Ahmed Kajee reviews the Barclays Premier League and discusses what he feels were the highlights of the season.
The Barclays Premier League this season has been the closest and most unpredictable one in many years. A victory was never guaranteed, nor was survival from relegation. With Sir Alex Ferguson retiring from Manchester United after a fantastic 26 year tenure, there was always going to be something different about the 2013/14 season. Jose Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge as `The Happy One`, relative to his previous self-proclamation of being `The Special One`. Liverpool was looking to get into the Top 4 and make a return to the UEFA Champions League. Contention for the title was the Noisy Neighbours, Manchester City. Across town, David Moyes, `The Chosen One’, was in for one rough ride. The usual suspects were of course fighting for survival; the likes of Fulham, Norwich, Cardiff City and Sunderland.
The season started with one key absentee, self-inflicted and deserved of a ban, Luis Suarez missed the first six games of the season. Come on, Luis – did you really have to go all Dracula on Branislav Ivanovic?! Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and United all got off to winning starts. Unfortunately, Arsené Wenger`s Arsenal were stunned at home on the opening day. One wondered as to whether Mr Wenger was losing his touch. Behind-the-scenes action was frantic from all clubs as they rushed to meet the 2nd September Transfer deadline day in an attempt to bring in new players. Tottenham Hotspur really dug into their bank balance after the transfer of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for a record transfer fee, which is estimated to be in the region of £85.3 million. Chelsea topped the log with 7 points at the end of August, with City on 6 Points, along with Liverpool and Spurs who both had a game in hand. Manchester United was down in sixth while West Bromwich Albion, Sunderland and Swansea made up the bottom three.
Transfer deadline day saw intense movements with major signing being Mesut Ozil to Arsenal and Marouane Fellaini to Manchester United. Yeah – I wonder who thought Fellaini could be the midfield Maestro that United needed. Ten points to you, Mr Moyes. But more on that later on. Staying with United, their rivalry with Liverpool is unparalleled – Liverpool went on to beat Manchester United 1-0 thanks to a Daniel Sturridge goal. United went on to lose against West Brom and Manchester City in the derby. Life for David Moyes was definitely not getting easier. The next game for Liverpool marked the return of Luis Suarez and his partnership with Daniel Sturridge was blossoming like a sunflower on Steroids. The SAS were on fire! Aaron Ramsey and Arsenal were on top of the world and topped the log come end of September. Chelsea lost to Everton at Goodison Park which seemed to be a catalyst for a new chapter in Everton`s history. Crystal Palace was pulled toward the bottom three after a run of poor results, while Sunderland sacked Paulo di Canio.
The table began to level out somewhat from October and after 9 games being played, Arsenal remained top with 22 points. Followed by Liverpool and Chelsea, who were separated by goal difference, on 20 Points apiece. October brought the arrival of Gus Poyet to Sunderland and the departure of Crystal Palace manager Ian Holloway after seven losses in eight games. Liverpool seemed to be on a run of note with the SAS firing at will. Luis Suarez bagged a hat-trick against West Bromwich Albion. The highlight of October and the only silver lining for Manchester United Fans was the emergence of youngster Adnan Januzaj, who scored the winner in his first start for United. At 18 years old, scoring winners for a World Class Football club! What have I done with my life? United finished the month in eighth with Norwich, Sunderland and Palace finding themselves in the Drop-Zone.
November saw the re-introduction to the Premier League of former Stoke manager Tony Pulis. He was brought in to replace Ian Holloway. He is a brilliant tactician and during his Stoke days, playing at Stoke was always a challenge. Manchester City trashed Andre Villa-Boas’ men 6-0 and Norwich 7-0 on either side of a shock loss to Sunderland. Arsenal stretched their lead to seven points after beating Liverpool 2-0 at The Emirates whilst Liverpool dropped a couple points after drawing to Everton at Goodison Park in a frantic Merseyside Derby. Arsenal`s only loss came against Manchester United with former striker Robin van Persie netting to give the Manchester club a victory over their London counterparts. Fulham dropped into the relegation zone. The highlight of the month was Stoke City Goal keeper, Azmir Begovic scoring against The Saints, becoming the fifth goalkeeper in the League`s history to score.
The Christmas period is always a hectic, extremely important part of the season for any club. It can make a season, or break one. December was action-filled both on and off the field. Four managerial changes resulted in Spurs, Cardiff, West Bromwich Albion and Fulham all parting with their respective managers. Perhaps Cardiff`s Malky MacKay got dealt the worst hand after Vincent Tan, the owner`s, decision making had a lot to be desired for. Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was on fire! Scoring ten goals and surpassing a record of most goals in a calendar month made the Uruguayan the hottest striker in the land. His highlight, scoring four against Norwich City. Manchester United suffered two back-to-back defeats for the first time since 2002. Arsenal ended the year leading the pack despite Liverpool being top on Boxing Day. Tony Pulis was making inroads toward improving Crystal Palace`s league position. The bottom three remained unchanged from November. Sunderland looked in deep trouble.
With the New Year comes the opening of the transfer window. There were significant signings for many a club. The biggest talking point obviously being the signing of Juan Mata from Chelsea. – Seriously José? Other notable transfers were Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic from West Brom and Everton respectively. Chelsea brought in Mohamed Salah holding off competition from Liverpool. On the field Manchester City`s unbeaten run in January earned manager Manuel Pellegrini the title of Manager of the Month whilst Adam Johnson of Sunderland earned Player of the Month after helping The Black Cats out of the relegation zone. Liverpool had a high scoring victory against Stoke with a 5-3 win. Liverpool`s defence has been questioned since day one which was exposed in a 2-2 draw against Villa, although their attacking prowess was definitely a force to be reckoned with after smashing Everton 4-0 in front of a packed Anfield. Across town, Chelsea dispatched Manchester United at The Bridge with a 2-1 victory. Mission impossible for David Moyes. Calls for his axing became pretty rife amongst supporters. City and Arsenal ended the month in first and second respectively whilst Manchester United were struggling in seventh.
