This season produced some crazy football results, where old dynasties stumbled — in Liverpool’s case, fell hard — while Premier League stalwarts faded from view.
As always, there were some players who simply shone over the entire season. Some were the brightest jewels in a champion’s crown, while others were gold pieces in a pile of iron slugs.
Here then is the first in my annual series of the Premier League’s best.
Robin Van Persie (NED) – After his injury-marred 2010/2011 season, the Dutchman stayed healthy for an entire season… and it paid off in spades for the Gunners. Thirty-seven goals in all competitions, including 30 to win the Premier League Golden Boot. Only Alan Shearer, Andy Cole and Cristiano Ronaldo have scored more times in a single EPL season; lofty company, indeed. In fact, it may be too lofty for Arsene Wenger to hold on to him.
Stephen Warnock (ENG) – The biggest club in Birmingham endured a dreadful season under a dreadful manager. But to his credit, the newly-departed Alex McLeish kick-started Warnock’s career again, after former Villa boss Gerard Houllier had consigned the Scouser to the bench. Warnock featured in 38 out of 42 matches this season, starting all but one of them. A defending left-back on a drearily defensive side, Warnock is the best of a lifeless bunch that sorely missed Young, Downing, Milner and Walker.
Yakubu (NIG) – He’s too fat. He’s past his prime. He’s too old to play as a centre forward. Almost everyone — including me — wrote off the big Nigerian. Why on earth would Blackburn pick up a 29-year-old player who has just spent half a season in the Championship?!? Turns out Steve Kean actually did something right. Yakubu scored 18 goals, including a magnificent four-goal slaughter of Swansea City, as well as a brace that helped defeat Manchester United at Old Trafford. Now that Rovers have done the drop, will the Yak be back in the Prem?
Mark Davies (ENG) – Owen Coyle put his faith in the former Wolverhampton player, after leaving him on the bench for most of Davies’ first two seasons with Bolton. Davies wasn’t a prolific goal scorer, but he was the anchor of the Bolton midfield, starting plays that would lead to others finding the back of the net. The highlight of his season was a great run against Liverpool, scoring after just three minutes. He should get picked up by a small Premier League club.
Juan Mata (ESP)– The gifted winger was brought in to help bring the title back to West London, and win the Champions League honours that has eluded Roman Abramovich after nearly a decade in charge. Mata has held up his end of the bargain, bombarding opponents’ boxes with cross after cross, and helping his teammates score. He started more than any other Chelsea outfielder and had an astonishing on-target ratio. As Chelsea’s old guard fades, look for the Spaniard to help the Blues get back to former glories.