EPL Season Review

A look back at the 2011-12 season of the EPL where drama found a new home. Debojyoti Chakraborty relives the season with the top flight teams’ performances

 

So, we have witnessed yet another dramatic season of English Premier League. Is it the best ever? Pundits will keep on arguing but surely this edition will feature right up amongst the top contenders in terms of drama, excitement and performances. From the abysmal start of the campaign by Arsenal to their third spot finish, from enthralling performances of Premier League newbies Swansea and Norwich to the usual scramble of a bunch of teams to fight out relegation, from Liverpool’s wooden love to Manchester City’s last kick of the match sealing the title in the extremes of Fergie Times – this season had it all. Goalden Times would like to bask in the spirit of this glorious past nine months and review each team’s performance.

Arsenal

The season started with a humiliating 8-2 loss by bitter rivals Manchester United. Everyone feared for one of the worst seasons following the summer sale of Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy. There were very few in and around the Emirates who were not asking for the head of Arsene Wenger. Yet, The Professor managed to march on with a very young squad and achieved a remarkable third spot ensuring a direct entry to Champions League next season.

.

.

He scores whenever he wants to

,

One of the unsung heroes for Arsenal this season has been Mikel Arteta. The ex-Tuffey man arrived in summer and quickly established himself as the lynchpin in midfield. But his contributions have been overshadowed by the talismanic Dutchman Robin van Persie. Top scorer with 30 goals, he found the net against seventeen different teams during the campaign. Only a close offside call and a couple of shots striking the woodwork prevented him from scoring against Manchester City while a last gasp goal line clearance against Fulham denied him an entry in the score sheet. There have been other strong performances throughout the season with the likes of Alex duo – Song and Oxlade-Chamberlain – and Theo Walcott making good progress, but none have been able to match their influential skipper.

Aston Villa

Alex McLeish joined the Midlands club from rival club Birmingham City in summer. Fans were sceptical and the man at the helm had not done any favours to himself. A poor run of form towards the end of the campaign saw Aston Villa languishing at the bottom, only twopoints clear of relegation. The team lacked ideas going forward and lapses in concentration cost them dearly at the back. Seven wins – better than only the bottom placed Wolves – in the league should see a new manager for the forthcoming season.

Darren Bent is their only prized possession. A busy summer seems on the cards mainly in the form of some young and fresh talents. A complete overhaul may just change their fortunes. One also hopes that their stalwart captain Stiliyan Petrov, who was diagnosed with leukaemia during this disappointing season, comes out victorious through this turbulent time.

Blackburn Rovers

It is really strange – and inexplicable – that Steve Kean has survived the season even after the ever growing wrath of the club faithful. Blackburn did not have such luck and they were relegated eventually, a fate many predicted within barely a few weeks of the campaign. They spent most of the torrid campaign in the relegation zone. The sale of Phil Jones in the summer and Christopher Samba in January, following his differences with the management, have hit them hard as they succumbed to defeat a record 23 times this term.

There were very few bright spots in the form of striker Junior Hoilett giving an impressive string of performances while Yakubu showed some sparks reminiscent of his past. With the former’s contract expiring this summer and Blackburn no more in the top flight, it is time for him to move on.

Bolton Wanderers

It was surprising to see the usual tenacity missing from a Bolton side. Throughout the campaign they seemed lost for ideas and eventually they succumbed on the final day of the season. TheTrotters lacked the quality to remain afloat in the top division and it will be a good opportunity for Owen Coyle to harness a new team in the Championships. They might have to do away with a lot of their most valuable players but fresh faces would be more than welcome.

Bolton’s highlight of the season was rather a tragic as well as inspirational one. They were stunned by the on-field collapse of Fabrice Muamba due to cardiac arrest in March. Prompt medical attention ensured he somehow survived after being medically dead for minutes.

Chelsea

The first casualty occurred in the form of much-hyped Andre Villas-Boas – AVB, as he is popularly known – when he was sacked ruthlessly by the billionaire owner Roman Abramovich barely months into the job. A dramatic turnaround under the supervision of interim caretaker boss Roberto Di Matteo saw them competing for the top four finish but they eventually ensured a Champions League entry next season through their Cup winning heroics. Chelsea should feel more than satisfied after their seemingly dismal campaign ended with another Cup glory as they lifted the FA Cup at Wembley.

