Sports

Premier League season in 30 special moments from Man Utd demise to Man City joy


As fans returned to stadiums for the 2021-22 season we were all hoping for a memorable campaign to take us out of the dismal drudge that was the largely behind closed doors 2020-21.

And yep, we got one.

A thrilling season came to a close in the most dramatic fashion on Sunday as Manchester City clinched a fourth league title in five years, but not before an almighty scare from Liverpool, and indeed final day opponents Aston Villa who raced into a two-goal lead.

What at one stage had threatened to be a title procession from Pep Guardiola’s team turned into a nail-biting finish akin to their 2012 triumph, with Liverpool pushing them all the way before ultimately falling short in their ongoing quest to sweep all before them.

At the bottom, Watford and Norwich might well have been most people’s pick for relegation before a ball was kicked, but the tussle between Everton, Leeds and Burnley to avoid joining them was equally as dramatic as the title race, while Tottenham pipped Arsenal to fourth as Antonio Conte worked his magic in north London.

Here’s the story of an epic campaign.

AUGUST

Nuno wins manager of the month

It was briefly all going right for Nuno at Tottenham
(

Image:

AFP via Getty Images)

Having left Wolves after a disappointing final year at Molineux, Nuno Espírito Santo arrived at Tottenham as Daniel Levy’s seventh choice manager, with Spurs fans not overly enamoured by his appointment. Ultimately, his tenure was short, not particularly sweet, and on November 1 he was given his marching orders.

But amid the sunshine of August, it didn’t look like it would end that way.

Three successive 1-0 wins, against champions Manchester City, former club Wolves and Watford, earned him the Manager of the Month prize.

But, losing five of his next seven league outings, and failing to get Harry Kane to look anything like, well, Harry Kane, would soon see him exit through White Hart Lane’s back door.

Paul Pogba’s opening salvo

Paul Pogba started the season impressively
(

Image:

Getty Images,)

Way back before Manchester United’s season descended into farce and nothingness, they began the campaign with heightened optimism and a belief that this could be the year to again challenge for the title. One man not named Cristiano helped to feed that optimism back in the early weeks of the season more than any other: Paul Pogba.

Having impressed at Euro 2020 last summer with a number of stellar displays for Les Bleus, the Frenchman began the season with plenty of swagger and seven assists from his opening four games. He was very much, what the Spanish would call, ‘en fuego’.
Alas, it didn’t last.

Only two more assists followed in the remainder of the season and rather than leaving Old Trafford as any kind of conquering hero, his exit is far more meek, having never quite lived up to the expectations that followed his then-world record £89million return.

Romelu Lukaku rag-dolling Arsenal’s defence

Lukaku impressed against Arsenal in August
(

Image:

Getty Images)

In the heady days of summer, it wasn’t uncommon to see Chelsea being tipped for the title. Thomas Tuchel’s European kings had signed Romelu Lukaku for £97million and he was widely being hailed as the final piece of the jigsaw that would see them fighting Man City and Liverpool.

Alas, to say it hasn’t worked out for the Belgian is something of an understatement – despite him being the club’s top league goalscorer.

But back on August 22, on his second debut for the club, Lukaku showed why those predictions were being made as he ran roughshod over Arsenal ’s defence, just completely dominating the Gunners at the Emirates, just too strong, too quick and too smart. Arguably, it was as good as the Chelsea No.9’s season would get.

SEPTEMBER

Cristiano Ronaldopalooza swings back into Manchester

Cristiano Ronaldo gave United fans what they wanted against Newcastle
(

Image:

PA)

Roll up, roll up, one and all, for the spectacular rerunning of one of the greatest shows on earth, for he walks among us once more.

It is easy to mock the way Manchester United reacted to the re-signing of Cristiano Ronaldo – largely because there was so, so much reaction that you had a fair bit of choice for what you wanted to go for – but on that saccharine Saturday in September when Newcastle were swatted aside 4-1, didn’t we all fall for it a little bit?

