It was a season devoid of the type of major drama, at least at the top, in the closing stages that we’ve become accustomed to – say, Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip at Anfield against Chelsea last season or, of course, that late Sergio Aguero winner against QPR two years before. So with that in mind, especially because I watched it with an ecstatically relieved Newcastle fan, I am going to pick Jonas Gutierrez’s goal to seal Newcastle’s 2-0 win against West Ham – and the team’s survival. The Argentine has not just lived to tell the tale of his battle with testicular cancer but returned to Premier League football. He has not (yet at least) been offered a new contract, but if this is his last game for Newcastle, with the crowd chanting his name in what he described as his “dream” game, it was a send-off worthy of Hollywood. Frankly, the goal was nothing special – an average shot from outside the box which caught a big deflection – but even putting sentimentality aside, Gutierrez deserves it for his performances since his return and especially here. In an emotional, high-octane display, he completed the most tackles of all Premier League players that day and the second most dribbles. Still got booked for taking his shirt off in celebration, though. Have a heart, football.
I thought Southampton would struggle this season, possibly even be in a big relegation battle. Obviously that turned out very wrong, but on paper – with last year’s stars Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren transferred, and Jay Rodriguez long-term injured – things were looking a bit ominous for the Saints (I was by no means the only one thinking this). However, Ronald Koeman created a team of extraordinary resilience given the changes – their 33 conceded is second only to Chelsea, by one goal – and a fair amount of flair too. Nearly all of his signings have proved at least value for money, particularly Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle, Ryan Bertrand (loaned then bought) and Fraser Forster. And Saints fans will hope Toby Alderweireld’s loan move from Atletico Madrid can, like he wishes, be made permanent, after his brilliant season.
As with the PFA vote, Eden Hazard – for the numerous times he took crucial games by the proverbial scruff of the neck and provided some inspiration to nab a victory in an otherwise mediocre, even mechanical Chelsea display. For example, his run and thunderbolt shot in the 3-2 win at Hull, his two pinpoint assists in both 1-1 draws with Manchester City, and his composed finish through the legs of David De Gea to win the game at Old Trafford. The Belgian lifted Chelsea from good to great. Other strong contenders are David De Gea, Harry Kane, Alexis Sanchez, John Terry, Sergio Aguero and Diego Costa.
No real contest here – Harry Kane. The Tottenham player was so good that, as well as winning the PFA young player of the year, he came second in the main vote (David De Gea was third). Despite only forcing his way into the Premiership starting XI in November, following impressive displays in the Europa League and League Cup, Kane ended the season as the league’s second top scorer, with 21 (and ten more in other competitions). And there was hardly a tap-in among them https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzG7YTMs-XU . It’s all the more remarkable given some frankly unremarkable loan spells before this season – and given that, as Ben Machell writes in Vice, Kane “is not a player who will ever exude the brooding, icy gravitas” of the Diego Costa’s or Luis Suarez’s of this world, given that he, for example, tweets “enthusiastic endorsements to upmarket kebab restaurants in Chigwell and showers his apple-cheeked missus and their two pet dogs with wave after wave after wave of loving emojis”. An unlikely new star, but a fine one all the same.
Charlie Adam’s 66-yard effort against Chelsea. If the game were bigger or the goal more significant (Stoke still lost 2-1), it would surely be a no-brainer. (Jack Wilshere won the Match of the Day vote with his final day strike.) Firstly, to even attempt it, on a counter-attack, when anything but a good effort will get you rightly shouted or laughed at by teammates, is audacious. To execute it, with just a split-second’s thought and only a metre or so’s margin for error, is spectacular.
Harry Kane’s one-man dismantling of Chelsea, in which he scored a double and made John Terry and Gary Cahill, experienced international defenders eight and thirteen years his senior, look a bit like Sunday League hackers. For the first goal, he weaved in from the left, escaping three defenders, and then rifled it low into the bottom left from 25 yards. He then earnt the penalty for Spurs’ third goal, nipping in front of Cahill to win a ball he had little right to win. For his second, he controlled the ball beautifully in the box, spinning away from Cahill, then waited for the perfect moment to nutmeg Terry with his finish into the bottom corner. He also provided the assist for Chadli for Tottenham’s fifth. It was the day he basically anointed as a White Hart Lane messiah, even at 21. And this is coming from an Arsenal fan – that’s how good he was (is). At least he’s English.
As I’ve already mentioned Southampton, Swansea. They finished eighth – their second-highest finish in their history – all while managing to play attractive football and earn the best part of an £18 million profit in the transfer market, largely thanks to Bafetimbi Gomis, a free signing from Lyon last summer, stepping in well for Wilfried Bony after the Ivorian’s £28 million January move to Manchester City. That Swansea are now considered part of the Premier League furniture – after bookies http://www.betting-directory.com/football/31052011/newly-promoted-swansea-and-norwich-odds-on-for-premier-league-relegation.php , fans and players http://www.goal.com/en-gb/news/2896/premier-league/2011/08/15/2615859/if-swansea-city-avoid-relegation-it-will-feel-like-they-have-won- alike were fearing relegation after they got promoted in 2011 – is a huge testament to the club.
Arriving in the Premier League with a weekly salary around £265,000, expectations were naturally high that Radamel Falcao could light up the league. But even after a month or two’s grace period while he returned from a six-month knee injury, it just never happened for the Colombian for whatever reason, scoring just four in 26 and leading to some rather unflattering social media reaction. He looked nothing like the powerful, pacy, razor-sharp marksmen he was on the continent, where he scored 41 goals from 51 for Porto and 52 from 68 for Atletico Madrid. Falcao’s teammate, British record transfer Angel Di Maria, also disappointed after a promising start.
Kraftwerk – The Robots. An admittedly petty swipe at Chelsea from me, a Gooner, who naturally holds a lot of store in the notion of beautiful football, even if flawed. Of course, teams can play however they wish – but in return we can say whatever we wish about it. After all, what’s the fun in football without jealous and bitter banter? So, until next season, well done, Chelsea – YOU ARE THE ROBOTS…
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