At the start of the season I did a pre Premier League blog:-
Now all the teams have played 19 games – here is my take (with a school report style grading) on their performances so far at the halfway point.
Arsenal – A
The Gunners go into the new year TOP OF THE LEAGUE!!!!!!! (on goal difference). Whisper it, but are they in a great position to win their first title since the ‘Invincibles’ season of 2003/04. Arsene Wenger’s team reacted brilliantly to their 4-0 defeat to Southampton (when they had an opportunity to go top) to beat Bournemouth and thanks to a draw between Leicester and Manchester City they will go into the new year with their best opportunity for years to claim the Premier League title. The continued top form of Mesut Ozil, the experience of Petr Cech as well as the return from injury of Alexis Sanchez may well prove crucial come May. As we stand they have done everything they could have, but dealing with the pressure of favouritism will be crucial.
Aston Villa – F
After a hard fought win at newly promoted Bournemouth on day one, it seemed that the Tim Sherwood era had real promise. However 18 games and no wins later it is now new manager Remi Garde (appointed in November after the sacking of Sherwood) who is struggling, he has yet to see his team win since he turned up at Villa Park. They are now 11 points from safety and things are looking very bleak indeed. The club has been run badly off the pitch in recent years and unless there is a marked improvement and fast, owner Randy Learner, who wants to sell, may well be trying to offload a club playing in the Championship.
Bournemouth – B
Last seasons Championship winners were always going to find it difficult this season and that was even before a run of long term injuries to key players, especially Callum Wilson who was free scoring at the time, with even an England call up being mooted. However a run of December victories over the fallen champions Chelsea (at Stamford Bridge), then Manchester United in a raucous home atmosphere followed by a win at West Brom, showed there is still plenty of fight in the team – only an away defeat to high flying Arsenal stopped the run. They do lie 16th in the table (three points above the relegation zone) – but they would have taken that at this stage of the season. It will be tough in 2016 but they have at least given themselves a chance of staying in the top flight after they were written off at the start of the campaign.
Chelsea – F
What a shambles at Stamford Bridge – who are now the FALLEN CHAMPIONS. They and their now sacked manager, Jose Mourinho, have put on the worse ever Championship defence in the history of the Premier League as we stand. Was it the previous incumbents fault, was it the players fault – who knows, but one things for sure their current 14th place position is unacceptable. A title push is gone, as for top four, well you never know but its highly unlikely. As Yazz and the Plastic Population sand in the 1980s – “the only way is up” for the team – now under interim manager Guus Hiddink.
Crystal Palace – B+
Alan Pardew’s stock at Selhurst Park keeps on arising. Palace have been a breath of fresh air this season. Their current 5th position is no fluke, it could even have been better (at least in points terms) if their strikers had been on form, the one weakness in this stellar Eagles team, who have won at both Chelsea and Anfield this season, both fully deserved. Recent American investment has added to the optimism, and if a solution can found for their striking woes, a push for a top four place cannot be ruled out.
Everton – C-
The football Everton have played this season has been outstanding. They have a striker in Romelu Lukaku who is on fire and joint top scorer in the league and a midfield powerhouse in Ross Barkley who is beginning to produce on a consistent basis performances of the highest quality. However they find themselves in the bottom half of the table because of their inability to close out games and giving away silly goals which are resulting in a lot more draws instead of wins and more damaging losses instead of draws on occasion. Roberto Martinez needs to rectify this quickly or the nickname of ‘Mythinez’ will be more apt.
Leiceister – A+
Team of the season so far – actually team of the calendar team. If there was just a 2015 season Leicester would be champions but sorry Foxes, it does not work like that. Claudio Ranieri has taken on the team that made their the great escape from the bottom of the league last season and they are now genuine title contenders. They go into 2016 second in the table (only on goal difference) and that is not in a false position with only two defeats and until their last couple of matches they had remarkably scored in every game. If key players Vardy and Mahrez keep up their form they can no doubt fire themselves towards a very unlikely title and maybe at worst a place in the top four. An exciting 2016 awaits.
