Review of the season type thing

Here is my review of the season type thing. Obviously there are lots of these type of things so I shall endeavour to make mine slightly different. I’m going to do a little bit on every team in relation to my hilariously bad predictions that I made prior to the start of the season. I was young, I was foolish and I was idealistic. It was my first real blog post and come the end of the season I now have far more respect for the people who make predictions about football, begrudgingly even for Mark Lawrenson.

Making a throw away prediction is easy, then talking up how you got it right later easier still, especially if nobody remembers you actually calling it. Putting pen to paper or a blog in this case leaves a far more permanent mark and yet again it has reminded me that trying to predict the outcome of sporting events, especially football is a mugs game. I should never be a fortune-teller, firstly because I find it ethically questionable but mostly because I’d be brazenly bad at it.

I’ll go down the table from top to bottom so let’s start with Manchester City.

1st Manchester City

Prediction: 3rd

2010/2011 Position: 3rd

Points difference from last season: +18

Season’s star: Sergio Aguero

Disappointing donkey: Stefan Savic

So City won the league on goal difference. It really would have been hard for it to be any closer, the winning margin was tiny and they left it late, oh so very late to ensure the title was theirs. Aguero was their star, his goal tally bettered only by Torres in terms of foreign strikers in their first season in the Premier League. David Silva was outstanding at times but faded. Yaya Toure really came good during the crunch games of the season. Kompany’s goal against United and inspirational leadership really spurred the team on and when he was missing due to suspension the team’s form suffered dramatically as a result.

City’s strength in depth certainly helped them, with Dzeko and Balotelli both hitting double figures in terms of goals but both also having long spells out of the side. Their improvement from last season has been massive, amassing 18 points more this season. They’ve been harder to beat away from home and scored more goals away from home but the real key has been their home form. City dropped just 2 points at home all season, making the Etihad Stadium the hardest place to play for visiting team’s this season, only Sunderland managed to avoid defeat there. Mancini brought the squad together, regardless of Tevez’s tantrum and Balotelli’s madness and he really has managed them to the title, just.

2nd Manchester United

Prediction: 1st

2010/2011 Position: 1st

Points difference from last season: +9

Season’s star: Wayne Rooney

Disappointing donkey: Dimitar Berbatov

United actually improved upon the season before, just not by as much as City. It’s never a bad idea to back them for the title. In David de Gea they signed a good young goalkeeper but it took him time to settle and no doubt cost them points early on. Injuries to players like Cleverley and Anderson took the edge off their early season form when they were probably playing their best football. Darren Fletcher also suffered injury in the form of an illness which threatens his career. Ashley Young was in great form, until he got injured and it took him time to regain his form. Vidic was missing for a large part of the season through injury. Basically United suffered from injuries in a way that City didn’t.

Do they need to strengthen? No, not really, but I’m sure they will. Berbatov went from 20 goals in 10/11 to just 7 this season. Hernandez drop in form was less dramatic, going from 13 goals to 10. They lacked fire power to supplement Rooney so I expect them to sign a striker. Scholes return was also due to having a group of midfielders who weren’t quite ready for week in, week out action. But Cleverley has another year’s experience and if he can stay fit and with Scholes around for another year to lend a hand, things look good for United as they usually seem to. This was a United team during a year of rebuilding and they only lost the title on goal difference, which must be a worry for everyone else.

3rd Arsenal

Prediction: 6th

2010/2011 Position: 4th

Points difference from last season: +2

Season’s star: Robin Van Persie

Disappointing donkey: Sebastien Squillaci

OK so reports of Arsenal’s demise had been greatly exaggerated, by me. Who needs Fabregas and Nasri? When they lost 8-2 I sat watching feeling smug. But from there on in, they improved and continued to do so until by the end of the season. When they had their first choice team available and they were flying and they beat Manchester City 1-0 playing them off the park in the process. It would be easy to say this was all down to the goals of RVP but Mikel Arteta proved his worth and then some once he found his feet in the side. Theo Walcott assisted RVP well despite his usual regular absences because of injury. Rosicky rediscovered some of his old form and suddenly Laurent Koscielny looks like a very good central defender and Wojciech Szczęsny will be in goal for years to come.

