With this round of fixtures now complete, the majority of Premier League teams are now halfway through their season, and it’s time to see who’s on course to finish top of the class, and who’s got more homework to do.
As in school, a C grade classes as a pass in our book and is the minimum you’d have expected from the team at the start of the season.
Here’s how everyone is going so far…
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League position: 10th (27 points)
They call it a game of two halves and that is certainly what the first half of the season has been for Arsenal. The only result of any note up until mid-December was a victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford, which was when the Red Devils were having their own troubles. But a run of seven games without a win after that left Mikel Arteta’s job on the brink. That was until a win over Chelsea triggered an unbeaten stretch which is still going as fans are starting to see Arteta’s style rub off on the pitch. It’s not a quick fix but at the moment it does look like a fix… but there’s still plenty to go.
League position: 11th (26 points)
Aston Villa have played the fewest games of anyone this season yet and have three games to go before they reach the halfway point having suffered a later start to the season and a training ground shutdown thanks to COVID. So that has given them an almost phantom position, suggestion they are lower in the table than they really should be – because they’ve been brilliant this season. They are the most improved team from last year and would find themselves right up among the title contenders if they won their games in hand. Jack Grealish has stepped it up a level, Ollie Watkins has been an inspired signing, Emi Martinez has marshalled a solidified defence and head coach Dean Smith has got them playing some of the most attractive attacking football in the league. If they can keep it up then they could be dark horses for a European place.
League position: 17th (17 points)
Brighton have found it tough again this season. Neil Maupay falling out with the coaching staff didn’t help and Maty Ryan being dropped to the bench has left him looking for a new club. They are balancing in their now customary position of being precariously just above the relegation zone with the only saving grace being that those below them are doing far, far worse. Drawing with Liverpool and coming close to upsetting Manchester United and Spurs have shown that no team has really blown them away though, and that they are very good at keeping themselves in with a shout – no team has drawn more games – but they just need to turn some of those into wins to make sure they are safe.
League position: 16th (19 points)
It looked for a large part of the first half of the season that this could finally be the time when Sean Dyche’s magic touch of keeping Burnley in the Premier League would disappear. He’s managed to secure a few wins since — highlighted by the stunning victory away to Liverpool — but the Clarets still sit dangerously clos the relegation zone, albeit with a small buffer to those struggling below them. Like Brighton, they could well be saved by the fact the bottom three have struggled so much in the first half of the season but there is plenty to worry about still. Burnley have managed just 10 goals all season which is a real concern, even if the defence is holding firm.
League position: 8th (29 points)
Chelsea have been very average so far this season. They’ve beaten the teams you’d expect them to beat, lost to the teams you’d expect them to lose to and struggled against everyone else. The Blues are currently on a run of just one win in their last five games – a 1-0 win over 10-man Fulham – as two of the big-money signings in Timo Werner and Kai Havertz have failed to find their touch since arriving in England. Lampard has also been unable to impress any discernible style on the team and it will be interesting to see if he can survive the rest of the season. He has earned himself more leeway than most at Chelsea given his history with the club, but Roman Abramovich is not afraid to sack people who have been successful at Stamford Bridge in the past – after all, he’s sacked every manager he’s hired since buying the club. You get the feeling Lampard is on borrowed time unless he manages to shape things up.
League position: 13th (23 points)
Crystal Palace are having another Crystal Palace season – sturdy but not spectacular. They’ve already shown that they will pick up enough wins to stay up, barring a dramatic drop off in form as Roy Hodgson continues to tread water with his squad. Beating Manchester United at Old Trafford was a particular highlight of the season to date but again so much rests on the shoulders of Wilfried Zaha. He appears to have stopped pushing for an exit and is instead getting his head down and playing his best football, and Palace are benefiting from that. Expect a mid-table finish from them again.
