Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Of Chelsea and the rest of the top ten: A review of the 2009-10 Barclays Premier League season

The 2009-10 season of the Barclays Premier League has come to an end and Chelsea have wrapped up the title thrillingly, with a swashbuckling 8-0 victory, against Wigan at Stamford Bridge on the final day of the season. Here are my thoughts about the performance of teams that finished in the top half of the table this season, starting with the Champions.

Chelsea: Roman Abramovich’s mandate to Carlo Ancelotti, when hiring the Italian, was to deliver success with style. Chelsea have had their share of ups and downs this season, but this title, the third under Abramovich’s ownership has inarguably been the most exhilarating. Scoring a remarkable 103 goals in a 38 goal campaign, Chelsea have shattered all records, netting 7 goals in a game three times, apart from the final day extravaganza. A loss to Jose Mourinho’s Internazionale in the round of 16 of the Champions League would have been hurtful, but in reigning the Championship back from Manchester United, after a gap of three seasons, Mourinho’s time at Chelsea may well be consigned to the shadows.

Player of the season: Frank Lampard: Scoring an impressive 32 goals in all competitions, Lampard was irrepressible as ever throughout the campaign.

Manchester United: Finishing only a point behind Chelsea, Manchester United would feel that they have only narrowly missed out on a record fourth title in a row, which would have also seen them skip past Liverpool with 19 league championships, especially considering that they went into the campaign bereft of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez. But, in the end, United were perhaps undone by an overdependence on Wayne Rooney and the failure of Dimitar Berbatov to live up to his lofty price tag. Sir Alex Ferguson says that “how you view the season depends on whether you focus on the low moments or look at the positives. It is the old conundrum as to whether you see the glass as half empty or half full”. Much of which way the content of the glass is heading though will depend on whether United can add some lustre to the squad in the summer.

Player of the season: Wayne Rooney: The departure of Ronaldo saw Rooney take centre-stage, singlehandedly carrying United through the season.

Arsenal: Another season of disappointments for Arsenal who promised much and typically failed to deliver. At their best, Arsenal are a breathtaking sight to behold, but for all their goalkeeping mishaps, a failure to sign a centre-forward in January is what cost Arsenal the most. Well aware of Robin van Persie’s injury, Eduardo’s lack of form and the profligacy of Nicklas Bentdner, Arsenal should have at the very least endeavoured to sign a centre-forward in January, but Wenger’s obstinacy meant that his team soldiered on with they had. With both Chelsea and United struggling for consistency, Arsenal may consider this a wasted opportunity, but another season in the Champions League achieved with little outlay of funds should be viewed as a success for Arsenal. With Marouane Chamakh set to arrive from Bordeaux, if they retain Fabregas and van Persie and sign a goalkeeper and add a bit of steel to their squad, Arsenal will certainly remain amongst the title-contenders next season.

Player of the season: Thomas Vermaelen: Signed from Ajax in the summer, Vermaelen has added reliability at the back for Arsenal and has even managed to score the odd sublime goal.

Tottenham Hotspur: Having inherited a team rooted to the bottom of the table after 8 games last season, Harry Redknapp has masterminded a remarkable transformation that has seen Spurs break the cartel of the big four. Characteristically shrewd in the transfer market, Redknapp has fortified Tottenham’s flair with dependability. Back to back victories over Arsenal and Chelsea towards the back end of the season and the triumph over Manchester City in the penultimate game of the campaign that helped Spurs’ clinch fourth spot exemplified their newfound commitment to defensive solidity without compromising on their attacking panache. Still devoid of potency in certain areas of the pitch, Spurs will have to strengthen in the summer to ensure a respectable performance in Europe.

Player of the season: Heurelho Gomes: Although he continues to remain slightly suspect in the air, Gomes pulled off some astounding saves to help Tottenham claim fourth spot.

Manchester City: Missing out on fourth spot, may cost Arab fuelled Manchester City some marquee summer signings, but the riches that are in store, are certain to attract enough top-quality players to take them at the least into the Champions League next season. Roberto Mancini has had only a few months at the helm, but even in his short stint, City have improved at the back. Majority of their problems over the course of the season has been in defense, where the likes of Kolo Toure, Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott and Wayne Bridge have not exactly basked themselves in glory. But, barring Tevez’s goals, the glittering form of Adam Johnson and the occasionally brilliant escapades of Craig Bellamy, City have also been lacking in attacking firepower, an aspect which they are certain to correct over the summer.

