Premier League mid-season report card
There’s a couple of class clowns, a few early achievers and some that need to seriously catch up on their homework in the new year. Find out how your Premier League team’s first half of the season rated below.
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Current position: 11th
The class clown.
It’s been an eventful first half of the season at the Emirates, that’s for sure.
In October, captain Granit Xhaka was substituted against Crystal Palace, throwing his jersey to the ground and infamously telling the jeering fans to “f*** off”. Late November saw Unai Emery sacked after failing to motivate a moody dressing room. And then, in December, club legend Freddie Ljungberg took the reigns, only to claim that the club was understaffed when it came to coaches.
On the pitch, performances have hit an all-time low at the Emirates.
We’re yet to see the best out of established stars such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and of course, Mesut Ozil and the failed integration of record signing Nicolas Pepe has seen the Gunners frequently fill out the team sheet with names from their youth teams.
Now, at last, some level of hope has been restored with the appointment of debutant manager Mikel Arteta. The former midfielder appears to be well regarded by figures within the English game, but surely there can’t be any tougher gig going in world football right now.
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Current position: 18th
It’s nice having Aston Villa in class this year, but we’re not sure how long they’re sticking around.
Many of the starring roles in Aston Villa’s promotion story were played by loanees and so a chaotic summer at Villa Park was always on the cards.
12 permanent signings later and pretty predictably, Villa have struggled for consistency. Defensive reinforcements such as Matt Targett and Tyrone Mings (who spent last season at the club on loan) have fared better than striking acquisition Wesley who has notched just four goals in 18 appearances.
The bright sparks have come from midfield and in wider areas where John McGinn, Jack Grealish and Anwar El Ghazi have combined well to create ample opportunity for the Birmingham-based club.
A ragtag squad will no doubt be better after half a season spent playing together, but escaping relegation could rely on a more consistent goal threat in the new year.
Current position: 14th
The Cherries started this season strong, but got a bit silly with the mid-semester break on the horizon.
Heading into November, Bournemouth were sitting pretty in the top half of the table, but a devastating dip in form – in which they won just once in seven league outings – has seen Eddie Howe’s men slide to within four points of the drop.
On the bright side, on-loan forward Harry Wilson has proven a more than adequate replacement for the injured David Brooks, scoring six times since his move from Liverpool, and the strike partnership of Callum Wilson and Joshua King continue to deliver, contributing 10 goals to the team’s overall tally.
From the outside the south coast club might appear to be running on the spot in the Premier League, but one could argue that fans at the Vitality have gotten more than their money’s worth over recent seasons, and that looks set to continue into the 2020/21 season too.
Current position: 13th
Brighton is the kid that barely passed last year’s final exam, but has been quietly brilliant this semester.
Firing Chris Hughton following a slog of a Premier League season that the club eventually survived was not a universally popular decision in Brighton.
But, under new boss Graham Potter, the Seagulls are playing a far more fluid and open brand of football that has them comfortably clear of the relegation zone. Potter has integrated new signings as smoothly as his new system with forwards from further down the English league like Neal Maupay and Aaron Connolly now preferred to the ageing Glenn Murray.
As for their Australian stars, Aaron Mooy’s deployment as an inside forward rather than an out and out midfielder could provide an interesting thought experiment for Socceroos boss Graham Arnold.
Oh, and we’ll take the fact that they continue to concede fewer goals than expected, according to xGA statistics from Understat, to mean one thing: Mat Ryan is absolute mustard.
Current position: 10th
Burnley, the uncomplicated pupil. Comes to class on time. Does the work. Even does the homework. Is never late.
In a league populated by exotic footballing talents, organised into cultured tactical systems by a cast of managers picked from the continent, Burnley are by far the biggest outlier. According to WhoScored, Sean Dyche’s men complete passes with the least efficiency of any Premier League side (67.9%) and average the fewest dribbles (6.8) per match.
But put the ball in the air and Burnley become the best impression of your typical 20th century British football team. While Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes dominate defenders up top, James Tarkowski and Ben Mee keep things quiet at the back. In fact, no side has won more aerial duels than the Clarets so far this season.
Never change Burnley, never change.
Current position: 4th
There have been some bumps in the road, but Chelsea’s new look is getting them the grades they need so far.
Things certainly looked rosier for Frank Lampard couple of months ago. Having won just twice in their last six Premier League outings, Chelsea have slowly slid from Champions League certainties to mere contenders over the course of November and December.
Still, Lampard has proved a lot of doubters wrong in his first run of games on the Stamford Bridge sideline. A Premier League winner with the club as a player, ‘Chelsea Frank’ has successfully mixed exciting youth products such as Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount with the experienced heads of Cesar Azpilicueta and N’Golo Kante.
What he’s been left with is a team that is devastating going forward, and at times, dire in defence.
Off-the-pitch, and Chelsea’s transfer ban has been lifted, which is a real positive as you sense they’ll need a reinforcement or two in January to continue both their domestic and continental crusades.
Current position: 9th
Calm and consistent, Crystal Palace just keep on keeping on.
Liverpool fans must scratch their heads when they peer further down the ladder and land on the ninth placed, Roy Hodgson-led Crystal Palace.
