Back in Premier League after a year in the Championship, the Canaries from Carrow Road showed last season they belong in England’s top flight. A scintillating finish to the regular season and rampant run through the playoffs proved just that, earning the East Anglian club their deserved place back among England’s elite.
The last time the Canaries were in the Premier League, the managerial duo of Chris Houghton and Neil Adams led the club to an 18th place finish.
Best possible XI:
— Ruddy —
— Whittaker — Martin — Bassong — Olsson —
— Redmond — Howson — Mulumbu — Johnson —
— Hoolahan —
— Jerome —
Transfers In: Robbie Brady ($11 million, Hull City), Graham Dorrans ($4.5 million, West Bromwich Albion), Youssouf Mulumbu (Free, West Bromwich Albion), Andre Wisdom (Loan, Liverpool)
Transfers Out: Luciano Becchio (Free), Javier Garrido (Free), Carlos Cuellar (Free), Mark Bunn (Free), Sam Kelly (Free)
Last season: Finished third in the Championship regular season, earned promotion to the Premier League through the promotion playoffs — After starting the 2014-15 season strong (top of the league on October 4), the Canaries faltered over their next 15 games and looked destined to miss out on the playoffs altogether, then they changed managers in January and went on to win 13 of their final 18 games, just missing out on automatic promotion by three points. Cameron Jerome, who was signed for just over $2 million before the start of the season, bagged 20 league goals to led the way, while Bradley Johnson (15), Gary Hooper (12) and Lewis Grabban (12) all reached double digits, as well.
Star player: Nathan Redmond — The 21-year-old contributed six goals and 13 assists in league play last season, which are numbers he’ll have to somehow replicate in the Premier League this season to continue to English national team-bound career trajectory. While the likes of Johnson, Howson, Jerome, Hooper and Wes Hoolahan (more than 250 appearances for the club) are all undoubtedly important to the Canaries’ hopes of staying up this season, Redmond is the one transcendent type of game-changing player within the squad.
Coach’s corner: Alex Neil took took over at Carrow Road on Jan. 9, days after Neil Adams was fired. Neil, who is just 34, led the Canaries to wins in 15 of their final 22 league games. Following the conclusion of his playing career at age 31, Neil managed his final playing club, Hamilton Academical, for two seasons and won the club promotion to Scotland’s top flight in his first full season in charge.
PST predicts: Considering the Canaries went down for just a season, the current roster is still largely a Premier League-quality squad from two seasons ago — only Leroy Fer, Robert Snodgrass and Anthony Pilkington were players of consequence to leave after the 2013-14 season. Neil still needs to do a bit more business to further strengthen the squad before the Sept. 1 transfer deadline, but it’s been a summer of smart signings thus far. The one thing lacking from the Norwich squad as it currently stands: a proven Premier League goalscorer — Jerome and Hooper have scored just 36 PL goals combined.
What we don’t know is, which one of the four teams in the Championship’s promotion playoffs will be joining them. On Friday and Saturday, we move one step closer to finding which one of Norwich City, Middlesbrough, Brentford or Ipswich Town will join the Cherries and the Hornets in the top flight of English football.
Brentford (5th) vs. Middlesbrough (4th) — Friday, 2:45 pm ET
Middlesbrough, who were last in the Premier League in 2009, enter Friday’s first leg after ending the regular season on a sour note (a 4-3 loss and 0-0 draw to end the season) and missing out not only on automatic promotion, but the top seed among the four playoff teams.
“We need to improve, because the last performances weren’t good,” Boro manager Karanka said. “I can’t forget the amazing season we’ve had and we need to be more together than ever. We’re a very good squad and we have our future in our hands.
Ipswich (6th) vs. Norwich (3rd) — Saturday, 7:15 am ET
Norwich are bidding to gain promotion right back up to the Premier League one season after going down. Cameron Jerome (18 goals) and Bradley Johnson (15) led the Canaries in scoring during the regular season, with Lewis Grabban and Gary Hooper (12 each) adding to the Championship’s third-highest (88) scoring total.
Ipswich’s final-day defeat to Blackburn Rovers nearly cost the Blues their place in the playoffs, but managed to qualify through a superior goal differential to Wolverhampton Wanderers. Daryl Murphy (27 goals) is the only Ipswich player to reach double-digit scoring in the Championship.
