This is my blog on the unpredictable world of football. Hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pulsating Premier League finishes

What an enthralling season of football it was. Manchester United wrapped up their 19th title under the guidance of the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. Blackpool and Birmingham were relegated on the tense last match day of the season along with West Ham the week before. This cost Hammers manager Avram Grant his job. Chelsea's second place finish in the league coupled with their semi-final knock out by Manchester United spelled the end of a productive two year stint in the Chelsea hot seat for Carlo Ancelotti. A cruel decision by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich considering Ancelotti delivered his club their first ever league and FA Cup double last season. Speaking of managers getting the sack unfairly what about Newcastle's dismissal of manager Chris Houghton in December? Newcastle sat in mid-table at that stage and went on to finish there at seasons end despite Houghton's sacking. Chris Pardew was the man to take his place and got a big result in his first game with a 3-1 victory over Liverpool at St James Park. The most ironic part of this victory was that Carroll condemned his future club to a loss with a superb left foot strike from distance.

In total there were six managers relieved of there duties this season, including Ancelotti's 'please don't return' next season. Sam Allardyce felt the full force of new owner Venky when they took over Blackburn Rovers. He was sacked not long after their take over and they appointed his assistant Steve Kean. Blackburn then floated an audacious move for the out of favour Ronaldinho only to be cut down within days of the story breaking, as he announced his return to his homeland Brazil. Kean however did get the chance to bolster his squad in a mad January transfer window, mainly through loan deals that saw crowd favourtie Roque Santa Cruz return from Manchester City for the rest of the season. They also acquired the services of Jermaine Jones from Schalke as well.

However the big news was saved for Liverpool. After a season of utter failure in there high standards, Rafa Benitez was relieved of his duties. Club legend 'King' Kenny Dalglish put his hand up for the job, but former owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett went with former Fullham manager Roy Hodgson - after a stellar season of guiding his club to the Europa league final. This was a move that ultimately back fired on the former debt ridden owners. It also saw the end of their tumultuous reign and the dawn of a 'new era' at Anfield as Fenway Sports Group overturned the clubs debts and took ownership of the club. They gave manager Roy Hodgson a chance to prove himself, however after pressure from Kopites singing Kenny Dalglish's name during matches, saw Hodgson sacked from the job and Kenny Dalglish returning to the job he held twenty years ago. Hodgson didn't have to wait long for a return to the Premier League coaching merry-go-round as West Brom relieved Roberto Di Matteo of his duties in late January and installed Roy Hodgson the next week. Back at Anfield, John Henry - owner of Fenway Sports Group and now Liverpool FC - stamped his authority on the club by making a raft of staff changes that most notably saw Steve Clarke become first team coach and assistant to Kenny Dalglish, Damien Comolli as director of football and Ian Ayre promoted to managing director. The most shrewd piece of business was still to come from the new team. On the last day of the transfer window in January Liverpool pulled off what has turned out to be the most profitable move for the clubs future. They secured the services of Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez from Ajax for $35.4 million (£22.8 million) to partner Fernando Torres, however Torres had other ideas handing in a transfer request to go to Chelsea. Liverpool reacted and told Chelsea they wanted £50 million for Torres. Abramovich obliged and Liverpool went after Andy Carroll to replace him by offering Newcastle a record $54.1 million (£35 million) for a British player. Carroll inherited the famous number 9 at Liverpool but was unable to start straight away due to a thigh injury that limited his appearances to seven at league level (a further two in Europa league) and two goals. Suarez was even more fruitful, making 13 appearances - scoring on debut - and scoring 4 goals and setting up many more. Compare this to Torres who has made 14 appearances for Chelsea and only scored one goal! Just one goal. A flop yes, Liverpool cashed in on his reputation at the right time.

