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The End of the Season

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Manchester City are the first club to repeat as PL Champions in a decade

English football fans certainly got their money’s worth this season, with a title race that kept both supporters and neutrals on the edge of their seat.  Fans of lower league clubs also got some thrills as latent giants are finally challenging to climb back into the top flight.  All of this under the shadow of Financial Fair Play regulations with teeth… and of course, Brexit.

Here is my take on the 2018-2019 Premier League season.

WINNERS

Manchester City

Would they, or wouldn’t they? The writing was on the wall when Manchester City beat Liverpool at the Etihad in the new year.  The first team to successfully defend its crown since the last Manchester dynasty, Pep Guardiola’s side ended their season as worthy champions in a title race for the ages.  They did it by accumulating 198 points over two campaigns, scoring 201 league goals in the process… while only letting in 50 (Arsenal let in more in the last ten months, and they finished fifth).

Despite losing a crazy Champions League tie to scrappy Tottenham, Citeh may still win a domestic treble by beating Watford next week in the FA Cup.  If so, they will have done it with basically two full sides, almost all of whom would fit in at any other European elite team.  That includes the ever-present Sergio Agüero, Raheem Sterling and, eventually, Leroy Sané.

The off-season will be busy.  Talismanic but injury-prone captain Vincent Kompany may or may not sign a one-year deal at 33 years old. Former record signing Elaquim Mangala has a one-year contract extension after a big knee injury.  Six other players also have one year left on their contract.  Fernandinho, David Silva, Delph, and Gündogan have played key parts in City’s success this year as the heart of Pep’s midfield, but none of them could be considered youngsters.  It will be interesting to see how much Emirati oil money gets splashed around this summer, to help City finally lift Big Ears in Istanbul in 2020.

Liverpool

It has been exhausting being a Liverpool fan this season, exhilarating yet bittersweet as Jürgen Klopp built on past campaigns to refine his Heavy Metal Football.  A 22-point improvement meant the Reds finished with 97 points… and still came up short.  In a season of inches, it was a bumpy two months at the start of 2019 that undid Liverpool: a close loss away to City, followed by an FA Cup loss against a productive Wolves side, and then four draws in eight matches.  Come March, a potential 10-point margin at the top had evaporated into nothing.

And yet… there is a feeling of crackling energy under the skin at this club.  Liverpool were perfect against the bottom half, and despite their image of a calmer, more disciplined team, they actually scored four more league goals this season while practically shutting the door at the back. Pundits pooh-pooh Mohamed Salah for “only” scoring 22 goals which, alongside teammate Sadio Mané, and Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, was good enough to win the league’s Golden Boot.

A monumental comeback against a European giant means that Liverpool may finish what they could not 12 months ago.   And there is almost no indication this side — so complete with the addition of Golden Glove winner Alisson, and Premier League and PFA Player’s Player of the Year Virgil van Dijk — will be any less formidable come August.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

The last five winners of the Championship have managed to hold onto their Premier League status, but none have done so with Wolves’ panache.  Maybe panache is not the word; perhaps “authority”.  This club was 13th in offence, but had the fifth-best defence in the league.  A Midlands side with a Portuguese heart, Nuno Espirito Santo kept his side organized enough to beat Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal AND Manchester United, and held Manchester City to a draw at the Molineux.  Only Liverpool did the double on Wolves, and even then, Wolves gave them an early shove out of the FA Cup.

Benfica loanee Raul Jimenez is set to sign a permanent contract after a 17-goal season, and the Portuguese contingent (there are eight of them on this team, four of whom have been capped in the past year) have had no problem with life in England.  Wolves achieved the highest finish in the league table for a newly-promoted side since Ipswich Town got to fifth in 2001.  While this may surprise some, many pundits seem to forget that Wolves are a big club (one of the original 12) with big pockets.  They seem to be in the vanguard of the return of some classic clubs, with Sheffield United already up, and Leeds, West Brom, Villa and Derby fighting it out in the playoffs.  Good fun.

West Ham United

The Hammers’ image of a club in perpetual turmoil appears to be fading.  While West Ham continues to be stuck in-or-near the middle of the table year after year, the arrival of drama-free manager Manuel Pellegrini seems to have brought a stabilizing influence.  The signing of Felipe Anderson from Lazio has given fans a goalscorer to cheer about, and Issa Diop helped the club keep out 13 more goals.  However, the move from North to East London has not made Jack Wilshere any less brittle, and an early injury to Dortmund import Andrii Yarmolenko was a blow.  Those two should be back for the new season and, barring a summer contract extension, perpetual IR list member Andy Carroll will be off the books.

An improvement of 10 points and three table places means a successful rebuilding year for the Iron.

Watford

We’ll temper this one after looking at their last four matches: a draw, and three losses, albeit to Top Ten sides.  It was rough end to the season for a club that constantly hovered in and around the top half of the table.  Javi Gracia’s first full season in charge earned the Hornets three more wins, nine more points and three higher spots than last year.  Troy Deeney was Mr. Watford, pure entertainment for the “purist”, and Doucouré was an ever-present large menace in the goal box.  But Gracia’s, um, coup de grâce, was signing Gerard Deulofeu from Barcelona on a permanent.  The journeyman Spaniard was good for 10 goals and 5 assists, helping Mssrs. Deeney and Doucouré along the way.  The reward is an appearance at Wembley, a possible trophy, and the European campaign that goes along with it.


LOSERS

United lose to Cardiff on last day

United need a lot of work in the off-season.

