Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Endings and New Beginnings

Before we get down to business, I’d like to quickly introduce myself and say how excited I am to crash the party here at No Short Corners.  Having followed NSC for more years than I’d like to admit, I was thrilled when Greg agreed to let me on board (moral of the story: no price is too steep when acquiring compromising pictures of your boss).  

A quick disclaimer: I’m a Boston-native and unabashed homer.  As such, feel free to disagree with my outrage over the egregious snubs dealt to Lee Nguyen and Andrew Farrell in missing the 30-man World Cup list (don’t even look at me misters Corona and Brooks).  Just know that you’re wrong and I’m not listening.

Really, great to be here and thanks to Greg for the opportunity. 

-Matt Averna

We’ll begin with a requiem for the 2013/2014 Barclay’s Premier League.

Cardiff City may never have been good enough to stick in the top flight, but the club’s lone Premier League campaign being undermined by civil war will leave the Blue Birds feeling they didn’t even get a fair chance.  Malky Mackay deserved a better fate than the dullest of guillotines and the fans have been keen to remind Vincent Tan how Maximilien Robespierre’s story came to a close.

Fulham and Norwich City also joined Cardiff on the wrong end of Chutes and Ladders.  The Londoners’ thirteen-year Premier League stay was brought to an end not by two managerial changes nor by a general lack of talent, but by The King of Pop’s vengeance from beyond the grave.  Of the teams to go down, American fans will surely be wishing Fulham the quickest of returns to the first division – Craven Cottage remains our home away from home, after all. 

Meanwhile, the Canaries simply failed to smell the carbon monoxide before it was too late.  Their slow descent to the Championship was largely brought upon by their striking corps of Uncle Bernie, a blowup doll, and The Artist Formerly Known as Johan Elmander.

One step away from the firing line was West Bromwich Albion, though its successful survival owed more to even slower antelopes falling behind the herd than anything else.  The club’s mutual parting of ways with manager Pepe Mel earlier this week came as little surprise after Real Betis’ former miracle worker struggled to adapt mid-season.

Hull City and Aston Villa both seemed assured of safety back when the leaves turned orange, yet finished with respective points totals that left them a little closer to the band saw than appreciated.  For Steve Bruce, merely hanging onto its Premier League status was always Hull City’s objective and a trip to the FA Cup final provides the icing on the cake.

Villa fans will surely be wondering not just when, but how their living nightmare will come to an end.  Threatening to crack the top four not too long ago, Martin O’Neill’s departure and Villa’s systematic cost-cutting have seen the club sink to the deep end of the pool.  The Villans showed some early promise as a counter attacking side, but injuries to Christian Benteke and porous defending made for a disappointing season.  American owner Randy Lerner recently confirmed his intention to sell the club, no word yet on whether Tom Hanks is interested in buying.

Hull City and Villa were both inextricably leapfrogged at the last minute by Gus Poyet’s Black Cats.  Human hand grenade Paolo di Canio left Sunderland dead and buried right from the start, and it took the Wearside crew the remainder of the season to achieve a truly stunning fourteenth-placed finish.  What this means going forward for a confidence-bereft Jozy Altidore remains uncertain, even moreso how it impacts the striker’s working vacation in Brazil this summer.

Crushing skulls to an annual mid-table finish appears to be getting old for everyone at Upton Park not named Sam Allardyce.  Then again, he’s inseparably stuck to Sam Allardyce’s jaw, so he doesn’t have much choice.  Refusing to learn from recent history, Allardyce built his attacking system around the perma-crocked Andy Carroll, who failed to get off the trainer’s table for most of the year.  In a highly related note, Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers has offered Big Sam both his support and his “like-new” 1998 Chevy Impala at a price you’ll have to see to believe.

Over in Wales, a bizarre summer standoff between manager Michael Laudrup and his superiors set the tone in what was a difficult season for hipsters’ favorite Swansea City.  Backroom tensions were only exacerbated when Europa League duties stretched a thin squad to its breaking point.  Laudrup eventually got the axe, with defender Garry Monk sliding down the bench into the manager’s seat.  Monk successfully oversaw safety from relegation and will keep the job full-time, whether he can keep striker Wilfried Bony next season is the next question.

Crystal Palace is the last promoted team to appear on this list, with mid-season hire Tony Pulis taking the lion’s share of the credit.  Palace only waited eight games to swap Ian Holloway’s business coats for the track-suit swag of Pulis, with the switch turning Palace into one of the league’s most well-organized clubs.  Midfield destroyer Mile Jedinak deserves a serious shout out as well, hopefully the groin injury he suffered in Palace’s last match doesn’t stop him from captaining the Socceroos this summer.

Our arrival at the top half of the table is greeted by the bad vibes emanating from Newcastle United.  Mike Ashley presumably hired Joe Kinnear as Director of Football to either sign transfer targets or drive Alan Pardew far enough into the throes of insanity to resign from his mammoth eight-year contract.  Kinnear ended up failing on both fronts, though at least came close on the latter.  Newcastle’s inability to replace the brilliant Yohan “Kebab” ended up undoing the Magpies’ excellent first half of the season but did lead to Pardew’s insanity – so says the forehead of Hull City’s David Meyler.  Still, Pardew has outlasted Kinnear in Newcastle’s fractious brain trust, whether he will continue next season remains uncertain.

