Championship Sunday signaled the finale of the Premier League campaign for the 2013-2014 season. Wins from Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea meant the Premier League table finished in that order. Fans invaded the Etihad Stadium pitch, delaying the trophy presentation for several minutes before jubilant celebrations from Manchester City players took over. This scene drew the curtain closed over a season that saw City win the Double and Steven Gerrard’s Liverpool fall just short of their first ever Premier League title.
There are many notable story lines within a Premier League season and here we summarize the best that the league has had to offer:
The Premier League trophy returns to Manchester this season, although it will be housed across town at the Etihad, rather than the familiar resting place of Old Trafford. Manchester City capped off a spectacular campaign with five consecutive wins to earn their second trophy of the season. Manuel Pellegrini delivered the results he was expected to achieve with the league’s highest wage squad.
The campaign began with some inconsistency in the early stages, but City rattled off a twelve match unbeaten run from late November to the end of January that saw them skyrocket up the table. Despite falling twice to Chelsea and once to Liverpool, City was able to make the most of their matches in hand by gaining valuable wins. Manchester City lost only two Premier League matches in the 2014 calendar year, making it impossible for rivals Liverpool to maintain pace despite their goal scoring form.
City was led by the indomitable Yaya Toure who contributed 20 Premier League goals to the cause. Despite finishing as runner up for PFA Player of the Year, Toure filled an attacking void left during injuries to leading goal scorer Sergio Aguero and in form striker Alvaro Negredo. At times he was a one man show, like last week against Aston Villa where Toure ran 60 yards before firing a shot past Brad Guzan in the match’s closing moments to seal a 4-0 victory.
City’s main strength was their quality of attack, making up for a defense that while solid, developed a habit of capitulating to teams of similar quality. Defender Martin Demichelis brushed aside the label of aging defender prone to lapses and turned in positive performances that led to him being named Etihad Player of the Month for April. Captain Vincent Kompany remained a resolute influence over the squad, a true captain in every sense of the word. Possibly the Premier League’s most eloquent and thoughtful speaker, Kompany gives the squad its tenacity and composure that saw them through difficult stretches with positive results.
When a team has embarrassment of attacking riches such as Samir Nasri, Jesus Navas, Edin Dzeko, David Silva and Stevan Jovetic, egos can often take over. So many times clashes are seen between teammates and management, but City is almost devoid of those issues. They remained a cohesive unit throughout the season and have been handsomely rewarded for their efforts. Pellegrini can be to thank for this and despite his vampiric appearance he has breathed lifeblood into the City squad giving them the belief to be champions.
When Brendan Rodgers and his Liverpool squad appeared on the reality television program Being Liverpool, few believed they were viewing potential title contenders in just under two seasons. Brendan Rodgers has rejuvenated Steven Gerrard, redeemed Luis Suarez and transformed Liverpool from a mid-table team to the most potent attacking force in world football in under 24 months on the job. This remarkable effort has been long awaited from the Liverpool faithful and although they fell short of capturing their first Premier League title, faith has been restored in management at Anfield.
Liverpool scored an incredible 101 goals on the season, making them one of the most potent attacking sides in Premier League history. They were led by the oft-maligned Luis Suarez who scored an incredible 31 goals in their campaign. In the course of the season, Suarez attempted to overturn his public image of a comic book villain by convincing the world he has changed through beautiful football. Suarez’s attack partner, the fashionable Daniel Sturridge, contributed 21 goals to the cause making them the most prolific attack partnership in the Premier League.
Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard had arguably one of the best seasons of his incredible career. He was at times a one man show in the midfield and at others an action movie hero keeping his team motivated and focused against all odds. Despite being unable to deliver on the Liverpool chants of “We’re gonna win the League!” Gerrard turned back the clock and led them on an incredible run of eleven consecutive victories during the spring.
Liverpool stumbled down the stretch, falling to Chelsea and drawing against Crystal Palace, but second place and Champion’s League qualification are a tremendous improvement over finishing seventh the previous season. Young players Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, and Jon Flanagan contributed significantly to the team’s efforts and give Liverpool fans reason to believe in the future of the club. With some investment into the defensive elements of the squad, this team looks like they will be one to watch going forward.
Everton finished just outside of Champion’s League qualification this season, but had a remarkably successful campaign which earned them a spot in next year’s Europa League. Often regarded as the “other” team in Liverpool, Everton signaled their arrival in the top tier of the Premier League following the departure of David Moyes. Roberto Martinez entered the Everton setup and hit the ground running by going undefeated in his first six matches as manager before falling to Manchester City. Everton managed to recover and go on another unbeaten streak which continued until Boxing Day.
