Premier League Survival Sunday: 10 Things We Learned

Michael CummingsWorld Football Lead WriterMay 13, 2012

Premier League Survival Sunday: 10 Things We Learned

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    Manchester City have their title. And we all have a memory we'll never forget.

    Manchester City scored two goals in stoppage time to beat Queens Park Rangers 3-2 on Sunday in both teams' final match of the 2011-12 English Premier League season.

    Yet even that doesn't really tell enough. None of us have ever seen anything quite like it.

    City and rivals Manchester United entered the final day level on points atop the league. City carried the superior goal differential, so only a win over relegation-threatened QPR was needed to secure the club's first league title since 1968.

    Then City took the lead, and then QPR went down to 10 men, thanks to the reliably nitwitted Joey Barton. Yet somehow the favorites found themselves trailing 2-1 as regular time ran out.

    But in injury time, with United already waiting victorious in the clubhouse, City pulled off an improbable comeback for the ages.

    First it was Edin Dzeko, the towering Bosnian, powering home a towering header. Then, literally moments later, it was Sergio Aguero, the mesmerizing Argentine, sending the Etihad into rapture with the coolest of cool finishes.

    Thus, in the annals of English football history, where once there stood only Michael Thomas, there's now also Sergio Aguero.

    Like Thomas before him, Aguero sealed an impossible title push with an almost unthinkable fairy-tale finish.

    And like Arsenal before them, City now have every right to celebrate a momentous achievement.

Don't Ever Give Up

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    Winston Churchill famously once told us, "Never give in," and while Churchill, of course, wasn't talking about football, football fans of all allegiances would have done well to heed the legendary British Prime Minister on Sunday.

    As the minutes kept passing and City's title hopes kept growing more remote, reports filtered through Twitter that at least one home fan was leaving the Etihad Stadium early.

    What a pity.

    Not only did that guy miss his team's greatest moment, not only did he miss a historic comeback, but he also missed the chance to celebrate with Liam Gallagher.

    Kidding aside, Sunday's wild scenes proved all the cliches about fat ladies and how stranger things have happened.

    It also reminded us why we watch not only football, but any sport.

    Drama like this can't be written in Hollywood scripts.

    Memories like this outlast lifetimes.

    Moments like this don't happen every day, or even every decade.

    Yes, this is why we watch, even if we don't care much for the victors (or the vanquished). High drama like this is enough to convert even the skeptical unconvinced.

Heartbreak Hurts

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    Even mighty Manchester United can feel the heartbreak.

    For once.

    Don't take it too hard, United. You've been doing this to other teams for years.

    Granted, you've never done anything quite so dramatic (not in the league, anyway).

    But come next year, you'll probably be right back on top.

Buying Titles?

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    So money can buy you titles after all, but as Manchester City's last-second escape showed, those titles are hardly easy to win.

    But let's hold off on the City hate for a moment, shall we? Even with City's win, football has not been fundamentally changed, and the villains haven't just ridden off into the sunset, equal parts undeserved joy and pure greedy evil.

    No, in this day and in this sport, "rich" is merely a matter of degree.

    Let's all cool the "buying titles" talk for a moment, and while we do, let's take a look at the starting lineups of Manchester City and Manchester United on Sunday.

    Here's Man City's starting XI:

    Joe Hart, Joleon Lescott, Vincent Kompany, Gael Clichy, Pablo Zabaleta, Gareth Barry, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Samir Nasri, Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez.

    As you've surely heard by now, none of those players came through City's youth system, and as you've surely heard, that means City bought their title.

    Now, here's Man United's starting XI from the same day:

    David De Gea, Rio Ferdinand, Jonathan Evans, Patrice Evra, Phil Jones, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, Wayne Rooney.

    See where I'm going with this? Only three of United's starters on Sunday came up through the club's youth system. Two of them, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, are 37 and 38, respectively, meaning it's been roughly two decades since the academy produced them.

    That leaves one recent academy graduate in the starting XI on the most important day of the season: 24-year-old defender Jonny Evans. That's not exactly an overwhelmingly homegrown squad, is it?

    The rest cost United the following amounts of money:

    De Gea: £17 million

    Ferdinand: £29.1 million

    Patrice Evra: £5.5 million

    Phil Jones: £16.5 million

    Michael Carrick: £14 million rising to £18.4 million

    Ashley Young: £15 million

    Antonio Valencia: £16 million

    Wayne Rooney: £25.6 million

    By my count, that's £143.1 million in transfer fees alone (using Carrick's higher total). In the starting lineup alone.

    Oh, and United regularly top the football rich list, as they love to boast on their website.

    So, tell me again: Which Manchester club is guilty of trying to win the title?

    The answer, if you didn't realize it, is both. City just did a (slightly) better job of it this season.

    United will be back next season, with all their money. As will City. As will Chelsea.

    Soon, thanks to the changing financial nature of world football, they'll have even more company. In fact, had Liverpool fared any better this season, we could have added them to the list as well—but more on that sad story later.

    Hearing Manchester United fans complain about City buying the title is like listening to Snooki complain about someone drinking too much vodka.

Every Match Matters

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    Sunday's results ensured that the English Premier League title was decided on goal differential. That had never happened before in 19 previous seasons.

