Football season review 2014/15: The moments that made the season

From the sublime goals of Mata and Di Maria, and the stunning games involving Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton to the ridiculous situation of Premier League players paid millions who don’t want to train

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The Independent Online

Our reporters recall the highs and lows they witnessed during the campaign

Sam Wallace, chief football correspondent

Best goal

Juan Mata’s second against Liverpool on 22 March. Mata often makes those back-post runs and calls for the diagonal ball, but he’s not an obvious target and does not always get picked out. This time, Angel Di Maria found him well but there was not much on short of a volley that had to be perfect in its execution in just about every way. Often, these kinds of volleys succeed or fail on a question of sheer power. What made Mata’s different was that, despite the difficulty of the technique, he placed it beautifully.

Best match

Tottenham Hotspur 5-3 Chelsea on 1 January. There were too few ding-dongs between the leading clubs but this one was a glorious exception. A Mourinho Chelsea team had never conceded four before this match, let alone five, and it was widely reckoned to be the game that convinced him to pare down his team’s more attacking approach. It was remembered as Harry Kane’s afternoon, and rightly so, but it was notable for being one of those days when both teams attacked and Chelsea made a match of it to the very end.

Best quote

Harry Redknapp on Adel Taarabt, after Queen’s Park Rangers’ defeat by Liverpool on 19 October. “He is not injured. He’s not fit to play football, unfortunately. He played in a reserve game the other day and I could have run about more than he did. I can’t pick him… I’ve just been asked a question [about Taarabt]. What am I supposed to keep saying? Keep getting your 60, 70 grand a week and don’t train? What’s the game coming to?”

Unsung hero

Jason Puncheon is a player who, more often than not, has an effect on a game. No doubt that his effort is appreciated at Crystal Palace, where he has scored against both Manchester clubs, Liverpool and Tottenham this season. It could have been hard for him to replicate his form from last season, when he scored crucial goals to win games, but he has been excellent again.

Biggest flop

Radamel Falcao’s decline has been so steep that the debate over whether United should sign him on a permanent deal ended some time around February. Although he has struggled much more than Andrei Shevchenko did at Chelsea, there are similarities between their problems in England. It is not so much that the pace is lacking, it is that everything else seems to have gone with it too, including sharpness of touch.

Funniest moment

Faced with giving the sensible, dull answer or the honest, interesting one, about Jack Wilshere’s shisha pipe episode, Roy Hodgson commendably went for the latter. He said that he too had sampled the delights of the hookah, but had never been tempted to go back for more. “I couldn’t understand who would do it,” he reflected. “Apart from a faint fruity taste in your mouth that was about the end of it.”

Lesson learnt

Stay away from the raspberry shisha. If you must inhale, nitrous oxide is a much cheaper option.

Ian Herbert, chief sports writer

Best goal

Phil Jagielka for Everton against Liverpool at Anfield on 27 September. In the 91st minute, amid the pressure of his side heading for yet another Anfield defeat, the Everton captain sent the clearance that landed at his feet back past Simon Mignolet on the half-volley. He’d been suffering the hangover of World Cup criticism at the time. “I don’t think I’ve seen a better strike in live football,” said his manager, Roberto Martinez.

Best match

Everton 3-6 Chelsea at Goodison on 30 August. The goals spanned the entire 90 minutes. Everton showed the kind of indefatigability from a 2-0 deficit which they did not rediscover all season but Chelsea kept pulling away from them. The game hinged on five goals in the space of 10 minutes in the second half. And we also saw one of the first examples of Diego Costa’s affection for the art of winding opponents up. Everything – in the space of one match.

Best quote

Burnley manager Sean Dyche telling me what being in the Premier League meant to the town. “The grandeur, the feel, the feel of the town – buzzing, even now with the challenge we’ve got. A town that’s the same size of my home town, Kettering, where the team went out of business a few years ago…” I will not be the only one who misses him in the Premier League.

Unsung hero

Chelsea’s Gary Cahill. Now England vice-captain, he has risen to become arguably the best English defender in the Premier League, seeing off the threat of Kurt Zouma, who briefly replaced him in Jose Mourinho’s central defence. Has made the PFA Team of the Season for a second successive year, yet he carries hardly any of the acclaim within these shores that an Englishman who has made it the hard way ought to receive.

Biggest flop

Manchester City’s Eliaquim Mangala. He was the talk of so many managers last summer. One of them said privately that his talent had to be seen to be believed and that he was the most complete young defender in Europe. He also cost the club around £40m to three third-party owners (contrary to the widely reported but erroneous figure of £32m). Not until 21 September did Manuel Pellegrini deem the 24-year-old ready to be thrown into the Premier League. The outlay has proved to be disastrous.

Funniest moment

Select any of several dozen Louis van Gaal malapropisms and deadpan, lofty announcements. Like this one, about his goalkeeper: “I think David De Gea is one of the team, so he is a goalkeeper, so he has to stop [the ball].”

Lesson learnt

Managers can be challenged when they treat journalists like a piece of rubbish. The wonderful, bold extended challenge last month by the BBC’s Pat Murphy to the Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson – comfortably the most unpleasant man in top-flight football – revealed a way of fighting back against outbursts like his ostrich monologue, with its: “Are you flexible enough to get your head in the sand?”

