Sport

2014/15 Season Review.

Liverpool, Man City.

The 2014/15 Premier League season marked the first since 2005 that I attended a match at Anfield. Seeing Liverpool beat Manchester City on the first day of March was probably the last highlight of a forgettable season for the club despite an anticipated return to the Champions League – an underwhelming return to say the least. I therefore acknowledge a slight bias that way inclined, for better or worse, though by anyone’s standards Liverpool’s season can be observed as ‘disappointing’ (and that’s perhaps an overly polite way of putting it).

I also can’t be the only one who thought this whole season was somewhat… lacking in quality. Aside from champions Chelsea, who won the title with such ease it became almost embarrassing, there was a shortage of consistency throughout the rest of the league, though Leicester City went some way to making up for that at the bottom end.

Every season for the past four years I’ve posted my prediction for the finishing league positions of each team on this blog, and I often feel obligated to revisit said predictions and observe my occasionally laughable accuracy – though there is often a couple I get right. Crystal Palace, for example, I predicted would finish 10th, but admittedly I had considerable doubts about that call when Tony Pulis walked out on the eve of their first game. Chelsea I said would be champions, though to be fair that was pretty much the standard opinion at the start of the season anyway, and our suspicions about their squad being most prepared out of the top clubs was proved correct by Christmas.

Hopefully next year will be a little more interesting, however first of all we must provide some closure to this one. So without wasting any more time, let’s see how I did and briefly review the performance of all 20 teams.

1 (champions) – Chelsea: As has been said, they were simply the best team in a year when, to be honest, there wasn’t much in the way of a consistent challenge from anyone else. At one curious point in November it looked like Southampton might have been the closest. Needless to say Jose Mourinho once again proved himself the ‘special one’ (as if there were any doubters left) and they’ll deservedly be firm favourites when the season kicks off again in August. Over to their challengers to do something about that…

He may be getting older, but for his team that only seems a good thing: John Terry's experience once again proved pivotal in Chelsea's march to another league title this year.
He may be getting older, but for his team that only seems a good thing: John Terry’s experience once again proved pivotal in Chelsea’s march to another league title this year.

2 – Manchester City: One need not look any further than the runners-up for an example that this season was not a strong one for the league. While Manchester City are deservedly here based on their squad strength, they simply did not have the consistency one would expect of prospective champions – dropping at one point down to 4th as people suspected they could fall even further. Their aforementioned defeat to Liverpool (a game Chelsea would have drawn, and did so in their respective fixture) exemplified why they relinquished the title so easily and were, in the end, simply the ‘best of the rest’ – which really isn’t too much of an inspiring compliment. My pre-season prediction: 3rd

3 – Arsenal: A year in which Arsenal retained the FA Cup (a feat not managed by many) and secured an improvement on their usual aim of 4th position will be seen by many as a success. It certainly is, but could have been even better. In another season Arsenal may not have secured 3rd position with a points total of 75 – the troubles at Liverpool and Manchester United ensured that it was enough. I’m actually, despite my cynicism, still a big fan of Arsene Wenger, though he really needs to get the better of Mourinho at some point or I fear that may hang over his head when he does retire, which will surely be one day soon. Arsenal will come good one of these years and put together a strong, consistent title challenge over the course of a whole season – but it’s too early to say whether they’ll manage that next year. My pre-season prediction: 2nd

4 – Manchester United: I could spend a whole paragraph lamenting how this team, poor for the majority of the season, managed to eventually finish 4th – however, I know that would be partly due to the bias I have mentioned previously. Let’s be honest though; they owe this place at least partly to Liverpool’s collapse during the final three months, and their win at Anfield was a crucial one for both sides’ momentum. Next season, I admit they will likely improve further and could even be dark horses for the title – as painful as that is for me to say. My pre-season prediction: 5th

5 – Tottenham Hotspur: Perhaps one of the season’s dark horses in the end, Spurs will be quite happy with their finishing position considering they only secured 5th (and therefore the label of ‘closest contenders to the top 4’) on the final day. That does mean Europa League once again though, for a club that has typically struggled to balance that competition with their push to the next level. It’s not impossible of course, but many (including myself) will be wary of seriously backing Tottenham for bigger and better things next season because of that. My pre-season prediction: 8th

6 – Liverpool: Is it just me or have Liverpool recently seemed a much more balanced team when Gerrard wasn’t the centre of their attention? Ironically he has been their saviour for almost every other season up to now, yet the second half of this campaign felt overshadowed by his impending departure (which really should have been less high profile) as the players and manager alike became besotted with giving him a ‘proper’ sendoff.

He's known as Liverpool's 'talisman', but Gerrard has admittedly not been up to his best standards this season. Dare I say it just might be the right time for him to be leaving?
He’s known as Liverpool’s ‘talisman’, but Gerrard has admittedly not been up to his best standards this season. Dare I say it just might be the right time for him to be leaving?

