4-4, a score-line that would in past seasons not have even graced the betting odds yet has this season been part of a season to top all. 4-4’s caused Liverpool’s end to April to be a big one at Stamford Bridge and Anfield where Liverpool’s fight to claw back a UEFA Champions League Semi Final place against Chelsea ended with them scoring four and conceding four to send the blues through 7-5 after a 3-1 Anfield win. Arsenal visited Liverpool a week later in a Premier League classic with Russian starlet Andrei Arshavin the only ‘Gunner’ on the score sheet with all four.
Liverpool’s scorers that night were braces from Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun, the latter having possibly his best season in terms of performance with nine goals and countless assists in a side that pushed Manchester United to the last three games of the season in the title race before finishing second and only four points adrift . The season also included a historic double over the Champions winning 2-1 at Anfield and stunningly 4-1 at Old Trafford with a fourth goal by Andrea Dossena which could have claimed goal of the season after a sublime chip he then repeated in a whitewash of Real Madrid (4-0) in the Champions League.
United’s season had a horrific start with one win in four league games and a defeat in the Super Cup to Zenit St Petersburg losing 2-1 and leaving the field with ten men after Scholes’ late dismissal but picked up three trophies on the way to a near historic season. They secured the Community Shield in August, the title of World Champions in December, Carling Cup victory against Tottenham (4-1 pens) in March and their 11th Premiership crown in May but could not complete their dream ‘quintuple’ after being knocked out of the FA Cup Semi Finals by Everton and humbled in Rome by Spanish giants Barcelona who added the Champions League into a treble including the La Liga title and Copa Del Rey. The Rome humbling however added to the Super Cup defeat and being outplayed notably away to Fulham (2-0) as well as the succumbing double to Liverpool (as above)
Sticking in the North-West, the ‘second’ teams on Merseyside and Manchester had their spot in the limelight with Manchester City who began the season with new owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan hopeful for a challenge on the title with the possibility of a Premier League version of the ‘Galacticos.’ However like the air squeaked out of both as despite the record signing Robinho among others a semi-successful European campaign in the defunct UEFA Cup and a 10th place finish In the League was all the Eastlands fans had to celebrate.
Everton on the other hand had lacklustre funds and at times no competent strikers due to injury but still put together a season that meant fans travelled to Wembley twice in May, first to defeat Manchester United (as above) and then to take part in the FA Cup Final losing 2-1 to Chelsea after scoring the quickest ever goal in an FA Cup Final on 25 seconds, courtesy of Louis Saha.
The Toffees fans were not too disheartened though as they added fifth place in the League to their season as well as manager David Moyes taking home LMA Manager of the Year for a third time (more than any other manager)
Chelsea themselves had a mixed season with the loss of Luis Felipe Scolari as manager after a average first half to the season which included the end of an 86 game unbeaten run at home in the League ended by Liverpool and Spanish up’n’under expert Xabi Alonso and was followed by a second defeat this time to neighbours Arsenal, Chelsea picked up though after the acquisition of Russian manager Guus Hiddink for the season and Hiddink took them to third in the league (three points behind Liverpool ) and a FA Cup Final victory in his final game.
Despite the victory at Stamford Bridge and the 4-4 at Anfield, Arsenal’s season was similar to some of their young squad –average. The Gunners though like Liverpool had two 4-4’s their first coming after leading 4-2 on 88 mins at the Emirates against rivals Tottenham only to be stunned by goals from Jermaine Jenas (89) and Aaron Lennon (90+4).
Their title challenge was really non-existent all season with them sitting around fourth place and suffering a humiliating end with a 4-1 league demolition and FA Cup Semi Finals defeat by Chelsea (2-1) Their European campaign had more steam though with them reaching the last four only to come up against eventual runners-up Manchester United and lose 4-1 on aggregate.
Away from the top five, it was a successful season for Fulham who not only outplayed Manchester United at Craven Cottage but finished a club record seventh in the league and secured a place in next season’s inaugural UEFA Europa League under the tutelage of Roy Hodgson who was a candidate for manager of the season. Aston Villa started well with minor aspirations of a title challenge but stuttered to a sixth place finish with included a 5-0 demolition from Liverpool.
Tottenham’s season began terribly with them sitting on two points in October 2008 with Juande Ramos sacked to be replaced by Harry Redknapp, Redknapp turned the season around with a Carling Cup final appearance and an eighth place finish in the league narrowly missing out on the final Europa League place on 51 pts. His turnaround was helped by the re-acquisition of Robbie Keane who had left in August for Liverpool (£20m) only to return in January after a mixed time at Anfield with him in the shadow of Torres and also by the 2-1 last minute victory versus Liverpool ( one of only two defeats for the Reds) and the 4-4 at the Emirates.
