25 Biggest Surprises from the 2013-14 Premier League Season
With the 2013-14 Premier League season having finally reached its climax on Sunday afternoon, we now take a look back through the campaign and pick out the 25 biggest surprises to have emerged from the past 10 months of thrilling action both on and off the field.
And so whether it be a particular player’s unexpected loss of form or, conversely, a certain team defying all pre-season expectations to punch well above their collective weight, these are the greatest shocks from what has undoubtedly been one of the most memorable seasons in the history of the Premier League.
25. Shearer Becomes a Pundit Now Worth Tuning in to Hear
The former Newcastle United and England captain was on the receiving end of some fairly harsh criticisms regarding his abilities as a TV pundit on Match of the Day last season, and with some justification too.
However, Shearer has clearly taken that feedback on board judging by his much-improved displays on the BBC this time around, with the Premier League’s all-time leading goalscorer now making a very passable impression of a football analyst with an opinion.
24. Canaries Place Their Top-Flight Survival in the Hands of a Managerial Novice
After Norwich City chief executive David McNally revealed in early February in the Metro that the struggling Canaries were actively looking around for potential new managers, the writing appeared to be very much on the wall for under-pressure boss Chris Hughton.
However, it was something of a shock that when the relegation-threatened East Anglians did finally decided to pull the trigger two months later, the man they entrusted to keep them in the Premier League was none other than former DJ and now youth-team coach Neil Adams, who unsurprisingly failed in his remit.
23. Fabulous Fabian Takes His Game to New Heights
There were few, if any, challengers to Fabian Delph as Aston Villa’s Player of the Season—and with good reason too after the eye-catching campaign the midfielder has just enjoyed for the west Midlands outfit.
And in what was for all intents and purposes another grim season for the Villa faithful to have to endure at Villa Park, the 24-year-old’s unexpectedly impressive form in the centre of the park—culminating in a delightfully executed back-heeled winner against Chelsea in March—was the undoubted highlight.
22. Le Sulk Makes an Undignified Premier League Exit
In many ways, sadly, perhaps we should not have been that surprised by Nicolas Anelka’s hugely controversial quenelle gesture after scoring for West Bromwich Albion against West Ham United at Upton Park last December.
However even now, six months on, it is still shocking to think that such an experienced professional in the public eye could even think of making such a vile goal celebration, whatever the Frenchman’s subsequent denials on the matter.
21. Ciao, Ciao, Don Paolo
Despite Paolo Di Canio managing to keep Sunderland in the Premier League last season, it was by the narrowest of margins and already concerns were beginning to grow on Wearside about the controversial Italian, especially after one particularly heavy defeat against Aston Villa.
And so in many ways it was actually somewhat of a surprise that Di Canio lasted as long as he did at the Stadium of Light in this campaign, with many having predicted the Black Cats boss would be on his way far sooner than he was eventually given his marching orders towards the end of September after collecting just one point from his first five games.
20. Van’s Not the Man for the Canaries
Norwich have taken huge amounts of flack all season long for splashing out a reported £8.5 million to sign Netherlands international Ricky van Wolfswinkel from Sporting Lisbon last summer after the striker scored just once in the Premier League in this campaign.
However, this was a marksman who had found the back of the net over 80 times in the previous four seasons for both Sporting and Utrecht, and so the 25-year-old’s total inability to hit the proverbial barn door with a banjo has been a real shock to all and sundry.
19. Jeers, Not Cheers, Now the Order of the Day to Accompany Wins at Upton Park
One of the biggest surprises of the season came at Upton Park in March following West Ham’s crucial 2-1 win over fellow strugglers Hull City, who had been forced to play most of the contest with 10 men following the early dismissal of goalkeeper Allan McGregor.
However, the final whistle to confirm a crucial three points for the home side was greeted not with the expected cheers, but instead jeers from the Hammers faithful, much to the obvious chagrin of manager Sam Allardyce, who was seen cupping his ears to the restless natives.
"I started playing at 16, got in a first team at 18 and am 59 now, but I've never been in place where I won and got booed," was Big Sam’s reaction after the game on BBC Sport Online.
18. It’s a Case of White Hart Pain for Lamentable Lamela
It is fair to say hopes were high at White Hart Lane at the beginning of the campaign that while new club-record £25.8 million purchase Erik Lamela was never going to be able to fully replace the recently departed Gareth Bale, the highly rated AS Roma forward would at least be able to ease the pain of losing the services of the flying Welshman and last season’s Footballer of the Year.
Much to everyone’s surprise, though, the player who really impressed for the Romans last time out after scoring 15 times in Serie A failed to net even once in his 11 domestic appearances for his new team. Lamela has barely been seen in north London at all this year.
17. Ref Injustice at the Bridge
It is a wonder in this modern age—where we can now tell within a matter of seconds whether a ball has crossed the goal line or not, due to the recent introduction of video technology—that the wrong players can still be dismissed, as was the case at Stamford Bridge back in March.