Regular season meetings: Ipswich 0-1 Norwich; Norwich 2-0 Ipswich
On the field and off, here’s a quick look back on who exceeded (and failed to meet) expectations during the 2013-14 Premier League season:
On the field
Adam Lallana, Southampton – Nine goals. Six assists. The 2013-14 season was more than a just a statistical breakthrough for Lallana. It was a springboard to Brazil.
In the process, Lallana’s rise came to symbolize more than one player’s growth. Praise for the Saints attacker became shorthand for acknowledging Southampton’s broader success. Mauricio Pochettino’s team finished eighth while vaulting Lallana, Luke Shaw, Rickie Lambert, and the now injured Jay Rodriguez into the England national team picture.
Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool – Coming into the season, doubts about the post-Chelsea Sturridge centered on whether he and Luis Suarez could reach their potentials in the same attack. You don’t hear those doubts anymore. Still only 24 years old, Sturridge finished the season with 21 goals, with only Suarez eclipsing him on the league’s goal scoring chart.
Curtis Davies, Hull City – Once a promising Luton product that commanded a near-eight figure fee, Davies’ inconsistency eventually saw him out of the Premier League. Bought by Steve Bruce before the season, the 29-year-old’s return the first division turned into best season of his career. In addition to team of the year consideration, Davies earned calls for a spot in Brazil.
Luis Suarez, Liverpool – The Premier League hasn’t seen a weapon this dangerous since Didier Drogba’s peak. Suarez finished the season with 31 goals, becoming the seventh player in league history to join the 30-goal club.
Marouane Fellaini, Manchester United – Just as Lallana came to symbolize Southampton’s rise, Fellaini represented Manchester United’s fall. Following David Moyes to Old Trafford, Fellaini vacillated between injured and ineffective. The Belgian only made 12 starts, but for some Red Devils’ supporters, that was 12 starts too many.
Roberto Soldado, Tottenham Hotspur – It was two months into Soldado’s Premier League career before the Spaniard scored from open play. Though he finished the season with six goals, four came from the spot, with the former Valencia forward eventually playing his way out of Spain’s World Cup squad.
Jozy Altidore, Sunderland – For the second time, Altidore took a crack at the Premier League, and for the second time, the U.S. international failed to produce. After a one-goal season, Altidore has two goals in 62 Premier League appearances.
Nicolas Anelka, West Brom – Anelka’s odyssey from Chelsea to China, Turin to The Hawthorns came to a disturbing end. Thanks to the former French international, Premier League fans became familiar with the quenelle.
On the sidelines
Tony Pulis, Crystal Palace – A club like Stoke may have the luxury of turning its back on a manager like Pulis, but for Crystal Palace, he proved a savior. In last place at the time of his appointment, the Eagles finished 11th, nine months after most pundits predicted they’d go down.
Roberto Martinez, Everton – Despite winning last year’s FA Cup, plenty of doubts surrounded Martinez after Wigan’s relegation. In David Moyes’ wake, the former Swansea City boss revolutionized the Toffees, leading them to their best Premier League point total.
Gus Poyet, Sunderland – The Uruguayan’s stock was on the rise before his time at Brighton came to a sudden end. At Sunderland, he was brought in to clean up the mess. With his in last place come mid-April, Poyet engineered a spring 180, with four straight spring wins securing another season in the Premier League.
Mark Hughes, Stoke City – Hughes’ departure from Fulham in search of a bigger job turned into an embarrassing move, but after Peter Coates picked him to change Stoke’s approach, the former Blackburn and Manchester City boss was redeemed. The Potters’ transition away from Pulis’s blunt approach saw Hughes guide the team to ninth – the team’s highest finish since 1975.
Paulo Di Canio, Sunderland – The Italian manager’s Sunderland tenure came to an end five games into the season, after only 12 games in charge, overall. Repeatedly speaking out against the club in the wake of a player revolt, Di Canio ensured he won’t be back on a Premier League sideline anytime soon.
Andre Villas-Boas, Tottenham Hotspur – Turns out the player culture around Chelsea wasn’t the only problem. Given a second Premier League chance by Daniel Levy, the former Porto boss make if half-way through season two before losing his job.
Michael Laudrup, Swansea City – In year one, the Danish great led Swans to a League Cup. In season two, however, the club needed to go in another direction. Mentioned in connection with bigger jobs last summer, Laudrup is now out of a job entirely.
