English Premier League – Mid Term Review
With just more than half the league season completed, the Barclays Premier League is taking a nice shape with about four months of exciting football still left to be played. The league title seems Manchester bound with the red-half of the city in pole position, but don’t count out City to make a late charge, as they did last season and surprise United. The battle for the other two slots of the top-4 is getting more interesting with each round of games played, with at least four teams – Tottenham, Chelsea, Everton and Arsenal, fighting for two remaining lucrative Champions League places. And as always, the relegation scrap always turns out to be the most interesting aspect of the league this season. QPR was looking dead and buried but with the appointment of Harry ‘Houdini’ Redknapp, a few recent results and some smart transfer dealings in January, they might give a last gasp fight to save themselves from relegation.
With just 16 or so games to go, the premier league season is reaching an exciting phase, which will go a long way in deciding which teams fight for the Championship and a top-4 place and which teams will battle it out for survival in the league. Krishnendu Sanyal brings to you a mid-season review of all the 20 teams in the Premier League
The League Table:
Just when you think, Arsenal has turned a corner; they get a result like Bradford in the Capital One Cup. Arsenal’s season can be summed up in one word – inconsistent. Some brilliant football laced with some mediocre performances has never really allowed Arsenal’s season to take-off at any point of the season.
Santi Cazorla is turning out to be an inspired piece of business by Arsene Wenger. He is making Arsenal’s midfield tick and has even chipped in with a few goals. A lot will depend on how he, along with Jack Wilshere and Mikael Arteta, perform in the latter part of the season. Theo Walcott is in a great goal scoring form, and the behind-the-scenes contract ramblings with Walcott is one distraction Arsenal could have lived without this season.
Finishing in the top-4 will be one of Wenger’s greatest achievements with this squad.
Villa’s new manager Paul Lambert took a decision (out of necessity) to ‘stick with the kids this season. They had a poor start to the season and the lack of experience was visible in the squad. They made a little recovery in the middle but again got into a rout of poor results. Mid-table was something Lambert was aiming at the start of the season but now it seems like a relegation dogfight for them. Can he add some experience to the squad in the January is a question that might make or break Villa’s season.
Christian Benteke dominates the headlines with some of his performances. Goalkeeper Bryan Guzan, defender Matthew Lowton and midfielder Ashley Westwood has caught the eye but it is the emergence of young Nathan Baker as the fulcrum of the back-four that has really been Villa’s saving grace.
It seems like a relegation dogfight for them.
Chelsea started the season with mesmerizing creative play and swagger but it was followed by utter disarray and elimination from the Champions League in the group stages, becoming the first ever defending champions to do so. Roberto Di Matteo, the first Chelsea manager to win the European Cup, was sacked after a few poor results and elimination from the Champions League and Rafa Benitez, former Liverpool manager and the one most Chelsea fans love to hate was appointed ‘interim’ manager for the rest of the season. Currently they lie third in the table, 13 points from the top. Catching up with the Manchester duo is still not impossible but in the current run of form, it seems highly improbable.
Juan Mata is turning out to be the heartbeat of this Chelsea squad. A brief moment of Mata’s brilliance on the field can lighten up any soul. He brings much more than just goals, assists and creativity to this Chelsea team. He is the creative center of the Chelsea team, but he could do with some help. Eden Hazard’s early season form has petered off, while it is too early to pass a judgment, but Hazard needs to do much more to justify the fan-fare around him. Fernando Torres is having another poor season. A few goals here and there, hasn’t really done much for his confidence and his general play has been disappointing.
Rafa’s appointment hasn’t gone down well with the Chelsea football and there is a general discontent at Stamford Bridge this season. Top four is the best they can hope for this season.
After a long while Everton has shaken-off their tag of perennial slow starters. With a win against Manchester United at Goodison Park, Everton started their campaign brilliantly. Everton was always a hard team to beat at home but this season they have won four on the road and that has propelled them to the fifth position in the league above Arsenal and has made them real contenders for a top four position.