Manchester United

The club removed a tyrant for the prince that was foretold… except that hasn’t worked out; it’s all gone Game of Thrones, hasn’t it? (As opposed to the constant Lord of the Rings references for Ole Gunnar Solskjær… would that make this season a Three-Ring Serkis?)  We were constantly told that José Mourinho had lost the plot, had turned on his players and was content to go scorched earth as United lost three and drew one in their first seven matches.  Training ground arguments, dressing room mutinies, as well as increasingly bizarre press conferences meant that a mid-December loss to Liverpool was the final straw.

Enter Old Trafford’s Hamlet from stage left.  The provisional manager appeared to kick at the daylight and a new era began as United went undefeated for 12 straight matches.  Then Solskjær was signed as the permanent manager and the players were content to watch their season burn: eight points from their last nine matches, as well as falling out of the Champions League in the quarter-finals.  It turns out it was the players after all…

So here they sit.  No Champions League next season.  If Arsenal beat Chelsea in the Europa league final, United will be the only Top Six team not in Europe’s top competition.  To make matters worse, if Watford win the FA Cup, United would have to start Europa League qualifying matches in mid-July.

The squad is a shambles and it will likely take a small fortune for proper replacements.  It turns out Paul Pogba is dressing-room poison, despite his obvious talent.  It turns out Romelu Lukaku is not a big-club player, and may actually be an anachronism in this era of twitchy wingers and counter-pressing.  It turns out that Alexis Sanchez is a multi-million pound albatross that will be difficult to move.  It turns out (to the surprise of almost no one) that United’s back line is a shambles, and that wholesale change is critical.

As the years pass, the evidence grows stronger that United’s biggest superstar for years was Sir Alex Ferguson.  Good luck finding his successor.  It isn’t OGS.

Burnley

This one might be a bit unfair, except that the Premier League is a cruel place, what with all the money at stake.  Burnley have known the see-saw battle of the “small” club (even though they are one of said Original 12) for years, but after last season’s seventh place finish on a shoe-string budget, expectations were maybe not high, but there was optimism.

Then came an early Europa League campaign, and the apparent abandonment of the defence-first strategy that worked so well last season.  Burnley were then left gasping for air for most of the season, and the club dropped 14 points and eight places.  If not for the bottom three’s efforts to speed towards the trap door, Burnley might have been looking at a Championship stint in the fall; it may just be delaying the inevitable.  The Clarets had a dismal -23 goal difference, and finished the season on a draw and three losses.  Expect more of the same in August, and another relegation battle for the Lancashire club.

Huddersfield Town

Unfortunately, this one was on the cards from the get-go.  The Terriers had wait until November for their first win… one of only three on the season.   A precipitous drop of 21 points from last season sent them to Number 20 with a bullet.  Maybe they will return to the Prem with the help of parachute payments, but not likely.

Cardiff City

Never really a contender or hopeful to stay up, this club was here sightseeing.  No money, no players, no hope.   Plus the added bonus of not having to listen to “proper footballing man” Neil Warnock spout off venom and crap.

Fulham

See above, except some pundits were genuinely excited about the Cottagers’ scrappy line-up.  Aleksandar Mitrović started strong with five goals in six games, and then scored six in the next 32.   Fulham had seven wins all season; three of those came after they were relegated.  ‘Nuff said.

Brighton and Hove Albion

Saved only by Cardiff’s self-immolation, the Seagulls basically repeated their previous PL season.  Yes, Glenn Murray continued to defy Father Time and scored goals in the double digits.  But the Cumbrian aside, Albion was positively anemic, both on the score sheet and in the league table.  Only earning two wins after Christmas has cost Chris Hughton his job.  The club are tourists in the top flight, and will likely return home in 2020.


UNKNOWN

Sarri Upset

Will Sarri win the battle of wills at Stamford Bridge?

Chelsea

Sure they qualified for the Champions League, but the last two spots were a hot potato that no one seemed to want at the end of the season.  At times, Mauricio Sarri carried on with the frantic exasperation of a taxi dispatcher, smoking and pacing on the sidelines.  He was obviously brought in to make Chelsea better, and to lead a fractious dressing room that had full-on revolted against fellow Italian, Antonio Conte.

But did he? The same player issues seem to still be there, despite bringing midfield quarterback Jorginho with him from Napoli, as well as spending £72M on Kepa from Bilbao… with whom he had an apoplectic, and very public, battle in the League Cup final.  Chelsea is a club with notorious “player power” whose owner seems to listen to his on-field staff more than his managers.

Chelsea finished the season with only two more points than last year, and practically the same goals for and against.  The only difference is that Chelsea’s rivals appeared in the same rush to lose.  With main goalscorer Eden Hazard almost certainly on his way to Real Madrid, Sarri had better hope he can continue to mould his team in his unwavering image, while continuing to challenge for the Top Four.  Of course, there is the little matter of UEFA’s transfer ban for Financial Fair Play violations… maybe winning the silver of a Europa League trophy will add some shine to this season.

Tottenham Hotspur

What to say about Spurs? Frankly, with all the factors lined up against them, they should have no business being in the Champions League final, and have had to fight hard to stay in the Premier League Top Four.  After a net spend of £18M last season, owner Daniel Levy spent a grand total of £0 on new players in the summer of 2018.  Nicht.  Nil.  Zip.

Tottenham had to contend with another season at Wembley, as construction delays at the new White Hart Lane ate away at the club’s bottom line on the daily.  They have a gifted and charismatic manager who made rumblings all season, hinting that the owner needed to spend or else he was off to a “bigger” club.  They had a threadbare squad that fans had to hope would push through injury and fatigue.

Obviously, they were not disappointed.  Spurs have managed to scrape into the Champions League… even though their talismanic striker was obviously exhausted after going deep into the World Cup with England.  Harry Kane was out for a quarter of Spurs’ league games.  It didn’t stop Spurs from mounting the Mother of All Comebacks.