David Moyes, Manchester United – The long-time Everton boss proved the same man with the Red Devils that he was at Goodison Park. Unfortunately, it was a terrible fit. For all his success at Everton, Moyes will forever be known as the man who took Manchester United to seventh place, the club’s worst finish in 24 years.
In the standings
Everton – The Toffees only finished one place better than they did in 2012-13, but the manner in which they did so has rejuvenated the club. People are no longer dwelling on Everton’s limitations. They’re talking about the club’s potential.
Stoke City – Had Stoke finished in the bottom half of the table, 2013-14 would have still been considered progress if the team played a better brand of soccer. Under Hughes, the Potters not only began that stylistic transition but also climbed the table. By season’s end, Stoke was only six points behind a much more ballyhooed Southampton.
Crystal Palace – In August, some though Cardiff’s spending has produced a survivor, while fewer had faith in Hull. Almost nobody, however, thought Crystal Palace would stay up. Thanks to Pulis’s appointment, the Selhurst faithful will enjoy another season in the Premier League, having defied expectations with a finish just outside the top half.
Liverpool – Ten days removed from its collapse at Selhurst, Liverpool’s disappointing finish obscures the fact that Brendan Rodgers’ team was the story of the season. In a league that’s rarely has surprise title contenders, the Reds jumped from seventh to within two points of the crown.
Manchester United – Following in the rivals’ footsteps, United fell from its perch among the league’s elites, but whereas the Liverpool’s’ fall came after a series of poor choices by Rafa Benitez, one choice undid the Red Devils. Liverpool spent four seasons outside the top four. Manchester United will hope for a quicker response.
Fulham – Blame Michael Jackson, blame the three managers who couldn’t turn the team around, or blame the new owner. In fact, blame them all. The Cottagers ended up five points from safety, giving up 85 goals while punching their ticket to the second division.
Norwich City – The acquisitions of Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Johan Elmander, and Gary Hooper should have provided enough goals to avoid relegation. Instead, thanks in part to Chris Hughton’s conservative approach, the Canaries only scored 28 goals, losing six of their last seven en route to the Championship.
Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs sold Gareth Bale, but as Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal showed, it’s possible to compete for Champions League without the Welsh international. Tottenham had the talent but never found the right formula, with a series of one-sided results against the league’s top teams forcing Spurs to regroup.
John Henry, Liverpool – Whoever returned Liverpool to glory would also win Anfield’s hearts. While Rodgers has received much of the credit, Henry’s also gotten his due. His management team’s first choices weren’t the right ones, but four years after purchasing the club, Henry and Fenway Sports Group have made the Reds title contenders. And they’re back in Champions League.
Peter Coates, Stoke City – His decision could have blown up in his face. Pick the wrong man to replace Tony Pulis, and Stoke would go down. For Coates, however, change was worth the risk. For the first time in 39 years, the Potters finished in the first division’s top half.
The Class of `92 – From their deal to buy Salford City FC, to Gary Neville’s continued, prominent place in English soccer, to Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, and Paul Scholes’ seats on United’s bench, the club’s famous Class of `92 class returned in more than just documentary form. Their influence off the pitch may never match their impact on, but Manchester United’s golden generation will continue to play a role around the Premier League.
Gareth Bale, Real Madrid – When Bale arrived at White Hart Lane, he was a left back/left winger project, albeit one with tremendous potential. At the beginning of the season, Tottenham cashed in on their investment with a world record transfer fee, giving Bale a path to the Champions League final.
Alex Ferguson – Moyes wasn’t the only manager whose legacy was harmed by his move. Once his poor fit at Old Trafford became apparent, fans started questioning the man who picked the former Everton boss for Manchester United’s post. For all the right choices Ferguson made at United, his final call was the wrong one.
Assem Allam, Hull City – Allam’s quest to change his club’s name to Hull Tigers was eventually rejected by the Premier League. Along the way, the team’s owner alienated many of the club’s long-time fans. It almost feels awkward calling them “Tigers” after this year’s ordeal.
Randy Lerner, Aston Villa – News of Villa’s impending sale was met with hope, not trepidation. The reaction was telling. Three straight relegation battles have left supporters disillusioned. Now they’re counting on new ownership to resuscitate the club.
