TEAMtalk Soccers: Game of the Season

Date published: Tuesday 16th June 2015 9:20

The 2014/15 Premier League season, complete with predictable champions and transitional challengers, was hardly the most exhilarating campaign of recent years. Far removed from Liverpool’s last-gasp capitulation, from ‘Agueroooooooo’, Chelsea cruised to glory amid a barrage of ‘boredom’ while Arsenal, Liverpool and the Manchester duopoly spluttered in their wake, choking on the dust of Mourinho’s relentless results machine. Meanwhile, Burnley and QPR checked out of their rented top-flight accommodation, dragging Hull kicking and screaming into the second tier.

However, despite the inevitable conclusions, the comparative lack of final-day drama, the Premier League still provided an onslaught of nostalgia-inducing, 90-minute epics.

So, without further ado, here are the games that you, our loyal readers, voted the most memorable of the past nine months.

5. Man City 4 Tottenham 1

When City and Spurs lock horns, goals inevitably follow. Though, admittedly, usually in one direction. 6-0 and 5-1 last season, the trend is set, the path well-worn. The inevitable by-product of Sergio Aguero versus Federico Fazio, of David Silva versus Youness Kaboul; the usurped champions’ erratic season reached its short-lived apex in this early season blockbuster. Though Tottenham, beset by haphazard defending, by a persistent penchant for capitulation, more than played their part in a memorable encounter.

Sergio Aguero, performing to his relentless, unequalled best, stalled a mere 13 minutes before prolonging Spurs’ Etihad nightmare, cutting inside and launching a rocket into the corner. However, freed from the shackles Andre Villas Boas’ incessant pragmatism, from Tim Sherwood’s tactical limitations, Tottenham fought back. A plucky underdog squaring up its ruthless oppressor. Christian Eriksen, via the legs of a sprawling Joe Hart, levelled proceedings. Though, despite the rose-tinted romance of an against-all-odds uprising, survival of the fittest usually prevails. Aguero, from the spot, netted a second after Erik Lamela felled Frank Lampard. Spurs, as is all-too customary, crumbled.

The disastrous duopoly of Kaboul and Fazio flailed in the face of City’s relentless endeavour. Only a fine Hugo Lloris save denied Aguero a second spot-kick inside the first 45.

However, Spurs continued to probe, continued to hope. Harry Kane, as of yet, was merely a Europa League-dwelling wannabe. Soldado, therefore, remained the focal point. And, in one two minute spell, the previously prolific Spaniard epitomised his tragic spell on English shores. Effort in abundance yet plagued by constant, galling wastefulness. Stealing a spot-kick from Martin Demichelis, he proceeded to slide a feeble strike onto Hart’s outstretched arm.

A tale of two strikers, of four penalties. Aguero cemented a hat-trick from 12 yards after falling under a desperate Fazio grab; an emphatic treble for one international, a debut red card for another. Aguero’s fourth, a resounding arrow, sealed the annual thumping of City’s perennial punching bags.

4. Southampton 8 Sunderland 0

Contrasting seasons for conflicting battalions of the red and white army. While Southampton flirted with Europe, Sunderland did what Sunderland do best. Namely, struggle, splutter, scrap and scuffle their way to the dizzying heights of the lower bottom half.

That October’s eye-watering blunder-fest, Sunderland’s heaviest ever Premier League defeat no-less, remains reminiscent more for the Black Cats’ calamitous defending than Southampton’s ruthless efficiency sums up their foot-shooting campaign. Though, for what it’s worth, Sunderland finally earned entry to the ‘first on Match of the Day’ club. Every cloud…

Santiago Vergini, on a one-man mission to dispel Argentina’s proud defensive traditions, unbolted the floodgates with an abysmal/hilarious/tekkers-tastic own goal. Volleying emphatically past the helpless, hapless Vito Mannone (we’ll come onto him later). Graziano Pelle, in his autumnal pomp, tapped home a second following a pinpoint Steven Davis cross. 37 minutes, 3-0; Dusan Tadic, the producer, director and undisputed star of the show, delivered deliciously for Jack Cork to bumble past Mannone. Four. Leon Bridcutt, the ill-fated posterboy of Poyet’s underwhelming reign, Djimi Traore-ing Pelle’s vicious volley into an unguarded net. There’s a trend developing. Though, the Italian’s second offered a dash of sheer quality on an error-strewn afternoon; Tadic’s perfectly weighted through-ball emphatically driven into the far corner by the prolific Pelle.