The month of love began with a few shock results. Manchester United lost to Stoke City whilst Liverpool drew to West Brom one-all. José Mourinho proved his tactical genius by beating Man City 1-0 at The Etihad. Relegation-threatened West Ham and Cardiff City earned three points each. Liverpool however, recovered with a bang against Arsenal going 4-0 up in the first twenty minutes, with the game ending 5-1, leaving question marks about Arsenal`s title credentials. The leader`s spot changed hands with Chelsea leading at the end of February with Arsenal, City and Liverpool following closely. United climbed to sixth, whilst Fulham were rooted to the bottom of the table below Cardiff and Sunderland.
March started off rather quietly with the usual suspects winning, although March was also a month filled with many mouth watering clashes. A Manchester Derby as well as a London Derby was scheduled as well as the old-rivalry of Liverpool and United being reignited. The first big clash of the month was at Old Trafford with Manchester United hosting an in-form and hungry Liverpool. United was completely outplayed losing 3-0 with goals from Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez, despite the former missing the third of the three penalties awarded in that game. United fans were really upset. The Saints beat Norwich 4-2 in a six-goal thriller. The high scoring continued into the next weekend of play with Arsenal being beaten 6-0 at Chelsea. Eleven conceded goals in two big matches for Wenger`s men was not a good sign. Liverpool beat Cardiff in a 6-3 rollercoaster, with Liverpool`s defensive frailties being exposed once again. Manchester City beat Fulham 5-0 to top off a high scoring weekend. The Manchester Derby was rather one-sided with The Citizens running out comfortable 3-0 winners. United`s parity was restored somewhat with a 4-1 win over Aston Villa. March saw the league table unchanged apart from Newcastle and Norwich moving up the log. Liverpool players Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez shared Player of the Month, whilst Brendan Rodgers claimed Manager of the Month.
The penultimate month of the League started off with City beating Southampton 4-1 and United beating Newcastle United 4-0. Wins were recorded for Chelsea and Liverpool whilst Everton stunned Arsenal 3-0 in a heated race for Champions League Football. The big game of the month was between City and Liverpool at an emotion-filled Anfield whose supporters believing even a Premier League title was on the cards. In an action-filled game, Liverpool ran out 3-2 winners with emotive scenes from the Captain telling his players to not let it slip. David Moyes` return to Goodison was not a good one as United were defeated 2-0. A bigger shock was to come when on-loan Liverpool striker scored against Chelsea to hand Mourinho his first defeat at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea Manager. It was two-horse race between City and Liverpool. Not letting it slip was unfortunately not on the side of Steven Gerrard come the Chelsea game after his slip lead to Demba Ba scoring at The Kop End. Chelsea went on to win 2-0 leaving the league door open to Manchester City. Connor Wickham of Sunderland earned Player of the Month whilst Tony Pulis captured Manager of the Month after getting his Crystal Palace out of the relegation battle. Liverpool ended April leading the pack, with City 3 points behind with a game in hand and a superior Goal Difference. Norwich, Cardiff and Fulham made up the Drop-Zone with Vincent Tan looking to go down even after employing Ole-Gunner Solsjkaer as Manager.
Two games left in the league and Liverpool had to simply not drop any points, win big and hope that City had dropped points and the title would have been heading to Merseyside. City had edged out Liverpool rivals, Everton 3-2 in an entertaining game putting pressure on Liverpool for their second last game against Crystal Palace. Liverpool went into their game against Palace needing nothing less than a victory. 78 Minutes in, Liverpool seemed on their way to victory, and in the hunt to close the goal difference gap with Manchester City. In nine minutes of pressure from Palace came three goals from Tony Pulis` men with the game ending 3-3. The game slipped away from Liverpool, potentially along with the Title. The Liverpool players were dejected as ever with Luis Suarez brought to tears after the final whistle. Everton had dropped points and looked to have handed Arsenal a spot in the Champions League. The final day already had Cardiff and Fulham and probably Norwich relegated. Liverpool needed west Ham to beat Manchester and still needed a victory over Newcastle. City went on to win a 2-0 and deservedly clinch the Barclays Premier League title with Liverpool finishing second after beating 9-man Newcastle 2-1. Arsenal finished fourth whilst May also saw the sacking of David Moyes – thanks to poor results and shares on the Stock Exchange falling, and rising after his sacking!
Congratulations to Manchester City on a deserved title and Congratulations to the New York Stock Exchange for running Manchester United. Also, Congratulations to José Mourinho on a few memorable moments on and off the field. Lastly, congratulations to Luis Suarez on a fantastic 31 goal season. – If you followed the season like most people did, you`ll understand the allusion.
The Premier League season of 2013/14 was definitely the most entertaining in many years, especially thanks to the return of form of Liverpool. I am a Liverpool fan so please let me have my moment of glory. Shock results are proof as to why this league is the best in the world. Closely contested games, no results are guaranteed and wonderful displays of football are the perfect reason as to why I love this League. I have not a shadow of doubt Manchester United will come fighting back next season and another lovely season will likely be witnessed. This league, along with Liverpool will just simply continue to Walk On.