That’s because there are two new folk heroes of Haringay: Heung-min Son, a man who is obviously experiencing pure joy playing for the Spurs faithful, and Lucas Moura, who will eternally be remembered for THAT game in Amsterdam.  After everything stacked up against Spurs, a first-ever Champions League trophy would simply be mythical.

But one can not stand still in the Premier League.  You only have to think back to rivals Arsenal in the early 2000’s to see the financial effects of a brand-new stadium.  Yes the gate will dramatically increase, but it will likely take at least a decade to pay off the new-build’s capital costs.  Levy is frugal at the best of times, and Mauricio Pochettino wants assurances that he will have cash to splash, come July.  Christian Eriksen is valued at around £77M right now, and Levy will likely sell to spend.  Otherwise, the Miracle of North London will end just as it did in the mid-70s, and early 90s…

Arsenal

After 22 years under a single manager, Arsenal’s post-Wenger era was always going to be trepidatious.  Certainly the Frenchman’s replacement had the pedigree.  Unai Emery has three European titles to his name, along with a two-season stint at French giant Paris Saint-Germain.  But Emery walked into a hodgepodge of a dressing room.  He inherited a wonderful offence… and a truly terrible back line.  Koscielny is brittle and past it, Xhaka and Mustafi are volatile liabilities, and bringing in Stephan Lichsteiner — whose attempts to use sh!thousery to cover a serious decline — was never going to be the answer.  Emery’s thinly-veiled battles with Mezut Özil and fan-favourite Aaron Ramsey have angered many Arsenal supporters.

However, Emery does have the front pairing of Golden Boot winner Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.  His purchase of Lucas Torreira from Sampdoria was inspired; same with Sokratis who, despite losing his head now and then, was coveted by several Premier League teams.

Losing out on Champions League qualification on the second-last week of the season had to sting.  That pain will subside completely if they beat rivals Chelsea on the 29th.  But they will need to find more cohesion, more sense of self, more Arsenal of old.

Newcastle United

Sigh.  The “fans hate Mike Ashley/the manager might be leaving/please sell the club” narrative is now a decade old.  Newcastle actually finished with one more point this season, but dropped three places.  Content to play like a much smaller club, the Magpies have firmly ensconced themselves in the third quadrant of the Premier League table.  Of course, that could change if the ownership does as well…

Bournemouth

Whither Eddie Howe? The Premier League’s longest-serving manager (approaching seven years) has kept his club in the top flight for five seasons.  When the Cherries finished ninth three years ago, the typical hyperbole about “the young English manager” whipped around, including as a potential replacement for Arsene Wenger or, heaven’s mercy, England.  Certainly Howe is quite good at nurturing young talent, but he spent £80M in the off-season with minimal results.  Twenty-five million of that money was spent on defensive midfielder Jefferson Lerma… yet Bournemouth let in nine more goals in 2018/19.  Chances are good that Bournemouth will be in the relegation battle come next spring.

Southampton

The good news for the Saints is Mark Hughes is not their manager anymore, replaced in December by the equally sparky (but by all accounts, much nicer) Ralph Hassenhüttl.   Under Hughes, Southampton had four league matches in an entire calendar year… including a solitary victory from the start of the season to his firing.  Under Hassenhüttl, the team earned an 8-6-10 record… not lighting up the league, but certainly enough to dig themselves out of a dark hole.  What is worrying for the club is that, despite the threat of relegation, Southampton finished with three draws and two losses; all of those opponents finished 11th or lower.  Luckily, Cardiff fell on the sword instead, and Ralph & Co. get to play in the Premier League for another year.


MEH…

Marco Silva

Much ado about nothing…

Everton

All the drama surrounding the hiring of Marco Silva appeared to be blowing up in the Toffees’ face.  Everton mostly languished outside the Top 10 until the middle of March, when they finished a strong 5-3-2, and landed exactly where they were 12 months ago: eighth.  No Everton Cup for you, Everton.  Now let’s see if Silva will be allowed to replenish his aging squad, as well as loanees Kurt Zouma and André Gomes, while keeping Gylfi Sigurdsson down on the farm.

Leicester City

Well… you couldn’t find two more different managers then the gaffers that took charge at the King Power this season.  By all accounts, Claude Puel was not the most inspiring of generals, and his record with the Foxes was positively insipid.  Enter Brendan “Enough About Me, Let’s Talk About Me” Rodgers, whose 6-3-2 record helped Leicester claw its way back and finish in the same spot as last year: ninth.  Puel’s great crime was spending all that Riyad Mahrez money, and then wasting it.  Rodgers let loose £22M signing Ricardo Pereira up the wings and he was rewarded with crosses galore.

Leicester is a very talented squad.  Example: despite all the hype around Manchester City and Liverpool, Jamie Vardy was mostly overlooked as he finished the season with 18 league goals… good enough for fifth overall, and more than Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Eden Hazard.  The problem (sorry, “challenge”) is that the club recently won the Premier League title.  It was an anomaly… but now the team and the fans feel they should be challenging for the Top Six.  They’ve got their work cut out for themselves.

Crystal Palace

A slight improvement in both offence and defence, if not in table position, Crystal Palace are as bland and anonymous as their manager… and that’s not a dig either.  An almost perpetual dweller in the lower leagues, Palace have now managed to stay in the top flight for six seasons.  Roy Hodgson has taken his patchwork quilt of cast-off players and held onto that mushy, nebulous part of the table that will rarely rise into the Top 10 but, with a bit of luck, won’t get relegated either.  After relying on Wilfried Zaha as the sole goalscorer, Hodgson now has options: hard man captain Luka Milivojević led the team in scoring with 12 goals.  Not bad for a supposed “defensive midfielder”.  Expect more of the same from Palace next season.

All right: now bring on the finals for the FA Cup, Europa League, Champions League and Nations League!

