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.
Quantifying Man United’s season is a bit difficult; its been a good season so far when you compare it to last years disaster, but its been somewhat uninspiring when you compare it to what Man United were used to under Sir Alex Ferguson.
A significant outlay of cash saw new boss Louis van Gaal overhaul the United team, but in spite of this they got off to a slow start winning none of their opening 4 games. There have been a few lows for The Red Devils already this season, getting thumped 4-0 by MK Dons in the League Cup, and a shambolic collapse from winning 3-1 to lose 5-3 away to Leicester City.
But a corner was turned along the way, and United went on to win 6 on the bounce, and remain undefeated in their last 9 outings. They are grinding out results, and in a results based business I guess that’s all that matters, but you wouldn’t describe them as playing well either. There is a sense of “getting away with it” about United over the last month or two.
There is a lot going on at Old Trafford this season, and it takes time to gel together new players, while also trying to incorporate a new system and philosophy of play. United have been heavily ravaged with injuries this season and the new boys; Shaw, Rojo, Herrera, Blind, Di Maria and Falcao have barely ever set foot on the pitch at the same time.
A realistic title push may be out of the question for this season, but if things do start to click together for LVG’s men, then you feel like there is simply too much attacking talent on display for them to not at least secure a top 4 finish and get their ticket back into next seasons Champions League.
Star Man: David De Gea. The Spanish goalkeeper has been outstanding so far this season, putting on several ‘One Man Shows’ already. They say a top keeper can be worth 10-12 points a season, and De Gea has probably already garnered that total for United. Stand out performances week in, week out makes me think that we could see a goalkeeper be in with a realistic chance of winning the PFA Player of the Year award for the first time Premier League history.
The season started in ominous fashion for Newcastle, carrying over their dreadful form from the second half of last season, they didn’t win a league game until October. The Newcastle fans dislike for manager Alan Pardew hit new hits when the www.sackpardew.com website, and assistant manager John Carver even had a spat with the travelling away fans prior to their comprehensive 4-0 defeat at Southampton.
Winning football matches seems to be a bit like waiting for a bus, you wait for ages for one, and two turn up at the same time. When Newcastle finally did get a win under their belt, they went on a run of 5 straight league wins, which propelled them right up the table.
You can say what you like about Pardew, but the players certainly look like they are playing for him over these last couple of months. It would have been easy, and an all too often occurrence that when a manager is under pressure, the players simply down tools and wait for a fresh start under someone else – but not this Newcastle bunch. Once they got their act together, they have started to look like a formidable side; even handing Chelsea their first defeat of the season.
It looks as though the Toon Army faithful are soon going to get their way Pardew though. Crystal Palace sacking Neil Warnock has paved the way for Pardew to escape the cauldron of hate surrounding him, and head back to a club he has a particular affinity with. It must be tough for someone to live in an area where you are pretty much public enemy number one.
Pardew heading to Palace looks a done deal, and might even be confirmed by the time you read this; which leaves the question of who will replace him at Newcastle? Owner Mike Ashley is realistically looking to sell on Newcastle in favour of Rangers, so Newcastle fans should probably prepare themselves for a pretty uninspiring appointment.
Star Man: Jack Colback. Moving from Sunderland to Newcastle is a ballsy move, and Colback has seized his opportunity at playing for his boyhood club.
Queens Park Rangers
QPR are a funny old team. A squad full of rag-tag, miscellaneous Premier League stars of yesteryear having a jolly old time winding down their careers before retirement. Even their manager was publicly talking about retirement before they squeezed through the Championship play-offs and garnered promotion back to the top flight.
I think a good way of evaluating a squad is to look down through the list of players and pick out how many you wouldn’t fancy to dig in and fight when the pressure is on. And QPR have far too many of those kind of players in the squad this year. We’re at New Years Day and QPR haven’t picked up a single point away from home this season.
They do seem to be able to raise their game when the occasion asks warrants it, and the task that awaits Harry Redknapp is making those occasions happen on a more regular basis. While most will be celebrating the turning of a new year, Redknapp will be celebrating the opening of another transfer window, and he will more likely than not be looking to add even more names to his extensive squad.
Star Man: Charlie Austin. A meteoric rise through the football divisions, Charlie Austin is showing he can hang with the best and be prolific in the top flight. It’s hard not to warm to Austin and he is getting attention from all angles so far this season. There is heavy speculation that he will even receive an England call up for the next round of games, and who could argue with it?
A mass exodus of players over the summer had many people tipping them as strugglers this season. Lambert, Lallana and Lovren all moving to Liverpool, Shaw to Man United and Chambers to Arsenal, essentially gutted the first team of The Saints, and to compound that, they lost their manager Maurico Pochettino to Tottenham.
I was one of those people who thought Southampton were in for a tough season, I never viewed them as relegation candidates, but I couldn’t see how they could improve on last seasons 8th place finish. But new manager Ronald Koeman is reveling in the joys of proving everyone wrong.
Some key signings in the shape of Fraser Forster, Toby Alderweireld, Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle have merged Southampton into a real force to be reckoned with. The summer signings took no time to gel together and Southampton hit the ground running this season.
An impressive string of early results, including an 8-0 demolition of Sunderland, meant that Southampton have spent the whole season so far inside the top 4. A tough run of fixtures in December saw them lose 3 in a row; but they look to have bounced back from that blip, epitomized by their 1-1 draw with Chelsea on the 28th of December.
A New Years Day encounter with Arsenal, their primary rival for a top 4 spot, will go a long way to shaping the second half of Southampton’s season and what their ambitions and realistic goals will be. They’ve struggled in the games against other top 4 rivals, and this is a perfect opportunity to lay down a marker.
Star Man: Morgan Schneiderlin. One of the best bits of business Southampton did over the summer was holding onto Schneiderlin. Arsenal and Spurs tried their best to sign him, and then may yet be back for him January. Though in spite of their sales of other key players, Southampton drew a line in the sand when it came to Schneiderlin, and that’s a decision that is paying dividend so far.
Mark Hughes’ second season in charge of The Potters has seen him further expand on the style of play featured at The Britannia each week. Renowned for their direct, physical style, Hughes has gradually been implementing a more cultured approach to their game.
Their previous style of play isn’t the only aspect that is a thing of the past; their home form has taken a bit of a U-turn so far this season. Apparently the litmus test for any great team or individual player over the last 5 years has been; “Yeah, but can he/they do it on a wet winters night in Stoke?” It’s seemingly not that difficult a task this season.
Stoke’s form away on the road has proved more fruitful this year than their home experiences, which is an eyebrow raising statement for a team who are traditionally one of the least looked forward to away fixture. Away wins at Man City, Spurs and Everton are glossed over by home defeats to Aston Villa, Leicester and Burnley.
Stoke kick start 2015 with a New Years Day against Man United at the Britannia. United have a good record against Stoke since they were promoted in 2008, but Stoke won this fixture last year, and could view this fixture as a way of getting their home form back on track.
If Stoke can indeed sort out their home form, and return the Britannia to the fortress it previously has been, while maintaining their impressive away form, then there is no reason why cant improve on last seasons 9th place finish.
Star Man: Bojan Krkic. In one of the surprise signings of the summer, Stoke City landed the highly rated Spaniard for a little under £2 million. Admittedly, he took a little while to adjust to the Premier League and settle into his stride, but now he is proving to be an effective player for Stoke and is improving week on week. Impressive displays away to Tottenham and Everton, as well as running Arsenal ragged in a 3-2 victory have been glimpse of what Stoke fans may have in store in 2015.
by Andrew Furlong