Liverpool – C+
The Kloppites as they are calling themselves now are feeling positive. After a steady start to the season, Brendan Rodgers was sacked in early October to be replaced by Jurgen Klopp. At the time Chelsea were struggling and I feel the owners at Liverpool decided that things under the Irishman were not working and with the availability of the German, they swooped and got their man before anyone else could. He has not set things alight at Anfield but he is trying to foster a new attitude at the club in an attempt to make them winners. 1-3 and 1-4 wins at Stamford Bridge and the Etihad have been highlights, but defeats at Newcastle and Watford (which was a complete drubbing) show there is still work to be done. A crucial 0-1 win at Sunderland has moved them up to 7th, with 30 points – only nine from the top. Maybe a title challenge is beyond them this season but in such a topsy turvy league anything is possible with a proven manager such as Klopp in charge. Optimism is in the air on the red side of Merseyside as we go into 2016.
Manchester City – B-
A strange season from Manchester City, on occasion they have looked untouchable but then on others they have looked like a pub team (no away league victory since September), so being third and only three points behind the top two is actually a decent return at the halfway point. There is no doubt on paper the two time Premier League champions have the best squad and if manager Manuel Pellegrini can get all his players fit and firing they have to be the team to fear going into next year. Rumours are that Pep Guardiola will be in charge at the Etihad next season and I’m sure Pelle would love to go out on a high and give the Spaniard a title winning team. For me the side from the blue half of Manchester are the team to beat in 2016.
Manchester United – F-
A badly run club simple as, now run as a commercial operation, with football seen as an after thought by Executive Vice Chairman – Ed Woodward. A man who you cannot fault for his money making (there seems to be a new sponsor for something every month), but in regards to the sporting side he has NO idea and is seen as a laughing stock by his peers. Yes the manager is not doing his job very well , yes the players need to step up more (even if they don’t believe in their manager), but the whole philosophy / process at the club is a huge contributing factor to their frankly poor season as we stand. No win in their last eight matches, 0-0 home draws (a norm this season) against a team in 15th seen as an improvement and currently 6th place in the table, five points from what is now seemingly their target of 4th place – woe betide a title bid despite a 250m+ spend since July 2014. Unless drastic improvements are made throughout the club another season of no Champions League beckons – oh did I forget they embarrassingly failed to get out of this seasons group phase by the way and will now be plying their trade in the Europa League – though I suppose if they win that, Champions League qualification is in the bag – they had better hope there is less clutching and more results in 2016. I said at the start of the season Man Utd had NO EXCUSES – they don’t but watch for them if they fail to reach their target for the season.
Newcastle United – D
A strange season for the Geordie’s. An awful start saw them in the bottom three and the fans were not happy. Its was even rumoured that new manager, Steve McClaren, only had two games to save his job as recently as the start of December. However back to back victories at home to Liverpool and then away at Tottenham brought calm and some hope. However, since then one point from a possible nine has seen them fall back into the relegation zone. A quick and positive start is needed to 2016 or the manager, players and owner Mike Ashley may well be feeling the heat again.
Norwich City – B
Fair play to Norwich this season. It was thought that they would struggle massively back in the top flight but Alex Neil’s charges have been excellent on their return to the top flight in England. This time last year Neil was a fairly unknown player/manager for Hamilton, but his surprise appointment has seen the Canaries on the up ever since – culminating in a brilliant 1-2 victory at Old Trafford the weekend before Christmas. A driven man, who expects nothing less than 100% from his players and he is the driving force behind their 20 point haul which has them 15th as we head into the new year. He will expect even more of his players into 2016 if they are to survive the season.
Southampton – C-
Reality has struck at St Mary’s, despite the odd flash of the previous season’s form, especially their 4-0 demolition of Arsenal on Boxing Day, Southampton have got nowhere near the heights of their last campaign. They still have quality in their ranks mind in players such as Mane, Wanyama and Pelle and are more than capable on their day. After a recent poor run a few home truths were meted out by manager Ronald Koeman, a win and a loss has been the result. More of the former are needed so as the Saints don’t find themselves embroiled in a relegation battle in what is being styled as the most competitive Premier League ever
Stoke City – A
Chapeau Mark Hughes – Arnautovic, Bojan and Shaqiri are arguably the most potent strike force in the Premier League. Three players the Welsh manager has brought into Stoke, trusted them and made them into a devastating trio. The days of long ball Stoke seem a very distant memory, though they still have that familiar steely backbone to match the flair with captain Ryan Shawcross an outstanding leader and when they do need to be combative they most certainly can be. They sit 10th in the league, but that after a slow start where they struggled to score goals, but now they are creating at will and are shooting up the table. Their target will be a top six finish, though if they keep key players fit they will be a match for ANY team in this league – watch this space.