There has been growing debate over the influence of senior players in the Chelsea dressing room. It is going to be an acid test for the newly appointed manager Roberto Di Matteoin his first season in the permanent role. Nonetheless a string of summer exits looks inevitable – with the likes of Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Jose Bosingwa topping the list – in the wake of a dismal league campaign.

Everton

It has been long argued that David Moyes is the best manager in England as he has managed to deliver within a shoe-string budget. This time they finished seventhinthe table, even above their bitter Merseyside rivals. Following a poor start to the season, David Moyes and his troops have turned things round since January to mark his first decade in premiership with yet another top half finish.

The turn of events was sparked by the arrival of Serbian Nikica Jelavic in January who has shown a good knack for scoring goals.If he continues to shine this time round, Everton can surely hope for finishing higher in the table.

Fulham

Fulham finished strongly with a top half  finish, level on points with Liverpool. They have played some good football throughout the year and their form especially at Craven Cottage was exceptional. Martin Jol would love to build on after an impressive season in 2012.

Much of Fulham’s good showing is due the USA international star Clint Dempsey. After an excellent season where he topped the club’s goal-scoring chart with 17 goals and openly admitted his desire to play in Champions League, Dempsey is all set to leave. It will be interesting to see how much Fulham can get out of the sale of their star performer and how wisely they can use the cash.

Liverpool

Miserable. The one word to describe The Reds’ season. A lowly eighthplace finish, a defeat in the final of the FA Cup and a (Carling) Cup win which failed to make any kind of headlines – Liverpool is certainly happy that the season has finally ended. Kenny Dalglish brought in some really average players who have failed to deliver and as a result have upset a settled side which was trying hard to climb up.

Matters worsenedwith an eight-match ban on Luis Suarez due to his alleged racial scandal. Liverpool was the unluckiest side as they hit the woodwork a record 33 times during the campaign but this cannot be counted as even a consolation. With the appointment of Brendan Rodgers, the Kops would like to see an attacking flair of football which would propel them to Champions League once again.

Manchester City

It took the last kick of the match to seal the title for them. Goalden Times, however, had long back predicted the silverware for them in the midseason review. Their first title since 1968 would surely inspire them for bigger things in the next season. And yes, they could do with a little less footage of Sunderlanddue to their off-the-field problems.

.

.

The New Champions

.

Roberto Mancini has successfully marshalled a troop which has looked invincible at times. They should have won the league rather convincingly but there is no denying the fact they were by far the best team in England. A star-studded line-up featuring Joe Hart, David Silva and Sergio Aguero was ably led by Vincent Kompany. No one will be surprised to see a few more big names joining them next season.

Manchester United

With aneight-point lead in April, everyone thought it was United’s title to lose. And lose they did. Squandering a two-goal advantage twice at home against Everton proved to be decisive as they had to see drama on the final day of the season taking the Cup to the Blue side of Manchester, albeit on goal difference. Sir Alex Ferguson must be credited for fighting it out till the very last with a below par squad, but the shrewd tactician knew deep inside that he had blown it off this time.

A midfield featuring Ryan Giggs and coming-out-of-retirement Paul Scholes with a combined age of 77 would be too much to fathom next season. The Red Devils badly need some creative spark in the midfield and it remains to be seen whether they splash the cash to do so.

.

.

The veteran red devils


Newcastle United

For many pundits, not the team of the season. Nor was it for us at Goalden Times at the start of the season, but we had forecast a strong finish for them and they did oblige. At the start of the season no one had predicted a fifthplace finish and they did push for a Champions League spot for a considerable time in the campaign. Alan Pardew should be lauded for his vision. He has not hesitated to iron out trouble between star players and has struck some good bargains to build a really strong squad.

A settled team, the Magpies were led by Demba Ba in the first half of the campaign. It speaks volumes for his teamsmanship when he sacrificed his striking role to the January signing fellow countryman PapissCisse. The Senegalese star went on to become the new sensation in the league with 13 goals in fourteenappearances.

