One Game to Define Every Premier League Club's 2012
Wow. What a year 2012 has been for sport on the whole. The Ryder Cup comeback for Europe, the European Championships in Ukraine and Poland, not forgetting to mention the London 2012 Olympics.
Intriguing then, when you consider which game was the defining moment of each Premier League club's season.
Take Manchester United, for example. Where and why did it go so wrong for the Red Devils? And for Arsenal, just how on earth did they manage to secure Champions League football for yet another season? Read on, and you might find out how...
Arsenal—(Arsenal 5-2 Tottenham Hotspur)
A classic North London derby. Seven goals, crunching challenges and, of course, more controversy from former Gunners striker Emmanuel Adebayor.
Despite scoring the opener, the Togo international was sent off for a wild lunge on Santi Cazorla with his side leading 1-0. German defender Per Mertesacker restored parity with a long-distance header for Arsene Wenger's side before strikes from Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud effectively sealed the game as a contest just before half-time.
Cazorla then got one for himself before Spurs winger Gareth Bale's excellent strike gave Spurs a glimmer of hope. But Theo Walcott wrapped up the points with a fifth in injury time.
Aston Villa—(Aston Villa 2-3 Manchester United)
With his side struggling in the Premier League and the press hammering him for leaving Norwich City in the summer, Paul Lambert had a point to prove when high-flying Manchester United visited Villa Park.
The disgruntled fans from West Midlands might have been forgiven for thinking that this game would be the turning point in their season when two goals from Andreas Weimann either side of half-time gave Lambert's men a 2-0 lead.
You can never, ever write off Manchester United though and they deserved the win. But even still, it was a case of Aston Villa becoming their own worst enemy, and not for the first time. Conceding three goals at home in the second half is not acceptable, and Lambert's side need to shore up the defence, or risk slipping into the relegation zone.
Chelsea—(FC Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea)
What a night this was for Chelsea Football Club and especially, Fernando Torres.
They had performed a miracle against Napoli, overturning a 3-1 deficit in the first leg before storming to a 4-1 extra-time win over the Italians at home. They then swept aside a resilient Benfica side both home and away, and now only Barcelona stood in their way of reaching their second Champions League Final.
Didier Drogba scored the only goal as Chelsea kept a clean sheet (somehow) against a determined Barcelona side at Stamford Bridge. But the second leg was a different contest altogether. John Terry was sent off after allegedly lashing out at Alexis Sanchez, and goals from Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta put the Catalans in control against 10-man Chelsea.
A superb pass from Frank Lampard just before half-time found Ramires racing forward, and the Brazilians executed a delightful lob over Victor Valdes. Lionel Messi missed a penalty after Cesc Fabregas went down under a challenge from Drogba.
As Barcelona looked for a third goal, Ashley Cole's clearance found Fernando Torres completely on his own. The Spaniard took his time and rounded Valdes (above) before slotting home the equaliser to preserve the Blues' unbeaten run against the La Liga giants, and send them through to the final in Munich.
And that's where...well, you know the rest.
Everton—(Manchester United 4-4 Everton)
Truly magnificent. It's an unusual instance when Manchester United give away a two-goal lead. It's even less likely to happen at Old Trafford. Yet, in one afternoon, Everton effectively ended Manchester United's title hopes by clawing back from 4-2 down to draw 4-4 after late goals from Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic.
The Red Devils had come from behind to lead 3-1 after Jelavic's headed opener through Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Nani. Marouane Fellaini then gave Sir Alex Ferguson's team a scare on 67 minutes, making it 3-2 before Rooney added a second two minutes later. It looked as if United had quelled the threat from Everton.
But the Toffees didn't give up and credit must go to David Moyes for the spirit instilled as the Merseysiders recorded a famous comeback. It showed the Scot's credentials for the Manchester United hotseat when Ferguson eventually retires.
This game defined a new Everton, and gave an insight as to how they would start the 2012/13 season.
Fulham—(Fulham 5-0 Norwich)
It was the perfect way for Fulham to show just why they should be regarded as a consistently successful club in the Premier League—referring to their Europa League Final defeat and high finishes in the table. But with many new signings featuring, many expected a bore draw at Craven Cottage. How wrong they were...
Two debut goals for free transfer signing Mladen Petric marked a new beginning under Martin Jol, with goals also coming from Damien Duff, Steve Sidwell and Swedish starlet Alex Kacaniklic.
Clint Dempsey didn't play due to a row with Jol over a potential move to Liverpool, but Mousa Dembele, who moved across London to Tottenham for £15 million, was excellent throughout. Without the tricky Belgian, Fulham have struggled to repeat their impressive form.
Liverpool—(Liverpool 1-3 Aston Villa)
Both sides were underachieving in the league. However, their performances of late had been encouraging, with Liverpool beginning to show the form they're used to producing under Brendan Rodgers, while Aston Villa's youthful side were inspired by their powerful forward Christian Benteke.
