Phew, it’s been a looong nine months. Starting this self-facilitating media node all the way back in August, expectations were high but realistic. Obviously we knew we were good, but short of distracting our friends during their daily slice of accountancy/bespoke solutions/eco-war, the fear was that it would be difficult to break into the mass market. But after many weeks of spam posts on message boards and nuisance law suits, the tide started to turn, and with the help of some like-minded individuals, we seem to have done rather well in our freshman (people in America read this and everything, don’t you know) year. I’d just like to take this opportunity then to thank Ryan and all the guys over at The Spoiler, Jeremy and the Albion Road team, Tom at soccerpro.com (provider of a quite sharp Portugal shirt might I add), Ahmed and the Soccerlens folks, plus finally, Andy and all the other sites that are currently spanking us in the Liquid Football Pro Evo tournament!
Right, self-congratulatory circle-jerk out of the way. Since August we’ve enjoyed 38 weeks of Premier League action, plus an exciting Carling Cup, perhaps the most entertaining FA Cup in recent memory, and also the most dominant English monopoly of the Champions League to date. There have been heroes and zeroes, goals and gaffes, nutmegs and elbows, and as we reach the end of our first year in the blogosphere, we’d like to invite you to join us for the first Annual STT Sniffers. This is a celebration of the best and worst this fine season has had to offer, highlighting the match-winners and the flops of a season that has gone right down to the wire for the first time in years. Manchester United were undoubtedly worthy of their second successive crown, and based on their form throughout the year, who could begrudge them a Champions League victory too? Our focus has always been Premier League, but outside of the top flight we’ve also seen some of the most dramatic twists and turns, with virtually all promotions and relegations being decided on the final day. So congratulations as well to West Bromich Albion, Stoke City, Swansea, Nottingham Forest, the MK Dons, Peterborough, Hereford, and last but not least, Aldershot.
Team of the Season
I’m sure by now enough dust has settled for everyone and his dog to have come up with their own team of the season, but here for completeness’ sake is ours. We’ve tried to capture the whole spectrum of the season, so while certain players impressed in spells, consistency and number of appearances also had to come into consideration. With honourable mentions we’ve tried to pay tribute to others that we’ve enjoyed watching, so while there is inevitably still some big-4 weighting, hopefully most clubs are represented in some capacity.
Like a fine wine, or an inexperienced prostitute, DJ continues to get better with age. He is more confident now than ever before, commanding in the air, and worth at least a couple of goals per game with his natural shot-stopping ability. Producing several contenders for save of the season, on the back of this year’s showing, DJ should surely be considered for a recall to the national team.
Honorable mentions: Brad Friedel, Chris Kirkland, Craig Gordon, Ali Al-Habsi, Roy Carroll
The loss of Gabriel Heinze in the summer was expected to be a huge blow to Manchester United’s title-defending aspirations but in Patrice Evra Alex Ferguson uncovered one of the most impressive wing-backs in Premier League history. Defensively, Evra has the pace and intelligence to read any striker (even Lionel Messi), while going forward he has almost as much guile and trickery as Cristiano Ronaldo. As first full seasons go, this was up there with the very best.
Honorable mentions: George McCartney, Gael Clichy, Charles N’Zogbia
While many have plumped for Vidic’s central-defensive partner Rio Ferdinand, for our money, this hard-as-coffin-nails Serbian has been the stand-out, with Ferdinand looking a lesser player alongside a replacement such as Wes Brown. Physically imposing but softly spoken, Vidic has never looked in danger this season, handling everyone from Kevin Davies to Fernando Torres with aplomb. Extra kudos for almost always having blood pouring from some part of his anatomy without him realising/caring.
Honorable mentions: Joleon Lescott, Martin Laursen, Rio Ferdinand, Martin Skyrtl, Jonathon Woodgate
One of the real revelations of the season, this young Englishman was fast-tracked along with local lad Michael Johnson into an almost entirely continental City team compiled by Sven in the off-season. Built like a boxer and as fast as any striker, Richards has it all at just 19 years of age, reading the game superbly and clearly learning admirably from his rock of a defensive partner Richard Dunne. With interest from many major European superpowers, the world is his oyster as they say.
