Former Premier League manager Martin Jol has left his post as Al Ahly manager just six months after signing on after receiving death threats over poor club form.
Expectations are high at the Egyptian giants, and a pair of disappointing results led to supporter unrest, some of which may have gone too far.
The club was bounced from the African Champions League in the group stage, drawing 2-2 with Zambian club to secure its exit coming on the heels of an Egyptian Cup final loss to rivals Zamalek. Al Ahly has won the African Champions League a record eight times previously.
According to a BBC report, Jol had words with supporters following the African Champions League departure. He reportedly began to receive death threats on social media, and hostile supporters arrived at team training as recently as Tuesday.
“Ahly have amicably terminated the contract of Martin Jol at his request,” the club said in a statement. “He will be replaced in the interim by his assistant Ossama Orabi, Jol has told us he will not be able to complete his contract for personal reasons. We have accepted that and ended the contract with him.”
Jol, 60, formerly managed in the Premier League with both Tottenham and Fulham. He took charge of Spurs in 2004 and spent three seasons at White Hart Lane before being fired somewhat dubiously in October 2007. He briefly managed Dutch giants Ajax before moving to Fulham in 2010 where he spent two tumultuous seasons before leaving in December 2012 after six straight defeats.
Premier League Gradebook: See who finished top of the class
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-
In a Premier League season in which the title wasn’t decided until the last day, there are bound to be plenty of dramatic storylines that document the rise (and fall) of certain clubs. When you add in the fact that the entire bottom half of the table was involved in a relegation fight, the drama only increases.
In other words, it was tough to pick just ten story arcs that encapsulate the 2013-2014 season. Feel free to leave a comment with your favorite storyline, or one you think has been overlooked.
The “Hull City Tigers”
Let’s start at the beginning. Hull City, freshly promoted after a three year absence, were eager to prove themselves as a legitimate Premier League team. That meant changing the club’s name from “Hull City A.F.C” to “Hull Tigers LTD”.
Or at least, that’s what owner Assem Allam believed. He announced his intentions a week before the start of the season, saying that “Hull City” was too common and needed to be phased out. “Hull Tigers” would become the common name for the club.
Few agreed with him. Petitions were started, signed not just by Hull supporters but by sympathizers who felt this was a little…crazy. The Premier League agreed, stating that the club would continue to be referred to as “Hull City” in fixture lists, etc. It took until April, but eventually, the league rejected the proposal for “Hull Tigers LTD” outright.
Meanwhile, Hull made the most of their return. For much of the season they boasted a strong record at the KC Stadium, and fans were overjoyed by their victory over Sheffield United in the FA Cup semi-final. Although the final against Arsenal is still to come, Hull have already qualified for the Europa League, and will participate in European play for the first time in their history next season.
Michael Jackson’s Influence over Fulham Football Club
Speaking of crazy owners, Shahid Khan certainly makes the cut. The owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars purchased Fulham in July 2013, taking over from Mohamed Al-Fayed. One of Khan’s first acts as owner was to take down the statue of Michael Jackson, erected in 2011 at Craven Cottage.
That was unwise.
Fulham went on to lose their next match, at Cardiff City. Things only got worse from there. Martin Jol was sacked on December 1, after six consecutive defeats. René Meulensteen didn’t last much longer, getting the boot in mid-February, with four wins from 17 games. But not even Felix Magath, who at least managed ten points from nine games, could save the side.
The Whites would eventual finish 19th, relegated in the penultimate game of the season after a 4-1 loss to Stoke City.
Vincent Tan and the Sad Sad Story of Cardiff
Yep, we’ve got one final tale of horrible mismanagement for you. Vincent Tan, who took over ownership of Cardiff back in 2010, continued to make blunder after blunder with the Bluebirds. The color change, instituted in summer of 2012, continued to outrage fans, who insisted that Cardiff would be forever blue, not red. In December, Tan sacked Malky Mackay, who’d guided the club to promotion and was publicly backed by the fans. Plus, he had a strange habit of wearing a kit over a dress shirt, tucked into slacks. No, Tan is not the most popular man in Wales.
Particularly since Cardiff’s Premier League experiment lasted just one year. The squad collected just three wins under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, going on to finishing dead last in the table.
