Well, there we have it. The end of another season of premier league football. Chelsea are the champions, and we must bid fairwell to Burnely, QPR and Hull. How, though, have all twenty teams fared this year in relation to their expectations, and how might the league shape up next season? Here’s a guide to the 2014/15 season, and a brief look ahead to the next one.
Arsenal – 3rd. Yet again, Arsenal have secured champions league football. Yet again they’ve both dazzled and disappointed on their way to a very respectable finish, but how long will it be before they can challenge for the title again? Granted, the retention of the FA cup does represent success, but it’s the premier league crown they really want. Alexis Sanchez has certainly been a fantastic signing, with Santi Cazorla also standing out. It’s not these kinds of players that Arsenal need to worry about though, as they simply have to replace Patrick Vieira. Until they secure a solid, midfield anchorman they will not be able to win this league. Look at Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic. He’s exactly the sort of player they need, and exactly the sort of player that seems to be eluding them at the moment. Another predictable season for the Gunners then, and another end of season that begs for the signing of a defensive midfielder.
Aston Villa – 17th. Villa were in trouble until Tim Sherwood came in, and staring relegation in the face. The job that the ex-Spurs man has done has to be recognised as a huge achievement. He’s come in and got Villa playing attacking, exciting football, and has secured another season of top-flight football. He balanced a brilliant FA cup run with league success, working it so that performances in one competition inspired improved results in the other. With that said, Sherwood has by no means guaranteed an easy season next time round. They still only finished three points above relegated Hull, and relied heavily on the goals of Christian Benteke, who might well be on his way out. If they’re going to have a successful campaign next season, they need to either keep or replace their star man, and also add a bit of substance to the midfield.
Burnley – 19th. It’s always difficult for a newly promoted club to succeed in the premier league, and so it proved for the men of Turf Moor. They lacked goals all year, and struggled to keep other teams from scoring – that’s not a particularly good combination. However, without wishing to sound completely patronising, they did show fantastic character. On a shoestring budget, it looked at one stage as though Sean Dyche might just manage to keep them up. Alas, it was not to be, but there is certainly no reason why they won’t be able to challenge at the top end of the Championship next year. They’ve lost Danny Ings to Liverpool, but if they are able to spend wisely, as they have done in the past, they should hopefully be able to find a suitable replacement.
Chelsea – 1st. What needs to be said? From front to back, and all the way through the middle, they were the rightful champions. Thibault Courtois was supreme in goal, and Nemanja Matic provided the perfect example of how to cover the back four. Add Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa to an impenetrable defence and you’ve got a rather strong side. One area for improvement would be the Champions League. They went out to PSG in the end, but in truth looked a long way shy of the likes of Barcelona, Juventus and the other two semi-finalists. With that said, it’s difficult to see how anyone might get close to Chelsea in the premier league, and this might open the door for a bit more focus on Europe’s elite competition.
Crystal Palace – 10th. Before Newcastle’s enemy number one stepped through the door on his homecoming, things weren’t looking great. After a fantastic end to last season under Tony Pulis, the Eagles struggled under Neil Warnock, languishing at the wrong end of the table. However, Alan Pardew’s return to Selhurst park was heralded by an impressive home victory against London rivals, Tottenham, and Palace haven’t looked back since. Once again, their pace has proved to be their strongest asset, and their main goal over the course of the summer transfer window has to be to retain the services of such players as Yannick Bolasie and Jason Puncheon. Overall, another great season for the men in red and blue, with nothing to suggest anything but improvement next time out.
Everton – 11th. After a really promising season under Roberto Martinez in the 13/14 campaign, Everton have disappointed slightly. At one stage, they were genuinely struggling, as they were part of a large group of clubs precariously balanced above the drop zone. They have struggled more in front of goal, and have looked a little affected by their involvement in the Europa league – which, incidentally, begs the question as to whether anyone outside the top 6 would want to be a part of that competition. It hasn’t been a disaster by any stretch, and one could argue that a finish of eleventh, combined with the strain of Europa league football is quite respectable. They will certainly hope for improvement next time round, and their lack of European football might well be a blessing in disguise.