With the arrival of Lukas Podolski they are already looking stronger for next season. Credit must go to Wenger, who has done a brilliant job, keeping his head when fans were losing theirs, sticking by his principles and using all his experience to guide Arsenal to 3rd spot, above Spurs. The question for next season will be can they keep hold of RVP.

4th Tottenham Hotspur

Prediction: 4th

2010/2011 Position: 5th

Points difference from last season: +7

Season’s star: Luka Modric

Disappointing donkey: Tom Huddlestone

Yay a correct prediction! If you had offered Spurs 4th before the start of the season they would have taken it. However, the way the season has gone will no doubt have left a sour taste in the mouth of a lot of Spurs fans, but at least they kept hold of Modric, for now. Harry Redknapp’s flirtation with the England managers job didn’t help them, neither did his inability to change the side tactically or get the best out of the likes of Steven Pienaar. Spurs had 3rd, but they threw it away and if Chelsea win the Champions League and they end up playing in the Europa League next season, there will be blood and tears and bitterness galore.

Adebayor came in and did well on loan, although with the chances he squandered his goals tally could have been even better. Bale again showed why he is one of the most highly rated young players around, although he faded badly having not scored in the league since January. The emergance of Kyle Walker is a big plus but Harry’s moves for older players in January showed a worrying lack of long term planning and if Adebayor’s move can’t be made permanent then a new striker will certainly be the priority over the summer. A lot will depend on the outcome of the final in Munich.

5th Newcastle United

Prediction: 13th (yes really)

2010/2011 Position: 12th

Points difference from last season: +19

Season’s star: Yohan Cabaye

Disappointing donkey: Dan Gosling

So here is where my predictions really start to look stupid. I was worried that Newcastle had sold the players that had done well for them the previous season. I was right about that much, in that they had in fact sold those players. What I got wrong, so very VERY wrong, was just how good their replacements were. I’ve got Yohan Cabaye as the star, mostly because he was fantastic all season long. But the front two of Ba and Cisse were both incredible at times as was Ben Arfa.

Alan Pardew is probably the manager of the year as somehow, on a relatively small budget and with nobody looking he’s constructed a brutally good team of devastating power and sublime technique. Newcastle are as great to watch as their fans are mental and watching them destroy Manchester United brought backing memories of the Keegan era. Obviously now the key is can they hang on to their new found stars, if the answer is yes the sky is the limit, if not, then Mike Ashley will quickly resume his role as public enemy number one.

6th Chelsea

Prediction: 2nd

2010/2011 Position: 2nd

Points difference from last season: -7

Season’s star: Juan Mata

Disappointing donkey: Florent Malouda

Last time Chelsea got a new manager they won the title. I mostly blame my poor prediction on Villas-Boas. He came in, tried to change everything, fell out with all the senior players and totally ruined Chelsea’s season. He may well go and do well somewhere else, but he tried to do to much to soon with Chelsea and it back fired. Lucky for them Di Matteo was standing by to take over and lead them to an F.A cup win and a Champions League final, defeating Barcelona along the way.

Juan Mata was a revelation especially after Di Matteo took over and he started to play more centrally. Malouda was a failure, going from 13 goals the previous season to just 2. Essien looks lost on a football pitch and if you were to try and convince me that he used to be a world class midfielder you would have an impossible job had I not seen it with my own eyes. As well as Di Matteo has done I don’t expect him to get the job. So Chelsea’s future rests in the hands of the owner, but hey, at least Torres has started to score some goals again.