Honorable mentions: Ricardo Carvalho, Richard Dunne, Paul Scharner, Phil Jagielka, Steven Taylor
Defensive consistency has been the downfall of Arsenal this year in many ways, but down both flanks they have been impressive, with pace and movement key. Sagna has slotted effortlessly into Wenger’s style of play and intent, with his marauding runs and crossing ability providing Adebayor with a good portion of his goals this year.
Honorable mentions: Glen Johnson, Alvaro Arbeloa, Vedran Corluka
A no-brainer obviously, you don’t need me to tell you he’s been a bit tasty this year. As individual seasons go, this has to be considered one of the greatest the Premier League has ever seen, and check back later this week when we will be attempting to gauge its place in history.
Honorable mentions: Ashley Young, Niko Krancjar, Stuart Downing, Ryan Babel, Elano
As if there was every any doubt that the German captain would come good in the Premier League, Ballack has been the dynamo that propelled Chelsea to within touching distance of a third league title in four years. Despite early season injuries, Ballack makes the cut for a revelationary last six months, scoring vital goals and running the midfield single-handedly for much of the time.
Honorable mentions: Javier Mascherano, Gareth Barry, Sulley Muntari, Michael Essien
While his incredible early season form has dissipated somewhat in recent months, this teenage Spaniard has still been one of the players of the season. In combination with the now-departed Flamini, Cesc has had the freedom to show off his incredible passing and long-range shooting ability. In many ways, Arsenal in general have failed to live up to Cesc’s standards this year, but with a talent like this to rebuild around, the Gunners should be back on track next season.
Honorable mentions: Mathieu Flamini, Steven Gerrard, Owen Hargreaves, Mark Noble, Jimmy Bullard
Over the last three seasons, the ex-Arsenal man has completed a transformation into a young David Beckham, but on paper he actually has more to offer than the LA playboy. With delightful footwork and running ability, Bentley’s passing and shooting have been second to none this year, rightfully earning him a spot in the national side. A measure of his season is that the only bad thing I can think to say about him is that he normally has quite a shit haircut.
Honorable mentions: Mikel Arteta, Sebastien Larsson, James Harper, Wilson Palacios, Martin Petrov
A personal favourite for a couple of years now while playing at Athletico Madrid, it’s been great to see el nino mature into one of the very best strikers in the world. Blessed with electric pace and able to score with either foot or head, it’s been his work ethic and determination that has impressed the most. Constantly subject to treatment from bruising centre-halfs, Torres has rarely complained or theatrically gone to ground, instead always dusting himself off to get the last laugh. In conclusion, if I had to be with a man, it would probably be him.
Honorable mentions: Emmanuel Adebayor, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Brian McBride, Yakubu, Jermain Defoe, Benjani
One of the league’s coolest players without doubt, Roque has had an exceptionable debut season, scoring goals for fun against all opposition. It’s testament to his deft feet that the big Paraguayan has never has he been considered a traditional target man, but rather a old-fashioned centre forward that has evoked the ghost of Alan Shearer at Ewood Park.
Honorable mentions: John Carew, Carlos Tevez, Robbie Keane, Kevin Davies Tuncay Sanli, Dirk Kuyt
Disappointments of the Season
It’s a short list sure, but that’s because most players who’ve been shite this season were always expected to be. Big price-tags coupled with big reputations contributed to the inclusion of these players, which is why perhaps there is a slight Chelsea bias, but overall Chelsea have been generally quite impressive under Avram Grant. They gave Man U a run for their money carrying so much dead weight so just imagine their success had the below five played anything like as well.
Came with a great reputation from Lyon where, in a fantastic attacking team playing regularly, Malouda was a stand-out alongside Brazilian maestro Juninho. However with sporadic appearances at Chelsea, who are very much from the go-back-to-go-forward school of thought, he has looked slow and uninterested, rarely contributing more than a miss-hit pass.
Playing up-front with Roque Santa Cruz, Pizarro was a pretty big hit at Bayern Munich. In terms of physicality, he had everything needed to succeed in the Premier League too, but all year he’s just been behind the pace and as blunt as a balloon in front of goal.
Chelsea’s player last season but on loan to PSV for work-permit reasons, big things were expected of Alex this year considering how well he was thought of in Holland. Given the perfect opportunity to impose himself with John Terry injured for parts of the season, Alex failed to pick up the game in this country, consistently struggling for pace, positioning and in all honesty, anything approaching competence really.