On that occasion referee Andre Marriner red-carded Arsenal left-back Kieran Gibbs, when in actual fact it was team-mate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who had deliberately handled Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard’s shot.
16. Gunners Fail to Replenish Their Artillery Stocks in January
With Arsenal leading the Premier League standings at the turn of the year, expectations were high at the Emirates that a first league title for 10 years was now a very achievable aim for Arsene Wenger’s side.
However, there was also an accepted realisation that with the north London club just a point ahead of second-placed Manchester City and only two clear of third-placed Chelsea, the Gunners would need to purchase another striker to ease the burden on lone front man Olivier Giroud if that dream was to become a reality.
But much to everyone’s shock, Wenger once again opted to keep his hands in his pockets in the January transfer window, other than to pick up Sweden midfielder Kim Kallstrom on a six-month loan from Spartak Moscow, that is.
15. Levy Hands the Keys to the Ferrari to a Learner Driver
Back in December Tottenham Hotspur’s ever trigger-happy chairman Daniel Levy decided to part company with head coach Andre Villas-Boas in the immediate aftermath of a rather embarrassing 5-0 mauling by Liverpool at White Hart Lane.
However, the really surprising aspect of that whole saga came when the Spurs supremo decided to hand the managerial reins to a complete novice in Tim Sherwood, initially just on an interim basis, but then on an 18-month contract.
At least normality has since set in following yet another coaching change in north London.
14. It’s Just Like Watching Brazil Now at the Britannia
It is fair to say that Mark Hughes’ managerial reputation had taken somewhat of a battering in the three years preceding his appointment to take over from Tony Pulis as Stoke City boss last summer.
And not only that, but replacing his compatriot at the Britannia was going to be no easy task, especially when you also declare your intention to go about it by changing the team’s style of play to make it easier on the eye, as reported by Laurie Whitwell in the Daily Mail.
But not only did Sparky manage to record the Potters’ highest-ever Premier League finish of ninth, he also did it by playing a brand of attractive football not seen before in the Potteries.
13. Soldado Fails to Earn His Spurs in North London
When Tottenham broke their transfer record to land prolific Valencia striker Roberto Soldado last August, it seemed a match made in heaven.
The 28-year-old had netted over 100 goals in all competitions for both Los Che and Getafe during the preceding four campaigns in Spain, and so he seemed a marked improvement on the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe in attack at White Hart Lane.
However, just six goals in 28 Premier League outings later, and the vast majority of those from the penalty spot, have proved a meagre return on the £26 million that the north London club invested in Soldado last August.
12. The Baggies’ Not so Great Scot
Last season Steve Clarke guided West Bromwich Albion to eighth position in the Premier League, their best top-flight finish since 1981, in what was the Scot’s debut campaign in charge at the Hawthorns.
And while the 2013-14 season was not progressing along those same exact lines as the previous one, the Baggies had still won at the home of champions Manchester United last September for the first time in 35 years.
Meanwhile Clarke was also then just minutes away from becoming the first manager to win a league match against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in November, only to be denied by an errant refereeing call.
Consequently, there was genuine shock the following month when the west Midlands outfit announced that Clarke had been placed on gardening leave until the end of the campaign.
11. A Seamless Transition of Power on Merseyside
There was a general acknowledgement at Goodison Park last May that new head Roberto Martinez would find it hard to improve on the miracles that departing Toffees manager David Moyes had worked in his over 10 years in charge on Merseyside.
However, in his very first campaign at the club, the hugely likeable Spaniard not only recorded Everton’s highest-ever points total in the history of the Premier League with still two games left to play, but he achieved that feat while also taking their game on to a higher level.
And nowhere was that fact better borne out than in the Merseysiders’ impressive results against the other top-six sides in the league, none more so than their 1-0 victory at champions Manchester United in December, a win on the road against a so-called big boy that Martinez’s predecessor never managed.
10. Welsh Wizard Proves His Gunners Critics Wrong
Last season midfielder Aaron Ramsey scored just one goal in Arsenal’s entire Premier League campaign, and even that did not arrive until May.
However this time around the Welshman hit 15 goals in all competitions, 10 of which came in the league, while the 23-year-old was also forced to miss more than three months of the season with a niggling thigh injury that many have subsequently claimed cost the Gunners a first league title in a decade.
Now not even Piers Morgan could have predicted such an unlikely transformation...
9. A Miracle at the Stadium of Light
After Sunderland were annihilated 5-1 by Tottenham at White Hart Lane in April, manager Gus Poyet said that his side would need a miracle if they were to avoid the drop, especially given that their next three games on the road were against Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United.
However, accompanying the Black Cats on those trio of away trips was a sign from a fan that simply read: “Miracles can happen Gus.”
And that is exactly what proceeded to happen as the Wearsiders grabbed seven unlikely points from those three contests to become just the second team ever in Premier League history to have escaped relegation after being bottom of the table at Christmas.
8. What’s the Mata with Juan?
There were whispers last summer that returning Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho did not fancy the west London club’s impish playmaker, Juan Mata.