Brent Lanthier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Boss or No Boss (Managers, Part II)

So long, 'Arry!

So long, ‘Arry!

Harry Redknapp’s resignation as Queens Park Rangers’ boss likely means the end of his 32-year managerial career. Despite his colourful quotes and allegedly dubious transfer dealings, the man was still a winner… sometimes. He did take a flailing Portsmouth team, save them from the drop, and then went on to win the 2008 FA Cup (the last English manager to win a major English trophy). While ‘Arry found work… these guys are still looking for jobs.

vahidd1Vahid Halilodžić
Age: 62
Nationality: Bosnian
Honours: 2004 Coupe de France with PSG

Vahid Halilodžić is probably known more in the present day for what he didn’t win than what he did. The Bosnian should be feted in Algeria for bringing that country farther than it’s ever gone in a World Cup. The men in green played well in Brazil, pushing Germany to extra-time before the eventual champions came out ahead, 2-1. He then resigned in tears, blaming a resentful populace and media for unconscionably castigating him, despite his results.

Halilodžić’s accomplishments have been quiet, yet solid. He coached Lille OSC through promotion in 2000, and then into third place the next season; they’ve been up and competitive almost every season since (except this one). His move to PSG in 2004 resulted in winning the Coupe de France at first go, and propelled the club into second place. Although his second season resulted in his dismissal, his stints as coach of the Côte d’Ivoire (where he was dismissed despite qualifying for the 2010 World Cup) and Algeria national teams showed that he is capable of leading teams on the big stage.

glacombe_921161139

France’s answer to Tom Skerritt…

Guy Lacombe
Age: 59
Nationality: French
Honours: 2006 Coupe de France with PSG

Guy Lacombe became something of a cup specialist, winning the 2004 French League Cup with Sochaux in their second straight final. He then moved to Paris Saint-Germain and won the Coupe de France in his first season in the capital. However, his league results were middling at best… but he moved onto Rennes and Monaco, leading each side to the French Cup finals in 2009 and 2010, respectively. By January 2011 though, Monaco was in 17th place and Lacombe was fired.  Les Rouges et Blancs never recovered and were sent to Ligue 2.  Lacombe now works for France’s National Technical Director, François Blaquart.

Felix-Magath_EPA_2846160bFelix Magath
Age: 61
Nationality: German
Honours: 2005 & 2006 Bundesliga titles, 2005 & 2006 DfB Pokal winners with Bayern Munich; 2009 Bundesliga title with Wolfsburg

Few managers have as much pedigree as both a player and a coach as Felix Magath. Few managers inspire as much dread amongst players as well. As a player, Magath won every major European trophy, save the UEFA Cup (although he was in a final), with the mighty Hamburger SV team of the late 70s and early 80s.  He was also a member of the West German side that won the 1980 European Championship.  As a coach, he won successive league-cup doubles with Bayern Munich in 2005 and 2006; three years later, he won the league again, this time with Wolfsburg.

But then you hear the stories about his training regimens, his falling out with players, his desire for absolute control. Fulham loanee Lewis Holtby was reportedly aghast when he found out that his former tormentor was taking over at Craven Cottage. But “Saddam” could not save Fulham from the drop, and now no club in Germany wants him back.  Still… some English club must need a good ol’ fashioned spanking.

MazzarriWalter Mazzarri
Age: 53
Nationality: Italian
Honours: 2012 Coppa Italia with Napoli

Before Walter Mazzarri, Napoli’s recent history was not great. Relegated in 1998, promoted in 2000, and then relegated again right away, Gli Azzurri slipped into insolvency and oblivion. The team reformed in 2004 in Serie C1 and took four years to climb back into the top flight. Enter Mazzarri a year later. He brought them into the Europa League at his first go. The next year, it was the Champions League.  The year after that, Napoli won the Coppa Italia.  He topped that by leading Napoli to second place; they were never going to challenge Juventus, but they certainly beat traditional powerhouse AC Milan, along with upstarts Fiorentina.  After that season, Mazzarri bizarrely decided to take over at diminishing Inter Milan.  That lasted five months.  Cavoli!

VictorMunoz-reacts121201R300Victor Muñoz
Age: 57
Nationality: Spanish
Honours: 2004 Copa del Rey with Real Zaragoza

Victor’s managerial league record is not great. The former Barcelona, Sampdoria and Spain star couldn’t replicate his success as a player. He was in charge of several middling La Liga teams, along with stints in Greece, Chechnya (replacing Ruud Gullit at Terek Grozny) and Switzerland. But in January 2004, he stepped into the manager role mid-season at his boyhood club, Real Zaragoza and led them past Barcelone in the 2004 Copa del Rey quarterfinals, before taking out Real Madrid in the final. He would return to the Aragonese side last spring and then leave only eight months later. But for a brief moment 11 years ago, Victor was the King of Spain.

Coming Up: A man who’s name is synonymous with collapse in London and Madrid, and another who’s name means collapse everywhere else!

Brent P. Lanthier

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Best of the Prem 2014: Everton to Man City

"And then Moyes says, 'Boss, can I have my old job back?"...

“And then Moyes says, ‘Boss, can I have my old job back?”…

This edition features three players  who made the Top 10 of Premier League scorers and who are all headed for the World Cup.  The other two fought to keep their clubs above water… and only one was successful.