There wasn’t too much attention paid to Stoke City this year, but that quiet stability underlines a very successful transition season under Mark Hughes.  Moving on from the organized destruction of Pulisian theory, Hughes managed to slowly implement a more aesthetically pleasing brand of footy and did so while achieving a club record ninth-placed finish.  Best of all, Hughes kept Geoff Cameron as a first eleven regular and the versatile defender heads into this summer’s festivities in fine form.

Southampton was to the 2014 season what Swansea was to the year prior.  Energetic pressing, fluid in possession, and boasting a healthy store of homegrown talent, the Saints under Mauricio Pochettino became many a footy fan’s “other” club.  Unfortunately, these good times may not be here to stay.  Big money transfers Gaston Ramirez and Pablo Osvaldo not only flopped, their price tags may force the sale of the club’s young stars to keep the electricity on at St. Mary’s.  Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, and Rickie Lambert will all head to the World Cup, yet only the latter is likely to return a Saint.

That love for David Moyes turned from blue to red on Merseyside pretty much says it all about Manchester United’s season.  A bungled summer transfer window, conservative tactics, and an inability to connect with key dressing room figures all conspired to make sure Moyes didn’t even finish the first of his six year agreement.  United’s highlights were few and far between on the way to a seventh-placed finish (United’s worst in the Premier League era), with Adnan Januzaj’s emergence as a potential star the only unqualified positive of which to speak.  It will be up to Louis van Gaal to pick up the pieces, but rebuilding needs to begin long before the Dutchman sees out the Oranje’s ride in Rio.

Daniel Levy dispensed with high-profile manager Andre Villas-Boas, but it’s starting to seem Tottenham Hotspur would be better off if it could dispense with Daniel Levy.  Spurs have grabbed just one trophy (2008 League Cup) in the thirteen years of Levy’s stewardship and, at some point, the chef can’t keep blaming his hand-picked ingredients.  In truth, some of those ingredients were actually pretty good.  Christian Eriksen and Emmanuel Adebayor (Mr. Hyde version) often made for exciting viewing, but Spurs’ season is best encapsulated by Hugo Lloris playing on despite clearly having a concussion.  Tim Sherwood won’t be retained and van Gaal merely flirted at the bar before going home with United, so your guess is as good as mine as to who Levy next hires to fire.

Everton fans didn’t waste much time mourning the loss of Moyes, not while Roberto Martinez took their team on a very legitimate chase for Champions League qualification.  The Toffees ended up losing that game of musical chairs, but Goodison Park still hosted some of the slickest attacking play seen anywhere in Europe.  It’s safe to assume the endlessly optimistic Martinez is shooting for trophies next year, regardless of personnel turnover this off-season.

More or less of the same at the Emirates.  Some young players developed, some important players got injured, some did both (looking at you, Aaron Ramsey).  The club made it into the knockout rounds of the Champions League without ever being a real challenger, while simultaneously fading from the title chase earlier than fans could stomach.  There was more talk of Arsene Wenger’s future and trophy droughts and patience and living in the past.  And it all ended with the obligatory triumph in the Wenger Cup (top four finish) and deep run in a domestic version.  Really, it was only the big bucks spent on Mesut Ozil that stopped Arsenal’s season from turning into the Truman Show, though the FA Cup final still looms as some kind of D-Day for Gooners.

Jose Mourinho returned to the helm of Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea FC.  It may not have the missile defense system of the Russian’s other luxury yacht/warship, but Chelsea’s overall defensive work was impressive in its own right.  Mourinho, as always, was quick to remind the world that it was his tactics that engineered Chelsea’s run to the Champions League semi-finals and spoiled Liverpool’s title push.  If “The Special One” is able to pair attacking wunderkind Eden Hazard with a striker even half as talented (I’ll spare you a “What about Romelu Lukaku?” rant, but just know it exists), Chelsea may win some silverware next season.

Steven Gerrard’s dreams will be haunted by the slip of all slips, but that Liverpool made a title run after last year’s seventh-placed finish is indicative of the remarkable progress made under Mourinho’s protégé, Brendan Rodgers.  Rapacious attacking play, Champions League qualification, and some semblance of justice for the 96 means Kopites had themselves a pretty good year after all.  Also, Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, and Luis Suarez.

It took a little while for Manchester City to find its feet under Manuel Pellegrini, but the Chilean’s steady hand proved the perfect counterbalance to City’s stable of superstars.  Yaya Toure was a one-man wrecking ball, Joe Hart finally got Andrea Pirlo out of his head, and David Silva showed why La Furia Roja should be forced to play with only ten men.  Winning the league under a new manager is not too shabby, and a push for the Champions League crown (with a FFP handicapped squad, no less) is the clear objective moving forward.

So, that’s it. Everything you ever needed to know about the 2013/2014 Premier League season.  Now, go give your undivided attention to one of the most competitive MLS seasons in recent memory before some event called the “World Cup” briefly throws the planet off its axis.


brian said...

tl;dnr... but welcome!

Tony M said...

pace yourself, Newbie. Greg doesn't post that much here in a month... let us take it all in a bit at a time.

jon said...

Yeesh, such condescension (even if in jest). Welcome, Matt. The proud line of alternative posters on NSC have always been the yin to Greg's yang when it comes to blog content here. So I look forward to whatever you have to contribute...long or short.

andrés said...

ditto to jon's sentiments, great to have you here Matt.