Norwich City

Promoted to the top flight, Norwich never looked out of place. A mid-table finish gives them great hope for the next season and what is the most exciting factor is that they rarely relied on a single or couple of players to deliver the goods. Their work ethic and team game has been applauded by all.

Paul Lambert presented the viewers with some excellent football and they were never really in danger of going back to the Championships. It is a blow for the Canaries to lose him to Aston Villa but they should hold on to their star striker Grant Holt and influential Anthony Pilkington if they are to catch the eyes once more next season.

Queens Park Rangers

In spite of breaking the hearts of the millions of Red Devils’ fans, Mark Hughes’s side just about held on to the top flight. But it is not ideal when one has to wait for other results to go their way to guarantee survival on the last day of the season. They have looked vulnerable during their away trips and major reinforcements are needed for next term’s survival.

QPR has looked better under the astute Mark Hughes. But their summer recruits – Bobby Zamora, DjibrilCisse – have all been tested and tried in English football and may not have much more to offer. With a temperamental and self-destructing Joey Barton leading the troop, the Hoops should count themselves fortunate to be still in the top flight.

Stoke City

Stoke City had an average season. They were quite physical, they dug in and remained in the comfort of mid-table for the entire campaign – nothing exceptional about their journey. They had the privilege of playing in Europe but that could have cost them couple of places in the league table.

Peter Crouch has had a decent season at the Britannia stadium but his lack of goals proved critical to his omission in the Euro 2012 squad. Dead ball specialist Jonathan Walters did show some spark at times but nothing much to write home about.

Sunderland

A poor start to the season saw Steve Bruce being replaced by Martin O’Neill who did a commendable job especially in organizing a tight defensive unit. They did have their good days during this campaign but the bad days far outweighed them.

Only bright point for them was the arrival of StephaneSessegnon. He sparkled in his first full season for the Black Cats with the most number of assists (9) and a decent number of goals (7). O’Neill may look to strengthen his defence this summer by stamping his authority over the club.

Swansea City

The surprise package. Unlike any other newly promoted team, Brendan Rodgers opted for a refreshingly attacking brand of football. Naturally their fan base increased many a fold worldwide. It does not mean that they were vulnerable at the back as their shot-stopper Michel Vorm kept an impressive 14 clean sheets.

TheSwans played a high tempo open passing game, that spoke well of the excellent team they are, but one player stood out tall amidst them all – loan signee from Hoffenheim, Gylfi Sigurdsson. Arriving in the January transfer window, the playmaker produced an incredible five goals and 7 assists. Swansea will be disappointed that they have been unable to make him permanent and they have to bid adieu to their star manager too.

Tottenham Hotspur

It was a heartbreaking season for the Spurs. For the large part before Christmas they looked like the only team to realistically challenge the Manchester sides for the title. Then came January and Harry Redknapp’s distraction for the national team. Spurs slipped out of the title race but looked certain to hang on to the thirdspot for an automatic Champions League place. Then came a series of disastrous results in February which ensured they could only get a fourthplace. Then a certain RDM masterminded Blues’ victory in the Champions League final to leave Tottenham lamenting outside the top tier competition in Europe.

Redknapp has been sacked and the search for a new manager is underway with the likes of David Moyes tipped heavily to take over. Whoever it is, without the prospect of Champions League, it will be very hard to hold on to their star performers like Luka Modric and Gareth Bale. And with Chelsea, Newcastle, Liverpool and others looking to get stronger, a top fourfinish will be an even bigger challenge.

.

.

A dejected spurs journey

.

West Bromwich Albion

Roy Hodgson has been in an ideal club with no pressure of winning day in and day out. This is also proved by the fact that they have fared far better on their away matches this season. With a comfortable top 10 finish, Hodgson has shown that he knows how to get the most out of limited resources and this quality has landed him England’s top post.