Lukaku back-handed Mourinho all season

Lukaku back-handed Mourinho all season

EVERTON
Romelu Lukaku (BEL) – David Who? Roberto Martinez’ reputation as the manager who won a trophy but lost a relegation battle is done.  Gone in a season.  The Spaniard’s brand of attacking football ensured that it wasn’t just the red side of Stanley Park that earned the city’s new nickname of “Liver-lona”.   The goals and the passing were a welcome change from Moyes’ cautious approach… and it was made possible with many of Moyes’ men.  But a trio of loan signings pushed the Toffees into overdrive:  Gerard Deulofeu from Barcelona, Gareth Barry from Manchester City… and Chelsea’s odd-man out, Romelu Lukaku.  Heads shook when José Mourinho let the big Belgian go out on loan again… and then poo-poo’ed his performance.  But surely Chelsea could have used him.  Lukaku scored 16 goals in 32 games, a rate of 50%.  Chelsea’s highest scorer — Eden Hazard — managed 17 in 55 matches.   Martinez will need to bring back Lukaku back to Goodison Park on a permanent basis… or he could go back to being known as the young manager from Wigan.

Sidwell's ginger superpowers couldn't save Fulham from the drop

Sidwell’s ginger superpowers couldn’t save Fulham from the drop

FULHAM 
Steve Sidwell (ENG) – Let’s just come right out with it:  Fulham were awful.  The Cottagers woefully capitulated, six seasons after Woy’s Great Escape in 2008. From 2009 to 2013, they finished no lower than 12th.  This was the little club that could.  But going through three managers in a season — the last being known as a touchline tyrant — and you have to think morale and attitude is going to suffer a wee bit.   However, Steve Sidwell held his head up and led the team in scoring, as well as fouls committed.  He gave his all in a losing effort, unlike £11m Kostas Mitroglou, who only played a single game.

Elmo: A Tiger on the wing

Elmo: A Tiger on the wing

HULL CITY
Ahmed Elmohamady (EGY)  – A Steve Bruce-managed team tends not to be a forward’s paradise.  Hull City did not break that mould… with no player scoring more than five goals.  But even though Ahmed Elmohamady only put two past England’s goalkeepers, Bruce remembered what ‘Elmo’ does from his time at Sunderland.  The Egyptian runs and cuts up the right side, stretching defenders’ lines while his team mates get into position.  Let’s see what he can do on Sunday at Wembley.

Unbelievable... for so many reasons

Unbelievable… for so many reasons

LIVERPOOL 
Luis Suarez (URU) – In Liverpool’s annus mirabilis, one man leads the way.  Love him or hate him (and there are many people in either camp), Luis Suarez is one of the top five players in the world right now.  What other player — who isn’t named Ronaldo or Messi — could miss the first six matches of the season, and then go on to tie the Premier League’s record for goals in a 38-game season?  If Steven Gerrard is the heart of the club, and Brendan Rodgers is its brains… then Suarez is the Liverpool FC’s cojones.

Toure puts "The Man" in Man City

Toure puts “The Man” in Man City

MANCHESTER CITY 
Yaya Touré (IVO) – On a side containing some of the most expensive players in the world, how does one pick the best? Actually, it wasn’t that hard.  This team was supposed to dominate in the post-Ferguson era of the Premier League — and it did in spots — but many personnel underperformed at times (losses to Villa and Cardiff, only one point off of Sunderland, failure to beat Chelsea).  Luckily for new manager Manuel Pellegrini, he had Yaya Touré.  The big Ivorian was the man in the middle, City’s version of Steven Gerrard who pulled his team up by the suspenders when it faltered.  Touré led his club in Premier League goals and is the first midfielder to score 20 since Frank Lampard.  He’s fun to watch… unless City are playing your team.

Brent P. Lanthier

Up Next: Manchester United to Stoke City

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Best of the Prem: Everton to Man U

Fergie has something stuck to the roof of his mouth. It might be crow…

Part Two features players from both sides of Merseyside, along with the two big sides from Manchester.  Part of what made this season so great is that these big clubs — along with the North London clubs, Arsenal and Tottenham — finished right next to their derby rivals in the table. Greatest Premier League season, indeed.

Baines and Jelavic: Goodison’s best

EVERTON
Leighton Baines (ENG) – If that season began on January 31st, then Nikica Jelavic would have been the obvious choice, scoring 13 goals since his arrival, while the Toffees went 10-6-3 in all competitions.  But the season is of course long and arduous.  Typical Everton then, who were awful in the first half of the campaign… except for Leighton Baines.  The first name on David Moyes’ team sheet, Baines is everything a manager wants in a full-back.  He can race up the wing but still served as a member of one of the league’s stingiest defences.  The Scouser is also a superb deliverer of crosses and is a set-piece specialist.  If he can stand a month in the Ukraine, then he may actually get onto the pitch under Roy Hodgson.

Dempsey OK for USA

FULHAM
Clint Dempsey (USA) – Who else could it have been? The Yank has been a revelation since the 2010 World Cup, leading the Cottagers in scoring over the last two seasons by a country mile.   This year, Dempsey set the single-season record for Premier League goals in a Fulham shirt.  He has taken over from Landon Donovan as the global face of American soccer, and Jurgen Klinsmann will need Dempsey firing on all cylinders as Team USA begins its World Cup-qualifying campaign.  Another player who is so good that he may be wearing different club colours, come August.

LIVERPOOL
Jose Enrique (ESP) – To be honest, the Spanish fullback is the best of a bad lot.  While King Kenny forked out millions for Andy Carroll, the “other” former Newcastle player was the shining light on an underachieving Anfield side.  It is telling that Enrique’s decline coincided with a reversal in Liverpool’s fortunes after the Christmas break.  In fairness, he has brought some consistency to a position that seems to have been a black hole for the Merseyside club.  As well, he was ever-present in the squad sheet and the Liverpool defence still managed to be one of the league’s best.

Silva has lots to cheer about this season.

MANCHESTER CITY
David Silva (ESP) – On a team deep with expensive talent, this £30m man has proved to be worth every penny.  The league’s ultimate winger, speedy Silva led the league in assists.  Kompany may hoist the trophies, and Aguero/Tevez/Balotelli may find the back of the net, but Silva might be the best playmaker in the league.  A Spanish midfield of Xavi and Iniesta in the middle, with Silva and Mata on the wings, is a formidable thing indeed.

