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Darren Lewis: Beautiful stories, brutal truths and for so many a season of underachievement

26 May | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Darren Lewis: Beautiful stories, brutal truths and for so many a season of underachievement

Top Mirror journalist Darren Lewis takes a look back on the Premier League season that was 2014/15...

This may not have been a vintage Premier League campaign by any stretch of the imagination. But in any year it takes a special team to take a title, as Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea did, by leading from start to finish.

It takes a special striker to smash 31 goals for his club, earn a call-up for England and score on his debut after starting the season as third choice. Take a bow Tottenham’s Harry Kane.

It takes a special kind of leadership to defy the odds and take a team robbed of so many of its best players, as Southampton were last summer, to the brink of a European place. Victory for Arsenal in the FA Cup next weekend will put Ronald Koeman’s Saints into the Europa League.

It takes a special coach to, for the second successive season, take a team bereft of confidence and languishing in the drop zone up to top flight safety. Well done Tony Pulis.

And a special kind of courage to put together the seven wins from nine that lifted Nigel Pearson’s Leicester from the foot of the top flight to Premier League safety.

Alan Pardew proved once again that size isn’t everything by trading Newcastle for Crystal Palace – then taking an Eagles team that had resigned themselves to relegation in January into the top ten.

Neither Pardew, nor Koeman, nor Swansea’s Garry Monk or Stoke’s Mark Hughes managed to claim the Manager of the Year award but all of them have done fantastic jobs this season.

Monk’s Swans have not been out of the top ten all season – despite selling star striker Wilfried Bony to Manchester City for £30million.

Sparky’s Stoke finished ninth on 54 points – a Premier League record total for the Potters.  Their 6-1 demolition of Liverpool was a fitting way to finish, and while the headlines will be dominated by the Anfield inquest, Stoke can begin plotting ways to move to the next level.

Some clubs were simply not good enough. Danny Ings’ winner for Burnley at Aston Villa on the final day was only their second goal since March.

QPR crashed out off the Premier League weighed down by big wages, big egos and the stench of bad eggs.

Harry Redknapp quit the club less than 24 hours after the January transfer window closed, citing a knee problem that might just improve if a couple of tasty jobs become available.

Now Chris Ramsey has it all to do to; somehow find a way back to the Promised Land.

This time last year Hull boss Steve Bruce came within a whisker of beating Arsenal to the FA Cup. Twelve months on, the toothless Tigers – despite spending £25million in the transfer market – have been pulled down by the cold hands of the Championship.

Aston Villa survived, thanks to streetfighter Tim Sherwood, who inspired the stars that went stale under Paul Lambert to find their stride again (and proved his own critics wrong).

Tom Cleverley now knows where the goal is, Fabian Delph is firing again and Christian Benteke is once again such a red-hot striking talent that Chelsea and Liverpool are looking at him.

And then we have the underachievers. Defending champions Manchester City failed to put up much of a defence – despite spending £53million last summer, another £30million in January and having the League’s top scorer in Sergio Aguero.

Manuel Pellegrini will be the luckiest manager in football if he keeps his job after failing to sustain a serious challenge to Chelsea.

Arsenal continue to see finishing in the top four as a trophy. To be fair to them, Arsene Wenger did [finally] spend some money: Alexis Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchy, David Ospina, Calum Chambers, Danny Welbeck and Gabriel Paulista took a cool £90million out of the Emirates vault this season.

Once again, however, injuries did for them. As did a disastrous start with just five wins in their opening 14 matches in all competitions. 

And never mind the style of football, Louis van Gaal did what Manchester United brought him in to do – he led them back into the Champions League.

The Dutchman also restored gravitas and authority to the role of Old Trafford boss after some of the stars that respected Sir Alex Ferguson refused to do the same with David Moyes.

Their goalscoring record has been poor. Falcao – on his big wages and with his even bigger reputation – has been a massive disappointment. Robin van Persie only marginally less so and it was left to Wayne Rooney, once he was moved out of midfield, to remind his critics that there is life in the old dog yet.