Everton were buoyed by on-loan striker Romelu Lukaku. Lukaku contributed 15 Premier League goals bringing his career total to 32, quite a sum for a striker currently deemed “not good enough” for Chelsea. The squad was also lifted by 20 year old Ross Barkley who filled the void left by the departure Marouane Fellaini. Barkley routinely bossed the midfield while contributing timely goals including an absolute stunner against Manchester City two weeks ago. Thanks to his efforts Barkley was named as Everton’s Player of the Season and has been named to England’s World Cup squad.
The strength of Everton lies in their staunch defense, which is anchored by goalkeeper Tim Howard. Leighton Baines captured the attention of the world thanks to his Gareth Bale-like quality performances and spectacular free kick abilities. Seamus Coleman, Sylvain Distin, and Phil Jagielka rounded out the defense which allowed Everton to earn a club record 72 points. This was hardly the only club record broken by Everton this season, which also set records for wins, home wins, home goals, consecutive wins, and consecutive away wins.
The club will find it challenging to compete on multiple fronts next season and will also face the challenge of keeping on-loan players such as Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu, and Gareth Barry permanently. They will also face challenges hanging onto Leighton Baines who has attracted a number of suitors. Everton’s successful 2013-2014 campaign was memorable and it will be interesting to see if they are up to the challenges that European competition offers.
Southampton burst onto the scene this season with a fury, losing only one match out of their first eleven. They surprised their opponents and rose up the table with intricate passing play and determined defending. Eventually they tapered off and fell to mid table, where they remained for the rest of the season, but their efforts attracted the attention of many pundits who praised their young English talent. Ultimately an eighth place finish may not seem like a significant achievement, but for a club that played their football in League One just a few seasons ago, it is a great success.
Southampton’s success can be attributed to the wealth of young talent at Mauricio Pochettino’s disposal. English midfielder Adam Lallana was a revelation this season, contributing nine Premier League goals. Lallana was joined by left back Luke Shaw, who arrived on the Premier League scene with spectacular attacking play. Both young talents will be featuring in England’s World Cup squad along with their fellow teammate Rickie Lambert who contributed ten goals and eleven assists to the Saints’ cause.
After a tough stretch from late November to January, Pochettino rallied his squad and solidified their status in the mid table. The Argentinian manager’s trademark 4-2-3-1 pressing formation drove his side forward to important victories over Chelsea and Liverpool as well as a late season victory against Everton which eliminated them from Champion’s League qualification. Ultimately, Southampton will face a struggle keeping hold of their young talent, but should they keep their key players, will be a very interesting squad in the 2014-2015 campaign.
Sunderland’s Great Escape
As the Premier League campaign entered the final stages, it looked all but over for Sunderland who were perched on the bottom rung of the league table. The season had started terribly for the Black Cats who had lost seven of their first eight matches. Incoming striker Jozy Altidore struggled to find form and soon manager Paolo Di Canio found himself on the chopping block. Not even the entrance of Gus Poyet lifted the squad immediately.
Despite the instability, there were still signs of life from the club who rose to improbably beat eventual league champions Manchester City in November. They showed signs of improvement from mid-December to February, but still found themselves sitting at the bottom when they eked out a 2-2 draw against City in mid-April. What ensued was one of the most courageous escapes from relegation in league history.
On April 19, 2014, Sunderland miraculously ended Chelsea’s longstanding home unbeaten streak with a 2-1 victory at Stamford Bridge. Goals from Connor Wickham and a penalty conversion from Fabio Borini earned them the result they desperately needed. They followed that performance up with a 4-0 thrashing of doomed Cardiff City and a then traveled to Old Trafford where they stole three points from Manchester United. A 2-0 victory over West Brom followed, sealing their fate as a Premier League team for 2014-2015 before Championship Sunday. They finished the season with an irrelevant, underwhelming loss to Swansea. Not quite as dramatic as Fulham’s escape, but their fans and Barry Glendenning will be thankful for keeping their team in the top tier.
Crystal Palace have earned their place on this list for what may be one of the most timely management replacements in Premier League history. Ian Holloway began the season as Crystal Palace manager, but after a difficult early season stretch in which Palace lost nine of their first eleven matches, found himself on the firing line. He was eventually replaced with former Stoke City manager Tony Pulis who restored the club’s belief with a 1-0 victory over Hull City in November.
The club continued to struggle, but ultimately found form in mid-January and later on in the spring which lifted the club out of relegation danger and into the mid table. In late March they began an incredible five match win streak which saw them beat Chelsea, Cardiff, Aston Villa, Everton, and West Ham in succession. This string of victories spurred the club on to eventually finish in 11th position, an improbable improvement from when they occupied the bottom of the table 21 weeks into the season.
Pulis’ success came following a marvelous January transfer deadline day coup, which saw Crystal Palace sign five players including Tom Ince, Scott Dann, Joe Ledley, Wayne Hennessey, and Jason Puncheon. Puncheon contributed seven Premier League goals to the effort, which was the most for the team. The true success of the club came defensively, with seven clean sheets kept in the 2014 calendar year.