Seismic changes ahead in English Premier League
The 2013 Premier League campaign could not match its predecessor for suspense, but a host of late-season retirements and managerial changes foreshadowed seismic changes in the English game.
Manchester City had secured the last year title in the dying seconds of the season’s final game, but Manchester United succeeded them at a canter, sewing up a 20th league crown with four games to spare after a 3-0 win over Aston Villa.
With Queens Park Rangers, Reading and FA Cup winners Wigan Athletic all relegated before the season’s final weekend, the only late drama concerned the race for the fourth and final Champions League place.
Arsenal ultimately prevailed at the expense of Tottenham Hotspur, who had led their north London rivals by seven points in March and who now face a fight to hold onto Gareth Bale, the season’s outstanding player.
With City finishing second and Chelsea claiming third place, England will send the same four teams into the Champions League as they did this term, but three of them are braced for periods of huge upheaval.
The defining story of the season erupted just over a week and half before its conclusion, with the sensational news that Alex Ferguson was to retire as United manager after 26 and a half extraordinarily successful years.
His successor, Everton’s David Moyes, will inherit a youthful, improving squad, spearheaded by 26-goal Golden Boot-winner Robin van Persie, but the 50-year-old Scot has an impossible act to follow.
City finished the season three points above Chelsea in third place, but it is the Londoners who will remember the campaign with greater fondness.
Despite being villified for his previous role as Liverpool coach, interim manager Rafael Benitez led Chelsea to both a top-four finish and European success following a stoppage-time win over Benfica in the Europa League final.
As he complained, bitterly, following an FA Cup win over Middlesbrough in February, Benitez knew he was only ever a stop-gap appointment, and England is now braced for the whirlwind of charisma and controversy that is Jose Mourinho to whip its way back to Stamford Bridge from Real Madrid.
City are also expected to have a former Madrid manager at the helm next season, with Malaga’s Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini tipped to succeed Roberto Mancini, who lost his job after a shock loss to Wigan in the FA Cup final.
As well as seeking to exploit the power vacuum left by Ferguson’s exit, the new men at Chelsea and City, plus Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger, will be desperate to improve on a Champions League showing that saw all four English representatives fall before the quarter-finals.
Although they were to slip out of the top flight, Wigan’s FA Cup success over City on a rain-soaked Wembley day was a reward for the expansive football encouraged by their in-demand coach, Roberto Martinez.
Another club shaped by the Martinez blueprint triumphed in the League Cup, with Swansea City thrashing third-tier Bradford City 5-0 to claim their first major trophy.
Ferguson was joined in retirement by a number of Premier League icons, including United veteran Paul Scholes, Liverpool stalwart Jamie Carragher, and Michael Owen, whose career trickled out at Stoke City.
If Bale, author of several astonishing goals, was the season’s darling, the villain was unquestionably Luis Suarez.
Despite a clutch of match-winning performances, the spiky Uruguayan saw out the campaign from the sidelines after being handed a 10-match ban by the Football Association for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic.
Chelsea captain John Terry also fought an endless battle with bad press, notably being banned for four games for racially abusing QPR’s Anton Ferdinand, while Paolo Di Canio survived a media storm over his alleged fascist sympathies to spare Sunderland from the drop.