EPL Season Review: Top player, moments, superlatives from a wild year
The 2013-14 season was an incredible Premier League campaign in which the lead changed hands 25 times, and the title eventually was won by a side that led the table for only 14 days. Manchester City won the games when it mattered most, though, and emerged as a deserving champion for the second time in three seasons.
Here are some other takeaways from one of the most memorable seasons in Premier League history.
Player of the Season: Yaya Toure (Manchester City)
This is a straight fight between Luis Suarez and Yaya Toure, and if Liverpool's ambition in the final third of the season was simply to finish in the top four, then Suarez was central to achieving it. But as Liverpool's ambitions increased, so did the pressure on the Uruguayan. His record against teams outside the top four this season was outrageous - 31 goals in 26 games at 1.2 goals per game - but his record in six matches against City, Chelsea and Arsenal? No goals, and an average of three shots per game (compared to six against the rest) and, according to BSports numbers, 27 percent shots on target compared to 43 percent against the rest.
This is not to say that Suarez is a flat-track bully, but more that in the biggest tests of all, it was Toure who took games by the scruff of the neck and led his side to victory. He also scored 20 goals from midfield, the first midfielder to do so since Frank Lampard in 2009-10. Had City not won the title, then Suarez would have been a worthy winner. But City did win, and for that it has Toure, more than any other player, to thank.
Refereeing Decision of the Season (Part 1, Incompetence): Andre Marriner sends off Kieran Gibbs
This was Arsene Wenger's 1,000th match of his career, but he claimed it was one of his worst days as a coach after his team capitulated at Stamford Bridge to the tune of a 6-0 loss to Jose Mourinho's Chelsea. Chelsea was already 2-0 up when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain pushed away Eden Hazard's shot (which was going wide) after 17 minutes, but Marriner sent off Kieran Gibbs by mistake - despite Oxlade-Chamberlain saying, "Hey ref, it was me" after the red card was shown. Both players were cleared after the game, while Marriner, who admitted to his mistake, was given another game the following week.
Refereeing Decision of the Season (Part 2, Importance) Mark Clattenburg sends off Jordan Henderson
No one disputed that Henderson, one of the stars of the season, had to be dismissed for a 93rd-minute lunge on Samir Nasri just as Liverpool closed out a crucial 3-2 win over its title rival Manchester City. But what might have been a surprise was just how much Liverpool missed him in the next three games; would the Reds have lost to Chelsea if Henderson was playing? We will never know, but I doubt it would have folded so desperately at Crystal Palace, where the lack of support from midfield was constant as Palace ran riot to pull back from three goals down and thwart Liverpool's title hopes.
Game of the Season: Liverpool 3, Manchester City 2
There were so many sensational games this season, many of them involving the top sides - remember City beat Arsenal 6-3, Chelsea beat Arsenal 6-0, and Liverpool beat Spurs 5-0 and 4-0 (and Stoke, Cardiff and Swansea despite conceding three goals to each of them) - but this one, between the top two sides, topped them all. It ebbed and flowed and just as Liverpool looked like running away with it, at two goals up, its defensive deficiencies emerged again and City leveled up.
Then came Vincent Kompany's gaffe, one almost as significant as Steven Gerrard's against Chelsea; his sliced clearance fell to Philippe Coutinho, who, against the run of play, scored the winning goal and left Liverpool six points clear of City (who had a game in hand) with four games to play. What could possibly go wrong for the Reds after that, right?
Slump of the Season: Manchester United
How to sum up an epic, or maybe that should be tragic, season for Manchester United? With a new coach hand-selected by Sir Alex Ferguson, the players may have been the same, but the team was totally different to the one that won the title by 11 points last season.
Under Moyes, United was cautious and confused, unsure of what it was trying to do and struggling for any sort of form, rhythm or indeed tactical coherence. The arrival of Juan Mata in January, coming shortly after Wayne Rooney signed a new megabucks contract, was designed to bring some feel-good factor to the club - which it did, until it emerged that Moyes had no idea where to play Mata in a three with Robin van Persie and Rooney.
All season, United was a club leaking information where before omerta reigned. When, four games before the season's end, his time was up, the news was leaked almost 20 hours before Moyes was sacked; it perhaps gave an insight into just what he was up against. For all his faults and errors in the job - and there were many - he did not get the assistance he deserved from those in charge at the club. As well as losing Ferguson, it's clear that the departure of David Gill as chief executive had a huge impact on United's season.
Goal of the Season: Jack Wilshere (Arsenal) against Norwich, Oct. 17
Yes, Luis Suarez and Jonjo Shelvey both scored from 40 yards and Wayne Rooney from even further back, but for teamwork, intuition, one-touch passing and sheer aesthetic beauty, it is impossible to look beyond Wilshere's opener in the 4-0 win over Norwich. Wilshere started the action in his own, laid it off to Santi Cazorla down the left wing, and then came a rapid exchange of passes; with Olivier Giroud and Wilshere before the Frenchman flicked it back for the Wilshere to score. Even watching it over and again, you notice something new about the exchanges, the speed, the movement, the passes without looking; the purity of it all. If football for Wenger is about the pursuit of the perfect match, this was one something he could cling to; it was a perfect moment.
Coach of the Season: Brendan Rodgers (Liverpool)
Tony Pulis lifted Crystal Palace from the relegation zone to mid-table; Gus Poyet took Sunderland to safety, reached a Cup final, did the double over Newcastle and ended Chelsea's unbeaten home record under Mourinho; while Manuel Pellegrini won the title in his first year in England. But this has to go to Rodgers, who this season has breathed new life into Liverpool, coming close to winning an unlikely title and playing an attack-minded brand of football. At a time when the England FA wants to copy models in Spain and Germany to develop more homegrown players into the elite level, the success of a British coach - especially one who was not a former player - is a particular satisfaction.