However, seeing as though the Spaniard had been voted the Blues’ Player of the Year in each of his first two seasons at Stamford Bridge, those rumours were immediately dispelled as simply being the creation of trouble makers trying to upset the apple cart for the Special One.
And yet after starting just 11 of Chelsea’s first 22 Premier League contests under the Portuguese, there was widespread shock when Mata was allowed to join rivals United for a club-record £37.1 million in the January transfer window.
7. Wenger Signs His First-Ever Galactico for Arsenal
Prior to this season, the most amount of money that Gunners manager Arsene Wenger had ever lavished on a new player was either the £16 million he spent to land Andrei Arshavin from Zenit St Petersburg in February 2009, or the £13 million he splashed out to sign Bordeaux forward Sylvain Wiltord 14 years ago, depending on how you calculate the two deals.
In fact throughout his 18-year reign in north London, the Frenchman has always tended to shy away from writing big-money cheques for big-name players, that is until the final hours of last summer’s transfer deadline day. The Gunners boss broke a habit of a lifetime in order to lure Real Madrid playmaker Mesut Ozil to the Emirates for a whopping £42.5 million.
6. The Unhappy One
Jose Mourinho is as close as you can get on Planet Football to a cast-iron guarantee of silverware as a manager, the equivalent to what Fabio Capello was on the continent during the 90s.
And that is why his final season in charge of Real Madrid last year was met with more than a few raised eyebrows, being as it was the very first time in his trophy-laden coaching career that Mou had failed to win any silverware whatsoever, a run stretching back to when he took charge of FC Porto in 2002.
So just imagine the surprise at Stamford Bridge, then, that the Special One’s triumphant return to the Blues last summer has resulted in a second consecutive barren campaign for the Portuguese, who also finished a completed league season outside of the top two places for the first time ever.
5. Cole’s Chelsea and England Career Is Brought to a Shuddering Halt
For the previous seven seasons in a row, Ashley Cole was not only the best left-back in the Premier League, but also arguably in terms of consistency, the whole of Europe too.
And so had anyone dared to suggest last summer that one of the most decorated players in the history of English football would spend the majority of this campaign warming the substitutes’ bench at Stamford Bridge, after being replaced by a player who had never previously featured as a left-back, then they would have been greeted with some rare odd stares.
However, that is exactly the fate to have befallen Cole, whose season ended not as expected with a place in England’s World Cup squad, but with the 33-year-old instead deciding to call an end to his 107-cap, 13-year international career.
4. Pulis Defies the Odds to Keep the Eagles Flying High
Tony Pulis replaced Ian Holloway as Crystal Palace boss last November having never previously been relegated in his 21-year managerial career, although few gave the Welshman much, if any, chance at all of preserving that record at Selhurst Park with the newly promoted south-east London strugglers.
But despite the Eagles being bottom of the table when Pulis took over, with just seven points to their name from the opening 12 league encounters, the 56-year-old engineered such a remarkable turnaround in Palace’s fortunes that after a club-record five top-flight wins in a row in April, they had already guaranteed their Premier League survival.
And following an unlikely 11th-place league finish, Pulis was even named the Premier League LMA Manager of the Year.
3. From Villain to Hero in the Blink of an Eye
Luis Suarez was suspended from Liverpool’s final five games of last season after being banned for 10 matches for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic on the arm, with many wise sages predicting the forward had played his last match for the club.
However, exactly 12 months on from what was undoubtedly one of the lowest points of the Uruguayan’s often controversial career, El Pistolero has just finished the campaign as the Premier League’s top scorer after netting 31 goals in only 33 matches.
And on the back of that remarkable accomplishment, the 27-year-old was also voted the double Footballer of the Year to complete one of the most unexpected turnarounds the game has ever seen.
2. It’s Red Ruin at the Theatre of Screams
Last season Manchester United won their 20th top-flight title by a yawning 11 points from their city rivals across town, and so the club’s fans can be forgiven for being slightly taken aback by events at Old Trafford in this campaign under new manager David Moyes.
In fact no one, not even Mystic Meg, could have predicted the Red Devils’ subsequent spectacular fall from grace under the Scot, with the champions ending the season in a completely unfamiliar seventh place—their worst league finish since 1989-90—after losing 12 matches, seven of which came at the Theatre of Dreams.
And as if to emphasise the point, no title winners have finished as low as United did since Blackburn Rovers in 1996.
1. Rodgers Puts Liverpool Back on Their Perch
Even more surprising than United’s spectacular implosion, however, was the meteoric rise of their arch rivals from Anfield, who came within a whisker of winning their first title in 24 years under the inspirational management of Brendan Rodgers.
Liverpool, do not forget, had been languishing in mid-table obscurity for the first half of the Northern Irishman’s debut campaign in charge on Merseyside, before eventually finishing the season in seventh place, a full 28 points behind the champions from Old Trafford.
And so for Rodgers to have the Reds still be in with a chance of the title going into the final round of matches for the first time ever in the Premier League era, and all while playing some of the most eye-catching and exhilarating football of the past 20 years, has to go down as the greatest shock of all.