Footy Matters Premier League correspondent Joe Tyler rounds up the players, goals, performances, games and team of the 2011 season, as voted for by the Footy Matters writers.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
Winner: Nemanja Vidic
Previous Premier League seasons have been dominated by a player who unanimously picks up the various individual honours on offer. Often, it’s the top scorers and flair players – Thierry Henry won the PFA, Writers’ and Fans’ individual honours in 2003 and 2004, Cristiano Ronaldo did the same in 2007 and 2008 and Wayne Rooney in 2009.
This season this hasn’t been the case, with one top scorer being a bench-warmer for most of the campaign and the other coming from a side that finished third. The eventual winner of the PFA award, Gareth Bale, had a fine season, but his best moments came in Europe, and his contribution to Tottenham was arguably less that that of team-mates Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart.
Man United, who were accused of lacking the magic of past sides, relied largely on their defence to pick up their nineteenth title. At the heart of that was the imperious Nemanja Vidic.
From his majestic performance in the 0-0 draw at Tottenham – Rafael was sent off after 70 minutes but Vidic headed and blocked everything – to the vital second goal at home to Chelsea in the game that virtually won the title, no player has contributed more to Man United’s season.
United’s phenomenal home form won them the league, conceding just 12 goals at Old Trafford. His only blemish came in the defeat at Chelsea, where he was sent off.
Dimitar Berbatov, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez took turns in grabbing headlines at different stages of the season, but the Serb was the ever-consistent foundation.
Second place: Vincent Kompany
Kompany was a near ever-present for Man City this season, missing just one league game in the centre of the joint meannest defence in the league.
BREAKTHROUGH PLAYER OF THE SEASON
Winner: Javier Hernandez
Has there ever been a better debut season for a Premier League striker? Not in a title winning side, certainly.
Hernandez’s acclimatisation was instant, showing not only the ability to jink around challenges and play dangerously on the shoulder of the last man, but also a habitual desire to score vital goals inside the box.
After 76 minutes of the Community Shield he had comically smashed the ball into his own face to give United the lead, and a month later scored from outside the box to bag three points in Valencia. The skill and athleticism displayed while heading the opener at Stoke for one of the goals of the season was trademark – the type of goal so individualistic it becomes associated with the player.
His 13 Premier League goals in a debut season, including crucial strikes in narrow wins against Everton and Chelsea, kept the league’s top scorer Dimitar Berbatov on the bench during the title run in. Sir Alex Ferguson preferring his pace and direct approach to compliment Rooney dropping deep, rather than the Bulgarian’s more reactive approach.
The deal to bring in Hernandez from Guadalajara for just £7m was in place before the World Cup, which is just as well. Goals against France and Argentine would have propelled his value. Lord knows what it would be now.
Second place: Charlie Adam
The bullish and effortlessly creative midfielder was the lynchpin for a Blackpool side that won so many fans, but lost too many games. A superb talent, he is certain to return to the Premier League next season with a host of clubs chasing his signature.
UNDER 21 PLAYER OF THE SEASON
Winner: Jack Wilshere
After six-months in Bolton’s finishing school last season, Wilshere returned to Arsenal to not only cement his place in the side, but ease fears of the probable departure of Cesc Fabregas with some commanding performances against the world’s best players.
Arsenal fans knew he was ready, but didn’t know how he would be used. After playing wide and as an attacking midfielder in youth teams, he was deployed as a second defensive shield by Arsene Wenger, complementing Alex Song’s physicality with a deft artistry reminiscent of Emmanuel Petit and Liam Brady.
Passes short, like his dribble and poke through to Marouane Chamakh in the home win over Birmingham, and long, like his cross field wedge to Nicklas Bendtner for a nerve-settler against Ipswich in the Carling Cup, established his array of abilities.
But it was in Europe where he really came of age. He stood toe-to-toe with Xavi and Iniesta in Arsenal’s memorable first leg win over Barcelona, and was their best player on a disappointing night in the Camp Nou, setting up Bendtner for Arsenal’s only chance of the night and rattling many a World Cup winning cage.
Arsene Wenger has his wish of a fresh Wilshere for next season after the midfielder decided against playing in the European Under 21 Championships, so expect more responsibility to be passed on. And if Fabregas departs, don’t be surprised if he’s captain at some point in the season.
Second place: Gareth Bale
The winner of the PFA award became one of the most talked about players in world football when he ripped Maicon twice in a matter of weeks. His skill and technicality makes him good, his pace makes him great.