Vincent Tan, Cardiff City – The Bluebirds’ eccentric owner was the object of ridicule during his battle with Malky Mackay. Once the former Cardiff manager was gone, Tan’s true troubles began. After convincing Ole Gunnar Solksjaer to join up, Tan saw his club sink to the bottom the table, relegating the second division winners back to the Football Championship.
Liverpool:Second place in the final PL standings but top of the class this season. Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool exceeded everyone’s expectations. I did not see one preseason poll predicting the Reds would be in the top two. They only blot on their copybook was the late season collapse that cost them the title. That aside, tremendous progress at Anfield as a bright future beckons. Record: W 26 – D 6 – L 6
Manchester City: The Citizens won the PL title and deservedly so. Manuel Pellegrini, known as ‘the Engineer,’ built a solid foundation for City’s creative stars to flourish and they got over the line. They were only top for 14 days of the season but were there when it mattered most after banging in 102 goals to lift the PL crown. Record: W 27 – D 5 – L – 6
Everton: The Toffees came so close to sealing a top four spot, and in almost any other season their return of 72 points would have sealed a UCL berth. Roberto Martinez shouldn’t let that spoil a wonderful first season in charge at Goodison, as the Spanish coach has developed a silky style admired around the country and blooded talented youngsters like Ross Barkley and John Stones. Record: W 20 – D 9 – L 8
Southampton: Mauricio Pochettino’s young side have shown everyone just how good they are down on the South Coast. Saints finished in their best ever PL position of eighth, recorded their highest ever points tally and have three players off to Brazil with England. Possessing a squad brimming with talented teenagers (Luke Shaw etc.) and the likes of Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert, the future is bright for the Reds. Record: W 15 – D 11 – L 12
Stoke City: A terrific campaign for the Potter as Mark Hughes’ men have turned on the style at the Britannia. Six wins from their last ten games saw Stoke finish ninth, their highest ever PL finish and their first time in the top 10, as they’ve finally shaken off that ‘long ball merchants’ tag. Can they challenge for the top six next season? Record: W 13 – D 11 – L 14
Crystal Palace: After Tony Pulis took charge of Palace in late November the Eagles never looked back. They ended up finishing in 11th place after picking up just four points from August to November. Pulis was rightly named PL Manager of the Year and the Eagles beat the likes of Chelsea at home and stunned Liverpool in a late comeback. Pride, passion and commitment, they battled their way to this B+. Record: W 13 – D 6 – L 19
Hull City:Many didn’t think Steve Bruce could keep the Tigers up, yet early in the season they were flying. Big wins over Liverpool at home and Newcastle away were crucial but their season did peter out. That was due to their run to the FA Cup final which inadvertently also handed them a place in next season’s Europa League. Record: W 10 – D 7 – L 21
Arsenal: A blip in the middle of the season curtailed the Gunners’ progress this campaign… but this still have plenty to be proud of. Up until January they pretty much led the way in the PL, as Arsene Wenger’s new signing Mesut Ozil ran the show. Then he dropped away and Arenal struggled, yet they still finished fourth and have an FA Cup final to look forward to. All in all, a good season and another top four finish. Record: W 24 – D 7 – L 7
Chelsea: The ‘Special One’ didn’t win any silverware on his return to Stamford Bridge, but he came mighty close. Chelsea’s young squad hung in the title race until the penultimate weekend of the season but their downfall was losing to Sunderland, Villa and Palace, despite picking up five wins and a draw in their games against the top four. A UCL semifinal defeat to Atletico Madrid was a bitter pill to swallow. Third place is a tough start for Mourinho in his second spell. Record: W 25 – D 7 – L 6
Sunderland: Gus Poyet asked for a miracle at the Stadium of Light… he got one. The Mackems became just the second club in PL history to avoid the drop after being bottom of the standings at Christmas. Paolo Di Canio was dismissed after a torrid start but four wins in a row in their last five (including victories at Chelsea and Man United) kept Sunderland up against all the odds. Oh, they reached the League Cup final too, but lost to Man City. Record: W 10 – D 8 – L 20
Tottenham: Spurs badly missed Gareth Bale, as the $130 million they reinvested from his transfer fee was very poorly spent. That ultimately cost Andre Villas-Boas his job as the Portuguese boss saw his team battered by Man City and Liverpool early on. Tim Sherwood stepped in, became Spurs’ best-ever PL manager (stats wise) and guided them to fifth…. Then Sherwood left after the season finished. Lots of uncertainty around White Hart Lane. Record: W 21 – D 6 – L 11