League position: 6th (32 points)
Everton have gone from James Rodriguez-inspired shock title contenders, to overhyped midtablers failing to live up to earlier promise, to genuine dark horses for a Champions League place. Carlo Ancelotti has got the Toffees back to where they believe they belong at the top end of the table after a fantastic winning start to the season. That was halted very abruptly and all the chat about Everton stopped – and in that quiet period the resurgence happened. The main concern is what happens when injuries occur, and they will occur in a season as busy as this one. They’ve already collapse once when that happened, so will they do it again?
League position: 18th (12 points)
You feel sorry for Scott Parker, having to remain strong and resolute in his post-match press conferences, but Fulham have really struggled this season and look out of their depth. Just two wins is a worrying return at this stage of the season. But it’s not like they’ve not showed potential. Only Liverpool and Brighton have had more draws than Fulham so far and while it’s frustrating they haven’t been able to turn them into wins, it’s making sure they haven’t become losses which is what is still keeping them in touch of survival. One way or another, it could be the difference between relegation and survival.
League position: 12th (23 points)
Where do you start with Leeds? They have been wildly entertaining at times and hugely disappointing at others. They are a bit like this season’s version of Norwich last term – only better. Norwich threw everything at their attacks, committed to playing in their own style of football and left defending as an afterthought. Leeds have been a bit similar and it’s shown. Just the two draws is the joint-lowest in the Premier League so far this season, suggesting it’s a win or bust mentality. It’s a brilliant mentality to watch if you’re a neutral, but if you’re a Leeds fan you’ve got to come to terms with that for every 5-0 victory over West Brom, there’s the threat of a 6-2 loss to Manchester United just around the corner. They will likely have enough for a mid-table finish, just as long as the attack continues to fire as it has been.
League position: 3rd (38 points)
Leicester City were top of the table earlier this week, before other results were completed, and they fully deserve to be in the title race – not that they will admit that they are. This is one of the tightest title races in recent memory with the top seven club separated by no more than eight points and if Leicester can remain consistent, pick up the wins where they’re expected to and chip away points from the bigger teams then there is no reason they can’t stay here. Brendan Rodgers is a fantastic coach and he is proving it every season he remains at the King Power Stadium as his team just simply goes about their job each week. They are very much the dark horses for a second Premier League title in five years.
League position: 4th (34 points)
It would perhaps be harsh to call this season a comedown from the highs of the last campaign just yet, but there just hasn’t been anywhere near the same level of dominance from Liverpool. Of course, long-term injuries to your two centre backs is a massive setback, but the alarming drop off from Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jordan Henderson and, most concerning, the front three has allowed for one of the closest title races in years. Even their Anfield fortress was finally penetrated as Burnley ended a 1369-day unbeaten home streak on Friday (AEDT), and just one goal in the last five games is far from what you expect in a team that contains Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane. The criticism of Liverpool may have been harsh at times, but that’s what you get when you hit the sort of highs they have hit over the last two years.
League position: 2nd (38 points)
Manchester City are now the odds-on favourites to claim this season’s Premier League title according to most bookies, and while there is still set to be plenty of twists and turns remaining between now and the end of the campaign, Pep Guardiola’s side certainly look good value. After a rocky start to the season, City have just exploded into life since losing to Spurs in October, going on a run of conceding just two goals in their last 10 games, winning eight of those (including their last six). John Stones and Ruben Dias have struck up a brilliant partnership in defence, which has been the basis of their recent success with a number of players out with injury and through COVID. To be here without Sergio Aguero and not many of their forward players firing is ominous for the rest of the title contenders.
League position: 1st (40 points)
Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, Manchester United have finished the season, on average, 23 points behind the eventual title winners and have been 32 and 33 behind champions Manchester City and Liverpool respectively in the last two seasons. To be at the top of the tree at the halfway point by two points (albeit Man City have a game in hand) is a phenomenal improvement. Bruno Fernandes’ arrival has had an Eric Cantona-esque effect on performances and has brought an increase in performance all over the pitch. A title challenge was not in the plan for this year but they now find themselves at the head of it. Special praise also needs to be given to Paul Pogba and Luke Shaw, who have been excellent this season after years of criticism. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has finally got both hands on the wheel and is driving Manchester United back in the right direction.