Tal Ben Haim:
Such a bizarre signing in the first place, this ex-Bolton man has rarely featured for Chelsea after a few early season mishaps, and one wonders exactly what his future will hold. As is, I’m sure he’s happy to soak up a huge wage for doing nothing, but guaranteed at most other clubs he’d be able to play often enough to get his metaphorical mojo back.
Another year and another pale imitation of the once-great man we knew at AC Milan. Shevchenko has almost been more frustrating this season after a couple of promising showings, but his woeful lack of pace is quite sad to watch. Word on the street predicts a return to the San Siro in the summer but one wonders if he’ll be able to produce any kind of form even back in his spiritual home.
As a Czech Republic international who was Paris Saint-German’s Player of the Year in 06-07, the signs were definitely good, but alas it turned out that he joined the long line of abysmal Newcastle defensive acquisitions over the years. Having stayed at the Magpies just five months, Rozehnal went out on loan to Lazio at the end of January where he only played seven times. Neither team wants him and with good reason; even at Newcastle this year he stood out for being rubbish.
Apparently more intent on sending naked snaps of himself to teenage girls these days, Nugent was doomed to failure from very early on, when reports reached the press that Redknapp wanted to sell him just two months after buying. Rarely used even in the Cups, it’s hard to believe that this is the same man who bagged an England call-up last year after a great season for Preston almost carried them into the Championship play-offs. Having scored zero Premier League goals this season (that’s one less than Titus Bramble) Nugent will undoubtedly be on his bike in the summer, with Redknapp keen to add another decent forward to his promising squad.
So much money gambled on a big fish from a very small pond, the pressure was always going to be on Bent from the start. With Berbatov and Keane main-stays should fitness allow, it was difficult for Bent to establish himself initially at Spurs, and with the arrival of Juande Ramos, it looked like his days were numbered. Sure he bagged a few goals coming off the bench, and actually looked sharp in places, but unless regular football follows elsewhere next year, it could be game over for this English prospect.
Yes that’s right, the Dutchman manages to make both lists in some capacity. Perhaps calling him a disappointment is harsh, but with such a woeful Premier League scoring record, it’s hard to call this striker anything else. His work-rate is second to none, and you could argue the running he does off the ball perhaps allows Torres the space and time to score as many as he does, but still, three goals in a 38-game season is poor to say the least.
I think he was pretty good a few years ago but Christ, Eboue has been appalling this season. He has looked so uninterested, yet bizarrely self-important, while going through the motions in a variety of positions,. Furthermore his aggressive manner make him surely one of the league’s most objectionable chaps, even by Arsenal’s high standards. Normally I try not to get personal, but I just can’t stand him and wish he’d leave.
West Ham have been pretty flat last couple of years generally but a swan-song was certainly expected from Ljunberg as he finally bid goodbye to Arsenal. What followed this year was anonymous at best, failing to do anything really of significance as his glory days ebbed slowly further into the past. It was always a risky signing, but Ljundberg really undermined Curbishley’s confidence in him by rarely even trying to contribute in a team where his class should have stood out, even if he legs wouldn’t. Go back to modelling pants is our sage advice.
Goals of the Season
Ok, this started life as a Top 10, but research revealed an enormous cannon of great goals this season, so here instead then is just a Top 15, compiled in no particular order other than when they came into my head. Click on each chap’s name for a handy youtube video link because at the end of the day, this feature is pointless without. For a nice bit of audience participation, please send us your personal top 3 picks to the usual address.; if it matches our own editorial choice, I’ll buy you a pint. Maybe.
About as true a hit from a stationary ball as you’ll ever see.
Cristiano Ronaldo - Manchester United vs Portsmouth
Out of several contenders, the best free-kick Ronaldo hit this year.
Stylian Petrov - Aston Villa vs Derby
Long-range accuracy from the ace Bulgarian.
Nani - Manchester United vs Middlesbrough (he did something almost as good against Spurs too)
Nani at his thrilling best; once his maturity and consistency improves, he could be as good as Ronaldo.
Dean Ashton - (35 secs in) West Ham United vs Manchester United
In a season where we actually saw a disproportionally large amount of overhead kicks (Andre Bikey anyone??), this was by far the stand-out; superb timing and co-ordination.