To the statistics, the 2010/2011 season broke the record for the most goals scored in one season in Premier League history. The amount of goals scored this season was 1063, beating the previous record of 1060 set in the 1999/2000 season - a season in which Manchester United won, deja vu perhaps? A particularly interesting statistic points out that the three goals scored to break the record were scored in stoppage time, two of those goals had factors in the fate of teams being relegated as well. It also means that this season had an average of 2.8 goals per match. Chelsea fans can also look back on the first two rounds with misty eyes as their team amassed six goals in each match without conceding one, far from the days when they purchased Fernando Torres eh? Before this season there has never been a round of matches in which every one of the twenty teams had scored one goal, this season it happened twice on the 27-28 November (41 goals scored) and the 7-9 May (33 goals scored). Another record broken this season was the amount of hat-tricks scored, this season 17 were scored. The Premier League's three broadcasters also managed to beat their own individual records for the 'biggest audience for one match' with the BBC's match of the day for the 5th of February attracting 5.49 million viewers, Sky Live managed to get 3.23 million watching the Manchester United V Tottenham match on the 16th January and ESPN Live's broadcast of Wolverhampton Wolves V Manchester United managed 806 000 viewers. Who could forget - especially United fans - Manchester United's 7-1 hammering of Blackburn where Berbatov score one quarter of his twenty goal haul in the league this season? Berbatov showed in that match why he would end up sharing the golden boot with former United player Carlos Tevez - now at Manchester City - at the end of the season. The eight goal games didn't stop there as Everton held on for a thrilling 5-3 victory over new boys Blackpool. But the best come back of the season belongs to Newcastle. Arsenal lead Newcastle 4 nil after 26 minutes of the match. Arsenal's season collapse can be traced back to this match and a couple of others around this time as Abou Diaby was sent off for a silly push of Newcastle's Joey Barton. Barton went on to claim two penalty goals, Leon Best chipped in with one. But the best goal came last as Cheik Tiote smashed home a brilliant left foot volley from outside the area to send the Toon into raptures, and possibly Newcastle's greatest ever draw.

Arsenal's season collapsed not long after this match as they fell to Barcelona in the round of 16 in the Champions League. They also surrendered the Carling Cup (League Cup) to Birmingham after a calamitous defensive era from Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny gave Birmingham the trophy. Arsenal's lack of experience and winning mentality have cost them again with another season without any silverware. Their porous defence has been the focus of everyones criticism and very rightly so. A statistic that will haunt most Arsenal fans is the fact they only managed to win two of their last eleven matches. Not good enough to be title contenders and is the reason why they crashed to fourth place after a chance of lifting the trophy.

Manchester City finally managed to win their first trophy in 35 years by defeating Stoke 1 nil in the final. The club also secured its place in the Champions League for next season by overtaking Arsenal for a third place finish. It looks as if City will go on another spending spree to strengthen their squad for Champions League football next season. However one major question remains to be answered, will Tevez stay? The conclusion of the British summer is the only thing that will answer this question as the lad seems to change his mind every few days.

United's season got off to a shaky start by only being able to win at home seemingly. The Rooney controversy then hit mid-season which looked to destabilise everything, however he got what he wanted a new contract worth millions more than what he was already earning. With this United's season rose to yet another title winning season. 'Chicharito' (Javier Hernandez) has to be one of the buys of the season as the 22 year old nabbed a total of 20 goals in all competitions, not bad for a player bought for £6 million. United also have the chance to win their forth European Cup in the Champions League final against Barcelona at Wembley stadium this weekend. It should be another enthralling encounter in a replay of the 2009 final.

Tottenham can only wonder what could have been as they managed to secure fifth spot and a Europa League place for next season. Rafael Van Der Vaart was bought from Real Madrid on the last day of the pre-season transfer window for a fee of only £8 million. It was yet another wheeler-dealer move from Harry Redknapp as Van Der Vaart proved crucial in Tottenham's charge to the quarter finals of the Champions League. They were knocked out by Van Der Vaart's former employer Real Madrid and a lot of the blame has to lay with Peter Crouch's silly double yellow card act at the Bernabeu. It is likely there will be some movement in the Spur's camp in the British summer as numerous players are seeking more game time and Redknapp unhappy at his striker's whom only managed a paltry amount of goals.

The most competitive Premier League season so far has been an absolute joy to watch. With the surrounding soap opera of transfers, manager sackings and new club owners, off field scandals and refereeing howlers fans have had plenty of entertainment. On this final note it's time to congratulate QPR and Norwich City for being promoted to the Premier League for next season. Also good luck to Swansea and Reading as they head for Wembley stadium to compete for the last place in the Premier League next season on the 30th May. Let the silly season of summer signings begin!

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