TERRACE TALK: Reaction from the weekend’s top Premier League action

Liverpool: Losing on goal difference having scored 101 goals would have been too cruel

TERRACE TALK: Reaction from the weekend’s top Premier League action

By Steven Kelly

It was all a tease after all. Ha ha, Fate. Hil-ari-ous.

A subdued Anfield pretty much knew the jig was up. The players managed to stumble idly to one final, face-saving victory but it turned out Andy Carroll did not have it in him after all. Who knew?

In an age of lumpen drudgery, we’ll take it nonetheless. There was a moment, around two weeks ago to be exact, when saying “if you’d offered me this in August…” might have got you a punch in the face and Scornful Scowl Number 37, but in time all rationalisation will be accepted, condoned even.

Maybe it’s a good job City did win the league by points rather than any statistical construct; imagine the mind**** trying to deal with your team scoring over 100 goals and losing out on goal difference? It’s like the five stages of death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The Selhurst lunacy is now a footnote in football history and no longer relevant.

Chelsea really stopped us. You don’t like it? Then maybe football’s not for you. It was a top of the table clash with the title at stake, against regular winners with an impressive record home and abroad. It followed 11 successive victories. That’s hardly an “implosion”. But it’s not enough for Liverpool to lose. You must be humiliated.

That follows a tiresome year’s worth of “two-man team” accusations. The other 50 goals came from nowhere then? It’s also worth bearing in mind the goofy genius has mostly been in poacher-mode this year, and somebody created for him. Even Torres would get 20 playing in this team.

The defensive mind-set of this team without the ball is a child at the fair on a sugar high. It’s simply not enough to run around like clockwork mice trying to get it back. We’ve been absolutely brilliant going forward, at times it was a sheer delight but at others it’s been like a nightmare with an inevitable end you watch approaching but cannot stop.

Liverpool gave away 12 leads this season; eight for one goal, three for two and Palace. At some point you learn your lesson, surely?

It was a very good season. Talking to opposition fans it’s remarkable how many of our first-choice players aren’t respected. Evertonians are masters of self-delusion but when they said they would swap few of their players for ours you could see their point.

Perhaps that’s a clue to the stature of the manager. He’s not been without his detractors either, but few men of his age and experience have won 84 points and taken a title challenge to the wire.

With the club relatively stable off the field, there’s a chance for consolidation if not for advancement. It’s important to remember the disappointments of Houllier and Benitez in 2002/03 and 2008/09 respectively, with stronger squads than this one at their disposal.Indifferent transfers and an inevitable so near/so far hangover screwed Rodgers’ predecessors. It’ll be vital to avoid a similar scenario.

Congratulations to City. At some stage your comical past will stop camouflaging a hostile, ultra-capitalist present but for now, enjoy.

There will be a slight fall for us next season. I’d snatch your arms off for fourth place in 2014/15 right now. If we think this is the right guy, let him get on it and accept this season’s increases as an aberration of a team gone beyond its remit. It’s the only way to stay sane.

Look at that, talking about sanity after a season like that. It’s me that ought to be sectioned. See you in August, day release permitting.

Man United: A funny old game, though I’m not laughing

By Richard Kurt

I know what you’re thinking: “I’m glad that’s over.” The Official Man Utd 2013/14 Season Review DVD is not going to be troubling the bestseller lists, I think it is safe to say.

Yesterday summed up much of the year — a deeply unimpressive team performance, a remarkable vocal display by United fans and an abiding sense that all the meaningful action was going on elsewhere.

It was all too easy to forget that, technically, we were still supposedly fighting for a European spot at Southampton. Very few cared, and even those that did would have happily sacrificed anything if it meant Liverpool didn’t win the title.

The plight of our Scouse friends serves as a reminder that it could all have been even worse. There was a time this spring when an appalling vista opened up: Liverpool English champions, Chelsea kings of Europe and Poor David kept on for another season of painful blundering. Instead, we Reds are in the bizarre situation this morning of being chuffed to bits that City have won the title — a prospect I’d once have put on a par with the return of smallpox — thus completing a hat-trick of happy endings. Funny old game, though I’m not actually laughing.

It hasn’t been boring, I suppose. Correction: the actual football on the pitch has often been excruciatingly dull for huge stretches of individual games.

But the overall, week-to-week dramatic narrative has been edge-of-the-seat, watch-through-your-fingers stuff. The season has been the strangest kind of turn-on, leaving you in a permanent state of fear-drenched arousal, as though in a drunken Vegas marriage with a psychotic dominatrix. Hey, we’ve all been there, right?

