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EPL news 2021, Manchester United, Liverpool FC, Chelsea, Arsenal, Leeds Utd, Man City, fixtures, report card, latest

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We’re just returning from the final international break of the year as the teams prepare to enter the busiest time of the season with the games coming thick and fast throughout the Christmas and New Year period.

A quarter of the managers in the league have already been sacked with more teetering on the brink and a January transfer window just around the corner to look forward to.

With that in mind, we’ve put together an early-season report card to see where all of the teams are currently sitting and what they need to do going into that period. And it’s better reading for some than it is for a lot of others.

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(Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)Source: AFP

ARSENAL (5th, 20 pts)

A torrid start to the season had left Arsenal breaking unwanted record after unwanted record and Mikel Arteta with four games to save his job, according to some reports. However, a kinder fixture schedule since then has allowed the Gunners’ young squad time to gel and that’s exactly what they have done. Arsenal’s tactical identity still isn’t as evident as Arteta would have hoped but the results are there and have taken them to the brink of the top four – something which seemed impossible a few months earlier.

GRADE: B+

ASTON VILLA (16th, 10 pts)

It was always going to be tough for Aston Villa this year without Jack Grealish. They’re not the first club to lose their best player for a huge amount of money and try and replace him with a number of other lower-grade stars and they won’t be the last – just look at Spurs when Gareth Bale left. Unfortunately for Dean Smith, Villa’s owners were quicker to act that maybe Arsenal or Manchester United’s have been and he paid the price for the slide in results. Now Steven Gerrard is there after an impressive managerial debut at Rangers and all eyes will be on him to see how he progresses in the Premier League.

GRADE: D

(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

BRENTFORD (14th, 12 pts)

It’s been a great start for Brentford and could have been a whole lot better had they not finished up before the international break by becoming the first and so far only team to lose to basement club Norwich. Brentford certainly look like they’ve got enough firepower to stay up this season and if they can keep this momentum going then there is no reason why they can’t be here next year. High-octane results like the thrilling 3-3 against Liverpool have been great to watch for the neutral.

GRADE: B

BRIGHTON (7th, 17 pts)

What a start Brighton have had. They have spent much of the season in or around the top four and have only dropped to seventh very recently as head coach Graham Potter’s tactics continue to push Brighton to greater heights. Just the two defeats so far this season have seen them continue to pick up plenty of points and now the target isn’t a question of avoiding relegation, it’s a question of how high can they finish?

GRADE: A

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

BURNLEY (18th, 8 pts)

The question gets asked every year, but is this the season that Burnley’s modest spending finally catches up with them and even the sternest coached defence can’t keep them up? So far it appears that way, with just eight points to their name and just the one win. They have two worse teams below them at the moment in Newcastle and Norwich, but both have new managers and will be hoping for the new-manager bounce that comes with them. What is more concerning is that there appears to be 17 better teams above them right now. Don’t rule them out, but it’s getting tougher and tougher for Burnley.

GRADE: D

CHELSEA (1st, 26 pts)

Chelsea are top of the Premier League by three points and have lost just the once in 11 Premier League games this season. Only a surprising draw against Burnley has stopped them from going into the international break five points clear. This is all without really getting Romelu Lukaku fully firing yet too. The reorganisation of the defence has been a triumph and they arguably have the most complete squad in the league. You get the feeling that while it’s a clear three-horse race, whoever finishes about Chelsea will be champions.

GRADE: A

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

CRYSTAL PALACE (10th, 15 pts)

Who could have expected this when Roy Hodgson announced his retirement last season and a plethora of long-serving players exited the club at the end of their contracts? But Patrick Vieira has done a wonderful job of gelling this new, young squad together to make Palace look as exciting a prospect as they have been for a long time. Midfielder Conor Gallagher has been a revelation, while Wilfried Zaha has stepped up another level with his leadership and Odsonne Edouard looks an exciting addition from Celtic. Crystal Palace fans can finally watch on with optimism once again.

GRADE: B+

EVERTON (11th, 15 pts)

It’s been a mixed bag for Everton so far this season. A decent start under Rafael Benitez appeared to win him over a number of fans still concerned by his Liverpool affiliation but then three consecutive defeats has seen the progress halt somewhat. The underwhelming signings of Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray have proved anything but as they have produced some excellent performances so far this season in a year where they were unable to spend as they’d like due to Financial Fair Play.

GRADE: C

(Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

LEEDS UNITED (15th, 11 pts)

Second-season syndrome hit Leeds United hard and it wasn’t until October 3rd that they finally got their first win of the season – against a struggling Watford. Their second win came against Norwich a month later and until then they were teetering just above the relegation zone. It appears teams have figured out how to combat Leeds’ all-action style of football and while the defence hasn’t improved from last season, the goals aren’t as free flowing as they were. They certainly have enough not to be troubled by relegation but it’s not been the step up Leeds fans would have hoped for after such a bright return to the big time last year.

GRADE: D

LEICESTER CITY (12th, 15 pts)

Leicester City seem to have hit that glass ceiling this year. For two consecutive years they missed out on Champions League football on the final day the season having been in the top four for most it, and now it looks like the tank is beginning to empty. Injuries have played their part and while Jamie Vardy is still finding the net consistently, they have one of the leakiest defences in the league. Brendan Rodgers has done a brilliant job but links with Manchester United might prove too much to ignore come the end of the season if they don’t see a marked improvement from here.

