Premier League: Super season
Our football team reflect on the end of the Barclays Premier League season and pick out some of their top moments.
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Give us your moment of the Premier League season?
Simon Crawford: When Luis Suarez slotted in Liverpool's second goal at Norwich on April 20, it took him to 30 Premier League goals for the season. He was the first to achieve the feat since since Cristiano Ronaldo did it for Manchester United in 2008 and the first Liverpool player to reach the milestone since Ian Rush in 1986/87. In this modern era, it is a remarkable and rare achievement from a player who has lit up English football this season.
Nick Hext: There are plenty to choose from but I'm going to plump for Fabio Borini's winner for Sunderland at Chelsea. It stopped any chance of the title for the Blues, although they did have a gigantic say in the destiny of the trophy the following weekend with a 2-0 victory at Liverpool. The goal came from the penalty spot after a controversial decision from referee Phil Dowd, one which I think he got right. That led to the meltdown of the season as Chelsea coach Rui Faria left even Jose Mourinho somewhat stunned on the sidelines. Sunderland used the momentum from this win to complete 'The Great Escape' with another three victories on the bounce. It was Mourinho's first defeat in 78 league games at Stamford Bridge and all the credit goes to the Black Cats.
Andy Schooler: When I think about this season in 20 years’ time, I will remember it for Liverpool’s contribution more than anything else; the way they were happy to simply outscore teams, improving so dramatically from last season’s seventh-place finish, but also how it all went wrong for the Reds. Many will make Steven Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea the memorable one of 2013/14 but for me the moment it began to go wrong for Liverpool came the day they won a thrilling game against Manchester City at Anfield, a result which left the destination of the title solely in their hands. It will live long in the memory. It had been a typical, all-guns blazing display by the hosts in front of a crowd at fever pitch, one which had earlier held a minute’s silence as part of the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough. The circumstances perhaps help explain the celebrations that followed but they were way over the top. Watch the pictures again and you can be forgiven for thinking the title had been won that day. Perhaps having eventually realised this himself, Gerrard grabbed the team in a huddle and told them, with four games still to win, they must ‘go to Norwich and do exact the same’ the following week. That game was won. Others weren’t. Two weeks after The Title Party came The Slip. Nine days later The Collapse. Today the hangover to those April 13 title celebrations lingers on - and could well do so for many a year yet.
Dave Tickner: It's glib, facile and largely pointless to crystalise an entire 380-game season into one moment... but Steven Gerrard falling over. Like it or not, unfair and cruel as it may be, that will be the moment that is replayed forever more. That is the defining image of the 2013/14 Premier League season.
The LMA Manager of the Year is announced tonight. Who would get your vote?
SC: You can't look past Tony Pulis for the way he dragged Crystal Palace back from the brink of what appeared to be nailed on relegation. Few managers could have pulled that feat off and if he stays I think he can establish them as a Premier League club, just like he did at Stoke. Talking of the Potters, an honourable mention for Mark Hughes after they finished in ninth spot and also to Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool. The Red are disappointed to have finished second which shows the giant strides they have made this season.
NH: Mr Tony Pulis. You won't have found many people thinking he had a hope of keeping Crystal Palace in the Premier League but he achieved the seemingly impossible and did it with ease. The 3-3 draw at home to Liverpool provided the most memorable moment of the Eagles' season and it was certainly the most memorable comeback. Chelsea were one of the sides defeated at Selhurst Park and Palace's home form was the real key to the continuation of their top-flight status. Yannick Bolasie, Dwight Gayle and Mile Jedinak were just three of the players to make the step up from the Championship and all can now be considered proven Premier League performers. Pulis' side provided plenty of entertainment and quite a few of the critics from the end of his tenure at Stoke have disappeared.
AS: Without doubt, Tony Pulis. Palace had four points from 11 games the day the former Stoke boss was appointed. They ended it with 45, in 11th place, no fewer than 12 points outside the relegation zone. Those are the stats but this was an all-round managerial performance out of the top drawer. As soon as he arrived, Pulis set about organising a team that was conceding too many goals, coaching his existing squad members into doing the basic things well. The players responded, with clean sheets arriving almost immediately. Instead of the whipping boys my colleague Chris Hammer was talking about being the worst side ever to ’grace’ the Premier League, Palace became tough to beat, a side other teams were wary of. Then, when the chance came to sign players in January, Pulis chose wisely. Jason Puncheon proved his worth in the second half of the season with a string of key goals, while Joe Ledley added quality and strength to the midfield. Scott Dann, one of the much-improved defenders, was signed to a permanent deal following his loan arrival, while Pulis even had one eye on the future by signing keeper Wayne Hennessey with the end of Julian Speroni’s contract close. By the time the spring arrived, it seemed there was little Palace feared. They beat both Chelsea and Everton during a five-game winning run. The players had clearly bought into Pulis’ way – told what to do by their manager, the players went out with the confidence to carry out the plan. And they did. Few managers could have got the response Pulis did at Selhurst Park and for that he should be rewarded by the LMA tonight.
DT: Tim Sherwood, because there's nothing to add on Pulis.
What do you think were the best and worst decisions of the Premier League campaign?
SC: Can I state the obvious here and say appointing David Moyes as the new Manchester United manager was the worst decision and could hamper them for several seasons to come. It was always going to be a tough job to follow in the footsteps of Sir Alex Ferguson, but it proved to be disastrous with United - last season's champions - finishing in a lowly seventh spot and out of Europe. I don't think Moyes was entirely to blame, the players did not seem to want to play for him and are equally as culpable. And to make matters worse for frustrated United fans, City go and win the league with a resurgent Liverpool second! I'm going to add another in the 'worst' category section if I may (it just about qualifies as this season) and that's Jamie Carragher's decision to retire. Had he carried on this season, then I'm convinced Liverpool would have won the league. Best decision ... Tony Pulis must get another shout here for being appointed at Palace and also for Sunderland bringing in Gus Poyet who has proved that miracles do happen as they also avoided the drop.
