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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Tottenham’s problems are a case for the defence

While some football fans may be shocked by Tottenham’s from this season the problem has been there for a number of years.

Under Jol Spurs were praised for their exciting attacking football but their defence has always been poor – and herein lies the real issue.

Cast your mind back over the last few years and think of all the exciting games that Tottenham have been a part of. The 5-4 reverse against Arsenal and the 4-4 draws with Aston Villa and Chelsea all spring to mind and the common theme is poor defending.

Until Jonathon Woodgate arrived at the club, the only quality defender at the club was Ledley King and both have terrible injury problems. The likes of Ricardo Rocha, Andy Dawson and Anthony Gardner, who has since left the club, were – and still are – average at best.

To make matters worse there has been no solid defensive midfielders in the club with the club preferring to play with two playmakers such as Michael Carrick, Didier Zokora and Jermaine Jenas.

The balance has always been wrong and as the attacking players excelled the more likely they were to be noticed by he big boys.

The one striker Spurs could have kept hold of – Jermaine Defoe – they lost because they were not willing to rotate Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov. And once Manchester United and Liverpool came in for the striking duo they were never going to stay.

Tottenham fans have been blaming Daniel Levy and Damien Comolli for their current plight but they have brought a number of brilliant players to the club but none of them have been defensive enough.

They have not looked like putting a run of clean sheets together since Sol Campbell left for Arsenal and until they sort out this long standing problem the situation is unlikely to improve.

Tottenham have not become relegation candidates overnight – they were an accident waiting to happen.

Tottenham just wanted it more

The League Cup. Some clubs tend to regard it in the way Croatia manager Slaven Bilic regards the Community Shield, as being “a big deal if you win it, but not if you don’t”.

It is quite ironic that a decade ago when the final was Middlesbrough vs Leicester City, there was clamouring for the top teams to stop treating the competition as a “Mickey Mouse cup”.

Now though it seems to be more enjoyable if teams outside the so-called “big four” make it to Wembley because you can tell that they really care about it.

Whenever Arsenal play Tottenham it is always competitive and both teams always want to win. Naturally Gunners fans and the team will be disappointed at their exit, but let’s face facts, the League Cup is in no way the main priority for the red side of North London.

For Tottenham, a team like most outside the “big four” that find trips to cup finals more of a rarity, the opportunity to play at Wembley was just the motivation they needed and it showed on the pitch.

Incredibly unlucky not to run out the victors at the Emirates, the passion and verve shown by Tottenham, spurred on by an exhilarated White Hart Lane crowd, was too much for the Gunners.

Led by captain Robbie Keane, fast becoming one of the Premiership’s most consistent performers, the pace of the Spurs attack was a joy to behold. Aaron Lennon has probably given young defender Armand Traore nightmares for life, and the running from midfield by Jermaine Jenas confounded even William Gallas.

Tottenham ended up inflicting a defeat every bit as humiliating as Arsenal’s 6-3 drubbing of Liverpool in the competition last season.

Yes, in Arsenal’s defence they did not field a full strength side (although Fabregas, Eduardo, Gallas, Adebayor, Sagna and Hleb featured at some point), but this was a similar team in terms of quality to the one that made it to the final last year and nearly beat a full-strength Chelsea side.

Desire is a concept bandied about more than most in the sporting world. It is not a something that can be measured in the way that shots or possession can, but it is something that becomes more apparent when considering whether a League Cup final would mean more to Arsenal or Tottenham.

Now let’s hope we see similar desire shown by Everton against Chelsea so the neutral fans can watch a final that really means something.

Case for the defence

After threatening to finish in the top four for the past two season some might be surprised to see Tottenham in the bottom six of the Premier League.

Spurs have an array of quality players at their disposal but if they have no top class defenders they will never become consistent.

And it has been a problem for many years.

Tottenham may have been more impressive in recent years but they have never had a great array of impressive defensive players.

They have brilliant strikers but the only good defender they have is the permanently injured Ledley King.

Rocha, Kaboul, Dawson and goalkeeper Paul Robinson are just not good enough to guarantee European football to the north London side on a regular basis.

In many of their games over the past two seasons they have had enough firepower to outscore most of the inferior sides in the league but they rarely manage to beat any of the big four because they do not have the ability to keep a clean sheet.

If Ramos wants to be a success at the Lane he must make a case for the defence.

Jol axed by Spurs

This week Martin Jol finally got axed by Tottenham after a series of terrible results.

As a Gooner I suppose I should be happy but the whole affair leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

This is not an attack on Spurs but, considering they rarely win anything, they have outrageously high expectations.

Under the Dutchman the North London side have battled their way to two fifth place finishes in two seasons.

And, although they have outlaid more money this season, they never gave Jol enough time to realise the ambitions of the squad.

Gone are the days when clubs gave their managers years to achieve success for and, considering that Tottenham have rarely played such good football or had such a good run in Europe, the move to sack Jol may come back to haunt them.

It looks as if Juande Ramos will be the new man at the Lane and I’m sure everyone will wish him luck.

Because if he doesn’t bring the club immediate success his days may be numbered.

Premier League the most exciting?

There has been a long standing debate over which national league is the best in the world and the argument looks set to rumble on for some time.

But from the last week of games in the Premier League, it is safe to say that the English top flight is certainly the most exciting.

It may not be the most technically gifted league in the world, I think that accolade goes to La Liga, and it may not have the world’s greatest players, which again can be found in the Spanish top division.

But where else can you see three teams, in the space of just a few days, score four times and still not win.

Reading came out on the wrong side of a 7-4 hammering at the hands of the impressive Portsmouth and Aston Villa and Tottenham finished all square at the Lane in a thrilling 4-4 draw.

Admittedly the teams are not the most tactically astute and it may an over physical, frenetic form of the beautiful game but there is no other league on the planet that can match it for pure enjoyment.

What is going on at the Lane?

If I were Martin Jol I would just up and leave Tottenham.

Jol took over at the Lane after Jacques Santini left the club in the lurch and quit after just a handful of games back in November 2004.

And since then Spurs have been fantastic.

They have assembled a first-class squad including four of the Premier League’s most talented strikers, have become a regular fixture in the UEFA Cup and, of course, established themselves as the best club outside the top four.

After bringing in Darren Bent for an astronomical fee in the summer it was clear that they would need to do well again this season – but so far they have been lacklustre.

Apart form the 4-0 victory over a hapless Derby County side destined for the drop, Tottenham have looked lightweight, especially in defence, and were soundly beaten at home to Everton.

But it has only been three games and the way they are treating Jol is nothing short of a disgrace.
No manager should have to accept his job being whored around Europe, especially if they have performed as admirably as the Dutchman has.

Just quit Martin – they don’t deserve you.