7th  Everton

Prediction: 7th

2010/2011 Position: 7th

Points difference from last season: +2

Season’s star: Nikica Jelavic

Disappointing donkey: James McFadden

7th feels about right for Everton. It will feel even better now as it’s above Liverpool. David Moyes can always be relied upon to produce a good competitive team and this year was no different. It could have been a disappointing season for the blue half of Merseyside who struggle with the loss of Arteta until they signed Jelavic who came in and scored 9 goals in 13 games which took their season from mildly disappointing to the standard level of over achievement their fans have come to expect.

David Moyes also obviously knows what to feed Steven Pienaar as his rejoining on loan gave the team that much needed spark that they had been lacking. I for one hope he stays at Everton, because he simply looks like a better player there and he’s always someone I enjoy watching. Everton need to scrape together what money they can yet again if they want to keep finishing in the top 10, if Moyes can unearth another signing like Jelavic that will be a good start and if Everton actually get a good start that could see them pushing seriously for a European place.

8th Liverpool

Prediction: 5th

2010/2011 Position: 6th

Points difference from last season: -6

Season’s star: Martin Skrtel

Disappointing donkey: Stewart Downing

Steven Gerrard got injured, then came back, but the team did better without him. Lucas got injured and the team did worse. So who is Liverpool’s key player? Luis Suarez got banned for racism. Downing didn’t score a goal or get an assist in the league all season. Andy Carroll struggled but scored in the cup final and got an England call up, along with Downing. Dalglish held the team together with sellotape and bandages and got the sack. It was quite an eventful season for Liverpool.

Kenny won a cup, but it was the Carling Cup and although it’s nice for players and fans, it doesn’t put money in the bank which pleases owners. The team misfired and declined from the season before despite massive investment on new players all of whom had poor seasons. The thing is, as terrible as Liverpool have been at times this season, as much as they have struggled at home, I think they’ve actually got quite a good squad and if they can keep their key players fit and get Carroll to score on a more regular basis or buy someone who can then they are well capable of challenging for a Champions League spot next season. Much however will depend on who they appoint as their new manager, with many fans saying Rafa or nobody, if the new manager isn’t Rafa, he may well have failed before he’s started.

9th Fulham

Prediction: 10th

2010/2011 Position: 8th

Points difference from last season: +3

Season’s star: Clint Dempsey

Disappointing donkey: Simon Davies

Aren’t Fulham a nice club. Well they are aren’t they. Nice team, nice fans, nice manager, nice old ground, nice. Fulham are the only side in the top flight of any of the big five European leagues not to get a single red card this season, see, they are nice. Martin Jol has quietly gone about reshaping the squad, thankfully for Fulham fans not in his own image. Zamora has moved on but they have some young exciting players like Kerim Frei and money to spend to replace him.

The stand out performer for them is Clint Dempsey, who has been praised and linked with moves away from Fulham but in my opinion not nearly enough. Clint Dempsey in case you didn’t know is from North America. If he were from South America, he would have been linked with a big money move to everywhere. He just doesn’t seem fashionable, which is a shame, because he’s really really good. He can play anywhere across the midfield or upfront, as a second striker and can even do a decent job as a target man. But it’s not like he’s a jack of all trades master of none, as he scored 17 goals this season, which is a lot. If Fulham keep him and add a couple more I think they will be hard to shift from within the top 10, Jol is a better manager than people give him credit for, so him and Dempsey have that under-rated trait in common.

10th West Bromwich Albion

Prediction: 8th

2010/2011 Position: 11th

Points difference from last season: +6

Season’s star: Ben Foster

Disappointing donkey: Gabriel Tamas

I thought Brom would do well this season, which wasn’t the worst idea I’ve ever had. Roy Hodgson is a good manager and his team were decent for most of the season and probably finished above where they might have been expected too given their budget. Ben Foster was a great piece of business which is surprising as it’s something I predicted. As Birmingham failed to make it through the play-offs I imagine they’ll be trying to keep him.

