Back of the Net with Ray North: ‘They think it’s all over…. it is now!’

by Ray_North on May 28, 2015

Back_of_the_NetYep, it’s that time again, my fourth end of season football review, and, as ever, I’ve got a few things wrong, and a few things right, but…. mainly wrong.

From a personal view, I’ve found this season a bit disappointing – my hometown Wrexham have slid into mid-table obscurity, and, believe me, mid-table in the Conference is pretty obscure, whilst Liverpool have been poor. Still, as a football fan, we live in hope and suffer in the reality of mediocrity – well most of us do.

But enough of my Cantonaisms – let’s look at how it all ended in the Premiership, with my predictions in brackets.

1. Chelsea (3)
2. Man City (4)
3. Arsenal (1)
4. Man United (6)
5. Spurs (7)
6. Liverpool (2)
7. Southampton (15)
8. Swansea City (19)
9. Stoke (9)
10.Crystal Palace (14)
11.Everton (5)
12.West Ham (13)
13.West Brom (19)
14.Leicester (17)
15.Newcastle (10)
16.Sunderland (12)
17.Aston Villa (16)
18.Hull City (8)
19.Burnley (20)
20.QPR (11)

Fair play to me, I got Stoke’s position of 9th absolutely right, and I did predict Burnley’s relegation, which wasn’t hard, nor was it too difficult to predict three of the four Champions League positions – the exception being Liverpool, of which more later.

Chelsea were worthy winners – before the season I had a nagging doubt that Mourinho would be able to go all the way with Chelsea, I feared that they might struggle to replace the ageing John Terry and the departed Frank Lampard – but, what do I know, Terry had the season of his life, whilst Lampard wasn’t missed at all, as Mourinho managed to play the wonderful Matic in the holding position, behind his more exciting, Oscar, Hazard and Willian. As ever Mourinho played a pragmatic brand of football, but the thing about him, is that he will change his tactics to grind out the results he needs – and that in itself demonstrates his genius, first in getting the tactics right, and second, getting the players to play how he wants. Chelsea will be hard to beat again next season.

Man City were runners up and suffered to get consistent performances from Kompany and Toure whilst Aguerro, was often sidelined when they needed him. The big decision for the Sky-Blues is whether they keep their manager – I hope they do, Pellegrini seems like a decent sort of guy to me.

I predicted Arsenal to be Champions, but, once again, they suffered from a serious lack of form in the Autumn and too many injuries – I am not sure about Wenger – but, there can be no doubt that, at their best, the Arsenal of Ozil, Sanchez (shown), Wilshire and Walcott are more of a match for anyone. I’ve said it before, though and I’ll say it again – they need centre halves and steel in their midfield. Unknown-1

Man United spent big last summer, and took a while to get into their stride, before managing to string together a run of about 15 successive wins, which secured their Champions League position – Man United fans were still grumbling though – too many long balls, too many underperforming superstars and not enough goals, they say, and they may have a point. I do worry about Van Gaal, he’s a bit dogmatic for my liking – United will spend again this summer, and next year, fourth might not be enough.

Liverpool also spent a lot last summer, but, the reality is that all the tea in China couldn’t have replaced Louis Suarez – us Liverpool fans knew him for the mental, maverick genius that he is proving himself to be at Barca. Staggeringly, Liverpool scored half as many goals this season as they did last, and that kind of diminution is always going to be catastrophic, especially when it happens to a team who aren’t very good at defending. Fair play to Rodgers, he changed the system to a three at the back, which worked for a while – but, he also bought some duffers – with Balotelli in particular proving to be an absolute disaster.

Moving on to the perennial Europa League Challengers – Tottenham did ok, but, seemed to freeze when they were faced with a challenge (particularly up North), Everton were very poor at times, and seemed to lack a plan B, whenever their full-backs were pinned back and their possession was thwarted by teams willing to press; Southampton were amazing – everyone’s favourite to go down after losing half their team last summer, Ronald Koeman did extremely well, first to maintain team spirit, and then to maintain style – they struggled a bit towards the end, and next season may be a challenge; Swansea City had another good season, they are now established in the top half of the Premier League and in manager Gary Monk they have a very clever and capable hand at the rudder.

Two other teams who can feel relatively happy are Crystal Palace and Stoke – well managed by two veterans in Pardew and Hughes, they both proved to be a thorn in the side of stronger sides and played some good football along the way – for Palace, I really like Bolassi, whilst Stoke have a number of players who really know how to put a shift in – both should do ok next season, as will West Brom who made the right decision to appoint Tony Pulis (below) when they did – he will get the best out of his squad and continue to get the results when it really matters.Unknown-2

Less secure are the North East duo of Sunderland and Newcastle United – these two clubs are massive in terms of their fan base, yet pygmies in terms of the way in which they are run – managers come and go and money seems to be wasted on players who are being bought with a view to be sold on, rather than nurtured. It’s a shame – this season, Newcastle were awful and Sunderland only improved when the old hand of Dick Advocaat took over – sadly for the Mackems Advocate has decided to hang up his coaching boots and put on his slippers, which will mean another change of manager and probably personnel and ethos; whilst for Newcastle it is odds on that the rather lightweight John Carver will be replaced if the Toon fail to improve come the Autumn. It augurs badly.

West Ham are in a different position – their move to the Olympic Stadium will almost certainly precipitate a large buy-out from another foreign owner, which could propel the Hammers down the same route trodden by Chelsea and Man City. They’ve already got rid of Sam Allardyce, because they want someone who can bring the traditional West Ham way of playing back to the club – good luck.

Talking of a change of manager, interestingly, and perhaps a lesson to club owners everywhere, Leicester City decided to keep faith with Nigel Pearson, and as a result their end of term form was so outstanding that they not only managed to avoid relegation, they ended up in a comfortable mid-table position. Of course, that doesn’t work for everyone – poor Hull City kept faith with Steve Bruce and went down, whereas QPR who, having amassed an expensive squad of over-paid (and over the hill) ‘stars’ were truly awful, replaced Harry Redknapp with Chris Ramsay, but to no avail. Burnley, also kept faith with the wonderful Sean Dyche (what a great voice – has anyone ever sounded more like a character from a Tony Richardson film? ‘There’s trouble at factory, go and get Mr Jethro, Frank and the boys, and Danny…. don’t forget my gun.) – Burnley were always going to struggle, but at least they went down fighting (which is more than can be said for QPR) – I hope that they, and Sean Dyche will be back.Unknown-3

Team of the Season:
1.David De Gea (Man United)
2.Nathanial Clyne (Soton)
3.Nacho Monreal (Arsenal)
4.Nemanja Matic (Chelsea)
5.John Terry (Chelsea)
6.Jose Fonte (Soton)
7.Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
8.Willian (Chelsea)
9.Harry Kane (Tottenham)
10.Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)
11.Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

Not a vintage season – in fact, I’m quite glad it’s over, but, come August, like every other person inflicted with the football virus, I’ll be longing for more of the same.

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