Premier League Review 2008/9 [Full Time Report]

Back in August I predicted how the Premier League might pan out (part one, part two) and compiled a half-time report in January.  If there’s one thing I know, it’s, well, nothing.  Let’s take a peek.

1st Manchester United (Predicted: 1st)

It was an unimpressive Man U that completed the season as champions, perhaps fortunate that Liverpool had such difficulty with the likes of Stoke and Hull earlier in the season.  In spite of trailing in third place half way through the season I did suggest they would come out on top.  While Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo played their part, Dimitar Berbatov never did find the form he showed at Tottenham.

Player of the Season (POTS): Nemanja Vidic – a lot made of the disastrous performance in the 1-4 home defeat by Liverpool but otherwise Vidic had a terrific season.

Surprise of the Season (SOTS): Darren Fletcher – not someone I would have previously rated but his influence was noticed when he was missing from the team late in the season. Perhaps its more indicative of the mediocre (Carrick, Park, Nani, Anderson) and ageing (Giggs, Scholes) midfield stars on show elsewhere.

2nd Liverpool (Predicted: 2nd)

Rafa Benitez never did sort out the problem on the wings or work out how to play Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane together.  He did however, once again, get maximum utility out of Steven Gerrard, a player set to go down as the greatest in Premier League history.  His 16 goals in 30 Premier League games is outrageous for a midfield (albeit played as a second striker frequently enough). Liverpool’s final two months of the season produced some of the best football of the entire league season.  Their final 10 games saw them net 32 goals.

Player of the Season (POTS): Steven Gerrard – he’ll probably spend his career at Liverpool therefore allowing people to argue that he’s never proved his world class credentials, especially given his ineffectiveness at international level.  Make no mistake – one of the finest English players there’s ever been.

Surprise of the Season (SOTS): Yossi Benayoun – although not a top class talent, his 11 league goals (plus six in Europe) was a great return for a player considered a squad member at best.

3rd Chelsea (Predicted: 3rd)

Sacking your manager after seven months was a bold but effective movie by Roman Abramovich who replaced Phil Scolari with Guus Hiddink and saw his Chelsea side improve immeasurably afterwards.  Scolari’s only big buy was Deco who, as predicted, proved to be past his best.  He also missed Ricardo Carvalho and Michael Essien for extended periods of time which didn’t help his position.  But Chelsea were a better team under Hiddink and although never seriously in the title hunt they were unfortunate not to reach the Champions League final.  And they won a tournament called “The FA Cup”.

Player of the Season (POTS): Nicolas Anelka – there wasn’t really any standout performances from anyone at the club.  Didier Drogba played well in only 15 starts and Frank Lampard got over a slow start to net 12 times from midfield.  But although his form was erratic you can’t dismiss Premier League top scorer Anelka with 19 goals in 33 starts.

Surprise of the Season (SOTS): Florent Malouda – went from a flop of epic proportions to one of Chelsea’s key men under Hiddink.  Repeat this form in 2009/10 and Malouda will be like a new signing for the club.

4th Arsenal (Predicted: 4th)

My suggestion that the likes of Abou Diaby, Alexandre Song and Denilson were not good enough for Arsenal was proven during the season with Arsene Wenger and shareholders exchanging tit-for-tat criticism after a mediocre season.  There were some simply shocking performances (defeat to Stoke and Manchester City for example) and even the astonishing 4-4 draw at Anfield in April has to be put in the context of the Gunners being played off the park for most of the night. At some point Wenger will have to challenge for the league again but this fourth place was not a surprise.

Player of the Season (POTS): Andrei Arshavin – although 4 of his 6 goals came at Anfield, Arshavin was sublime at times.  The fact that he only played in 12 games and still warrants mention is testament to the general underperformance of the team.

Surprise of the Season (SOTS): Kieran Gibbs – the youth players did well in League Cup wins over Sheffield United and Wigan but Kieran Gibbs established and aquitted himself well with eight Premier League starts.

