And here we are again, at the end of another enthralling Premier League season. We started things off thinking it would be difficult for Arsenal to hold off Spurs who we're going to challenge their North London neighbors for that coveted fourth spot with Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United all but guaranteed the other three spots. Oops.
No one predicted Liverpool's ascension or United's decline, at least not to the levels that they actually happened. We were all thrilled when the Roberto Soldado bandwagon got off to such a great start with a few early penalties but about those goals from open play. Again we say, oops.
Speaking of things no one predicted, Aaron Ramsey and Mile Jedinak were the early stars of the season in midfield with Curtis Davies and Joel Ward surprising on defense. Neither of the midfielders could quite maintain their early pace - Ramsey due to injury and Jedinak because there are only so many passes to intercept - but if you invested in Ward and Davies in Week 1 and just let them start all season you'd probably have been a pretty happy fantasy manager.
Finally, we have the late season comers. Every season sees some players who move in January, get a starting spot due to injury or just take a while to get adjusted. Ryan Bertrand, Marcos Alonso, Jason Puncheon, Christian Eriksen, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Wilfried Bony were all second half revelations after anonymous first halves. Ricky van Wolfwinkel, Erik Lamela, and Stevan Jovetic we're still waiting for you guys to realize that that you've come to the Premier League.
There are, of course, the newly minted stars with Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley, and Aaron Ramsey (if he can stay healthy). Jordan Henderson is at the fringe of that group as was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in brief spurts. Nemanja Matic isn't going to turn many fantasy managers' heads but he looks capable of helping the Chelsea defense to a lot of clean sheets next season while John Stones seems well poised to take over when Sylvain Distin hangs them up or at least accepts a diminished role as he ages. Oh, and if you're not excited about the Andre Schurrle/Mohamed Saleh wide attacking partnership (as soon as Eden Hazard is sold to PSG) then you weren't paying attention. And if there's an actual scoring forward between them, well, all I can say is "Yikes".
On the down side, I think we finally all admitted once and for all that Fernando Torres is done. Even those of us who don't support Chelsea wanted him to go out with at least one strong season after all the crap he's taken. It seems likely that we may also be saying goodbye to Ashley Cole, John Terry, and Rio Ferdinand in addition to the already-announced departure of Nemanja Vidic. Of course we will also be seeing the last of Ryan Giggs. He didn't get to go out on top like Scholes and Sir Alex did last season which is a shame because he certainly deserved better than trying to paper over some huge holes as interim manager on the worst United team in recent memory in his final year. Try to remember the guy dribbling through the Arsenal defense to win the FA Cup (not that I needed that memory on the eve of an Arsenal Cup Final) rather than the befuddled look as his team couldn't follow up their big win against Norwich with something that resembled a decent performance.
How many more days until the third weekend in August anyway?
Oh, and here's what you need to know about the Week 38 Team News...
Cardiff vs. Chelsea - The big news here is that Frank Lampard is ill and may miss out on a final farewell/goal as a Chelsea player if, indeed, he is not given a new contract over the summer. Petr Cech (injury) and Ramires (suspended) will definitely miss out. It will be very instructive to see if Eden Hazard is allowed to return to the starting line-up after being benched in the dire nil-nil draw to Norwich, presumably for his comments about his boss's tactics. I'd be inclined to bet on some farewell starts for Ashley Cole and John Terry (if he recovers from his knock).
Fulham vs Crystal Palace - If you're a Fulham supporter and Kostas Mitroglou features in the line-up for the first time after coming over in January and looks great what do you do? Bang your head slowly against a wall? Curse Michael Jackson and his statue that has clearly cursed your club as revenge for being removed? Wonder why Clint Dempsey likes the rain in Seattle so much more than West London? Not much else here really, Palace is fully fit.
Hull City vs. Everton - Allen McGregor could return which is great news after that nasty collision six weeks ago. While McGregor will be trying to prove his fitness, the rest of Hull's Sunday will likely be about optimizing the squad for the FA Cup Final. Some key veterans who have played a lot like Curtis Davies will likely be rested while those who can't play in the Cup Final - Long and Jelavic - will likely make way for whatever attacking group Steve Bruce wants to give some practice to. The only items of note from the Everton side involve Steven Pienaar being set to return. Nope, doesn't get me too excited either.
Liverpool vs. Newcastle - Jordan Henderson is back and Newcastle is the opponent so that's good for those who support the Reds. I expect Liverpool to thrash the Magpies as a means of taking out their frustrations for faltering with the title on the line. Not much of note from the Newcastle side other than the ongoing Papiss Cisse injury and the fact that Alan Pardew is still the manager.
Manchester City vs West Ham - Sergio Aguero is back in time for another title-winning goal so everyone who doubled down on Edin Dzeko will be getting nervous about whether they have the right City forward or not.
Norwich vs. Arsenal - Hard to imagine the upside for Arsene Wenger in letting Jack Wilshere play even if he is, as reported, recovered from his fractured foot and ready to play a role. Put the kid in bubble wrap and then hope not too much is asked of him this summer in Brazil. Otherwise, Aaron Ramsey should be fit to play (but again, why?) but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Serge Gnabry are all out.
Southampton vs. Manchester United - Wayne Rooney...out, Phil Jones...out, Jonny Evans...out, Rafael...doubtful (and probably out). Not exactly good news but at least James Wilson is available and apparently his head can still fit through doorways despite a two-goal debut.
Sunderland vs. Swansea - Does it still count as news when Michu isn't available? What would be news would be if he both played and played well. I guess he decided the Swans got too big a bargain last summer and decided the only way to balance the scales would be to do nothing for an entire season and see if people still thought he was the biggest bargain in Europe.
Spurs vs. Aston Villa - Kyle Walker is out but I'm sure there's another Kyle waiting to take his place. What is of major concern is that Andros Townsend is out and there isn't another Andros to be found for miles and miles. There isn't even an Erik, Jan or Etienne to be found (all hurt and out).
West Brom vs. Stoke - The only real fantasy (or humor)-worthy news here is that Oussama Assaidi (not having a bad second half on loan) is likely to miss out. Bummer for him but he certainly got himself noticed for a bigger role next season or a transfer to somewhere like Stoke where he's far more likely to play a big role.
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