End of season review: Ton-up Chelsea scoop title

Although the title race went the distance there is no doubt that Chelsea were the best Premier League by some way this season.

Despite losing six times, Chelsea still managed to beat Arsenal, Liverpool and Man Utd home and away, managing to hit the back of the net a PL record 103 times on their way to a third title.

Carlo Ancelotti must be praised for finally exercising the demons of Jose Mourinho, while Florent Malouda, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba hid the deficiencies of a stuttering Chelsea defence.

However, this season is a massive missed opportunity for Arsenal and Liverpool, who have both come close in recent seasons, to chase down their major rivals who had been weakened by age and the sale of key players.

While the Gunners and the Reds stuttered, credit must be given to their city rivals Tottenham, who claimed a place in the Champions League preliminary round, and Everton – for shrugging off a poor start to narrowly miss out on the Europa League.

The surprise package of the season must be Birmingham City, widely tipped for relegation, managed to string together a 15 game unbeaten run, held together by the impressive performances Scott Dann, Roger Johnson and Joe Hart at the back.

The bottom half of the Premier League was as poor as ever with Wigan (who conceded 55 away goals) and West Ham (only seven away points) undeservedly staying up and Burnley, Hull and Portsmouth well off the pace resigned to playing Championship football next season.

Player of the year
Didier Drogba

The official award went to Wayne Rooney but Didier Drogba managed to scoop the Golden Boot with 29 goals despite missing most of January at the African Nations Cup.

Manager of the year
Roy Hodgson / Carlo Ancelotti

If it was on both league and cup form the award would go to Roy Hodgson for leading Fulham to the Europa League final and to a comfortable 12th place finish.
But Ancelotti has been the best league manager, transforming Chelsea into a more attractive side and bringing much more stability to a side which has had four different mangers in the last two seasons.

Most improved player
Florent Malouda

The former Lyon winger looked like a completely different player for Chelsea this season after finally settling in England. Honourable mentions go to AstonVilla’s Richard Dunne, Man Utd’s Nani and Fulham’s Bobby Zamora.

Signing of the season
Thomas Vermaelen

The Arsenal defender was bought into the club to fill a Kolo Toure shaped hole and was assured throughout the season despite being written off for being to small.
Man Utd’s signing of Antonio Valencia from Wigan and Sunderland stealing Darren Bent from Spurs also come close.

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The three horse title race, Birmingham City and England’s World Cup chances

The three-horse title race

During the past week Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have all has their turn at the top of the Premier League.

Despite all the talk of the bug four dominance there has not been a genuine title race with more than two teams since Liverpool pushed Newcastle and Manchester United close in 1995/96.

Currently at the top of the table, with more than half the games played, just three points separate the top three sides.

Although Chelsea are favourites, United have hung in there despite their poor form and injury problems and if Arsenal can pick up a decent haul from their next four games (when they face Aston Villa and Liverpool in addition to Chelsea and United) the title could go right down to the wire for the first time in 15 years.

Birmingham continue to impress with cup win

While Birmingham were many pundit’s favourites to plunge straight back into the Championship they continued to prove doubters wrong with an away win at Goodson against a resurgent Everton side on Saturday.

The FA Cup victory set-up an away tie with second-tier strugglers Derby County but more importantly stretched the club’s record unbeaten run to 15 games.

With Cameron Jerome and Christian Benitez looking impressive up-front, Joe Hart solid in goal and Lee Bowyer recapturing his Leeds United form City look a good bet for a top 10 finish.

A real test of the side’s credentials will come on Wednesday when they face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

England World Cup bid already in doubt

Most sensible fans would probably tip Spain and Brazil for this year’s World Cup but anyone brave enough to back England would already be fearing for their chances.

While it might seem odd to write-off one of Europe’s better sides before a ball has been kicked, the current state of the squad must be a worry.

No-one has seized the number one jersey, with David James unsettled at Portsmouth, and the defence might creak with Glen Johnson, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry suffering from injury and loss of form.

In midfield, Steven Gerrard has been well below his best and it is unclear who will start on the flanks, while the only player on good form at the moment is Wayne Rooney.

The upcoming game against Egypt in March will be an important barometer for Fabio Capelllo’s men and will give some players a chance to book their seat on the plane to South Africa.