OVER 32 PLAYER OF THE SEASON
Winner: Edwin van der Sar
Bosnich, Barthez, Taibi, Carroll, Howard. There are others. None of them have come close to filling the gap vacated by Peter Schmeichel since he left Man United in 1999, but since signing from Fulham in 2005, Edwin van der Sar has done just that.
The Dutchman’s career seemed to be winding down when he signed for the West London club from Juventus aged 30 in 2001, but Fergie came calling.
And this, the 40-year-old’s final season as a professional, has been his finest for the club. Barring one mistake at home to West Brom, which ended up costing his side a 100 per cent home record, he’s been the calming influence all title winning sides need.
A return of twenty-one clean sheets in 45 games has led to calls of ‘one more year’ from United fans, but with young Spaniard David de Gea sure to sign, another new era is about to begin between the posts.
The complete goalkeeper during his 21 years of football, De Gea has a lot to live up to.
Second place: Ryan Giggs
Recent controversies haven’t blighted what Giggs has done on the pitch. Now enjoying another renaissance as one of two central midfielders, the most decorated player in English league history is as wily and deadly as ever before.
TEAM PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON
Winner: Wolves 2-1 Man United
In early February, Man United were top of the league and still unbeaten when they travelled to Wolves, who were bottom and had lost their last four. An away win seemed the only outcome.
But home wins over big sides were a feature of Wolves’ season, with Man City and Chelsea also falling at Molineux. Even after Nani gave United a third minute lead, Wolves bounced back, showing the resolve and determination that ended up keeping them in the league.
George Elokobi headed them level with ten gone, a rare incident not only because of the source, but because United’s defence, including Vidic, had been beaten by a set piece.
Jamie O’Hara, making his debut in midfield, began to dictate play. His low, drilled shot almost caught out Van der Sar at his near post as Wolves dominated the remainder of the half.
Nenad Milijas swung over a right-wing free kick, and Kevin Doyle glanced in a header to put Wolves ahead just before the break.
Paul Scholes was sent on for the ineffective Carrick at half time, but in the end resorted to intentionally handling Nani’s cross into the net to earn himself a booking. Even Javier Hernandez, so often a saviour throughout the campaign, was shackled by Richard Stearman and Christophe Berra.
Wolves stayed up by a point, but none were earned with more effort and character than the three they picked up here.
Second place: Chelsea 0-3 Sunderland
In the midst of their mid-season collapse, Chelsea fell at the hands of an inspired Sunderland, led by the bustling Asamoah Gyan. The win will be best remembered for one of the goals of the season by Nedum Onuoha.
INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON
Winner: Joe Hart – Tottenham 0-0 Manchester City
In the end, the point Man City earned at Tottenham, who just three months earlier had denied them a place in the Champions League, wasn’t decisive. However, it was gained thanks to a performance of breathtaking aptitude from Joe Hart, who reminded Fabio Capello why he should have been England’s number one at the World Cup.
It was the opening game of the Premier League season, and there was reasonable doubt over whether Hart would even start the game. Roberto Mancini’s first of many selection headaches throughout the season was to decide whether the more experienced and perfectly able Shay Given was to be the first goalkeeper of his era, or the talented but unproven Hart. He wasn’t to regret his decision.
Hart repelled everything that game his way in the first 45 minutes. Crouch’s header was pushed wide, Defoe’s volley on the turn was spectacularly parried and Huddlestone’s sumptuous volley was met with a full length dive low to his right.
The range of his saves was astounding. He lept high to tip Assou-Ekotto’s deflected volley over then twice smothered Defoe in one-on-one situations, as City struggled to get out of their own half.
Spurs walked in at the break feeling beat, and came out with less vigour in the second period. Hart’s hardest work was done, and City held on.
Second place: Scott Parker – West Ham 3-1 Liverpool
A delightfully flicked goal from outside the box was the crowning glory in an all action display that looked like it might signal a revival from West Ham.
GAME OF THE SEASON
Winner: Newcastle 4-4 Arsenal
This simply shouldn’t happen. A team chasing the league title doesn’t give away 4-0 half time leads to anyone. But having swept Newcastle aside with four goals in the opening 26 minutes, Arsenal, seemingly home and dry, threw away the game.
More than any other game in the season, including the Carling Cup Final, this dented Arsenal’s confidence and confirmed their frailty. If they can draw having been 4-0 up, they can throw away points from virtually any position. For them, it was sheer pain.
For Newcastle though, it was glorious. Days after the departure of Andy Carroll, they needed a boost, and after 45 minutes it seemed certain they weren’t going to get it.
They didn’t even get going until Joey Barton struck a penalty on 68 minutes. This was just after Abou Diaby had been sent off for pointlessly reacting to some textbook Barton provocation. Still, Newcastle needed three more.