Hull – 18th. This season represented the end of the line of Steve Bruce’s men. Make no mistake about it, they did not do enough to get out of the relegation dogfight. They struggled to score goals all season, and conceded their fair few too. With that said, while they deserved to be down near the bottom, they were perhaps unlucky to go down. They did have injuries, most notably at the start of 2015 when they were unable to field a single striker, and they also had a tricky last four games. Nikita Jelavic was a significant absentee, but in truth never looked himself all season. Once again, we find ourself pointing fingers at the influence of the Europa League. The ‘poisoned chalice’ might arguably have influenced the Tigers’ season overall, and all things considered, they were possibly a little unlucky to drop to the Championship. Next year, if they can keep their squad together, they can certainly challenge for promotion.
Leicester – 14th. Last season Sunderland became only the second side to survive after being bottom of the Premier League at Christmas. This season, Leicester became the first side to survive after being ‘down’ at Christmas. Even Gary Linekar in his wildest of dreams couldn’t have hoped for such an escape. Nigel Pearson continued to state that ‘we’re playing well, we’re just not getting the results’, and it seems that his words came true as the foxes pulled off something remarkable. Jamie Vardy earned himself an England call-up, while Esteban Cambiasso rolled back the years to engineer some fantastic, attractive, and winning football. Obviously, the pre-survival season should not be ignored, but they had been ‘in’ most games all season. Pearson’s controversial nature was very quickly forgotten, as he engineered a quite remarkable turnaround.
Liverpool – 6th. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that Liverpool failed to reach the levels of last season. Their success in the 2013/14 campaign owed a lot to the strike partnership of Suarez and Sturridge. Suarez is off winning trebles at Barcelona, while Sturridge has spent half the season out with various injuries. Where then, were the goals going to come from? Mario Balotelli was a huge disappointment, while Rickie Lambert couldn’t recapture the form he displayed at Southampton. A season finish of 6th for the reds has, in recent times, been perfectly respectable. However, Brendan Rodgers’ men performed so well last season that this year’s effort has to be viewed as a bit of let down. Had the reds finished inside the top four again, perhaps the beginning of an upturn in fortunes at Anfield might have been kick-started. While the calamitous last day defeat to Stoke wasn’t exactly typical of their overall season form, it has to be viewed as a disappointing campaign for the reds.
Manchester City – 2nd. Finishing second isn’t bad. Finishing second to a quite brilliant Mourinho side is also, without doubt, no disgrace. However, at no stage did they really look convincing title contenders. Admittedly, the early parts of the season saw Sergio Aguero bemuse defenders, as we looked to be heading into a two-horse race. However, 2015 saw City disappoint, with Yaya Toure looking a shadow of the player he was last year, and a defence of their premier league crown looking increasingly unlikely. A typically inconsistent European display saw them finish second in a group containing Bayern Munich, before they came up against Barcelona and never looked in with much of a shout. If only the blues could perform to a consistent level, week in, week out, they might well be very dangerous customers. The danger with such a monetary-based club is always that success will come in cycles, and perhaps this current cycle is coming to an end. Yaya Toure looked out of sorts, as did Vincent Kompany: two of City’s best players over the last four years are getting on, and replacements might need to be considered before too long. Will they simply buy, or will they be able to bring through some younger talent from the academy set up?
Manchester United – 4th. After a ‘disastrous’ season under David Moyes saw the Red Devils finish outside the top four, this year saw them get themselves back in it. Such a feat looked very unlikely after the 4-0 cup loss to MK Dons, but Louis Van Gaal seems to have a way of eeking out results without his side playing particularly well. The men from Old Trafford gained a lot of momentum towards the end of the season, picking up invaluable wins against Tottenham, Liverpool and neighbours Man City. Moving forward, it will certainly be interesting to see who comes into the United squad for the 15/16 season. There is always speculation surrounding possible transfers at Old Trafford, but this summer the atmosphere seems even more excitable than normal. If the rumours are to be believed, United could welcome stars such as Gareth Bale and Mats Hummels, with whispers that Ronaldo might even make a shock return. Should any of these rumours be true, and should Van Gaal spend wisely, next season could well see Man United challenging for top spot again.
