Another spectacularly entertaining Barclays Premier League season has come to an end with Manchester City crowned worthy Champions; the best team virtually top to tail, yet only led the league for an astonishing 15 days. City has reached new heights under manager Manuel Pellegrini as they transition from big spending/immediate impact to perennial contender. Yaya Toure's seeming discontent Tuesday may complicate that, as does the little issue of Financial Fair Play. But from August 17th, 2013 to May 11th, 2014, there was no question who was finest in the Premier League.
A deserved shout-out also goes to Arsenal, ending their nine-year trophy drought in an entertaining FA Cup Final victory over resilient Hull City. Storylines weave through the entirety of a season and beyond. The narrative persists, but it's the moments that resonate and will be remembered over time. The good celebrated, the bad not soon forgotten, and the ugly an instant reminder of what can, and usually does go wrong.
In hardly a vintage year in terms of quality of football, there were plenty of those must-see moments over the last nine months. Here are the Top 15 Moments that defined the 2013-14 Premier League season:
15) The Technology –The introduction of Hawk-eye goal-line technology for the 2013-14 season changed the Premier League forever. The results were an absolute and resounding triumph: little to no disruption and a 100% success rate. We entered the new world of goal decision-making over the opening weekend, the first case at the Emirates as Aston Villa's Fabian Delph's shot hit off the post before rolling across the goal line. Referee Anthony Taylor was notified the ball did not cross. No drawn out stoppage of play. Seamless. And the call was correct. No goal. The next day at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic thought he scored a powerful header. Hull City goalkeeper Alan McGregor saved before the ball entirely crossed the line. Jose Mourinho couldn't help but have a laugh with fourth official Andre Marriner receiving the news. No goal was the verdict, another successful call, eliminating any potential debate as usually the case when goal calls were made out of haste or based upon educated guess. Goal-line technology has taken the guessing game out of the equation on close calls. The first good goal call courtesy goal-line technology came January 18th. Manchester City's Edin Dzeko scuffed shot was ruled a goal after being cleared off the line. The moment was anti-climatic, yet effective, just how the technology was designed. From 31 debatable goal-line plays a year ago, to no such debates today. Progress.
14) The Wrong Guy (March 22nd, 2014, Chelsea v Arsenal) – There are referee mistakes, and there are REFEREE MISTAKES. Referee Andre Marriner sent off the wrong player in Chelsea's 6-0 thrashing of Arsenal. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain intentionally handled the ball in the box – a straight penalty and a sending off. Instead of showing the Ox red, Marriner sent Gibbs off the field. He sent off the wrong player. It is an incredible mistake by a refereeing crew, not one of the four officials remedied the mistake. Oxlade-Chamberlain admitted to the crime while Gibbs pleaded innocent, all for naught, the sending off was not reversed. Common sense prevailed as Gibbs three-game ban was overturned. It is however problematic Marriner and his crew was not suspended. An apology was deemed to suffice. Another embarrassment and more mistrust of Premier League officials.
13) The 81 Crosses (February 9th, 2014: Manchester United v Fulham) – One of the most lopsided performances of the season became a parody of itself when Manchester United attempted 81 crosses in a game. Some say it was 82. Regardless, the number of crosses was a runaway Premier League record for attempts in a match and stood as an indictment of United's newfound unimaginative, straightforward approach under David Moyes. United completed only 18 of the crosses and scored on none: painful for any who witnessed the gong show. The game finished a 2-2 draw, with Fulham players and then manager Rene Meulensteen afterwards deeming Moyes' tactics easy to defend. No kidding. 81 crosses. Embarrassing.
12) The Build Up (October 19th, 2013: Arsenal v Norwich City) – A goal of the season candidate, and stayed atop the podium less than a week. Trademark beautiful movement from Arsenal through the middle of the field that actually came off. Jack Wilshere started the move, and finished as well, staying onside with some deft touches of the ball. It was one touch football to perfection leaving Norwich defenders as spectators. The result is one of the best team goals you will see.