Leighton Baines has been one of the better left-backs in the Premier League this season. Not only is he a good defender but one of the main chance creator and a very good set-piece specialist. Marouane Fellaini has again been brilliant. The Belgian is both adept at playing in the hole and creating awkward situations for the defenders with his physical presence but also a very good defensive midfielder.
David Moyes has reinvented Everton’s style of play this season and has been astute in the transfer market, as always. Anything but a top six place will be a disappointment for Everton this season.
Fulham had a good start to their season by their standards. Their home form is keeping them safe, away from the relegation scrap. The away form is treacherous, with just two wins and five losses. A few bad games and they might get sucked into the relegation scrap.
The addition of the brooding Bulgarian, Dimitar Berbatov has added a touch of class to Fulham’s attack and together with Bryan Ruiz, they played some nice eye-catching football at the start of the season.
Martin Jol’s main worry is the away form but a strong home form should allow them a comfortable mid-table finish.
There have been signs of improvement from Liverpool but they have been very inconsistent and it is pretty clear that this team is not good enough to be top four this season. A patchy home form and a not-so-good away form, hasn’t really allowed Liverpool’s season to take-off .
Luis Suarez has been the talismanic striker that Liverpool needed, and he delivered. With 15 goals, he is the second highest goal scorer in the Premier League this season. His goals have carried Liverpool’s inconsistent season and is crucial to the club’s ambition.
Brendon Rodgers has taken the unenviable task of re-building Liverpool but he has to remain content with a top eight finish this season and then look forward.
Although second and seven points off the top of the table, many City fans has complained that this City team is unrecognizable from the style and panache of the City team that won the league last season. Many clubs would want to be at City’s position now but the team has looked strangely laboured this season. A very strange summer transfer window where City didn’t really add too much quality and some players looking off-colour, and another early exit from Europe, Manchester City has a lot to do if they want to win back-to-back league titles.
The two main architects to City’s title charge last season were Yaya Toure and David Silva, and both have looked off-colour and laboured, coupled with Sergio Aguero’s indifferent form, City has been a bit inconsistent. Mario Balotelli has again flattered to deceive and with only one goal this season, Balotelli has irked everyone at City and now that he is gone, none seem to be complaining. It is the two Argentines, Carlos Tevez and Pablo Zabaleta, who are the ones who has shown true passion and commitment on the field and has sometimes carried the team.
Another early exit in Europe and doubled the pressure on Mancini to deliver the league title. They will be in the mix but the red half of Manchester might just have the last laugh this season.
If any Manchester United fan was given a scenario at the start of the season that said they will be seven points clear at the top of the table after 22 games into the season, they would have laughed it off. This has been an erratic season for United, they have been very shaky at the back and midfield needs cover but it is the frontline that has banged goals for fun, which has been the telling difference. They have comfortably negotiated an easy Champions League group and will face their sternest test in the form of Real Madrid in the next round. Although, last season’s experience will show that the league title is nowhere close to being guaranteed but very few people will bet against United wresting away the title from their neighbours.
Robin van Persie was bought for £24million in the summer from Arsenal and has been the difference between United and the others. His 17 goals and 9 assists has compensated for a leaky defence and is turning out to be one of the best bits of transfer business Sir Alex Ferguson has ever done.
Seven points clear and with such firepower in front of goal, Manchester United are looking to wrest away the league title from their ‘noisy’ neighbours.
After the high of last season Europa League finish, Newcastle United are having a wretched season. Injuries to key players due to extra workload and a thin squad have compounded the problems for Newcastle. A patchy home form and a wretched away form (no wins all season), has sucked Newcastle into the relegation dogfight and it seems it is going to be a battle for the ‘Toon army’ to survive in the league this season.
Alan Pardew was praised for turning Newcastle into a competitive outfit last season but this season has been different. A thin squad and injuries to players like Ben Arfa and Cabaye has exposed Newcastle’s squad and Pardew’s management skills. Demba Ba’s transfer to Chelsea has further limited the squad and Pardew’s failure to add Loic Remy (went to QPR) makes his position even more vulnerable. If PapissCisse can regain last season’s goal scoring form, Newcastle fans still has much to look forward to.