Newcastle – 15th. Well, where to begin? It seems that Newcastle United are never lacking drama, and this season proved to be no exception. The dismissal of Alan Pardew seems to be the logical place to start, and can arguably be viewed as the turning point of the campaign. Under Pardew, Newcastle sat in mid-table, but the fans were unhappy. St. James’ Park was always very quick to turn on their London manager as soon as a negative result came along, and this time it almost proved fatal. In hindsight, I wonder how many Newcastle fans would have asked Pardew to stay had they had the chance. It’s difficult to point to any one factor as the key to the Toon’s downturn in fortunes. Perhaps John Caver wasn’t quite up to it, or perhaps the players had simply over-performed under their previous boss, and weren’t actually good enough. Either way, it was a torrid season, and the magpies were extremely lucky to avoid the drop. Next year Steve McClaren will come in and try to turn things round, but it might be difficult to forget the 2014/15 campaign. A finish of 15th, in the end, has to be seen as rather flattering.
QPR – 20th. Unfortunately, the only logical assessment for Rangers’ position is that they were the worst team in the league, and that isn’t far off the truth. For the vast majority of the season the Londoners looked in serious danger, and so it proved. Some felt that a last minute resurgence might be on the cards after a 4-1 away win at West Brom, but it proved to be little more than an anomaly. It’s always difficult for newly promoted sides to pick up points, but it has to be said that Burnely and Hull can hold their heads a lot higher than Chris Ramsey’s men. The ‘Rs’ were poor under Harry Redknapp until he abandoned a sinking ship, and then they were all but relegated when the new boss took over. That said, Ramsey does seem like a reliable character, and might provide exactly the kind of stability that has been lacking for so long at Loftus Road.
Southampton – 7th. Many tipped the Saints to struggle this year. Perhaps that was largely due to the mass exodus that took place over the summer. Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Luke Shaw and Rickie Lambert all departed, as well as manager Pochettino. It seemed that the backbone of the side who performed so well last season had all left, and that the Saints would undoubtedly wilt as a result. Popular opinion didn’t seem to affect Ronald Koeman’s men in the slightest though, as they sat 2nd for a long period of time, and were genuine contenders for a top four finish for 9/10 of the season. Graziano Pelle’s early season form helped trigger the success of a campaign that also saw Sadio Mane, Dusan Tadic and Nathaniel Clyne perform as well as anyone else in the Premier League. There is absolutely no reason why Southampton can’t challenge for a Champions League spot again next season, especially if they can hang onto their manager, and the majority of the squad. Even if they can’t hang on to them though, who would bet against them bringing in someone even better once more?
Stoke – 9th. Well done Mark Hughes. When the Welshman took the job a couple of seasons ago, many felt that Stoke might struggle without Hughes’ predecessor, Tony Pulis. However, not only has Hughes overseen a transformation in Stoke’s style, perhaps epitomised by the performances of one Bojan Kirkic, but he has directed them to their highest ever Premier League points tally. He has repaired his reputation after damaging spells at QPR and Man City, and will be hoping to push on once again from here. The vast majority of Stoke’s players had very impressive seasons, and it is perhaps very easy to predict another mid-table for the Potters next time out. Stoke are in a great position to focus on a cup run, consolidate once more, and continue to push on. While they might not be able to challenge the top 4, they will certainly view anything less than a top half finish as a serious disappointment. Overall then, the ideal season for the men from the Britannia.
Sunderland – 16th. It wasn’t a great campaign for either of the Premier league’s North-East clubs. Gus Poyet’s reign was littered with decent performances, but overshadowed by a large amount of poor ones (the 8-0 home defeat to Southampton should in particular be acknowledged). Following his miraculous, ‘Leicester-esque’ turnaround last season, Poyet was replaced in similar circumstances to the ones that saw him arrive at the club. Dick Advocaat was brought in to provide some impetus, and the gamble paid off. Sunderland secured their Premier League status with a game to spare, and are left once again with a bit of optimism for next season. Advocaat will be hoping he doesn’t follow in Poyet’s footsteps, and can guide the Black Cats to a more respectable, mid-table finish.