Then, inevitably, down to earth with an unforgiving crunch. For the sixth reverted to type. Gift wrapped and presented by the wretched Mannone. Tadic, after all, merited recognition for his supreme display of creative prowess. Apparently, the Italian concurred, his botched clearance gifting the Serb a blunder-reel classic. Victor Wanyama’s thumping drive and Sadio Mane’s account-opening tap-in, via dead-eyed assists from guess-who, concluded a memorable triumph for Ronald Koeman’s high-flyers.

Pelle, Tadic, Mane; the Saint’s Holy Trinity. Mannone, Bridcutt, Vergini; sorry symbols of Poyet’s lowest ebb. “The most embarrassed I’ve ever been on a football pitch, without a doubt”; the Uruguayan’s previous act of Houdini-esque escapism steamrollered in 90 horrific minutes.

3. Everton 3 Chelsea 6

Lovers of tactical warfare, of intense, strategic encounters should look away now. For this was hardly a purist’s parade. More a video game-style, end-to-end epic.

However, while August’s multi-goal marathon perfectly epitomised Everton’s inconsistent campaign, neat passing rhythms offset by a porous backline, Chelsea defied their pragmatic principles in a display of swashbuckling ruthlessness and tactical naivety. Boring, boring Chelsea? Not quite.

The Blues’ table-topping cakewalk, particularly in the campaign’s infancy, owed much to the plentiful goalscoring of Diego Costa.

The season before, Chelsea slumped to 1-0 defeat at Goodison, the misfiring trio of Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba repeatedly drawing Mourinho’s unforgiving ire. However, after just 35 seconds, the firebrand Spazillian began to right last season’s cumulative wrongs, slotting an inspired Cesc Fabregas throughball under Tim Howard.

Just two minutes later, Branislav Ivanovic indulged his goalscoring appetite, clinically dispatching a Ramires pass. Kevin Mirallas halved the deficit at the interval’s eve, expertly glancing into the far corner, though it merely proved a misguiding positive. 67 minutes; 1-3. Eden Hazard, displaying textbook control and electric acceleration, forced an own goal from Seamus Coleman.

Cue absurdity. Keep up if you can. 69 minutes; 2-3. Steven Naismith duly capping a rousing Aiden McGeady run with a composed finish. 74 minutes; 2-4. Midfield anchorman Nemanja Matic defying his conservative tendencies with a rasping left-footed drive. 76 minutes; 3-4. “32, maybe 35” year-old Samuel Eto’o, belying his aching knees and on-the-fritz hips, flicked a superb header into the corner. 77 minutes, is anyone keeping score? Ramires, combining telepathically with Matic, curving home in vivacious South American style. The ninth, the final blow in a head-spinning encounter, provided the perfect summary. Muhamed Besic, barely minutes into his Everton debut, incredulously backheeling into the path of Chelsea’s axe-wielding frontman. Costa’s second, Chelsea’s sixth, Mourinho’s nightmare.

2. Tottenham 5 Chelsea 3

Chelsea, on reflection, are something of an enigma, a puzzle draped in a cloak of apparent dullness.

Despite conceding only 32 Premier League goals last season, comfortably a divisional best, eight of that impeccable tally occurred in two, end-to-end thrillers. On New Year’s Day, Tottenham dismantled the league’s leading backline in a cyclone of skill and swagger. The first team since Pep Guardiola’s omnipotent Barcelona to thrash Mourinho by five. However, above all the incisive interplay of Christian Eriksen, the barnstorming darts of Danny Rose, this modern-day classic transformed a certain local lad from a promising academy graduate into nationwide phenomenon. He’s one of their own, don’t you know?

However, it was Chelsea’s talismanic top scorer, Diego Costa, who opened the scoring 18 minutes in, poaching clinically after Hazard’s sumptuous individual effort rebounded off the frame.

The visitors, so habitually dominant on derby day, probed and pried, bisecting Spurs’ haphazard defence. Though their early supremacy merely provided the supporting act, a dramatic precursor to the Harry Kane spectacular. Drifting inside and rifling home from the edge of the box, his clinical equaliser kick-started a revolution.

