Best of the best: review of the season

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With a remarkable season all but done, our football writers sit back, draw breath and sift through the multitude of outstanding moments to select their most memorable

BEST MATCH OF THE SEASON: MANCHESTER CITY 3-2 QPR

By Sam Wallace, Football Correspondent

It has been a vintage season and picking out the best game of the last 10 months is more tricky than usual. Watching Manchester United put eight past a chaotic Arsenal in August, it would have been hard to imagine Arsène Wenger's team finishing third. So too, watching United concede six at home to Manchester City, one would not have thought they would finish the season level on points.

I was at St James' Park in January to see Newcastle beat Manchester United with a bright young team that dominated the game. I was not at Old Trafford for Blackburn Rovers' 3-2 win on New Year's Day or Arsenal's 5-3 win at Stamford Bridge but both those games are worth consideration.

Chelsea's Champions League performances against Valencia at home, in their final group game, against Napoli at home in the first knock-out round and against Barcelona home and away in the semi-finals were all memorable. Against Barcelona, their approach was similar to that of England against Spain in November, Fabio Capello's penultimate game. Some say those games of attack against defence, where huge areas of the pitch are conceded to opponents, are dull. I find them absorbing.

I was at the DW Stadium to see Wigan beat United in April and at Old Trafford for Everton's comeback to 4-4 – two games that undid United's title comeback. But nothing beats City's injury-time win over Queen's Park Rangers this month. Throughout the season there had been exhilaration and excitement but the sheer joyous disbelief at the Etihad topped it all.

 

Next best: 2 Chelsea 2-2 Barcelona 3 Manchester United 4-4 Everton 4 Manchester United 1-6 Manchester City 5 Bayern Munich 1-1 Chelsea

BEST GOAL: NEWCASTLE'S HATEM BEN ARFA v BOLTON

By Martin Hardy, Football Writer

It says much for the quality of goals scored this season that there has been a need to categorise them. Depending on your bag there have been the volleys, the chips, the dribbles and the team goals.

For those who still remember Diego Maradona's second against England, the sight of a player moving poetically as one with the ball, with defenders unable to break the bond between them, the mazy run will always rule. Yes, Peter Crouch's goal was spectacular, yes, Papiss Cissé's strike at Chelsea was breathtaking, and certainly the control of the ball Luis Suarez showed at Norwich was something else.

But nothing this season could beat the sight of Hatem Ben Arfa, in an awful match as well, taking a game and making it his, with artistry that revolved around touch, vision, balance, skill and subtlety.

There was only, realistically, Ben Arfa himself who saw the possibility of scoring when he took a pass inside his own half and set in motion a 70-yard run that took him past four defenders before he subtly poked a shot past Adam Bogdan in the Bolton goal. At moments like that the beautiful game tag sits perfectly with football.

Next best: 2 Luis Suarez, Liverpool v Norwich, 3 Papiss Cissé, Newcastle v Chelsea, 4 Peter Crouch, Stoke City v Manchester City, 5 Hatem Ben Arfa, Newcastle v Blackburn.

BEST TEAM EFFORT: WIGAN'S WIN AT ARSENAL

By Jack Pitt-Brooke, Football Writer

What is bravery in football? Crashing tackles? Desperate headers? Bodyguard blocks? Maybe, but it is also the courage to stick to your principles and play your game under intense pressure. There was no more stirring football story last season than Wigan's. Bottom in March, they refused to slide into grim percentage football, hoping to kill games and steal goals.

Roberto Martinez, one of the great progressives, re-arranged his team in a novel 3-4-3 formation. Playing the ball out from the back, trusting each other with possession and attacking with pace and variety, Wigan went on one of the season's best runs of form and surged to safety.

Days after beating Manchester United 1-0, Wigan won 2-1 at the Emirates. They tore into Arsenal with early goals from Franco Di Santo and Jordi Gomez, before defending with assurance. Arsenal pulled one back, but only because Victor Moses slipped.