MANCHESTER UNITED
Wayne Rooney (ENG) – Quite possibly the most frustrating man to ever put on an England jersey (apologies to Paul Gascoigne).   The man (still only 26 years old) seems to have an infinite supply of talent.  After a season-long post-World Cup hangover, Rooney rebounded in 2011/2012 with an astonishing 34 goals in 42 games for United.  That includes 27 in the EPL, where he pushed Van Persie for the scoring title right until the end.  In fact, it’s hard to believe he has yet to win the Premier League’s Golden Boot.  How frustrating then, for both the players and the fans, that he must sit out what will surely be two critical games for England this summer.

Brent Lanthier

Coming Up: Newcastle United to Sunderland

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by | May 16, 2012 · 9:07 pm

EPL Transfer Winners and Losers

Nail-biting time at the transfer deadline

Hello, lovelies. Did you miss us? Sorry, we’ve been busy.  Ian decided that he wanted to get married and then cart the newly-minted Mrs. Harrison all around Turkey.  No Galatasaray or Fenerbahce for him though… unless those are also varieties of kebab.  Meanwhile, I was doing my best to produce quality news programming about the sh!t show in Tottenham.  How many times can one person talk to Bradford University’s Professor of Peace Studies? As many times as you like, it turns out.

With the labour troubles in Spain and Italy, and the always ridiculous August spending sprees, I decided to wait until today to wind the blog back up. So now that the dust is settling, let me tell you who I think did well in this year’s silly season, and who got what the Greeks called gamise‘d. (Look it up).

WINNERS

Liverpool – If you are Scouse — and have been cryogenically frozen since this time last year — you would think that you had died and gone to the Great Big Kop in the Sky, la.  Kenny Dalglish is manager again? Most of the starting line-up is English or South American? Over one hundred million pounds spent on players? No club debt? Craig Bellamy?!?  Over the last six weeks, King Kenny has dumped 17  players who were either mediocre or colossal mistakes.

The £35 million spent on Andy Carroll is starting to look like folly, and Meireles’ sale to Chelsea might bite the Pool in the bum when they visit Stanford Bridge.  But the acquisitions of Suarez, Coates, Adam, Downing and Enrique have all come up roses.  The Reds should qualify for the Champions League, while meeting both UEFA’s Financial Fair Play and the Prem’s homegrown rules.  Throw in a nice knock-out trophy and the season will be an unqualified success.

Manchester City – See above re: getting rid of dead weight.  The purchases of Aguero and Nasri are coups d’etat… no question.  The shock acquisition of Owen Hargreaves might be genius or ignorance, depending on whether City trainers can get the former England international fit again. Now Tevez’ agent says the wantaway Argie may stick around.  If you throw in Aguero, Dzeko and Balotelli, that is a scary forward line… plus Silva and Nasri on the wing.  The accusations of a middling Mancini team are dissipating rapidly.

Manchester United – I like to think of Sir Alex Ferguson as a Scottish Elmer Fudd.  Prone to fits of fwustwation… he has been vewy vewy quiet as he hunts for twophies.  De Gea, Young and Jones were bought early in the summer before the silly season started.  But unlike Bugs Bunny’s bald antagonist, Sir Alex usually gets his hare (insert tired Wayne Rooney joke here).  United had no movement at the deadline because there was no need.  Who cares about the rest of the Prem… Sir Alex is tracking Catalonians.

Crouchie beams after finding Stoke on the map...

Stoke City – Slowly, quietly, Tony Pulis has been building the Potters into legitimate competitors.  They have begun their third season in the top flight with a solid European campaign, after making it to the FA Cup final in May.  Now claims of boring, boring Stoke might be put to rest.  Twenty-two million pounds spent on Peter Crouch, Wilson Palacios and Cameron Jerome may not offer up oodles of goals.  But they are legitimate options and they are playing in front of a defense as good as any in the league.

Tottenham Hotspur – ‘Arry did a lot of wheeling and dealing this August, dumping lads that he wasn’t really playing away.  Only three new players have made their way to the Lane (perhaps because they were afraid of taking the tube into Tottenham).  Falque is untested.  But Scott Parker was magnificent in West Ham’s midfield… and Adebayor must be chomping at the bit to score goals against his former club, Arsenal.  PLUS… ‘Arry somehow managed to keep Luka Modric onside.  Not a wheeler-dealer, my eye.

Wigan Athletic – Not a lot of movement… but the permanent signing of Ali Al-Habsi may be enough to keep the bastards up.  This club is the “Boris the Blade” of the Premier League…

Wolverhampton Wanderers – Last season, Wolves allowed the fourth-most goals in the Prem.  Two of those other three teams were relegated.  But credit Mick McCarthy for buying Roger Johnson.  This season, Wolves have only allowed one goal in three games.  It’s early days yet but Wolves look tons brighter.  For the life of me, I still don’t understand why Johnson can’t get a call-up from Fabio Capello.

LOSERS

Aston Villa – Shay Given was an inevitable choice to replace Brad Friedel, and Villa Park is definitely a step up for Charles N’Zogbia.  But c’mon: Alan Hutton? Jermaine Jenas?  Things may have started well… but Villa fans will find yet more things to grumble about this season.

Yakubu shows how many pies he can eat in one sitting

Blackburn Rovers – Kudos to Steve Kean for kicking The Human Camel to the curb…. and Scott Dann should amply fill the hole left by the departed Phil Jones.  But so much for the supposed flow of superstars into Ewood Park.  Yakubu is a joke acquisition (who looks like he’s had a Venky’s chicken pot pie or two)… and since Jason Roberts has yet to manifest as the Second Coming of Alan Shearer, no one is left to score goals.  Look for the Red Rose of Lancashire to have fully wilted by Christmas.

