Premier League Half Way Season Review
So we’re half way through the Premier League football season and things are taking a bit of shape. There’s some surprises up there and even some down there. We’re going to tell you our Team of the Season so far and will answer questions like: Can Pardew keep Crystal Palace up? Can Wenger recover Arsenal to reach the Top 4 again? And who’s going to win the thing? We’ll give you a clue – we think they’ll wear blue.
Contenders: Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United
The title race has gone pretty much according to the script so far. Chelsea and Manchester City had by far the best two teams on paper at the start of the campaign and there’s been little evidence so far to suggest that the two will not be clear of the chasing pack come May. The form of Sergio Aguero (pre-another-injury) has been sensational and there can’t be much doubt he’s in the Top 5 players in the world at the moment. Diego Costa has been everything Chelsea fans would want him to be, while the form of Eden Hazard has been a joy to behold. The Belgian winger is destined for genuine greatness.
What could not be expected was Chelsea’s slump in away form. Blowing an 8-point lead, Chelsea have looked vulnerable defensively – particularly down the right side of Ivanovic with Gary Cahill offering him very little in the way of cover. Yes, Fabregas and especially Nemanja Matic have been dominant up until December but it must be a worry for Mourinho. While City have not turned in the performances they might have wished for, they keep on winning and they and Chelsea go level on points after New Years Day.
United won 6 on the bounce during a November period that saw them shoot up the table and seemingly take control of the Champion League qualification race. Rooney, Van Persie and finally Juan Mata have started to click and they’ve got enough going forward to beat anyone on their day. David De Gea has been stunning but the amount he’s had to bail out a meek and permanently exposed defence has been astonishing.
Giving that Chelsea’s only real away test will come at Arsenal in April, the fixtures are heavily stacked in the West London club’s favour. City have trips to the Emirates, Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford, Anfield and White Hart Lane all still to come. Not to mention Aguero’s worrying injury proneness and Yaya Toure’s absence through the African Cup of Nations. It’s going to be tight but it’s hard to see past Mourinho’s men.
RACE FOR TOP FOUR
Contenders: Southampton, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, West Ham, Liverpool
The surprise package of the season has undoubtedly been Southampton. Losing a manager and a plethora of their top performers last season, many tipped the South-coast outfit for relegation. But the appointment of Ronald Koeman and the recruitment of Pelle, Tadic and Forster has seen the Saints go from strength to strength. Defensively they’re as solid as you’ll see in the league having only conceded 10 and up top they have one of the best ball-retaining centre forwards in the league in Pelle.
It’s incredible to think just a year ago, Sam Allardyce was a game away from getting the chop. Now his West Ham side are playing some of their best football we can remember. Stewart Downing has been a revelation in central midfield and the return of Andy Carroll has given the East-end boys a real chance at the Top 4.
The fall from grace by Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool could not have been expected by many. It appears as though Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea has obliterated a side that was two games away from the most incredible title win in recent memory. They lack shape, confidence and, most importantly, a centre forward with the on-going absence of Daniel Sturridge and the departure of Luis Suarez. The signing of Lovren looks more baffling by the game and they are crying out for a goalkeeper with an ounce of competence. Having said that, there have been small signs recently of a return to some sort of form with Adam Lallana settling in and Sterling playing as a lone front-man. We still think they’re just too far behind to catch the pack though.
Arsenal are as Arsenal as they’ve ever been. Good going forward, garbage at the back. Guess what? They still lack a defensive midfielder, a top drawer goalkeeper and depth at the back. It’s hard to remember how they coped before the signing of Alexis Sanchez who has been majestic. Arsenal are still Arsenal and Spurs are still Spurs. They’ll take some scalps, they’ll lose some gimme home fixtures. They scrape late goals away from home and ship in four against the big boys. The only difference this year is they have something very special in Harry Kane – a certain future England star. Spurs will be close again probably but we’re going for United to take third and Southampton a well earned fourth spot. But we know it’ll probably be Arsenal again. Somehow.
Contenders: Everyone up to Villa
Given that Leicester are rock bottom at the turn of the year with a poultry 14 points, it’s hard to look past them as relegation fodder come May. A strong start has seen the goals dry up and they’re making basic individual errors at the back.
Baring Nigel Pearson’s men, it’s anyones guess who’ll make up the two other spots. Burnley look every bit Championship in quality but Sean Dyche has done a truly remarkable job in keeping them competitive given their budget. Don’t forget, at the start of last season bookies had them favourites for relegation from the Championship. If they survive, he along with Ronald Koeman have to be the Manager’s of the Season. Danny Ings looks the real deal and they keep enough clean sheets to give themselves a chance. We’re certainly rooting for them.
The appointment of Alan Pardew by Crystal Palace was head-scratching at face value. But when looked at in detail probably suits all parties involved. Newcastle wanted him gone, Palace need to stay up and Pardew can demand a pay cheque safe in the knowledge that potential relegation cannot be pinned on him. It’s hard to know how the manager change will work out for the Eagles but they do lack quality almost everywhere. So they’re our second tip for relegation.
Everton are the real surprise in the lower half of the table. In short, they’ve been dreadful and Martinez must learn to adapt to opponents better. Principles are only good when/if you’re winning games. He also needs to get more out of Romelu Lukaku who looks a shade of a £30mil man. West Brom’s appointment of Tony Pulis fills us with enough confidence to think they’ll survive the battle and the quality in Hull’s and Sunderland’s squads should mean they’ll do the same. Villa in terms of fire-power look to have far less than QPR but Austin’s goals will surely dry up at some point and they haven’t taken a single point away from home all season. Harry’s men are our third tip.
Premier League TEAM OF THE YEAR
GK: David De Gea
RB: Nathaniel Clyne
LB: Cesar Azpilicueta
CB: John Terry
CB: Jose Fonte
LM: Alexis Sanchez
RM: Eden Hazard
CM: Cesc Fabregas
CM: Nemanja Matic
CF: Sergio Aguero
CF: Diego Costa
So there you have it. Our half-way Premier League season review and predictions for the rest of the campaign. Obviously you’ll disagree with most, if not all, of our musings, so let us know your thoughts!