In a desperate bid to avoid engaging with others or actually being productive FTW will be doing a full round-up of the Premier League followed by reviews of major leagues around Europe:
Manchester United: If you’d asked most United fans at the start of the season whether a nineteenth title and a Champions League final would be acceptable you’d have been crushed in the stampede. The team rarely sparkled but the tactical flexibility and a blend of youth and knowhow saw Ferguson’s lot come up trumps again. Even the final against Barcelona holds no shame for they lost to one of the greatest sides in football history. Three finals in four years also suggests they may get another crack sooner than they think. However the loss of Edwin van der Sar, Paul Scholes, Owen Hargreaves and Gary Neville means it could be quite a different United side next year. Losing all that experience would be a blow to any side.
Chelsea: Oh but for that defeat at Sunderland. The Chelsea juggernaut started the season like scoring goals was going out of fashion and their end of season form was also outstanding. Whatever happened during the ten game “difficult moment” may never be known but it cost Carlo Ancelotti his job and Chelsea their title. A combination of constant managerial flux and an aging squad hardly bodes well for recapturing it next year. The team also look much further away from that Champions League Roman Abramovich craves so much than they did circa 2008.
Manchester City: Although Roberto Mancini was roundly pilloried for his tactics at the start of the season he has taken City to their best finish in a long, long time as well as breaking a 35 year trophy drought on the way. His job is still not 100% secure but this will undoubtedly be remembered as the season that Manchester City truly arrived as a legitimate European force. The squad has gelled nicely and a title next year is certainly not beyond them. If Mario Balotelli settles fully they could be utterly lethal.
Arsenal: As has been pointed out elsewhere only Arsenal could contrive to finish fourth in a two horse race. The collapse was as dramatic as it was unsurprising. The real frustration must be that the Gunners aren’t far from being a title winning side. For so much of the season they matched United step-for-step but too many slip ups at crucial times cost them dearly. Next season is a real conundrum. They could just as easily win the title as slip out of the top four entirely. It’s likely that all their competitors will strengthen so it’s vital Arsene Wenger buys wisely this summer.
Tottenham: Delightful and infuriating in equal measure. Spurs were involved in some of the best games of the season (Inter x2 and the 3-3 draw with Arsenal to name just a few) and at times they were so much fun it bordered on the ridiculous. Yet their soft underbelly was a criminal lack of ruthlessness. Their run of games against the bottom four in the second half of the season yielded one point. Had they managed to take a very reasonable nine from that sequence they would even now have Champions League football at the expense of Arsenal no less and the summer would look very different. What price that weakness?
Liverpool: Something of a Jekyll and Hyde season and that would be putting it mildly. Six months under Hodgson might just qualify as the worst period for the club in decades. A perfect storm of a managerial problems, insane and incompetent owners and star players wanting away. Yet the arrival of Kenny Dalglish has revitalised the entire club. A very busy January window also saw the club strengthened as Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll seem far more committed than Fernando Torres by the end. There is a long way still to go but the rot has been emphatically stopped at Anfield.
Everton: A season not unlike their rivals Liverpool except without the excuses. A dreadful first four months followed by a much, much better end to the season. Yet this isn’t a blip. Yes there were injuries and other problems but these poor starts are becoming chronic and David Moyes might just finally be feeling that a parting of ways is coming. Financially Everton punch way above their weight but these poor starts cannot continue. Something has to change and sadly it might just be the manager. Moyes and Everton have been a wonderful partnership but we may be nearing the end.
Fulham: After he stopped sniping at Manchester City for sacking him Mark Hughes has started to do rather a good job with Fulham. Another top half finish and the Europa League again, albeit through the Fair Play league. Money is tight but the squad is packed with excellent players from Brede Hangeland to Clint Dempsey. A season with a fully fit Bobby Zamora will also be a massive boost for the club as well. As ever, the summer will need to be used very wisely to strengthen on limited funds but the future is quite rosy at the Cottage.
Aston Villa: How Aston Villa have ended the year in the top half is quite a mystery. Even a few weeks before the end of the season and the club was still being haunted by relegation concerns. Manager Gerard Houllier has been unpopular from day one and has already been eased out of the door on health grounds. Wingers Ashley Young and Stewart Downing look set to leave. The days of hoping for Champions League football are firmly over and there is a big rebuilding project needed at Villa Park. The new manager will certainly have his work cut out for him.
Sunderland: A topsy-turvy season which has foxed many. Until Christmas Sunderland were hoping for Europa League football and served up that phenomenal 3-0 thrashing of Chelsea. Then things started to go pear-shaped after January. The loss of Darren Bent coincided with a severe loss of form for the whole team. Recovered nicely towards the end but still a disappointing final position given the early season promise. Steve Bruce will keep his job but needs to start spending more prudently this summer.
Part 2 tomorrow...