With the Premier League season having entered its final week, Bleacher Report takes a look at some of the winners and losers of the current campaign.
The clubs profiled fall into two categories. There are those that will be keen to move on from a dreadful, disappointing season and look to the future, and there are those that will fondly remember the last 10 months and the joys that they have found in the sport.
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Before the season began, Swansea were tipped by many to suffer second season syndrome and succumb to the dreaded drop.
The perception was that shorn of their manager, Brendan Rodgers, and without the likes of Scott Sinclair and Joe Allen and perhaps without the element of surprise that served them so well in their first season, they would be found out, and their true quality would show.
There were also doubts about incoming boss Michael Laudrup, a terrific player, certainly, but did he have the nous and the staying-power to develop the Swans?
I think it’s fair to say that Laudrup and his squad have proved their doubters wrong ten times over. Instead of deteriorating, the Dane has built on Rodgers’s squad, adding his own continental touches, and the Jacks have improved on last season’s league position.
More than that, they destroyed Bradford, 5-0, to win a one-sided Capital One Cup final—securing their first-ever major honour as well as a place in next season’s Europa League.
After escaping relegation by the skin of their teeth on the final day of last season, then-Rangers manager Mark Hughes guaranteed that the club would never again find itself in the same situation.
Well, he was half right.
QPR certainly haven’t found themselves surviving on the last day of the season once more; this time around, their fortune was sealed long before the final round of fixtures.
It’s been a disastrous year for the West London club.
Hughes was sacked after breaking the EPL record for games played without a win, and Harry Redknapp's contribution has been too little too late.
In the process, the R's have had their reputation dragged through the mud, and their chairman, Tony Fernandes, has spent a small fortune in the process. All he’s gotten for his money is a ticket to the Championship and a squad that looks wholly unprepared to ensure a swift comeback.
Fans will be praying that Redknapp and his team can finally take control of the resources available to them and begin to move in the right direction.
After the disappointment of last season, it was by no means certain that Manchester United would come back stronger and overturn Manchester City’s burgeoning dominance. Indeed, perhaps the sensible money would have backed City’s billions to enforce their tightening grasp on the English game.
Instead, Manchester United splashed out, bought Robin van Persie, and, despite some defensive set-backs toward the end of 2012, eventually won back their league title fairly comfortably.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s impending departure may give the chasing pack hope of a change in the complexion of the EPL in the coming seasons, but, realistically, the procession and celebration that has accompanied Fergie’s retirement and the title victory gives the impression of a club firmly in control of its destiny.
By stark contrast, it’s been a disastrous campaign for Manchester City and their former boss, Roberto Mancini.
On winning the Premier League title last season, it appeared to be the dawning of a new era for the blue half of the city, but this season has seen the club regress enough to make last year’s championship triumph feel like a distant dream.
Mancini’s sacking this week has come after the side fell way short of its targets this season; failing to retain the title, failing to escape its Champions League group and, finally, the horrific capitulation against un-fancied Wigan in Saturday’s FA Cup final.
Mancini leaves the Premier League with a damaged reputation, and City’s bosses will be acutely aware of the importance of the next key recruitment decision they make.
Despite the turmoil that has, at times, engulfed their season, Chelsea have emerged from the chaos and controversy in pretty good shape.
Rafa Benitez still won’t find himself on the Christmas card list of many Chelsea fans, but after guiding the club to the Europa League final and securing its place in the Champions League next season, the Spaniard has probably achieved what was expected of him.
The club is ending the season in fine fettle, and, having navigated their fixture pileup admirably, can look on toward a fresh future and, perhaps, the exciting prospect of an old favourite at the helm.
No one quite expected the Magpies to match their remarkable fifth-placed finish last term, but by the same token, no one saw them capitulating quite as they have done this season.
Alan Pardew’s team only secured its Premier League survival in the campaign’s penultimate game and, despite an enormous splurge on players in January, have rarely looked organised or threatening this season.
With one game to play, the club has acquired 41 points, a remarkable 24 points fewer than last term.
There are caveats to the Magpies’ decline; perhaps the many signings have unsettled and unbalanced the team, the traumatic injuries have also taken their toll, and the loss of form of some of the team’s star men has been enormously unsettling.
Unfortunately, the decline is such that major questions have begun to be asked to manager Pardew. If board and boss can pull together, then the club ought to have the squad to kick on up the league next term.
If not, then the instability that has so plagued the club in the past might be set to continue into the future.
No Wigan fan in attendance will ever forget the club’s recent FA Cup triumph against Manchester City. While they might have struggled in the early stages, the Latics ended the contest strongly, profiting from Pablo Zabaleta’s red card, and managed to secure a late, emotional victory through the leaping Ben Watson.
To me, the result felt like vindication for Roberto Martinez’s fidelity to his methods. Despite having a depleted squad, the side entertained its fans with its aesthetic, expansive form of football, and victory against Manchester’s billionaires will have tasted particularly sweet.
Few celebrated harder than club owner Dave Whelan, whose money and vision has guided the club all the way up from the lower reaches of the English league pyramid.
The FA Cup victory was the ultimate pinnacle of this journey.
Remarkably, however, the ten days of their greatest triumph may also prove to be the period of their ultimate capitulation.
Despite having bested the EPL holders at Wembley, Wigan’s own place at the top table is under major threat. The club currently sits on 35 points, four behind Sunderland and five behind Aston Villa, their opponents on the final day.
That game may well be academic if Wigan fail to beat Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium tonight, and with the Gunners chasing their own destiny—namely a place in the top four—it may prove to be a step too far for the besieged Latics.