International Soccer
By Chris Ravita, Soccer Editor - Archive - Email
Premier League season in review
The blue half of Manchester won its first league title in 44 years.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Have you had a chance to digest the stunning action that was force-fed to you Sunday?

The English Premier League season culminated this past weekend in a 20-team, two-hour dose, offering entertainment that may never be rivaled again. While only a select amount of teams actually had something meaningful to play for, the drama of a title race went down to the wire and captivated anyone with a pulse who could stomach to watch.

Looking back, though, the final day of the season is not the only thing that we should marvel at when we etch this 10-month campaign into the history books. Ultimately, it's what it will be remembered for, but there was so much more that made the 2011-12 one for the ages.

Here are your top 10 stories of the 2011-12 Premier League season:

10. Return of Premier League legends

Last season saw high-profile switches in the January transfer window as Andy Carroll and Fernando Torres made big-money moves to Liverpool and Chelsea, respectively. This season, however, a pair of clubs turned back the clock by welcoming back their former Premier League superstars as Arsenal secured a loan deal for Red Bull New York striker Thierry Henry while Paul Scholes came out of retirement to rejoin Manchester United. With only a short amount time to influence their respective clubs, neither player tasted silverware this season, but the joy supporters felt watching Henry and Scholes run out in their famed red kits was well-worth the minor investment.

9. Newly promoted sides stay up

At this stage in 2011, QPR, Swansea City and Norwich City had reason to celebrate as they were poised to join the Premier League after gaining promotion from the Championship. One year later, they are still celebrating as all three sides guaranteed themselves another season of top-flight football. Swansea and Norwich surprised many this season with positive play, going for three points when past newly promoted sides would have settled for one. That mentality served them well as they both finished on 47 points for the season. QPR did it the hard way, escaping "Survival Sunday" in a safe position despite crumbling in a 3-2 loss at Manchester City on the final day of the season. Luckily for Rangers, Bolton's 2-2 draw against Stoke City saw the Trotters join Wolverhampton and Blackburn with the final relegation spot, keeping QPR in the EPL for at least another season.

8. Derby days

England boasts some of the more intense rivalries in all of world football, and this season's most high-profile derby matches were not short on entertainment. Whether it was Liverpool taking six points off Merseyside rival Everton by a combined score of 5-0, Tottenham's season unraveling after surrendering five unanswered goals in a 5-2 loss at Arsenal, or watching Alan Pardew's heated touchline exchange with Martin O'Neill in Newcastle's 1-1 home draw with Sunderland, there was a level of drama that caught the attention of those beyond the two sets of supporters invested in each derby match. The most influential derby - that is to say, the two matches with the most on the line - were the meetings between two sides from the same city vying for the title. Manchester City trounced Manchester United, 6-1, at Old Trafford before grinding out a 1-0 win at the Eithad to go level with the Red Devils on points late in the season. The two wins, as well as the six-goal margin of victory, may have been the difference in the title race.

7. Kean's season-long hot seat

No manager in the EPL this season had to deal with more noise than Blackburn boss Steve Kean. The 44-year-old replaced Sam Allardyce, a fan favorite at Ewood Park, in 2010, but struggled to get the team heading in the right direction. Kean was the subject of an onslaught of taunts from supporters who constantly chanted "Kean Out" at Rovers matches. He even revealed that he received death threats over the course of the season. Kean had the support of his fellow EPL managers, but it wasn't enough to keep Blackburn in England's top flight as the club was assured relegation with a home loss to Wigan on May 7. It's hard to believe he was even in charge that late in the season.

6. Arsenal's poor start overshadowed by third-place finish

There was an air of apprehension heading into Arsenal's season. The Gunners had lost Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri through the transfer market and no discernable replacements were brought in by manager Arsene Wenger. Gunners supporters had their worst fears confirmed a month and half into the season when the club took just seven points through its first seven games. It wasn't just the lack of points that left the club reeling, but instead the manner in which they lost games. Arsenal was played off the pitch in a 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford, lost 4-3 to bottom-feeder Blackburn and surrendered a 2-1 derby defeat to Tottenham at White Hart Lane. Wenger ultimately sought reinforcements and strengthened the squad with the additions of Mikel Arteta, Yossi Benayoun and Per Mertesacker. The Gunners turned it around and performed consistently for the remainder of the season, climbing all the way to a third-place finish. Order has been restored under Wenger ... for now.