    This time, though, "meaningless" matches in August and September mattered.

    And how about City's 6-1 win at Old Trafford?

    Was that their second-most important result of the season?

And the Excitement Rarely Stops

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    FOX Soccer dubbed it "Survival Sunday." Goofy as the moniker was, Sunday lived up to the considerable hype.

    Thirty-two goals were scored.

    Multiple high-stakes matches produced big-time drama.

    A new champion was crowned, Champions League spots were earned and a third team suffered relegation.

    And this, too:

    There were 32 #EPL goals scored today, making a total of 1066 goals scored this season - the most ever goals in a single 38-match PL season.

    — Infostrada Sports (@InfostradaLive) May 13, 2012

Escape for Arsenal

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    Arsenal came from behind to defeat West Brom 3-2 away. With the victory, the Gunners secured third place and an automatic spot in next season's Champions League group stage.

    As B/R's Tom Kinslow pointed out, that's no small feat for Arsenal, considering the season they endured.

    Arsenal sold Fabregas and Nasri and replaced them with panic buys at the deadline....and still finished third. Process that.

    — Tom Kinslow (@TomKinslow) May 13, 2012

    Arsenal also lost three of their first five league matches and experienced their worst league start for 58 years.

    Clearly, then, Arsenal deserve considerable credit for their third-placed finish. But as any Gooner would agree, reinforcements are necessary across the pitch.

    On Sunday, Arsenal needed yet another escape to sew up the third-place finish that should have been theirs a few weeks ago.

    The Gunners took an early lead through Yossi Benayoun (Arsenal really should make his loan deal permanent) but lost it after two defensive lapses in quick succession.

    Granted, West Brom's first goal owed more than a little to a questionable offside call, but the second didn't. Every time the Baggies had the ball, they seemed capable of cracking Arsenal's porous defense.

    If Arsene Wenger and the Gunners really want to push for the title next season, they can't sit back and enjoy what is, admittedly, an outstanding accomplishment.

    Securing Robin van Persie's services for the long term will be the highest priority. But the defense and midfield are also crying out for help.

Bayern or Bust

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    The white half of North London now supports Bayern Munich. Heavily.

    Tottenham Hotspur sealed fourth place with their 2-0 win at home to Fulham on the final day of the season. With fourth place Spurs earned a spot in next season's Champions League qualifiers.

    That is, until Chelsea's date with Bayern Munich in the Champions League final.

    Chelsea finished sixth, five points behind Spurs, but if the Blues beat Bayern on Saturday (in Munich, by the way), they'll claim England's fourth and final Champions League berth as the competition's reigning champs.

    So, then. A Bavarian brewfest this weekend at White Hart Lane?

Sad Ending, Sad Season

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    Liverpool lost again on Sunday, 1-0, at Swansea City.

    This latest defeat was Liverpool's 14th this miserable season, the same number as 16th-placed Aston Villa.

    Fourteen, incidentally, was also the same number of matches Liverpool won this season while finishing eighth, one spot behind hated local rivals Everton despite a massive summer spending spree that flew past a hundred million pounds.

    With a final tally of 52 points, Liverpool finished 18 points behind third-placed Arsenal and just 16 above Bolton in the drop zone.

    There's not really much left to say, so I'll let Twitter do the rest.

    Stewart Downing has done it. The whole Premier League season without an assist or a goal. £20million well spent on an attacking winger.

    — Dan Palmer (@CtfcDan89) May 13, 2012

    And:

    Liverpool bosses to finish 8th since 1st season back in top flight 62-63: Graeme Souness/Roy Evans (93-94) & Kenny Dalglish (11-12) #lfc

    — Dale Johnson (@dalejohnsonESPN) May 13, 2012

    And:

    United don't win the title. City keep their incompetent buffoon manager. All in a decent day. Minus the worst Liverpool finish since 54 bit.

    — Liverpool Offside (@LFCOffside) May 13, 2012

    Truly a sad day for a formerly great club.

Not Bad, Newcastle

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    In happier news, Newcastle earned a spot in next season's Europa League by finishing fifth.

    The Magpies lost 3-1 to Everton on Sunday, but that can hardly take away from their accomplishment this season.

    Just three years ago, Newcastle were relegated from the Premier League. Two years ago, they achieved promotion back to the top flight.

    Last season, Alan Pardew's men finished 12th. This year, stars blossomed, Pardew won manager of the year and Newcastle reached Europe.

    Until the final day, Newcastle even challenged for a spot in the Champions League.

    The Champions League proved a bit beyond Newcastle, but Pardew fully deserved his award, and his players fully deserve their spot in Europe.

    Now for the hard part: Keeping it all together.

Bye-Bye, Bolton

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    The final item on Sunday's agenda was the unsavory business of relegation.

    For more than 90 minutes, QPR looked secure. But then Manchester City's late goals snatched the title away from United—and almost sent QPR to the Championship.

    Instead, Bolton went down after a 2-2 draw at Stoke. An away win would have saved Bolton and doomed QPR, but it wasn't to be.

    For Bolton fans, who dealt with the real-life sadness of Fabrice Muamba's near-tragedy this season, relegation isn't the end of the world.

    But knowing their team led 2-1 in the second half must be gutting.