The final day of the season can produce great drama. May 24, 2015 wasn’t one of those final days. Sure, it was a fantastic story that Jonas Gutierrez, recently returned from fighting off cancer, powered Newcastle to survival in what is likely his final match in black and white stripes. He is truly a worthy hero for supporters looking for something positive to take from this disastrous season at St. James’ Park. Only the fantastic story associated with Jonas really made the relegation battle interesting. Hull City were never going to beat Manchester United, they just don’t beat top teams.
Given that the season has now concluded, I’m going to adjust the format for Monday Morning Manager. After the introduction, I’m going to write a few final comments on each team heading into the summer and try to keep the column brief (or at least as brief as I’m capable of). Starting tomorrow (Tuesday), we’ll be publishing in-depth season reviews for each team and then we’ll get started examining the three teams that will be joining the Premier League next season – Bournemouth, Watford, and, if the halftime score holds, Norwich. All summer long, we’ll be covering transfers as they happen and giving our take on the fantasy implications of those transfers for the players coming in as well as the current ones that might be impacted in a positive or negative way.
Before we get to the teams and what little drama the final week produced, I would be remiss if I didn’t take a few moments to discuss the Yahoo Fantasy Premier League game. I have been playing the game as my primary/favorite fantasy Premier League game for over ten years. I have been writing about it for ten of those years. It was the thing that propelled Jeremy Spitzberg and I from bloggers writing mostly for ourselves to professional writers. It did the same for Nik on a parallel path up to the point that we joined forces at Never Manage Alone and now at Rotoworld. We have maintained great relationships with friends who have moved away by playing the game together and created brand new ones with people all over the world as part of playing the game and writing about it. Suffice it to say that the Yahoo game has been a big part of my life for a long time.
The impact that it has had on my life makes it that much more difficult for me to head into the summer with only one conclusion…the Yahoo game appears to be joining Hull City, Burnley and QPR in being relegated. I don’t have any official word, Yahoo has never been a group that has issued official statements on the game, but the tea leaves are certainly all pointing in that direction. The cancellation of the MLS game only a few weeks into that league’s season was the first clue that something was afoot. Add that cancellation to what must be a great deal of internal frustration at two seasons of development struggles and it’s hard to come to any conclusion other than the game being done.
Rather than re-hashing all of the things that went wrong over the past two seasons and the frustrations we’ve all experienced, I choose to take this time to think fondly of a game that has meant a great deal to not only me but to the evolution of Premier League fantasy games. The Yahoo game took up the cause of the subtle parts of the game. It started with those attacking statistics that made fantasy stars of David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Damien Duff (may he be healthy), David Bentley, Laurent Robert, Fabrice Fernandes and countless others as they delivered successful crosses and corners won aplenty. Even over the past two seasons of developmental difficulties, Yahoo’s scoring system adjusted to shine a positive light on players like Mile Jedinak and Francis Coquelin whose value was derived from winning tackles, intercepting passes and blocking shots. Unlimited transfers combined with meant that there was good reason to know a lot about even the most obscure Premier League players. Where have you gone Christian Ziege?
What does this mean for Yahoo and Premier League fantasy heading into next season? To be honest, I don’t know. They could decide to scrap that as a part of what they offer to their users entirely. They could partner with someone to deliver a different fantasy Premier League experience entirely. They could decide to take a year off to refactor behind closed doors rather than trying to upgrade on the fly. The future is wide open as are the options for fantasy managers looking for alternatives heading into next season. The market has grown well beyond PremierLeague.com and Yahoo as top tier fantasy platforms to include daily games of all stripes as well as platforms that can support both salary cap and single ownership formats tailored to suit the preferences of individual groups of managers.
Over the course of the summer and into next season, our team here at Rotoworld will look into different games that are available to fantasy managers and try to present them to you, our readers, as options to fill the void that we fully expect will be left by Yahoo. We will try to give you as much insight as possible into what makes each game interesting and maybe we’ll even convince some of the makers of those games to go on the record and talk about what makes their platform interesting and where they plan to take it into the future. For now though, I’d like everyone to take a moment to bid a fond farewell to the Yahoo game as we’ve known it. You wouldn’t be upset about what has been happening over the past two seasons if it weren’t something that meant a lot to you. I’m sure there has been lots of vitriol on social media over the past weeks, months and years directed at Yahoo and, for sure, some of it has been deserved. At the same time, it would be great if everyone remembered the joy of Gareth Bale at under 3 listed as defender in his breakout season. The chaos of Mido making himself an occasional fantasy god by shooting on target at will without actually scoring all that often. The unexpectedness of Charlie Adam at Blackpool, Kieran Trippier at Burnley, or Muzzy Izzet at Leicester City. The transcendent final day of the season in 2003-04 when the Yak scored four against Boro (OK, it was transcendent for me because I won a bet with a friend – hey, Kris – and his 50+ points was the difference in what looked like a lost cause). It was a wild ride.