5th Everton (Predicted: 8th)

A lack of signings pointed towards a relative struggle for Everton this season but the late capture of the enigmatic Marouane Fellaini (eight goals in 30 games) aided the club in recovering from a slow start.  They played a sizeable proportion of the season without a recognised striker but a good spread of goals (6 in 10 starts for Louis Saha, six from midfield for Leon Osman, eight from Tim Cahill and five in 11 starts from on-loan Jo) saw the club finish fifth again and reach the FA Cup Final.  But David Moyes needs some real money soon.

Player of the Season (POTS): Phil Jagielka – not sure he’s international quality but Jagielka impressed alongside Joleon Lescott in the Everton defence.  At £4m, he’s looking a real bargain.

Surprise of the Season (SOTS): Marouanne Fellaini – it’s hard to believe this guy is only 21, with his Starsky & Hutch hair and ability to look hard-done-by all the time.

6th Aston Villa (Predicted: 7th)

I doubted in January that Villa would hang on to fourth spot.  In spite of some decent performances there was an awful lot of luck thrown in there for good measure.  Indeed, when that ran out, Villa were atrocious – they did not win a single game for over three months – and Arsenal took fourth at a canter.  Like most football fans, Villa supporters were less than impressed and there have been understandable rumblings of discontent at the way the season panned out.  But this is a Villa squad far removed from the painful days of Dave O’Leary and Graham Taylor.  While it’s only a work in progress perhaps it should be noted that Martin O’Neill’s win percentage is currently below 40%, lower than Brian Little and John Gregory.

Player of the Season (POTS): Brad Friedel – no surprise that the former Blackburn keeper was outstanding (and ever-present) through much of last season.

Surprise of the Season (SOTS): James Milner – Milner played 36 times and showed the kind of consistency and workrate that has epitomised his long Premier League career.  May have to become the ‘new Gareth Barry’ next season.

7th Fulham (Predicted: 13th)

It’s funny the way football works.  Roy Hodgson spent about £16m on Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora and they netted 9 goals between them – compare this to Erik Nevland and Diomansy Kamara who scored a combined 8 in just 7 starts.  With a total of only 39 league goals, Fulham still managed to finish 7th and secure their highest ever league position.  At the other end they had new signing Mark Schwarzer to thank for the concession of just 34 goals – only the top three conceded less.  It’s worth noting the trajectory of Fulham vis-a-vis that of Schwarzer’s previous club, Middlesbrough.

Player of the Season (POTS): Brede Hangeland – a bargain £2.5m buy from FC Copenhagen, Hangeland turned heads everywhere with a series of commanding performances at centre back.

Surprise of the Season (SOTS): Danny Murphy – having seen Murphy puff and pant his way around the White Hart Lane midfield for 18 months, no one was more surprised than me at his effectiveness and genuine quality performances.

8th Tottenham (Predicted: 6th)

It shouldn’t have been this way with Tottenham stranded at the foot of the table for much of the early months of the season.  But they recovered under new manager Harry Redknapp to challenge for a Europa League place until the final game of the season.  The squad upheaval under Juande Ramos and Director of Football Damien Comolli was hugely damaging to the club but they have gotten away with it.

Player of the Season (POTS): Aaron Lennon – after two disappointing seasons, Lennon delivered career-best performances this season.  The final ball is improving and he gave quality left backs, such as Patrice Evra, a torrid time.

Surprise of the Season (SOTS): Benoit Assou-Ekotto – the French full-back was not expected to be part of the first team squad much this season but he ended up being the most improved player at the club with a string of consistent performances.  His best moments included keeping Cristiano Ronaldo quiet in the League Cup final.

