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The 2008/09 campaign proved to be another entertaining chapter in the history of the Premier League.
Already widely regarded as the best division in world football, last season only served to reinforce that lofty standing.
Manchester United may have taken the title for the third year in a row, while pre-season doom-mongers were right to foresee tough times for West Brom, but the last nine months have produced enough memorable moments to suggest the English top-flight is not as predictable as it may appear at first glance.
Here we take a look back at ten such occasions, providing a bite-sized run down of those stories which dominated the headlines and provided hours of entertainment for football fans the length and breadth of the country.
Bookmakers rarely get things wrong and their lack of faith in Hull City's ability to remain a top-flight outfit for more than one season suggested the Tigers would struggle throughout the 2008/09 season. Promoted as play-off winners, the only thing expected from Phil Brown's men was a quick-fire return to the Championship. A 5-0 defeat at home to Wigan in their third game of the campaign, following a steady start, suggested those who shelled out on the Tigers going down would be well advised to keep close tabs on their betting slip. However, four victories followed in their next six outings, including memorable wins at North London giants Arsenal and Tottenham, and suddenly Europe was on the lips of those at the KC Stadium. That was, perhaps, slightly optimistic and a run of just two wins in 28 outings saw them enter the final day with their fate still hanging in the balance. A 1-0 defeat against Manchester United's third team had them sweating on results from elsewhere, but in the end the continued failings of a shambolic Newcastle side saved them from the drop and allowed Brown the opportunity to indulge in some impromptu karaoke.
Touted as top-four hopefuls before the season began, eight games into the campaign Tottenham were looking anything but. They had taken just two points from a woeful start and sat rock-bottom of the Premier League standings. Unsurprisingly, hapless coach Juande Ramos was relieved of his duties soon after and an SOS call was put out to Harry Redknapp. In charge of Portsmouth at the time, Jamie's dad accepted the invitation to steady the Spurs ship. Three wins in his first four games soon had the White Hart Lane faithful on board, while upward momentum was finally established after two months inside the bottom three. They would only lose nine more games all season and continued to make steady progress towards the top half of the table. In fact, victory on the last day of the season at Liverpool would have been enough to complete a remarkable turnaround and clinch a Europa League berth. This is Tottenham, though, and nothing is ever straightforward. A 3-1 setback at Anfield ensured all their hard work ultimately came to nothing, as they were pipped to a continental competition spot by Fulham, but the noises coming out of the capital suggest a UEFA Champions League push next term is a distinct possibility. Just don't hold your breath.
Manchester City began the 2008/09 campaign with much the same expectations as any other. Mid-table mediocrity beckoned, but a European push could be possible if they put their minds to it. Then, on 1st September, the arrival of the Abu Dhabi United Group at Eastlands brought about the dawn of an exciting new era and blew those plans out of the water. Suddenly, City were the richest club in the world, with their new Middle Eastern owners prepared to use their billions to bankroll a project which would see the Blues become one of the world's top clubs. City fans could not believe their luck, with all their Christmases and birthdays seemingly having come at once. At last the club had the potential to mount a serious challenge against the superiority of their cross-city neighbours, United. The deadline day arrival of Brazilian superstar Robinho, for a British transfer record, increased that sense of optimism still further and a tilt at the top six was regarded as inevitable. Unfortunately progress on the field was not mirroring that in the boardroom and City fell as far as 18th at one stage. A commendable recovery during the second half of the campaign saw them clamber back into the top half of the table, but a final standing of 10th suggests there is still much to do if they are to become the global force their owners intend.
While City have established a reputation down the years for snatching mediocrity from the jaws of greatness, Newcastle are the standard bearers for such failings. Ever since they threw away a 12-point lead to hand Manchester United the Premier League crown in 1996, the Magpies have been on a slippery slope. False dawns are an annual occurrence on Tyneside, with the St James' Park propaganda machine regularly insisting that the club stand on the brink of something special, only to then go and mess things up in spectacular fashion. The 2008/09 season was disastrous, though, even by Newcastle's standards. Local legend Kevin Keegan started the campaign at the helm, but walked away from the club for a second time in September, citing interference from upstairs (namely Dennis Wise) as the reason behind his shock departure. Joe Kinnear was brought out of obscurity to take the reins, only to then be forced to stand down himself due to health problems. Enter Alan Shearer. A god to those in the Gallowgate End and the supposed Messiah the Magpies had been looking for. Eight games, and five points, later the North East giants slipped tamely into the Championship and will now be plying their trade in the second tier next season. Whether Shearer sticks around remains to be seen, but expect more drama to come over the next 12 months from a side that appears hell-bent on doing things the hard way.
Prior to any given season, your stereotypical man on the street will tell you that the top-four places in the Premier League will be contested by Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal. He would be right to think that, with the 'big four' enjoying a monopoly on the UEFA Champions League places for what seems like eternity. How refreshing then that the 2008/09 saw unfashionable Aston Villa threaten to crash that party. By the middle of February Martin O'Neill's men sat third in the table and were drawing accolades left, right and centre. Surely nothing could stop them from booking a place at Europe's top table? Wrong. A nine-game winless run followed and suddenly Arsenal had caught them, overtaken them and pulled out of sight. Only one more defeat followed in their final seven games, but the momentum and belief within the Villa camp had been lost and they were even beaten into sixth by Everton. They will be part of the inaugural Europa League next term, but that is scant consolation considering what they could, and maybe should, have achieved.
