We’re at the mid-way point of the season, 19 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.
The blue side of Merseyside are suffering a little from second season syndrome under Roberto Martinez. Last year, the Spaniard seemed to be a breath of fresh air after a decade of stability under David Moyes. Everton were certainly more pleasing on the eye, and they made a real go of breaking into the top four, but in typical Everton style, they fell just short.
This season however, the Magician Martinez has lost a little bit of his touch. For all the plaudits that his Everton and Wigan teams have taken for their expansive, attractive football, Roberto has yet to prove he can build a solid defense. It became the cool thing to do to downplay and mock Moyes last year, but he did do a good job at Everton, and that solid defense that Martinez inherited, was all Moyes’ doing.
The core of that defense is starting to age, and Roberto is struggling to freshen it up effectively. There was also a significant outlay on Romelu Lukaku, who has struggled to match his form from last season.
At this midway point, they sit in the bottom half of the table, 12 points off 4th and only Leicester and Crystal Palace doing worse in the form guide over the last half dozen games. Pressure is starting to build on Martinez, maybe not from the boardroom – Peter Kenwright is one of the most patient chairmen you will encounter – but its building from certain sections of the media, and one or two pockets of the Everton fans. People are starting to wonder if Roberto is indeed a magician, or a bit of a myth.
Star Man: Steven Naismith. When Everton signed the combative Scot, not many eyebrows where raised, but he has exceeded most peoples expectation on how successful he would be south of the border. Has a real knack for being in the right place at the right time to score those all important goals. With Lukaku struggling for form this season, Naismith has really stepped up to the plate, when his team has needed him most.
Hull have carried on exactly were the left off from last season; terribly. Their run to the FA Cup final masked some pretty dreadful league form in the second half of last season. A total of 7 league wins in the calendar year is relegation form, and Hull currently sit in a precarious 17th place.
The manager sack race is in full swing this festive period (ha, period), and Steve Bruce must be getting hot under the collar. Hull are a classic case of a team that on paper looks too good to go down. They’re playing well, and in a lot of games this season, they have been unlucky to be on the losing end of quite a few of their games this year. But at what point does it stop being unlucky and a pattern starts to develop?
Their summer transfer activity seemed sensible at the time, with Bruce looking to tweak the odd thing here and there instead of a total overhaul. I think Bruce is a good Premier League level manager, and as I said earlier, on paper the team should have enough to try and push further up the table in the second half of the season – should everything start to click together.
Star Man: Curtis Davis. A near ever present so far this season, Davis has been solid at the rear guard for Hull this season. Hull’s issue this season has been scoring goals, not their defending, and Davis has been instrumental in keeping their defensive bedrock organized.
Why is it that the team that wins the Championship en route to promotion, is often the one who performs the worst out of the promoted teams? Leicester had a really promising start to the season; draws against top opposition like Arsenal and Everton, an away win at Stoke, a spirited defeat at Stamford Bridge and a thrilling, history making 5-3 victory over Man United.
That victory over United came on the 21st of September, and they have only managed one win since then, which was just a couple of days ago against Hull. It’s all gone oddly pear shaped for Nigel Pearson’s men.
Undoubtedly the hardest manager in the league, Pearson himself is one of the several managers who are worried about receiving a P45 over the next few weeks. During the home defeat to Liverpool, Pearson actually told a fan to “Fuck off and die” after the fan had leveled some criticism at him. To be honest, I don’t really have a problem with it; if you’re a fan who is willing to dish out the insults, you should be big enough to take a bit back. Fuck off on its own would have been better, the “and die” bit is a touch ‘rebellious teenager’, but whatever.
Star Man: Leonardo Ulloa. The big Argentinian was Leicester’s big summer signing from Brighton, and it was a bit of gamble because you just never know how a player will adapt to the top flight. Often you see promoted teams go for tried and test, Premier League proven players, but I like that Leicester took a fresh approach. 7 goals is not a bad return for a new striker, finding his feet at a club rooted to the bottom of the table. If only the rest of the team could chip in with a few goals.