9th West Ham (Predicted: 18th)

Yeah, I might have got this one slightly wrong.  But at the start of the season West Ham were a team led by the uninspiring Alan Curbishley, a squad of decent but terminally injured players and had bought no one of consequence.  In addition their 2008 form was appalling, winning just 5 games and losing three games 4-0 on the bounce.  Curbishley walked (with few tears shed) and the untested Gianfranco Zola came in.  After a period of adjustment he aquitted himself very well and secured their second successive top half finish.

Player of the Season (POTS): Carlton Cole – he’s had plenty of critics as Cole has jumped from the likes of Chelsea, Charlton and Aston Villa without much success.   Total league goals for Chelsea, Charlton and Aston Villa: 11.  Total number of league goals for West Ham last season: 10.  Incredibly he is now an England striker!

Surprise of the Season (SOTS): Mark Noble – although he showed plenty of promise last season, the 22 year old further established himself and enhanced his reputation with increasingly-commanding performances in midfield.  How good can he get?

10th Manchester City (Predicted: 11th)

My initial prediction came against the backdrop of Thaksin Shinawatra’s stewardship of the club.  Surely the arrival of rich Arabs and Robinho would lead to a top four challenge?  Um…add Wayne Bridge, Craig Bellamy, Nigel De Jong and Shay Given then?  Er… No, it really wasn’t that good.  At home, with Robinho on form, City won 13 of their games – away, with Robinho invisible, they won 2.  Mark Hughes might deserve another season but I’m personally surprised he wasn’t given the boot already.

Player of the Season (POTS): Stephen Ireland – nine goals in 35 games and some terrific performances made up for underperformers elsewhere on the pitch.  Another season like that and Ireland might be on his way.

Surprise of the Season (SOTS): Vincent Kompany – just gets the nod ahead of Pablo Zabaleta after a solid season.  Is the second Belgian to make an impact after Everton’s Fellaini.  What’s going on there??

11th Wigan Athletic (Predicted: 10th)

When, halfway through the season, you lose two of your best players in Emile Heskey and Wilson Palacios and another first team regular in Ryan Taylor, you can hardly be expected to maintain the same level of performance.  This proved the case for Steve Bruce’s Wigan side, a club still punching well above their weight in the Premier League.  They finished the season with just one win in eight games – indeed they won just three games after the midseason transfer window closed.  But this is still a success story for Dave Whelan – as long as he doesn’t ruin it next year by appointing an inexperienced managerial rookie to replace the now-Sunderland boss, Bruce.  Oh.

Player of the Season (POTS): Lee Cattermole – has impressed me when I’ve seen him; strong tackler, useful on the ball and full of effort.  Probably just edges out Antonio Valencia given the lack of hype that follows him around.

Surprise of the Season (SOTS): Titus Bramble – wow, he was, like, ok!  Pretty good season from Bramble who, largely speaking, avoided the comical defending that blighted his Newcastle days.  I think we should all be ready now to just admit that Newcastle brings out the worst in everyone.

12th Stoke City (Predicted: 20th)

Well at least I was correct in suggesting that Stoke’s performance would not be of “Derby” proportions.  They really weren’t in relegation trouble at all this season and a haul of 45 points saw them finish 11 points clear of the drop zone.  They did concede a lot away from home (0-5 at Man U, 1-4 at Arsenal and concession of 3 goals on five occasions) but they won 10 of their 19 home games including beating Arsenal – which was quite funny.

Player of the Season (POTS): Ricardo Fuller – it was a bit of a revelation for a journeyman forward to score 11 Premier League goals in a promoted side, the same number as Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie and more than Emmanuel Adebayor and Dimitar Berbatov.  Can he do it again?

Surprise of the Season (SOTS): James Beattie – Beattie was being overpaid in the Championship with Sheffield United and had been a flop in the Premier League with Everton, so it seemed a bit of a desperate move from Tony Pullis to bring in the former Southampton man.  Just to prove he loves red and white striped shirts, he netted seven goals in 16 games including crucial strikes against Manchester City, Portsmouth and Middlesbrough.

