By Ahmad Khan
Take a breath, everyone.
After 38 rounds of matches filled with thrills, spills, celebrations, shocks, tears, goals and even slips, the Premier League concluded on Sunday as Manchester City were crowned champions of England for the second time in three seasons.
While the blue half of Manchester celebrates their title triumph, the Premier League, in actual fact, emerges as the biggest winner as they showed yet again why they are the most entertaining league in the world.
From the twists and turns of the title chase to the powers of recovery displayed in the relegation dogfight, there were countless defining moments in the season as we try to look back on all the action over the course of the year.
Goals, goals and more goals
The goals scored this season, for one, are something to savour. Both City and Liverpool broke the 100-goal-mark barrier with 102 goals and 101 goals respectively. Prior to this season, only Chelsea have reached a century of goals in a single season as with 103 goals in 2009/10.
With 1,052 goals scored in over 380 matches, there was an average of almost three goals per match - an astounding statistic, to say the least.
This was partly due too a healthy number of goal fests this season, which included thrillers such as City’s 6-3 thumping of Arsenal, as well as Liverpool beating Cardiff City by the same margin. The Reds' 5-1 thrashing of Arsenal and City’s 7-0 mauling of Norwich City are just some of the others we have witnessed and purred over.
It is hard not to talk about goals this season without mentioning the name Luis Suarez, as he equaled the record of 31 goals in a single campaign, a feat reached only by Alan Shearer and Cristiano Ronaldo. Bear in mind he achieved the feat after missing the first five games through suspension.
The season also had its fair share of screamers. Wayne Rooney’s long-range lob, Jonjo Shelvey’s outrageous strike from inside the centre circle and Pajtim Kasami’s volley from an impossible angle a notable few amongst other worldly strikes.
Topsy-turvy title challenge
You’ve probably heard this before, but this year’s title race was as exciting as ever with the top spot changing over a record 25 times throughout the course of the season as the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and City all reached the pinnacle at one point in time or another.
Arsenal were the pacesetters early in the season before their traditional mid-season slump. Chelsea, at a point of time, looked set to reach the summit, especially after they became the first team to beat City at their own backyard. However, they too suffered a collapse, encapsulated by Jose Mourinho’s first ever home league defeat at the hands of Sunderland as their title charge wavered away.
As for Liverpool, their modest expectations were thrown out of the window after an 11-game winning streak left them top of the table with full control of their destiny. The Reds were primed to win the league with three games remaining, but a damning defeat to Chelsea after Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip, coupled with their capitulation after going 3-0 up against Crystal Palace, meant their dream was rudely crushed as they self-destructed when it really mattered.
In the end, it was City who emerged tops after a late surge. Having been under the radar most of the time due to the brilliance of Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool at different points in the season, Manuel Pellegrini’s men were probably the most consistent team throughout the course of the campaign, eking out victories when it mattered as they quietly went about their business.
City barely led during the course of the season, but just like a marathon, they had the legs to run the distance to eventually finish first.
While the top end of the table was filled with all the excitement and drama, the tail end held its own just as well, with arguably the closest relegation fight in Premier League history.
Only six points separated the bottom 10 teams after 24 matches this season, while there were as many as nine teams who were still not assured of avoiding relegation with three matches to go.
Palace, who were thought to be doomed for the drop as early as November, sensationally woke up from their slumber and ended the season in 11th place. Sunderland also made the great escape after being only the second side since West Brom to avoid the drop after being rooted at the bottom of the table during Christmas. The Black Cats did so with style as they took points City, Chelsea and Manchester United in their final few matches to end the league in 14th place. So much for relegation troubles!
On the other hand, Fulham and Cardiff City were unable to arrest their slump as they finished in the bottom two, while Norwich, who joined the relegation bandwagon very late, formed the holy trinity of the biggest losers in the league.
What’s a season without a fair share of managerial casualties, right? Nine out of the 20 top division clubs had a change of management, with Fulham changing their manager twice in the same season.
The ruthlessness of the Premier League was brutally exposed as 10 managers, namely Paolo Di Canio, Chris Hughton, Michael Laudrup, Rene Meulensteen, Malky Mackay, Andre Villas-Boas, Steve Clarke, Martin Jol, Ian Holloway and David Moyes all lost their jobs, increasingly strengthening the notion of football being a results-oriented game in today’s day and age.
Some of the dismissals proved to be a masterstroke, as seen by Gustavo Poyet’s miraculous achievement of cleaning up Di Canio’s mess and Tony Pulis, who brought Palace back from the dead. Others, however, namely the merry-go-round with Fulham’s trio within just a season, as well as Mackay’s replacement Ole Gunnar Solsjaer at Cardiff, did little to change the team’s fortunes as the deservedly faced the drop.
The was always going to be a high-profile dismissal too and that naturally went to Moyes, who broke new grounds for United as he created record after record of undesirable results. That left the management no choice but to dismiss the former Everton manager. And let’s not forget his temporary replacement Ryan Giggs, who became the first player-manager to take the field in over 80 years, in what was one of the most noteworthy aspects of an otherwise dismal season for the Red Devils.
Youngsters and other subplots
What’s a season without a couple of raw gems being unearthed? This past season has seen a fair number of youngsters who have taken the league by storm. The likes of Adnan Januzaj, Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling and Luke Shaw have all wowed and impressed fans with their ability and made key contributions to their respective teams . One can’t help but purr at the thought of such talents who will likely play a huge role in the years to come.
There were many more subplots that made it especially memorable this past year. From your typical underdog story such as the overachievements of Everton and Southampton’s attractive football this season, to refereeing controversies such as Andre Marriner’s mistaken identity of Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain for Kieran Gibbs, to off-the-ball incidents such as Alan Pardew headbutting David Meyler, to even more controversies such as Nicholas Anelka getting the sack for his quenelle gesture - this season had everything in terms of entertainment on and off the pitch.
It will be a wonder how the next campaign or any campaigns after this can match up to a season such as this one. But you can take heart knowing that at least you’ve witnessed how this special 2013/14 season unfolded.