Cristiano Ronaldo - (50 secs in) Manchester United vs Newcastle
He scored a hat-trick in this game, but the second was such a peach. Effortless control and a world-class finish to cap off a typical United passing move.
Fernando Torres - Liverpool vs Middlesbrough
In a season where most of his 24 league goals were crackers, this long-range hammer was the pick.
Carlos Tevez - Manchester United vs Middlesbrough
Looking for a goal to sum up both United’s slickness and also Tevez’s telepathic interplay with Wayne Rooney, this was the obvious choice. How do you defend against soemthing this good?
Emmanuel Adebayor - Arsenal vs Tottenham
Despite scoring as many goals as Torres this year, I’m still just not convinced Adebayor is actually any good. This however, is absolutely sublime.
Anything Ronaldo can do, Rochamback can do too! The Brazilian playmaker was outstanding this year, and this final-day goal capped off his last season in this country.
Kenny Miller - Derby vs Newcastle
Back in the days when Derby were optimistic about their time in the sun, Miller announced himself in the Premier League with this absolute screamer.
Tuncay Sanli - Middlesbrough vs Derby
The Turk has banged in quite a few this year but none better than this technically superb near-post volley.
Daryl Murphy - Sunderland vs Wigan
Sunderland can hold their heads high this year, despite having a pretty mish-mash team at times. Not sure Murphy did much else over the season, but this goal was pretty damn good.
Perhaps made all the sweeter due to his ex-Arsenal pedigree, this screamer came deep into injury time and cemented his promise as one to watch over the next couple of years.
The highlight of a mediocre season, Sheva seemed like his old self in this game; thoroughly involved and alert, this fine strike was undoubtedly the old Milan days shining through.
Cristiano Ronaldo - Manchester United vs Aston Villa
Can you honestly say that anyone else in the league would even have attempted to do this?
Game of the Season
Portsmouth 7 – 4 Reading
Even though it took place early on in the year, this stood out instantly as a match that wasn’t gonna get topped quickly. Thrilling end-to-end action, and one of those rare occasions where virtually every shot went in, leading to much Chris Kamara-based hilarity for those Jeff Stelling fans amongst you. Funniest thing about it was that, even though it set a new Premier League record for goals in a game, the score should’ve really been 8 – 4 as Pompey missed a penalty.
Honourable mentions: Tottenham 4 – 4 Chelsea, Tottenham 6 – 4 Reading, Aston Villa 4 – 4 Chelsea
Team Performance of the Season:
Manchester United 6 – 0 Newcastle
Honestly this should’ve finished like a cricket score, with all of United’s goals coming second half after they toyed with Newcastle from the first whistle like a lion with a paraplegic (sorry). A quite perfect Ronaldo hat-trick was the highlight, but every single phase of their play oozed class. If this wasn’t enough, in the return fixture a month later, United beat the Magpies 5 – 1. Baby steps eh King Kev?
Honorable mentions: Chelsea 6 – 0 Derby, Middlesbrough 8 – 1 Manchester City
So quite a year then. Hopefully this rather lengthy run-through has helped jog a few memories and made you reflect on what has actually been a pretty great season of top flight football. Manchester United and Chelsea continued their dominance, and the gap between the big-4 and the rest widened even still, so the question has to be: next season can any of the nearly men finally cross the boundary and break into the top 4? Aston Villa, Blackburn, Everton, Manchester City and Portsmouth have all impressed over the last 9 months, but still lack the cash and consistency to really threaten even Liverpool.
Finally, can West Brom, Stoke City and Bristol City or Hull handle it in this league next season then? Short answer, yes with an ‘if;’ long answer, no with a ‘but.’ Teams will perhaps relish the chance to play West Brom because of their open attacking style, whereas Stoke present quite a different proposition. Big and strong throughout the whole team, they are reminiscent of Bolton under Sam Allerdyce, and with a couple of cultured additions to the squad could well surprise some people. Bristol and Hull meanwhile also aspire to play the right kind of football, but one just wonders where the goals are gonna come from against rock-solid defences. For two of them though, it’s their first experience of the Premier League, so whatever the outcome this time next year, it’ll be a hell of a ride.