If you believe the hype, the 2007/2008 English Premier League season was the most exciting and unpredictable season that we’ve had in a long, long time.
Except for the eventual top 4. Or the top 2. Or guessing 2 out of 3 relegation contenders. Or seeing recently taken-over teams embrace mid-table mediocrity instead of European football. Or seeing solid ball-playing sides like Everton and Aston Villa end up in the top half of the table. Or seeing Mourinho leave after everyone had predicted his departure.
Of course, there were surprises. There always are. Pompey had a good season overall, Manchester City started with a bang, Torres had a standout first season (never mind that most of his goals came at home) and Tottenham for all their investments floundered and finished outside the top 10.
But that’s about par for the course, ainnit? A team always over-performs, another team always under-performs, a player always has a brilliant debut season, someone always burns a trail to follow in the first half of the season (or the second half, for that matter).
But overall, you’d have gotten the top 4 right and if you’d taken the conservative bet, guessed 2 out of 3 relegated teams right as well. The close battle at the bottom of the table points to the lack of quality in some of those teams as opposed to how ‘interesting’ the league is.
If you were to go looking for big surprises during the 07/08 season, what would it be? Go ahead, it’s worth thinking about. Let me know in the comments.
As for the rest of the article, I’ve made it full of surprises and interesting things that happened to each team (along with how (un)predictable they were) in the Premier League this season (coupled with Guardian’s report card for each team – well done, Guardian). In order of league position then…
1. Manchester United (87)
Utterly Predictable: The insanely effective Cristiano Ronaldo. He was expected to step up from last season and boy, did he step up in style.
The Big Surprise: The almost suicidal stumble at the start of the season, when United couldn’t get more than two points in their first three games. When you look back to the season, most will forget the start and the 3 single-goal wins after that, before defeating Sporting away in Europe (another 1-0) and Chelsea at home with their first 2-goal match of the season. In all this, United’s defensive quintet came to the fore and things could have been so much different if even one of those games had gone differently.
2. Chelsea (85)
Utterly Predictable: The public response to Mourinho’s departure. The press craved the charisma, the fans blamed Grant for mistakes Mourinho had made.
The Big Surprise: Chelsea have been synonymous with ‘dogged tenacity’ but the never-say-die spirit really shone through in the second half of the season where Chelsea pushed United right to the final game of the season and made it to the Champions League final as well. Well done.
3. Arsenal (83)
Utterly Predictable: The drop in form caused by tired players, the on-pitch shenanigans cause by a lack of temperament, and a fall in the league table caused by a lack of squad depth.
The Big Surprise: That they fought so well at the start of the season when everyone had written them off. A pleasure to watch.
4. Liverpool (76)
Utterly Predictable: Their league position. Despite the signing of Torres (which made it 2 big players instead of 1 at Liverpool), Liverpool still lacked quality squad players and that showed at key junctures during the season.
The Big Surprise: That the owners could drag the club through such depths and not be taken to task for their actions. Shocking and no club deserves such owners.
5. Everton (65)
Utterly Predictable: Another top-10 finish, and while there was surprise at other teams doing well (City, Pompey), it was expected of Everton, a glowing vindication of the board’s faith in David Moyes.
The Big Surprise: That they haven’t been bought out yet. They’ve been very consistent, have a good nucleus of players and a young, talented and ambitious manager. Of course, all of this could be bunk by the end of next season with Everton relegated, but all signs so far point to a club just waiting for a takeover to take them to the next level.
6. Aston Villa (60)
Utterly Predictable: The young Englishmen blossoming under Martin O’Neill, as Hugo predicted, and as a whole MON has gelled the Villans into a cohesive, attractive team. Like Everton, Villa are a team on the up and if they can tighten things up at the back, they are certain to improve next season.
The Big Surprise: The goals scored in games Villa play (122, second only to Spurs, 125) – this season Villa have scored 71 goals, more than everyone else bar Arsenal (74) and United (80). That they’re in 6th place instead of 5th (or 4th) has to do with their propensity to concede goals, with 51 in the against column the 2nd worst stats in the top 10.