In the end he got anything but, with a whimpering team performance in an FA Cup semi-final defeat to Aston Villa following up a similar rollover in their return to the big European stage. A scarcely believable 6-1 defeat away to mid-table Stoke on the final day punctuated a bad season in which even the tiniest glimmer of consistency may have been enough to secure a Champions League spot. They need some work done over the summer for sure, but my predictions aren’t too negative quite yet; without Gerrard next season the team may find it a little easier to get that balance I spoke of and which they showed at (albeit few) times this year. My pre-season prediction: 4th

7 – Southampton: Saints rightly stole the headlines as one of the main surprises of the season, despite dropping off slightly in the final third. Many, including myself, were skeptical of how they would perform (though I never quite jumped on the relegation bandwagon) but their season has just gone to show that upheaval is not always detrimental; it can in fact have a refreshing effect on a club. Having secured European football as well, it will be interesting to see how they perform next season. Few would claim they can repeat this season’s feats, but who’s to say they won’t? My pre-season prediction: 14th

Southampton brought a breath of fresh air to the league this season with their style of play and a surprising defensive record.
Southampton brought a breath of fresh air to the league this season with their style of play and a surprising defensive record.

8 – Swansea City: Another surprise for me, and one which would have been given more credit were it not for the team that finished a spot above them. I thought Swansea would have struggled this year but manager Garry Monk, despite his inexperience, has proved me and a few others wrong. This team appears to be going from strength to strength and it will be fascinating to see what they do next season. My pre-season prediction: 17th

9 – Stoke: Robbie Savage called Mark Hughes one of the league’s most underrated managers this season and I’d be inclined to agree with him – though to be fair to myself I also said it last year too. Stoke are one of those teams who others look to as the image of consistency, having been pushing for mid-table finishes since they arrived in the Premier League in 2008. This is their best one yet, though as I said at the start of the season, one may feel they need something extra to place any higher than this in future. My pre-season prediction: 9th

10 – Crystal Palace: One couldn’t have written the script for Palace’s season, which was set up to go well before they lost a talismanic manager (Tony Pulis) on the eve of the season, appointed another (Neil Warnock) who didn’t quite fit, experienced some anxious months around the bottom three, only for another talismanic manager to then arrive (Alan Pardew) and take them to the position they would have been hoping for to begin with. Their fans will be happy, but would probably settle for a season of less headlines and more stability next time out. Right now they look good to push on for another top half finish. My pre-season prediction: 10th

11 – Everton: I predicted a great run in Europe for Everton but that didn’t really happen. While it was a disappointing season overall for the blue side of Liverpool, fans may be breathing a slight sigh of relief after it looked in the early months they could be heading for a relegation battle. By the final third they were showing the form of the Everton team that challenged last season’s top 4. Whether or not they can come back to do it again next year is yet to be seen, though they will not have the distraction of Europe to hinder their push and this could make them dark horses to do exactly that. My pre-season prediction: 7th

12 – West Ham: Although mid-table may look like a relatively decent season for West Ham, we know that their fans expect better – especially after the start they had when, along with Southampton, they looked like they had potential to challenge the top 4. A dramatic loss of form after Christmas put any notion of that idea to bed, and in the end manager Sam Allardyce paid with his job. Some can bemoan that choice by the owners as unfair, others will worry for the slight uncertainty that it leaves the team in for next season, but ultimately I think it was probably the right time for both parties. My pre-season prediction: 12th

13 – West Brom: Another curious one. At the start of the season I predicted West Bromwich Albion would finish rock bottom, and to be fair it looked like they might have been heading that way for the first few months of the season. But then the unpredictable factor kicked in, with former Crystal Palace saviour Tony Pulis taking over the managerial reins in January and working his relegation-saving magic once again. His record of having never been relegated remains intact and, for as long as he stays in charge, West Brom fans will be breathing a sigh of relief for the retention of their Premier League status for the foreseeable future. Though of course in this business, we all know ‘foreseeable’ doesn’t count for much… My pre-season prediction: 20th

14 – Leicester City: Considering where they were at the start of April, Leicester’s survival and subsequent rise up to 14th can be seen as one of the stories of the season. Originally I actually thought this team would have enough quality to stay out of the trouble they found themselves in, and maybe that should have been the case, but their fans won’t be complaining after knowing where they could have ended up by this point. Can they push on next season, or will they experience the dreaded ‘second season syndrome’ that tends to affect recently promoted teams? Time will tell, though at this point I may be willing to bet the former. My pre-season prediction: 13th

Experienced midfielder Esteban Cambiasso proved an inspired signing as Leicester (eventually) came good and ended their first season back in the Premier League on a high note.
Experienced midfielder Esteban Cambiasso proved an inspired signing as Leicester (eventually) came good and ended their first season back in the Premier League on a high note.

