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Dublin: 11°C Wednesday 12 May 2021

10 moments that defined the maddest Premier League season in ages

Managers sticking the head in players, high-waist trousers and jerseys and poor ol’ David Moyes.

10. Andre Villa-Boas out/Tim Sherwood in at Tottenham

After less than 18 months in charge, AVB was sacked by Spurs. At the end, he looked a broken man, the final straw that 5-0 thrashing by Liverpool in mid-December.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool - White Hart Lane Andre Villas-Boas has a certain philosophy and style. His replacement at Spurs, Tim Sherwood, has completely contrasting ideals. What does that say about the forward-planning in Premier League boardrooms? Source: John Walton/EMPICS Sport

Upon being appointed, Villas-Boas was lauded by Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy, who outlined the reputation AVB had for his “technical knowledge of the game”.

AVB’s replacement, Tim Sherwood, is the complete opposite. A man who believes in character, pluck, determination. A man who believes in basic formations and public dressing downs.

But what does that say about the goings-on in the boardrooms of Premier League teams? Is there a long-term strategy of how a team should be run? Is there a playing style and philosophy that a club wants to invest in? As illustrated by Sherwood’s promotion, clubs seem to fluctuate from one extreme to the other. It’s not much of a method.

9. Adam Lallana’s goal versus Hull 


Following Southampton's 4-1 home win over Hull last November, the Saints sat in third place in the table. It seemed a victory for many things - a change in management, a distinctive playing style and some exuberant, youthful personnel.

Lallana was a revelation throughout the campaign and was rewarded for his performances with a long-awaited England call-up.

The goal perfectly encapsulates what Lallana stands for - intelligence, awareness and cleverness. Rare characteristics in a young, English player.

8. Alan Pardew head-butts David Meyler 

Sometimes, a manager gets lucky. In 2011/2012, Alan Pardew got lucky. For the first 11 games of the season, Newcastle dramatically over-achieved. Their mid-campaign patchiness was more like it, but, the team still finished fifth. Ever since, Pardew has been living off that success. And, he's taken full advantage of the idiocy that's enabled him at St. James' Park.

In 2012, he was handed an eight-year contract extension. The following season, the team barely escaped relegation.

This time around, Newcastle's campaign was overshadowed by Pardew head-butting David Meyler as the Magpies were in the middle of racking up a substantial win against Hull.

Sometimes, you get found out.


7. Vincent Tan sacks Mackay & Moody and appoints friend's son

Every dramatic story needs a good villain and ever since Vincent Tan took over Cardiff, he's played the role to perfection.

When he changed the club's strip from blue to red, fans were up in arms. But, it mattered little. Cardiff were heading for the Premier League (fickle supporters).

But, in October, the craziness was ramped up a notch (though the shirt story was pretty crazy). Firstly, Tan sacked Iain Moody, Cardiff's head of recruitment. He replaced him with a twenty-three year old friend of his son's, Alisher Apsalyamov. But he was then forced to leave the UK after a visa application was rejected.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Cardiff City v Southampton - Cardiff City Stadium Vincent Tan took over Cardiff and invested millions. The club got promoted to the Premier League but at what cost? Source: Adam Davy/PA Wire

In December, the inevitable happened and Malky Mackay was sacked as Cardiff manager after a public row with the owner.

In January, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer agreed a twelve-month rolling contract and arrived as the new manager. Things started well and Cardiff won their first game under the Norwegian - a FA Cup game against Newcastle. But, after that, the slump set in. Ironically, their relegation was confirmed after a 3-0 defeat to Newcastle earlier this month.

Tan is often-used as a stick to beat foreign ownership with. But his involvement with the club offers up other discussions. Has the Premier League adventure cost Cardiff their soul? Their identity? Or, is Vincent Tan the perfect metaphor for Premier League football?

6. When Big Sam 'out-tacticked' Jose Mourinho

Source: GiveMeSport/YouTube

Big Sam took great pride in having out-witted Jose Mourinho. His West Ham team had just frustrated Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, holding them to a scoreless draw.

He (Mourinho) can't take it, can he? He can't take it because we've out-tactic-ed him, out-witted him. He just can't cope. He can tell me all he wants. I don't give a shite, to be honest. I love to see Chelsea players moaning at the referee, trying to intimidate the officials, and José jumping up and down in his technical area. It's great to see."

For Allardyce, the result kick-started a run of five games unbeaten and led to him picking up the Manager of the Month award for February. In many ways, the result showed the knife-edge that Premier League bosses navigate throughout a season. One day, you're a hero. The next, they want you out.