United went top of the league for a week, and as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer smiled that smile of a man who couldn’t quite believe he was in this position in both life and the league table, Ronaldo did the decent thing and put the ball in the net twice – the first a tap in, the second through the legs of a static Freddie Woodman.

They were the first two of 18 he scored on his return to the Premier League, an impressive number that shows he did exactly what he was expecting himself to do. Whether or not he’s been needed in grander scheme of things is another matter.

A 3-3 that’s the Bees knees

Liverpool dropped two points in a 3-3 draw at Brentford
(

Image:

Action Images via Reuters)

Did Liverpool ‘lose’ the title somewhere along the way? No. They were never frontrunners and it feels churlish to try and point a finger somewhere, but there will doubtless be some reflection at Anfield on the six-game period between late September and early November when only two wins were picked up, with seven points lost to Brentford, Brighton and West Ham.

Of those games it was the trip to west London that was the most memorable, with Brentford supporters cranking up the noise during a back-and-forth battle that went 1-0, 1-1, 1-2, 2-2, 2-3 and then settled on 3-3 when Yoane Wissa pounced on some curiously lax defending.

Jubilant Brentford fans belted out ‘Hey Jude’ after the match, a famous hit from some of Liverpool’s favourite sons. Some of their others could only slink away into the Hounslow night.

“There’s less space on the moon!”

Carragher spotted the huge gaps in the Spurs midfield
(

Image:

Sky Sports)

There were angrier, more frantic bits of punditry during the season, but the way Jamie Carragher dissected the performance Tottenham’s midfield – or lack of one – in their 3-1 loss at Arsenal was as impressive as it was cutting.

Speaking on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football, Carragher almost appeared to be putting forward a case for the prosecution as he slowly exposed just how badly out of position Spurs players were for one of the goals.

“There’s less space on the moon!” he declared as footage showed Dele Alli and Tanguy Ndombele remarkably out in front of a middle third of the pitch which contained no white shirts.

Nuno was only to last another month, and Dele and Ndombele were soon gone too.

OCTOBER

Mohamed Salah’s goal vs Manchester City

Mo Salah left City trailing in his wake in October
(

Image:

PA)

As many twists and turns as the entire Premier League title race has seen!

Considering the situation, the opposition and the ludicrous quality from the moment he picks up the ball to it nestling in the side-netting of Ederson’s net, it really is as good a goal as has been seen anywhere in the Premier League since its 1992 inception.

Thirteen days, £8million later

Steve Bruce bowed out of Newcastle after a shocking start to the season
(

Image:

REUTERS)

When Newcastle United finally became Saudi Arabia’s football club of choice after the takeover was waived through by the Premier League (assurances, ha!), it was only a matter of time before Steve Bruce’s tenure on Tyneside would be brought to an end.

And, to the delight of the Toon Army, just 13 days after Mike Ashley’s exit, Bruce departed by mutual consent. He said there had been “highs and lows”, although supporters struggled to remember any of the former.

For Bruce however, his departure wasn’t all bad; his contract was iron-clad and ensured the entire thing was paid up in full, earning him a tidy £8million payday.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s ultimate humiliation

Solskjaer watched Manchester United slip to an embarrassing 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool
(

Image:

AFP via Getty Images)

Manchester United 0-5 Liverpool : This was it for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Yes he lasted a bit longer, the 4-1 debacle at Watford finally finishing him off, but this was the game that signalled the end of the Norwegian as Manchester United manager.

Some 10 years and one day since they lost 6-1 at home to Manchester City, this was a humiliation of the highest order, showing just how far away from the elite they stood – despite a summer where they’d spent big to make a run at the title.

It was their biggest loss in this fixture since October 1895 and Solskjaer labelled it his “darkest day” as manager.