All eyes where on Liverpool this season. Many people wanted to see how they would follow up last seasons near heroic exploits; were they the real deal, or a one season wonder? The evidence at this point would say the latter, but it’s not always as simple as that.
Liverpool lost their talismanic superstar Luis Suarez over the summer, and to compound that, Daniel Sturridge has barely kicked a ball all season. They have really struggled to goals this season without the two of them. Raheem Sterling seems to be suffering with the loss of the two strikers, space seems more limited for him, and defenders are able to afford more attention on him with the other significant threats being absent.
Last season, Liverpool’s defense was their Achilles heel, and unfortunately for them, they seem to have failed to address that issue. Several defensive signings were made, but other than Moreno looking very good going forward, none are looking like the answer to their problems. Lovren looks a shadow of the player he was at Southampton, and goalkeeper Mingolet looks to have had his confidence irreversibly broken.
In midfield, Steven Gerrard is looking older and slower in the deep lying role, and too many games are passing him by. It’s a sad sight, for such an iconic player, but it looks as though he should be taking on a limited appearance type role. The ever industrious Jordan Henderson has gotten lost in the shuffle, as his selfless nature has results him being shifted all around the pitch because Rodgers knows he can depend on him to do a job anywhere.
That leaves Mario Balotelli. What more can be said that hasn’t already this season? When he signed in the summer, many people thought it was a shrewd piece of business, that Rodgers could get the best out of him. I didn’t subscribe to that theory then, and I still don’t today. He is essentially Suarez’s replacement, but you couldn’t pick a player further down the opposite end of the spectrum. Last season’s high pressing style wasn’t Liverpool’s style, it was Suarez’s style and Liverpool embraced it. Suarez would run himself into the ground for the 90 minutes, every 90 minutes. He would work for the team, press and harass defenders, track back, do everything he could for the benefit of the team. Balotelli on the other hand wants to slow things down, he wont press, he wont track back, he wont make those dynamic runs, he’ll just sulk if everything isn’t set up for him to be the centre of everything. I know he was only signed in the summer, but Liverpool would be wise to get shot of him in January if the opportunity presented itself.
Star Man: Adam Lallana. He started slowly, but over the last few weeks he has really started to show his worth to the side. Lallana is a player I really like, and he is really starting to control games for Liverpool. Pulling the strings on the majority of attacks, he is starting to contribute more and more and has a hand in the majority of Liverpool’s goals and good play.
The Champions started the campaign slowly, but they did that last season too, only to come good in the business end of the season. Accusations of title winning hangovers have been hanging over the heads of this side, but they finally start to look like they have begun to hit their stride.
Getting through the group stages in the Champions League, when it looked like a lost cause seems to have given City the shot in of adrenaline their season needed. That win in Roma does seem to be something of a turning point, and they have really focusing on stepping up the defense of their Premier League crown.
Punished by Financial Fair Play during the summer, City were forced to reduce their Champions League squad, this resulted in them letting Negredo go on loan for the season, which is a decision looking more and more like it could be a potentially costly decision. We all know how good Sergio Aguero is, if he was fit every week, he would be nailed on to win the PFA award every year. But he isn’t fit every week, and his constant niggling injuries have left City looking short of options up front at times.
Champions have a way of overcoming adversity though, and City have been able to navigate a few sticky fixtures without any strikers on the pitch, largely thanks to the genius of David Silva. When you have a player as creative as Silva, I could probably score 30 a season, so it looks like City will be able to get away with it, for now at least.
Star Man: It’s the first joint star man award so far because I can’t separate Aguero and Silva. Both have had injury plagued seasons, but both have been simply scintillating when fit, and scarily have barely played together this season. If City can get these two on the pitch and firing at the same time, then there is no reason why City wont be able to retain their crown.
by Andrew Furlong