We’re at the mid-way point of the season, 20 games played, Christmas Day has passed and the FA Cup third round is just around the corner. So let’s have a look at each team in the Premier League and assess how their season has gone so far.
Sunderland are Sunderland. It doesn’t seem to matter who plays for them, how often they change their manager, or style they never seem to progress any further up the table. They always loiter around the bottom half, occasionally flirting with relegation.
It’s been more of the same so far this season, in Gus Poyet’s first full season in charge. They’ve been a tough team to beat this season, but like most others around them in the table, they are finding goals hard to come by. Defensively though, they aren’t too bad. They’ve only conceded 15 goals away from home all season, and when you consider they had a nightmare, freak 8-0 thrashing at the hands of Southampton, that’s pretty solid.
Conor Wickham and Steven Fletcher just aren’t offering enough goals going forward. Reinforcements will need to be made to the frontline in January, because as the cliché goes, goals win games, and for all the industrious work the likes of Cattermole, Larson, and O’Shea are putting in around the pitch, Sunderland are going to struggle to move in the right direction without more firepower.
Star Man: Adam Johnson. Erratic and inconsistent, he pretty much sums up Sunderland; capable of turning it on and being unplayable, but also just as likely to phone in it for a run of games. Johnson has something special though, and just like Sunderland, will need to start to deliver on a more consistent basis.
Swansea started off the season as one of the form teams, winning 4 of their opening 5 games, including an opening day victory at Old Trafford. Their form has dipped off and they find themselves heading into the New Year in the bottom half of the table. Though, you would probably class them safe from being dragged into a relegation fight.
They are going to lose top striker Wilfried Bony to the African Cup of Nations for the majority of January, and how they cope with his absence will play a big role in shaping the remainder of their season.
Manager Gary Monk was a surprise replacement for Michael Laudrup, and was seen by most as short-term appointment. Monk has held his own though, and looks like he belongs in charge. It’s easy to like Monk; in an era where everyone is heavily PR trained, and conduct overly polished interviews, Monk sounds like someone speaking from the heart and saying what’s genuinely on his mind.
Star Man: Gylfi Sigurdsson. His second spell at Swansea, Gylfi is lighting up the league. It never worked out for him at Tottenham for some reason, but he is an excellent playmaker. Chips in with plenty of goals, and is always making the team tick over.
The Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the Premier League, you just never quite know what you’re going to get with Spurs. Capable of beating anyone in the league and challenging for the top 4; they are just ask likely to lose to anyone in the league and lazily meander their way through a season.
They’re a big club, with big expectations, and a team full of talented footballers, but for some reason with Spurs, it just doesn’t all quite come together on too often an occasion this season. New boss Pochettino started the season by giving the troublesome Adebayor and misfiring Soldado a clean slate, but Spurs got off to a slow start. Home defeats to the like of West Brom and Newcastle in the opening few months, coupled with heavy defeats to Liverpool and Man City, amongst frustrating draws meant Spurs couldn’t find any momentum.
That was the league though, in the Europa League and the League Cup, an academy product by the name of Harry Kane was enjoying a rich vein of form, leading to many Spurs fans calling for his inclusion in the first team of Premier League games. The fans got their wish, and Kane seized the opportunity. With Adebayor on sabbatical and Soldado confined to the bench, Kane has been leading the line with authority, with only Sergio Aguero out scoring him in all competitions this season.
Spurs have started to show some resilience over the last while that wasn’t there in the opening stages of the season. 3 away games in a row they came from behind to win the game with a last minute winner. Over Christmas, a hard fought 0-0 with Man United was followed up with a pulsating 5-3 win over Chelsea on New Years Day. Spurs are a team who regular provide their fans with false dawns, but there is an energy in this Spurs team now that wasn’t there under AVB and Sherwood, but only time will tell if they can push up a level, or repeatedly shoot themselves in the foot like only Spurs can do.
Star Man: Christian Eriksen. Spurs got quite the bargain 18 months ago when the signed the Danish play maker from Ajax for just £8 million. He showed in flashes last season what he was capable of, but he is starting to produce the goods on a more consistent basis this season. Always at the heart of the Spurs attack, Eriksen has a knack for scoring important goals at key times.
West Bromwich Albion
The most uninspiring bit of business last summer was when West Brom appointed Alan Irvine as their new Head Coach. Really good coaches don’t always make for good managers, and while Irvine seems like a really nice guy, he doesn’t strike you as the kind of person who would rally the troops and be the guy you would want to lead you into battle.
Following Crystal Palace’s lead, West Brom sacked Irvine over the Christmas period. It was a harsh move, because Irvine was always on a hiding to nothing; the managerial situation there has been a bit of a mess ever since they prematurely sacked Steve Clarke last season, and after an unusually long time, replaced him with Pepe Mel before letting him go in the summer.
It’s been confirmed that Tony Pulis will take over as manager moving into 2015. Pulis is a hot commodity after what he achieved with Palace last year, and he has a proud record of never being relegated. This season is going to be another test of his credentials, because we’re into the new year and nobody is looking cut adrift yet. There are still arguably 8 teams involved in that relegation battle, and at the moment it would be a brave man to bet on who survives.
It’s a tough season to judge relegation on, because you couldn’t pick out any team and say that they have been particularly bad. It’s the tightest I’ve seen the bottom half of the table for quite a long time, and all the teams down there are playing well and showing lots of fight, and desire to stay in the league.
Star Man: The Baggies have looked good at times, and striker Berahino started the season in electric form, but has tailed off a little since. He has electric pace, and likes to play off the shoulder of the last defender. His link up with Sessegnon has been excellent at time, and its capable of cause problems for any defense in the league.
West Ham United
In a season full of surprise packages, West Ham have been the biggest one of all. One of the pre season favorites to be the first manager sacked, Sam Allardyce has proven the doubters wrong, and has spent the season trying to stop his squad from suffering nosebleeds due to their lofty league position.
West Ham were arguably the big winners in the summer transfer market, as some astute signings from Big Sam have seen West Ham elevate their level of play, and dare I say it, started to resembled the fabled, mythical “West Ham Way” – whatever that is.
Summer acquisitions such as Sakho, Cresswell, Valencia and Amalfitano have all hit the ground running, and have been a breath of fresh air for The Hammers. Despite a sticky start to the campaign, West Ham were proving a hard team to beat, and they found a winning run of form from October to Christmas, including a famous victory over champions Man City.
1 point from the 3 Christmas games has seen a dip in form, and a drop down the table to 7th. Heading into 2015, West Ham and Big Sam would know that Champions League qualification is probably an unrealistic goal, but with the likes of Spurs, Everton and Liverpool showing patchy, inconsistent form, then maybe a push for the Europa League places is within their grasp.
Star Man: Alex Song. On loan from Barcelona, the combative midfielder has provided a steely platform for the rest of the team. West Ham will be keen to try and make the deal a permanent move, but many other teams will be monitoring his situation.
by Andrew Furlong