Chelsea – Overshadowed by City’s bigger kitty, Chelski still seem intent to throw around their rubles.  Meireles is a good signing… and Liverpool will be happy to have made some money on him.  But the purchase of Lukaku and Mata has to mean that Villa Boas isn’t confident in a now-injured Drogba… or the misfiring £50 million mistake known as Fernando Torres.  I may eat my words… but Abramovich’s ego buy will haunt Chelsea for sometime.

Everton – If you don’t have much firepower to begin with, why would you part with any offensive players at all?  To pay the bank, that’s why.  It is a bad sign that the Toffees offloaded Arteta and Beckford.  Everton fans should be very afraid.

Newcastle United – Andy Carroll leaves his hometown club.  Kevin Nolan has a magnificent season and then abandons the team for a Championship outfit.  Then both Joey Barton and Jose Enrique tell the cyberworld how unhappy they are… and leave.  The Geordies should be up in arms… and Mike Ashley should be ashamed of himself.

Norwich City – They were quiet at the deadline, except to send a couple of players to the lower leagues.  That’s because Norwich is a lower league team.  They weren’t exactly losers at the transfer deadline; I just don’t expect Norwich to go anywhere except back to the Championship.

Swansea City – The Tafs should enjoy their Premiership ride while it lasts.

West Bromwich Albion – If you’re bleeding goals, why wouldn’t you try and sign a decent centre back? Oh, right… it’s because you’re West Bromwich Albion.

Too Early to Tell

Arsenal – Where is the real Arsene Wenger and what have you done with him? Nothing like an 8-2 loss to one of your biggest rivals to open up the purse, is it? Arteta, Benayoun, Mertesacker and Santos are not inspired buys… but they are players worthy of one of the world’s biggest clubs.  However, it remains to be seen if Arsenal moves on from Sunday’s humiliation… or if it lets the occasion cloud the rest of the season.

Bolton Wanderers – When I look at Owen Coyle’s side, I tend to make that Marge Simpson noise of disapproval.  The Scotsman has managed to keep Gary Cahill and he has brought in Tyrone Mears (a very decent right back) and some steel in Nigel Reo-Coker.  Klasnic already has three goals but David N’Gog and Gael Kakuta will have to start making an impact right away.  Despite the so-called “free-flowing” football, Bolton have a lot to prove…

Fulham – My dark horse at the beginning of the season, Fulham haven’t exactly flown out of the gates. But they have two excellent keepers, a great back line and a decent midfield.   The double-digits spent on Bryan Ruiz shows they are serious about trying to improve their offensive output.  Otherwise the Cottagers will have to depend on their defence.  That could result in a lot of draws… and look what happened to Birmingham.

Queen’s Park Rangers – Despite their victory against a struggling Everton, QPR have not had a great start.  However, they are owned by one of the world’s richest men and they are starting to spend a little of his money to make an impact.  With buys like Barton, Dyer, Gabbidon, Boothroyd, DJ Campbell, Luke Young, Armand Traore, Anton Ferdinand and Shaun Wright-Phillips, QPR has successfully transformed itself into a Premier League team.  Let’s see if it can stay that way.

Sunderland – I have to admit that I’m personally disappointed with Sunderland’s start to the season.  All summer, I watched Steve Bruce do what I thought were some tidy little pieces of business. He signed Elmohamady to a permanent deal.  He fought off bigger clubs for Conor Wickham.  He bought Gardner, Larsson and Vaughan, who were among the best players from their relegated clubs.  Bruce bought veteran players Brown and O”Shea from his old mentor, SAF… and he snatched young goalkeeper Kieran Westwood from Coventry.  Brucie has to turn it around or the Mackems will quickly call for his head.  Let’s see if the strike force duo of Nicklas Bendtner and Nicklas Bendtner’s Ego can do just that.

Brucie hails a taxi... just in case.

Brent Lanthier

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Best of the Premier League: Starting XI

It was a big year for the big Serb

Manchester United’s record-breaking 19th league title is a testament to their manager. Sir Alex Ferguson did not have the same calibre of players as in the past. But the old gaffer leads his teams to trophies… and he would not be denied an opportunity to overtake his Merseyside nemeses. While they did not dominate, United players produced some fine individual efforts, along with their rivals Citeh and Chelsea.

Here are my starting XI for the 2011:

MIghty bright future for young Joe

GOALKEEPER
Joe Hart (Manchester City) — For some, the verdict is still out on the young Englishman. Playing for McLeish’s Birmingham and then Mancini’s Citeh means he had the benefit of great defences in front of him. But he made more saves than any other EPL keeper, except for his England understudies Ben Foster and Robert Green. The future looks bright for Old Blighty: Joe Hart is only 24.

On the bench: Petr Cech (Chelsea), Edwin Van der Sar (Manchester United)

Hot cross Baines...

LEFT BACK
Leighton Baines (Everton) — Why wouldn’t Miroslav Klose want to come to Goodison Park, where he could have Baines send over cross after cross after cross? Baines started every single game for Everton… netting seven goals and providing 12 assists. Ashley Cole’s perpetual presence on England’s left may be in jeopardy.

On the bench: Ashley Cole (Chelsea)

CENTRE BACKS
Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United) — The big Serb won Barclay’s Player of the Year, and rightly so. Vidic terrorized defences as he marshalled United to the title. If Old Trafford was a fortress this year, than Vidic was its mighty rook.

Kompany's calling...