But when Leon Best, at the second attempt, made it 4-2, you just sort of knew. Arsenal, with ten men, had to avoid conceding two goals with 15 minutes to go. A team frail enough with 11 men, who had let in three after being two up at home to Spurs two months earlier, were about to surrender in stunning fashion.
Barton banged in a second penalty, and the inevitability grew. A succession of corners came, and Arsenal defended them, before Cheik Tiote smacked one back on the volley to make it 4-4 with three minutes left.
Arsenal’s young side stood crestfallen, while Newcastle’s fans basked in the glory of an unprecedented comeback.
Second place: Tottenham 3-3 Arsenal
Another comfortable lead was given away from Arsenal in this North London humdinger. Tom Huddlestone’s sweetly struck volley was the pick of the goals.
GOAL OF THE SEASON
Joint winners: Dimitar Berbatov v Liverpool, and Wayne Rooney v Man City
Man United fans are a spoilt bunch. They don’t just win trophies, they win close games against their fierce rivals with moments of breathtaking individual brilliance that would be barely believable in Roy Race’s day.
Dimitar Berbatov’s hat-trick goal against Liverpool settled a close game back in September. In the 84th minute he controlled a right wing cross on his knee and volleyed over his head. The ball looped goalwards and seemed to take an age before it skimmed the bar and dropped in. Jose Reina stood motionless.
As if that wasn’t enough, four months later Wayne Rooney treated Old Trafford with another moment of glory, this time against Man City. He wasn’t in great form at the time and hadn’t been playing well for most of this game, so to try what he tried took a lot of bottle.
Nani’s deflected cross hardly presented a chance, but Rooney caught it sweetly on the overhead and it exploded into the net. It settled the Manchester derby on a weekend when Arsenal could have gone top, and put the ‘noisy neighbours’ back in their place.
Second place: Mark Davies v Blackpool
A delightful four man move was started and finished by Davies, who calmly slotted home after Elmander’s flick. If it was scored in Barcelona, we wouldn’t have heard the end of it.
MANAGER OF THE SEASON
Winner: Roberto Martinez
Any season Wigan stay up is highly commendable, but to do it the way they did, thanks to the tactics of Roberto Martinez, makes the feat more glorious.
Sir Alex Ferguson won the league, but for a club with the budget and fan base like Wigan, survival is just as big an achievement.
Martinez always sets his teams out to play good football, which is often not easy on the DW Stadium’s surface, but the style worked more effectively than Birmingham’s monotonous lumps forward.
They looked the most likely team to slip away first in March, when a poor run left them bottom, but Martinez rallied his players, encouraged them to keep playing football, and eventually guided them to safety with two huge wins over West Ham and Stoke in the run in.
Second place: Sir Alex Ferguson
It won’t ever get boring for Sir Alex. Another title, sealed with the satisfaction of the magic number 19.
SIGNING OF THE SEASON
Winner: Rafael van der Vaart
At just £7million, the signing of Van der Vaart is amongst the best business Harry Redknapp has ever done.
Sixteen goals and nine assists is a fine return for the signing from Real Madrid. His early-season link up play with Peter Crouch was a regular feature of Tottenham’s game, and even worked effectively in Europe.
Away from home he often partnered Crouch, running from deep and latching on to his knock downs. In home games he dropped into midfield and played wide, usually at the expense of Aaron Lennon, but used his creativity to trouble teams with long passes.
His finest performance was at home to Arsenal, a game it was clear he was up for from the first whistle. He worked tirelessly to win back possession and scored twice.
Second place: Peter Odemwingie
Fifteen goals for the Nigerian, signed for just £3m, helped keep West Brom in the league. A run of five in five throughout April propelled the Baggies to safety.
WORST SIGNING OF THE SEASON
Winner: Joe Cole
Joe Cole was a much sought after man last summer, with Tottenham, Arsenal and West Ham all hunting his signature. In the end Liverpool won the race, but right from the start, things didn’t quite go to plan.
A red card on his debut against Arsenal was followed by a run of injuries and loss of form. Just three goals throughout the entire season didn’t represent much value, even if he was free.
Second place: Aleksander Kolarov
£16m for all those speculative long shots and a lack of pace. He may be replaced this summer.
TEAM OF THE SEASON
Let us know what was your moment’s of the season and feel free to disagree with us below!
Tags: Barclays Premier League, Edwin Van Der Sar, Jack Wilshere, Javier Hernandez, Joe Cole, Joe Hart, Manchester United, Nemanja Vidic, Newcastle United, Premier League, Rafael van der Vaart, Roberto Carlos, Wayne Rooney, Wolves