11) The Memorial (April 15th, 2014: Anfield) – The 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster brought an outpouring of emotion and solidarity amongst Premier League clubs. The ceremonies, culminating in the tribute at Anfield to the 96 who lost their lives was that much more poignant coming just two weeks after the Hillsborough inquest commenced and days after Liverpool's emotional home win over Manchester City. Liverpool's rich history and communal grieving was brought to life, and how it still resonates inside and out of the footballing world stands as a reminder it means so much more than just the game. Justice, 'inspiration' and 'never walk alone' were running themes to the memorial. The pictures say more than words.
10) The Goal Scorer (December 4, 2013: Liverpool v Norwich) – Luis Suarez sensational season should not be dismissed based upon past indiscretions. Some have tried to downplay Suarez' accomplishments, but that's nothing but folly. His Player of the Year Award was well deserved, winning the Golden Boot in the process, scoring 31 on the season. Suarez had no finer day than at Anfield against Norwich City. A four goal performance in a 5-1 victory will always be remembered for a 40-yard strike that beat John Ruddy top corner.
9) The Head Butt (March 1st, 2014: Hull City v Newcastle) – Bonehead of the year goes to Newcastle manager Alan Pardew. Pardew oddly enough lost his cool while up 3-1 against Hull City. Midfielder David Meyler pushed past the Newcastle manager to get the ball for a throw-in. The odd head-butt on the field between players never makes sense. A manager doing the same is downright lunacy. In a job requiring composure and self-control (to a certain degree), Pardew showed none. He was suspended for seven matches and was fined £160,000 total by the FA and his club. It's a wonder Pardew still has a job after his team hit the skids, one of the worst teams in the league in the final months. It was a headache of a season for Newcastle supporters: disappointing transfer windows, selling their best player (Cabaye), and continual frustration with an inferior, oftentimes lifeless on-field product.
8) The Gaffe (October 27th, 2013: Chelsea v Manchester City) – Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart had a nightmare start to the season. Indecision featured prominently, leading to questionable early season goals conceded at Cardiff City and Aston Villa, both ending in City losses. Hart's position in the team and cries for change reached a fevered pitch after his 90th minute gaffe gifted Fernando Torres and Chelsea a late winner. Defender Matija Nastasic attempted to head back to Hart, who inexplicitly left his goal, leaving Torres to tap into a gaping goal for his first of the season and the match winner. City lost 2-1, and Hart lost his job for a short period. It's amazing how things turn around so quickly. Hart rediscovered his form, has been solid in 2014, helping City to a Premier League title and looks to be England's number one in Brazil. The early season uneasy moments stand to show how the line between success and failure is so perilously thin.
7) The Stare down (September 21st, 2013: West Brom v Sunderland) – The lasting impression of the short, yet impactful managerial stay for Paolo Di Canio at Sunderland was as audacious as his summer transfer activity. In 175-days as boss, Di Canio created an irreparable rift between himself and his players before taking Sunderland's supporters, head-on. It all came to a front after an embarrassing 3-0 loss at the Hawthorns. Sunderland had picked up only one point from their first six games and the clubs passionate travelling supporters had seen quite enough. The fiery Italian took to the field post-match, smug as can be, shrugging his shoulders and gesturing to the fans to keep their heads up. The response from the stands was less than accepting. It all made for an awkward spectacle, and inevitably Paolo's last stand. Di Canio was fired the next day.
6) The Goal (October 21st, 2013: Crystal Palace v Fulham) - One of my favourite goals in recent memory scored by a team who would end up being relegated. Go figure. Pajtim Kasami picks up the honours of Goal of the Season. The Swiss International scored only three goals on the year, but his strike at Selhurst Park is unrivaled. Down 1-0, right-back Sascha Riether played a direct long-ball down the right flank. Kasami, in full stride from centre of the midfield, continued his run with the ball falling over his shoulder and across his body. Kasami took the ball in stride on his chest, and before it hit the ground unleashed an incredible volley top corner, far side. The balance, the power and the movement all make the goal an absolute thing of beauty. A 'WOW' moment.
