EPL review - Chelsea stroll to success

Alam Khan 28/05/2015
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Team of the season: Chelsea.

In the bowels of the Etihad Stadium, “incredibly dull” was the assessment of a fellow scribe on the Premier League season.

– FIFA officials arrested in Zurich on US corruption charges
– UEFA calls for FIFA presidential election to be postponed
– South Africa World Cup “won with $10 million in bribes”

He was not alone in feeling so flat as this was one of the most uninspired, deflating campaigns in recent memory.

Perhaps we have been spoilt by the cliff-hanging, tense final-day games to determine the champions.

This title race was over by January as Manchester City went from joint-leaders with Chelsea to struggling to stay in the top four after a run of four games that garnered just three points.

As they, and Arsenal faltered, Chelsea remained formidable to lift their first championship since 2010 – and a decade on from when Jose Mourinho enjoyed his first with them.

The Blues were equally superior this time around with team unity, tactics and all-round talent proving their biggest strength as they started stylishly and were steely defensively in the run-in. Just three defeats and crucially, they did not lose to any their main rivals.

For City, they scored the most goals (83) and looked good during a nine-match winning run, but dropping nine points to relegated sides QPR, Burnley and Hull proved damaging to their title defence.

Arsenal never recovered from a bad start and injuries to Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud, but a late charge offers promise of a better challenge next season.

For Manchester United, a season of transition saw them finish fourth and achieve their aim of getting back into the Champions League.

With changing formations and big names, like Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao flopping, performances were often dire, but, ‘pay attention to the manager’, Louis van Gaal now has the foundations in place to build for better.

The same can’t be said for Liverpool as the empire that Brendan Rodgers wanted to build is crumbling. Signings such as Mario Balotelli did not work and, as Steven Gerrard bade farewell following a sorry 6-1 loss at Stoke, his manager could also exit Anfield if the owners lose faith over a sixth-placed finish.

Ambition has been replaced by uncertainty.Spurs and Southampton impressed at times and flirted with the top four, but never had the belief, nor brilliance, to succeed.

Garry Monk and Mark Hughes deserve credit after guiding Swansea and Stoke into the top 10, while Alan Pardew and Tony Pulis turned Crystal Palace and West Brom’s seasons around after relegation fears.

It was left to the bottom sides to provide the drama in the last month. Nigel Pearson didn’t endear himself with his abrasive approach, but he dragged Leicester to safety. 

From 11 losses and two draws in 13 games, they won seven of their last nine to finish 14th.

Tim Sherwood and former UAE coach Dick Advocaat also deserve credit for coming in and keeping Aston Villa and Sunderland up.

From doom and gloom, there was delight for the Toon as Newcastle won a decisive last match against West Ham to beat the drop. Cue much relief for owner Mike Ashley.

Hull started the season in the Europa League, but ended in the Championship.

Just 28 goals played a part in Burnley’s downfall despite a brave fight, but QPR showed very little of that.

Player of the season

EDEN HAZARD

John Terry pushed him close, but the Belgian was a matchwinner when Chelsea needed one and added consistency to class. Where once he might have gone missing, he provided the magic.

Best young player

HARRY KANE

Led the line for
Spurs with a maturity that belied his 21 years.

Best signing

ESTEBAN CAMBIASSO

Sanchez starred for Arsenal, but Leicester’s free transfer signing of Cambiasso, 34, from Internazionale was astute. Provided composure and quality in his side’s survival battle.

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Iker Casillas happy to fight David De Gea for No1 spot

Andy West 28/05/2015
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Still life in the old dog: Iker Casillas (l) and David De Gea.

Iker Casillas insists he would be happy to welcome David De Gea to Real Madrid and maintains that he has no intention of leaving the Bernabeu.

– FIFA officials arrested in Zurich on US corruption charges

– UEFA calls for FIFA presidential election to be postponed

– South Africa World Cup "won with $10 million in bribes"

The Spanish giants have been heavily linked with a move for the Madrid-born Manchester United keeper, who has declined a new contract offer to stay in England and is believed to be keen on a return to his home city.

