We’re at the mid-way point of the season now, 198 games played, Christmas Day has passed and the FA Cup third round is just around the corner. So lets have a look at each team in the Premier League and assess how their season has gone so far.
There is a stereotype about Arsenal about them being inconsistent, and a team with no backbone. A bunch of players who are loving it when it’s all going well, but wont stand up to be counted when its not. And this season, Arsenal are so, well, Arsenal. They have really struggled to find any consistency, and they still haven’t learnt how to defend yet.
We’ve all shared in the “banter” about them being a one man team, overly dependent on Alexis Sanchez, but I think that’s somewhat of a harsh criticism. Most teams have a stand out player. Where would City this season without Aguero? Or United without De Gea? Liverpool without Suarez. Well, actually, we know where Liverpool would be without him, but whatever, you get my drift.
Back in the summer, a weird transfer policy regarding defenders had a lot of people predicting a bumpy road for Arsenal this season, and unfortunately for the Gunners, those predictions have so far proved to be correct.
Arsenal have been unlucky with injuries this season, but that’s something that all teams have to deal with at some point over the course of the season. When it comes to injures, and subsequent lack of cover at the back though, they only have themselves to blame. Going into the season with 6 defenders was always asking for trouble, and you would expect they will be looking to reinforce this area in January.
Key Player: It can only be Alexis Sanchez. The guy is a gem of a footballer. The diminutive Chilean embodies everything that is a good about football. Flair, skill, pace, power, hard working with a strong team ethic. There is practically nothing to dislike about the guy. He has dug Arsenal out of a few holes already this season, and he seems to be on a one man mission to drag Arsenal, kicking and screaming, up into the top 4.
Villa are doing a touch better than I expected. I figured them for a season long relegation battle, and while they could still end up being dragged into one, I thought they would be a little worse for wear by this stage.
Injuries to key personal have blighted their season so far. They cant seem to keep Christian Benteke on the pitch for anything resembling a run of games, and as a results, goals have been hard to come by. They went the whole month of October without scoring a single goal, and it;s hard to win games if you aren’t sticking the ball in the oppositions net.
They have started to look a bit better in the last few weeks. The turn around in form seems to have coincided with the inevitable departure of assistant manager Roy Keane. I wonder what odds Paddy Power would have given you on Roy being gone by Christmas? Pretty short I’d say.
Manager Paul Lambert has been building up a pretty decent team at Villa, buts it’s time that some of the younger players started to deliver on their early promise. A few years ago, Lambert was seen to be getting by with a team of young players, and while they aren’t an old team by any means, the majority of the squad is in that good age group of 23-28 years old, they aren’t really kids anymore.
Key Player: Fabian Delph. In a team that has been very lackluster this season, Delph has stood out enough to warrant a call up to the England squad, and to garner attention from some of the teams who lurk around the upper echelons of the table. Rumors that Liverpool see him as a potential replacement for Steven Gerrard is pretty high praise. Aston Villa would be doing well to hang on to the midfielder next summer.
My tip to be a surprise package this season Burnley aren’t exactly pulling up any trees, but they certainly aren’t embarrassing themselves either. They are a tidy unit, who play some good stuff – they just aren’t getting those little breaks so far this season.
They still want to play football “the right way” and they like to keep the ball on the deck and play it around. The fact that they haven’t ditched what brought them to the dance in favor of a more percentage based style is a testament to the clubs philosophy and that of manager Sean Dyche. I feared for Dyche – “The Ginger Mourinho” – as often is the case with teams who over achieve in the Championship, the expectation levels get raised in the Premier League and then they aren’t given a fair crack of the whip, so to speak.
One of the main reasons they did so well in the Championship last season was down to the simply wonderful strike partnership between Danny Ings and Sam Vokes. Ings had an injury plagued start to the season, and Vokes has yet to kick a ball so far this campaign. Ings has started to find some form lately, and Vokes is expected to make a comeback early in January – so there is still hope for Burnley to turn this around yet.
