Man City's title, Chelsea's coaching among season-end EPL impressions
Despite requiring a miracle finish, Manchester City deserved to win the EPL title
The EPL may be overhyped as a global brand, but its final day was spectacular
Chelsea had success under interim coaches Avram Grant and Roberto di Matteo
Following Man City's dramatic triumph, here are several thoughts from the end of the EPL season.
The best team won the Premier League title. City may not have been at its most convincing Sunday, but over the course of the whole season, it's impossible to argue against its credentials. City scored the most goals (93, a total only bettered once in the last 10 seasons, by Chelsea in 2009-10), conceded the fewest and beat its closest rivals, Manchester United, both home and away. Never mind that it has outspent other teams in recent years. As coach Roberto Mancini pointed out, both Arsenal and Liverpool have spent more over the last ten years. This is still a work in progress.
Remove the drama involving Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli, the injuries and suspensions that ruled out Vincent Kompany (10 games) and Joleon Lescott (nine), and add in a few new signings, including possibly Eden Hazard, and City has a squad that can challenge for the Champions League. That has to be the next target for Mancini. As for United, to reach 89 points is a superb achievement by coach Sir Alex Ferguson, not that he will see it that way today.
Never mind the quality, enjoy the drama. The Premier League may be overhyped as global brand, but endings do not get more dramatic than they did on Sunday. The title was not the only prize on the line entering the final day of the season: With five minutes left to play, one goal could also have changed the race for third place and the battle to avoid relegation. Every team in the top four has experienced an unlikely collapse, while the results between the top clubs have been unprecedented: City beat United 6-1, Arsenal defeated Chelsea 5-3 and Spurs 5-2, United topped Arsenal 8-2 and drew with Chelsea 3-3. Throw in the odd mad result down the bottom with Blackburn winning at Old Trafford and Wigan beating Arsenal, Liverpool, United and Newcastle, and it's no wonder the league is the most lucrative in the world when it comes to TV rights.
The bidding war for the 2013-16 rights will begin soon, and with Al-Jazeera expected to enter the fray, the figures are expected to be stratospheric. Given the craziness of this season, is it really that far-fetched to think that England's sixth-best team could win the Champions League?
There are bargains out there in January. January 2011 was not a great month for big-money buys. Chelsea signed Fernando Torres for £50m, Liverpool bought Andy Carroll for £35m and Manchester City spent £27m on Edin Dzeko. That none have been roaring successes -- though all had their moments of redemption in recent weeks -- might have deterred those clubs from making major acquisitions just 12 months later. But others were not dissuaded. Most Premier League clubs scouted Nikica Jelavic and Papiss Demba Cisse, but it took guts, and a leap of faith, from Everton and Newcastle, respectively, to sign them. Jelavic cost £5.5m and scored nine goals in 13 games; coach David Moyes wants to build the team around him next season. Cisse cost £10m and scored 13 in 14 games, including two goal-of-the-season contenders against Chelsea, and has now been linked to Real Madrid. They were not the only clever January deals, though: Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea), Pavel Pogrebnyak (Fulham), Djibril Cisse (QPR) and Jean Beausejour (Wigan) have had significant impacts in short tenures at their respective clubs, too.
Good players are not all from foreign leagues. The last time that all three promoted clubs managed to avoid immediate relegation was in 2002 (the teams were Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton). While QPR needed results elsewhere to go its way, Norwich and Swansea were never in danger this season and their coaches, Paul Lambert and Brendan Rodgers, deserve a ton of credit. A lot has been written about Rodgers and his pass-first philosophy, but Lambert's work has been superb as well. His formations varied from game to game and often mid-match, including a memorable instance in which his squad came from behind in a 3-2 February win at Swansea. But Lambert has taught us something else this season: There are British players in the lower leagues that are talented enough for top-flight competition. Elliot Bennett and Anthony Pilkington were signed from League One (tier three) clubs while Steve Morison, Bradley Johnson and Jonny Howson came from Championship sides. All have been excellent this season, so hats off to Norwich's scouting system.
It's time for Kenny Dalglish to move aside at Liverpool. However elaborately you dress up a Carling Cup final win, this club is about winning trophies, and captain Steven Gerrard said that this has been an awful season. Yet despite Liverpool's lowest league finish, eighth, in the top-flight since 1994, most fans still seem to want Kenny Dalglish to remain as coach. Have the owners at Fenway Sports Group forgotten about the template they talked about when taking over? Back then, it was all about a young progressive coach working under a director of football. In the last month, FSG have sacked Damien Comolli as director of football and Ian Cotton as head of communications (apparently taking the heat for the club's poor handling of the Luis Suarez racism controversy) but is Dalglish immune to the chop? Talks are underway for a new director of football to come in, and his first job should be to find a replacement for Dalglish. Bringing in some decent players and getting rid of the dead-wood on the books should be a close second.
Arsenal needs to handle its transfer business early. The decision continues to baffle: Last summer, Arsene Wenger opted against signing Santi Cazorla and Juan Mata before selling Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, as he felt that the buying clubs would lower their asking price by a few million if replacements were already onboard. Instead, he ended up with Yossi Benayoun and Mikel Arteta just before the transfer window closed.
Although both, particularly Arteta, played a part this season, Wenger's call now looks like the wrong one. The closest we'll ever get to an admission is that his approach this summer is markedly different: Lukas Podolski is already onboard and Yann M'Vila is expected to follow soon. Securing a place in the Champions League group stages does help with early planning, and with Steve Bould also confirmed as new assistant coach, some players set to leave to reduce the wage-bill and Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby hopefully fit for the new season, this should be an encouraging summer for Arsenal.
There's only one thing left for Wenger to achieve: persuade Robin van Persie to stay. Unfortunately for Gunners fans, that seems unlikely that will happen.
Interim coaches work for Chelsea. Ever since Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003, he has wanted to win the Champions League. Twice now, the Blues have reached the final, and the common denominator may be surprising: an interim coach. In 2008, Avram Grant was in charge as the team got past Olympiakos, Fenerbahce and Liverpool before losing the final to Manchester United on penalties in Moscow. This season, Roberto di Matteo has produced even more impressive European results, overturning a 3-1 first-leg deficit against Napoli, then beating Benfica and Barcelona to earn a place in Saturday's final against Bayern Munich. Overall, Di Matteo's record as coach is: played 20, won 13, drawn 4, lost 3. His reign will be remembered by what happens on Saturday, although -- win or lose -- it's unlikely that he will get the full-time job.
Ben Lyttleton has written about French football for various publications. He edited an oral history of the European Cup, Match of My Life: European Cup Finals, which was published in 2006.
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