The Hawthorns club has made some good progress for the last few seasons and it will be a challenge for them to carry on in the similar fashion. They need to find a manager first and then some solidity at the back. Also the services of Peter Odemwingie, the star performer amongst a bunch of enthusiastic and young players, must be ensured before he is snatched away by some other club.

Wigan Athletic

Critics and pundits had written them off but the Latics rose like a Phoenix and Roberto Martinez should be applauded for how he turned the fortunes of a club that looked certain for relegation. Scalping for the likes of Manchester United, Newcastle United and Arsenal, they have finished at a respectable 15th place against all odds.

Shane Long has had an injury-prone season but he rose to the occasion when it mattered the most by scoring against the big boys. Victor Moses is another player who made good progress this season. Their strategy will be simple – look for some cheap buys and fight again against the odds.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Their fate was sealed way back in April. After the sacking of Mick McCarthy, they failed to win a single league match and they might find even the Championships too hot to handle. The squad looked down and out, dispirited for the major part of the season which saw only five wins for them.

It will be no surprise to see the better players – Steven Fletcher, Kevin Doyle – leaving very soon and a rebuilding phase start for the Molineux outfit. Stale Solbakken, the new manager will have a tough season ahead and it may take them some time to get back into the top flight once again.

Team of the Season

Michel Vorm

Kyle Walker        Vincent Kompany            FabricioColoccini               Leighton Banes

Antonio Valencia              YayaToure           Clinton Dempsey             David Silva

Robin van Persie              Sergio Auguero

Maximus Tacticus – Tottenham Hotspurs

In this feature, we analyze the strategies of top EPL sides. Debojyoti Chakraborty runs the ruler over Tottenham Hotspurs this month. You may contact him on @debojchak

Induction

This season has proved that Tottenham Hotspurs have surely arrived. From also-rans they have elevated themselves to genuine title contenders – at least till Christmas. Their strong run with virtually the same squad is a rare exception in an era where cash-rich clubs are focussing on buying a trophy rather than building a squad. Harry Redknapp, the man at the helm may not be around for long, as the national duty beckons, but he has surely made a huge impression at White Hart Lane.

Happy Go Lucky

A good team is built around a happy dressing room. This is where Tottenham has outscored other superpowers in the English Premier League. The summer started with the imminent departure of Luca Modric. Redknapp was able to hold on to him, but Modric was visibly frustrated as the prospect of multi-fold wage hike did not materialize. It did impact the first few games, but Redknapp was quickly in control of his midfield maestro and the results were there for everyone to see. Compare this to the unrest in the Chelsea squad and you will know why the Spurs are flying high these days. To partner him in the midfield, Redknapp brought in Scott Parker in the summer. He has been named England’s ‘Player of the Year‘ in an online poll on Football Association’s website and led the Three Lions in a recent friendly against Netherlands on the back of a fine season with the Spurs. He is the man to anchor the midfield, snatch the ball away from the opponents and initiate an attack. Tottenham have tried different players in that position in his absence – Niko Kranjcar, Jake Livermore, Tom Huddlestone – but none have shown the efficiency of Andy Marshall.

Tottenham is a typical English side who specializes on wing play and long balls. And they have been blessed with the wing wizard, Gareth Bale cutting through the left flank. Bale is perhaps the first player to enter any fantasy team. He leads the scoring chart among midfielders, is in top three for assists and lightens up a match at the crucial junctures. How dearly had Redknapp wanted similar services from the other wing! But Aron Lennon has been anything but impressive. His pace has gone down by a couple of yards, and his final delivery has also let him down in spite of being in good positions. This has sometimes prompted Harry Redknapp to deploy a 4-3-2-1 formation tucking in Modric in a slightly wider role.

There has been no problem though on the left flank. Bale has been ably supported by the overlapping left-back, Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Strong in defence, can take on the wide players from the opponent team alone and effortlessly assist Bale while going forward – Assou-Ekotto has been in lethal form this season. He has been part of a solid defence led by Younes Kaboul. This season Kaboul has established himself as the leader in the back four, which has been shuffled around him. Injuries have played their part and Kaboul has had to partner Ledley King, William Gallas and Michael Dawson at different times during the league so far. But he has remained a stalwart in the centre of defence. His concentration levels have gone up a couple of notches after the annihilation at the hands of Manchester City at the start of the season. He has been a constant aerial threat for Spurs and his brutal strength has helped Tottenham cope up with the physical aspect of EPL. Whenever a genuine ball-playing stopper like Michael Dawson has partnered him – and Tottenham have not lost a single game when he was playing – it has been the age old silk-n-still defensive pairing that every team would crave for.