NOVEMBER

United’s slow skewering and silly stat

United were completely outclassed at home to City
(

Image:

AFP via Getty Images)

If the 5-0 defeat at home to Liverpool two weeks previously was a short, sharp, shock to the system, the 2-0 loss at home to Manchester City two weeks later was a kind of surgical procedure inflicted upon Manchester United. One that they had absolutely no knowledge of how to stop.

It was just something that was happening to Solskjaer and his players, who registered just four touches in the City box and had more efforts at David de Gea’s goal – two, including an own goal from Eric Bailly – than at Ederson’s.

They looked like “a drunk bloke at the end of the night looking for a fight” said Gary Neville, which was harsh on drunk blokes.

Gerrard gets Aston Villa back on the rails

Steven Gerrard arrived at Euston station ready to take on the Aston Villa job

If you’re going to become unhappy because your new manager gets seen before he’s announced, probably don’t let him get public transport.

Aston Villa were anything but happy after Steven Gerrard was seen arriving in London for talks with club bosses ahead of his appointment as Dean Smith’s replacement.

Villa had been sleepwalking towards a relegation battle when Smith was given the chop, but they soon gained momentum under the ex-Rangers boss; eventually, they would finish comfortably in mid-table.

Don’t poke the bear

A furious Mikel Arteta only succeeded in hyping up the Anfield crowd
(

Image:

TIM KEETON/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

When Arsenal visited Anfield in November, they arrived 10 games unbeaten and were doing pretty well early on as they kept the home crowd quiet and kept Liverpool at arm’s length. All was calm, all was well.

Then, inexplicably, after Sadio Mane misjudged an aerial challenge on Takehiro Tomiyasu, Mikel Arteta begun swinging his arms in fury, seemingly in an attempt to get the Senegalese sent off. Jurgen Klopp took exception and Arteta completely lost it, having to be restrained by his coaching staff while yelling and screaming at his Kop counterpart.

That moment engaged the home crowd – who, it seemed, only then remembered Arteta’s Everton past – and suddenly everything changed. It didn’t take long for the opening goal to arrive and Liverpool to saunter to a 4-0 win.

“We crashed for 15-20 minutes, we threw the game away,” said Arteta… failing to realise that it had indeed been he who had started the frenzy.

DECEMBER

Everton fans’ protest turns into a Gray day

Demarai Gray fired home a late winner for Everton against Arsenal
(

Image:

REUTERS)

By early December what was threatening to become a dismal season for Everton was starting to turn into a catastrophic one, with the prospect of relegation very real.

Rafa Benitez was largely feeling the force of that ire, but fans couldn’t ignore the off-pitch issues too.

A protest was planned for the home game against Arsenal, a match which came after a run of six defeats and a draw in Everton’s previous seven. Some fans then duly left their seats in the 27th minute – Everton haven’t won a trophy for 27 years – and despite the Blues playing quite well they fell behind to a Martin Odegaard goal.

The walls were closing in on Benitez, but after having two goals disallowed by VAR Richarlison grabbed a late equaliser, before Demarai Gray thundered home a stoppage-time winner.

As with much of Everton’s season, none of it really made sense.

Forty-eight seconds of madness

Raul Jimenez was given his marching orders at the Etihad
(

Image:

PA)

Only two players can say they received more than one red card this season: Aston Villa’s Ezri Konsa and Wolves striker Raul Jimenez.
And the Mexican’s first, during his side’s controversial loss at Manchester City, was a doozy.

Not content with being booked for a blatant trip on Rodri to prevent a counter-attack, Jimenez – having had a conversation with referee Jon Moss – then proceeded to just decide he didn’t want to bother going back 10 yards, and blocked the attempted free-kick from about three yards away.

In farcical scenes, he trudged off to the jeers and catcalls of the Etihad faithful. “He knows he cannot do that,” said Bruno Lage. Seemingly, in that moment, he didn’t.