Following calamitous stints at both the Merseyside club and English national team, Hodgson has more than re-established his reputation for building well-structured sides capable of thriving in the Premier League.
With Palace, that’s exactly what you get.
An uncomplicated approach to games is far more focused on defensive stoutness than attacking flair, in fact, the Eagles have scored the second fewest goals in the league this season (15). The issue with that is, should you leak a goal or two, games become increasingly difficult to win and with another transfer window around the corner, they’ll have another fight on their hands to keep the unique talents of Wilfred Zaha on their books.
In saying that, we can only judge on what we’ve seen and what we’ve seen has been impressive if not unspectacular from Hodgson and his team.
Current position: 15th
Everton; struggling to replicate the grades of years gone by and now employing the best tutor in the business to set things straight.
Safe to say this season has not gone to plan for Everton, and more specifically Marco Silva.
The man they fought so hard to pry from Watford’s grasp during the 2017/18 season began his second full season at the club with expectations that the Toffees would challenge the coveted ‘Big 6’ of England.
Five months on and Silva is long gone, club legend Duncan Ferguson has steadied the ship and will now make way for perennial winner Carlo Ancelotti. It’s a curious appointment for the man who has won Champions League gongs at AC Milan and Real Madrid, but is now tasked with rebuilding at a club now fighting to stave off relegation.
Current position: 2nd
Leicester City, smashed all their exams a few seasons ago. Disappeared. But now is back, and better than ever.
Sitting in second place, the Foxes have quite literally outdone themselves this season. They’ve racked up more points than they had on Christmas Day in their title-winning 2015/16 campaign and are playing with the quality befitting a top European club.
All the signs point to this not just being a flash in the pan sort of season either. Regular starters Ben Chilwell, Harvey Barnes, James Maddison, Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi and Calgar Soyuncu are all 23 years of age, or younger and older heads like Jamie Vardy are more than pulling their weight. The English striker has notched an incredible 17 goals in 18 games, making him the league’s top goalscorer by some distance heading into the festive period.
Best of all, Leicester have built up an 11-point buffer to fifth, so barring any complete capitulation, Rodgers’ men look set to take showcase themselves on Europe’s biggest stage next season.
Current position: 1st
The standout pupil.
After being narrowly pipped to a sorely sought after Premier League title last season, the sounds coming out of Anfield over the summer certainly suggested that Jurgen Klopp’s men were ready to go again. And go again, they have.
The victors in all but one of their domestic league fixtures this season, the Reds have, somewhat ironically, looked a little shakier at the back than in the previous campaign – not that the league ladder would lend you to think that.
10 points clear, and with a game in hand, Liverpool will spend Christmas top of the Premier League tree and while they were similarly placed 12 months ago, it’s hard to see City or Leicester reeling in the Reds this time around.
Current position: 3rd
Easily the smartest kid in the class, but all those extra hours spent studying are adding up for Manchester City.
Winning can be exhausting, especially when you’ve got a side as relentless as Liverpool hot on your tail.
So after two seasons in which City barely missed a beat, this season has seen Pep Guardiola’s record-breaking side stumble and become uncharacteristically sloppy.
City fans may point to a long-term injury to key defender Aymeric Laporte as the moment it all began to crack and peel. But truthfully they failed to replace departing club captain Vincent Kompany months earlier in the off-season.
11 points off the league-leaders, their best bet of silverware now appears to be cup competitions.
Current position: 8th
Manchester United, once among the smartest kids in the class but now struggling to keep up with a new breed.
As far as the playing squad is concerned, Solskjaer’s first summer transfer window saw an exodus of sorts. Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Chris Smalling all left for Italian clubs while Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka came in from Leicester and Palace, respectively.
In attacking terms, Swansea wonderkid Daniel James also joined the club.
When it comes to matters on the pitch, Manchester United’s distinct counter-attacking style has been useful against the ‘Big 6’ but utterly useless against pretty much everyone else.
In dire need of a creative spark, there are still holes to be plugged at United, whether that be tactically or in terms of personnel.
Current position: 9th
No Rafa? No worries. Newcastle came back after the summer break with a new, more rudimentary look but hey, it’s working.
Arguably no other Premier League manager arrived at their new club to the same level of fan fury than when Steve Bruce took charge in July.
But that feeling of frustration has dissipated at St. James’ and at the midway point, Newcastle are sitting pretty in mid-table and potentially eyeing a run at European qualification for next season.
Jonjo Shelvey has been the key man so far, scoring five times from midfield. They’ll be hoping he doesn’t cop an injury or lengthy suspension, (equally as likely given his record) as the next best goalscorers are defenders Ciaran Clark, Jetro Willems and Federico Fernandez who each have two apiece.
Current position: 19th
Norwich; showing so much promise, but failing to stay on track with the rest of the class.
When Norwich City took to Anfield in the opening game of the Premier League season, the mood was hopeful.
A determined and surprisingly slick performance was far more impressive than the 4-1 scoreline suggested. But, with the benefit of hindsight, it outlined the major problem plaguing the team’s bid for top flight survival – a porous defence.