West Ham finished ninth in an average season which was heightened by draw at Anfield and Stamford Bridge but pummelled by early exits from both domestic cups Middlesbrough (FAC3) and Watford (CC3)
Wigan Athletic finished 10th and not far from Europe in a season that manager Steve Bruce can be proud of as his side came close to toppling the eventual League top two leading 2-1 against Liverpool at half time in October before going on to lose 3-2 (after a late Riera and Kuyt double) and leading 1-0 at half-time (Rodallega) in what could have been the title decider against Manchester United before strikes from Tevez and Carrick secured the win. Rodallega himself ended the season well after coming in and nearly scoring on his debut against Liverpool with a woodwork pinging free-kick only to break his duck against United and scoring in each of his three remaining games.
Stoke City who came up from the Championship finished a surprising 12th after a decent season for manager Tony Pulis which included the victory at the Britannia against Arsenal and the terrifying of defences by Rory Delap’s devastating throw-in ability, the Irish midfielder’s strength from set pieces creating many a goal for the Potters which at times saved games for them.
Bolton, Portsmouth and Blackburn occupied 13th-15th all on 41 points after reasonable seasons which saw the latter two change managerial staff with Tony Adams leaving Fratton Park for Paul Hart and Paul Ince exiting Ewood Park for Sam Allardyce with both performing better than their predecessors, just not enough to propel them to a higher finish. Bolton had a few good results but never really had any major success in the cup competitions.
The bottom five finished with Sunderland and Hull staving off relegation in 16th and 17th despite final day losses to Chelsea and a weakened Manchester United side. Sunderland exited both domestic cups in the early rounds to Blackburn and lost manager Roy Keane through resignation after a poor start replacing him with Ricky Sbragia first as caretaker manager then manager after a successful caretaker period. Sbragia sensationally left his post in the post-match interview following the final game saying that he believed the club needed a ‘big name’ to take them further , the name of which is still to be known.
Hull had possibly the best start to the season possibly behind Liverpool after sitting on 27 points on Boxing Day however this was to be the day that cursed their season as with them 5-0 down to Manchester City, manager Phil Brown gave his half-time team talk on the pitch embarrassing the players in front of the fans and dooming his season. From this point it was one win 22 games and the club finished on 35points staying up by a single point.
Relegation from the Premier League is never nice or deserved but this season that changed, Newcastle United once the ‘big club’ in the North East and former Champions League participants and Premier League runners-up utterly deserved their demotion as from the start of the season the club was rocky. Kevin Keegan left in early September after a lack of transfer control because of the introduction of then Director of Football Dennis Wise and owner Mike Ashley soon put the club up for sale.
Joe Kinnear took control as interim manager and then extended till the end of the season but like the Magpies season even his tenure was to be rocky as he had to step down in February due to ill health, with the club now in ruins and unsellable who would the faithful turn to? Who else but Newcastle hero Alan Shearer, who had notably dismissed the job in many interviews. Shearer came in to stop the unthinkable – Newcastle being relegated from the Premier League. He had little success though with only one win by all but condemning rivals Middlesbrough to relegation. His Newcastle side went into the final day dubbed ‘Survival Sunday’ needing Hull and Sunderland to lose and for themselves to win or draw against Aston Villa.
As above Sunderland and Hull both lost, but so did Newcastle which was even worse for them with the only goal in the game being a horrible deflection from Magpies midfielder Damien Duff sending them down to the Championship and relegated for the first time in 16 years.
Middlesbrough’s season was slightly better in that the manager (Gareth Southgate) remained in place all season, However, their season failed because of their sour firepower spearheaded by Turkish attacker Tuncay Sanli and Afonso Alves (most famous for seven goals in a game in the EreDivisie) ‘Boro scored a measly 28 goals all season, the statistic is made worse by the fact that some teams in the division scored more than that just at home and that West Brom who finished below Middlesbrough scored 26 at home and 10 away. They had to win by 4 at West ham on the final day and hope results went their way. The latter was successful but they lost 2-1 at Upton Park and went down to become the second North-East side relegated this season.
West Brom, last in this review and bottom of the division for many pundits it was a foregone conclusion but the Baggies came so-close to repeating their Great Escape of 2005 with them still in with a chance right up to the month of May finally being relegated after a 2-0 defeat at home to Liverpool in a game that sort of defined their season – hard working, never give up creative football.
So there you go, 2008-09 is over and what a season it was surprises both at the top and bottom but one thing I will remember that I have not previously mentioned is the leaving of Sami Hyypia from Liverpool for Bayer Leverkusen, the defensive stalwart of 10 years at Anfield bowing out in a 3-1 win at Anfield versus Tottenham on the final day. Thank You Sami, for all the memories.