No more Mr Nice Guy

Thomas Tuchel cut an angry figure after a draw at Wolves
(

Image:

PA)

For much of his first year in England Thomas Tuchel had come across as a happy, smiley chap, although wining the Champions League will do that for you.

Just before Christmas though the German could not hide his frustrations as, at a time when several clubs were requesting for matches to be called off due to Covid-19 outbreaks, Chelsea were made to travel to Wolves with a shadow squad.

Amid all the talk of clubs being allowed to use five substitutes the Blues only had four players on the bench at Molineux to make up a matchday squad of 15, with a lack of options costing Tuchel in a game which saw Chelsea only register one shot on target.

“I’m a bit angry, it’s not safe” was the public reaction from the Chelsea manager at the time, presumably referring to Covid protocols and anyone in his immediate vicinity.

JANUARY

The first half of Chelsea 2-2 Liverpool

Liverpool’s clash with Chelsea turned into an epic
(

Image:

Getty Images)

There are good football matches and then there are really good football matches. But the first half of this was something else entirely.

Two teams, both strong, both in form, just absolutely tearing into one another from the off. Moments of brilliance, comical errors, full-bloodied tackles, sheer end-to-end perpetual motion.

For 45 minutes, it was edge-of-your-seat stuff, with Mateo Kovacic’s stunning volley – the final of the four goals – the pièce de résistance.

Arsenal’s costliest decision

Arsenal moved to have their North London derby clash with Tottenham called off
(

Image:

Action Images via Reuters)

“Cancelling that NLD game has cost Arsenal” wrote Gary Neville after their woeful season-defining defeat to Newcastle. He wasn’t wrong.

Back in January, the Gunners thought they were being slick taking advantage of Premier League rules around Covid that were poorly-worded, and claiming they had “many players currently unavailable across our squad as a result of Covid, injuries and players away with their countries at AFCON”.

As it was, they only had one player missing due to Covid – Martin Odegaard – and the Premier League’s decision to grant a postponement left Spurs “extremely surprised”.

Neville had actually spoken out at the time about it, insisting: “Folarin Balogun and Ainsley Maitland-Niles have gone on loan, Granit Xhaka’s got a red card – that’s not the fault of anybody else. We can’t be calling fixtures off.

“We’re now talking about teams for the last few weeks where there’s no doubt they’ve been calling games off based upon whether they think they’ve got the best squad or team to win a game. It’s got to stop. For me, it [Arsenal’s request] should be rejected.”

Looking back, they probably wish it was.

Mind the gap

City pulled 14 points ahead of Liverpool in mid-January
(

Image:

Action Images via Reuters)

That 2-2 draw between Chelsea and Liverpool above had actually produced a winner, Manchester City, and by the time Kevin De Bruyne’s solitary strike proved enough to beat the Londoners 1-0 in mid-January Guardiola’s men were 13 points clear of their beaten opponents and 14 ahead of Liverpool.

The City boss would go on to call that “a false lead” because of Liverpool’s games in hand, but while it didn’t feel like it at the time he was going to need every one of those points by the time of the final bell.

FEBRUARY

Christian Eriksen’s return to football

Christian Eriksen made his return to football in February
(

Image:

Action Images via Reuters)

Eight months after suffering a cardiac arrest at Euro 2020, Christian Eriksen stepped out onto a football pitch for a competitive match for the first time, during Brentford’s home match with Newcastle on February 26.

In itself, the Dane’s return to football was remarkable enough, showcasing the resolve and determination of the man. What he has subsequently done, inspiring the Bees to safety with a number of standout displays, has been extraordinary.

Bielsa signs off

Marcelo Bielsa’s love affair with Leeds came to an end
(

Image:

Action Images via Reuters)

“This has been the toughest decision I have had to make during my tenure at Leeds United,” said Andrea Radrizzani after Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United exit was confirmed.