The redemption of Luis Suárez
Alright, he may not be fully redeemed in the eyes of non-Liverpool supporters. But the Uruguayan has made a fine start. Starting the season a month late, thanks to last year’s bite on Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanović, Suárez did his best to stay quiet off the pitch (and keep his teeth to himself while on it). Recently, he may have helped burnish his public persona by tweeting a photo of himself and Philippe Coutinho eating bananas in support of Dani Alves and efforts to stop racism.
But even a totally reformed Suárez – one who’s never even criticized for diving, or for complaining to the referee – wouldn’t be noteworthy unless he continued to shine on the field. This season’s Luis Suárez did exactly that. In 33 games he scored 31 goals, the league’s top scorer. The forward seems more precise as well, and while obviously eager to score as many as possible, still willing to tee up his teammates.
With 101 goals scored in the season, Liverpool’s success did not all rest on Suárez’s shoulders. His partnership with Daniel Sturridge was fruitful, with Sturridge bagging another 21 goals in his 29 appearances. But his four goals in the Reds’ 5-1 thrashing of Norwich make it clear just how integral Suárez was to this season’s title chase: A fantastic half-volley from 40 yards out, a close-range volley, a tricky little flick over a Canary… all finished up with a direct free kick.
Ok, this one comes to us year after year, it seems. The Gunners look like they’re set to make a challenge for the top of the table, then fade away. This season, it looked like the rot had set in from the start, with an opening day loss to Aston Villa, and no one set to join up before the transfer window closed.
Then along came Mesut Özil, bringing the side a boost, though alas, still no striker. But who amongst Arsenal fans cared, when they were able to watch Aaron Ramsey week after week? He’d scored 13 in all competitions by the time Boxing Day rolled around…
And out went Ramsey with injury, not to be seen again until April. Other injuries certainly played their role as well, including Jack Wilshere’s two month absence and Theo Walcott’s season-season ending knee injury.
In fact, perhaps Arsenal’s season is best summed up by their activity in the January transfer window. The Gunners were once again unable to tempt a striker to join them, and so brought in midfielder Kim Källström…who promptly found himself injured.
The Race for the Bottom
For any fans not supporting a top-ten side, this season resulted in plenty of nail-biting, bum-clenching and random burst of uncontrolled weeping. It seemed if you weren’t in a race for a European place, you were fighting the drop. At the start of February, Aston Villa, sitting 10th, was just three points above the drop. Stoke, who ultimately finished 9th, didn’t know they were safe until less than a month remained of the season.
It was madness. Eight managers from the bottom sides found themselves in the unemployment lines. Some sides, like Crystal Palace, gathered themselves together and staged great comebacks. Others, such as Norwich, simply gave up the ghost. And in the end, Norwich joined Cardiff and Fulham in dropping down to the Championship, while everyone else wiped the sweat from their brows and looked around for a cold drink.
Moyes Out The plane with the banner reading “Moyes Out” flew over Old Trafford on March 29. Manchester United beat Villa 4-1 that day, followed it up with an impressive midweek draw with Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals, and went on to thrash Newcastle 4-0.
Then came the second leg of the quarterfinals, in which United lost 3-1 in Germany to exit the tournament. Perhaps that would’ve been acceptable, losing to last year’s champions, except it was followed by a 2-0 loss to Moyes’ old club. That loss to Everton meant United were out of the running for next season’s Champions League.
Moyes got the sack, and Ryan Giggs was installed as interim manager. But the damage had already been done. Sir Alex Ferguson’s hand-picked successor had the club sitting 7th when he left, and that’s where they ended the season. Outside the European places, putting all their hopes on a money-making preseason tour, securing a successful manager and luring in top, top players.
Oh, the number of words that have already been written about the buses Chelsea parked on various pitches in England! For those who’d paid attention when José Mourinho’s Inter Milan won the Champions League back in 2010, the tactician’s defensive strategy came as no surprise. Particularly considering the infamous lack of production by Chelsea’s strikers, who had just two goals away from Stamford Bridge by the time April rolled around. If you can’t beat ’em, you gotta make them beat their heads into the ground.
And that’s exactly what Mourinho did to Brendan Rodgers at Anfield. At the conclusion of Chelsea’s 2-0 win, the Liverpool manager couldn’t keep the bitterness from his voice, saying, “It’s not difficult to coach just getting 10 players right on your 18-yard box.”
The strategy backfired in Chelsea’s next match, the deciding leg of the Champions League semi-final against Atlético Madrid. Once the Spanish side had scored, the Blues’ plan went out the window, and with no one to score goals, they were out of the Champions League.