We look forward to making new memories with you whatever the format. We would like to thank our friends at Yahoo for everything over the years. Of course, we’d like to thank everyone that continues to read and comment and Tweet and email. It’s been a heck of a season and promises to be an eventful summer as well.
Chelsea – The final day of the season, especially on days like yesterday when there is precious little drama in the standings, is a day for afterthought players to remind us they exist. At clubs near the top of the table, it is often a time when good players who have been rotting away on the bench remind us that they aren’t as useless as the season just past has led us to believe. Step up Loic Remy who scored a brace on the final day to remind potential suitors that he exists if Chelsea go for a bigger/better forward to partner with/deputize for Diego Costa.
Manchester City – Player of the Year in the Premier League is an odd thing. It isn’t necessary “best player” on overall talent nor is it specifically defined as Most Valuable Player. If it were just “best” then Sergio Aguero would have to be the selection. Unless something odd happens, Player of the Year ends up being “best player on the best team” and that’s what happened this season. Eden Hazard is a fine choice and a fine player but if you were starting a team for next season you’d take Aguero first in a draft. Nice to see Frank Lampard score a send-off goal in his final match in the Premier League.
Arsenal – Speaking of players who wanted to remind us that they existed going into the off-season (and the FA Cup final), Theo Walcott did a couple of things of note. He scored a very impressive “Theo Goal” (from the right channel to the far side netting). Perhaps more importantly, he scored two more that were much more poachers goals. If he could do that on a regular basis, and in fairness he never has do it regularly even when healthy and playing at his best, he might get a shot at the central forward role he covets. Oh, and Jack Wilshere scored a highlight reel goal. If Wilshere could add the simple stuff to the spectacular in his game and stop getting hurt, he might turn into something as well.
Manchester United – We talked about Player of the Year vs. Most Valuable Player in the Manchester City section and I think we can conclude that, despite playing very little this season, Michael Carrick can lay the strongest claim to most valuable player in the Premier League this season. When he was present, United were title contenders. When he was absent, they were mid-table fodder. United get linked with a lot of players each and every week in the rumor mill but if they don’t get someone who can reliably fill the Carrick role for them next season then they’re not challenging for the title. As a side note, Marouane Fellaini didn’t start his campaign to stick around as a starter with his braindead red card in the second half. How do you say “change of pace off the bench” in Flemish?
Spurs – It is an unsatisfying fifth place finish if ever there were one. Harry Kane, Christen Eriksen and Hugo Lloris haven proven that they could be key pieces on a Champions League team. The question is whether that team will be Spurs because the rest of the roster looks decidedly mid-table and it isn’t clear why any of the three should suspect that Spurs can make up the gap between themselves and the top four over the summer.
Liverpool – As much as Liverpool faded down the stretch, it felt like a no-brainer that Brendan Rodgers would stick around for the rebuilding project over the summer until the last two weekends. With Liverpool looking decidedly second best at home in Steven Gerrard’s Anfield swan song the media buzz started to turn against Rodgers sticking around. A 6-1 loss to Stoke City at the Britannia added embarrassing insult to last weekend’s miserable injury. Is Rodgers really the guy to lead Liverpool forward? Big names are being linked to the club but with Rodgers’ recent history of failing to integrate the pieces he’s been given it is fair to think that someone else would be better suited to try to return Liverpool to the Champions League next season. I’m not saying he SHOULD be fired, but I’d certainly understand if he were given how the end of the season went and his insistence on playing players, especially young players, out of position.
Southampton – Seventh and sixty points is hardly anything to sneeze at given where they started the season. Ronald Koeman is undoubtedly the Manager of the Year. They didn’t do much against Manchester City of note to change our opinion of their season on the final day. This summer will be nearly as interesting at St. Mary’s as last summer was which is saying something. How much does the club invest? Do they keep with the policy of promoting youth as they potentially lose Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne?
Swansea – Their loss to Crystal Palace on the final day underlined what has been an odd season for the Swans. They played the big clubs very tough going 4 wins and 4 losses against the top four. What they had more trouble with was the rest of the league where they dropped points against also-rans on a surprisingly regular basis. Still, they finished in the top half and did so despite selling their best player in January. They should go into the summer well-prepared to address any needs in the squad.
Stoke City – A beautiful topper to their best ever season in the Premier League. They tied for their best finish (9th) and scored more points and more goals than they ever have in the top flight. All of that with very little spent over the summer in transfer fees. The wage bill might be substantial due to the size of the squad and some significant names coming over on frees but compare that to the money spent by QPR or Hull City over the past few seasons and you have a pretty impressive showing from a club and a manager that are rarely thought of as “impressive”.