In truth it had been coming. The on-field results had been getting worse for some time and while there were mitigating issues – notably injuries to key men – it just looked like the love affair had run its course.

And what a love affair it had been.

Bielsa, living above a corner shop, had been a man of the people. He could barely understand the Yorkshire accent but he had brought a city together. Even at the end he went about his business with a quiet pride, signing autographs and saying his goodbyes before returning to Rosario. As a man, he was a class act.

A helping hand

Rodri escaped when he looked to have handled in the area at Everton
(

Image:

Action Images via Reuters)

Every title winner needs a bit of luck and Manchester City got a large slice of it late in the day at Everton.

In what was just Frank Lampard’s fourth league game in charge since replacing Rafa Benitez, the hosts took the game to City and were unfortunate to fall behind when Phil Foden pounced on a late error from Michael Keane to score.

Later still, the ball struck the arm of Rodri in the penalty area in what looked suspiciously like the types of handball we’ve seen given this season, only for this one to be waved away.

Everton protests in the coming days were met by an apology from referees chief Mike Riley, who admitted that between them Anthony Taylor and VAR Chris Kavanagh should have awarded a penalty.

Not that that did Everton, or indeed Liverpool, any good by then.

MARCH

Something stirs on Tyneside

Newcastle were upwardly mobile after a dismal start
(

Image:

PA)

Between August and mid-January Newcastle United only won one football match in the 22 they played in all competitions, a run which included the dismal end of the Steve Bruce era and the tricky early days of Eddie Howe.

Things began to turn in late January and with a 1-0 win at Leeds though, and by the time of back-to-back 2-1 March wins over Brighton and Southampton the Magpies were flying high with six wins in seven.

From often looking doomed they would end the season in 11th.

Life in the old dog yet

Ronaldo rolled back the years as he put Tottenham to the sword
(

Image:

PA)

While the wisdom of basing your entire attacking outlook around the talents of a 37-year-old who last pressed from the front when David Cameron was prime minister is certainly questionable, the talents of said 37-year-old are not.

Cristiano Ronaldo loves the big stage, and when Tottenham visited Old Trafford for what looked to be a crucial clash in United’s efforts to finish in the top four he went and banged in a hat-trick to prove to the watching world that this was a sporting veteran who can still cut it along with the young guns.

The watching NFL legend Tom Brady was suitably impressed, and in the days that followed the seven-time Super Bowl winner, 44, reversed his decision to retire.

Is there nothing Ronaldo can’t do?

Point of order

Liverpool had come up on the rails to challenge City
(

Image:

Getty Images)

Fourteen points behind (with two games in hand) just two months earlier, Liverpool had ridden up on the rails and, in Cheltenham week, drew to within one point of Manchester City with a 2-0 win at Arsenal.

City had dropped points at Crystal Palace two days earlier, and with both facing nine remaining matches the feeling started to grow that Liverpool – with the Carabao Cup in the bag and still progressing in the FA Cup and Champions League – were the coming force.

Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino had scored at the Emirates, with the pair part of a remarkable quintet of attacking talents along with Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and the January signing Luis Diaz, who had made an electric start to life in English football.

APRIL

Sean Dyche pulls no punches, then is knocked out

Sean Dyche got the better of Frank Lampard, but was sacked 10 days later
(

Image:

Getty Images)

“I said to them at half-time ‘I’m not sure these know how to win a game, away from home particularly’.”

Sean Dyche isn’t exactly known for his tact at the best of times, but the dismissive way he described a fragile Everton after Burnley came from 2-1 down to beat the Merseysiders 3-2 at Turf Moor was a little eye-opening even for him.

The result pulled Burnley to within a point of their beaten opponents, and with Everton facing tougher fixtures it seemed as though there had been a monumental shift at the bottom. But 10 days later, Dyche was sacked.

Burnley had crucially lost 2-0 at Norwich four days after the Everton win, and amid suggestions that Dyche had lost the dressing room and players weren’t responding to his methods, the gruff gaffer was dispensed with and replaced by a coaching team including interim boss Mike Jackson.

