Premier League end-of-season report card – part 2


13th, May 2008

Like some wise old schoolmaster, Pies grades each Premier League team based on their 07/08 campaign. Here’s part two:
Man City (9th)
Started brilliantly, finished with a whimper. Overall though, Sven-Goran Eriksson did a good job of restoring pride to the sky-blue half of Manchester. A couple of his signings were notable successes – Elano and Martin Petrov had fine campaigns, even if the former’s dip in form mirrored that of his team – and the manager was unlucky with injuries to a couple of key players, including Valerie Bojinov. There’s no question that Sven deserves to keep his job, but will the sinister Dr Shinawatra agree? At time of writing, it seemed that Eriksson was set to lead his team on a tour of Asia.
Finest hour: Doing a double over champions Man Utd.
Low point: The 8-1 capitulation at the Riverside on the season’s final day.
Grade: B
Man Utd (1st)
In deservedly winning their 10th Prem title with a vastly superior goal difference to their rivals, United played the most cavalier, destructive football of any team in the division. Would they have won the league without the startling goal-scoring feats of Cristiano Ronaldo? Probably not, but it’s unfair to label United a one-man team. In Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney and others, they had players who performed at their considerable peak for large parts of the year. In the end, they should have won the league by more than two points, but for some bizarre team selections by Fergie in a couple of big games – notably the match at Stamford Bridge. That said, they’re in the CL final too, so who are we to argue?
Finest hour: Putting 11 goals past Newcastle in their two contests, and doing the double over Liverpool.
Low point: Losing both games to Man City.
Grade: A

Middlesbrough (13th)
A typical Jekyll and Hyde performance by the Teesiders, who must be the hardest team to bet on in the league. I wonder how the same team can be capable of losing to Bolton at the Riverside, having also defeated Arsenal there earlier in the season – they seem to find an extra gear against the big four, something that boss Gareth Southgate must address if they are to climb into the top half of the table in 2008/09.
Finest hour: Beating Arsenal 2-1 at home.
Low point: Who can explain home defeats to Reading and Bolton?
Grade: C
Newcastle Utd (12th)
Another quiet season at St James’ then… if only they’d have stuck with Sam Allardyce, perhaps Newcastle would have finished even better than 12th place, but we’ll never know. The appointment of Kevin Keegan shocked most of us, and after a slow start things started to look up for King Kev – the team finished reasonably well, after a pathetic start. Reports that Keegan is unhappy with the way the club is run are no surprise, and who would bet on him still being in charge at the end of next season? All the club needs is a little stability – and some better players would help – and they can start to think about getting back into the top six.
Finest hour: A 4-1 defeat of Tottenham at White Hart Lane raised everyone’s eyebrows.
Low point: Sacking Sam Allardyce without genuine cause, and conceding 11 goals against Man Utd in two matches.
Grade: D+
Portsmouth (8th)
Didn’t quite have the legs to finish in the top six, but the club’s fans must be delighted with a season that may yet result in silverware, in the shape of the FA Cup. Harry Redknapp is the best English manager in the division and he’s quietly assembled a very talented squad. I don’t damn Pompey by calling them one of the biggest overachievers in the Premier League – it’s a compliment.
Finest hour: 3-1 and 4-1 away wins at Villa and Newcastle respectively. The remarkable 7-4 home win against Reading also deserves a mention.
Low point: They were never truly humbled in any league match, apart from a 4-1 defeat at Anfield.
Grade: A-
Reading (18th)
Few observers picked them as relegation candidates back in August, but they could never string even a small series of good results together. Steve Coppell must take much of the blame for Reading’s demise – he seemed more subdued than usual all season and admitted that he should have done more to strengthen his squad in the summer and then in January.
Finest hour: Holding Man Utd to a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford, plus a 3-1 defeat of Liverpool at home.
Low point: The 2-0 home defeat to Fulham in April was the one result that contributed to their downfall.
Grade: D
Sunderland (15th)
Were there really five worse teams than Sunderland this season? Apparently so – not a great reflection on the lower half of the division. In truth, the Mackems struggled all season. I feel it may have been the pure menace of Roy Keane’s half-time talks that got them enough points to stay up – they did seem to score crucial late goals on several occasions. Keane knows he must improve his mediocre squad in the summer, or there won’t be five worse teams than his in 2008/09.
Finest hour: A 1-0 away win at Aston Villa was crucial to their survival.
Low point: Getting spanked 7-1 by Everton at Goodison.
Grade: C-
Tottenham Hotspur (11th)
Good to see Spurs challenging the big four this season… er, wait, that didn’t happen did it, despite some very cocky pre-season predictions. To finish 11th after the nightmare start they endured is not a bad outcome, and for that they can thank Juande Ramos, who taught his flabby, comfortable squad to shape up or get out. Of the teams that finished in the bottom half of the table, Spurs have by far the strongest squad – anything less than a top-six finish next season will be deemed another failure.
Finest hour: Coming back to draw 4-4 against Chelsea, despite going behind four times.
Low point: Losing both games to Newcastle, including a 4-1 home defeat. Shameful.
Grade: C-
West Ham (10th)
The Hammers were this season’s invisible men. They were stuck in mid-table for most of the year, with little to play for – too good to go down, not good enough to challenge for Europe. The bloated squad was hit harder than most by injuries, but even so, they played some decidedly lacklustre football at times.
Finest hour: Not many to speak of. A 1-0 win against Liverpool at Upton Park stands out.
Low point: Three consecutive 4-0 defeats, to Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs.
Grade: C+
Wigan Athletic (14th)
One of the pre-season favourites to go down, and things looked very bad in December, when they still had just nine points on the board. However, the arrival of the cavalry, in the form of Steve Bruce, saved them. The ex-Birmingham boss sorted out the team’s defensive frailties and managed to get the best of his mercurial South Americans, Wilson Palacios and Antonio Valencia.
Finest hour: Beating Aston Villa 2-0 at Villa Park, and holding both Liverpool and Chelsea to 1-1 draws away.
Low point: Losing 4-0 at Spurs in November, when Spurs were playing crap.
Grade: B-