Modern 4-4-1-1
Making most of the resources
Harry Redknapp is known to pick up players to suit his game plan and he has done precisey that for scoring and saving goals. Gone are the days when long balls were heralded for a certain Peter Crouch. Out he went and in came (albeit in loan, for even Manchester City cannot afford him warming benches with his astronomical wages) a player of similar mould, Emmanuel Adebayor. He is second only to David Silva in the assists chart, and not all of those are monotonous knock-down headers from long balls. He has a better sense of the overall movement around him than his predecessor and can often either finish a brilliant move or pick a player to lay off a final pass. Benefiting most from these passes is Rafael Van der Vaart – another recruit of Redknapp couple of seasons ago – playing in the hole in a usual 4-4-1-1 formation. VDV has been used wisely considering his injury-prone nature and Jermine Defoe – or Luis Saha, since he came on in the winter transfer window, has been used as his cover when Spurs have opted for two men up front.

Last season Heurelho Gomes performed beyond expectations. So much so, that Tottenham fans started to live with his inconsistencies, sandwiched with some brilliant performances. But the Gaffer did a shrewd business by bringing in the experienced Brad Friedel from Aston Villa. Even for shot-stoppers, who mature late and generally enjoy a lengthy career, moving to an ambitious club as #1 goalkeeper with Champions League in prospect is not very common. Many thought it to be a bad move by Spurs. But Friedel has silenced the critics with his agility, reflexes and some jaw-dropping saves in this campaign. He has brought in some much needed consistency to an injury-hit back line. Only thing missing from his game is his distribution skills. He is quite fond of kicking the ball out long – it would be great for Spurs if he can start making some short passes or throws to initiate a more constructive mode.

Man to Watch (1) – Scott Parker

Scott Parker was the Football Writers’ Association player of the year last season. That is some achievement playing for West Ham which was eventually relegated. He has continued his superb form pulling on the Lilywhite shirt and has galvanized the Spurs’ midfield. He has a well-defined role to anchor the midfield. His primary duty is to take the ball away from opposition and distribute it to more advanced players like Modric or VDV. It suits his hard hitting, fully committed style of play. He is happy to sit in front of his defensive line and dictate the play from there. Just a look at his heat map in home and away matches proves the point. He has not ventured into the opponent half 60% of the time against Queens Park Rangers. That statistic goes up to 70% away from home at Craven Cottage. This has helped Parker to improve his overall passing, interception and concentration levels. His calmness in the field has resulted in Spurs conceding only 22 goals in twenty-six matches after his arrival – before that they had conceded 8 in opening two matches. Also, his solidity in the midfield has led to Spurs creating more chances with more bodies made available in the attacking third.

Parker roaming in his own half

Man to Watch (2) – Gareth Bale

It took a while to realize what Bale’s best position would be – an attacking left-back or a genuine left winger? This season has seen him being deployed at various other roles also – at wide right position playing like an inverted winger, a more central role just behind the striker. But it has to be said that the Welshman seems at home as a wing wizard down the left flank. After a slow start to the season where he scored only 1 goal and provided zero assist in 8 games, Bale has set the stage on fire. He is the leading goal-scorer and the most influential player – according to the Premier League official website statistics – among midfielders. Besides hugging the touchline and getting chalk on his boots, this season, Gareth Bale has started cutting inside, getting involved in the play in more central positions and that has helped him and Tottenham immensely. He is getting more shots on target with better accuracy. Moreover, his overall movement has become so unpredictable – just look at the chalkboard below – that he is able to create more opportunities for his teammates now.

More shots at goal
Playing all over pitch

Blue Line – Successful Pass

Red Line – Unsuccessful Pass

White Line – Assist / Goal