Premier League Half Term Report (Part 2)
Half term has been and gone and for many students they get a first term report to show how they’ve performed so far in their new school year. We thought we’d use this incredibly tenuous link to give us an excuse to grade the clubs in the Premier League! If you have missed part one, it can be found here.
Leicester City – A*
Leicester City were 12th last year when Brendan Rodgers took over and they were a team that looked shot of confidence after the unpopular Claude Puel left. Vardy was out of the team, Maddison was not being given many minutes and frankly things were a bit of a mess. This summer saw them lose Harry Maguire but also saw them add Ayoze Perez and Youri Tielemans, whilst Çağlar Söyüncü has stepped up in Maguire’s absence. These additions have proven to be inspired. Vardy is a player reborn and Rodgers has got the balance of the team just right with Ndidi providing a shield to the experienced Jonny Evans and Söyüncü whilst Ben Chilwell and Ricardo bomb on down the flanks.
Leicester arguably look even better than they did when they won the league and have amassed more points at the same stage of the season. The worry for them is they have to ensure Vardy stays fit and can they keep hold of Maddison, Ndidi, Chilwell and Rodgers himself at the end of the season. If they can do all of that and add one or two extra bodies in January then Leicester can mount a serious title challenge.
Liverpool – A*
Liverpool have been rampant. They’ve only dropped points to Manchester United and turned around matches at the death such as the games against Leicester and Villa where they looked certain to drop points until last minute goals. They’ve negotiated the injury to Alisson and just this weekend passed their stiffest test to date by overcoming Manchester City. It looks like Liverpool’s title to lose. They’re undefeated at home in over 50 games and Klopp has got them winning ugly when they need to. Saido Mane and Mo Salah don’t appear to be showing any ill effects of a long African Cup of Nations campaign and Firmino looks back to his best. In Fabinho, Klopp has the best holding midfielder in the league. The two full backs are still two of the most creative players in the league and it would seem only injuries to the front three can stop this Liverpool express train from winning their first Premier League title.
Manchester City – B
It’s been a strange season for Manchester City. They Vincent Kompany at the end of last season and either Pep, or the City heirarchy, didn’t feel the need to replace him. Instead, over £100m was spent on Rodri and Cancelo – a DMC and a full back respectively. Pep has spent over £200m on full backs the last couple of seasons but he must have wished he’d spent some money on a centre back after Aymeric Laporte suffered a knee injury that will keep him out until the new year. Since that injury Pep has been unable to get the balance of the back four right with various combinations of Stones, Otamendi, Fernandinho and Rodri all spending time at centre half. Now vulnerable at the back, City lost to Norwich, at home to Wolves and more recently at Liverpool. They now find themselves 4th in the league and whilst it’s no more than a blip you feel that the title is already possibly out of their grasp for this season. Guardiola needs to buy a new central defender in January but will he be too stubborn to do so?
Manchester United – C
The good news for Manchester United fans is finally the club seem to have some sort of strategy when it comes to transfers. Out the door went Lukaku, Sanchez, Darmian, Fellaini, Smalling. Frozen out of the team has been Jones, Matic, Rojo (in the main). In came Maguire, James and Wan Bisakka – all young, all hungry and all desperate to do well. Solskjaer wants to play high intensity football with his team packed full of youth, energy and pace. It had all started so well and then Martial got injured and United endured a torrid 5-6 games in his absence. However, there were some bright spots with Scott McTominay now looking like a future United captain. Solksjaer has done the impossible and made Fred look a player and his promoted youth with Brandon Williams doing well. Solskjaer’s three signings have all performed well – especially the lightening quick Dan James – but they’re still a long way short of 4th. However, there’s cause for optimism as United drew with Liverpool, indeed they were unlucky not to win. They then swept Brighton aside and won well in Europe. They’re clearly crying out for a creative midfielder and a backup striker to Martial but there’s promising signs provided Solskjaer gets the time and the backing he needs.
Newcastle – C
Steve Bruce was up against it from the moment he walked in to the manager’s hotseat. Rafa Benitez was a popular manager who’d secured Newcastle a healthy league spot the last two seasons. Bruce was seen as a backwards step but there’s been signs lately he’s beginning to get it right. The Longstaff brothers in midfield performed admirably against Manchester United and both look to have bright futures. Allan Saint-Maximin has electrified the St James’ Park faithful of late and looks a real find and they’ve put together some good performances. The football, at times, is quite dour but then it was never scintillating under Benitez. Bruce must be hoping that big summer signing Joelinton can start to fire because if he can Newcastle can start looking up – something that didn’t appear possible six weeks ago.
