The English Premier League season has been one of the most memorable ones this year. Top teams falling by the side, lesser fancied sides jumping up to take advantage, Liverpool’s next year being their year, van Gaal’s comedy golds and Jose Mourinho’s long awaited sack—the season had everything.
Although Leicester City’s title triumph makes them dominate the key talking points in our season-defining moments, there were many other key appointments and goals that turned the season on its head. Here are the 10 most important ones.
1. Claudio Ranieri arrives in England, again
The news broke on July 13 that Leicester City’s hunt for a new manager has ended with Claudio Ranieri getting the job. With the Guardian calling it a “baffling” decision, and a lot of scepticism from all corners of the media, Ranieri went about his job silently. With an opening day win over then “fellow relegation competitors” Sunderland, Ranieri started his business calmly. But the next match raised eyebrows, when Leicester beat West Ham United at Upton Park, especially after West Ham’s opening day win at Arsenal.
Ranieri ditched his “Tinkerman” tag and stuck to his best eleven for the best part of the season as Leicester racked up points for fun and were among the top 4 in the league since the 11th week of the season. Ranieri’s presence and charm was there for all to see, and the story of the Italian incentivizing clean sheets by offering pizzas was heart-warming. For keeping things simple and helping a bunch of not world-class players perform out of their skins, Ranieri deserves every bit of adulation that’s coming his way.
2. Robert Huth’s winning header vs Tottenham
When Leicester City look back at their season, make DVD’s and season reviews or documentaries, they will probably stop and stare at this one moment where it all changed.
Going into the 21st Gameweek of the season, Arsenal had 42 points and a two-point lead at the top of the table over Leicester, with Tottenham a further 4 points behind. Leicester travelled to White Hart Lane to take on the Spurs. Arsenal elsewhere were in action at the same time in Liverpool.
Olivier Giroud had put Arsenal 3-2 up and the Gunners looked like they will widen the gap to 4 points at the top. Meanwhile, the scoreboard at Tottenham was untouched with less than 10 minutes left on the clock, mostly thanks to Kasper Schmeichel who kept out Harry Kane’s one-on-one effort just after the hour mark. With the game heading to a goalless draw, Christian Fuchs went to take the corner. His pinpoint delivery saw Robert Huth rise unmarked in the area, and before the blink of an eye, the ball was in the back of the net. 3 points was in Leicester’s bag, and in came some wild celebrations. What could have been Leicester 41, Tottenham 37, ended up being Leicester 43, Tottenham 36. In a title race that came down to as close as 5 points, the three-point swing on the night proved massive. If that wasn’t all, at Anfield, Joe Allen scored in the 90th minute to equalize in the Liverpool-Arsenal game to make it 3-3, and ensured Arsenal and Leicester were only separated by goal difference at the top. The stars had started to align for the Foxes right there.
3. Marcus Rashford arrives, Arsenal depart title scene
Not like it came as a surprise, but Arsenal lost to Barcelona in their Champions League Round of 16 first leg and successfully carried the hangover to the Manchester United game five days later. Marcus Rashford, coming on the back of a goal-scoring European full debut, laid the Arsenal title challenge to rest.
Just 2 weeks back, Arsenal had hosted table-toppers Leicester City and beaten them in the most dramatic fashion, with a 94th-minute Danny Welbeck winner, and had clawed back to within one point off the top. Arsenal fielded an almost first-choice eleven, while United had everybody from Wayne Rooney to Anthony Martial to Chris Smalling out for the game. But the Gunners had no idea what was to strike them.
The moment remains critical in the season’s developments because this is when Arsenal’s so-called title challenge lost its wheels, and they went five games without a win in all competitions thereafter. Arsene Wenger’s men again bottling a league challenge in early March. Surprise, surprise!
4. Manchester City 1-2 West Ham United
Manchester City started the season with five wins out of five and looked unstoppable, having conceded a grand total of 0 goals in that span. With wins over Chelsea, Everton, and a bright Crystal Palace side, City established themselves as the biggest fish in the pond. But Slaven Bilic could not care less. His West Ham team had beaten Arsenal and Liverpool, at Arsenal and Liverpool respectively. Bilic’s side on the road, had a ferocity that not many teams could match, and at the Etihad, they had the perfect start.
Victor Moses drilled one from 25 yards out and Joe Hart in the City goal could barely get down in time. This was the 6th minute of the game. If City thought that was a flash in the pan, Diafra Sakho bundled home another at the half-hour mark and City were staring at a second defeat in as many games after losing to Juventus in midweek. Kevin de Bruyne pulled one back before half-time and despite a barrage at the West Ham goal Adrian was up to the task and kept City at bay. West Ham won and cemented their status as one of the most dangerous sides in the league. Man City’s defeat showed more than one chink in their armour and only one week later they would lose again, this time at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur, by a 4-1 margin. The dominance was over, and like many times in the rest of the campaign, they missed their talismanic captain Vincent Kompany.