Player of the season: Carlos Tevez: A superb first season at City has seen Tevez notch up 29 goals, a fair few of them vastly significant. Tevez though seems unhappy under Mancini, an issue which definitely requires to be addressed.

Aston Villa: Aston Villa may have looked good as an outside bet for the fourth spot, but in the end, a second sixth place finish in consecutive seasons is in keeping with the squad that Villa possess. The Villains don’t play the most aesthetically pleasing football, but in remaining solid at the back and in maintaining good shape, they ensured that they aren’t the easiest to beat, barring a horrendous hammering suffered against Chelsea. There has been a lot of speculation surrounding O’Neill’s future, with the focus primarily on how much money owner Randy Lerner is willing to expend this summer, with the latter keen on first realising returns for the investments made thus far. Retaining James Milner, who has been a revelation this season is going to have its own complications, but O’Neill would need to infuse a bit of creative spark in his team, if he is to keep them in contention for European spots.

Player of the season: James Milner: Richard Dunne, who has been excellent at the back for Villa, may be one of the signings of the season, but Milner has been the real star. Scoring and creating goals from the middle of midfield and converting penalties with poise, Milner has come on by leaps and bounds this season.

Liverpool: The underachievers of the season, Liverpool who finished runners-up last season were many people’s pick for champions. With off-the-field problems intensifying by the minute, Liverpool have been driven into the abyss, both due to the poor decision making of Rafael Benitez as well as the abysmal control exercised by the American owners. Failing to qualify for the Champions League could prove devastating, with the club certain to receive huge bids for Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, a prospect which could prove highly appealing to the owners. The loss of the influential Xabi Alonso last summer has proved especially costly for the club, with his replacement Alberto Aquilani perennially weighed down by injuries. A revamp of gargantuan proportions is required at the club, starting right from the owners to the playing staff, if they are to be back amongst the Champions League candidates next season.

Player of the season: A catastrophic campaign may have even seen Liverpool miss out on a Europa League spot, if not for the form of Pepe Reina, whose goalkeeping has been immaculate throughout the season.

Everton: The season didn’t start on the right note for Everton who were plagued by injuries and it looked like they may well be condemned to the lower realms of the league. But buoyed by the goal scoring exploits of Louis Saha and the creative influence of Steven Pienaar, Everton ensured a top half finish, ending up a mere two points behind Liverpool at the end of the campaign. As always, David Moyes will have precious little to spend in the summer, but as he has shown in the past, he is exceptional at securing players on the bargain and getting the best out of a limited squad.

Player of the season: Steven Pienaar: With Mikel Arteta out injured for most of the campaign, Pienaar stepped up brilliantly to the plate, conjuring up some magical moments, including a delightful finish against Arsenal.

Birmingham City: Reckoned by many to be certainties for the drop, a ninth place finish is an outstanding accomplishment. Much of Birmingham’s success this season has been built upon a solid backline aided by the safe hands of Joe Hart, signed astutely on loan from Manchester City. Lee Bowyer’s resurgence as a player has been another sign of encouragement to come out of St. Andrews, with the form of Sebastian Larsson, Barry Ferguson and Cameron Jerome, equally impressive. With new owners at the helm, Alex McLeish would certainly have the funds to replenish his squad, with the focus on signing a striker, a goalkeeper to replace Hart, who is likely to return to Man City, as well as a creative midfielder, likely to be on the top of the Scotsman's mind.

Player of the season: Richard Johnson: Johnson has been a rock at the back for City, leading the line faultlessly and remaining commanding both in the air and on the tackle.

Blackburn Rovers: Sam Allardyce has his critics, but he has a knack of getting the best out of a limited bunch of players, as he showed time and again during his time at Bolton Wanderers. Struggling in the early parts of the season, Rovers fought their way out of trouble in a robust manner, typical of Allardyce’s sides. The heady days of challenging for the title are gone, with surviving in the league, Blackburn’s priority, a task, which was comfortably achieved with plenty of games to spare.

Player of the season: Steven N'Zonzi: Signed from Amiens in the summer, N'Zonzi has enjoyed an excellent first season at the club, showcasing tremendous verve and skill in anchoring the midfield.

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