LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 06: Manager Martin Jol of Fulham appaulds the fans during the Fulham lap of honour during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Sunderland at Craven Cottage on May 6, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Now that the season's over, let's look at what we learned ...
Looking back at the 2012/13 season feels, at this early stage, almost impossibly premature. The title race was the most intense and inexplicable for years, and yet if anything was almost overshadowed by the thunderous relegation of one of the great teams of English football.
Let's begin near the top. After finishing fourth, Chelsea will feel that while they performed acceptably, they missed an opportunity to really push for the title, and similarly Manchester City will rue their failure to defend their crown in what turned out to be a turbulent year for their rivals. Fifth place, and the Europa League, will likely cost Roberto Mancini his job. And although though nobody expected them to mount anything like the title-charge they did, West Bromwich Albion too might feel that with a little more fortune, and a little more focus, they could have pushed the eventual top two close.
There again, in a season where records weren't so much broken as hacked brutally and savagely into bloody chunks, perhaps all three sides would have to admit that eventual champions Fulham, and runners-up Swansea City, were just untouchable and impossible in their brilliance.
At times it bordered on the farcical. Fulham would win 4-0 On Saturday afternoon, Swansea would score five Sunday evening; if Swansea notched six one weekend, Fulham would reply with seven the next. Individuals far surpassed even the wildest expectations that their mothers might have dreamt up after a night on the gin: Mladen Petric scored 39; Bryan Ruiz scored 35, 34 of which were chips; Danny Graham scored 41; Michu scored 23 from midfield; and John Arne Riise hit the target twice. As if to confirm the madness, not only did Mark Schwarzer grab a goal, away to West Ham, but he was bettered by his counterpart Michel Vorm, who put two past the Hammers the following week. Naturally, both goalkeepers also broke club records for clean sheets.
Had this been the two Manchester clubs, it would have been a nonsense of La Liga-style proportions; that this was 750/1 makeweights just squeezing out 4,000/1 rank outsiders made this simply incomprehensible. It was a title race closer than any in living memory, and the only real tragedy is that one of these two marvellous teams had to finish second. Equal on points and on goal difference, the trophy went to West London thanks to a solitary extra goal scored, the odd one in a combined total of 277. 139 vs. 138: the finest of margins, in every sense of the word.
As if to counterbalance the madness of the title race, a few of the Premier League's stronger clubs had difficult seasons. Arsenal, perhaps unbalanced by the last-minute sale of Piers Morgan to Barcelona, played attractive football throughout but typically failed to convert their possession into goals. The fans were frustrated for much of the season, and following a 1-0 loss away to West Ham -- 100% possession; Koscielny own goal -- one fan booed his team with such vigour that his trachea and lungs broke free from their moorings and shot from his derisive, braying, ungrateful mouth, killing him instantly. Still, the season ended on a positive note, as Jack Wilshere finally made his come back from injury. Arsene Wenger has confirmed that next season, if he remains fit, the young Englishman will retain the Gunnersaurus costume.
Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United laboured to disappointing fourteenth and sixteenth places respectively. Spurs' campaign flickered promisingly at times but were beset by disputes between Andre Villas-Boas and his squad. Benoit Assou-Ekotto was dropped for three games after failing to notice his manager's new shoes, Kyle Walker was loaned to Nottingham Forest after beating his manager's straight with a full house, eights and fives, and at one stage the Portuguese even fined himself two weeks wages for leaving the iron on. As for United, they simply failed to score goals in quantities commensurate with the amount of attacking talent available to Sir Alex Ferguson. Despite starting several late-season games with four wingers, five strikers, and the excellent Shinji Kagawa, they scored only 23 goals all season, none of which came from corners.
Elsewhere, Everton's strong start was hindered in January when Real Madrid bought Marouane Fellaini for a world record €95m. Reading and Southampton both defied pre-season predictions of struggle to finish in relative mid-table comfort, as did West Ham, though the arrest of Sam Allardyce following his side's home victory over Arsenal did cast a something of a shadow over the second half of the East London club's season. His trial, on charges of public indecency and lewd conduct, is due to start at the beginning of August.
Wigan finished seventeenth.
Finally, the story that at times threatened to overshadow the punchdrunk tango at the top of the table. While many people predicted that Norwich and Queen's Park Rangers would struggle to avoid the malign curse of the second season, the idea that they would be joined in the bottom three by five-time European champions Liverpool was so unthinkable that, for many fans, it still feels like something between a bad dream and a sick joke.
Yet relegated they were. Six different managers across a season tells its own story, and by the time Steven Gerrard's fourth game in charge condemned them to the drop, it was hard to claim that they didn't deserve their fate. "It was a mistake to appoint Brendan Rodgers," admitted John Henry after that game, before going on to acknowledge that, yes, it was also a mistake to re-appoint Kenny Dalglish, an error to replace him with tactical blogger Rafael Benitez, a terrible idea to take charge of one game himself, and an even worse one to ask baseball coach Bobby Valentine to oversee six ramshackle performances, before finally turning to Gerrard.
Conceding a Premier League record 76 penalties didn't help either, though for many the lasting memory of the season will be Luis Suarez's meltdown away at West Ham. Players disputing a red card is nothing new. A player eating an entire corner flag, though, is unprecedented, and the subsequent 12-game ban ended both his season and any hope Liverpool might have had of saving their top-flight status. Plenty of people predicted that the Premier League would eat itself one day. Few expected it to come quite so literally.