Of course this will depend on who they appoint as manager, he might have his own ideas. Could we see a return for Di Matteo, stranger things have happened. If the Euros go badly, we could see the rapid return of Roy. Brom look like an established Premier League side now, but they will be aware of the perils of falling into the “thinking you’re safe” trap that Wolves, Blackburn and Bolton now know all too well.

11th Swansea City

Prediction: 20th

2010/2011 Position: 3rd (Championship)

Points difference from last season: N/A

Season’s star: Joe Allen

Disappointing donkey: Federico Bessone

I’m glad I don’t know any Swansea fans personally or they would make me eat this. So I did predict they would come bottom. They only just scrapped through the play-offs last season so to go on and finish 11th is frankly remarkable. I’ve gone for Joe Allen as their star, because he’s the player I happen to like the most but I could easily have gone for Vorm, Sigurdsson, Dyer, Sinclair or Graham. In fact just about all of Swansea’s regulars had a good season.

They pass the ball a lot and their fans do seem to have a habit of thinking they are holier-than-thou but you can’t take anything away from them. They’ve come into the Premier League doing it their way and lots of young players have now made a name for themselves. Does this mean the Championship is underrated as a league when so many were predicting their downfall? I think it probably does.  Regardless of all their success, they are classic candidates for second season syndrome and it will be hard for Rogers to strengthen the side that seems like such a tight group of players. Getting hold of Sigurdsson would be a good start, but after his impact other clubs are sure to be in the hunt for him, perhaps more of a worry though, is the prospect of someone taking their manager. However Swansea fans will be cheered by the news that Rogers has rejected talks with Liverpool.

12th Norwich City

Prediction: 19th

2010/2011 Position: 2nd (Championship)

Points difference from last season: N/A

Season’s star: Grant Holt

Disappointing donkey: Andrew Crofts

I tried to be dispassionate. I tried not to get sucked into what I wanted to happen and actually stick to what I thought would happen. At the end of last season, when we beat Portsmouth, it was a performance that really impressed me. We showed discipline and quality to see out a 1-0 win that secured promotion. The team had come so far in such a short space of time and my worry was that it had all happened too quickly, I was emphatically wrong.

I always thought Holt would score goals, I just thought we’d leak plenty as well. Huge credit must go to Lambert and Culverhouse for the way Norwich adapted over the season to cope with the tests posed by different Premier League teams. They showed far more tactical variety than had been on display in the Championship. The new signings all came in and made an impact, the squad evolved, improved in quality yet retained the fantastic spirit which has been integral to the side and defined Lambert’s Norwich team. The progression has been fantastic and as ever the same questions remain, how far can Lambert take us? And how long will he stay?

13th Sunderland

Prediction: 11th

2010/2011 Position: 10th

Points difference from last season: 0

Season’s star: Stephane Sessegnon

Disappointing donkey: Titus Bramble

Interesting season for Sunderland, they started off horribly, the new players didn’t settle in well, Bruce was having a horrible time, the fans didn’t like him and his star striker and big signing Gyan had made it clear he was all about the money and gone to play in the middle east on loan. Bruce got the sack, Sunderland looked around and landed Martin O’Neill who made a big impact. He came in, turned things around, revitalised the place and made sure they were in no danger of going down, beating Man City at home in the process.

Thing is, after their initial upturn the side flat lined again and suffered some pretty ugly results and put in some pretty ugly performances. What O’Neill does in the summer will be interesting, he’ll want to make the squad his own. How much money and success he has in bringing in the players he wants will dictate how well they do next season.

14th Stoke City

Prediction: 14th

2010/2011 Position: 13th

Points difference from last season: -1

Season’s star: Peter Crouch

Disappointing donkey: Ricardo Fuller

Stoke’s season wasn’t really about the league. They were never in danger of being relegated and they plugged away as they’ve now become accustomed to doing. Their season was mostly about the European adventure in the Europa League which I’m sure was great for the fans. They brought in some big money signings and Peter Crouch proved to be worth the money and seem to seamlessly fit in at Stoke which wasn’t really a big shock.