And the title race, with their next match a goalless draw against Norwich. Chelsea wound up third this year, with a top striker top on their list of top summer buys.
It was never meant to happen. Exactly one month ago, on April 12, Sunderland were sitting dead last in the Premier League table. Their only hope lay in the fact that they had two games in hand. Yet that hope was cancelled out by the fact that they needed to visit Chelsea and both Manchester sides.
But then the Black Cats drew with Manchester City. Three days later, they went to Stamford Bridge and walked away winners. They blew Cardiff out of the water with a 4-0 win at the Stadium of Light, before going to Manchester United and collecting their first win at Old Trafford in nearly 60 years.
Ten points in four games meant that, when West Brom visited on May 7th, Sunderland could clinch safety with a win. And they did it, and they did it easily. They wound up finishing 14th, five points clear of the drop.
No one denies the Black Cats have plenty of work ahead of them to ensure their supporters won’t need to take paper bags to the stadium next season. The miracle was great and all, but fans would appreciate less heart attacks next year.
The Joy of Manchester City under Manuel Pellegrini
In a recent interview, David Silva talked about the joy and happiness felt around Manchester City with Manuel Pellegrini in charge. For neutrals, or those with no horse in the Premier League title race, we were just thrilled to finally see City’s attacking talent in full flow. The conservatism of Roberto Mancini became more and more apparent as the season went on.
After all, the majority of those scoring goals were there under the former manager: Yaya Touré, Sergio Agüero, Edin Džeko. Yet compare their 102 league goals from this season to last year’s measly 66. Pellegrini brought the fun to City, and he deserves any accolades that are sure to come his way.
The beauty of the Manchester City attack was in full flow by the end of September, when they beat rivals United 4-1. By January 18, they’d managed 100 goals in all competitions. And even when teams did their best to shut them down, City found a way to break through, working patiently and determinedly before unleashing a volley of goals.
Manchester City scored four or more goals in eleven games this season. Even when it was your team at the opposing end of that sort of brutality, you could only help but watch in awe, even applauding as a strike whistled past your own goalkeeper.
Plus, City’s top goalscorer is a central midfielder, who collected twenty this season. Twenty! For that reason alone, no one should begrudge them the title.
With the happy comes the sad, and it is a depressing day for fans of three teams, all with three different stories.
With little drama down the stretch, Norwich City, Fulham, and Cardiff City were dumped into the Championship via Premier League relegation.
Norwich were just outside the relegation zone for much of the season, but a brutal fixture list down the stretch doomed the Canaries, and their poor goal differential of -32 (17 behind West Brom in front of them) meant it was virtually impossible for them to save their season on the final day.
With the writing appearing on the wall in early April, they attempted to turn things around by sacking Chris Hughton five points above the zone, but interm manager Neil Adams was powerless to turn things around.
They could have been steered safe, but the remarkable turnaround by Gus Poyet at Sunderland engulfed the Canaries and sent them down.
Fulham have been in the drop zone for nearly the entire season, and their basement position saw two managers in Martin Jol and Rene Meulensteen lose their jobs.
Their relegation ends a 13-year Premier League run, the fourth-longest run in Premier League history, but it had been coming for some time. A refusal by former owner Mohamed Al Fayed to spend in his final years owning the club (presumably preparing the financial books for a sale) meant their roster was stocked with bargains and journeymen, and relegation was a foregone conclusion.
An attempt by new owner Shahid Khan to spend in January brought in Kostas Mitroglou for a club-record fee, but he was on the sidelines with a nagging injury for nearly the entire second-half of the season.
They, like Sunderland, had plenty of opportunities to steer themselves safe down the stretch, but unlike the Black Cats, the Whites fell in chance after chance and there’s only one ending with results like this.
Finally, Cardiff City saw their Premier League tenure come to an end after just one season. They become the only of last year’s three promoted teams to see their way back into the Championship, with Hull City and Crystal Palace both safe.
The club saw plenty of turmoil throughout the season, most notably mercurial chairman Vincent Tan’s public feud with former manager Malky Mackay, and the boss always wins. Mackay was sacked just after Christmas. Tan appointed former Manchester United player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but they fared even worse under the Norwegian.
Their places will be taken by Leicester City, Burnley, and the winner of the Championship playoff, involving QPR, Wigan, Derby County, and Brighton Hove & Albion.