Swansea City: The Swans were in real danger of relegation for much of this season, as Michael Laudrup suffered ‘second-season syndrome’ badly. The Danish manager left and defender Garry Monk was put in charge as he led the Swans to a 12th place finish after flirting with the drop. A charge to the Europa League knockout stages didn’t help their league form. Wilfried Bony was their star pupil as the Ivorian banged in goals for fun. Record: W 11 – D 9 – L 18
Newcastle: It all started so well for Newcastle as Alan Pardew’s side challenged for the top four before Christmas. Then the wheels fell off as Pardew was banned for headbutting an opposition player, the Magpies plummeted to 10th and their were huge protests from fans against the owner and their manager. All is not well at St. James’ Park. Record: W 15 – D 4 – L 19
West Brom: Somehow the Baggies weren’t relegated as they won just seven games, the lowest total in the PL. They missed the goals of last season’s loan striker Romelu Lukaku and Steve Clarke lost his job ludicrously early in the campaign. From eighth last year to three points and one place above the relegation zone, the decline at the Hawthorns was shocking. Spanish boss Pepe Mel was brought in but after many issues with the playing staff, he left at the end of the campaign. Record: W 7 – D 15 – L 16
Aston Villa: No wonder American owner Randy Lerner wants to sell Villa, two seasons of struggle for the Midlands giants has pushed the fans’ patience to the brink. Manager Paul Lambert has failed to kick the club on and Villa only secured their safety a week from the end of the campaign. There needs to be a clean sweep at Villa as they keep scraping by. Record: W 10 – D 8 – L 19
West Ham: Sam Allardyce could well be on his way out of Upton Park as fans of the Hammers have turned against his direct style of play. It was a real rollercoaster ride for West Ham as they started poorly, then picked up in the New Year, before finishing with a whimper on 40 points. Losing Andy Carroll for over half of the season through injury didn’t help but overall it was a season to forget. Record: W 11 – D 7 – L 20
Manchester United: What a simply wretched season for the Red Devils. David Moyes lasted 10 months before he was fired and put out of his misery. United lost 12 PL games for the first time in a season, finished out of the top four for the first time in PL history and failed to qualify for Europa for the first time since 1990. An aging squad is finally being broken up but that should’ve happened last summer. A new manager is on the way this summer, after Ryan Giggs stepped in on an interim basis, but the reigning champions surrendered their crown in embarrassing fashion. Record: W 19 – D 7 – L 12
Fuham: Three managers had a crack at keeping the Cottagers in the top-flight, as Fulham made a right pig’s ear of this season. Martin Jol assembled an aging, yet talented, squad which struggled early on. Jol was fired and his assistant Rene Muelensteen was put in charge, however he lasted less than two months as German boss Felix Magath arrived. A string of late wins gave Fulham hope but their awful defending sent them down as they had the second worst defense in PL history with 85 goals conceded. Record: W 9 -D 5 – L 24
Cardiff City: Cardiff’s first-ever PL campaign became the ‘Vincent Tan show’ as their eccentric Malaysian owner is now the number one villain in the Welsh capital. Memorable home wins over South Wales rivals Swansea and Manchester City gave Bluebirds fans hope, then Tan fired manager Malky Mackay and new boss Ole Gunnar Solksjaer just wasn’t given enough money, or time, to turn things around. Back to the Championship as they struggled for goals all season and bagged just 32. Record: W 7 – D 9 – L 22
Norwich City: Talking of struggling for goals, Norwich were the PL’s lowest scorers with 28. Chris Hughton was fired with five games to go as his expensive summer signings, Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel, failed to score the goals Norwich needed. Sacking Hughton was pointless as Norwich’s last four games were against Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United. Relegation was inevitable but it was an awful season at Carrow Road as the players massively underperformed. Record: W 8 – D 9 – L 21
Rating the Premier League bosses: How did your manager grade out?
The manager’s chair is always one of the hottest seats in a Premier League venue, but this year’s bosses seemed more flammable than ever before. From Jose Mourinho to Malky Mackay to three bosses at Fulham, 2013/14 was a season for the bosses.
So how did yours do? Let’s take a look.