GRADE: D

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

LIVERPOOL (4th, 22 pts)

This looks like the Liverpool we’ve come to know under Jurgen Klopp in the Premier League again. Last season injuries ravaged them and the hangover from finally winning the title was evident but they’re certainly back at it again this year. Mohamed Salah has become arguably the best player in the world and they were going unbeaten until their last match against West Ham. No one has scored more than free-scoring Liverpool and they have one of the tightest defences in the league now Virgil van Dijk has returned, even with a current injury list of eight players all ruled out. It’s going to be a very closely run race for the title this year and Liverpool will be right in the thick of it.

GRADE: A

MANCHESTER CITY (2nd, 23 pts)

They don’t have a striker, but it still doesn’t really seem an issue for Manchester City, who are perhaps the favourites to reclaim their crown despite being three points behind Chelsea at this stage. While Liverpool thumped Manchester United for five, City could and should have scored more. The complete ease with which they swept aside and dominated their biggest rivals at their own home should strike fear into the rest of the league.

GRADE: A

(Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP)Source: AFP

MANCHESTER UNITED (6th, 17 pts)

It was a season which promised so much and has so far delivered so little. The Cristiano Ronaldo debate has been the stick used to beat Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for Manchester United’s poor performances but ultimately it’s the manager’s inability to know how to use him to compliment the rest of the squad which is the reason for their current plight. Ronaldo has probably kept him in a job longer than he deserves to be and even he can only do it for so long. It already appears like a wasted season for United and only securing Champions League football for next year – or an unlikely run in the competition itself this season – can realistically save it now. Solskjaer has done a great job in repairing the club to this point, but now the clock is ticking down on him.

GRADE: F

NEWCASTLE UNITED (19th, 5 pts)

Newcastle are now the richest club in the Premier League, but if they’re not careful they will be the richest club in the Championship. They are the only team in the league without a win this season and they’re going to get a reality check in the January transfer window when players won’t risk going to a club heading towards relegation for the promise of an extra zero at the end of their paycheck. New manager Eddie Howe has an almighty challenge on his hands and while they certainly have enough to stay up, they need to make a start of it very soon or the new owners will be the butts of the jokes at the next billionaire club meeting.

GRADE: F

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

NORWICH CITY (20th, 5 pts)

There is a glimmer of hope for Norwich with their first win of the season just before the international break and they’ve secured a coup in bringing in Dean Smith following his Villa sacking. Daniel Farke was clearly an excellent manager to get them out of the Championship but keeping them in the Premier League looked a step too far. Todd Cantwell’s lack of availability has hurt them but they’re going to need to see a serious upturn in results if they are to stay up. It looks very unlikely at this stage, especially with only five goals scored and 26 conceded (league lows and highs respectively).

GRADE: F

SOUTHAMPTON (13th, 14 pts)

There were fears for Southampton ahead of this season given how they finished the last one and the loss of two of their best players, including goalscorer Danny Ings to Aston Villa, but it’s been a case of so far so good for the Saints so far. That’s thanks in part to a run of three wins and a draw in their last four games. Draws with Manchester United and Manchester City have helped too as the Saints have proved far tougher to beat than many thought they would be. Ralph Hasenhuttl has proved his worth as coach yet again and Southampton can aim for a mid-table finish this year.

GRADE: C

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (9th, 16 pts)

After a start comprised of three 1-0 wins, including one over Manchester City, there was a touch of Jose Mourinho 2.0 around Nuno Espirito Santo but a barren run since then, with Harry Kane struggling to find any semblance of form during a run of five defeats and two wins, ultimately cost the Portuguese his job. Now Antonio Conte is in and will shake things up, starting with the players’ diets and banning Ketchup from the canteen. It won’t be an immediate fix but expect a completely different Spurs team to end the season from the one that started it in terms of mentality, grit and hunger. Chairman Daniel Levy realised he made a mistake with Nuno and quickly rectified it and Spurs will reap the rewards as a result.

GRADE: E

(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

WATFORD (17th, 10 pts)

It’s not officially a Premier League season until Watford change their manager and they got their first sacking of the season out of the way early this time, with Claudio Ranieri returning to the Premier League. It’s hard to say if too much has changed since, he started with a 5-0 defeat to Liverpool and followed it up by hitting Everton for five before settling down a bit to two 1-0 defeats. At the moment Watford are two points clear of the drop which is where they were targeting to be so are at least achieving their goal for now. A run of Manchester United, Leicester City, Chelsea and Manchester City in their next four games isn’t an ideal place to continue however.

GRADE: C

WEST HAM UNITED (3rd, 23 pts)

Third in the league, one of the best attacks, one of the best defences and one of the best managers at the helm. David Moyes has repaired his reputation following what happened at Manchester United and proved his doubters wrong by guiding the Hammers into the Champions League places and just three points off the top of the table. Michail Antonio has been outstanding up front and Declan Rice is proving himself as one of the best midfielders in the league. They’re building something special at the London Stadium and if they can bring Jesse Lingard back in from Manchester United on a permanent deal to boost their season run-in then there is every reason that West Ham could be a Champions League club by this time next year.

GRADE: A+

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (8th, 16 pts)

After so long under Nuno Espirito Santo, it was always going to take time to come to terms with a new man at the helm and a slow start of three consecutive 1-0 losses as part of a run of four defeats from the opening five games with just two goals scored was a big worry. Results have picked up since then, with just the one loss in their last six as they’ve moved into the top half of the table. Raul Jimenez’s return and link-up with new signing Hwang Hee-chan has been a big positive for Wolves and a partnership they will hope develops throughout the season.

GRADE: C

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