Sunderland – E
BIG DICK out – BIG SAM in. After their standard win over Newcastle in his first game in charge and then a few weeks of promise, including a superb away win at Crystal Palace, Sunderland have now hit a very poor run of form with five straight defeats in December. They are now seven points from safety and welcome Aston Villa (the only team below them) on January 2nd at the Stadium of Light in a huge game that the Black Cats really need to win or 2016 may well become about a face saving exercise with survival a pipe dream. Big Sam has been in these situations before but keeping this Sunderland team up has now become his biggest ever challenge in his managerial career – good luck!!!!!!!
Swansea City – D
After an opening day draw against the champions Chelsea and then a late August come from behind win over Manchester United, Swansea were sitting pretty and a fruitful season was forecast. However since then they have only managed two league wins in their following 15 games that saw them plunge down the table, and at one point, drop into the bottom three. It was one win in eleven which saw for Garry Monk, with his reluctant sacking in early December. Under the caretaker ship of Alan Curtis they have regrouped somewhat with an undeserved defeat to Manchester City their only reverse. The Swans are only two points above the relegation zone in 17th, a continuation of better results is needed or 2016 could be a painful year.
Tottenham Hotspur – A
Something is brewing at White Hart Lane. Mauricio Pochettino’s methods are working to the max and whisper it quietly they might even challenge for the Premier League top spot. A youthful team has only lost once since an undeserved opening day defeat to Manchester United with Harry Kane finding his scoring boots to fire Tottenham up the table, Dele Alli is fast becoming one of the best youngsters in the country and the rehabilitation job done on Erik Lamela deserves a knighthood. On top of this their defence is now the best in the league, a pretty good combination if you want a say in where the title will end up. Their aim for this season was a top four place, but what better way to do that than aim for even higher. A great opportunity beckons – Come on you Spurs.
Watford – A
I have to say I was so so so wrong about how Watford would do in this season Premier League. For the record I thought their penchant for changing managers would be their death knell in a relegation campaign. However their football has been a breath of fresh air – with their 4-4-2 formation allowing Troy Deeney and 14 goal Odion Ighalo to cause havoc amongst defences. Fair play to manager Quique Flores who has adapted his tactics to suit his players and Watford sit 9th in the table and this is not a position that flatters them. If not for Leicester’s amazing season we’d all be talking about Watford – more of the same in 2016 please.
West Bromwich Albion – C-
West Brom are doing what it says on the Tony Pulis tin. Solid, combative, risk adverse at times football. Some of the fans may not always be to enamoured by this but if it keeps them in the Premier league I’m sure they will not be complaining too much. However in such a competitive league it only takes a few bad results to get sucked into a relegation fight and crowd reaction then may well be interesting. They do have flair players in Callum Mcmanaman and Saido Berahino but they have been used sparingly. As mentioned its a means to an end with West Brom and I’m sure owner/chairman Jeremy Peace will be satisfied as long as Premier League status is retained for the 2016-17 season.
West Ham United – C+
Slaven Bilic has done a decent job at West Ham this season. Their start included victories at Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City within the first six games, though they also suffered home defeats to Leicester and Bournemouth. Injuries (especially to star man Dimitri Payet and the lack of fit strikers throughout the season) have not helped the Croatian in trying to establish a settled team, so their 8th position is potentially an overachievement for their season at this stage. When they have a fully fit squad to pick from there will be no excuses and a top six place will be the aim in 2016.
There we go some teams doing very well others less so – its only halfway so a long way to go and plenty of time for things to change. Roll on 2016 in the most competitive Premier League EVER.
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