But surely nobody could predicted such a trouncing at Anfield, especially with Aston Villa's poor scoring record.
Two strikes from Benteke with young Austrian Weimann notching his third of the season brought the Reds back down to earth, with Steven Gerrard's 87th-minute goal proving to be nothing more than a consolation.
Champions League on this performance? You're having a laugh...
Manchester City—(Man City 3-2 QPR)
"AGUEROOOOO! I swear you'll never see anything like this again!" screams Martin Tyler as Manchester City ruthlessly steal the Premier League crown from the hands of city rivals Manchester United thanks a last-kick-of-the-game thunderbolt from Sergio Aguero.
The Citizens were 2-1 down with just one minute of normal time to go, but QPR were at a disadvantage with Joey Barton sent off for scuffling with Vincent Kompany, Carlos Tevez and Aguero. Substitute Edin Dzeko nodded home from a corner just as the 90 minute mark struck, but a point was not enough.
Aguero then burst into the box and beat two defenders before unleashing his effort past Paddy Kenny to win Manchester City's first top-flight title since 1968. Remarkable.
Manchester United—(Man City 2-3 Man Utd)
Robin Van Persie almost joined Manchester City in the summer, but the deal hit a snag due to the length of his contract. Talks broke down and Manchester United moved to sign the Dutchman on a four-year deal for £24 million. And it's fair to say that despite being 29, he's proved to be worth every single penny.
His tally stands at 13 Premier League goals, including a stunning last-ditch free-kick against City. His free-kick deflected off Samir Nasri and past Joe Hart into the back of the net after they again threw away a two-goal lead, when a double from Wayne Rooney broke the deadlock.
Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta brought it back to 2-2 before Van Persie's winner sent Man Utd six points clear at the top of the league, giving the reigning champions a mountain to climb to catch them. This game could've been the title decider, and it's only December.
Newcastle United—(Man Utd 4-3 Newcastle)
To finish above Chelsea in the Premier League is an achievement for any of Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham. But in the 2011/12 campaign, the Magpies joined their rivals in doing just that, condemning Chelsea to sixth position in the Premier League, securing a Europa League spot in the process.
It could've been a lot more had it not been for their lacklusture performance in the second half of the season, with the signing of Papiss Cisse in January the only bright spark, scoring the goal of the season with a stunning effort in the 2-0 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
This defeat only highlighted how Newcastle could come so close to victory, yet still see themselves on the end of a defeat. They should be proud of their performance, but defensively, they need to wise up. 2011 was a dreamland for Alan Pardew's side, but 2012 could've been so much better.
Norwich City—(Norwich 1-0 Arsenal)
Grant Holt has a knack. That knack? Scoring against the biggest clubs in England.
He scored the opener in Norwich's 4-1 defeat against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and the winner in their 1-0 win over Arsenal, which symbolised a change in fortunes for Chris Hughton.
After that win in October, the Canaries have become one of the form sides in Europe, let alone the Premier League, going on a run of 10 games without defeat, a run only bettered when they went on a 15-game unbeaten run in 1995.
They seemed doomed for relegation after Paul Lambert's exit to Aston Villa, but the end of 2012 has shown a reason as to why Norwich could be the Premier League's surprise package.
QPR—(QPR 2-1 Fulham)
QPR looked doomed the second Mark Hughes was appointed boss of the West London club. And it was proved correct, with the club's owner Tony Fernandes axing the former Manchester City manager after the worst start from a Premier League club in over 100 years, and replacing him with the experienced Harry Redknapp.
A slight change of fortunes have come about as a result, with the R's picking up their first win of the season against Fulham. Adel Taarabt was the star man, notching a magnificent double.
The emphatic celebrations showed how much the win meant to the club. It also highlighted how poor 2012 had been for the club. Almost relegated last season, Fernandes will be praying there's not a repeat in six month's time.
Reading—(Arsenal 7-5 Reading)
Simply astonishing. The word "cricket score" is thrown about a lot in football, but this was fully deserving of the cliché.
But this was a different ball game altogether.
Reading were 4-0 up at half-time, so to give up such a huge lead and lose in extra time was truly disheartening for Brian McDermott's side.
The game ended 7-5 to Arsenal, and so did Reading's hopes of challenging for some silverware.
Southampton—(Newcastle 0-2 Southampton)
Southampton signed Gaston Ramirez for a club-record fee of £12 million, something of a coup for the South Coast club. But after a few injury scares, some of the Saints' fans feared he could soon become a crock.
The Uruguayan soon put their fears to bed, playing a magnificent game scoring one and assisting the other as Nigel Adkins' side showed their potential with a superb 2-0 win at St James' Park.