After a season which saw Casillas commit several errors and regularly find himself on the receiving end of fierce criticism from fans, Madrid’s interest in De Gea is being regarded as a sign that the club are preparing to displace their veteran captain.

But Casillas, who is currently keeping De Gea out of the Spain side, claims he would relish a challenge from the former Atletico Madrid trainee at club level as well.

“If De Gea does come here, he’ll be welcomed,” said Casillas. “Competition is healthy and we’ll have to compete for a place like we do with Spain.

“He is a good guy and a goalkeeper for the present and the future. He can handle pressure and the exp-erience he’s got from United will have served him well.”

Rather than being prepared to hand over the number one jersey to De Gea, 34-year-old Casillas believes he can maintain his place among the elite for several years to come, pointing to other ‘keepers who have played into their late 30s.

“If you look after yourself, a keeper can keep on playing – Santi Canizares, Gigi Buffon and Andres Palop are good examples of that,” he said.

“I cannot imagine myself anywhere else when the new campaign starts – I want to end my career here.

“There’s always the chance that I could go to a smaller league if things don’t turn out, but right now I see myself as up to the job.”

It is highly likely that the manager tasked with deciding between Casillas and De Gea will be Rafa Benitez, who is today expected to announce his impending departure from Napoli to return to the club where his coaching career began.

In the early 1990s, Casillas and Benitez were in the Madrid youth set-up at the same time, with the coach in charge of the Under 19s while the burgeoning goalkeeper was a member of the Under 12s.

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Carlos Bacca double helps Sevilla retain Europa League crown

Andy West 28/05/2015
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Joyous: Sevilla celebrate.

Carlos Bacca was the two-goal hero as Sevilla retained the Europa League title with a thrilling final victory over Dnipro in Warsaw.

– FIFA officials arrested in Zurich on US corruption charges
– UEFA calls for FIFA presidential election to be postponed
– South Africa World Cup “won with $10 million in bribes”

Dnipro took an early lead through Nikola Kalinic before Grzegorz Krychowiak and Bacca answered for Sevilla, only for the Ukrainian team to draw level before the break through skipper Ruslan Rotan.

But eventually Colombian striker Bacca, who has been tipped for a big-money summer move, pounced to settle a pulsating encounter which swung one way and then the other but ultimately resulted in a well-deserved win for the Spanish team, who become the first side to win the competition on four occasions.

Sevilla had the first sight of goal after just one minute when Bacca slashed his left-footed shot high and wide, but the holders were then stunned after their bright start when Dnipro took the lead with their first real attack.

It was a route one affair as a long ball was headed on by striker Kalinic and winger Matheus Nascimento delivered a smart cross back into the path of Kalinic, who headed home from close range.

Undeterred, Sevilla bounced back and quickly had dangerous efforts from Jose Antonio Reyes and Vitolo blocked, before Krychowiak had a header from a corner brilliantly saved by Denis Boyko.

A leveller looked on the cards, and so it proved when another corner dropped to highly-rated Polish midfielder Krychowiak, who rifled home a fine low effort.

Three minutes later, Sevilla were ahead when Reyes threaded through a brilliant pass to beat the offside trap and Bacca scampered through to classily round Boyko and comfortably slot home.

At that stage Sevilla appeared to be cruising but Dnipro fought back, with dangerman Evgeni Konoplyanka having a wicked free-kick brilliantly saved by Sergio Rico, but the Sevilla keeper was left powerless from the next set-piece as Rotan curled in an exquisite effort.

After a spell-binding first half, the early stages of the second half understandably failed to match the same levels of drama as the game settled down, with Sevilla continuing to look the more convincing team.

The Spanish side were particularly dangerous from set-pieces but Dnipro stayed on level terms until they were punished for a poor piece of defending, sloppily failing to clear their lines and allowing Vitolo to release Bacca for a fierce first-time left-footed finish.

Dnipro were starting to look tired and only a miraculous reflex save from Boyko prevented Bacca from completing his hat-trick with a close-range header.

The Ukrainian team were forced to finish the game with just 10 men after Matheus worryingly collapsed following a clash of heads, and despite a late flurry of crosses there was no way back and Sevilla could celebrate a merited victory.

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