13th Bolton (Predicted: 16th)

I’m not quite sure why people detest Gary Megson.  Sure, he’s a ginge.  But football fans are blind to colour now.  It can only be the turgid football his teams play, general aloofness and unremarkable track record that turn many off.  When it comes down to it – leaving aside the mental £10m purchase of 5-goal striker Johan Elmander – he kept Bolton up with room to spare.  Just like Gary himself, it wasn’t pretty.

Player of the Season (POTS): Kevin Davies – probably the most underrated player in the Premier League.  Eleven league goals for a player who played a lot of the season on the right-wing (at 32 years of age) and was as whole-hearted as ever, makes him an easy call for Bolton’s top man.

Surprise of the Season (SOTS): Gary Cahill – £5m seemed a lot of money on a player who was viewed with relative indifference at Aston Villa.  But it has been an inspired capture and Cahill has even been called up to the England squad.

14th Portsmouth (Predicted: 5th)

Probably my daftest prediction as Portsmouth ending up losing their manager and several first team players to find themselves battling relegation in the closing weeks.  Not only that, but they then appointed Tony Adams.  It seemed Peter Crouch and Jermaine Defoe, fed by Niko Kranjcar and Glen Johnson, would win a lot of games for the south coast side.  But Crouch netted just 11 times in a disappointing season and Defoe (plus Lassana Diarra) left in January.  Paul Hart took over to keep the club up.

Player of the Season (POTS): Glen Johnson – Johnson continued his good form at Portsmouth, weighing in with three goals and four assists.  Way better player than he was at West Ham or Chelsea.  He now looks set for a (ludicrously) big-money move to the top four.

Surprise of the Season (SOTS): David Nugent – not much to choose from at Fratton Park this year but David Nugent did make a spirited return to the side after being frozen out under Harry Redknapp.  He netted just three times but he suggested he has got the ability to make it in the Premier League.

15th Blackburn (Predicted: 15th)

I suggested that Paul Ince was not ready for the Premier League and so it proved.  This really didn’t look like a case of someone not being given enough time – he just seemed completely out of his depth.  He was unfortunate in losing Stephen Reid and Roque Santa Cruz to injury but Carlos Villanueva’s 50 goals in Chilean football counted for nothing as he made six starts and scored no goals.  The Robbie Fowler move fell predictably flat too (3 league appearances) and it could be argued that Paul Robinson (in spite of having a reasonable season) is no Brad Friedel.  Sam Allardyce took over in December and he lost just 7 of the 24 games he was in charge for.

Player of the Season (POTS): Stephen Warnock – in an unspectacular season, Warnock was the best of a moderate bunch.  A stint in midfield didn’t do that much for him but otherwise he was solid and determined.  He probably just edges out Benni McCarthy who netted 10 goals in 18 starts.

Surprise of the Season (SOTS): Keith Andrews – while by no means a great player, it takes some strength of character to jump from the fourth tier of football to the Premier League with fans already doubting you considering that you’re only there because you used to work under a manager they’re not utterly convinced by.  He found his feet and did ok and also made himself a regular in the Irish international side under (one of the most decorated coaches in European football) Giovanni Trapattoni .

16th Sunderland (Predicted: 9th)

I indicated in the half-time report that I thought Ricky Sbragia would get the bullet pretty quickly when it became apparent he was the new Les Reed.  As it turned out he kept Sunderland up by the skin of his teeth.  My 9th place prediction was based on the belief that Roy Keane would continue to push the club forward.  As soon as the dressing room disharmony began to manifest itself, Keane walked.  The squad had some big money buys but, in hindsight, a lack of real quality and no evidence of a team.

Player of the Season (POTS): Danny Collins – about the only Sunderland player who performed consistently last year and this was underlined by his second consecuritve “Fans Player of the Year” award.  The fact that he had to deal with Calum Davenport, Anton Ferdinand and Nyron Nosworthy scrambling around incompetently beside him only underlines his quality.