Arsenal – Arsene Wenger Wenger’s tumble in the train station symbolically illustrated Arsenal’s season: It seemed like the Gunners were headed for title town only to be forced to hold onto the fourth Champions League spot for dear life. To be fair to Wenger, the club faced big injuries to some key players including missing a half-season’s worth of Theo Walcott. Still, the inability to bring a forward in during the transfer window, opting instead for a last-second swoop for injured Swedish midfielder Kim Kallstrom, gives the slender Frenchman a poorer grade than the No. 4 slot would hint. Grade: C-
Aston Villa – Paul Lambert A 15th place finish for Villa should almost never be acceptable; This is not a club in which survival is the only goal. Lambert didn’t seem to press the right buttons and even had his assistants stripped from him at the end of the year. At many times during the season, the attack seemed to center on “Let’s hope Christian Benteke scores,” and the team hemorrhaged goals late in the season. Throw in his criticism of the cups, and it wasn’t a good year for PL or AV. Grade: D
Cardiff City – Malky Mackay, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Criticize unorthodox owner Vincent Tan as much as you’d like, but Mackay did not succeed despite some decent spending in August. Plus half the battle is getting along with your owner, not getting a solid month of the season hamstrung in ornery shouting matches. Mackay did well to get the team up, for sure, and will likely do better with a fresh start somewhere. Solskjaer was allowed to spend, too, but his infusion of Manchester United castaways and Norwegian talent didn’t do the trick. They went down. No one wins. Grades: Mackay, D; Solskjaer, F
Chelsea – Jose Mourinho The Special One had a good first year at Chelsea, although not up to his lofty expectations. He made clear the team’s problems (Have you heard they need a striker?) but also made some classy buys in Nemanja Matic amongst others. There were times his verbal games seemed to backfire, like in the case of his, “Well now we won’t win the league” with plenty of time remaining. But still he reached second place and the final four of the Champions League. Next year, it’s hardware or bust. Grade: B+
Crystal Palace – Ian Holloway, Tony Pulis Credit to Holloway for getting Palace to the Premier League, but he struggled in the first throes of the season. The Pulis hire was a brilliant one, as the Eagles defended in elite fashion and pulled a number of surprising results out of the sky. And, of course, if all Crystal Palace’s season served was the “Pulis laugh” after a 3-3 draw against Liverpool, then this year was a success. Grade: Holloway, D; Pulis, A
Everton – Roberto Martinez He walked into a club that had traditionally failed to push to the next level… and took them to the Europa League. Martinez’s style may not have achieved PL success at Wigan, but he worked wonders with youngsters like Ross Barkley as well as veterans across the board. Martinez guided Tim Howard to a career-best in clean sheets, and Everton nearly made the Champions League. That’ll be the measuring stick for next season. Grade: A-
Fulham – Martin Jol, Rene Meulensteen, Felix Magath What a mess. Jol never seemed to have the answer, and Meulensteen’s first time in a Premier League first chair could was not a success. Magath did a number of good things that make you wonder what would’ve happened if he was appointed when Jol was fired or if the plug could’ve been pulled on Meulensteen a couple weeks earlier. In any event, their records reveal more about the on-field talent then the sideline sorcery.