Perhaps other young British coaches would do well to follow Rodgers's example by going abroad to study training set-ups (in his case, at Valencia, Sevilla and Real Madrid) and learn languages. The difference between Rodgers and the next-highest British manager, Tim Sherwood, who came across as entitled to a big job when he replaced Andre Villas-Boas as Spurs coach but rarely convinced with his public "call it as I see it'" schtick, seemed huge.
Rodgers used six different formations this season, transformed Steven Gerrard's role, and did so with the bulk of a team that he inherited, rather than with new signings (as opposed to Sherwood who compared himself to a plumber trying to fix a washing-machine with someone else's toolbag). Taking Liverpool from seventh place to second in one season has united the community and left the club in its healthiest state for some years.
Breakout Star of the Season: Ross Barkley (Everton)
With honorable mentions to English fullbacks Luke Shaw and Jon Flanagan, Barkley lit up Goodison Park with some stunning performances. One of the few English players who is genuinely two-footed, Barkley is a tall, strong playmaker who helped Everton push Arsenal all the way for fourth spot - and has now earned a place in England's World Cup squad.
Club Owner of the Season: Vincent Tan (Cardiff City)
This, of course, is quite tongue in cheek. Tan threatened the wrath of Cardiff fans by changing the club's colors from blue to red, because it is more marketable in Asia. If it felt worth it when Malky Mackay coached the team to promotion last season, there may have been second thoughts when Mackay was dismissed in October, with Tan telling the BBC that Mackay was merely taking advantage of his largesse, and that the summer recruitment was "bad business."
Still, Cardiff was out of the relegation zone at the time, but did not stay out for long; the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, new to the Premier League as a coach, looked increasingly risky with every Norwegian player he signed in January and it was little surprise when Cardiff ended up bottom of the pile (Not to mention the bizarre interim appointment as director of football of Alisher Apsalyamovby, a 23-year-old Kazakh who had previously been on work experience at the club and was a friend of Tan's son).
As Oliver Kay described it in The Times: "It was the most idiotic move in the Premier League since the Venky's regime at Blackburn Rovers replaced Sam Allardyce with Steve Kean." Will Cardiff be missed? Its fans created a phenomenal atmosphere at home matches, but it seems a world away when Cardiff beat Manchester City in their first home match of the season. Tan believes the Cardiff fans owe him their gratitude; the feeling is unlikely to be mutual.
Newspaper Headline of the Season: 'We're So Sorry,' The Sunday Sun, April 13
This goes to Newcastle's local paper, who, after the team lost 1-0 at Stoke, took the blame for Alan Pardew's awful 2014. The strap-line under the main apology read: "As Pardew blames the local Press for fans' anger after disastrous form in 2014, your Sunday Sun would like to apologise for losing 3-0 to Sunderland, 4-0 to Manchester United, 4-0 to Southampton, 4-0 to Spurs, 3-0 to Chelsea, 3-0 to Everton, 2-0 to Man City, 1-0 to Fulham, 1-0 to Stoke, 1-0 to West Brom, and 2-1 to Cardiff... oh, and for head-butting David Meyler too." Its sister paper, The Chronicle, followed that up with: 'Only Six More Years of Yhis', referring to the bizarre eight-year contract Pardew signed in 2012.
Nonsense Quote of the Season: Jose Mourinho, all season long
"I am the Happy One. Calmer? I believe so. I'm in the best moment of my career in terms of knowledge." - June 10
"The title race is between two horses and a little horse that needs milk and needs to learn how to jump. Maybe next season we can race." - Feb. 3
"I have complete trust in English referees, but it's obvious there's a measure for some and a measure for me." - March 15
"Congratulations to Mike Dean [referee who awarded a penalty from which Sunderland scored its winner over Chelsea], because he made a fantastic performance and congratulations to [referees' chief] Mike Riley, because what they did during the season was fantastic for the way the championship is going." - April 19
Here's an idea: how about every future fine Mourinho receives for criticizing referees is added up cumulatively, and once he crosses a certain threshold - perhaps £100,000 per season - his team was docked a point; then maybe we would get less of his undermining buck-passing, because it's now beyond the point of parody.
Team of the Season: (4-2-3-1)
David Marshall (Cardiff City); Seamus Coleman (Everton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Per Mertesacker (Arsenal), Leighton Baines (Everton); Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Yaya Toure (Manchester City), Adam Lallana (Southampton); Luis Suarez (Liverpool), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
Flops of the Season: (4-4-2)
Keiren Westwood (Sunderland); Ondrej Celustka (Sunderland), Fernando Amorobieta (Fulham); Nathan Baker (Aston Villa), Pablo Armero (West Ham); Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Etienne Capoue (Tottenham); Wilfried Zaha (Manchester United), Erik Lamela (Tottenham); Nicolas Anelka (West Brom), Ricky Van Wolfswinkel (Norwich City)
Unsung Heroes of the Season: (4-3-3)
Ben Foster (West Brom), Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton), Damien Delaney (Crystal Palace), Curtis Davies (Hull City), Marcos Alonso (Sunderland); Fabian Delph (Aston Villa), Gareth Barry (Everton), Jonjo Shelvey (Swansea City); Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City), Wilfried Bony (Swansea), Jason Puncheon (Crystal Palace)