With no European action to look forward too next year Stoke will once again continue to fight in the league and look to progress in the cups. Targeting a league cup win would be a good aim for next season and if Tony Pulis is given a similar amount of money to spend again that he invested last season the squad will continue to improve. It’s fair to say they aren’t the neutrals favourite, but that doesn’t bother their fans.

15th Wigan Athletic

Prediction: 18th

2010/2011 Position: 16th

Points difference from last season: +1

Season’s star: Victor Moses

Disappointing donkey: Steve Gohouri

I should have known really. Wigan always escape. Even when all hope is lost, when you can see no salvation when during the middle part of the season they put in the most eye-watering displays of pure mediocrity suddenly when the end of season nerves start to get the better of other teams Wigan change gear and do enough. This season they did more than enough, picking up the scalps of Manchester United and Arsenal along the way, as well as winning at Anfield.

Martinez 3-4-3 system got Wigan playing stylish, attractive football. Better yet, it also got them results. He’s been coveted by some of the big boys and if he were to leave I think Wigan would struggle to replace him with someone better. It’s hard to really know how good the Wigan squad is as their level of performance can change hugely. Whatever happens chances are they will be involved in a relegation scrap next season, because that just seems to be what Wigan do. Thankfully for them, it’s a fight they always seem to win.

16th Aston Villa

Prediction: 9th

2010/2011 Position: 9th

Points difference from last season: -10

Season’s star: Stilian Petrov

Disappointing donkey: Emile Heskey

I’m probably in a very small select group of people who feel sorry for Alex McLeish. The Villa fans didn’t like him form the outset, which is never easy. He lost Darren Bent to injury and his best player and captain Stilian Petrov was diagnosed with cancer from which I hope he makes a full recovery. The squad without these two key players was thin and packed full of young players. They were sometimes left having to rely on the goal getting prowess of Heskey, so circumstances certainly didn’t help McLeish.

Trouble is, his team’s are terrible to watch, not just bad, terrible. If you’re doing badly with what you’ve got salvation can be found in the fact that you are trying to do things the right way and showing signs of progress. Under McLeish, Villa went backwards. He will point to the likes of Young and Downing being sold, but he had money to spend and the signing of N’Zogbia did him no favours. He’s gone, but I don’t envy the task of the next manager is trying to keep the Villa fans happy, for the most part they seem to have wildly unrealistic expectations.

17th Queens Park Rangers

Prediction:17th

2010/2011 Position: 1st (Championship)

Points difference from last season: N/A

Season’s star: Joey Barton

Disappointing donkey: Joey Barton

So I got the prediction right, QPR did spend money and they did stay up, just. Obviously this is less impressive when they were actually the worst of the three promoted teams, despite their financial clout. QPR’s season was an absolute mess. Under Warnock they were dogged but lacked quality and suffered from disciplinary problems. Under Hughes, having spent money, they still have tenacity but had added a bit of quality, but those disciplinary problems remained.

This was summed up by Barton, who at times was the club’s best player and at other times the club’s worst player, often within the space of 10 minutes in the same game. His future is in the balance, his actions at Man City were ridiculous and he’s facing a long ban. For Hughes, he’ll continue to build and spend money and I agree with him when he says that as long as he’s at QPR they won’t be in a relegation battle again.

18th Bolton Wanderers

Prediction: 12th

2010/2011 Position: 14th

Points difference from last season: -10

Season’s star: Mark Davies

Disappointing donkey: Darren Pratley

I, like many others, probably jumped too quickly without looking on the Owen Coyle bandwagon. To be fair to Coyle, he tried to rebuilt the squad. Bolton were in need of a make over with a team that still bore many of the hallmarks of a Sam Allardyce side. The successes of last season got injured and the new boys failed to deliver. Bolton’s home form at the start of the season sent them down. They only won once in their first nine home games and leaked goals at home all season.

