After having a few days to digest the most recent English Premier League season, here's our list of winners and losers from the endlessly entertaining 2013-14 campaign.
WINNER — MANCHESTER CITY
You've got to start with the champs, right?
Even though the Citizens topped the table for little more than a fortnight, the blue half of Manchester celebrated a second title in three years thanks to a thrilling final month and a harrowing slip from Steven Gerrard.
Man City boasted an offense that was unstoppable for much of the year, scoring a league-best 102 goals with Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Yaya Toure all scoring 16 or more.
The defense was also one of the toughest to breach, allowing 37 goals all year, second only to Chelsea, which surrendered to the pragmatism of Jose Mourinho.
First-year City coach Manuel Pellegrini deserves a lot of praise for coming in to a squad loaded with stars and creating a cohesive force that could both score at will and at the same time lock down their own goal.
LOSER — MANCHESTER UNITED
United's many struggles were perhaps more exhilarating for some Man City fans than actually winning the title.
David Moyes' first year as manager didn't even last a year, sacked after losing to his old club Everton (more on them later). After Sir Alex Ferguson asked United to be patient, the United brass went in a different direction, falling in line with City and Chelsea by hiring and firing on a whim.
For the first time since 1995, the Red Devils failed to qualify for the Champions League. They also suffered their lowest point total since 1991.
Personally I felt Moyes deserved a little more time. Their results with Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney both healthy were more indicative of what the manager was capable. Who knows if a new boss can do any better?
WINNER — NBC
NBC announced today that 4.9 million viewers watched the final matches on Sunday, up from the 1.8 million that watched the last day of 2013.
Furthermore, NBC said 31.5 million viewers saw EPL coverage on its networks this season, a massive increase from the 13.3 million from last year, when Fox and ESPN shared the rights. NBC and NBCSN averaged 438,000 viewers per game, up 99 percent from 2013.
Going into the season, soccer fans were excited about the announced deluge of soccer coverage they would be able to consume. But NBC's greatest success may have been in creating new soccer fans.
The crew of Rebecca Lowe, Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe did not dumb things down for Americans or frustrate the hardcore fans by showing games on tape-delay. Instead they catered to the core fans and were rewarded.
NBC's promotion at the start of the campaign — "Pick a side" — worked perfectly with this strategy.
As for those who were already converts to the English game, NBC's coverage was just what we wanted.
The ability to watch every game live, either on TV or streaming, made everyone happy, and kept people from growing frustrated at watching, say, Chelsea every week.
The added programming of pregame, postgame and highlight shows was the icing on the cake.
Best of all, NBC has set the bar for how sports can and should be broadcast in America: give it all to the consumers and let them decide how they want to consume it. Plus, NBCSN is on most cable packages without added charge and comes with the streaming ability, making it the perfect scenario.
It appears the MLS is ready to follow suit after their recently announced deal with ESPN, which includes games on ESPN3. Other broadcasters should take note. Fox would do well to follow NBC's lead with its coverage of the Champions League, which has been disappointing to say the least. Showing one or two games per week is not adequate and nobody wants to spend $20 per month for their streaming service that doesn't even show all the games live.
And this can be applied to other sports, the NFL primarily. Imagine being able to stream any NFL game online live for free. Maybe the NFL doesn't need that kind of extra exposure given that the league has already oversaturated sports programming, but it can't hurt.
LOSER — FULHAM
Of the three relegated sides, Fulham goes down with the most sympathy.
Fulham, as my colleague Chris Parry pointed out last week, has given many Americans a shot at top-flight football in England. And aside from a bizarre Michael Jackson statue, the club has generally been a class act and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who has disdain for the team.
But this year's squad was dreadful and even a brief loan spell from previous savior Clint Dempsey couldn't save the Cottagers, who had the worst goal differential (minus-45) and allowed the most goals (85).
Hopefully American owner Shad Khan can spend a little money and get Fulham back into the Premiership soon.
WINNER — BRENDAN RODGERS
There was no more exciting team this year than Liverpool — manager Brendan Rodgers was the reason why. He urged his team forward, forward, forward at the expense of a solid defense.
For neutrals, it was great fun to watch.
Led by Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, the league's top two scorers at 31 and 21, respectively, the Reds demolished most every defense. Add in a budding Raheem Sterling (nine goals) and resurgent Gerrard (13 goals, league-best 13 assists) and Liverpool poured in an impressive 101 goals.
What's more, Rodgers did it with a relatively cheap side. Compared to the millions spent by Man City and Chelsea (and even, to an extent, Arsenal), Liverpool's squad is made up mostly of bargain buys or young guns.
Granted, frugality on defense is what ultimately cost Liverpool the title. But Rodgers still won second place using a similar strategy to the one Arsene Wenger has been attempting for years at Arsenal without similar results.
LOSER — JOZY ALTIDORE
Team USA's primary (only?) striker, Jozy Altidore, earned a move to the big time after killing it in the Netherlands in 2012-13, joining Sunderland over the summer.
It was a massive failure.
Altidore managed one goal in league play and his team was threatened with relegation until a miracle comeback over the final few weeks, a run that Altidore played little role in.
Although Altidore drew a crucial penalty against Chelsea (though not quite a dive, it was a dubious call), he did little to help keep Sunderland in the top flight.
Nonetheless, he's likely to start for the U.S. in Brazil next month, after which he can make the disappointment of this past season disappear.