5) The 'Little Horse' (February 3rd, 2014: Manchester City v Chelsea) - Mourinho is renowned as a master in football psychological warfare. He may have however out-maneuvered himself this Premier League season. Instead of being his typical confident, stubborn self, Mourinho decided to downplay Chelsea's chances of Premier League glory, at the most inexplicable time imaginable. Instead of using Chelsea's 1-0 win at Man City as a galvanizing moment (the first and only team to beat City at home all season), the Portuguese referred to his team as "the little horse" in the title race. He preferred Arsenal and Man City's chances of winning the league: an unexpected comment from a manager of a team with more than enough talent to win the title. Let's call is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Despite being the only English team to make the semi-final of the Champions League, Chelsea's title hopes disappointedly faded after late season losses to Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Sunderland and a home draw with Norwich. Chelsea finished only four points back of City in the final table. It was truly a case of what could have been. The negative talk from the manager may have played a significant role in the team demise. And the 'little horse' reference goes down in infamy.
4) The Banner (March 29th, 2014: Manchester United v Aston Villa) – The brief David Moyes 'era' at Manchester United was an unmitigated disaster and the biggest story of the season. Most surprising was the futile team performances at home. United's league form at Old Trafford under Moyes hit all-time lows. An overall home record of 7-3-6, only 22 goals in 16 games, and the first home loss to West Brom since 1978, Newcastle since 1972, and Everton since 1992. The biggest black eye, and the moment most aptly representing the negativity at the club and among supporters only cost £840. A group of angry fans took matters in their own hands, ignoring the instructions of Sir Alex Ferguson to 'stand by your new manager'. The protest du jour was in banner form, flown over Old Trafford reading 'WRONG ONE – MOYES OUT', mocking the 'Chosen One' banner, which actually required protection from being torn down in the Stretford End. While most Manchester United fans chose to boo the banner above that day, it was a further signal of discontent and that the porous state of the team could not be ignored. It was hardly a 'banner' day for United, but foreshadowed what was to come. Moyes was fired on April 22nd.
3) The Huddle (April 13th, 2014: Liverpool v Manchester City) – It was so close Steven Gerrard could taste it. The Liverpool captain had never experienced Premier League title glory. Four games away. That's all it was. The over-whelming emotion and recognition of the importance of the moment was on full display after an exhausting 3-2 victory at Anfield over fellow contender Manchester City. Gerrard later remarked it was the longest 90 minutes he'd ever played. The win put Liverpool seven points ahead of City with four games to play. Liverpool controlled their own destiny despite City having two games in hand. It was a scene made for Hollywood movie after the final whistle. The team's inspirational leader muted celebrations with a rallying call for focus to see out the job. It seemed the proper tactic from Gerrard and a sign of his stature at Liverpool. No top-flight title at the club since 1989-90 and Gerrard as the man to show them the way – the stars were aligning. All they had to do was avoid slipping up. Oops.
2) The Slip Up (April 27th, 2014: Liverpool v Chelsea) – It writes itself. The story will never be properly told if Gerrard is blamed for Liverpool's title failure. The pictures that will be replayed over and over again will tell a different story. Liverpool threw away their golden opportunity at being crowned Champions against an under-manned Chelsea at Anfield. Mourinho decided ahead of time to rest his regulars with an all-important second leg Champions League match ahead, midweek. Chelsea parked the bus and Gerrard paid the fare. It will go down as the defining moment of Liverpool's season: Gerrard failing to control a simple pass, then slipping, losing his footing, leaving Demba Ba alone in on goal. Ba finished, and Liverpool's confidence was likewise. They were a devastated team. They lost 2-0 on the day. The title thrown away and it had to be Gerrard in the middle of it. Sport can be cruel.
1) The Celebration (May 11th, 2014: Manchester City v West Ham) – City supporters are a hardened bunch after years of failure. Over a billion dollars worth of player purchases and the continued investment on global soccer infrastructure indicates a club on the rise. The celebratory scenes at the Etihad after the Premier League title was won were something special. The dramatic final day finish two years ago left the home crowd in disbelief. This year's league victory was a gradual build, more of a coronation leading to the inevitable. A sea of baby blue poured on to the field. Nevermind Noel Gallagher hogging camera time field-level. This win was for the people. It was for the blue side of Manchester. And an indication no matter the strength of a team, accomplishments as such can never be taken for granted.