Football in 2015/16: The Year That Was

The dust has settled. The curtains came down on what perhaps was the most thrilling and most unpredictable campaign in the most watched league in the world. Nobody was prepared for what transpired. Nobody. (Well..apart from that bloke that managed to swindle bookies with this punt).

Before we continue, I must apologize for ghosting every reader of this blog for about two weeks. The end of the season was immediately followed by my end of semester exams and so I found myself short of time to give my two thoughts on the end of the season, as well as the FA Cup, Europa League and Champions League finals as well. However, that’s all done and dusted now, at least temporarily, so let’s get started.

Premier League

For some time now, the Premier League has always boasted that it’s the most exciting league in the world. This year, it was no exception. Leicester’s incredible triumph meant that we’ve seen four different winners in the past four years, a fete that is mighty exceptional in comparison to all the other top 5 leagues in Europe. While Juventus, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and PSG won consecutive back to back league titles, the perennial English bigwigs were in for a shock from a humble club from Leicester under the stewardship of one Claudio Ranieri. Everybody loves a fairy-tale underdog story and Leicester’s was celebrated by everybody, regardless of the club you support. (Unless you’re a Spurs fan, which is understandable).

On the flip side however, the traditionally bigger sides must ask themselves what really went wrong. Man Utd, Man City, Arsenal and Chelsea in particular fell short of expectations despite the stature of their clubs and the bumper finances at their disposal. Manchester United will be competing in the Europa League despite spending over £300m. Chelsea won’t be challenging for any European silverware despite being Premier League champions in 2014/15. Liverpool managed to get to the Europa league final but ultimately fell short and Manchester City sabotaged their own campaign by announcing a new manager in the middle of the season. It’s a lesson well learnt and I expect them to bounce back up come August.

Elsewhere, special mention goes out to West Ham, Southampton, Stoke City , Watford and Bournemouth for their performances throughout the season. The latter two were impressive after coming from the Championship and showed great character to ensure another season in the top-flight. Both clubs must strengthen their squads in the summer as it won’t be a walk in the park next season. It never is.

2015/16 was a good year for the Saints, and in particular, Ronald Koeman. The Dutchman has managed to bring European football to St. Mary’s Stadium as well as bring out the very best of some real gems in that squad. Victor Wanyama, Sadio Mane and Fraser Forster particularly impressed. As is the norm, however, Southampton are now in their most dreaded period of the year. They face a real battle to keep their best talents at the club, and this year in particular the biggest has to be their manager. He is the biggest signing they need to make this season, amidst serious interest from Everton.

West Ham were the other overachievers of the season. It all begun with a win over Arsenal on opening day, and from there things just got better and better for them. The acquisition of Dimitri Payet rejuvenated the West Ham squad and turned it into a set piece powerhouse. If you recall, it was a set piece that sealed victory against Manchester United in their final home game at Upton Park. A befitting end to an extraordinary campaign. Obviously, there’s still more to be done to ensure their style remains exciting and effective. The Hammers are already hunting for a star striker and under Slaven Bilic’s leadership, I trust they’ll only reach further. They stumbled in their race for Champions League football and an FA Cup trophy but it was a successful season overall.

Commiserations to Newcastle, Norwich and Aston Villa after being relegated but in all honesty, they just weren’t good enough. With Aston Villa’s captain picking up  ore suspensions than goals, Norwich dropping precious points game after game, and Newcastle realizing they’re in a relegation battle with only 3 games to go it was probably justified that they went down. Big changes needed in Norwich and Aston Villa’s squads in particular, with many players too old and past their prime. Newcastle are under very good hands and should be coming back in the soonest time possible. Rafa’s commitment to stay will have a positive effect on the club.

FA Cup Final

Manchester United lifted the FA Cup trophy as consolation for a horrible time under Louis Van Gaal. It was a nice feeling after suffering more failed signings, money wasted, anaemic, risk-averse football that betrays the club’s traditions, a lack of cutting edge and too many meek players.

The real winner was Jesse Lingard. He, together with Marcus Rashford, are living the dream of every Manchester United supporter. It doesn’t get any better than scoring the decisive goal in a final.

It wasn’t a great match and the trophy could’ve gone either way. Pardew’s little dance mid-game confirmed this. There’s been better finals in the past, I must say.

Europa League Final

A game of two halves. After the first period, it seemed that Liverpool would blitz Sevilla away come full time but the masters of the Europa League had other ideas in mind. A double from Coke sank Klopp’s army after enjoying such a remarkable run that saw Istanbul repeated all over at Anfield when Liverpool triumphed over Borussia Dortmund.

Liverpool left with dissapointment, but deep down they knew it was the right result. Klopp has done more this this squad than many expected to and one can only think that Liverpool will be challenging once again if he gets the signings that he needs. Besides, many would’ve said that Liverpool would have been incredibly lucky to finish 8th and have a Champions League spot next season but in all fairness, Sevilla finished just one position above the Reds in their league so that argument doesn’t hold any weight.

Meanwhile, Sevilla have a curious case in their hands. I’m not too sure whether winning multiple Europa League trophies counts as a success or a lack of progress, but that’s a story for another day.

Champions League Final

This match had everything I had hoped for, except for Atletico lifting the trophy at the end of it all.  With two local rivals that had to fight for their place in the final, it was inevitably going to be a tight and cagey affair. Real’s experience won it for them in the end, and deservedly so. Atletico put up a brave fight, and if they can match the ambitions of their manager, who sees failing in two finals as a disaster, then it’s only a matter of time before they get their hands on the trophy unlike some other club I know that’s always content with Champions League qualification year after year.

Congratulations to Zidane for lifting a very prestigious trophy in less than six months in charge, joining an illustrious group of people that have won it both as a player and as a coach. The real task (no pun intended) will come next season, however, as the eternal thirst for silverware at the Bernabau will be well alive and at his back, as well as persistent inquiries from the footballing world as to why Pepe is such a big d*ck.


 

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