Those that know me will also know I’m a massive football fan. I’ve been a supporter of West Ham United since I was about 15 and since then I’ve taken it pretty seriously, making sure to keep up with the ups and downs of a Premier League Season (or a Championship one, at one point) and slowly building up a passionate knowledge of the game.
There are many reasons to dislike football, whether its the obscene amounts of money, the attitude of some of the players, or the ridiculous firing and hiring of managers you can pick out several flaws. But the game itself is beautiful, the tactics and nuances of a 90 minute match are deep and incredibly interesting once you get into it. Managers may be at the whims of ridiculous owners with more money than sense, but I respect them enormously for the versatility of personality their job requires.
This year made some of the pros and cons of football more visible than ever, from the beginning of the season to the end there have been some difficult moments, some ridiculous moments and some outstanding play. Although the league table will show which teams did best in terms of points, some massively over or underachieved. This is my League, effectively, with a quick judgement on teams based on what I’ve seen and how I think they’ve performed given the resources they have. It’s all personal opinion of course, and I’m sure there are stats that will come up with a proper idea of which teams over or underperformed, but these are my impressions.
#20 – Queens Park Rangers
QPR had money, experienced and talented players, one of the best managers in England and great home support from the start of the season. But all they managed to use was the money. The players didn’t perform, Harry Redknapp left mid-way through the season through ill-health and their form away was so bad that no level of home support could keep them on a good run. Almost undeniably the biggest underachievers in the league, and deservedly relegated
#19 – Newcastle United
Newcastle are a club that frankly has been shockingly run. Mike Ashley represents all the worst things about modern football club ownership, a man bent on making the club into a money making exercise rather than something for the city to be proud of. While it’s a bit much for them to be challenging for Europe, they should never have been close to relegation. Instead they fired Alan Pardew, a man for whom I’ve always had enormous respect after he took West Ham to the FA Cup final, despite him being an excellent manager in a difficult scenario. John Carver has been an awful replacement, and they need to find someone new to take them back up the league. Pardew over and underperformed at times, but his teams never looked this bad.
#18 – Sunderland
Sunderland are a really difficult team to get to grips with. Like Newcastle they have underperformed and played poorly in plenty of games this season, but under Poyet they were at least difficult to beat at first, being the 0-0 draw specialists in the early part of the season. Then they just starting collapsing after conceding the first goal in game after game. They deserve to be higher than Newcastle, because the club is better run and has fewer resources, but I do expect much more from them.
#17 – Hull City
The first team that I think is where they were always likely to end up in the table, Hull City were always going to find it difficult to survive in the Premier League. They don’t have the resources of most other teams, had key players from last year sold off at the start of the season and had injury troubles from day one. Steve Bruce is a good manager, and its nice to see fans giving him support even though he’s close to relegation, but it was never going to be likely that Hull could stay in the league for more than a few years. The reason they’re so low down this list is the amount of money they spent this year was too high, and so overall I think they’ve underachieved.
#16 – Aston Villa
This is perhaps slightly harsh, given that they’ve made it to a cup final, but Villa have never looked like a good team this year. The occasional bright moments, such as at the beginning of the season and now under Sherwood, have never been the norm despite exceptionally high quality players such as Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke being regular starters. Sherwood clearly knows how to use them better than Paul Lambert, but that doesn’t appear to have been a hard thing to do. They found it nearly impossible to score under Lambert, then were suddenly goal happy after he left. Next season I would expect to see them comfortably mid-table, where they should be given their resources.
#15 – Everton
Had it not been for the improvement in form at the end of the season, Everton would be right near the bottom of this list. Going from Champions League contenders last year, where Martinez was getting them to play fantastic football with great defensive and offensive tactics, this year they’ve looked lacklustre for the most part, as though the whole team was out of sync. Fortunately the situation recovered, they’ve played much better football in the latter half of the season and have improved defensively in particular, but they have the resources and players to be in the upper half of the table and challenging for Europe, and should be next season.
#14 – Leicester City
Very well run club, very passionate supporters, relatively average but hard-working players and a good manager mean Leicester have performed well enough to warrant their current place in the league, despite being bottom most of the season. Their 5-3 win at Manchester United was a highlight of the season, and their winning run at the end is a fairytale ending to an incredibly difficult season. Sticking within Nigel Pearson, who was respected and liked by fans, was clearly a good move and I’m looking forward to seeing them again next season, hopefully with a bit more quality in the squad.
#13 – West Bromwich Albion
Like Leicester, West Brom haven’t really over or underperformed over the course of the season. They’re not likely to be in the top ten every year, but securing safety is always their priority and they did with games to spare. While I think firing Alan Irvine was a bit harsh, it’s turned out to be a good move to replace him with Pulis, whose fantastic record of never having been relegated continues. They have some quality players in Gardner and Berahino, and provided they keep that team together, they’ll continue to stay in the Premier League
#12 – Tottenham Hotspur
Again a season of underperformance from Tottenham. They have some of the most talented players in the league, great goal scorers and defenders, but they can never seem to put together a good run. They should be pushing for the Champions League the whole way through a season, not accepting a Europa League place every year. They need to challenge next season and buy in some better quality midfielders to give Harry Kane (if he stays) the support he needs, because he’s clearly a talented striker that could develop into a very special player.
#11 – West Ham United
I let out a deep sigh writing this. If I’d done a half season review I’d have happily, and I think justifiably, put West Ham second in this list. They played brilliant football in the first half of the season, Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho providing and scoring goals in important games, while the backbone of the team from last year was still intact and playing much better. Everything felt good, but then it came crashing down spectacularly. They’ve gone from fourth to tenth in four months, but they are normally a mid-table team and judging them over the season as a whole, they’ve not underperformed. It’s just difficult to accept that we could have been challenging for Europe and now we’re back to where we’re used to being, in a distinctly mediocre position.