An improvement followed, but it wasn’t enough.

Man City and Liverpool live on the fine margins again

Ederson almost conceded a calamitous goal against Liverpool – but coolly dealt with the situation
(

Image:

Getty Images)

In such a closely fought title race the margin for error has been tiny, and while City make worthy champions Liverpool might just reflect on the odd bounce of a ball or height of an offside line.

At the Etihad in April Kevin De Bruyne opened the scoring with a deflected effort, an incredibly calm Ederson almost allowed Diogo Jota in to score from a backpass and Gabriel Jesus expertly timed a run to finish.

It ended 2-2 for the second time in the season, with Liverpool winning an FA Cup semi-final 3-2 at Wembley in a third meeting a week later.

A fourth won’t come in the Champions League, but City have domestic glory to make up for that.

Watford give up the ghost

Watford brought Roy Hodgson back into management, and were duly relegated
(

Image:

Action Images via Reuters)

At what stage were Watford down? When they sacked Xisco Munoz in early October? When they hired and fired Claudio Ranieri in the space of three-and-a-half months? When they broke out old gunslinger Roy Hodgson for one last job?

Probably all of the above.

A 2-1 defeat at home to Brentford – who scored a last minute winner from Pontus Jansson – was one of the marker points though, and ensured that even though Hodgson seemed to be having a lovely time absolutely no-one else at Watford was.

Back down they go along with Norwich, although they’ll probably be back soon enough.

MAY

Mikel Arteta’s post-Tottenham interview

Mikel Arteta was furious after his side’s defeat at Tottenham
(

Image:

REUTERS)

Mikel Arteta’s interview at Tottenham wasn’t where Arsenal’s top four bid was lost, but my word it didn’t help.

His “If I say what I think I am suspended six months” comments drew comparisons with Jose Mourinho, but even at his petulant worst, the Portuguese was never quite so blind.

That Antonio Conte later commented that the Spaniard “complains a lot” only furthered the affair, the Italian firmly getting into the head of his North London counterpart before the Gunners Newcastle no-show.

Everton come back from the brink

Everton fans streamed onto the pitch after a win over Palace secured safety
(

Image:

AFP via Getty Images)

Goodison Park had been a febrile place for most of the season, but with Premier League safety in sight when the Blues hosted Crystal Palace three days before the end of the campaign there was plenty in the air. Smoke, flares and potentially Myra the dog who had made an appearance before the win over Chelsea, to name just three.

Supporters had begun to lose the run of themselves months earlier, but with survival meaning so much to one of the Premier League staple clubs, Everton were 2-0 down at half-time and staring at the very real possibility of a nightmare final day and relegation for the first time since 1951.

Serious questions can and will need to be asked about the state of the club off the pitch, but on it came the most stirring of fightbacks as Michael Keane, Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin all scored to send fans wild, with supporters spilling from off the pitch to on in chaotic, and sometimes troubling scenes.

They’ll never want to go through this again.

A final day for the ages

Manchester City ended up with the trophy at the end of a remarkable final day
(

Image:

AFP via Getty Images)

On the face of it, nothing really changed at the top of the Premier League table on the final day of the season. Manchester City were always top and Liverpool were always second.

It’s just, well. The drama.

Liverpool will reflect on the nature of their game against a spirited Wolves side and the notion that had they sailed into a comfortable lead then that could have placed a pressure on Manchester City that would prove too much even for them to bear. Although on the flip side, that could also have made a City comeback harder for the Reds to take.

Pep Guardiola’s side basked in five minutes of unstoppable football which proved so crucial, as a fourth title in five years was achieved – and deserved – in style.

A word too for Aston Villa and Wolves – both congratulated by Jurgen Klopp at full-time – for making a day of it.

And what a day it was.

Read More

Read More




Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button