Vincent Kompany (Manchester City) — It wasn’t easy to score goals on the other side of Manchester either.  Vincent Kompany was a consistent leader in a back eight that tied Chelsea for stingiest defense. At only £6.7 million, he was a steal… especially compared to what Citeh paid for his teammates.

On the bench:  John Terry (Chelsea), Brede Hangeland (Fulham)

Calm down, son, calm down!

RIGHT BACK
Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea) — One of the most fouling — and carded — players in the Prem, Ivanovic is one of those sought after backs that scores, yet still plays defence. A genuine pest whose temper could get away from him, Ivanovic made it onto almost every one of Ancelotti’s team sheets.

On the bench: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal)

Arsenal's Song... and prayer

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDER
Alex Song (Arsenal) — The Gunners didn’t lose because a lack of firepower… they lost because of the glaring holes in the centre back and goalkeeping positions. That should be reason enough for Gooners to thank Cheebus for Alex Song. The Cameroonian is a bruising DM who has embraced the old-school English philosophy of getting stuck in. Now if Arsene Wenger decides to go and buy himself a couple of solid defencemen, silver and joy might actually start to seep back into the red side of Norf London.

On the bench: Michael Essien (Chelsea)

You'd be smiling as well...

LEFT WING
Florent Malouda (Chelsea) — Crosses, runs, goals… what more do you want from a winger on a team that plays with three strikers named Drogba, Torres, Anelka? Fantastic, fantastic player.

On the bench: Ashley Young (Aston Villa)

Citeh certainly got their Yaya out...

ATTACKING MIDFIELDER
Yaya Toure (Manchester City) — Reportedly the highest-paid player in the league, Toure is a box-to-box midfielder who was all over the park. The only Citeh player who scored more Prem goals than him is Tevez, who’s goal count pipped Toure for the squad’s Player of the Year.

On the bench: Kevin Nolan (Newcastle United)

"Stop... or I will stare at you a second time..."

RIGHT WING
Nani (Manchester United) — This season has been a revelation for the Portguese winger. (Ed Note: I know he also played a lot on the left. I just wanted to put him on the team.)  Last year, he was whingy, ineffective and prone to giving away the ball. This season, Nani was still whingy — mimicking another one of his countrymen who played for United — but at least he found the net, and helped others to do the same. Nani led the league in assists while scoring 10 of his own. His on-field antics are probably the only thing from getting named as POY.

On the bench: Stewart Downing (Aston Villa)

FORWARDS
Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United) — The debate rages: is he a precision finisher… or just a cherry picker? Spurs fans spit his name, calling him lazy and opportunistic. But he did end the season with 20 goals, enough to share the league’s Golden Boot… albeit almost all of them were at Old Trafford. Check out Berba’s second goal in their 3-0 defeat of Liverpool… and then make up your mind.

Adios Tevez

Carlos Tevez (Manchester City) — Despite his tally of 23 goals (which would have likely been higher, had he not been injured), Tevez is in danger of doing something even more impressive: pissing off both sides of Manchester. He wanted to stay at United but SAF decided to sell. Yet after only two seasons, the captain of the “People’s Club” says he wants to move on. It may be an ideal time for the club to sell him… but what a shame for the supporters.

On the bench: Robin van Persie (Arsenal), Darren Bent (Aston Villa)

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nemanja Vidic

Brent Lanthier

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Best of the Premier League: Bolton to Liverpool

Andy Carroll! Andy Carroll! Andy Carroll! Dalglish does a mean imitation of Ruprecht...

For these next five clubs, it was a tale of two seasons.  The two Merseyside clubs — along with Fulham — started awfully before performing some second-half magic… while Chelsea and Bolton were left wondering what could have been.  Here are my picks for their Players of the Season.

Too good for Bolton...

BOLTON WANDERERS
Gary Cahill (ENG) — Despite the Owen Coyle “revolution”, Bolton are still a small club stranded in mediocrity. That is a shame, because on any other team, Gary Cahill would be a coveted old school English centre back. Cahill is being courted by the big clubs and, depending on who you believe, the Yorkshireman is heading for either Manchester or London.

Malouda: Exceptional season

CHELSEA
Florent Malouda (FRA) — Even though the focus on Chelsea has been the drama surrounding their striker “trifecta”, the man who provides service for these poachers was the team’s engine this season. A former star for Olympique Lyonnais, Malouda sat in the shadows until the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti (a man who just suffered the sting of changing loyalties). In the last two seasons, the Frenchman has scored in the double digits. Frankly (pun intended), Malouda has displaced Lampard as Chelsea’s crown jewel.

Good. Very Good. Even without his mum...

EVERTON
Leighton Baines (ENG) — One of the few players from last year’s Best Of list, Baines didn’t get many chances to score. But when he did, he often made it count. The left back played every one of the Toffees’ matches, and he led the team in assists. Ashley Cole might have been afraid for his England spot, except that Baines is afraid of being away from Merseyside for more than two hours.

Feel free to photoshop a horned helmet...

FULHAM
Brede Hangeland (FUL) — I once tried to go drink for drink with a Scandinavian, a former Toronto Maple Leafs defencemen. I thought I was holding my own… but paid for it the next morning. The advice I received? “Don’t f#ck with a Viking.” Fair enough. Fulham’s star centre back was second in scoring for the Cottagers this season, while helping them keep a better goals-against than Liverpool, Everton and Spurs. Skal.

Kuyt punches through into the league's elite

LIVERPOOL
Dirk Kuyt (NED) — Runrunrunrunrunrunrunrun kick runrunrunrunrun tackle runrunrunrunrurnrunrun score. With 13 goals and seven assists, Dirk Kuyt was simply awesome on a team that needed a Liverpool legend to save it.  A hat trick against United sealed the Dutchman’s place in Liverpool lore.

Monday: Manchester City to Sunderland.

Brent Lanthier

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