In America they have a saying: flags (trophies) fly forever, and surely this applies to Birmingham City. They’ve won a major(ish) trophy and ought to be promoted quite quickly. So on balance I’d say that they had a pretty good season.
Same applies to Blackpool, who had no business going even as close at they did to staying up. They played well but on MOTD last night it was very clear that they’re short of talent in a couple of key areas.
West Ham went down with Green, Upson, Bridge, Parker and Cole. The supporting cast included Hitzlsperger, Demba Ba and Mark Noble. How did they do it?
My goal difference scrutinies always flag Wigan as clear relegation candidates, but this year Roberto Martinez’s side actually improved their GD. No longer liable to be spanked 3/4 times a season, they really do seem to be moving in the right direction. With the likes of Moses (who I think will be a star), N’Zogbia, Rodellega and Figuero well supported by their teammates perhaps the issue will be depth, but having escaped this season I expect Wigan to be half-useful next.
To everyone’s annoyance Wolves stayed up, but credit where it’s due, they fought hard for some impressive points. Also it gives us a nice pantomime villain game next year.
Blackburn could be in trouble next time up. They don’t seem to have a defined approach. They do seem to have an odd side, cobbled together along various lines. If Christopher Samba goes to Arsenal they could disappear a la West Ham.
For all the fanfare about Coyle’s approach, Bolton didn’t really impress me. I like Kevin Davies but I don’t see a lot here that will concern Fulham next season. Outisde relegation candidates perhaps.
Stoke, on the other hand, have built on their survival and ought to do what they do well enough to stick around. Their cup final defeat will have disappointed, but I suspect they’re moving in the right direction, with Pulis seemingly cast as the Sam Allardyce of his time (not really fair on Allardyce, who was brilliant at putting sides together cheaply and winning with them).
Newcastle ummed and arred and don’t seem to really have much about them, do they? A team that could go either way depending on recruitment over the summer. Their midfield of Nolan, Barton and Tiote might be as good as anyone’s, but they lack a forward of quality and this will stop them pushing on, I suspect.
WBA will probably follow Fulham’s footsteps quite neatly. Hodgson arguably has a better squad to work with than he inherited here and unless he makes some mistakes ought to be able to solidify his team in the top division. Sharp signing by the West Brom board, harsh on Di Matteo as it may have been.
Sunderland… pass. Seriously, what on earth is going on? Spent a lot of money but now Bruce wants to overhaul it all again. Injury concerns are harsh, but my suspicion is that these things are not always random, and if one side has half a team or more on the sidelines then they’ve either bought fragile players (staying fit is a valuable skill) or aren’t treating the squad very well. I have nothing to back this up, of course! Selling Darren Bent obviously cost them dearly, but they had enough points to get by. Next season? Should be fine, but another team that needs to get its act together. (or is this a primacy and recency illusion: Fulham finish strong so we assume all is well; Sunderland finish badly so we assume all is not. In reality it could just be the expected fluctuations of a team of this quality, and a fresh start will see both at about the same level.)
Villa are the same but different. With the underrated Downing conceivably following the well-rated Young out of the club they’ll have a new look next year, and perhaps that’s for the best. With Darren Bent around they’re almost certain to score goals anyway, so perhaps it’s time to bring in some new faces (which will surely happen if Houllier isn’t retained). A strange season.
Fulham essentially came second in our little league, behind Everton but ahead of other comparable XIs. In the weekend’s programme both Hughes and Murphy suggest that changes are not likely, so it’ll probably be a case of a left back here, a centre-forward there, rather than anything too dramatic.
Everton did well in the end, from a distance appearing to have the season they always have. Not rich enough to compete with the big clubs, too good for the middle clubs, here they stand, 7th. It’s the right place for them.
Liverpool and Spurs are grouped together here as I’m not a huge fan of either and don’t have a great deal to say about either. Liverpool looked awesome at the Cottage, Spurs just seem a bit strange, unbalanced, unfun. More of the same next year I assume.
Arsenal, as I’ve said before, would surely have won the league with Hangeland and Schwarzer at the back this season. Wenger could have paid £20m to make it happen, we assume, but didn’t, and instead watched a perfectly catchable United side win the division by nine points, and lead Arsenal by 12. That’s a big gap.
City probably should win the whole shebang next year. I like Mancini’s approach, I like the players he’s signed, and I think he’ll be very successful soon.
I thought Carlo Ancelotti was unlucky to be fired, but we must also note that his team did lose nine league games. That’s partly a function of the way the league was played this year – more teams seemed inclined to ‘have a go’ – but equally it suggests that something came unstuck that shouldn’t have. Ray Wilkins’ departure (unlikely as it may seem) does look to have destabilised the side, and Fernando Torres’ arrival may not have helped (especially given the strength Chelsea have in that position relative to others). But unless Abramovich has Guus Hiddink lined up this seems like a rash move.
United won because they were unstoppable at home and, as has been noted in many places, really did find ways to win when it mattered. The season, as Birmingham have found out, is decided on the smallest of margins, and United worked those margins so well for so long that they ended up clear and deserved winners. I don’t really buy into the Giggs hype, but do believe that the Vidic/Ferdinand partnership is as good as we’re likely to see, and that Rooney and Hernandez were a lovely throwback partnership akin perhaps to the old Dalglish/Rush or Beardsley/Aldridge combinations of the 80s (not like-for-like, obviously, but certainly in approach and success there’s something there). I doubt they’ll win it again next season, but immense credit to Ferguson for putting together a young side capable of this. Final note: well done, Chris Smalling.