Tuesday, May 26, 2009

So what did we learn this Premier League season? – Margin

First the world; then England!

People dallied with the early season notion that a fixture pile up and a deficit to make up on Liverpool might count for something. It didn’t. Manchester had the best manager, the best team, and they won an 18th title at a similar canter to the one United employed for the World Club Cup.

Too good to go down.

Tottenham Hotspur have seemingly made a lie of the claim that no side is too good to go down if it plays badly enough. Two points from eight games, and three from nine a match later, should have made relegation a formality. Still languishing well into the New Year they employed some champions league qualifying form, a proven new manager, and surprising depth to their post transfer window squad to secure their top flight status with seventeen points to spare.

Not too good to go down.

Newcastle United have seemingly proven the truth that no side is too good to go down if it plays badly enough. At one time apparently safe under the much hated Joe Kinnear, his dodgy ticker, an inexcusably weak squad, and an unproven but otherwise much loved new manager secured their Championship status with a final day whimper.

What goes up must come down…

…Unless what goes up is from Stoke or Hull. Hull earned almost all of their points before collapsing half way through the season. Stoke muddled through with a bit of bite, some old fashioned launching tactics, and the signing of the season in James Beattie.

What goes up must come down…

…and go up again. And come down again. etc. Poor West Brom must despair that their sensible business planning, cautious but sound transfer dealings, and commitment to play football without cynicism - has made them consistently better than the Championship but never as good as the Premier League.

Arsenal can splash the cash after all.

But apparently only when they are about to lose everything they hold dear. Arshavin was the big money signing that the Gunners need five of to even consider competing with United next season. Alas they only seem willing when one will save them from losing their Champions League gravy-train ticket. Lets hope he doesn’t go the way of Nasri and vanish after an initial glorious impact.

Good manager + time = results.

While Chelsea screw their aging team up by changing managers every time the owner sneezes, Everton and Aston Villa know better. Moyes and O’Neil have been given time to build their teams. They have been allowed set-backs without the sack. And they have been trusted to use their somewhat different budgets as they see fit. They may not have achieved the highest prize in English football, (a top four finish). But they are each the best of the rest.

Things can always get worse.

Blackburn Rovers were much despised for their violent game under Mark Hughes. Their willingness to kick and jab their way through 90 minutes of football each week was barely tolerably despite occasional good passing play. With Big Sam now in place, the passing turned to punting down field, while dirtiest side around kept their reputation and added some rather adept diving to their repertoire.

One thing we didn’t learn.

As yet no one knows quite why the season went on into late May, and how it is we have passed the bank holiday without an FA Cup winner crowned. This campaign had no more games than any other year but has left fans wearily waiting for it all to be over weeks after we normally start spending sunny days with our families. Or at least rainy ones at the cricket.

And one thing we should have learned years ago

While no one should have learned this, I fear many people will have. Roy Hodgson is a phenomenal manager.

Without cheating or gouging or diving or punting, his teams have always thrived, except of course when they haven’t been given time to. A low injury rate at a club that year after year sells prized assets and never goes down, he has taken Fulham to Europe where many a foreign fan will see his name listed and knowingly recognise a tough team to beat.

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