Of course, the most important angle to the West Ham game was how angry Mourinho was at full-time. He ridiculed the "19th century" football displayed by the visitors. He lambasted the time-wasting and the "cheating".

Fast-forward a few months and Mourinho, ever the pragmatist and antithesis of idealism, used the same tactics to get back in a title race and desperately push for a place in a Champions League final.

5. Connor Wickham's second goal versus Manchester City

After losing 5-1 at Spurs on 8th April, Sunderland manager Gus Poyet said his team "needed a miracle" to stay in the top-flight.

A week later, they went to Eastlands to face Manchester City, without a win since mid-February. It looked ominous, especially when Fernandinho put the home side in front after just two minutes.

With under fifteen minutes to go, an unlikely Sunderland hero stepped forward. Connor Wickham grabbed his first Premier League goal since October 2011.

But as City pushed for a late winner, the guests conjured a superb counter-attack. Wickham popped up again to grab his brace. And though Samir Nasri equalised before the end, Poyet's team found some desperately-needed self belief. Three days later, Wickham scored again as Sunderland beat Chelsea. A week later, he grabbed another brace as Sunderland beat Cardiff.

They believed in miracles. Wickham's goal stirred that belief.

4. Aaron Ramsey limps off against West Ham

It's a simple narrative.

On 26th December, Arsenal were top of the table. That day, Aaron Ramsey picked up an injury against West Ham and didn't play again until April. It certainly wasn't the only reason why the club's season fell apart but it contributed significantly.

Ramsey wasn't just scoring goals before being forced off at Upton Park. He was playing with a swagger and enthusiasm that perfectly complemented the club's mindset. They were confident, energised, optimistic about their title chances. He was, quite incredibly given his turbulent Arsenal career up to that point and the summer arrival of Mesut Ozil, their talisman.

But, he had also been struggling throughout the month of December as Arsenal stumbled in three successive games - a home draw with Everton, a 2-0 Champions League defeat to Napoli and that 6-3 hiding at Eastlands.

If anything, the injury to Ramsey proved Arsenal have failed to conquer their common problem of minimising the drop-off in quality when important players get injured. The squad continues to not be competitive enough. And though the injuries to Ramsey and Theo Walcott are an easy, go-to counter-argument to explain how Arsenal's title-challenge disintegrated, it's more complicated than that.

3. David Moyes and THAT plane

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester United v Aston Villa - Old Trafford Source: Mike Egerton/EMPICS Sport

Though he dealt with it admirably, David Moyes was never going to move past the moment when an airplane flew over Old Trafford with a banner attached demanding he be sacked as Manchester United manager.

The stunt was booed by a large portion of the United faithful and rightfully so. But the incident did encapsulate the perverse satisfaction some take in ridicule and humiliation. In football circles, it happens quite a lot.

There's a common belief that because of the money, the fame and the attention, those involved in the game should simply 'deal' with the criticism, the aggression, the anger, the threats and the embarrassment. But sometimes, it's take too far.

Moyes didn't deserve it, but he got it. The Premier League is a ruthless place, lacking in humility, grace and decorum.

This moment only served to emphasise that.

2. Liverpool beat Cardiff 3-1 in December 

December was a whirlwind month for Liverpool. They responded magnificently to successive setbacks - a 3-3 draw in the Merseyside derby and a 3-1 away defeat to Hull.

Six goals shipped in two games was worrying so, things rapidly improved defensively. In the four subsequent fixtures, Liverpool racked up an incredible, and widely lauded, seventeen goals. But, critically, they conceded just three times. The 3-1 win at Cardiff though, in hindsight, was the last game before a return to old habits.

Successive defeats followed to Manchester City and Chelsea and, from then on, the club became embroiled in a series of games that conjured bizarre results. They beat Stoke 5-3, conceded two against Villa, two against Fulham, three against Swansea, three against Cardiff. In between there was some respite - clean-sheets against Southampton and Manchester United.

But, it was a problem Liverpool never properly fixed. And it would ultimately cost them the title.

1. Steven Gerrard's slip against Chelsea


The moment, on many levels, is fleeting but not.

Gerrard lets the ball run under his studs, loses his footing and can only chase in vain as Demba Ba runs through to score.

But, there are so many layers. A personal error. A club icon. The circumstances of the game. The consequences.

When we look back on defining moments, particularly sports-related, everything happens so quickly but so slowly. It's what heightens the agony and ecstasy. A bittersweet paradox.

A bitter-sweet moment.

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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