Momentum shifting, belief rising, Tottenham stabbed at the heart of Chelsea’s defence, Danny Rose on hand after Nacer Chadli’s strike ricochet off the woodwork. Kane, typically crucial, facilitated a third before half time, winning a penalty after an ill-timed Gary Cahill lunge. Thumped home by Andros Townsend, Spurs’ New Year celebrations exploded, fittingly, with fireworks. Chelsea, forced to respond, enthused by Tottenham’s own defensive disregard, descended into desperation.

Flooding forward, their buccaneering transfixion cemented their downfall. Kane, turning sublimely past Matic, accurately slotted a fourth.

In typical, Tottenham fashion, however, they threatened to become the masters of their very own downfall. Attempted suicide. Fazio, ill at ease with the rapid pace of the English game, strolled into enemy territory and suffered the ultimate consequence. Robbed by Hazard who, via Fabregas’ innate touch, drilled an emphatic strike into the corner. 4-2. Game on.

Momentarily. This, above all, was Harry Kane’s night. He set up Chadli for a deserved fifth, rendering John Terry’s late consolation the most miniscule of copybook blots.

The encounter, one of the most electrifying, exhilarating in Premier League history, propelled Tottenham to the brink of the top four. Chelsea, meanwhile, continued to stumble as Manchester City ground an eight point gap down to nothing.

How times changed in the preceding months. Chelsea’s shocking capitulation, undoubtedly, gave rise to Mourinho’s results-driven pragmatism. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, after all.

1. Leicester 5 Man United 3

Shock of the season? Possibly. Comeback of the season? Potentially. Game of the season? Unquestionably. Leicester 5-3 Manchester United. Even now, nine months on, the scoreline remains astounding, requiring a disbelieving double take. With eight goals and countless narratives, if this categorical classic didn’t regale and delight then, to take one man’s words of esteemed wisdom, you are an ostrich. Or a Man United fan.

Inspired by their summer splurge, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao ran riot in the opening exchanges at the King Power, the Colombian’s sublime cross nodded home by Robin van Persie. A typically full-blooded start from Louis Van Gaal’s free-flowing galacticos.

The second; magnificence epitomised. Intelligent in its creation, sublime in its execution. Manchester United’s £59.7m record-signing, via intelligent interplay with Wayne Rooney, produced a moment of divine inspiration, lifting a glorious finish into the home side’s battlescarred net.

However, from Argentine superstars to footballing fairytales, Jamie Vardy, the polar opposite of the footballing spectrum, crossed for Leonardo Ulloa to thump a glorious header past David De Gea. Erratic, exhilarating, magnificent. And that’s just the opening 17 minutes.

Falcao, barely recognisable from the fitful, confidence-bereft forward that departed at the season’s conclusion, rattled the bar with an incredible volley minutes into the second half.

Even the close calls, it seemed, were a joy to behold. United’s third, the apparent clincher, arrived four minutes short of the hour, Ander Herrera clipping Di Maria’s shot into an unguarded net.

The visitors, after all, hadn’t lost after building a two goal lead in the entirety of the Premier League era. Game over, then. If the script was written, then Jamie Vardy considered it predictable, lacklustre, overly-clichéd. He would write his own story into Premier League folklore.

Relentlessly tracking Rafael, his inspiring endeavour earned a spot kick. One duly converted, with trademark panache, by David Nugent.

Two minutes later, Esteban Cambiasso, set up by Vardy, rifled a leveller. On his previous encounter against the Red Devils, he endured defeat alongside Patrick Vieira, Javier Zanetti and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

On this occasion, however, he would emerge victorious, arm in arm with Danny Drinkwater, Ritchie De Laet and, of course, the unstoppable Vardy. With 12 minutes remaining, he broke clear. One-on-one, eye-to-eye with arguably the finest goalkeeper in world football, the former Stocksbridge Park Steels, Halifax and Fleetwood Town forward composed himself, waited, and propelled Leicester into dreamland.

Ulloa’s late penalty, following Blackett’s lunge on the incessant Vardy, sealed their place in Premier League history. Not just the game of this season. A game of any season. A game of the era. Leicester 5-3 Manchester United. Our undisputed winner.

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