Norwich City – D
Norwich started life in the Premier League with a kamikaze performance against Liverpool but one that endeared them to neutrals because clearly they’d decided they were going ‘to have a go’. This attitude helped get them a win against Manchester City and it was arguably the performance of the season. Pukki was unplayable and despite spending next to no money Norwich looked like they’d pose a real threat to all who came up against them. They scared Chelsea and beat Newcastle but worryingly have only taken one point from games against Burnley, Brighton, Villa, Watford and Palace and this has seen them fall to the foot of the table. Only Southampton have conceded more and they’re averaging 2.5 goals conceded per game. They’ve had injuries but they’re on a terrible run of form and games don’t get any easier. Daniel Farke needs to address it soon otherwise they could find themselves heading down which would be a great shame because the early signs were they’d be the Premier League’s great entertainers.
Sheffield United – A
What a job Chris Wilder has done. Sheffield United have the second best defence in the league in terms of goals conceded and they’ve already taken points off of Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea and were very unlucky to lose to Liverpool. Wilder’s ‘unusual’ system that involves overlapping centre backs seems to have stumped many of the Premier League’s top managers and they find themselves 5th in the league. Every player seemingly knows their job and Wilder himself has been a breath of fresh air with his candid interviews and no nonsense approach. He’s almost already secured their survival and if they continue to play the way they are playing then a top ten spot should be achievable which will have shut many a pundit up who had predicted a swift return to the Championship for the Blades.
Southampton – D-
Southampton’s season started poorly – with a 3-0 loss to Burnley – and it hasn’t really got much better. A 9-0 drubbing by Leicester was a real lowlight and they look a team totally devoid of confidence. To their credit they came back well against Manchester City (in the game after) and gave them a scare in the league only to lose in the dying minutes of the game. However, this was then followed with a disappointing home defeat to an out of form Everton and they now find themselves 2nd bottom in the league and with a mountain to climb if they want to survive. The last few seasons have been a struggle for Southampton and they’ve continued to lose all their best players (with many of them shining for Liverpool) and ultimately this, coupled with losing managers, has seen a steady slide down the table. It remains to be seen if Ralph Hasenhüttl will be given more time to arrest the downward spiral or if he’ll be replaced soon in the hope that a new manager secures a change in fortunes.
Tottenham Hotspur – D
From Champions League finalists to 14th in the league. It’s been quite the demise from Spurs and some have claimed to have seen this coming. The Champions League final spot masked a run of poor form towards the end of last season and Kieran Trippier came out and said one of the reasons for him leaving was because of a “number of behind the scenes issues.” It seems those issues have come to the fore since he’s left with players like Vertonghen, Rose and Eriksen either out of favour or badly out of form. The manager doesn’t have the same exuberance as we are used to seeing and in typical Daniel Levy style the signings that were made were made with hours of the transfer window to spare meaning a lack of pre season playing time together. All of this has created a perfect storm for Tottenham who have appeared badly out of form and tensions have been mounting. Something will have to give – either players will go or the manager will. Either way, it’s quite the fall from grace from this once exciting Spurs side.
Watford – E
Watford reached the FA Cup final under Javi Gracia but then months later relieved him of his duties and turned to the man he replaced; Quique Sanchez Flores who staggeringly was considered to be a game or two away from the sack had they not beaten Norwich recently. Flores had steadied the ship but the owners had expected even more of a bounce and being trigger happy it was rumoured he was already fighting for his job having only been appointed a few games earlier. The win at Norwich certainly helps and Watford, despite their early struggles, are now off the bottom and only three clear from safety.
Wolves – C+
It’s been an up and down season for Wolves who started slowly, possibly suffering from early Europa League duties, to more recently hitting their stride including a famous away win at Manchester City. In Europe, they’ve more than held their own and who have all but secured qualification to the next stage. They’re now undefeated in their last six in the league and are up to 8th and seemingly back in form. Raul Jiminez has shown no sign of second season syndrome and he’s been on fire at the start of this campaign. It looks to be another promising campaign for Santo’s men.