Much as Christmas is a time for getting presents, receiving gifts and finding out what other people have bought you, the end of the Premier League season sees everyone on the internet and their gif of a dog come up with a witty, totally original and different look at the racism, biting and self-delusion witnessed in the previous months. But there are blogs other than those devoted solely to Liverpool, and this is mine, where the Premier League’s 20 teams are ranked in the completely subjective order of how good a season I judged them to have (their actual positions are in brackets).
1. Swansea City (9)
Despite a change of manager, Swansea avoided the difficult second season many predicted by finishing comfortably inside the top 10. They evolved their distinctive style of play, had one of the season’s best players in Michu and again looked one of the more impressive sides in the league before understandably switching off after winning the club’s first ever major trophy. It’s hard to find any real fault despite the end-of-season lapse.
2. Manchester United (1)
Ultimately for Man United, winning the league isn’t performing hugely above expectations, but as the cliché goes you can only beat what’s put in front of you. United convincingly did this, albeit against very disappointing challenges. For a team that still doesn’t always seem that good, they’ve racked up a very impressive points-total, too. Easily the best team in the division.
3. West Bromwich Albion (8)
Pre-season, it was commonly predicted that Steve Clarke’s first managerial job wouldn’t last beyond Christmas. Instead, the first third of the season saw an unlikely Champions’ League push as the Baggies reaped the benefits of being one of the few solid, competent teams around. Despite tailing off, ending the season in the top half and never being remotely near relegation counts as an excellent season at the Hawthorns.
4. West Ham United (10)
West Ham being placed so highly in this table perhaps displays the paucity of teams actually having good years, but nevertheless easily surviving without ever really being in danger is an excellent accomplishment for a team promoted via the play-offs (albeit one unusually well-prepared for the Premier League). Allardyce has done what he can be relied upon to do; the Mourinho-less Bernabeu surely beckons…
5. Tottenham Hotspur (5)
Despite narrowly missing out on the Champions League once more, this was an impressive season from Spurs. Adjusting quickly to a new manager and making light of losing their best and most important player of the last few seasons – Modric’s move often seems to have been strangely underplayed – Spurs achieved their highest ever Premier League points total. If the brilliant Bale stays and a striker matching the quality of the rest of their spine is signed, next season should see further improvement.
6. Everton (6)
A season which while very impressive was not outstanding and lacked a crowning achievement (as well as a prolific striker). A perfect summary of Moyes’ tenure, then.
7. Southampton (14)
A bit of a strange season: the controversial but bold decision to replace the hardly disappointing Nigel Adkins with Mauricio Pochettino seemed justified by superb performances against some of the division’s top sides, but failure to replicate this against weaker teams is a cause for concern. Despite that, comfortable survival in their first season back in the top flight is an excellent start for a club that seem to be intent on continuing their rapid rise.
8. Chelsea (3)
Around February, the season looked on the verge of descending into a chaotic disaster, but the ever-popular Rafa Benitez led Chelsea to what, after what preceded it, was a very satisfactory conclusion. Not only does 3rd place represent ‘no harm done’ in terms of maintaining vital Champions League participation, it’s also a considerable improvement on last season’s oft-forgotten 6th place finish. Another European trophy never hurts, either.
9. Arsenal (4)
Roughly two-thirds of a season performing under expectations combining with a final third whose results were above them saw Arsenal finish roughly around where they would have expected. The same old positives and negatives persist and though it is still hard to shake the feeling of a club on the decline compared to those around them, their relentless late run of form to take 4th deserves credit.
10. Liverpool (7)
9 points and 1 place better than last season, yet 2 finals and 1 trophy poorer – legitimate arguments can be made that Liverpool have improved, worsened or are simply treading water. What’s harder to argue is that this season represented either dramatic over or under achievement: with the possible exception of Everton, Liverpool’s squad is worse than all those who finished above them and better than those of all the teams below. Rodgers will be under pressure to deliver more next season.