5. Liverpool shrouded in disappointment

Liverpool, once England's most successful club, has not won a league title since 1990, toiling in the shadow of fierce rival Manchester United. But the Anfield faithful have been given cause for optimism over the past year and a half with all of the money invested by owner John Henry and New England Sports Ventures. They spent $165 million since January 2011 to acquire Andy Carroll, Luis Suarez, Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson, but Liverpool still finished with six fewer points this season than it did in 2011. The club was shrouded in further disappointment when Suarez was accused of (and later admitted to) racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra in an FA Cup match at Anfield. The Uruguayan answered his critics by refusing to shake Evra's hand before Liverpool's Premier League match Old Trafford. With Liverpool's problems extending beyond the field of play, one has to wonder what it will take to bring this club back to the elite status it enjoyed decades ago.

4. AVB's failure; Chelsea's resurgence

Former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti was sacked shortly after the 2010-11 season and was promptly replaced by Portuguese prodigy Andre Villas-Boas. The former Porto boss was regarded to be in the same mold as one of his predecessors, Jose Mourinho. For that reason, expectations were high from the start and Villas-Boas failed to deliver top results. The 34-year-old was sacked in March with assistant manager Roberto Di Matteo taking over as caretaker. Di Matteo, though, may well have built a strong case for the full-time job next season, guiding the Blues to an FA Cup title and a Champions League final appearance against Bayern Munich. The morale surrounding the team is noticeably improved under the Italian and he may have the player's backing when it comes time for owner Roman Abramovich to name his man come summer.

3. Newcastle's ascendance

Newcastle was not expected to challenge for much this season. Many pundits even had the Magpies tabbed for a battle against relegation. But with a couple of masterstrokes in the transfer market, Newcastle surprised everyone by rising up the Premier League table and challenging for a European spot thanks to the superb play of new acquisitions Demba Ba and Papiss Demba Cisse. Newcastle ultimately fell four points short of its Champions League aspirations, but with manager Alan Pardew, standout goalkeeper Tim Krul and rising star Hatem Ben Arfa, Newcastle should not be discounted in coming years.

2. The curious antics of Balotelli and Tevez

Some players make headlines on the field with influential play while others make them off it with petulant behavior. Manchester City strikers Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez fall into both categories. At the top of their games, they can be devastating to opposing defenses, but this season, we saw the kind of off-field headaches they can cause a manager. Balotelli was thrust into the limelight before the Manchester derby when a wild night with friends and fireworks resulted in the fire squad responding to smoke alarms going off at his estate. The Italian went on to score the opening goal of the game and reveal a shirt with the now-infamous phrase "Why always me?" Later in the year, Balotelli was nearly the source of City's implosion as his subpar play and series of rash challenges cost his side three points against Arsenal at the Emirates, a match in which the Italian was eventually shown a red card. Tevez, meanwhile, was MIA for much of the season after he had been ostracized for refusing to enter a match as a substitute early in the campaign. He returned to his native Argentina and looked destined for a transfer out of Manchester after manager Roberto Mancini stated that he would never play for the club again. But the player and manager made amends and Tevez returned to the pitch for the final haul, scoring a few key goals to help swing the title race back in City's favor. There is a fine line between genius and madness, and no two players (maybe people) in the world embody that more than Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez.

1. Down-to-the-wire title race

It is safe to say that there has never been a more dramatic end to a Premier League season. Manchester United looked destined for its 20th top-flight championship as it held an eight-point lead over Manchester City with six games to go, but the Red Devils stumbled down the stretch to allow their fierce rivals back into the picture - the two sides entered the final day tied on points. United took care of business with a 1-0 defeat of Sunderland at the Stadium of Light and even got a bit of luck with QPR jumping out to a 2-1 second-half lead over City. When United's match ended, the Red Devils began to semi-celebrate with one hand on the title, but the Citizens seized control of their home clash against QPR as stoppage-time goals from Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero helped give the blue half of Manchester its first league title in 44 years. A fairytale ending to a surreal season.

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