#10 – Manchester United
I’ll be honest, I hate everything about Manchester United. I can’t stand seeing teams like them spending enormous amounts of money to try and effectively buy the league from other teams, massively outstripping the spending of other clubs. So to see them drop out of every cup in spectacular fashion (a 4-0 loss to MK Dons being another season highlight) and now only just scraping into the Champions League was very nice to see, for me at least. It shows you can’t just buy random players and play with almost random strategies to win, you have to be better than that. Louis Van Gaals tactics were awful at the start of the season, but he has recovered the situation somewhat, and has at least achieved the bare minimum expected.
Burnley are high up my list because I think over the course of the season they’ve overachieved. They played great football, always gave one-hundred-and-ten percent, and never ever gave up hope of being relegated. They do not have a team capable of playing in the Premier League on paper, yet they made it incredibly difficult for other teams to put them down and beat Manchester City with an admirable display in the latter half of the season. Sean Dyche is a great manager, the fans are great, and the club deserves credit for not panicking, not trying to go beyond their means, and hoping to build on great foundations for next year, where they might be able to reach the league again and then secure their status with a bit more cash.
#8 – Crystal Palace
Like Burnley, I think Crystal Palace have overachieved and played excellent football, especially since the arrival of Alan Pardew. He has made the team exciting to watch, with players like Wilfred Zaha and Yannick Bolassie penetrating defences at will. Pardew is one of my favourite managers in the Premier League, partly out of respect for his time during West Ham, but also because he’s affable and willing to try and play attractive football. He’s human, and lashes out occasionally, but Newcastle made a massive error in firing him, with Palace totally vindicated in taking him from them.
#7 – Liverpool
Liverpool overachieved last season, and this season they’ve probably done broadly what most expected them to do last year. But that expectation carried over into this year, and thats a bit unfair on Brendan Rogers and the team as a whole. Sure, there are terrible signings this year, such as Lovren and Ballotelli, but they lost Suarez and effectively Sturridge at the start of the season, one of the best strike partnerships in the history of the league. They were irreplaceable, and in reality to finish fifth would not be a disaster given the resources of the teams above them. They have great players in Sterling and Jordan Ibe, but they need to improve next season and either get their current signings performing or cut their losses and bring in some real quality.
#6 – Manchester City
Manchester City are where most people expected them to be and they’ve performed pretty well over the course of the season. The problem is the Champions League and Cup games, where they had an opportunity to win silverware and failed to do. They have had injury issues, with Aguero struggling with his knee, and some players have not performed, such as Jesus Navas and Mangala, but they certainly haven’t underperformed over the course of the season. They need to come back stronger to challenge Chelsea next season, though like Manchester United I dislike the way the club is run because they try to buy titles.
#5 – Stoke City
Stoke have done excellently in the league this year to secure a high mid-table finish, despite having at best average resources. Their players aren’t brilliant, but they’ve managed to get some great results along the way and Mark Hughes is getting them to play attractive football. The club is run well, the fans always make a great atmosphere in home games, and it’s great to see them doing well even if there are sometimes worries about the aggression levels of players like Ryan Shawcross (who has deserved an England call-up for years) and Charlie Adam. It’ll be interesting to see if they can build on this and start consistently finishing mid-table, because that would be great for the club.
#4 – Arsenal
Arsenal have done very well in the second half of the season, and reached the FA Cup final, but they need to be more consistent over the course of a whole season. I have probably more respect for Arsene Wenger than any other manager, since he doesn’t overspend, plays attractive football, develops youngsters, has a very calm manner and consistently gets the team into the Champions League without fail. If Arsenal can actually put a whole season together they could win the league with the current team, but if they can finish above both Manchester City and United they will have done excellently this season.
#3 – Chelsea
They’ve won the Premier League and the League Cup, but to say Chelsea have overachieved is giving them a bit too much. Most expected them to win the league, and while they’ve done very well I can’t really put them any higher because other teams have overachieved hugely and deserve higher places. Similarly, their performance in the Champions League was embarrassing at PSG and while Jose Mourinho is undeniably a tactical genius, his style of football is often aggravating to watch for neutrals, even if it nearly always gets results. So Chelsea are high up, but they could have been higher had they done better in the Champions League or FA Cup.
#2 – Swansea City
They could feasibly finish in the European places, they’ve reached a record points total for the season, played gorgeous and fluid football all year and never strayed from the top 8 places. Swansea are now regular overachievers in the Premier League, and it’s made all the more impressive by the fact that they’ve stayed consistent despite the loss of Wilfred Bony in January. Garry Monk still needs to prove himself over a few seasons, but he has continued to build on what Martinez, Rogers and Laudrup have achieved over the course of the last decade or so and is keeping the clubs philosophies intact while also making them a force to be reckoned with both offensively and defensively. Swansea are everything that is good about modern football, a great club with a clear vision and beautiful play that can make games exciting to watch for fans and neutrals.
#1 – Southampton
Had Southampton not had to sell virtually their entire team and manager at the end of last season they’d probably be about 7th on this list. But to push for the Champions League for so much of the season and potentially secure a Europa League place if Arsenal win the FA Cup is frankly astounding considering all that. They’ve played great football, with Saido Mane now having scored the fastest hat-trick in Premier League history, and signed some great players to replace the ones that mostly went off to Liverpool and underperformed. Ronald Koeman’s stock has risen significantly, with him having clearly picked out where the squad needed developing. Since Southampton have a rich history of producing great young players, and that is continuing with midfielders like James-Ward-Prowse, he could rely on the youth system to give him some players as well. So for me, Southampton are easily the biggest overachievers considering some were worried about relegation this season.