Surprise of the Season (SOTS): Dean Whitehead – a committed midfielder who seemed on his way out of the club after being replaced as makeshift right-back by David Bardlsey, but who ended up starting 30 games last year.

17th Hull City (Predicted: 17th)

It all started so well for Hull, comfortably sat in the top four in the early months of the season with wins over Fulham, Spurs, Arsenal, West Ham and Newcastle to their name.  It all went wrong when they conceded 7 goals in consecutive defeats to Chelsea and Man United at the end of October. They went on to win just three more games for the season.  Manager Phil Brown was cricitised for giving his half time team talk on the Manchester City pitch after Hull went in at the break trailing 0-4.  I personally thought he was right to do it but perhaps his players are a little too precious.

Player of the Season (POTS): Geovanni – Manchester City let him go and he scored 8 league goals including match winners at Arsenal and Tottenham.  A player that needs to be handled with care but when he’s on, he’s on.

Surprise of the Season (SOTS): Dean Windass – for all the wrong reasons, unfortunately.  Windass failed to get in to the Hull side, starting just 1 game.  The season ended under a cloud as even a loan move to Oldham didn’t work out .  I guess there was to be no Hollywood ending after all.

18th Newcastle (Predicted: 14th)

Unlike many, I didn’t take pleasure from Newcastle going down.  Sure, the club deserved it and there are a percentage of fans who need a wake up call (usually the ones proclaiming a new messiah every six months), but it’s a shame that this fine club will not be playing Premier League football next year.  The problems are well documented so I won’t go in to it but needless to say I don’t think they would have found themselves in the trouble they did had Kevin Keegan been left to run the club as he saw fit and Dennis Wise be let nowhere near the box marked “decision”.

Player of the Season (POTS): Sebastien Bassong – far and away the best player at the club (leaving aside former club legend Shay Given).  The defender was reportedly upset when he entered the dressing room after relegation was confirmed on the final day of the season to find most of the players seemingly unperturbed by their fate.

Surprise of the Season (SOTS): Nicky Butt – yes, he’s way past his best but Butt finally started pulling out some half-decent performances this year and his committment could not be faulted.  Damien Duff is also worth a mention for getting stuck in at left-back during the mental Alan Shearer reign.  A shame for him that his own goal sent them down to the Championship.

19th Middlesbrough (Predicted: 12th)

In January I suggested that Middlesbrough would survive but that was on the basis that they might finally get something out of Afonso Alvez.  They didn’t.  His record of 10 goals in 31 starts seems ok but only four of those goals came this season.  Tuncay played well but he netted just seven while Stewart Downing, scorer of nine goals last season, scored none.  That says it all.

Player of the Season (POTS): Tuncay – his masterful performance at home to Liverpool – a 2-0 win that seemed like it could be the springboard to keep them up – was typical of what he could deliver.  But a barren winter period where he went 10 games without a goal, contributed to the club’s predicament.  Still a cut above those around him.

Surprise of the Season (SOTS): David Wheater – the 6’5″ trainee made a huge impact this season, starting 31 games and making it to Fabio Capello’s England squad.  He looks a good player and if he stays at the club then ‘Boro have a good chance of coming back up.

20th West Brom (Predicted: 19th)

There was lots of credit for Tony Mowbray’s side as they attempted to “play their way” out of trouble.  Ultimately they were relegated with 32 points and although only 4 points away from survival, most other seasons this would have seen sides relegated long before the final week of the season.  One win and 10 goals away from home undermined their decent home performance.

Player of the Season (POTS): Jonas Olsson – it can be hard to shine in a poor defence but Olsson looks a pretty classy defender and is now a target for the likes of Everton and Blackburn.

Surprise of the Season (SOTS): Gianni Zuiverloon – played 33 times this season in spite of having spent pre-season playing at he Beijing Olympics fresh off his £3.2m move from Heerenveen.  Occasional lapses in concentration aside, he aquitted himself very well.

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