Level with Southampton as the worst defence in the league, for all of Daniel Farke’s meddling in midfield and creative conjuring of attacking lineups, it’s a shaky back four that has blighted them time and time again at Carrow Road.
Heading into Christmas, the Canaries sit six points from safety and in spite of Teemu Pukki’s nine-goal haul thus far, they look unlikely to stave off the drop.
Current position: 7th
Sheffield United is the new kid at school. They might look a little ordinary, but don’t be fooled, they’re actually brilliant.
Unlike the other recently promoted sides, Sheffield United has thrived in its first season back in the Premier League.
The Blades have utilised the same 3-5-2 formation that served them so well in the Championship and the canny addition of Lys Mousset from Bournemouth has proved to be just another of Chris Wilder’s masterstrokes. The French forward has scored five times, lending goals to a side that was always going to be miserly in defence.
A seriously impressive first season back in the top flight has them on track for a top-half finish – kudos, Chris.
Current position: 17th
The Saints have all the knowledge in the world, but are barely passing the Premier League test – again.
Southampton seemed, on the surface, to have everything in place to push up the league table this season. But that hasn’t been the case.
Sure, Ralph Hasenhuttl has built a team in his image, but key players seem to be letting him down in both boxes. Indeed xG and xGA statistics, courtesy of Understat, lend you to believe they should be scoring more and conceding fewer goals than they are in reality.
Striker Danny Ings and midfielder James Ward-Prowse are pretty much the only men consistently doing the business for the Saints. But they’ll need to discover a ruthless streak in order to stay up.
Current position: 7th
So close but so far, for so long. Spurs are trying a different method of study this semester.
It still seems as though we’re living in an alternate reality when Jose Mourinho is introduced as Tottenham Hotspurs manager, but halfway through the Premier League season, and that is indeed what he is.
And honestly, at this point in time, Spurs should be glad for it.
It has scarcely been a month since Mauricio Pochettino left the club, but in that time, only three sides – Leicester, Liverpool and Manchester City – have outperformed Tottenham. An impressive run of results saw Spurs claw their way from 14th into Champions League contention once more.
Aside from getting the best out of enigmatic midfielder Dele Alli, Mourinho’s other major masterstroke may have been in re-signing Belgian centre back Toby Alderweireld – an off-the-pitch battle that Poch seemed unable to win.
Inevitably, a shadow that follows Mourinho as a manager are major concerns over the sustainability of his managerial style. So while things look bright now, there could be darker days on the horizon.
Current position: 20th
Watford are almost certain to fail this class.
The worst team in the league, Watford have just 11 goals to show for their 18 Premier League outings – a figure that has them rooted to the bottom of the table.
The worst thing is that, on paper at least, they have some tidy footballers doing the rounds at Vicarage Road. Enigmatic as he may be, Gerard Deulofeu is a threat going forward and Ismaila Sarr was pivotal in Rennes’ late run in the Europa League last season. Add to that the proven midfield pivot of Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure, and their horrid half of the season becomes even more perplexing.
Maybe answers are better found on the sidelines.
Javi Gracia began the season at the helm, but September had barely started when the Pozzo-ownership changed direction, opting to bring in former manager Quique Sanchez Flores. By December he too was gone, as Hayden Mullins took over in the short term and now at last, there seems to be a plan with relegation rescue-specialist Nigel Pearson the manager tasked with leading the Hornets into the new season.
Pearson has work to do, but after masterminding a miraculous turnaround at Leicester City five seasons ago, Watford this time at least, appear to have the perfect man for the job.
That being said, it can’t be anything more than an…
WEST HAM UNITED
Current position: 15th
West Ham, we’re not going to believe you the next time you tell us your grades are going to be better next year.
Another season has met its midway point without any of the positives that a progressive summer transfer period promised for this London club. The Irons managed to hold onto a supremely-talented Felipe Anderson and added more creativity courtesy of Spaniard Pablo Fornals from Villareal. Five months on and neither of these men have a goal to their names.
Sure, Sebastien Haller has fared better at the tip of the West Ham attack – scoring five times, but still, the former Eintracht Frankfurt forward would no doubt benefit from a less-ponderous approach in build up play.
Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini seems to be skating on thin ice, too. Should the most gifted Irons continue to falter, he could be shown the door.
Current position: 8th
Wolves might have more extracurriculars, but they’re still absolutely killing it.
Concerns were raised at the start of the season as to the depth of the Wolves squad, now that they had midweek Europa League fixtures to contend with. But Nuno Espirito Santo has answered those questions, and some. Patrick Cutrone, a goal poacher from Milan looks a tidy bit of business as a back-up to the impressive Raul Jimenez but more notable is the use of resources already at Nuno’s disposal.
Take, for example, Adama Traore. A player who for years had frustrated fans, managers and statisticians alike with his unbelievable ability to simultaneously sear an opposition defender one-on-one and then send his cross into row Z. In 29 league appearances last time out, the Spaniard managed just the lone assist and lone goal. This season, after 17 matches, he has three goals and three assists.
It’ll certainly be a Merry Christmas for Wolves fans who have more European football to look forward to in the new year.