As all kinds of club records for incompetence and disaster fell on a seemingly fortnightly basis, you were aware that you were living through a historic season, something that will live forever in the annals of Red infamy. There was even, dare I say it, something life-affirming about being brought face-to-face with a truth we had almost forgotten: in football, you can fall far, and fast, in a flash.

It will surely be some time before Reds allow themselves to become as fatly complacent as some of us had been during the heights of Fergie’s reign.

Mention of Fergie brings me to The Reckoning, that unavoidable bout of finger-pointing that accompanies any calamity such as this season has been. Alex, Ed Woodward and the fellow board decision-makers of May 2013 have not been forgotten nor forgiven.

Some players, whose on and off pitch behaviour has stunk, ought to pay a heavy price this summer. But the Glazers, who are ultimately responsible for overseeing such farce yet never allow themselves to be held accountable, remain the perennial villains.

With one or two exceptions — yes, I’m looking at you two plonkers in the stunt plane — the fans have been magnificent. Despite being privately divided for much of the season as support for Moyes drained away, especially post-Athens, they displayed admirable dignity and astonishing vocal force throughout the ordeals unfurling before them.

That’s why I insist upon ending on a positive note, because this is how United fans have always behaved when the chips are down. At various points this campaign some fresh hell has reminded us of a previous trauma,and we have remembered how we were during previous nadirs, be it back in 1974, 1979, or 1989. We always fronted it out, sometimes in almost extravagantly perverse style, because that is who we had collectively decided to be. We don’t cry, hide or blame a conspiracy. We take it on the chin, and “crack on, regardless”, as they say in Wythenshawe.

So when the new manager finally shows up, he should know one thing. No matter how much pressure he may feel under, nor how many day-to-day problems will be put on his plate, he will have the greatest weapon in football at his disposal: the vociferous and unyielding support of Manchester United fans in the ground.

The team may have finished seventh, yes: but the Red Army never finish anywhere but top.

Arsenal: Our season of ‘if onlys’ can still end on a winning note

By Bernard Azulay

If you cast your mind back to last summer, there was an abiding mood of impending disaster. After Spurs had splashed the £100m they’d received for flogging Bale, we feared that the mob at the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road might finally usurp our North London throne.

With many pundits concurring with Harry Redknapp’s perennial predictions of Spurs renaissance, most Gooners would’ve bitten off the hand of anyone who offered us the promise that we’d conclude this campaign taunting our Tottenham pals “it’s happened again”, with the Arsenal having such a fabulous opportunity to end our excruciating silverware drought on Saturday, while at the same time maintaining our highly-prized seat at Europe’s top table for a remarkable 17th successive season.

However, as they say, “it’s the hope that kills you”. After our worst fears were realised with our opening day defeat, the timely signing of Özil instantly put paid to all the pessimism. Without even kicking a ball, his arrival proved to be the catalyst that inspired all those around him to raise their game, leaving most of us in dreamland, as we sat on top of the Premier League summit for so long. Thus if we’re left with any sense of dissatisfaction, it’s due to having had this particularly precious carrot dangled in our faces for so long.

Hopefully Özil will have grown more accustomed to the relentless rigours of the Premier League next time around and won’t need an unofficial mid-season break. But whether his contribution be great, or small, like Bergkamp before him, Özil’s touch is such poetry that it puts a £42m smile on the faces of genuine aficionados of the beautiful game.

It’s somewhat inevitable that we’re left contemplating upon all the “if onlys” that might’ve guaranteed a more concerted assault this time around.

Pure fantasy perhaps, but obviously we’ve all dreamed of what might have been, if only we’d tabled a more sensible bid for Suarez, instead of trying to be so cute. Most will point to our injuries and the untimely loss of the influential likes of Walcott, Ramsey and Wilshere. Deprived of their impetus and utterly devoid of any pace, our previously youthful team suddenly appeared aged and far too leggy.

Perhaps we’d have witnessed a different outcome, if le Prof had managed to reinvigorate the troops in January, by bolstering our squad with more than an additional unfit body. Everyone but Arsène seemed patently aware of the desperate dearth of options in attack that left him springing the surprise of the completely untried and untested Sanogo, in our two most crucial outings to date.

From my perspective, I can’t help but feel that “parking the bus” and pinching an impressive victory in Dortmund in November contributed to our downfall. We received such plaudits for this display that we ended up dropping crucial points in subsequent domestic encounters, where we reproduced these same infuriatingly passive tactics.

Flamini might’ve been last summer’s best bargain, but for all his enthusiasm and commitment, it was a big ask for him to carry his colleagues. And despite the earnest endeavours of Arteta and Rosicky alongside him, they both now have a tendency to run out of steam. Meanwhile Cazorla was guilty of hiding his light under our waning midfield bushel, when we most needed him to shine.