With the addition of French legion of Mathieu Debuchy, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Yoan Gouffran, Massadio Haidara, Moussa Sissoko, Kevin Mbabu, the toon army has been strengthened the team considerably, and has added considerable strength and depth to the squad, that might drive them safe away from the relegation zone.
Norwich had a very shaky start to the season and questions were asked of Chris Houghton’s ability as a manager but the club has turned around the season with a string of good results, and now they sit a comfortable 12th in the table. A strong home form and a good defence has been the backbone of the season for Norwich.
Sebastien Bassong, recruited from Tottenham at a nominal fee, has strengthened the defence, which hasn’t conceded many goals. The first choice back four can shut-out best of attacks and the likes of Anthony Pilkington and Robert Snodgrass, has added some guile to Norwich’s attack.
A mid-table finish is something the club should aim for.
Queens Park Rangers:
Languishing at the bottom of the table, this has been a disastrous season for QPR. Having bought a number of players in the summer, the club was full of optimism at the start but it went from one disaster to another, and finally Mark Hughes was sacked as the manager and Harry Redknapp was appointed to salvage the season. They have collected a few points in the last few games; most notable beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, but QPR has a lot to do if they want to survive relegation.
Can Harry Redknapp fashion another great escape? He did it with Portsmouth and Tottenham and failed with Southampton but QPR will be his biggest challenge. He has signed Loic Remy in January and is set to sign French International YannMvilla, which will add much needed quality to the squad. Can he conjure up another ‘Harry Houdini’ act?
QPR will most probably ply their trade in the Championship next season.
Reading has just not been good enough for the Premier League. They can score goals but are pretty dreadful at defending and has conceded 42 goals this season. It seems unlikely that they can put together a string of results that will take them out of the relegation zone and they will have to depend upon other teams slipping up.
Brian McDrmott’s two key summer signings has failed, PavelPogrebnyak and Danny Guthrie, which has contributed to Reading’s poor season.
Unless something changes, Reading is set to get relegated this season.
Stoke City has found it difficult to score goals this season but unlike other teams who are facing the same problem, they have had a frugal defense (except the last home match against Chelsea), that has allowed them to have a strong start to the season. They currently lie 10th in the league standings and looks good to finish the season in the top half of the table. Stoke’s style of football is not everyone’s cup of tea but it has allowed them to become a regular premier league team and a visit to the Britannia Stadium is always a daunting task for any premier league team.
The summer signing Steven Nzonzi has really settled down well and is a typical Stoke player. Well built, physically strong and keeps the ball well and has added a different dimension to Stoke’s play. But it is the defense that has really excelled this season, with the brilliant form of captain Ryan Shawcross and the individual brilliance of goalkeeper AsmirBegovic (he is the in demand goalkeeper and expect some big teams to table a bid in the summer).
Tony Pulis’ style of football might not be endearing but he has turned Stoke into a formidable opponent. Expect a top 10 finish from them.
Two things happened at Southampton last week that projected diametrically opposite routes for the club. First on 16th of January, they clawed back from 2 goals down to get a point against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and on the 18th, their young manager, Nigel Adkins, was sacked for inexplicable reasons and former Espanyol manager Mauricio Pochettino was handed the reins. The whole narrative of Southampton’s season changed with that one decision of the board. They were beaten just twice in the last ten games and were a team on the way up but this sudden change might just prove catastrophic.
Jason Puncheon and Ricky Lambert have been the players of the season for Southampton. Both have scored goals and have allowed Southampton to gain some form after a disastrous start to the season.
It is very hard to predict on where the Saints will finish this season. They are a team on the up ; but with a new manager, a lot will depend the players will react under Mauricio.
Sunderland currently lies 14th in the league table but at that start of the season their fans were expecting a little better than that. Last season Sunderland surprised a lot of teams with their brand of counter attacking football, with the likes of James McClean, Stéphane Sessègnon and Sebastien Larsson performing really well for them. This season they have found it a lot harder and Sunderland have failed to beat their fellow strugglers and so lie just six points above the relegation zone. The feeling at Sunderland is that Martin O’Neil is the right manager for the club and deserves more time.