Swansea – 8th. Yet again, the Swans have had a fantastic season. After a dip in form last time out, Gary Monk has rallied his troops and got them performing at the levels of 2012/13 once again. A finish of 8th represents a superb season, with the men in white ‘winning the bottom half’. If the top six or seven all compete for champions league places (or the Premier league title), then the remaining thirteen teams are all looking to secure a top-half finish. Swansea started excellently, with Wilfried Bony leading from the front, and securing himself a glamorous move to Manchester City. After that it was a definite concern that goals might be a bit harder to find, but Bafetimbi Gomis and Marvin Emnes stepped up to the plate, allowing the Swans to continue to pick up points. Ashley Williams was once again outstanding, and Gary Monk can expect another season of solidity, and some deal of excitement next time out.
Tottenham – 5th. A very strange season for Spurs. At the start of the campaign, most fans would have had their eyes well and truly set on a finish of 4th or 3rd. A dip in form though, and some consistent inconsistency has meant that most would probably be content with 5th place. It is a worry though that Harry Kane has seemed to carry the side at times. Without his goals, Spurs might have struggled to make the top seven, posing a serious problem should the highly rated forward decide to leave. I don’t think that will happen, as Kane seems to be very happy in North London playing for the side he grew up supporting. With that said though, they do need to invest in a couple of stand-out players this summer to have any chance of competing with the Premier League’s top 4. Overall, Spurs have to be satisfied with another finish of 5th. They won’t be able to break into England’s elite until they find a bit of consistency – something that has eluded them for some years now.
West Brom – 13th. A season of two halves if ever there was one, 2014/15 was an emotional rollercoaster for the Baggies. Despite some encouraging signs under Alan Irvine, such as consecutive victories over Spurs and Burnley, the appointment was unpopular from the start. Albion gave away points left, right and centre, with the collapse at Loftus Road one of the more notable examples. By January, Irvine had lost his job and West Brom were searching for their 4th boss in two years. Luckily enough, that 4th boss happened to be Tony Pulis. He made a point of emphasising how difficult it would be to keep the Baggies in the Premier league, stating that his record of never being relegated was completely irrelevant. On the face of it, it didn’t prove too much of an issue, as Albion even had time to wrap up the home season with a stunning 3-0 win over champions, Chelsea, as well as a second away win at Old Trafford in two seasons. Their consecutive home defeats to QPR and Leicester had the alarm bells ringing, but they turned it round in typical Pulis fashion. Looking forward, if the Welshman stays at West Brom for some length of time then he will certainly want to create ‘his type’ of team. The Albion need wide players, and need a striker (or two, depending on what happens to Saido Berahino). Should these signings happen, West Brom can be confident of a slightly more comfortable mid-table finish next time round.
West Ham – 12th. Last, but by no means least come the Hammers. Similarly to the aforementioned West Brom, West Ham provided their own interpretation of a season of two halves. The first was stunning. They reached fourth in the league playing attacking, expansive football with the likes of Stuart Downing, Enner Valencia and Diaffra Sakho playing out their skins. However, the second half was a huge disappointment. They went of the boil massively, sliding down the table to a more predictable finish. The way forward for the Hamers is very unclear now, with the club parting ways with Sam Allardyce and Slaven Bilic taking the reigns. It is essential that they survive next year, as they simply have to be playing Premier League to have any chance of filling the Olympic Stadium. It would be a huge bonus for the men in claret and blue if they could have a fit Andy Carroll for the duration of next season, as his ability is simply unquestionable. Overall though, Bilic’s job couldn’t be clearer: another mid-table finish, before targeting something more exciting in the new ground.
So, disappointment for Hull, Burnley and QPR, as they are to be replaced by Watford, Bournemouth and Norwich. Next season’s new boys will all fancy their chances at upsetting the odds, but it really won’t be easy. Prospects are hugely exciting, with many questions needing to be answered for many clubs. For example, how will anyone go about stealing Chelsea’s crown, and who will be dragged into the dreaded relegation scrap? With the premier league starting on August the 8th (yes, the 8th), we really don’t have long to wait!