Another Premiership season has ended and it finished with the usual amount of tears and joy, as both records and hearts were broken throughout the campaign.
It was a season in which Arsenal took the glory as they went through the season unbeaten, setting a Premiership record that will be hard to ever match. Both free spending Chelsea and title favourites Manchester United ran them close, but in the end the title was wrapped up in the end with some time to spare.
Many sides over-achieved this season, with a new band of challengers led by some young, talented managers now on the heels of the big ‘5’. It will be a big test to see if those sides can build on their successful seasons. There were also under-achievers such as Everton, Blackburn and Manchester City, who were expected at the start of the season to be pushing towards European qualification rather than facing relegation battles.
The biggest disappointment of the season though must be Leeds United. Exactly three years to the day in which they competed in the Champions League semi-final, they were relegated from the Premier League along with promoted sides Wolves and Leicester. They now face an uncertain future both on and off the pitch and it will be a huge ask for them to bounce straight back into the Premiership.
At the start of the season, I wrote an article in which I stated my predictions for the season and where I thought the teams would finish come the end of the season.
In the first of a two-part article, I will examine the top ten teams first of all, before focusing at the end of the week on those sides at the bottom. The figure in brackets is my initial pre-season prediction of where I thought they would finish.
Arsenal (2) – Will be disappointed to have failed in the Champions League but became the only Premiership side to ever go through a season unbeaten, winning the league in style by a margin of 11 points. Won respect and plaudits throughout the league with their attacking style of play. It will be a surprise if their unbeaten season is ever repeated.
Chelsea (3) – The millions lavished on the side by Roman Abramovich was not enough as Chelsea could not match Arsenal’s brilliance and had to settle for a creditable second place. They also registered their best ever showing in the Champions League but it may not be enough to save manager Claudio Ranieri’s job as rumours of a coaching change circle around Stamford Bridge.
Manchester United (1) – United now only have the consolation of the FA Cup to play for as they posted a disappointing league campaign. Off the field problems with Rio Ferdinand’s suspension and speculation over manager Alex Ferguson’s did not help their campaign. Next season will be an important one for United as they look to rebound and challenge Arsenal once again.
Liverpool (4) – A late season surge, along with a poor spell for Newcastle ensured Liverpool took for the final Champions League place. Still, it was another disappointing season that fell short of Liverpool’s expectations. Gerard Houillier has the backing of the Anfield board but this squad needs to be boosted with some much needed quality additions. Rumours of an impending departure for forward Michael Owen – who is in the last year of his contract, will not help next season though.
Newcastle (5) – Fell away at the end of the season when challenging Liverpool for the final Champions League position, with their away form costing them dear. Were possibly sidetracked by their involvement in Europe and a horrific spell of injuries exposed their squad. Manager Bobby Robson is the oldest in the league and has one year left on his current deal. He has been promised money to reinforce his squad and they must show more consistency if they are to mount a serious challenge for the league.
Aston Villa (13) – After a shaky start to the season, new manager David O’Leary has galvanised this under-achieving side and they have massively exceeded expectations by only just falling short of a place in Europe. They have shown far more team spirit than in previous years and O’Leary has done a job comparable to that he did at Leeds. They have released a few of the older players and will look to add some quality to the young talent O’Leary has developed.
Charlton (11) – Under the guidance of Alan Curbishley, Charlton finished in their highest ever Premiership position. They countered the mid-season loss of influential midfielder Scott Parker – who was sold to Chelsea, and avoided their traditional end of season collapse. Curbishley has been promised the money from the sale of Parker to strengthen the squad, but it will be interesting if Charlton can attract the top name talent for them to progress forwards.
Bolton (17) – Manager Sam Allardyce has again strengthened his reputation as one of the best managers in the Premiership as he moulded his team of cast-offs to their highest Premiership finish. They were also runners-up in the League Cup and are now looking to attract higher calibre names. After a couple of seasons of flirting with relegation, they now look set for a lengthy stay in the Premiership.
Fulham (19) – Rookie manager Chris Coleman confounded most of the critics (including myself) who tipped the side to be relegated. The team was led well by the influential midfielder Steed Malbranque and they may have done even better but for the loss of forward Louis Saha, who joined Manchester United mid-season. They will also return to their former home Craven Cottage for next season.
Birmingham (14) – Steve Bruce consolidated on last seasons debut in the Premiership and Mikkel Forsell’s goals helped them to a top ten finish. A hard working and hard to beat side, they are now looking to add extra class with the potential signings of Emile Heskey, Muzzy Izzet and Jesper Gronkjaer. Could possibly be a challenger for European positions next season.