Martin Jol: 3W-1D-9L Rene Meulensteen: 3W-1D-9L Felix Magath: 3W-2D-6L
Grades: Jol, F; Meulensteen, D; Magath, C
Hull City – Steve Bruce A slow start for the Tigers was complicated by ownership’s public desire to change the team name to Hull Tigers, but credit Bruce for steadying the ship. The big man also made a couple solid mid-season signings in forwards Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic, and got the club into the Europa League with a run to FA Cup Final. This grade could be higher if they trump Arsenal for silverware. Grade: B+
Liverpool – Brendan Rodgers Last year, with his club on a reality show, everyone wanted to pip Rodgers as out of his depth. Yet here came the man with 33:1 odds to win the title, and he came to within a Steven Gerrard slip of getting the job done. You can’t blame the man for allowing a veteran to fall down. Rodgers will have to find better defending and hold onto Luis Suarez to be a true threat next year, but he also has the Champions League with which to lure players. Unquestionably, the man navigated an emotional season with a deft touch. Grade: A-
Manchester City – Manuel Pellegrini Talk about his board room riches? Sure, but Pellegrini lowered his public persona and worked his way through some tricky injuries and trickier road struggles. Though you could argue that City underachieved given its talents, Pellegrini pushed the right buttons and massaged egos well on the way to a title. Grade: A
Manchester United – David Moyes, Ryan Giggs The Moyes era was a disaster, but was Moyes himself? You could certainly argue he needed a PR-savvy team to help him talk and negotiate transfer fees, as his ludicrous offer for Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini set the table for a rough season. He also never seemed to sound the right note after losses. Manchester United is not considered a normal club by anyone, but Moyes often sounded as if “losses happen.” They do, but Manchester United fans don’t accept that. Giggs was a place-holder who did his job of not being Moyes and being Giggs pretty well. Grades: Moyes, D; Giggs, B+
Newcastle United – Alan Pardew, John Carver We have to include former TFC boss Carver because Pardew went and got himself suspended for headbutting an opponent during a game. Read that and guess what grade is coming. What makes it most screwy is that the club chief scout Graham Carr and Pardew assembled was talented enough to flirt with Europe for most of the early season. Then, Yohan Cabaye was allowed to leave for Paris Saint-Germain and Pardew had no answers. Not one, unless you count headbutting an opponent during a game. Carver was essentially Pardew Jr. for the suspension, and the club was simply the worst outside of Norwich over the final weeks, even months of the season. See this Tweet for more:
Pardew sits in a seedy London strip club as Carver subs Cissé off for Shola. A single tear rolls down his cheek. “That’s my boy, John.”
Norwich City – Chris Hughton, NeilAdams
It wasn’t much better for former Newcastle boss Hughton, whose club was pegged for big things after offseason signings Gary Hooper and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel. The club just wasn’t humming all year. By the time Adams took over, it almost felt like the philosophy was, “Well, let’s see if Neil can pull off a miracle and at least he’ll get to say he was a PL boss if he doesn’t.” Grades: Hughton, F; Adams, D
Southampton – Mauricio Pochettino Really it could’ve gone so much worse for the Saints, with a midseason boardroom kerfuffle to go with constant rumors of nearly every player getting a big name transfer. Pochettino to me is the guy who should be getting looks from Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. A brilliant tactician who knows his way around the motivational circles as well, he’s about as good as it gets. Grade: A
Stoke City – Mark Hughes It didn’t start well, but boy did Hughes pull it together! Stoke leapt into the No. 9 slot in the table on the season’s final day, and Hughes did it with a variety of tactics. He’s earned plenty of guff for failures at other stops, but if the Britannia Stadium club backs him with a difference maker or two… well, perhaps the Potters can make the next step. Grade: B
Sunderland –Paolo di Canio, Gus Poyet This isn’t the first time di Canio’s honeymoon ended in disaster, but don’t think Poyet gets a great grade just for a pair of Cup runs and rescuing the season. The boss had plenty of chances to save his team a bit of late-season drama, only to fail. That said, there’s promise for Gus’ guys once he gets more of his own flavor in the side. Grade: di Canio, F; Poyet C-
Swansea City – Michael Laudrup, Garry Monk When you have a PST writer comparing you to Don Draper, that isn’t a compliment. Laudrup failed, leaving a player to step up and clean up the pieces. Monk did that after a shaky start, and earned himself a three-year extension. Training ground dustups were old hat by the end of the season, but the play improved. Grade: Laudrup, D; Monk C+
Tottenham Hotspur – Andre Villas-Boas, Tim Sherwood It almost feels unfair to grade either of these gents considering Daniel Levy seemed intent on making sure both of their jobs were complicated. AVB claimed to have a handful of players he didn’t want after Spurs spending spree, and while that’s not ideal, who says that? Sherwood did the world’s best job doing anything soccer-related ever, according to him. Grade: AVB, C-; Sherwood C+; Levy, F
West Bromwich Albion – Steve Clarke, Pepe Mel Maybe it’s the concussions, but Clarke’s was the only manager whose name I couldn’t recall from memory. A forgettable start to the season, and Mel barely saved things — if you can even call it that — before mutually-parting ways with the club today. Bad year for the Baggies, but it obviously could’ve been worse. Perhaps Clarke was dealing with expectations that were too high, but still… Grade: Clarke, D+; Mel D+
West Ham United – Sam Allardyce Well, well, well Big Sam. The Irons had to contend with an injury to their prime signing in Andy Carroll, but really isn’t that the argument against putting all your eggs in one basket? Allardyce saved his team from the drop, and how, but he also guided his team into said danger. Grade: C-