5. Norwich 0-3 Sunderland
Norwich City were clear of the bottom three by 4 points in the first week of April. The team that had four points less than them were, of course, Sunderland. While Norwich had won 7 points in their last 3 games, beating relegation candidates Newcastle United in a thrilling 3-2 in the process. On the other hand, Sunderland scratched at the bottom of the barrel with occasional draws, and even more occasional losses. So when Sunderland travelled to Carrow Road in a relegation 6-pointer the stakes were higher than ever. 90 minutes later, Sunderland had run out 3-0 winners with goals from Fabio Borini, Jermaine Defoe, and Duncan Watmore. The gap was reduced to one and Sunderland would go on to secure top-flight status a month later via...
Newcastle United were playing Aston Villa at home, with a one-point head start over Sunderland going into the penultimate weekend of the season. Sunderland were hosting Chelsea, and soon fell behind to a Diego Costa goal. Khazri put Sunderland level before Nemanja Matic again put the visitors ahead. Knowing nothing less than a win would suffice, Sunderland came out blazing in the second half. In a crazy 4-minute spell, first Fabio Borini put the sides level with a rasping drive and then Jermaine Defoe cracked an instinctive low shot and out of nowhere Sunderland were 3-2 up. Defoe, scoring his 15th goal of the campaign, had single-handedly earned 14 points of the 34 Sunderland had after the game. Newcastle being the disappointingly unpredictable side that they are drew against Villa, and Sunderland with a game in hand guaranteed safety with a win over Everton.
7. West Ham’s Boleyn farewell
Talking of 2-1 down and 3-2 up, the battle of the two United’s, 5 days before the season end, is right up there. In what was West Ham’s last game at the Boleyn ground the Hammers hosted Manchester United. Stakes? A place in Europe’s premier competition for Man United, while a chance to play in the Europa League for West Ham. Wins in their remaining 2 games would mean Manchester United would definitely participate in the Champions League, any other result and they would be dependent on Man City’s result. West Ham meanwhile needed to win to go sixth in the table and thereby a realistic chance of finishing fifth on the last day. Also the small matter of a farewell to their 112-year-old home ground.
What turned out was a classic. West Ham had the chance to put the game to bed in the first half, but guilt-edged opportunities missed meant they went into the break only with a Diafra Sakho goal. Anthony Martial had an easy tap-in to make it 1-1, and then the Frenchman’s deft left-footed chip saw Manchester United take the lead and be in pole position for the Champions League place. West Ham having gone down a goal, had a new spring in their steps. First, Mikhail Antonio headed home from West Ham’s player of the year Dimitri Payet’s ball over the top. Winston Reid then blew the roof off the Boleyn with an 80th-minute winner. The fans went ballistic, the players were pumped and Manchester United, like so many times this season, were left in the dumps. A perfect farewell.
8. Chelsea also bid farewell
In another farewell, Chelsea bid goodbyes to Tottenham’s title hopes after securing a comeback draw. It was believed for long periods during the run-in that Tottenham are only in the title race mathematically. A 7-point gap with 5 games to go is unlikely to get wiped out. But there was also the counter argument that Leicester City have the trickier run-in with Manchester United, Chelsea, and Everton to play. And Leicester City indeed dropped points against United, but Tottenham had dropped points at home against an unfancied West Brom team.
So on May 2, when the Spurs travelled to Chelsea, they needed to win at any cost to stay in “mathematical contention”. Spurs took a 2-goal lead by the break and it looked like another stroll in the park, but Chelsea and Spurs have a beefy history and tempers flared in the second half. Partly because Eden Hazard and Gary Cahill had scored to equalize for Chelsea, and partly because the two teams just don’t like each other. Whatever be the case, it was just a tad bit unfortunate that Leicester City won their maiden title while watching the action unfold on television sets. Deserved champions no less with the small bit of irony that Chelsea lent a helping hand to Ranieri’s men. Some coincidences are beyond scripts and imaginations.
9. Klopp for Kop
Just like this one. Who could’ve thought that Klopp, in charge of Dortmund only at the end of last season, would take charge of Liverpool. Especially after their disastrous start to their league campaign. Klopp brought with himself passion and vigour that has been unseen on the English shores since Jose Mourinho’s first stint with Chelsea. And he gave us memorable matches. Norwich 4-5 Liverpool and Dortmund 3-4 Liverpool, being the pick of the bunch. Now he will be taking the Reds to a Europa League final, where a win will guarantee them Champions League football next season. Also, the fact that his achievements have been with a squad that was accumulated by his predecessor. With money to spend and more free will, Klopp could take Liverpool to a whole new level next season. Fans can already start smacking their lips.
10. The Pep Guardiola announcement
Jürgen Klopp will be joined in the English league by none other than Pep Guardiola. Keeping next season aside for a second, the Pep Guardiola announcement by Manchester City hurt their season more than any injury or missed open goal. On the 1st of February, when the announcement was made, Manchester City were sitting second in the league table, three points behind Leicester City. A week later they lost at home to Leicester City. Fast forward to the end of March, and they had lost to Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, West Brom, Chelsea, and Liverpool. The gap between Manchester City and Leicester City was now 15 points. With rumours of which player will go and which will stay, and talks of all kinds of player transfers, coaching staff changes, the focus on the ongoing season was lost. It was nothing short of a PR blunder and could easily have been avoided in holding back the announcement for later. Such was City’s plight, that they somehow crawled into the Champions League places, almost gifting it away to their Manchester neighbours.
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