There was no collapse. Wigan were just as good in the second half as they were in the first, and Moses could have scored twice on the counter-attack. It was a perfectly conceived and executed plan, well worth the three points.

Next best: 2 Tottenham 1-2 Norwich 3 Swansea 1-0 Manchester City 4 West Ham 2-4 Reading 5 Newcastle 3-0 Man United

BEST PLAYER: DIDIER DROGBA

By James Lawton, Chief Sports Writer

Infuriatingly self-indulgent at times but then also Chelsea's lion of Africa on the field and a lauded peace worker among his embattled Ivorian compatriots. It is impossible not to give it to Didier Drogba.

As a footballer and a man he met all his responsibilities and was the most significant reason why his club, after all the years of vast investment and administrative misadventure, finally laid their hands on the greatest prize in club football. Chelsea, of course, rode their luck, but it couldn't have happened if Drogba, at the age of 34, hadn't refused so magnificently to accept that his best days were over. In the process he became, as much as a great footballer producing the finest of his talent and his competitive character, a force of nature.

Before his superb crowning eruption in Munich, his leading challengers were Yaya Touré, the driving strength of Manchester City; Sergio Aguero, who gave the new champions not only his superb talent but all the generosity of his spirit; Robin van Persie, for his mastery of the scoring art; and Wayne Rooney's brilliant response to a disciplinary crisis, which kept United so improbably in the title race until the last seconds of the last day of the season.

 

Next best: 2 Sergio Aguero, 3 Yaya Touré, 4 Robin van Persie, 5 Wayne Rooney

BEST MANAGER: PAUL STURROCK

By Ian Herbert, Northern Football Correspondent

He won't welcome the attention and will point to the medication he has found to contend with the effects of Parkinson's Disease – such as the distinct limp in his left foot and the trembling of his left hand – which has afflicted him for 18 years. But the impediments which Paul Sturrock has encountered with next-to-no-money Southend United put football's gilded cage into a little perspective.

It was no surprise that he almost took Southend up from League Two because he was chasing the sixth promotion of his career. Only Neil Warnock has more. A recent study of English football managers by academic Stefan Szymanski, co-author with Simon Kuper of Soccernomics, ranked Sturrock 14th in the all-time list of managers – based on their league finishing positions relative to wages. Some stuttering home form in March didn't help but Sturrock rues the February night Aldershot's floodlights failed when his own side were 1-0 up. The game was abandoned and two weeks later Southend lost the rematch 2-0. Three points would have brought automatic promotion rather than the play-offs, which delivered a narrow semi-final defeat by Crewe. Richer managers, with their frequent cries of injustice, cannot hold a candle to Paul Sturrock.

 

Next best: 2 Brendan Rodgers (Swansea), 3 Roberto Mancini (Manchester City), 4 Ian Holloway (Blackpool), 5 David Moyes (Everton).

AND...WORST VILLAIN: JOEY BARTON

By Glenn Moore, Football Editor

It was such a vintage year for villains those Stoke City fans who booed Aaron Ramsey for having the temerity to have his leg broken at their ground don't even make the top five.

Venky's provided an object lesson in how to alienate a football club from its support, hanging Steve Kean out to dry in the process. Carlos Tevez epitomised all that is wrong about the mercenary modern footballer. Luis Suarez and his club turned what may have been a cultural misunderstanding into an ugly, myopic defence of racist language. The self-serving John Terry became embroiled in another racism row, then made a fool of himself by jeopardising Chelsea's Champions League chances.

But Joey Barton fought off all challengers with a final-day implosion that, had Bolton won at Stoke, would have cost QPR their Premier League status.

That capped an ignominious season in which Barton was sent off twice, agitated for the sacking of Neil Warnock, who had signed him for QPR and made him captain, and created a toxic atmosphere in the Rangers dressing room.

It should at least serve to open the eyes of those who had fallen for Barton's reinvention of himself as a civilised man because he quoted Nietzsche and occasionally attended art galleries.

 

Next worst: 2 John Terry, 3 Luis Suarez, 4 Carlos Tevez, 5 Venky's

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