It may not have been the highest quality, but it was certainly one of the most entertaining seasons in living memory, with the most amazing climax. In the end, Manchester City claimed their first top-level title in 44 years, beating Manchester United on goal difference, whilst Arsenal claimed third place, neighbours Spurs finishing in fourth, pipping a gallant Newcastle to a Top 4 Spot. No Premier League title has ever been decided on goal difference before, and it is only the 6th time the top division has been decided this way.
At the other end of the table, Wolves went down with a whimper after the sacking of Mick McCarthy, and were eventually joined by Steve Kean’s Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers, who ended an 11 year run in the top division. In between, and the three promoted teams stayed up, only the second time this has ever happened.
Here’s a look at the hi and lowlights of the season:
No review can be complete without crying tears of laughter at how the “experts” saw the season panning out. Predictions are a dangerous game, and we have all made some terrible ones, but some of what follows was drivel right from the start.
BBC: Only six teams featured in the predictions, and their survey found that Manchester United were the overwhelming favourites to retain their title, with only three votes going to Manchester City and one to Liverpool.
Mark Lawrenson: 1 Man Utd 2 Man City 3 Chelsea 4 Liverpool.
“Sir Alex Ferguson always gets the pre-season training right to gear United up for their traditional strong finish at the end of season. They have got a squad to cope with all the cup competitions, and the Champions League, and real competition for players and a winning mentality too. They have got the best team, the best squad and the best manager. Basically, they have got the lot.”
Mark Bright: 1 Liverpool 2 Man Utd 3 Man City 4 Arsenal.
“Liverpool finished 22 points behind United last season but only Sir Alex Ferguson amassed more points than Kenny Dalglish since the ‘king’ took over from Roy Hodgson. Why will they win it? The Reds have four players who could grace any team in the Premier League: Pepe Reina, Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll, then add to the mix promising youngsters like John Flanagan, new faces like Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing plus team spirit, desire and 21 years of hurt.”
Nigel Adderley: 1 Man Utd 2 Liverpool 3 Chelsea 4 Arsenal.
“I can’t see beyond United winning the title again. There will be no World Cup hangover for players like Wayne Rooney this season which should help their youngsters integrate into the team. Liverpool have so much attacking flair now so Steven Gerrard should benefit from not being overburdened. Chelsea need Fernando Torres to start scoring quickly and also develop an understanding with whoever plays alongside him. Arsenal should scrape into the top four providing the Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri money is spent on the right areas of the team. Despite the millions lavished on their squad, I think City may miss out on the top four – rather like Tottenham last season – a decent run in the Champions League could have a negative impact on their domestic results.”
Oliver Holt (Daily Mirror) – “Charlie Adam could be the buy of the season.” (a view backed up by Phil Thompson).
Champions: Man Utd
Third: Man City (but lower if Tevez goes)
Bottom three: QPR, Swansea, Norwich
Top scorer: Fernando Torres
Best buy: Charles N’Zogbia
Top scorer: Javier Hernandez
Best buy: David de Gea
Worst buy: Sergio Aguero isn’t value for money
The Season Itself…..
Early Season Madness:
Manchester United 8 Arsenal 2, Tottenham Hotspur 1 Manchester City 5, Manchester United 1 Manchester City 6. Were defenders taking the season off? Well no, nothing had changed really, It was a momentary lapse in the space-time continuum, and soon we returned to normal. Well except for Arsenal 5 Tottenham 2, Manchester United 4 Everton 4, Chelsea 3 Arsenal 5, or…..
Racism & Off The Field Controversy
This was the season when much of the talking points revolved around events away from the kicking of a football. Whilst Carlos Tevez was busy reducing his golf handicap, this was also the year of racism scandals. The biggest domestically came at the end of the year as Luis Suarez was banned for eight games for racist comments made towards Patrice Evra. The row rumbled on as Liverpool refused to accept their lot, but with John Terry due in court after the Euros, the topic is going to remain in the news. If only everyone had taken Sepp Blatter’s advice and shaken hands at the end of the match – problem solved. Needless to say, Anton Ferdinand and Patrice Evra were portrayed as the guilty parties in all of this by some of the cretins that reside in our green and pleasant land, and death threats inevitably followed.
The end of 2011 also plunged the world of football into deep shock, as Gary Speed took his own life. It was a story that people struggled to comprehend, a man who seemingly had it all, but it turned out didn’t. A reminder, along with the tragic death of Gary Ablett in the New Year, that it is only a game. It will never be more important than life or death. Never had a disputed penalty or a last minute equalizer seemed less important. Football had lost one of the great servants of the Premier League era. At least for Patrice Muamba, there was a happier ending, but the occurrences of natural athletes suffering with heart problems seems to be more problematic than ever before. Italy has some of the most stringent tests in this area. Let’s hope the English game follows suit as soon as possible.