Glenn Moore, Football editor

Best goal

His first was the best, and one of the most misleading. Barely half an hour into a 10-month season, Mauro Zarate marked an excellent West Ham United debut by sublimely volleying a falling ball past compatriot Julian Speroni at Crystal Palace. Zarate, whose talent would be proved to far outweigh his application, ended the campaign bombed out by West Ham and QPR, to whom he had been loaned, and failing to play a full 90 minutes all season.

Best match

Marseilles 2-1 Monaco, 10 May. The quality ebbed and flowed, like the match, but the atmosphere at a packed and pulsating Stade Vélodrome was thrilling as Marseilles came back from a first-minute concession with two late goals to keep Champions League qualifying hopes alive.

Best quote

“If he doesn’t want to play for England, or has doubts, then don’t play. We want people who want to be here. We are doing them a favour by picking them – not them doing us a favour by turning up.” Roy Hodgson, who regards being the England manager as an honour, making it clear to Jack Grealish – and anyone else – that playing for England is a privilege.

Unsung hero

Ashley Williams has come up with Swansea City from the third tier to the first, barely missing a match on the way. A calm, experienced and physical presence at the back, the 30-year-old has been key in the club’s fine season and Wales’ impressive Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

Biggest flop

Mario Balotelli and Radamel Falcao were dire, but they came with known reservations. Angel Di Maria was supposed to be a sure thing, £60m signings usually are. Instead, the Argentine found it hard to settle off and on the pitch. With Louis van Gaal constantly changing formations, and Di Maria’s position in them, his confidence drained away. The most expensive purchase by an English club might come good, but if United got a reasonable bid, it would be no surprise if they decided to cut their losses.

Funniest moment

An army marches on its stomach, and the press corps is no different. In Germany to watch Chelsea play Schalke 04, we attended the pre-match press conference of Jose Mourinho. It was, as these things often are, in an airport hotel. One hack wandered in chewing on a snack. “There’s food upstairs,” he said. So when Mourinho had finished we trooped up to wait for our transport and wandered into the room where food was laid out. After a few minutes’ appreciative munching, because it was better fare than usually provided for us hacks, a horrified member of the hotel staff ran over. “No, no, this is not for you,” he said.

Lesson learnt

Non-league grounds usually offer challenges to reporters and Dover’s Crabble Athletic Ground was no exception. The club were well organised, but there was neither wi-fi nor hard-wired internet access, which made filing the match report of their FA Cup tie against Crystal Palace tricky (the days of copytakers taking down reports dictated by phone are long gone). In between noting Palace’s four goals I learnt how to turn a Blackberry into a mobile hot spot and filed that way.

Jack Pitt-Brooke, Football writer

Best goal

This has not been a £60m season from Angel Di Maria but he did start it with a goal on 21 September which justified his price tag. Bursting through the middle, Di Maria ripped through Leicester City, exchanged passes with Wayne Rooney and then, facing Kasper Schmeichel, impudently scooped the ball on the run over the goalkeeper’s head. The imagination was one thing but the technical execution, at speed, another. More next season, please.

Best match

Tottenham 2-1 Arsenal on 7 February had everything you could hope for from a derby. Arsenal took an early lead through Mesut Özil before trying to sit back and soak up Tottenham’s pressure. Mauricio Pochettino’s men were ferocious, tearing into Arsenal, and Harry Kane drew them level. As a local boy, the game means more to Kane than to most, and he settled it in the final minutes with a towering far-post header, which prompted one of the loudest roars heard at White Hart Lane in recent years.

Best quote

Jose Mourinho had grown tired of sniping from Arsenal over his style of play and so responded by reminding them of their embarrassing Champions League exit to Monaco. “It’s not easy,” he said, responding to the charge that it was easy to set up a team to defend. “If it was easy, you wouldn’t lose 3-1 at home to Monaco. If he defends well he draws 0-0 against Monaco and wins in Monte Carlo. It’s not easy to prepare a team to defend.”

Unsung hero

He is coming close to being “sung” now but Laurent Koscielny has had another excellent season at Arsenal, perfectly complementing Per Mertesacker in a back line which seems to get stronger every season. While Mertesacker is commanding and imposing, Koscielny is quick, sharp, always alert to danger and darting forward to steal the ball away from the forwards. He has been the best value of Arsène Wenger’s signings in recent seasons and there is still more to come.

Biggest flop

Manchester City have been trying for years to perfect that holding midfield role, to find the right player to do Yaya Touré’s and David Silva’s dirty work for them. In recent years they have tried and then discarded Gareth Barry, Nigel de Jong and Javi Garcia. This year they tried Fernando, signed from Porto, and he looked less suited to the role than any of his predecessors: cumbersome, sloppy and inattentive, causing problems for a defence which needs protection.

Funniest moment

Jose Mourinho’s annexation of the Goals on Sunday studio was one of the most entertaining moments of the year. There had been a long-standing request for him to go on the show, and Mourinho finally felt like fulfilling it when he had a few points to get off his chest after the Burnley game at Stamford Bridge. Sky wanted to announce his appearance on the Saturday evening but could not until it had informed its planned guest, James Beattie, first.

Lesson learnt

It is a shame to say this, at a time when so many are keen to withdraw the country from the EU, but there is no question that Europa League participation undermines any side’s Premier League season. Tottenham played as well as they could before running out of steam in February, falling well short of the top four places. Everton’s season never got off the ground, and they will be far better next year for being out of the Europa League. Southampton may enjoy the ride next year, but they are unlikely to qualify for it again next season.

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