Chelsea, Manchester United and other superlative winners of EPL 2014-15
A Premier League season that for a long while looked poised for drama and fun ultimately was a letdown. The title race and the chase for Champions League spots lacked sufficient drama, and even the relegation battle for a half-hearted one, leaving "Championship Sunday" most notable for the people on Twitter complaining that soccer was preempting their favorite schlock on USA Network and Bravo.
That leaves us to inject some of our own levity in the end-of-the-season superlatives, as we already look wistfully toward August 8 and the start of the new campaign.
Here are some of the bests and worsts from the 2014-15 Premier League seasons:
The "Didn't break a sweat, didn't need to" award: Chelsea
The lack of a real challenger, along with a key injury to Diego Costa and Jose Mourinho's seemingly insatiable need to take only what's needed from key matches, left us yearning to see what this team was really capable of over 38 matches.
This was summed up by a postgame segment on NBCSN that was titled "What's wrong with Chelsea?" ... after the Blues had run an unbeaten streak to nine.
By early November, they were already eight points clear of Manchester City, the only real challenger available this season, and while the Citizens pulled within a couple of points in January, the Blues' remaining schedule was so much easier that it still seemed more fair accompli than fair contest. The Blues clinched so early that Mourinho was left condemning the other major clubs in the league for not giving them more of a run.
The "Worst title defense since the last time we won the title" award: Manchester City
Whether it was the tone-setting early home loss to Stoke City or somehow only gleaning one point from a home-and-home with relegated Burnley, City was behind the 8-ball from the jump and never proved a worthy defender of the crown. At this stage of City's development into a world power, a season without any hardware–or even a Cup final–is a huge disappointment.
The first time this happened, in 2013, you could excuse a case of "happy to be here." A second time? Not a good look for a nouveau riche club that's still trying to be taken seriously by the sport's bluebloods. City winning its final six matches made the gap between it and Chelsea a very deceiving eight points in the final table.
The "Someone's gotta win it, why not us?" award: Manchester United
United wasn't a great side this season, but it claimed a very valuable Champions League berth by being better than all of the other presumed contenders for fourth place.
Louis van Gaal rode some timely goal poaching and excellent goalkeeping from David de Gea to grab more points than what their play probably was worth.
There's no shame in that, nor in having United in this type of standing just a season after the fiasco that led to the quick departure of David Moyes and the absence of European football from the red part of Manchester.
The "Keeping a tradition alive" award: Tottenham
Thanks to results on the final day, Spurs ended up fifth in the table and landed a group-stage spot in ... the Europa League! While the competition now comes with a bit more status thanks to a Champions League spot for the winner, there's something comforting about another season of "Spursday Thursday" European matches for a team that's becoming best identified by this specific glass ceiling.
Spurs edged Arsenal for this award after the Gunners ran their consecutive years in UCL streak to approximately 120 (18, actually) and repeated as FA Cup champs, all the while never giving you any impression that they can compete for a Premier League title.
The "Funniest prize given everything in it" award: West Ham
The club whose most extreme fans were featured in a movie about hooligans and the manager best known (perhaps unfairly) for a physical, long-ball style have won England's Fair Play table ... and the first-round Europa League qualifying spot that goes with it.
Having European football may be a nice boon for a club that finished 12th and now is looking for a new manager after announcing approximately 30 seconds after the finale that Sam Allardyce wouldn't be retained, but its new season now begins, almost incomprehensibly, on July 2 in the Europa League qualifying stage. Like Fulham and others have done before in similar situations, West Ham will basically have to use the first three rounds of qualifying as their preseason "scrimmages" and then see if it, unlike Hull City, can navigate the playoff round to make the group stage.
The "Most honorable relegation side" award: Burnley
The Clarets were totally outmanned in terms of talent, but Sean Dyche's crew put forth hard-working, professional efforts every week and earned its fair share of platitudes. Burnley took seven points from top-five teams this season, including a win and a draw against Manchester City. The huge influx of TV cash will likely help Burnley keep a lot of this core together and consolidate what's happened at the club over the last couple of seasons.
It wouldn't be a shock at all if Burnley bounced right back up next season, and was in better position to stay more than one campaign.
The "Least honorable relegation side" award: Newcastle, er, QPR
The Magpies saved themselves from ignominy on the final day after a truly horrific run that yielded one point in 10 matches.
So, the real answer is Queens Park Rangers, which didn't seem to learn anything from the last time they were in the Prem, built a flawed, aged roster, had their manager quit in a huff, shipped a ton of goals, and now is set to face the Financial Fair Play music in the Championship, where it accrued massive losses on the way to promotion last season. Unlike Burnley, this may be a lengthy tear down and rebuild at Loftus Road.
Major problems have lurked for awhile, and they're about to pay a very angry piper.
Now for a touch of traditionalism to wrap things up...
Match of the year: Everton 3, Chelsea 6
This Matchday 3 encounter at Goodison Park set the tone for the entire campaign. It showcased both Chelsea's ceiling when it was healthy and suitably engaged, and also showed some surprisingly frailty in that the Blues didn't kill off matches the way Mourinho teams in the past had been capable of. Everton didn't have the season many expected, but this performance showed glimpses of the Peak Chelsea that we wanted to see more of this season.
Manager of the year: Jose Mourinho, Chelsea
You can make a case for van Gaal, who did very well considering his roster had a lot of holes in it, and for Alan Pardew, who claimed 57 points between his Newcastle and Crystal Palace stints, but in a season without an amazing standout candidate or shock club (Southampton had its chance, but faded to seventh), how can you turn away from The Special One?
He crafted a side that cruised to the title and he even can turn a meaningless 3-0 loss at West Brom into a cutting insult (served with a smile)? We got a taste of what this Chelsea side was capable of early in this campaign. It would be fun to see Mourinho have to go to the whip more next year.
Outfield player of the year: Eden Hazard, Chelsea
Again, Chelsea's easy waltz to the title leads you to the "best player on the best team" answer. The import of Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas provided early oohs and ahhs, but this was Hazard's most consistently creative and impactful season at Chelsea.
That's important because Mourinho's sides sometimes can get a bit jaded. Tottenham's Harry Kane was this season's breakout star, and it will be interesting to see how to evolves now that the spotlight will be well and truly on him.
Goalkeeper of the year: David de Gea, Manchester United
Real Madrid's pursuit of the Spaniard will be a major story this summer. Goalkeeping is typically replaceable and you don't want to overpay for it, but when you're made of money and you already have one of the world's best (and young) keepers, it makes sense to try to hold onto him.
De Gea was a huge reason for United's fourth-place finish this season. United allowed the fewest goals in the Premier League off defensive errors, and that was not down to the back four not making mistakes. It was because de Gea bailed them out repeatedly.