It’s been a quality year in the Premier League this year and it still is not over as we head towards the second half of the season, with Chelsea looking the goods. You cannot discount the teams hot on the heels of the Londoners, and it will come down to the wire.
Join us as we look at the year’s events so far, culminating in perhaps the greatest football story of all time.
Goodbye to the Boleyn
For West Ham United it was the end of an era that spanned 112 years as they played their last game at the Boleyn Ground at Upton Park in East London. The club had rented the grounds from the Catholic Church in 1904 and with it came a legend that the house built there was once owned by Anne Boleyn, hence the name of the ground. Its record attendance was 42,322 versus Spurs in 1970 before the stadium became all-seater. Its capacity with seats was 35,016.
The final game was played against Manchester United on May 10, 2016, the 2398th game played at the ground. 34,907 fans came to watch with several thousand more outside unable to get in. West Ham eventually won 3-2 with Kiwi Winston Reid scoring the last ever goal at the ground. West Ham captain Mark Noble said, “it was written in the stars”, and for a side that had often terrorised the Hammers at the Boleyn for the fans it was a fitting end.
West Ham has since moved to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, just over 4km away.
Big Sam saves Sunderland and down go Newcastle
We all know about football rivalry, we can all name the big clubs in every country that go toe-to-toe but none more so than Sunderland and Newcastle with a fierce rivalry that goes back generations and beyond football. In the English Civil War (1642-1651) Newcastle was a Royalist stronghold with Sunderland becoming a Parliamentarian one and thus the rivalry began.
The Black Cats were in serious trouble when they appointed the king of the relegation battle in ex-player Sam Allardyce after Dick Advocaat quit in October 2015, with the team second bottom and winless in their opening eight games. So when Sunderland beat Everton 3-0 to ensure they retained their position in the EPL it sent their Geordie neighbours down to the Championship. Any mackem will tell you that is like having your birthday, Christmas, wedding, birth of first child, losing your virginity at the same time.
“It is outstanding from the grim dark days of December, when we lost five games on the trot. It’s been a test not just on the field but off it.” Allardyce
Currently, Newcastle is sitting at the top of the Championships, one point ahead of their closest rivals Brighton and nine ahead of third-place Reading.
Big Sam Ex-Man
On September 26 the people’s champion ‘Big’ Sam Allardyce was sensationally sacked as England Manager after a mere 67 days in the job, after an undercover sting by The Telegraph newspaper.
Despite a purported salary of $5million a year plus bonuses, the man that many had championed to turn round England’s woeful form in all competitions was caught telling undercover reporters how he could “get round” rules on players and use his influence as England manager to land a $800,000 deal.
It was the end of Big Sam’s dream job, making his reign as boss of the national team the shortest in English football.
[N.B.: However, what a turnaround as he now heads up Palace’s relegation battle!]
Jürgen Klopp – “The Normal One”
Where our old mate Mourinho is sullen, petulant, spoilt and miserable blaming the world when it does not go his way, there is nothing quite like a Klopp interview. We just love him. Here is a bloke that faces up to the media, with a smile, a chortle and a good comment. We hope he stays in the EPL for a while as he’s a breath of fresh air.
“I don’t want to describe myself. I’m a totally normal guy. I came from the Black Forest. I’m the ‘Normal One’.”
When Liverpool beat City 3-0 back in March, denting their Manchester rivals title aspirations there was only one way Klopp could explain his delight:
When asked about his team’s style of play and his footballing philosophy Klopp said:
“If the fans want excitement but all you can offer is football chess, then one of you is going to be changing clubs.”
Klopp full admits he wasn’t a world-class player, but he had the aptitude for the game he loves.
“I never succeeded in bringing to the field what was going on in my brain. I had the talent for the fifth division, and the mind for the Bundesliga. The result was a career in the second division.”
Famous for his wit, Klopp says how he once quipped at half-time in the dressing room, when his side was behind:
“I told my players during the break: Since we’re here anyway, we might actually play a bit of football.”
We hope he does well at Liverpool, a world-famous team that finally has a manager that can win them the Premier League and return glory to the streets of a proud football city.
Chelsea visit City in December
This may well be the game that we look back on as the deciding factor when Chelsea are crowned champions at the end of the season. After losing to Arsenal 3-0 on September, the Blues then went on an incredible run of straight wins before heading to the Etihad Stadium in Manchester. Along the way they had beaten last years champs Leicester 3-0 followed by a fantastic drubbing of United 4-0 upon Mourinho’s return to the club he had manged the season before. They destroyed Everton 5-0 and beat Spurs 2-1 then headed up to the North-West to face a quality City side.
City had looked in control of the match, 1-0 up, when Kevin de Bruyne missed what could be argued was the pivotal moment that Chelsea got their hands on the silverware of Premier League champions. Navas crossed the ball to de Bruyne and somehow he managed to hit the cross bar from inside the six-yard box. It would have put City up 2-0 with little over 30 minutes to go.
Four minutes later Chelsea had equalised, and Willian put the Londoners ahead another ten minutes later. It was all over when Hazard made it 3-1 on the 90th minute. Unfortunately, the game was marred by unsavoury scenes at the end of the match after Aguero’s terrible challenge on Luiz, which prompted a free-for-all with Aguero sent off for the crude challenge and Fernandinho given his marching orders for grabbing Fabregas round the throat.
Conte’s use of a three-man defensive system and the outstanding form of his two star players, Costa and Hazard, has seen them (at the time of writing) win 11 games on the trot with 14 victories from their first 17 games. Can they continue the march all the way to the last game of the season? We think they can.
Dream the impossible: Leicester City
Perhaps the greatest story in the history of British, if not world, football is Leicester City’s rise to the top of the Premier League from the very depths the season before. This was more than just a Phoenix from the Ashes tale, it was Boys Own stuff, to become legendary for all time.
In the 2014/15 season, the Foxes spent 140 days at the bottom of the Premier League and certainties to be relegated to the Championships, but they won seven of their last nine games under their manager, Nigel Pearson, to escape the drop zone. Ranieri was unveiled as their manager during the season – which was widely mocked by the British media – and promptly installed as the favourite to be the first manager to get the sack. His side was given odds of 5000-1 to win the league.
Ranieri set his team targets along the way, starting with 40 points to remain in the EPL, then qualifying for Europe, then the Champions League and finally winning the League. It wasn’t until four games from the end of the season that he finally admitted his side could be a chance.
Along the way the pundits, the professionals and all the fans waited for Leicester’s demise, to plummet back down the table to where they believed they should be, at the bottom. But up the top they stayed, and stayed and remained until the rest, as they say, is history.