11. Reading (19)
Perhaps surprisingly high for a team who were relegated early and inhabited the relegation zone for most of the season, but this reflects that Reading performed exactly to expectations. I expected them to look a Championship team out of their depth and be relegated; and they were, so I find it hard to be too critical of their season.
12. Norwich City (11)
A strange balance needs to be found when assessing Norwich: on the face of it, consolidating their Premier League status with an 11th place finish, avoiding a second season relegation after the departure of their inspirational manager is a fundamentally good achievement. This analysis must be tempered though, by remembering that they did come perilously close to slipping into the relegation mire due to a run of 2 wins in 19 games and the lack of any real threat up front. The addition of van Wolfswinkel should help, but Norwich were one of many teams fortunate that the bottom half of the table was so poor this season.
13. Aston Villa (15)
Though Villa’s extremely exciting late surge to safety served to vindicate Paul Lambert’s faith in his young players and points to a more comfortable future, it also somewhat papers over the cracks what at times was a truly abysmal season. When losing to Bradford in the Carling Cup semi-final, Villa looked a club in desperate need of relegation to sort themselves out and though it’s to their great credit that they turned it around, it’s still difficult to view their season in its entirety as a big success.
14. Wigan Athletic (18)
This positioning is based on the fact that for a club like Wigan, I think winning the FA Cup is better than staying up. Great Escapes are very enjoyable, but circling the plughole every year gets a bit repetitive and however lucrative staying in the top flight may be, it cannot compare to winning a cup final at Wembley as massive underdogs. Limited resources and truly horrendous luck with injuries also serve as influential mitigating circumstances in their relegation.
15. Fulham (12)
Another humdrum season for possibly the Premier League’s most humdrum team. Berbatov was fun when he could be bothered, the team as a whole occasionally flirted with, without ever really falling into, a relegation battle, and mid-table security was fine once more. On the pitch, it’s hard to argue that Fulham are progressing much one way or another, but in their defence it’s also difficult to see how they can really push on from their current position, barring something miraculous (and/or a very unlikely big takeover).
16. Manchester City (2)
It says a lot about how far Man City have come in the last few years that a 2nd place finish in League and Cup is marked so harshly, but it is more the manner of the season than its ultimate conclusion that is damning. On the field, City served up a dispiritingly limp title-defence from start to finish; while off it infighting throughout the club all season culminated in the rather undignified sacking of a manager not without his faults, but understandably loved by the fans. A far cry from this time last year.
17. Stoke City (13)
It seems like a hell of a long time ago that we were being told that Stoke’s defence was statistically the best in Europe. After an initial bright start, Stoke’s dire performances for much of the campaign have seen many suggest that Pulis’ ideological zealotry (you’d say it about Pep Guardiola – it applies equally as much to the Welshman) was holding them back. Lacking the width that was once their trademark, the Potters seem to need an injection of new ideas from somewhere – and Pulis’ departure suggests that those in charge in the Potteries think so, too.
18. Sunderland (17)
Slip towards relegation. Change managers. Finish between 13th and 17th. Initial improvement lasting between 6 and 12 months. Spend lots of money. Slip towards relegation. Change managers. Finish between 13th and 17th. Initial improvement lasting between 6 and 12 months. Spend lots of money. Slip towards relegation. At least Sunderland added something new to the mix this season by replacing a manager stuck tactically in the 1990s with one stuck politically in the 1930s.
19. Newcastle United (16)
Alan Pardew leads a team to a much-trumpeted successful first full season before avoiding equivalent criticism during his disappointing second campaign. Who could possibly have seen this coming? Apart from fans of any of the other teams he’s managed, I mean. After punching well above their weight last season, The Toon underperformed woefully for much of this one. A very disappointing campaign.
20. QPR (20)
Has relegation ever been more richly deserved? Compounded an idiotic transfer policy by launching 4 idiotic transfer policies in consecutive transfer windows; exorbitant amounts spent on wages; two expensive managers making excuse after excuse; and yet somehow, somehow still managing to find a place in the first eleven for Clint Hill. Who was their captain. Hilarious.