Crystal Palace – Speaking of guys who wanted you to remember that they exist (and we were earlier in case you forgot), welcome back to the spotlight Marouane Chamakh. The former Arsenal man hasn’t been much better at Loftus Road than he was at the Emirates but maybe his goal in the finale to push Palace into the top half will create some interest somewhere in France or elsewhere that can help Alan Pardew recoup some of the cash spent on Chamakh.
Everton – The finale was probably exactly what the Goodison Park faithful expected after a disappointing season. Losing to Spurs shouldn’t cause any shame but losing to Spurs at home and not scoring when Spurs had little to play for pushes it toward “bad loss” territory. The club needs all the positive vibes they can get heading into the summer and they failed to deliver.
West Ham – A loss to dreadful Newcastle seems like an appropriate way to end a season that has been going downhill for quite some time. Sam Allardyce has already been dismissed and the Hammers are at a decided crossroads. Big Sam is an odd character and not typically very sympathetic but he is a good manager and I suspect that West Ham will struggle more than they expect to reach the heights he had them playing at as recently as Christmastime.
West Brom – Not exactly a Tony Pulis conclusion to the season, was it? Could it be as easy an explanation as Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and, to a lesser extent, the entire Arsenal squad had more to play for as they look to tune up for the FA Cup final and state their cases to start vs. sit on the bench for that occasion? Hard to imagine that Arsenal would have had it as easy if there were something on the line for the Baggies.
Leicester City – Wow! They managed to finish 14th and they did it with an exclamation point. One of the most amazing late season surges that you’ll ever see. After watching two months of outstanding performances, you wonder if the powers-that-be at the King Power Stadium will talk themselves into the current roster being enough for next season. They will need to remember that this was also the group that forced them to go on a historic run to achieve survival. Still, the memories they made. The frenetic win over Manchester United was the only other time they scored five this season and they capped the season matching that lofty output.
Newcastle – We talked about the heart-warming Gutierrez story in the opening but after that we have to be disappointed and ashamed that what this club produced over the second half of the season was enough for them to finish 15th. Surely the “best league in the world” should have better even in the 15 spot. One other bit of good news on Tyneside is that the Magpies finished one point ahead of bitter rivals Sunderland. Maybe there should just be a playoff between these two old rivals who seem to be engaged in some sort of death spiral to see who can run a club into the ground faster with bad decisions.
Sunderland – Hard to say anything much about losing to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It was nice that they managed to score at least. Heck, they were even ahead briefly. Dick Advocaat hasn’t made a decision about returning yet. Here’s hoping that if he does that someone, Advocaat or someone else, knows something about acquiring talent.
Aston Villa – They survived and still have the FA Cup final to worry about. Still, as Arsenal were warming up for that competition against solid, mid-table opposition and cruising to a big win Aston Villa were losing to an already-relegated Burnley team. The result both makes you nervous that Villa won’t be able to make the Cup final competitive as well as the fact that they, presumably shorn of Christian Benteke over the summer, could be Hull City next season. The mirage of an FA Cup final and late survival masking the inadequacy of the club and the manager poised to be relegated.
Hull City – Ladies and gentlemen, Steve Bruce. This season’s recipient of the Harry Redknapp Award for potentially over-spending a hoodwinked owner into potential financial disaster. I have heard rumors that Bruce at least included clauses in his players’ contracts that will see them on reduced wages in the Championship but for all the money that the Bruce regime spent, those clauses shouldn’t have been necessary. Most observers actually like the Hull City roster on paper. Perhaps Technical Director Steve Bruce should fire Manager Steve Bruce and let someone else manage what seems like it should be a mid-table group next season and beyond. They did give it the proverbial go against Manchester United. They had a couple goals called back (rightly) and forced a spectacular save from Victor Valdes. As it turns out, it didn’t matter after Newcastle won.
Burnley – A 1-0 victory with a Danny Ings goal. Short of a nil-nil draw, what else could you have hoped for to sum up the Clarets’ season? Only a Kieran Trippier assist would have made it more appropriate and he did get another clean sheet. In case you’ve missed it, Ings is available on a free this summer (and I’m not sure how you could have missed it given the volume of Ings-to-Liverpool rumors recently) and his price went up another little bit with his goal in the finale.
QPR – Charlie Austin made it three emerging young English forwards to score on the final day of a season that saw he, Danny Ings and Harry Kane burst onto the Premier League and England scene. At least two of the three will be moving on to a new club this summer and Austin would not be outdone when it came to putting himself in the shop window in style. He scored QPRs consolation goal and then waved goodbye to the Loftus Road faithful.
Speaking of waving goodbye, that’s a wrap on the first season of the Monday Morning Manager column. I hope you enjoyed it, I certainly enjoyed writing it. MMM will be back next season with a few tweaks to take up a significant portion of your Monday or Tuesday. Enjoy the summer and stick with us for rumors, transfers, summer tournaments, and season previews. Thanks to the entire Rotoworld Premier League team and all of our readers for a great season.