EPL season in review, team by team
I don't know about you, but I'm still breathless from a frantic final day in the English Premier League that might have been scripted in Hollywood. As I passed relegated Blackpool manager Ian Holloway on the stairs out of Old Trafford after Sunday's game, it was hard to find the right words of consolation. For once, the effervescent "Ollie" seemed stunned into silence as I offered sincere but worthless sympathies.
I was reminded of the old gag from legendary manager Tommy Docherty: "When one door closes, another slams you in the face."
But the Premier League will be a poorer place without Blackpool's devil-may-care brand of attacking football. The Seasiders scored more goals (55) than any other relegated team in the history of the Premier League and seemed to produce more thrillers than Alfred Hitchcock and John le Carré combined.
We will miss them.
Here's my verdict on all the teams this season:
Arsenal: Imploded alarmingly during the past two months, leaving the club without a trophy for the sixth successive season. Squad needs major surgery now.
Aston Villa: Late-season flourish and top-half finish disguised a chaotic season. A decision is coming next week on whether manager Gerard Houllier stays after health problems. Brad Friedel is likely moving to Liverpool as a backup to Pepe Reina.
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Birmingham: Would readily have swapped the Carling Cup win for survival in the Prem. Powder-puff attack leaves Blues playing in the Championship next season.
Blackburn: Naive decision by new owners to fire manager Sam Allardyce when in midtable safety. Only a late-season rally saved team from being relegated.
Blackpool: A breath of fresh air. But conceded league-worst 78 goals.
Bolton: Lost last five games to slip to 14th after being in the top half for most of the season. U.S.'s Stuart Holden was superb until being injured by Jonny Evans.
Chelsea: Senseless trigger-happy decision to sack last year's double winner, Carlo Ancelotti. Managerial job is becoming a poisoned chalice.
Everton: Slow start and unending injury problems of "sick-note" striker Louis Saha meant seventh was as good as it was ever going to get.
Liverpool: John Henry and the Boston Red Sox crowd made the season's best decision in appointing Kenny Dalglish as manager and signing the dynamic Luis Suarez. The Reds revival is on.
Manchester City: This could be the start of something big. The FA Cup win and Champions League qualification is very much mission accomplished for Roberto Mancini's players.
Manchester United: Only five road wins, but deserved champion by nine points with Nemanja Vidic monumental at the back and a 20-goal debut season for Chicharito.
Newcastle: A fine job done by the undeservedly sacked Chris Hughton and his successor, Alan Pardew. But he'll need to replace Andy Carroll this summer.
Stoke City: Cast as the EPL's ugly duckling, but in truth, this was a hard, effective side with two good wingers that reached its first FA Cup final and stayed well clear of relegation yet again.
Sunderland: Near catastrophic decision to sell goal machine Darren Bent when things were going well. Steve Bruce's players went to pieces without him.
Tottenham: Fantastic form in Europe, but its league form was poor for such a talented squad. Luka Modric was a shining exception.
West Brom: Liverpool villain turned WBA hero Roy Hodgson lost only two of 11 matches. Midtable finish is like gold dust for the Baggies.
West Ham: Spineless underachievers. To finish bottom with a squad including four England internationals is criminal.
Wigan: Played the right way, so deserved to escape the drop. Charles N'zogbia will be the subject of some big-money offers during the offseason.
Wolves: Spirit and honesty got them over the line again, but another struggle looms without some serious spending.
Some end-of-season awards:
Best goal: Wayne Rooney's overhead volley in the Manchester derby.
Unsung heroes starting XI in a 4-4-2: Ali Al Habsi; Phil Neville, Christopher Samba, Brede Hangeland, Jose Enrique; N'zogbia, Youssuf Mulumbu, Charlie Adam, Clint Dempsey; DJ Campbell, Peter Odemwingie.
Best buy: WBA's Odemwingie cost only $4 million yet produced 15 league goals.
Top player: Vidic. His rocklike consistency helped carry the champions.
Top managers: 1. Sir Alex Ferguson; 2. Kenny Dalglish; 3. Roberto Mancini; 4. Tony Pulis
Ian Darke is a commentator for ESPN. You can reach him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/iandarkeespn.
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