Chelsea sat atop the Premier League table with only five matches remaining in their league campaign. They faced the challenge of being the last remaining English team in the UEFA Champions League. What ensued over the final five weeks of the season was a series of underwhelming performances that highlighted some glaring weaknesses within the Chelsea squad.
Following a 1-0 loss to Crystal Palace, Chelsea still had ample opportunities to steal the Premier League title. They saw off Stoke City and eked by Swansea thanks to a timely Demba Ba goal. As the squad faced the pressures of facing Atletico Madrid in the Champion’s League semi-final, Chelsea stumbled against bottom of the table Sunderland who defeated them 2-1 at Stamford Bridge. This defeat ended Jose
Mourinho’s home unbeated streak with Chelsea that stretched back to his first tenure with the club. Chelsea then won an inspiring performance at Anfield against Liverpool thanks to a timely Steven Gerrard slip.
After suffering another disappointing defeat at the Bridge to Atleti, Chelsea again faltered, this time in a scoreless draw against Norwich. During this stretch of negative performances Chelsea adopted their trademark “park the bus” tactics against Madrid, but failed to adapt against smaller opposition. Their lack of killer instinct in the attacking third, the lack of a world class striker, and the untimely injury of Petr Cech forced Chelsea to play a lineup that featured as many as six defenders. The real lack of a Plan B and their inability to comply with the physical and mental demands necessary of keeping a clean sheet in every match were the main reasons for their late season stumble.
Jose Mourinho already looks poised to sell off the enigmatic defender David Luiz, and should use funds from that transfer to acquire the services of Spanish striker Diego Costa. Jose Mourinho will be determined to correct his first ever finish outside of the top 2, Chelsea should be right back at the top next season.
Arsenal enjoyed the most days at the top of the Premier League table of any team in the competition. However, when it came down to Championship Sunday, Arsenal finished well outside the title picture in fourth. Arsenal began the season, a team on fire, scoring goals in all but one of their first 14 matches. After December struggles which included a 6-3 defeat against champions Manchester City and a pre-Christmas scoreless draw with Cheslea, Arsenal rebounded with five consecutive wins.
Fortune then turned its back on Arsenal in February when the club would win only two of the next nine matches, in a stretch that continued until early April. Injuries plagued the club, with crucial players like Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott both suffering major injuries that saw them miss significant time. The defense, which was one of the league’s strongest in the early stages was exploited by Liverpool who scored five and Chelsea who ran up six goals on the Gunners. Arsenal eventually ducked their poor run of form and finished strongly with five consecutive wins, which was enough to fend off Everton for the final Champion’s League slot.
Overall, Arsenal fans can view this season as a lost opportunity, although it may ultimately be successful depending on the outcome of Sunday’s FA Cup Final against Hull City. If they are victorious, it will be the club’s first piece of silverware in nearly nine years. Arsene Wenger’s role in the club was questioned in the second half of the season as were the performances of summer arrival Mesut Ozil, whose performances fell off significantly in the latter stages of the season. Success or failure, Arsenal will need to improve next season if Arsene wishes to continue as the Premier League’s longest tenured manager.
Tottenham’s season began with the departure of Gareth Bale, whose record breaking transfer fee allowed Spurs to import a total of seven players during the summer transfer window. With the level of squad turnover that the club faced, it is no wonder that the club struggled to find form in the early stages of the season. However, club officials felt differently and halfway through December, Andre Villas-Boas was sacked from his second Premier League job.
Tim Sherwood took the reins following AVB’s departure and reinstituted Emmanuel Adebayor as the team’s main striker. Adebayor immediately returned the favor and would go on to become the club’s leading goal scorer on the season, celebrating many of his goals with a salute to the manager. Tottenham may not have found immediate success with their injection of new blood, but with an average squad age of only 26.3 years this is certainly a squad with an eye for the future.
Curiously enough, Tim Sherwood’s impressive win ratio and his player’s affection for him were not enough to earn the English manager a full season at the helm. Chairman Daniel Levy sacked Sherwood yesterday even after a report that several club stars came forward pledging to leave the club if Sherwood received the sack. The chairman cited poor results against the top-3 sides as reasons for his dismissal, but it is a move that will certainly draw criticism because of Sherwood’s familiarity with the squad.
Jose Mourinho’s comments after Chelsea’s 0-0 draw with West Ham highlight the ugliness of West Ham’s season better than I ever could.
Stoke City has massively improved from the perceived ugliness that they exemplified under Tony Pulis, however they still have a long way to go if they are going to make a challenge for European competition in the following season. Mark Hughes improved the club significantly in his first year in charge. His January transfer swap for Peter Odemwingie allowed the club adopt a new formation that proved to be influential when the club found form in the spring.
Captain Ryan Shawcross remains one of the strongest leaders in the Premier League and the club’s backbone. Peter Crouch, despite finding himself out of the England setup, continues to bag goals with regularity and lead the club with eight goals during the campaign. Newcoming defender Erik Pieters had a solid first season in the Premier League, but it was not enough to earn him a coveted position on the Dutch team going to Brazil. The Brittania Stadium will remain a nightmare for opposing teams to visit and under the leadership of Hughes, look for Stoke City to improve next season.
Swansea faced the challenge of competing in the Europa League along with the Premier League this season, something that had not happened since 1992. The club were led by the mercurial Wilifried Bony who scored a 16 goals in the league and 25 in all competitions. Bony is a tremendously talented player that often does not get the recognition that he deserves, which is common in a squad that features unheralded stars like Michel Vorm, Leon Britton, and Michu.
Swansea struggled to cope with the demands of competing on multiple fronts and this was displayed during two stretches of the Premier League season. From early December to later January, Swansea went winless in eight matches, a streak that saw Michael Laudrup get the sack. His replacement Garry Monk faced a similar run in which Swansea won only two of their first ten matches under his leadership. Fortunately for Swansea fans, they found form in mid-April winning three of their final four, lifting the club to a 12th place finish. With European competition out of the picture next season, Swansea could take advantage and move up the table.
Steve Bruce is lucky that his club managed to find their way to the FA Cup Final. Without the possibility of lifting a piece of silverware at the end of the season, Bruce surely would have been shown the door after a dreadful run of form in the spring. After spending the majority of the season solidly in the middle of the table, Hull City steadily moved down the table in the latter stages before finishing just four points above the relegation zone.
West Brom can serve as yet another cautionary tale for English clubs on the dangers of managerial instability. The Baggies earned their safety thanks to a late season 1-0 win over West Ham. Former Everton striker Victor Anichebe’s contribution in his first season with the club was underwhelming. The club also sparked international controversy thanks to Nicolas Anelka’s “quenelle” celebration, something described as a reverse Nazi salute. The FA responded by handing Le Sulk a five match ban, the club subsequently lost sponsors, and Anelka’s contract was terminated. A proper response to a gesture that has no place in decent human society.