With Ramsey signing off with such a peach of a volley at Carrow Road, we were reminded that he might’ve been a candidate for player of the season, if he’d enjoyed an uninterrupted campaign. It’s no coincidence our late season return to form has coincided with our best players regaining their fitness. Even the ill-fated Abou Diaby has made a comeback, just in time to knacker himself again in the World Cup.

Complacency could prove our greatest threat at Wembley, with so many Gooners talking as if we need only turn up to beat Hull. Meanwhile those who remain convinced Wenger is past his sell-by date will have mixed feelings about a euphoric climax to our season, believing that a long-awaited trophy will take the pressure off le Prof and only condemn us to several more ‘nearly men’ campaigns.

For all our vocal pleas for Sagna to stay, I couldn’t blame him for wanting one last big payday. If we could convince Bacary otherwise and for once achieve the feat of avoiding such a significant spate of long-term injuries, Gooner hopes will spring eternal and we’ll spend the close season praying for the couple of shrewd signings that will enable us to kick on.

Chelsea: Pressure on Mourinho to deliver in second season

By Trizia Fiorellino

This season has been one of many contradictions as far as Chelsea are concerned. We’ve seen some breathtaking, inventive, free-flowing football packed with goals. And we’ve seen some inexplicable, turgid displays where we wouldn’t have scored in a month of Sundays.

We’ve seen Mourinho start the season as the Happy One — obviously back in the bosom of those who love and cherish him — but the season has ended with him at war once again with the authorities and the media snarling.

But the Stamford Bridge faithful have supported him no matter what this season. We trust him and know that he is already plotting the downfall of our counterparts after having gone so close this season.

The strike force — or lack of — has been our undoing of course but we seem to shoot ourselves in the foot with frightening regularity in this department. We either buy inappropriate strikers, we ’break’ strikers, or we count our chickens before they actually put pen to paper and then have to make do with whatever is available.

In his post match interview after the Cardiff game, Mourinho said Torres will still be with us next season. Really? I’m hoping for everybody’s sake this is Jose being cautious in case whatever deal he has lined up falls through. I have supported Torres throughout his often painful career at Chelsea but enough is enough.

In fact, how can you justify keeping Torres whose contribution to the club has been relatively minimal, yet allow a player of Ashley Cole’s calibre to go?

There will be a lot of pressure on us next season, partly due to how close we got this season but mostly down to Mourinho himself and his assertions that it was always going to be his second season back when he expected to win something.

I have no doubt that City will once again be the team to beat, they have some amazing players, many of whom are in the prime of their careers.

Arsenal still are a couple of players away from a real challenge and Liverpool, well who knows? If they hang on to Suarez then maybe they can be contenders but I have a nagging feeling that this was their one chance and, having blown it, they will go back to being one of those three or four clubs knocking on the door of the top four.

That said, their forthcoming Champions League campaign will force Rodgers into adopting a more pragmatic style, so you never know.

But rather than dwell on where we failed this season I would also like to acknowledge the good.

John Terry having been written off last season has come back to virtual universal acclaim and there have even been calls for his inclusion in the England squad and he must of certainly earned himself another season, even if it is on half the wages.

Cahill too has come on enormously since his move from Bolton. He joined us a capable player, but has developed into one of the first names on both the Chelsea and England team-sheet.

Azpilicueta has been a revelation. Initially unfancied by Mourinho he put his head down, worked hard and done what has been asked of him. I think he is very much in the running for player of the year.

Hazard could be the player to replace Lampard in the long term, not in the way he plays, obviously, but in terms of that additional source of goals.

Matic has the makings of a midfield monster: hard, physical and takes no prisoners. So although there are areas that need addressing we have a lot to be happy about too. As is often the case, I am pleased the season is over. It has been more expensive than ever but there have been some great days that will long live in the memory.

The 6-0 over Arsenal, beating them at their place too, the return from the dead against PSG, the Mourinho masterclass at the Ethiad and the shattering of the dream up at Anfield.

We’ve had some corking European trips too — Bucharest, Istanbul, Paris, Madrid — just to name a few.

I truly believe the return of Mourinho has galvanised our support after Benitez fractured it and it has been the best I can remember it for years.

So it just leaves me to congratulate City — and commiserate with those Scouse T-shirt and scarf sellers who have been left with warehouses full of Premier League winners’ merchandise.!

Hope you all have a great summer and lets all look forward to the new season — I have a feeling it’s going to be a cracker.

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