Having deemed Avram Grant unworthy of the Stamford Bridge hot-seat at the end of the 2007/08 campaign, Chelsea thought they had identified the ideal candidate for the job when they persuaded Luiz Felipe Scolari to relinquish his role with the Portugal national side and head to England. A man who could boast a World Cup winners' medal on his impressive CV appeared well suited to the challenge of bringing the glory days back to the King's Road. A bright start bode well, with Chelsea making impressive progress at home and abroad, but it was not long before the wheels began to fall off. Reports of player unrest, coupled with a number of inept showings on the field, saw Scolari treading on thin ice throughout the winter, before he finally toppled into the icy water when Roman Abramovich gave him a short, sharp prod in February. The Blues' season was in danger of collapse at this stage and they needed an experienced head to help bring about a reversal in fortunes. Dutch tactician Guus Hiddink was appointed on a temporary basis until the end of the season, and the wily old campaigner soon had things looking bright again at the Bridge. Stroppy stars such as Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda were brought back in line, while progress was made to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League and the final of the FA Cup. Hiddink will not be around to build on the solid foundations he has laid next season, but his successor, whoever that may be, will be inheriting a club that appears to be in good shape.
Few could argue that Manchester United stalwart Ryan Giggs is undeserving of a PFA Player of the Year award throughout his glittering career, but whether this season was the right time to bestow such an honour upon him remains open to debate. His ageing limbs have seen him become more of a squad player at Old Trafford than a first-team staple, with his outings carefully hand picked by Red Devils chief Sir Alex Ferguson. His experience has ensured that he is regularly called upon for the big games, but he has spent more time on the bench this season than he would have liked. It therefore came as some surprise when he was voted the Premier League's top performer last season by his fellow professionals. Sentiment undoubtedly played a part in that decision, with the Welsh wizard having failed to land the senior PFA award during an 18-year stint at United. However, the likes of Nemanja Vidic and Steven Gerrard appeared to be the more obvious choices for the accolade and they will have every right to feel slightly aggrieved. The fact that Liverpool skipper Gerrard landed the Football Writers' Association prize proves Giggs was by no means the stand-out performer of the season, as his United team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo has been in recent years, and is likely to ensure that his merit as top dog will be questioned for some time yet.
The 2008/09 campaign will live long in the memory of Manchester United fans as they came agonisingly close to landing an unprecedented quintuple. Premier League, League Cup and Club World Cup titles were safely secured, while they only fell in the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the final of the UEFA Champions League. Much of their success was built on a record-breaking defence that appeared to be impenetrable at times. In January, United became the first club to go 11 consecutive games without conceding a goal in the Premier League, before going on to break the English top-flight record a week later. Showing no signs of weakness, United keeper Edwin van der Sar then took the British top-flight record for time spent without conceding and surpassed the world single-season mark as he broke through the 1,300-minute barrier. In the end Newcastle winger Peter Lovenkrands would be the man to break the cycle, but by then the Red Devils had gone 1,311 minutes without being breached in the league. With a total of 21 clean sheets kept over the course of the campaign, Van der Sar was then awarded the Premier League Golden Glove award at the end of the season, snatching that particular honour away from Liverpool shot-stopper Pepe Reina for the first time in three years.
When opting to bring in a combustible African striker during pre-season there is always an element of risk which must be taken into account before completing said deal. Yes, the man in question may boast an enviable goalscoring record in his homeland and his return at international level may suggest he is the next Pele, but that may not paint the whole picture. These thoughts are likely to have crossed the mind of Wigan manager Steve Bruce as he weighed up the pros and cons of taking Egyptian hit-man Amr Zaki to the JJB Stadium last summer. In the end the Latics boss decided the gamble was worth taking and pushed through a season-long loan deal. An explosive start to the season by Zaki suggested Bruce had made an inspired choice, with his latest acquisition drawing comparisons with a certain Alan Shearer and catching the eye of some of Europe's top clubs. Nothing can last forever, though, and the burly frontman soon began to find the going tough. Not taken with the inclement British winter, Zaki retreated into his shell as the temperature dropped and the goals began to dry up. Suitably fed up with life by April, the African ace then decided to take matters into his own hands while away on international duty. Picking up a slight knock during a 2010 World Cup qualifier, Zaki decided to remain in Egypt rather than return to Wigan. Bruce, understandably, was not happy to hear of his striker's actions and publicly lambasted his attitude. Zaki did eventually return to England, but failed to make an impact during the final few weeks of the season and it is safe to say he will not be sticking around in Greater Manchester next year.
Sir Alex Ferguson has always been a Jedi Master when it comes to mind games and this season the Manchester United manager dangled his bait in front of his old Liverpool adversary Rafa Benitez and waited for a bite. The Spaniard duly obliged as he launched into his now infamous 'Rafa rant' around the turn of the year, accusing the Red Devils of being treated favourably by match officials and Premier League big wigs. At the time of his outburst, Liverpool were sitting pretty at the top of the table and looking a good bet to end their 19-year wait for a top-flight title. The pressure seemed to be getting to the Anfield camp, though, as results began to wobble in the wake of their manager's furious tirade. The Reds would remain hot on the heels of United for the remainder of the campaign, even securing a memorable 4-1 victory at Old Trafford at one stage, but the damage had been done and they were unable to wrestle the crown away from the Theatre of Dreams. Benitez has always insisted that he never let Ferguson get to him, while the United boss is adamant that he never intends to rub people up the wrong way, but the episode proved to be pivotal for both men - with Obi-Wan Fergie coming out on top.
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