The Premier League’s Best of 2011

By Kevin Koczwara

It’s sad to see Blackpool’s “Tangerine Dream” come to a close this weekend. Ian Holloway’s side was one of the most entertaining and crowd pleasing teams in the English Premier League this year. Blackpool’s unknown players made a stamp on the Premier League this year, and hopefully the Seasiders find their way back up with Holloway captaining the ship again — it would only be right, and he is far more entertaining than Roy Hodgson, Roberto Mancini and Avram Grant added together and then multiplied by 1,000.

Birmingham did it’s best to stay up for a second time, but Alex McCleish’s no offense approach just couldn’t work for a second year in a row. It’s no surprise the Blues went down if one looks at the horrible goalscoring record the team had this year, 37 goals scored. That’s not a joke. In 38 matches, Birmingham scored a measly 37 goals, less than one a game. Hapless West Ham and Wigan scored more than McCleish’s team.

Speaking of West Ham, well, we all knew they were going down once they hired Avram Grant. Last year Grant lead a woesome Portsmouth team straight out of the Premier League, and he wouldn’t have needed the point deduction of the club going into administration to do it. He would have managed to lose those points anyways. He did get Portsmouth into the FA Cup final, but he lost that just he like he seems to lose every other cup final. If Grant is hired by another Premier League team next year, that one will surely go down as well, just as the Hammers did. It’s fate. I should be hired before he gets another job in the Premier League.

But enough with relegation. Let’s look at some of the best from a year that went by in the EPL.

Manager: David Moyes, Everton

David Moyes does more with less. It’s that simple. The man knows how to manage. He knows how to win games. He knows how to motivate his players. He knows how to get the best from whoever he puts in his starting XI. He just knows.

Moyes lead Everton to a 7th place finish, just behind Liverpool and Tottenham. It’s a remarkable feat for a team without any real strikers, that suffered major injuries blows to integral parts of the team.

Moyes had to cope without his offensive catalyst Tim Cahill for the second half of the year, as well as his best defensive midfielder, Marouane Fellaini, and his best all-around midfielder, Steven Pienaar abandoned ship midway through the season to join Tottenham.

With all that said, Everton were one tough nut to crack. The Blues drew 15 games this year, and even ended the season on a high note, beating Chelsea, 1-0, on the final day to seal the top-10 finish.

Player: Nemanja Vidic, Manchester United

Manchester United claimed its record 19th title in England’s top-division of soccer this year, and a large portion of Sir Alex Ferguson’s thank you speech needs to go to the big Serbian center back, Nemanja Vidic.

Vidic lead the team in appearances and was the rock of the team. Without Vidic holding the line in the defense, the Red Devils were almost toothless at the back. Top that off with five goals from the center back position, and you have yourself the league’s best player.

Arguably, there wasn’t a more important player for Manchester United than Vidic. United went through tough patches on and off the field, but Vidic stayed strong and made the United defense one of the toughest in the league.

Most Improved: Lucas Leiva, Liverpool

Liverpool fans dreaded seeing Lucas’ name in the squad sheet. He was the Brazilian player with no flair, no game, and a penchant for turning the ball over with sloppy passes. Not this year.

Lucas held down the midfield for Liverpool through thick and thin. Even when Roy Hodgson was making Liverpool look like a Championship side — and that could be taken as a disgrace to teams in the Championship — Lucas never wavered. He kept the course. He always worked hard and his game seemed to improve every week. No longer do Liverpool fans call for his sale for a measly price. Nope, after his season this year in the Premier League, Lucas has become a crowd favorite at Anfield.

His game doesn’t flatter anyone. It’s efficient. He works hard. His skill on the ball is better than anyone believed — even if he can’t do any ball tricks. And his ability to keep fighting and get something out of nothing was an inspiration all season for the Reds. No longer will fans be shouting for his sale or his removal from the team. Look out next year if he starts scoring some goals like he did in Brazil.

Best XI of 2010/11 (4-5-1 formation)

Goalkeeper: Joe Hart (Manchester City)

Defense: Leighton Baines (Everton), Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United), Vincent Kompany (Man City), Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea)

Midfield: Lucas (Liverpool), Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham), Luka Modric (Tottenham), Charlie Adams (Blackpool), Raul Meireles (Liverpool)

Forward: Darren Bent (Aston Villa/Sunderland)

Honorable Mentions

Goalkeeper: Edwin van der Saar (Manchester United)

Defenders: Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Gary Cahill (Bolton), David Luiz (Chelsea), Roger Johnson (Birmingham), Christoph Berra (Wolverhampton)

Midfielders: Gareth Bale (Tottenham), Nani (Manchester United), Samir Nasri (Arsenal), Jordan Hendersen (Sunderland), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Joey Barton (Newcastle),

Forwards: Javier Hernendez (Manchester United), DJ Campbell (Blackpool), Asamoah Gyan (Sunderland), Carlos Tevez (Man City)

Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.

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