League position: 15th (19 points)
Newcastle United are a tough one. Their fans are, and rightly so, not happy. Steve Bruce is bearing the brunt of the abuse, despite claiming a similar points return to Rafa Benitez. The problem remains in the board room and until that happens, Bruce’s hands are tied. They are seven points clear of the drop at the halfway point with a game in hand but it’s the lack of goals (just one in the last five games) and the style of play which is most concerning. As long as those currently below them continue to struggle they will be safe again, but just being safe isn’t enough for such a passionate fan base starved of success for so long. Improvement is needed but it doesn’t appear forthcoming this season.
League position: 20th (5 points)
Sheffield United may as well use what is left of this transfer window to start preparing for life in the Championship because with just five points from 19 games and already 11 points from safety, it is going to take a turnaround of epic proportions to salvage this season. It’s a big surprise given how well they did last year, holding their own in the top five for much of the season before missing out on Europe right at the end. Chris Wilder is lucky to still have his job but it’s probably because they are preparing for relegation that he still has it. The lowest-ever points total in Premier League history is Derby County’s 11… at the current rate Sheffield United are on course for just 10.
League position: 9th (29 points)
Southampton have been impressive again this season as Ralph Hasenhuttl continues to see his star rise as a Premier League manager. James Ward-Prowse has stepped up again but so much depends on the sparkling form of Danny Ings. As long as he is fit, Saints have a chance. Beating Liverpool has been an obvious high point but their form against the ‘Big Six’ as a whole has been impressive with draws against Arsenal and Chelsea and pushing Manchester City and Manchester United the whole way in closely-fought encounters. A top-half finish should be the least of what they can achieve this season and they could even be an outside shout for the Europa League.
League position: 5th (33 points)
After a big transfer window, the season started with a disappointing loss to Everton and the usual moans and groans about Jose Mourinho losing it began. But then they went on a fantastic run towards the top, with claims that Mourinho was in fact back to his best. But then there was another drop in form, and claims Mourinho had lost it again. The truth is somewhere in the middle. No team has conceded fewer goals or scored more in the first half of games than Tottenham, but it’s the second half where they seem to really struggle. If Spurs can learn to hold onto leads then they are well and truly in the mix not only for the Champions League places, but the title chat too. Then there is what to do about Gareth Bale. He’s never going to be match fit if he doesn’t get played. All Premier League fans will be hoping we can see more of him in the second half of the season.
League position: 19th (11 points)
Remarkably, West Brom are the only club to sack their manager so far this season in the Premier League and even that still seems like an unnecessary move given the little change in form or style before and after. But they’ve opted for Sam Allardyce, who has never been relegated, to save them from the mess they’ve found themselves in. Early impressions suggest that even Big Sam won’t be enough to save them after some heavy defeats. The Baggies have conceded nine more goals than any other side in the league and only Burnley and Sheffield United have scored more. There are a lot of problems and very few solutions are presenting themselves so far. It could be another case of ‘boing, boing’ for the Baggies again.
League position: 7th (32 points)
Just imagine where West Ham could be if they hadn’t have sacked David Moyes the first time, only to bring him back a year later to save them from relegation. West Ham have struck a winning formula with a settled defence, a formidable midfield partnership of Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek and the goals of Michail Antonio driving them up into seventh place, just a point behind Tottenham and eight points from the summit. Credit goes to Moyes who is showing the type of nous that earned him the Manchester United job in the first place. West Ham are one of the teams that appears to have benefited from no fans in stadiums and a top-half finish is the least they can now aim for.
League position: 14th (22 points)
It’s been a pretty poor start to the season from a usually-competitive Wolves squad which have now lost nine of their 19 games so far and languish in 14th place. Of course, the horrific injury to Raul Jimenez which left him with a fractured skull rocked the squad and left them relying on a Portuguese teenager to lead the line. They’ve built their attack around Jimenez over the last few seasons and it shows, with Adama Traore’s form dropping off as a result. They’re still a tough team to beat but the loss to bitter rivals West Brom in the Black Country derby is a real low point for this underperforming team.