Aside from everything football related Bolton’s season will be remembered for the remarkable story of Fabrice Muamaba. The events that unfolded on the pitch at Spurs put the team’s relegation flight into a context that is often lost in the mad world of football. A sense of perspective that is rarely seen within the game was clear when both sets of fans, upon learning of what was happening on the pitch started to cheer his name. I’m thankful that Muamaba’s fate was better than that of his team’s because ultimately, they both live to fight another day.

19th Blackburn Rovers

Prediction: 16th

2010/2011 Position: 15th

Points difference from last season: -12

Season’s star: Junior Hoilett

Disappointing donkey: Anthony Modeste

I thought Blackburn would probably be OK and avoid the drop, especially if they signed a goalscorer. Well they did, Yakubu scored 17 league goals, which is impressive. What I didn’t count on was just how bad a manager Steve Kean was. They leaked goals for fun and gradually got worse as the season went on. I think in years to come when people look back at this season, the less blame the fans will take. Having seen their team shafted by terrible owners, made worse in the January window they were forced to watch as the owners stuck by a manager dragging them down, while other club’s made chances that kept them in the league. In that context the actions of the fans look sensible and if anything understated.

Will Kean go? It doesn’t look like it although at the time of writing there are rumours he might. The video of him that found it’s way onto Youtube is embarrassing, but not nearly as embarrassing as his time in charge of the side. The more I look at it, the more I wonder just how much control he had. When things really didn’t look good, he continued to persist with Anthony Modeste. I mean I think he’s a bad manager but surely nobody can be so deluded that they didn’t notice just how incredibly bad Modeste was? I hope Blackburn are rescued. I hope Venky’s sell up and someone sensible takes over, sacks Kean and restores some pride in a good football club, otherwise I feel like it won’t be long before they join the annuls of former Premier League teams who drop into League One.

20th Wolverhampton Wanderers

Prediction: 15th

2010/2011 Position: 17th

Points difference from last season: -15

Season’s star: Wayne Hennessey

Disappointing donkey: Sylvain Ebanks-Blake

Wolves are a great example of how easily things can go wrong, really really wrong. Perhaps the team never quite had enough about them to stay up. I like many thought the signing of Roger Johnson was a good piece of business but he had a horror season and suffered back to back relegations. I don’t think there will be quite so many teams looking to sign him again for next season. Sylvain Ebanks-Blake only scored 1 goal all season, which predictably, was against Norwich. Kevin Doyle only scored 4. Wolves only scored 19 home league goals all season and couldn’t keep them out at the other end with the worst defensive record.

Sacking Mick McCarthy wasn’t necessarily the wrong move. But appointing Terry Connor was. After none of their prefered candidates came to fruition Connor almost landed the job by default and while his effort and commitment to the cause couldn’t be questioned, a lack of new ideas from the previous manager meant that his impact on the side was minimal and he was unable to save a team that was already in a lot of trouble. For Wolves now it’s a question of who can they keep. New boss Stale Solbakken has a lot to prove to win over the club’s fans and they will need a good start to next season to lift the mood around Molineux, which was expanded at great cost only to see the team playing in the Championship, whoops.

Summations

A memorable season. Some truly great games and great goals. A record number of goals scored. Three promoted teams stay up. Man City claim their first title since ’68. The 8-2 and the 1-6 will live long in the memory as quite extraordinary games. Newcastle were the surprise package. Fantastic debut seasons from Cisse, Cabaye, Aguero, Mata, Jelavic, and McClean who added something to the league. A special mention must go to all the players at Swansea and Norwich who proved so many doubters (sadly including me) wrong.

I’ll definitely be doing another prediction blog for next season and hopefully I’ll do a better job. For a bit of fun I might try and rope a few of my friends into doing it too, just so I’m not the only one who looks stupid come the end of the season.

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