Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Mon 14 May 2007

Over for another year...

Well, that's it my friends. Another Premiership season has come to an end and although it may not have been exciting all the way through, it certainly had an exciting finish.

Manchester United were, for my money, worthy champions. They were the most consistent, had the best goalscorers and were able to get a result more often than everyone else while playing badly. Not that they finished with a good result yesterday, but then they didn't need to. All the damage had been done right from week one and no-one could match them for sheer quality week in, week out.

As has been mentioned before, one man stood out for them – Cristiano Ronaldo. He created chances and scored goals with great skill and competency, thereby justifying Sir Alex Ferguson's determination to buy him in the first place. Together with Wayne Rooney (who had a few 'quiet' spells this season) and old faces like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, United had all the weaponry they needed to run out as the number one team at season's end.

Chelsea matched United step for step at the start of the season and were all set to make it a genuine two-horse race, but my November the Blues had started to crack and by the end of December a six-point lead had opened up. Two months later it was a nine point gap, and the fight was as good as over.

Jose Mourinho's men just couldn't recapture the spark of the last two seasons. Lampard was regularly below par, John Terry and Joe Cole were often absent through injury and the likes of Ballack and Shevchenko frankly didn't live up to their inflated price tags. They managed to reduce Man United's lead towards the end of the season, but they'd left it too late. At least they'd won the League Cup back in February, though.

Arsenal were surprisingly below-par too, finishing fourth this year. They also foundered during November, picking up just four points - a run of form that transferred to their Champions League campaign (where they were knocked out in the second round) and the FA Cup (which they exited in round five).

Despite being fourth in the table for much of the year, they never ventured much higher, largely due to the absence of their outstanding striker Thierry Henry due to numerous injuries. Their only honour of note this season was as runners-up to Chelsea in the aforementioned League Cup final which they reached on the strength of their younger players performances in earlier rounds.

Liverpool claimed third spot in the league on goal difference from the Gunners and also reached the Champions League final where they'll once again meet AC Milan later this month. Rafa Benitez has once again mixed experience burgeoning young talent to create one of the best Liverpool sides seen for many years. Peter Crouch's England form last summer continued into the early part of the Premiership season while Steven Gerrard maintained his high standards with many a fine performance in the famous red shirt.

At the back, Jamie Carragher, Steve Finnan and John Arne Riise remained rock solid, giving Liverpool one of the best defensive records of anyone. In goal too, Jose Reina gave the team even more resilience, restricting Jerzy Dudek to a handful of appearances this season.

Martin Jol should be feeling very proud of himself. Not content with steering Tottenham into the UEFA Cup at the end of last season by finishing fifth in the Premiership, he did so all over again, equalling their highest league position since 1990.

The undoubted star of the show was Dimitar Berbatov, a close season signing from Bayer Leverkusen who scored, on average, one goal in every two games he played in all competitions. Berbatov showed a high level of skill and ingenuity in the games he played, but never in an overly fancy way. The Bulgarian's brilliance on the ball was born out of sheer technical efficiency, doing exactly what was necessary to score goals - no more, no less. It spearheaded Tottenham into another UEFA Cup campaign next season where you can expect them to at least match this season's run to the quarter finals.

Everton and Bolton both improved on last season's final positions and consequently earned a place in the UEFA Cup next season too. Rather worryingly for Bolton, however, is the recent departure of Sam Allardyce who undoubtedly gave them the sort of edge that Sammy Lee will find difficult to maintain.

Blackburn and Newcastle both failed to qualify for the UEFA Cup as they did last season, but all is not lost for Mark Hughes men as their tenth place finish gives them entry to the Intertoto Cup. An opponent from Lithuania, Wales or Poland will initially attempt to derail Blackburn's face-saving exercise in the summer.

Having saved Newcastle from relegation last year, Glenn Roeder can feel rightfully unimpressed at the way his contract came to a premature end recently, but with Sam Allardyce looking likely as his replacement, the fans may be right to expect more success for their club in 2007/08.

Without question the best of the promoted teams this season were Reading. Following in the footsteps of West Ham and Wigan the season before, Steve Coppell's men did exceptionally well to finish eighth, just missing out on qualification to the UEFA Cup by a single point.

Reading's strength came from the sheer range of players that could score goals for them. Though Leroy Lita and Kevin Doyle excelled with a combined total of 20 goals, others such as Hunt, Sidwell, Kitson and Ki-Hyeon were all on standby to put the ball in the net too on many occasions.

Both Portsmouth and Aston Villa can be well satisfied with a mid-table finish after escaping relegation last year. Martin O'Neill arrived amid much optimism that he could turn Villa's fortunes around and despite failing to finish in the top-half of the table, they weren't far off in the end.

Harry Redknapp has worked wonders for Pompey. In his inimitable fashion, he's taken the cast-offs from clubs like Arsenal and Tottenham and brought in overseas talent like Benjani Mwaruwari and Niko Kranjcar to make a far more potent team than that we saw last term.

Middlesbrough and Manchester City continued to tread water, fairing only slightly better than last year although both managed to reach the quarter finals of the FA Cup.

And then there was the bottom six, almost all flirting with relegation at some point of the season or another. Watford, predictably but no less unfortunately were the favourites to return to the Championship and were the first to confirm their departure. Above them, Charlton and West Ham remained stuck in the bottom three almost permanently with no way means of getting out.

That was until February when Charlton, now under the leadership of Alan Pardew, went on a run of form that saw them lose only once in eight games. Similarly at Upton Park, West Ham threw off their pre-Christmas takeover shackles to secure seven wins in their last nine games. It was this run which unquestionably set them up for a last-day rescue act they could not have foreseen a couple of months ago.

Sadly for Charlton, a return to their previous poor form came as they failed to win any of their last seven games. It means the Addicks will be absent from the top flight next season for the first time since 2000.

Joining them and Watford, somewhat surprisingly, are Sheffield United. Surprising because they'd looked to be playing well enough to stay in the Premiership all season, even if they weren't setting it on fire. A slow start was eventually improved upon and Neil Warnock's team were comfortably above the relegation places but once again the run-in to the end of the season proved critical.

A 3-0 win over West Ham was the only decent result they earned and though they were fifth from bottom going into yesterday's games, it wasn't good enough. Defeat to Wigan by two goals to one became their undoing.

While Fulham underachieved once again, flirting with relegation right up until the penultimate week of the season, Wigan were in much more trouble. Earning many plaudits for last season's feats on their Premiership debut, the Latics headed into turmoil during the middle of March. Seven matches without a win caused deep concern all round and entry into the bottom three came at the wrong time for Paul Jewel and his men.

On the last day of the season, Wigan had to get their first win in eight. They scored first through Paul Scharner, conceded an equaliser from Jon Stead and had Lee McCulloch sent off, but a David Unsworth penalty gave Wigan a 2-1 lead which was enough to earn them another season in the Premiership. It was all the more ironic given that Sheffield United had sold Unsworth to Wigan back in January.

And that was that. Chelsea gave way to Man United as champions, Wigan and West Ham grimly held onto their Premiership status and Liverpool reached the Champions League final. It was quite a season, and quite a finalé.

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