Paul Scholes and Thierry Henry decided they couldn’t stay away, and did their bit in pushing on their respective teams. Even Robbie Keane showed his face again for a short while. What it showed more than anything was that two of the big teams were short on depth of quality to resort to such moves, and whilst talk of Scholes returning to the England team is ludicrous, it also hints at the paucity of talent available to England manager Roy Hodgson.
Tottenham Hotspur and the FA’s Role In Their Decline
On the day Harry Redknapp left court a free man, Fabio Capello and the FA called it a day. Fabio got the TV, the house and a few million pounds, but for Redknapp, presumed by the world’s media to be Capello’s successor, it all went downhill thereafter. Many blamed it on the speculation about the England job distracting Spurs, but it’s a weak argument. They thrashed Newcastle before their form fell away, the more likely reason being Redknapp’s reliance on key players, who understandably became jaded. In the end, they were relying on a Chelsea Champions League defeat to gain access to next year’s competition.
Promotion and Consolidation
Quite an achievement, as all three promoted sides stayed up, and stayed up playing good football. There was no compromise in style, though QPR had the resources to expect a stay in the top league. Either way, they were, and will be, worthy additions to the premier league. Brendan Rogers has turned down an approach from Liverpool, but Grant Holt’s transfer request (declined) shows that with success comes a whole new set of problems and challenges.
Another Varied Season For Arsenal
Same old, same old. Some brilliant play, some suspect defending, low points and calls for the manager’s head before a resurgence which ultimately left them where they began. This could go on forever, or else at some point Wenger has to compromise on his principles and bring in some established big names, and go for the title. If they don’t, we will all be subjected to playground bully Piers Morgan’s expert opinions for the next 20 years. And no one deserves that.
Chelsea’s Season Of Two Halves
Another big name manager under pressure, who eventually fell on his sword. With hindsight, Villas Boas and his methods seemed doomed from the start, and by the time he left, Chelsea’s season resembled a train-wreck. It just goes to show the fine lines in football, as under Roberto Di Matteo, the club have picked up the FA Cup, and tonight will aim to become the first London side to win the Champions League. If they don’t, it’s the Europa League for them next season. No pressure then.
Never Go Back
Liverpool might go back to Rafa Benitez this summer, but going back to King Kenny ultimately didn’t work out. Were they close to usccess or a million miles away? Well Dalglish brought a trophy back to the club, and almost a second, but the league form was far from acceptable, his big money purchases utterly underwhelming, and they finished the season below neighbours Everton. It was a bridge too far for Liverpool’s American owners.
He Came From Italy, To Manage Man City
Hard to imagine, but only a month ago, Mancini’s job was on the line. Obituaries had been written on him and City’s season. Now, he has delivered the first title to the blue half of Manchester in 44 years. A week is a long time in football, and judging by the QPR match, so is 15 seconds.
Manager of The Year
How do you choose the best manager? Many think the winner should be the manager of the Champions. Fair enough. All three promoted teams stayed up, so there are merits to choosing Brendan Rogers or Paul Lambert, but for me Alan Pardew is a worthy winner – fighting for Champions League football until the last day of the season, they were a team I expected to struggle for survival after losing key players in the summer.
Player of The Year
Robin Van Persie would be a perfectly acceptable winner, but in the end he was probably pipped by the inspirational Vincent Kompany, who led his team to the title by example, scoring the crucial winner in the Manchester Derby on April 30th.
Stewart Downing – it’s quite some achievement to have no goals or assists over a whole league campaign (when regularly picked). This led to a million tweets about the sacking of Kenny Dalglish being his first assist of the season. Still, I have vague memories of him scoring against Oldham, as did Roy Hodgson clearly, who amazingly thinks he’s good enough for the England squad.
André Villas-Boas wasn’t far behind, but he’ll be back, and stronger for it.
Papiss Cissé’s second v Chelsea. An astonishing feat to beat a goalkeeper of Petr Cech’s quality from that angle, that distance and with a half-volley with the outside of the right foot, though the little voice in my head still insists he just swung his foot and got lucky.
Runner up prizes for Hatem Ben Arfa for Newcastle in a 2-0 win v Bolton in April, and Peter Crouch’s volley against Manchester City.
Manchester City 3-2 QPR. What more could you ask for? Great goals, defensive howlers, red card madness, the risk of relegation, then being saved from relegation, the lead changing hands three times, an injury-time comeback and a title won with the last kick of the season. Not bad, when all said and done. Other contenders can be found in the high-scoring madness mentioned earlier.
And In The End…
And on the 7thday, god created a Manchester City title – a true miracle. Steve Kean is still in a job, but many more fell at the hurdles. A crazy season full of talking points delivered right to the end. It wasn’t always pretty, it wasn’t always pleasant, but it was never boring. Long may it continue…..