NH: I'll go to Sunderland again for the best decision. Recalling Connor Wickham from his loan spell at Leeds - where he was playing second fiddle to Ross McCormack - provided the goals for the most unlikely of escapes. The striker returned for the 1-0 defeat at home to Everton but then made his impact with both goals in the surprise 2-2 draw at Manchester City. Three more strikes followed at the head of the Black Cats' attack and he now looks set to follow up on the promise he displayed prior to his move to the Stadium of Light. Worst decision goes to Norwich for the timing of the sacking of Chris Hughton. I can fully understand the board's case that extra momentum was needed but with a clash at Fulham and then four of the Premier League's big guns to play there was no time for Neil Adams to change things. Making the call earlier in the season would have allowed a new man time to make his mark and given the Canaries a much great chance of avoiding the drop.
AS: The introduction of goal-line technology had been debated for years. The critics argued that consulting TV screens to find out decisions would take ages and ruin the spontaneity of football so loved by fans. Poppycock. This season proved it could easily be implemented an integrated into the existing game. No decisions took an age. My only disappointment was that the technology did not come to the fore in one of the really high-profile games. Perhaps it did and I’ve just forgotten – in which case it’s done its job. No controversy, just the right decision made. The worst? David Moyes signing of Marouane Fellaini for a whopping £27million has to right up there. Following a shambolic summer in the transfer market, United appeared desperate on deadline day when they finally had to pay Everton whatever they wanted to get the Belgian, who had long been a big fish in a small pond at Goodison. Few, however, had ever been convinced he had the ability to thrive in the bigger Old Trafford lake and that’s proved to be the case. Everton bought James McCarthy for less than half the cash United shelled out and took the rest laughing all the way to the bank. I know who got the better end of the deal.
DT: The worst decision was obviously made before the season even started - indeed before last season had even finished - when Manchester United looked at Sir Alex Ferguson's astonishing career and decided 'Scottishness' was the most significant contributing factor to his success. The best decision was a refereeing one, when Phil Dowd first played a proper advantage and then, when none accrued, went back to give Sunderland a penalty against Cardiff for a clear foul on Connor Wickham EVEN THOUGH THE STRIKER STAYED ON HIS FEET. In that one moment, Dowd did more to stop the menace of diving than a thousand wrongly given yellow cards or 300 columns tutting about the pernicious influence of foreigns. The first step towards eradicating diving is not to make players fear punishment but to make them believe simulation is unnecessary.
Who has the most work to do in the transfer window and how could it alter next season’s title race?
SC: Naturally as champions, Manchester City will feel most content with their squad but you just know they will spend big regardless. Liverpool lack depth and Brendan Rodgers knows he must address their defensive frailties. I'm still to be convinced about his transfer dealings either, with the jury still out on the likes of Sakho and Aspas. Jose Mourinho has moaned all season about having no strikers so expect them to sign four in the summer and send three out on loan, while Arsenal will be linked with a host of star names but will sign no one in particular. Manchester United fans believe they will spend a fortune in the summer and win the league next season ... I don't think so. We are talking MAJOR rebuild here - an entire back four and a star midfielder at least and that won't come cheap. City will start as favourites but I think we could be in for another wide open title race next season.
NH: All of the top sides have work they need to do but it's hard to see past Manchester United, if you still consider them title contenders after the woes of this season. I think they need a right-back, left-back and two centre-backs with defence clearly the area most in need of strengthening. Talk of a move for Luke Shaw is welcome but experience is needed too and it's hard to see if Europe's top players would be prepared to forego Champions League football. Marouane Fellaini hasn't made the required impact in the centre of midfield and the new manager will look at that area to strengthen too. Plenty of work is needed at Old Trafford. Chelsea's search for a new striker will also be very, very interesting. The potential arrival of Diego Costa could just tip the balance in next season's title race.
AS: Of the top teams, undoubtedly Manchester United. The blame for their worst season in a generation should not be laid firmly at David Moyes’ door. The players simply haven’t been good enough and many need moving on and replacing. Top of the agenda must be at least top-class defenders; every team must have a solid base and a lack of a central defensive partnership given the injury woes of the departed Nemanja Vidic and the (probably) departing Rio Ferdinand in recent seasons has long been a concern of mine, one which was exposed this term. Similarly the midfield looks lightweight these days – you can only call Paul Scholes out of retirement so often – while if they want to get the best out of £37million Juan Mata, it may well be Robin van Persie or Wayne Rooney has to be sacrificed. If Louis van Gaal gets the job, the latter would seem more likely to go. There’s plenty of talk of money being available but with no Champions League football to offer Europe’s elite right not, I’m less convinced than others about the club’s ability to attract the best this summer. Liverpool, with the extra games they will face in 2014/15, clearly also need to add quality and quantity to their squad if they want to compete domestically and in Europe next season so I’d expect them to be doing plenty of business. At least they can now rely on Luis Suarez staying, can’t they?
DT: Again, it's obviously Manchester United. They will spend big this summer. They will have to bite the bullet and overspend on players because the alternative is worse. With an improved squad, a manager used to the highest level and no European football, they can't be entirely ruled out of a return to title contention. Liverpool will need a bigger squad if they want to make this season the start of a return to greatness rather than a freak outlier in a lengthy descent, but their biggest battle - and one they must surely win - may be keeping Luis Suarez out of Real Madrid's clutches.