7. Blackburn Rovers (58)
Utterly Predictable: The rise of David Bentley, on a par with Blackburn’s infuriating (if you’re an opposition fan, that is) ability to punch above their weight in face of clubs with better resources. Bentley may not be Beckham but give him time and space and he will do something special for whichever team he plays.
The Big Surprise: Roque Santa Cruz – good season, key goals and a great signing. I’m really happy to have had him in my fantasy football team 🙂 To get an idea of how good his season has been…he had 38 goals in 188 appearances before this season, and he had 23 goals in 42 games this season. One-off? Trust Hughes to find an able replacement if that’s the case.
8. Portsmouth (57)
Utterly Predictable: A top-10 finish was expected of Harry, and he’s one of the few managers who have delivered this season. Their chance to win the FA Cup caps a remarkable turnaround led by Harry Redknapp that has fans drooling over their team’s prospects next season. As long as Harry can deliver another top-10 result, challenge for Europe and stay out of jail, that should be good, no?
The Big Surprise: Their run to the FA Cup final. One expected Portsmouth to continue improving under Harry but doing this well in the cup (granted, they haven’t put on their best performances but have scraped through regardless, which is more than most others can say) is an unexpected bonus.
9. Manchester City (55)
Utterly Predictable: The lack of passion shown by an Eriksson-led side that led them to threaten greatness before settling for mid-table mediocrity. Given time, Eriksson would be able to build a team to qualify for Europe, but in a league where playing with heart is as important as playing with skill, Eriksson comes out second-best (and if TS has his way, rich again).
The Big Surprise: Manchester City’s lung-busting start to the season and everyone hoping for a City-led invasion of the big four stronghold. It wasn’t to be, but City and Pompey gave serious hope to the chasing pack this season.
10. West Ham (49)
Utterly Predictable: A mid-table finish characterised by injuries, players not pulling their weight and a manager who can’t be banked on to get West Ham to Europe in the current competitive nature of the Premier League. West Ham have the players perhaps but not the manager nor the motivation to perform according to potential.
The Big Surprise: Their start to the season had fans dreaming of Europe, but three 4-0 defeats put an end to that and from then onwards West Ham just drifted without much enthusiasm. Wait, no surprises there…
11. Tottenham Hotspur (46)
Utterly Predictable: Martin Jol’s departure, and the fight Tottenham showed against Arsenal, United and Chelsea. The former was delayed for far too long, the latter was too fleeting to have any impact on their league position (although the Carling Cup final was a fantastic achievement considering the rest of Tottenham’s season).
The Big Surprise: The abject listlessness that inflicted Tottenham post-Wembley. Pathetic does not even begin to describe it. What could have kicked off a surging run up the table brought about a sputtering end to a season most players would want to forget.
12. Newcastle United (43)
Utterly Predictable: Michael Owen finally coming good for Newcastle. He said he couldn’t leave until he repaid the faith shown in him and he’s done a bit of repayment this season. Whether he’ll leave now is up to Ashley, Keegan and his wage demands that might turn off other clubs, but if you wanted to bet on one Newcastle player hitting some form this season, it would have been Owen.
The Big Surprise: Big Sam being ditched without being given a full season. To be fair, his appointment itself wasn’t the best move but seeing how long it took Kevin Keegan to turn Newcastle around, it would be naive to suggest that Sam Allardyce couldn’t have done the same as King Kev has done if he’d been kept on-board. Whatever the reasons for his departure, it came too soon for him to have any meaningful impact on Newcastle’s fortunes.
13. Middlesbrough (42)
Utterly Predictable: Midtable mediocrity masked by a desire to win that saw them grab crucial results at crucial stages of the season. They huffed, they puffed, and in terms of points are closer to 18th than 10th, but under Southgate Boro are slowly building the platform for breaking into the top 10 – as long as they can keep their better players onside.
