The very best of a brilliant 2013
It turns out we owe Sir Alex Ferguson a bigger debt of gratitude than we had previously realised.
The Scotsman may not be involved in the Barclays Premier League any more but his retirement has undeniably prompted the most entertaining, unpredictable title race ever.
During the course of the season, officials and coaches from top clubs have all told me they see this as the best ever chance to win the Premier League title.
The consensus is that Manchester United may miss out this year but will be back to their traditional best under David Moyes (with one or two new recruits) by next season. So now, they say, is the time to take advantage.
Chelsea and Manchester City are also in slightly less-dramatic transitional phases as their new managers bed in, prompting the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool (as well as Spurs to a lesser extent) to see this as their best chance in years to land the trophy.
With that in mind, the stunning opening to Season 2013/14 has really impacted my choices when it comes to the best teams and players of the year 2013 as a whole.
My Team of the Year contenders, for instance, are Arsenal and Liverpool – two clubs enjoying a wonderful renaissance and both recent table-toppers, having been nowhere near the Manchester clubs last season.
Both have built on good work put in towards the end of season 2012/13, with Arsenal picking up an impressive 82 points in the year 2013, scoring 70 goals along the way and conceding just 34.
They also recorded 18 away wins in 27 games in all competitions to demonstrate a toughness we haven’t seen from Wenger’s sides in years. They get my vote as Team of the Year despite the fact they won nothing!
Liverpool scored more goals (84) than anyone in 2013 and have produced an open, attacking brand of football that has made any game they are involved in a must-watch. They also boast my Player of 2013.
While Gareth Bale and Robin van Persie led the way in 2012, Luis Suarez was never too far behind. I think we can all accept now that he only missed out on individual honours because of his disciplinary woes.
Since his 2013/14 season (belatedly) began, he made up for lost time. Despite a strong recent challenge from Sergio Aguero and Wayne Rooney, Suarez’s numbers really are unassailable: 29 goals in a year which saw him miss large chunks of action, 19 so far this season, a record-breaking 10 in the month of December alone.
If Suarez stays fit, improves his goals tally in away games against the big teams and continues to stay out of trouble, he will threaten the record books come May 2014.
My other choices in terms of Players of the Year would be Loic Remy, who produced high quality for QPR and has been prolific for Newcastle, Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez at Southampton, Eden Hazard, Aaron Ramsey (my Most Improved Player) and Seamus Coleman.
My Young Player of the Year, Romelu Lukaku, is the third-youngest player to get to 20 goals in a calendar year behind Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen.
Manchester United’s David De Gea wins Best Goalkeeper because it recently occurred to me we have hardly mentioned him in our studio, while I lost count of the discussions we had last season about the young Spaniard’s perceived weaknesses. He is growing stronger and becoming more dominant as each game passes.
Best Manager goes jointly to Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez who have brought some progressive football thinking to Merseyside.
However, special mention has to go to Alan Pardew who doesn’t always get the praise he deserves for getting his (supposedly unhappy) players to unite and execute his game plans to perfection.
The Best Signings? Discounting loan deals (and therefore Lukaku), I would go for Tom Huddlestone who cost Hull City just £5 million and has demonstrated an ability to run games that shows he is finally realizing his potential.
I still think the free transfer of Mathieu Flamini to Arsenal represents an amazing piece of business and Simon Mignolet appears to be making a success of his Mersyside move.
Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas are growing into hugely important players for Manchester City and will I think turn them into a major European force come 2014.
Best Goals. Again, Luis Suarez springs to mind in this category (you could pick any of three against Norwich) and Gareth Bale produced half a dozen contenders (with my favourites being those against West Ham and Southampton).
Patjim Kasami’s strike for Fulham against Crystal Palace was freakish but the one that stuck in my memory the most because it effectively won the league title for United was Robin van Persie’s sumptuous volleyed finish from Rooney’s stunning pass against Aston Villa.
Lastly, Games of the Year. This season’s best have involved Liverpool: the 2-1 loss to Manchester City and that stunning 3-3 draw in the Merseyside Derby, when some of the best players in the league (Suarez, Coutinho, Sturridge, Mirallas and Lukaku) all left their mark on a classic at Goodison Park.
Liverpool were also involved in one of the best from last season: the hugely controversial 2-2 draw against Chelsea that saw Suarez sink his teeth into Ivanovic but stay on the pitch to score the late equaliser.
The Gareth Bale goal I mentioned earlier sealed a 3-2 Spurs win over West Ham in another classic from last season.
I’ll end where I began though, with Sir Alex Ferguson. Who would have thought his last league game in charge would bring a 5-5 draw?
In hindsight though, that stunning encounter at West Brom served notice that things were about to change in this league.
United suddenly looked vulnerable and the goals flew in. It set the tone for the season to come and defined a quite stunning 2013 in our league.
Happy New Year everyone!