Goals have been hard to come by for them, but they aren’t conceding a whole lot either. If they can maintain that hard to beat attitude, and add some goals at the other end through Ings and Vokes, who knows, the Claret and Blue army might still be standing when its all said and done.
Key Player: Kieran Trippier. Ings might seem like the more obvious choice, but Trippier pips it for me so far this season. The industrious right back has been a start performer for Burnley now for 2 or 3 years, and he been excellent for them in the top flight too. Ever-present, he constantly drives forward, always providing an outlet on the wing, and unlike most full backs in the modern era who get described as “great going forward, shit at defending”, Trippier is as solid and as dependable as they come when its time for a bit of defending.
Well, what can be said? If I was putting together a team of the year so far, there is a pretty good argument to make that the entire 11 could belong to Chelsea. Is it any wonder that they are everyone’s clear favorites to lift the trophy in May?
It’s really hard to imagine, but over the summer Chelsea managed to buy Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas for less than they sold David Luiz and Romelu Lukaku. It was a pretty successful summer for Jose Mourinho. Chelsea have been a machine this season, almost literally. They have been able to field pretty much the same starting 11 for most games this season, and we’re at the half way point. Crazy stuff – they just never seem to suffer injuries.
Building from the back, Chelsea have one of the most solid foundations I have seen since the United team that kept 1,300 minutes worth of consecutive clean sheets. The defensive unit of Courtois, Ivanovic, Terry, Cahill, Azpilicueta and Matic allows the more creative players like Fabregas, Harzard, Oscar and Willian the platform to wreak havoc on opposition teams, creating chances almost at will, and then Costa will do rest.
They are infinitely more exciting to watch this season than last, and you would already say that they would make worthy champions, even at this early stage.
Key Player: Nemanja Matic. Lets be fair, quite a number of the Chelsea players could have been picked here. Hazard, Costa, Fabregas – all good arguments. I just feel that Matic offers something that none of the aforementioned names do, and is more noticeable by his absence when he isn’t in the team. Chelsea have great strength in depth throughout the squad, in every position except for Matic’s. They looked more vulnerable without him when they lost their first game of the season away to Newcastle – a game he missed through suspension. I think he is the one player they really couldn’t afford to be without for an extended period (Ha, period) in the second half of the season.
We made it to Christmas without sacking a manager, which was quite a feat in itself, but a Stephen’s Day defeat to Southampton was enough for the Palace board to part-company with Neil Warnock.
I’ve always thought that Warnock was punching above his weight when in the Premier League. He just doesn’t seem to have what it takes to make it in the top flight. His dismal recent record with QPR and Sheffield United must have weighed on the minds of the Palace owners.
It also doesn’t help when Tony Pulis has demonstrably proved that with more of less the same group of players, a team like Palace could and should be looking higher than just Premier League consolidation. Back in the Spring, Pulis and Palace went on a 5 game winning streak, and followed that up by losing just one of their last 8 games in the league, en-route to survival. Compare that to Palace under Warnock winning just 3 game of the opening half of the season, and you can see why there is a significantly gloomier feel around the club at the moment.
The main characteristic of Palace’s great form in the second half of last season was their solid defense. Pulis had them tightly drilled, and that bedrock provided the foundations for their great escape. This season, by contrast, they have the 3rd worst defense in the league. That’s surely down to the coaching.
Sacking a manager at mid season is always a gamble, but Steve Parish is hoping that lightning can strike twice and a new coach, with better coaching techniques, can steer The Eagles back towards safety and ensuring that they will feature in next seasons Back-Post articles. Cause lets face it, that what really matters.
Key Player: Yannick Bolasie. Palace have struggled at both ends of the pitch this season, but Bolasie has been a handful for any team. His endeavor, hard working attitude coupled with his strong, direct running at defenders he is a clear fan favorite among the Palace faithful.
by Andrew Furlong