Danny Rose, on loan from Tottenham, has really impressed at left-back and there is clamour from the fans to sign him up on a permanent basis. The real setback is the form of McClean and Sessègnon, who have failed to produce last season’s form.
Sunderland is expected to beat the drop and finish in the lower-half of the table. They have too much quality to get relegated.
After Brendan Rodgers left Swansea for Liverpool, the next managerial appointment for Swansea was crucial, and in came one of the greats of the game, Michael Laudrup. There has been more goals and more excitement at the Liberty Stadium than last season and so life after Brendan Rodgers isn’t as bleak as it was projected. In the summer Laudrup brought in a certain Spaniard from RayoVallecano for a paltry sum of £2million and that has made all the difference.
Michu has been a brilliant acquisition for Swansea for such a paltry sum. He has already scored 13 goals in the league this season and his flexibility has allowed Swansea to play different systems with different plans and is a tireless worker when the team is not in possession.
Michael Laudrup took Brendan Rodgers’ team and improved upon it. Swansea is more exciting team to watch this season because he has added goals to this team. Expect a top half finish for them in the league.
Tottenham has put together a good run of results that has propelled them into the top-4, and are real challengers to stay there. They are exciting team to watch and a switch to 4-4-2 by AVB has worked out well. In a lot of games Tottenham have failed to finish off some teams and could have been as high as second if they held their nerves in the dying minutes of a few games. It is lack of concentration or fatigue or maybe both.
Gareth Bale has been in scintillating form in the left wing this season and has scored 9 goals. His pace and penetration adds a different dimension to Tottenham’s gameplay. Another player who has been in top form is Jermaine Defoe. He has already scored 10 goals in the league and has repaid is manager’s faith.
AVB was a bold appointment by Tottenham and it has clicked till now. He has made a few mistakes but Tottenham is a team that seems to be progressing. Expect Spurs to be in the mix for a top-4 finish.
West Bromwich Albion:
Steve Clarke was another bold managerial appointment. Known for his tactical knowledge of the game and being a brilliant first team coach, appointing him as the manager was a risk that West Brom took and it has worked. West Brom had a brilliant start to the season and then a few bad results but has again regained form. They currently lie 7th in the table and the most optimistic of West Brom fans wouldn’t have predicted that at the start of the season. A very strong team at home and a dangerous away team, West Brom has excelled. The squad is thin and a few injuries might derail their season but Steve Clarke has utilized this small squad brilliantly this season.
James Morrision has been the player of the season so far for West Brom. Played at different position by different managers in his career, he has finally excelled playing ‘in the hole’ just behind the striker. He is the creative hub of the team and the team looks bereft off ideas without him.
Steve Clarke has had a brilliant start to his managerial career but a few injuries are a cause of concern for him. He still in talks about getting to 40 points and ensuring safety but expect them to finish strongly and secure a high mid-table position.
West Ham United:
For a newly promoted team West Ham is having a good season so far. Sam Alladryce has achieved what he had promised when he came to Upton Park; promotion and being stable in the Premier League. The first was achieved without too much fuss and the second looks probable. West Ham is a very difficult team to play against, especially at home. They play direct football and are very dangerous from set piece situations.
Mark Noble has been the player of the season so far for them. He has been West Ham’s fulcrum, starting attacks from deep, dictating the tempo of the game, breaking down opposition attacks and a mean set-piece specialist. The 25 year old has even got an England call-up for his performances in the claret and blue
Expect ‘Big Sam’ to steer clear of relegation and finish mid-table.
Wigan is having their usual season. A complete mixed bag, laced with some good performances and some horrendous ones. It’s been another of the usual kind of season for Wigan, where they flirt with relegation all season and then make a late charge to secure their position. Can they make that late charge this season? They currently lie 17th in the table, just above the relegation zone due to a superior goal difference.
Ivan Ramis’ performances in the heart of the defense is encouraging but Wigan needs a lot more from others to escape relegation this season.
Can Roberto Martinez keep Wigan in the premier league this season? He has fashioned this late escape time and time again but will this be the season where Wigan finally succumb? Wigan’s saving grace is that the other teams in the relegation mix are not much better so they might just escape relegation again but then need to do a lot more as team to improve.