After being promoted last season from the Championship, it highlighted that perhaps they have a future in the Premier League. Consistency is required, but the win over last season's surprise package shows that it can be achieved.
Stoke City—(Stoke 3-1 Liverpool)
They're criticised as the ugliest team in the Premier League, but Tony Pulis only cares about winning. And that was reflected in their 3-1 victory over a Liverpool side growing in confidence.
Jon Walters has been the unsung star of the Potters' season, grabbing a brace in this game to take his tally to five this season in the Premier League, outshining his strike opponent Luis Suarez at the Britannia Stadium.
The win took Stoke to eighth in the Premier League table, just five points off fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur. It shows the progress the club continue to make under Pulis, with the North East outfit maintaining the best defence in the Premier League, shipping just 13 goals. Here's to an even greater 2013.
Sunderland—(Sunderland 3-0 Reading)
The signings of Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson signalled Sunderland's intent to become a top-eight side in the Premier League. Spending well over £30 million should've secured Martin O'Neill some sort within the Stadium of Light.
However, a poor start to the season resulted in O'Neill linked with receiving the boot by chairman Ellis Short.
But the American kept faith. And despite losing 3-1 at home to Chelsea, the performance showed the tide was turning. Three wins in their last four show the Black Cats could be on the rise, and the 3-0 convincing win over Reading only emphasised their revival under the Northern Irishman.
Swansea City—(QPR 0-5 Swansea)
The departures of Brendan Rodgers and Joe Allen were going to end Swansea's honeymoon period in the Premier League, said the so-called "experts" in the game. Little did they know that Michael Laudrup is something of a genius when it comes to managing small clubs with large ambitions.
Signing 13-goal man Michu for £2 million was his best decision as Swansea manager, no doubt, but the way that the Dane has continued the Swans' philosophy of playing attractively while winning is admirable. Take their opening game of the season; a 5-0 smashing of QPR away from home, when you consider the club had recently signed as many as 12 players, including Shaun Wright-Phillips and Esteban Granero.
It showed there was life after Rodgers after all, and with the Welsh club sitting comfortably in ninth position in the Premier League, Laudrup has done a tremendous job of continuing Swansea's fine form.
Tottenham Hotspur—(Man Utd 2-3 Spurs)
With Chelsea losing 3-1 at Old Trafford last season under his management, Andre Villas-Boas had something to prove to himself. And where better to try again than Tottenham?
This time, the Portuguese tactician proved successful, with goals from Jan Vertonghen, Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon handing the 34-year-old coach his first victory at Old Trafford, and Tottenham's first since 1985. You can imagine the relief and joy—just look at the picture above.
It showed a turnaround in fortunes for Tottenham, who had experienced a disappointing 2012 after qualifying for the Champions League, only to see Chelsea win the Champions League and subsequently see themselves drop into the Europa League. However, the future looks bright under AVB and with Bale in superb form, 2013 could be their year.
West Bromwich Albion—(WBA 2-1 Chelsea)
They are officially the giant killers of the Premier League. Well, only to Chelsea really. Last season the Blues felt the wrath of Gareth McAuley's 80th-minute winner, which resulted in Andre Villas-Boas leaving the West London club.
It's been a great year overall for the club, despite Roy Hodgson leaving for the England job in May. Nevertheless, the appointment of Steve Clarke has been a stroke of masterclass from Jeremy Peace. The signing of Romelu Lukaku has been an inspired one, with the 19-year-old impressing during his loan spell from Chelsea.
The Blues once again beat Chelsea and once again, saw Roberto Di Matteo lose his job as Chelsea manager, losing 2-1 at the Hawthorns as West Brom continue to rise up the Premier League.
West Ham United—(Newcastle 0-1 West Ham)
Kevin Nolan would've loved nothing more than scoring against his former club Newcastle as the Hammers shocked the home side, coming away with a 1-0 win at St. James' Park.
The 32-year-old has been a revelation since joining for £5 million back in 2011, and the goalscoring midfielder helped Sam Allardyce's men climb up the table, something the fans certainly did not expect so soon.
By beating last year's surprise package, West Ham have shown they are capable of challenging for Europe, although they'll be desperately hoping they can maintain their impressive form going into 2013.
Wigan Athletic—(Spurs 0-1 Wigan)
Three years ago, Wigan were trounced 9-1 by Tottenham. Jermain Defoe will never forget his five-goal haul in that game, and neither will Ali Al-Habsi, let down by his Wigan defence in front of him.
But Roberto Martinez is a talented manager, encouraging attractive football and getting the best out of his players. And in the second-half of last season, he was certainly the difference between relegation and staying up.
So when the Latics returned to White Hart Lane, they wanted to redeem their sins. A solitary goal from Ben Watson allowed them to do that, although with the Lancashire-based club struggling in the Premier League, they'll be hoping they can survive to repeat their heroics in 2013.