Of the chasing pack behind Chelsea you’d expect United to be the ones who will be back with a vengeance next season.

For the other Reds over in Merseyside, the future is much less certain. Brendan Rodgers looks in real trouble after Liverpool were eviscerated at Stoke 6-1 on the final day.

That humiliation, with Steven Gerrard scoring the only goal on his farewell appearance, summed up the Anfield club’s season.

He had carried them for far too long. Now it is a bridge too far for even him. Over £200million has been spent but they have finished seventh, second and sixth. With Jurgen Klopp available, storm clouds over Raheem Sterling and the club going backwards, something may have to give this summer.

Across Stanley Park, better will be expected of Everton next season. This is the first time in nine seasons they have not been in the top half. 

Despite the capture of £28million Romelu Lukaku, Roberto Martinez and his men struggled domestically for much of this season.  

Ageing legs and a lack of creativity sent them perilously close to the choppy waters of relegation before a late-season rally lifted them up to 11th. Expect fresh blood over the summer.

They may need to fit a revolving door at Spurs as up to 12 players could be on their way this summer.

Mauricio Pochettino deserves a medal for leading such an average squad to the Capital One Cup Final (where there was no shame in losing to a far superior Chelsea side) and fifth place.

But were it not for Kane’s goals, who knows where the north Londoners would have finished? 

(The Young Player of the Year surely would have been able to name his price had he put off contract talks until the summer – which seems to be all the rage – instead of signing his new five and a half year deal back in January.)

Expect the clearout to be led by record signings Erik Lamela and Roberto Soldado who – at £30million and £26million respectively – are the most expensive mistakes ever made by Tottenham.

West Ham may have missed out on Europe next season and Sam Allardyce may have gone but he deserves credit for the way that he has taken the club up, kept them up and given them a platform to build on going forward. 

Diafra Sakho was the signing of the season at just £4.7million from Metz and proof that you don’t have to be held to ransom in this country for over-priced and over-rated English players.

Where do you begin to assess the mistakes made at Sunderland?

Poyet blamed everyone but himself before he was thrown overboard by the Black Cats, who were saved by the legendary leadership of Dick Advocaat.

His tears were, for some, the sign of a connection with the club that Poyet never really had. Little wonder that they have since offered him a longer-term contract.

It is a fair bet, however, that John Carver will not be getting one at Newcastle.

To go back to where we started, it takes a special kind of self-awareness – or lack of it – to want the job full-time after presiding over a run of form that took the Magpies from mid-table to the brink of oblivion.

Just one win from 11 – including eight straight defeats and a very public claim that “maybe the players are not listening to me” – left Newcastle boss Mike Ashley finally admitting on Sunday that the club needed serious investment.

That should come this summer after a day of drama to complete an eventful ten months. 

A special mention for the legends who leave us this summer. Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba have given us all so many moments of stunning virtuosity over the last decade. 

But congratulations to Chelsea. Mourinho bought superbly and early. Diego Costa did what Fernando Torres before him couldn’t. Cesc Fabregas was inspired in midfield and John Terry showed once again that he is one of English football’s supreme leaders.

The point at which we do it all over again cannot come quickly enough.

Premier League 2015/16 betting

6/4 – Chelsea
3/1 – Manchester City
9/2 – Manchester United
9/2 – Arsenal
18/1 – Liverpool
80/1 – Tottenham Hotspur
200/1 – Southampton
300/1 – Everton
1000/1 – Newcastle United
1500/1 – West Ham United
1500/1 – Stoke City
1500/1 – Swansea City
1500/1 – Aston Villa
2000/1 – West Bromwich Albion
2500/1 – Crystal Palace
2500/1 – Leicester City
2500/1 – Sunderland
5000/1 – Watford
5000/1 – Bournemouth
5000/1 – Norwich City

 

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