15 – Newcastle: Oh boy, where does one start with Newcastle United? I’m done even pretending to know where this team may end up next season; play their cards right and they certainly have ‘upper top half of the table’ potential, play them wrong and they end up in this kind of position or even worse. If there are not major squad improvements (and perhaps an anticipated managerial change) swiftly in the summer then they may just find themselves falling through the dreaded trap door to relegation. But who can really say? This time next year we’ll probably be talking about them as a top half team again. My pre-season prediction: 6th

16 – Sunderland: A team I thought would push on after their relegation scare last season instead just found themselves in the same position again. Escaping by the skin of your teeth every season is all well and good while it lasts but, as we’ve recently seen with Wigan, it’s not exactly something you can rely on for long term success. Carry on gambling and you’ll eventually lose a hand; considering the attacking talent coming into the league next year through the three promoted teams, Sunderland face a big summer if they want to still be a Premier League team at the end of the 2015/16 season. My pre-season prediction: 11th

17 – Aston Villa: And pretty much the same goes for Villa, a club I foresaw being relegated this season and another club that, for a while, it seemed very possible I might be right about. Here’s the thing about Villa’s season: their run to the FA Cup final, where they were humbled 4-0 by Arsenal, put the gloss on what is a very worrying situation the club now find themselves in. They should take heed of Hull’s fate this season, who similarly had an FA Cup final last year (coincidently against the same opponents) which took the focus off a mediocre league position – in the end they were found out and relegated. Villa will be hoping they don’t follow the same path, though they at least do not have a Europa League berth (previously given to FA Cup runners-up) to provide a distraction from the pertinent task at hand. My pre-season prediction: 19th

18 – Hull City: So we get to the three teams that won’t be rejoining us in the Premier League next season. Hull City slipped under the radar of many a pundit as a candidate for relegation this year due to what was perceived as a pretty hefty spending spree last summer and an experienced manager (Steve Bruce) in charge.

Out of time? Steve Bruce's experience in relegation dogfights didn't prove to be enough to save Hull from going down on the final day.
Out of time? Steve Bruce’s experience in relegation dogfights didn’t prove to be enough to save Hull from going down on the final day.

Though a few factors should have given us pause for thought: first, last season they finished 16th, which by anyone’s standards, had they not also reached the FA Cup final to provide a welcome distraction, would be considered the danger zone for possible relegation the following season. Second: this was only their second season in the Premier League after promotion in 2013, and a couple of new signings don’t really transform that mindset overnight. And third: each time Burnley and Hull are in the Premier League together, they tend to go down together too (same thing happened in 2010). Ok, that last one may be a little tongue-in-cheek. One could also throw their brief Europa League campaign into the mix for sake of argument, though as that journey was indeed so brief I don’t really think it had much to do with their overall destination. A poor season for the club, considering the money they did spend last summer. My pre-season prediction: 15th

19 – Burnley: Burnley’s season, on the other hand, transpired pretty much how everyone thought it would. No risks with finances to punch above their weight, they fought and clawed for each point they earned, and in the end many are sad to see them go but confident they’re in good shape for what comes next. They’re run so well that you would be fairly confident about them being around next season’s playoffs at least and, who knows, maybe even geared up for an immediate return. Which is in stark contrast to the last team on our list. My pre-season prediction: 18th

20 – QPR: Ah, Queens Park Rangers. The yo-yo team that seem to keep coming back with lots of money to spend and a squad list of names that flatter to deceive, and seem to keep messing it all up. Their get-out-of-jail playoff final win last year should have made us all wary of what they’d be able to achieve this season, yet still there were those of us who thought the big experienced names in their squad, including manager Harry Redknapp (whose reputation will have taken a bit of a hit after this), would pull them through to Premier League survival. That turned out not to be the case – which, to be honest, became pretty apparent early on – and ultimately their fate was written on the wall for at least two thirds of the campaign. As for what next season holds for them… I dread to think about it. The club requires some swift rebuilding if they have any hopes of putting together another promotion challenge. My pre-season prediction: 16th

There you have it. Overall a mixed bag in terms of my prediction success rate, with 4 out of 20 (Chelsea, Stoke, Crystal Palace, West Ham) spot on, a few others only one spot out (Arsenal, Man City, Man Utd, Leicester, Burnley) and some badly misjudged (Southampton, Swansea and most of all Newcastle). But I guess that’s part of the fun of it, and if we were able to predict how accurate our predictions would be then… well, that’s a winding rabbit hole I don’t even want to think about venturing down.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this season even if your own team didn’t do so well, and even if you spent most of it complaining about the finances being ‘obscene’ or something like that. There were a few redeeming qualities to 2014/15 and, as per usual, it had its share of one-off memorable moments. Personally I’m already looking forward to next season more than I had this one, and that might have something to do with a certain team from the south coast who are set to grace the league for the first time come August…

Bournemouth 2015.

I’ll see you back here around then.

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