of 2015, grabbing 34 points from January to May, followed by a disappointing 30 from August to December.

No side in the PL had a greater difference in points won from the first half of the year to the second, or vice versa, than Chelsea (21-point decline). The Blues’ woes have been discussed ad nauseam this season, so the less said about them now is probably for the better. West Ham’s 13-point improvement under Slaven Bilic has the Hammers currently sitting eighth in the real-life table, up 10 places from their 18th-place standing during the second half of 2014-15.

[ MORE: All of PST’s festive features

Having already won 20 points this season, newly promoted sides Norwich City (15th) and Bournemouth (16th) are right on pace for the magical 40-point mark that typically means avoiding relegation. Fellow PL newcomers Watford (9th) are nearly three-quarters of the way their themselves, on 29 points.

And then there’s Aston Villa, who in 38 games played during 2015 won four fewer points than Watford, who were promoted in the summer and played just 19 Premier League games in 2015. Goodbye, Villa, it was swell knowing you. And so long to 2015.

Top American soccer stories of 2015

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U.S. women crowned again

For the first time since 1999, America has a world champion national soccer team. After the heartbreak of losing the 2011 World Cup final on penalties to Japan, the U.S. women’s national team seized redemption in the form of a 5-2 thrashing of the Japanese in this summer’s final.

[ MORE: All of PST’s festive features

It wasn’t always smooth sailing for the USWNT, though, as struggles during the group stage and early knockout rounds cast doubt in the eyes of an entire nation. Jill Ellis’s side had finally rounded into form once they reached the semifinals, though, and were able to send a whole host of USWNT legends into the sunset as world champions.


A year to forget for the U.S. men’s team

The U.S. men’s national team peaked in 2015 not long before the women’s side, in early June with a pair of friendly victories over the Netherlands and Germany. Here’s why that’s a problem: the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup kicked off 23 days later, and nothing close to the heights of knocking off two of Europe’s most powerful soccer nations was on the cards for Jurgen Klinsmann’s bunch.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage

While a fourth-place finish was the Americans’ worst at the Gold Cup since 2000 (fifth), the real USMNT story of 2015 was Klinsmann himself. This year the legendary German striker engaged in public spats with his players, the media, and MLS commissioner Don Garber. There were also excuses. Hopefully 2016 is a time where we can focus more on the USMNT’s positive results on the field, rather than never-ending debates over the head coach’s job.

Mexico, CONCACAF Cup 2015
Mexico, CONCACAF Cup 2015 winners

Giovinco takes MLS by storm

22 goals and 16 assists — never before has a player in MLS history put together a season like Sebastian Giovinco’s 2015, let alone done so in his debut campaign. From game 1 to game 34, Giovinco was beyond brilliant for Toronto FC, who with many thanks to Giovinco’s contributions, made their first playoff appearance in club history. Still only 28 years old (he’ll be 29 by opening day in March), it’s hard to imagine the diminutive Italian not continuing to dominate the league for a couple more years, at least.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage


Timbers reach the MLS summit

For the next 12 months, the Portland Timbers get to call themselves the reigning MLS Cup champions, which will massively annoying their Cascadia neighbors to the north, the Seattle Sounders, and further north, the Vancouver Whitecaps. Their 2015 MLS Cup triumph over Columbus Crew SC makes the Rose City side the first from the Pacific Northwest to wear MLS’s postseason crown. The best may still be yet to come from the Timbers, as Darlington Nagbe, who is now a USMNT player, finally has a permanent position.


Veteran European stars struggle in maiden MLS voyage

Thanks to Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo, 2015 might just go down as the year where MLS naysayers began to accept the league is no longer a retirement league for aging European stars looking for one last payday and an easy ride into the sunset. All three struggled to make a positive impact for their new sides (LA Galaxy for Gerrard; New York City FC for Lampard and Pirlo), though they did enter the league squarely behind the 8-ball as midseason signings, which rarely pay immediate dividends — Didier Drogba being the obvious exception to the rule.

Closely related: NYCFC’s massively underwhelming debut season in MLS, to those out there who thought the league would be a cakewalk for a club with big money.

Top Premier League stories of 2015

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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.

[ MORE: Top 50 players in 2015

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.

[ MORE: Premier League standings

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.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

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.