The Big Surprise: The emergence of David Wheater as Woodgate’s replacement and the signing of Afonso Alves. Both have key roles to play for Middlesbrough next season.
14. Wigan (40)
Utterly Predictable: The long, tempetuous flirtation with relegation at the start. Wigan were out of their depth and they needed something special to haul them out of the hole they’d dug for themselves.
The Big Surprise: The strong finish, credit for which goes to Steve Bruce and the fighting spirit that he brought to Wigan. While Wigan aren’t going to challenge for Europe next season, under Bruce they can at least aim for mid-table security instead of worrying about another relegation dogfight.
15. Sunderland (39)
Utterly Predictable: Roy Keane finally running into trouble. Not Keano literally, but his all-conquering team from the Championship. The table is tight at this end (2 more wins instead of defeats would put them at 12th) but Sunderland weren’t good enough to do more than 15th this season.
The Big Surprise: That Keane was allowed to make the mistakes he made in the transfer window. It’s good to give a manager room to operate but given that he isn’t the most experienced manager at this level someone should have been brought in at board-room level to help out with identifying the right targets. It took Keane some time to figure out that he needed players with a certain character, something he should have known from the start from his days at United.
16. Bolton (37)
Utterly Predictable: The nosedive that Bolton took this season was predicted in Big Sam’s departure, who knew he had taken Bolton as far as he could. That the nosedive happened under Sammy Lee was even more predictable, so was Anelka’s eventual sale.
The Big Surprise: That Bolton survived after being in the quagmire for so long. Apart from Derby, they were the team most people had tipped for relegation for most of the season but Bolton scraped through and have their ‘elite’ status intact, if not their pride. The extra money will go a long way towards strengthening the squad – hopefully they can attract a decent manager as well?
17. Fulham (36)
Utterly Predictable: Getting stuck in the relegation battle – throwing money and little else at a problem only makes it a more expensive problem, as Fulham found out this season. Bullard’s return and inspirational role in their escape comes a close second.
The Big Surprise: That Lawrie Sanchez was allowed to do what he did, for as long as he did it. He got it wrong, and while some say he shouldn’t have been there in the first place, he should have been removed a lot sooner than he was.
18. Reading (36)
Utterly Predictable: You need to be improving each season just to keep up in the Premier League, and once Reading failed to ‘keep up’, they were always liable to struggle.
The Big Surprise: The lack of spirit shown in some games. The Reading of last season would not have rolled over the way this year’s side did, and that contributed in a big way to their relegation. While they were expected to struggle, they were still tipped to survive.
19. Birmingham City (35)
Utterly Predictable: For me, Birmingham were always positive on the pitch – it was fun to watch but it also meant that they would leak goals at the wrong times, thus losing points when they shouldn’t and ultimately failing in the relegation dogfight when more prudent management / play could have saved them. What works in the Championship doesn’t necessarily work in the Premier League.
The Big Surprise: That the owners allowed the Carson Yeung affair to develop and play out as it did. It’s easy to be wise after the event but the board’s primary responsibility was towards the success of Birmingham on the pitch and allowing for a situation to develop that led to instability at the club is not on. Could they have kept Bruce? Could he have kept them up?
20. Derby (11)
Utterly Predictable: When your manager says that your team got promoted ‘too early’, it’s a damning predictor for the rest of the season. Derby were spectacularly predictable, conceding the most goals (more than United scored) and scoring the least (less than United conceded).
The Big Surprise: That they tried to ‘play football’ against mid-table teams instead of shutting up shop as they had done against the ‘big teams’. I’m sorry if this is not PC, but if you’re going to get whipped you might as well give the other side a hard time. There were many games where Derby got their tactics wrong, and while you can understand the lack of motivation you can’t excuse the foolhardiness.
Here’s wishing a slightly late (or early) goodbye to an exciting, unpredictable season of football full of surprises. May the next season bring us many more interesting surprises, bigger and better and more unpredictable than this great season!