Premier League Half Term Report - Five Observations From the Season So Far
Thursday 19 December 2013
The Premier League is about to enter the crucial Christmas period with clubs preparing for a flurry of four games in the space of 11 intense days and with plenty to play for at both end of the table, it will be interesting to see who emerges in looking good as 2014 gets underway.
During the festive season, the Premier League reaches its halfway stage and as such, here's a look at five things learnt from the season so far.
The title race is wide open
Just about every man and his dog expected an open title race this year as the Premier League ventured into the post Alex Ferguson era. However, few predicted that Arsenal and Liverpool would be leading the way at this stage, while even less would have envisioned Man Utd to be languishing down in 8th.
Arsenal, inspired by the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil, have enjoyed an impressive start to the campaign, although their lead has been narrowed to just two points following a 6-3 drubbing at Man City last time out. Gunners fans are desperate for silverware with the Emirates trophy cabinet bare since 2005 and if they can continue to thrive as they have during the first half of the campaign, then this could finally be the year that Arsene Wenger’s men get their hands on the Premier League trophy once again.
Second placed Liverpool, exhilarated by the sensational Luis Suarez, have been hammering in the goals of late, with their stunning 5-0 victory at Tottenham showing they have what it takes to go all the way this year. The aim for the Reds will be a top-four finish for the first time in five years but if Suarez stays fit then a first league title since 1990 could be on the cards.
Next in the running are most people’s favourites to win the title, Chelsea and Man City, who have had mixed starts to the season by their high standards. The Blues are yet to set the league alight since Jose Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge but, despite not consistently reaching their potential, they are crucially grinding out results, although the need to recruit a goalscorer in January is an absolute must if they are to win the title.
Meanwhile, free-scoring City have been a dominant force at home (8 wins out of 8, with a whopping 35 goals in the process) but have struggled away, with all of their four defeats coming on the road. However, Manuel Pellegrini’s men are fancied by many to find that winning formula on the road and go on to win regain the league title they last won in 2012, for which they are the current favourites at 5/4.
Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the rapid demise of Man Utd. The defending champions, under new boss David Moyes, have already lost five games, which is the same number of defeats they experienced during the whole of last season. The fear factor has all but disappeared with teams now playing with a real sense of belief against the Red Devils, highlighted by West Brom, Everton and Newcastle who have all come away from Old Trafford clutching the three points.
The fight for survival is a battle between several teams
The battle to remain in the Premier League is just as intriguing as that of the title race, with the fascinating fight for survival likely to go right down to the wire. Crystal Palace seemed destined to go straight back down to the Championship a few weeks ago but they have since been rejuvenated by the arrival of Tony Pulis, who has lifted spirits at Selhurst Park by conjuring up a number of valuable victories in the past month. Meanwhile, Sunderland - although the results may not show it - have also improved greatly under Gus Poyet, but the Black Cats will need to start converting draws into wins if they are to steer clear of the bottom three.
Fellow bottom three side, Fulham, were also forced to make a managerial change due to their woeful form and they will now look to find their true potential under Rene Meulensteen. Elsewhere, West Ham, West Brom and Cardiff have all been dragged into a relegation scrap, while the likes of Norwich, Stoke, Hull and Aston Villa are looking nervously over their shoulders and it is likely to be any three of the aforementioned 10 sides who will go down in May.
Everton, Newcastle and Southampton stamping their mark towards the top
A special mention must go to Everton, Newcastle and Southampton who have been a refreshing presence towards the top of table. Their differing brands of football have not only won admiring glances from the league’s top teams but proved just why the Premier League is the most enthralling and unpredictable league in the world.
Everton especially have developed into a real force under new boss Roberto Martinez. Many thought that it would take time for the Toffees to adjust to the new style the Spaniard requests of his players, however they have instead instinctively flourished, and in the process become a very difficult team to beat, with only City (at the Etihad) taking all three points from them in the first 16 games. The Merseysiders also have the joint best defensive record in the league, and at this stage must definitely be counted as genuine top-four contenders.
Southampton have arguably been the surprise outfit of the season. Back in November, the high-flying Saints were enjoying life in thrid, with the second best defensive record in the league. They had conceded just three goals in their opening nine games, during which they became the first team to win at Anfield, while they also came away from Old Trafford with a point. Their startling development is in large thanks to Mauricio Pochettino’s attractive brand of lung-busting high-pressing football which has worked wonders, and in the process earned the respect and admiration of all. The south coast side have experienced something of a blip in form of late, failing to win in their last five, but that is largely due to a tricky set of fixtures against the like of Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City and an in-form Newcastle and it would be no surprise to see them bounce over Christmas and in to the new year.
Meanwhile, Newcastle have been very impressive of late, winning five and drawing one of their last seven games, which has included victories to nil against Chelsea, Tottenham and Man Utd. Their recent form has propelled them up to sixth in the table and if they can continue their new found sense of belief then a top-6 finish is definitely within their grasp.
Ruthless chairmen not in a festive mood
So far this season there have been five top-flight casualties, including three already in December with Martin Jol leaving Fulham, Steve Clarke departing West Brom and Andre Villas-Boas being axed by Tottenham. This time of year is supposed to be “jolly" but three ruthless Premier League chairman have been anything but as they wish to change the fortunes of their respective sides.
Jol’s departure wasn’t surprising, Clarke’s was, while AVB’s sacking was a combination of both. Four of the bottom five clubs have made managerial changes already since August and it would be no surprise to see Sam Allardyce and Malky Mackay follow before the year is out if the fortunes of West Ham and Cardiff respectively don't improve.
Player of the season so far
There are a host of contenders for the accolade of 'player of the season' to date, with the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure all enjoying stunning starts. However, the impact that Luis Suarez has had on Liverpool since his return from suspension has been remarkable. The Uruguayan has scored a phenomenal 17 goals in 11 games, which has included a breathtaking four-goal haul against Norwich, another hat-trick against West Brom and a further four games in which he scored a brace. As a result, Suarez has already netted four more goals than any other player in the top fligh and eight more than striker-partner Daniel Sturridge who is third in the charts. With Suarez in their side the Reds have become genuine title contenders, and if he maintains his current level of form, expect Liverpool to be in the title race right up until May.