COS contributor James Ball takes a look at this seasons Premier League roller coaster ride.
In the closest title-race for 11 years, Chelsea’s demolition of Wigan slammed the door shut on Manchester United’s hopes of becoming the first team to win four back-to-back league titles and overhaul Liverpool’s tally of 18 championships in the process.
Having scored seven goals on three occasions earlier in the season, the Blues went one better on the final day and in doing so became the first team since Tottenham in 1963 to score 100 goals in the top-flight. Their rampant goal-scoring this campaign broke their own club best of 98 goals and their final goal difference of +71 is a Premier League record.
Serenity surrounds Carlo Ancelotti, and his laid-back approach has brought instant rewards. He attributed success this season to a ‘fantastic atmosphere’ at the club and he must be applauded for maintaining calm and focus after the media storm surrounding John Terry’s private life. Later in the season, exit to Inter Milan in the Champions League could have led to an implosion in their form, but the Italian steadied his experienced squad and guided them to their first title in four years.
If, as expected, they go on to complete the double in the FA Cup final against Portsmouth, in any other season Ancelotti would have scooped the manager of the year prize. But that honour has been bestowed on Harry Redknapp, who has assembled a vibrant squad of players at White Hart Lane, and brought them Champions League football for the first time. Whilst many questioned their ability to hold their nerve and win the crunch games, defeating Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City in the run-in has deservedly given Spurs their crack at Europe’s elite.
In the main it has been a season of questionable quality, which has seen the top teams more fallible than in recent years. At the other end of the table, seven teams failed to break the 40-point barrier, more than ever before in the Premier League.
This has perhaps been a year when the sides in the middle of the table have the most to celebrate. A well-organised and combative Stoke have consolidated well under Tony Pulis; Alex McCleish’s Birmingham had an amazing 15-match unbeaten run; Fulham performed admirably domestically whilst navigating their way past Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus and Hamburg to the Europa League final.
It has also been the first time there has been a genuine multi-faceted battle for fourth place. Whilst Liverpool’s decline is painfully evident, Aston Villa have shown more resilience than in recent seasons and had two good cup-runs to complement their league form. Manchester City’s tribe of talented individuals was not quite cohesive enough to snatch the Champions League qualifying position from Spurs, but surely they will be a stronger force next campaign.
It is hoped that the teams vying for fourth this season can strengthen in the summer and provide a sustained challenge for the title in 2010-11. It would be magnificent to see a new name on the trophy that has been dominated by United, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Within the teams that have excelled this season there have been some laudable individual performers. James Milner at Villa has emerged as an international class midfielder. Through his loan spell at Birmingham, Joe Hart has risen to the top of the pile of English goalkeepers and should be given his chance to shine in South Africa. Chelsea’s ‘Mr Consistency’, Frank Lampard, has scored 20-goals plus for the fifth consecutive season. And all in the football fraternity has acknowledged Wayne Rooney as a talent unparalleled in the league. He almost single-handedly kept a mediocre Manchester United side in with a shot of being record-breakers.
And so to the World Cup. The glorious global jamboree is almost upon us. Can the domestic form of the four English talents just described help propel the national team to success? One would assume that with several of England’s lynchpins nearing the end of their careers, it might be our last realistic chance for some time.