May 25, 2015

Tamed Tigers relegated

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

It was a thrilling final day like we had a couple of years ago, when Sergio Aguero’s injury-time goal won Manchester City the Premier League title, but there was excitement nonetheless.

Hull City, needing a win over Manchester United and a Newcastle loss or draw, got neither of those outcomes and will now ply its trade in League Championship next season.

It wasn’t for a lack of effort though. The Tigers played above their heads against one of the league’s giants, testing the Red Devils defence even before Maraoune Fellaini was sent off for a rash challenge on Paul McShane. But effort isn’t always enough to win and it wasn’t the case here.

Of course, with Newcastle somehow piecing together a rare win of its own, Hull’s effort was all for naught.

It’s always good to see teams fight for their lives in situations like these, knowing that squads could be disassembled if they fail and are sent down. Players don’t want their wages slashed or to be forced to move on from a team that they fought so hard for.

While you always want more than just a couple of games to mean something on the final day, seeing the Tigers’ final fight was still a decent send off to the Premier League season.

CHAMPIONS CROWNED

The three-week wait is over as Chelsea has finally lifted the Premier League trophy that it had clinched.

The best sight of the day though was Didier Drogba being carried off the field by teammates as once again he says goodbye to the club that made him a legend.

Whether he plays elsewhere remains to be seen, but it was a nice act to give him a hero’s goodbye.

He was even given the captain’s armband for the 30 minutes he played before being subbed off for Diego Costa.

Eden Hazard – despite having dental surgery midweek that prevented him from picking up his player of the year award – also somewhat surprisingly played. After having three wisdom teeth removed and this game being meaningless, you would’ve thought the Belgian would enjoy this one from the stands.

What the future holds for Chelsea is the big question now.

Though Loic Remy stole the show by scoring twice, is he the answer as a second striker? The defence is getting old, although Kurt Zouma certainly looks a player. And is the combination of Willian and Juan Cuadrado good enough on Hazard’s opposite wing?

Jose Mourinho will have some work to do this summer if he wants to defend his crown and make a run in Europe.

WHEN ARSENAL REALLY SHINES

It’s a sad indictment of Arsene Wenger and his boys, but Arsenal really shines when the pressure is non-existent.

Locked into third and playing a meaningless game, the Gunners ran over West Brom 4-1 in their final tuneup before the FA Cup.

With Theo Walcott healthy for what seems like the first time this season, the England winger scored a hat trick of nice goals – something that will certain give fans of the Three Lions some hope going forward.

Jack Wilshere also netted a beauty in one of his rare appearances.

This game was just another sign that if it can stay healthy, Arsenal is indeed good enough and deep enough to threaten for the title and make a run in Europe. If that can ever happen, though, is another story.

REDS LOOKING BLUE

Did Liverpool think the season ended last week?

After all the emotion of Steven Gerrard’s final game at Anfield, the Reds came out completely flat at Stoke. At the half, the Potters – by no means a good offensive team – had a 5-0 lead.

While Liverpool did play better in the second half, the ultimate result of 6-1 was actually one of the worst defeats of Gerrard’s career.

It was an embarrassing end to a legend’s career and a result that will lead to many questions about Brendan Rodgers’ future at the club as well.

After all, Rodgers said when he was hired to judge him after three years – and this will leave bad taste in fans’ mouths when doing so now.

Gerrard was able to nab a going-away goal, on a run that Stoke defenders seemed to give up on, but it was little consolation on his final day at the club.

WELCOME BACK, CANARIES

Well, that was quick.

Norwich City is back in the Premier League next year after winning the richest match in football.

The Canaries defeated Middlesbrough in the promotion playoff at Wembley and secured their spot in the EPL next year and the massive TV money that comes with it. Norwich may be quite familiar to EPL fans, as they were relegated just a year ago, spending only a year in the second tier.

Thanks to the parachute payment that comes with relegation, Norwich was able to make the quick comeback and now looks set for battle in the top flight.

Whether or not it can avoid the drop again and become a true yo-yo team remains to be seen.

PRE-SEASON PREDICTIONS

It’s always fun to look back at predictions from pre-season previews, picking out how outperformed expectations and who came up seriously short.

While I only managed two correct calls – Chelsea and City at 1-2 – I was also only one place off for nine other teams, which is somewhat respectable, I think, when you consider how tightly bunched things can get in the bottom half of the table.

As for the bad calls, I had four pretty bad calls – two overachievers and two underachievers.

I had Newcastle finishing eighth, only to see the Magpies implode completely and avoid relegation on the final day to finish 15th. I also had Sunderland in 12th, only to see them fight in the relegation battle most of the season. That’s actually the second season in a row that the Black Cats have burned me.

I actually had West Brom being relegated after finished second from bottom and while they struggled to score goals, the hiring of Tony Pulis was enough to solidify the Baggies defensively.

The other big shock was Southampton, but it’s hard to blame me for that one. After watching the exodus of talent last summer, it was hard to envision them contending as late into the season as they did, eventually finishing seventh while I had picked them 13th.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Leicester didn’t slow down in the season finale, picking up yet another win to finish 14th. While we know it would be hard to keep up this form over a season, the future certainly looks bright for the Foxes … If David De Gea does in fact leave United this summer, the Red Devils would be in good hands with Victor Valdes. The former Barcelona keeper looked fantastic in keeping a clean sheet against the desperate Tigers … Danny Ings should be in high demand this summer and it’s a shame that Burnley won’t get anything for their out-of-contract striker … Sam Allardyce won’t be back for West Ham. He’ll have no shortage of suitors as Big Sam is a proven Premier League manager, even if his style is a bit stale. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him at Newcastle … The team with the fifth-best goal differential this season: Southampton at 21, just four goals worse than Man U and 16 better than Tottenham … It was nice to see both Gerrard and Frank Lampard score in their Premier League finales. Not as much was made over Lampard’s farewell, as he had just played one season at City and was supposed to have already moved to MLS, but getting to wear the captains armband was a nice farewell. I haven’t seen the remaining MLS schedule, but we can only hope the Gerrard and Lampard meet up later this year.

THE LAST WORD

Odd-numbered years are awful for soccer.

No World Cup, no Euros. It’s a pretty boring summer, really.

Sure, there’s the Women’s Cup, but it’s not the same calibre of play. There’s also the Pan Am games, but, in a word, ugh.

At least this is shaping up to be a big-spending summer.

With Chelsea needing some upgrades and the rest of the big four looking to catch up, you’ll some pounds splashed for sure.

There’s always PSG willing to shell out some Euros and, of course, Spanish giants Real Madrid.

Reports are that Madrid faces a transfer ban after this summer, so you can bet it will go all in while it still can. Barcelona can’t bring anyone in this summer because of its ban, but it can reach future agreements.

The rumour mill has already started churning and you can be certain to see some wild headlines basically anywhere you look.

While there isn’t any action on the field, there will be some off of it.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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