And here’s the final grade book, with out verdict on each team at the midway point of the season.
Do you agree?
If Everton are to capture a spot in the Top 4 they’ll need to improve their depth by adding a player or two in the January transfer window (and not selling anyone) avoiding slip-ups against clubs they should defeat (e.g. Sunderland). Roberto Martinez has worked wonders at Goodison.
The league favorites have settled into a nice shape but there are still questions in defense and in net – Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart are the keys to this club’s success in the second half of the season.
Almost top marks for the Gunners who led the way by eight points in November. That lead at the top is down to just one point now but players returning from injury is good news.
No one expected this output from Hull City. They play the game the right way and, as Liverpool found out, will punish anyone who’s looking for a walk in the park. Would be a huge boost if they could find the money for a striker in January.
The goal of finishing in the Top 4 will come only if Liverpool learn to avoid lapses like the one at Hull City while also knocking off at least one of top clubs in the league.
Chelsea have plodded along nicely, beaten the sides they should have and frustrated the top teams with tight defensive displays. The Blues are perfectly poised for a title push in the second half of the season.
The Saints have been the surprise package for much of this season and have a talented crop of teenagers who are impressing. Despite a recent dip in form, the future is bright on England’s South Coast.
Newcastle have exceeded many people’s expectations this season, as they sit in the top eight and are firing on all cylinders. Last season’s relegation battle was a blip. Can they finish in the top six?
A good passing grade, as improvements are there for all to see. Goals are still a problem so if they can stay solid and forward starts to fire, Stoke will soar up the standings.
It’s never easy to lose your best player (Gareth Bale) and bring in a whole litter of superstars. Gelling could take the entire season but Sherwood’s easy going demeanor is the best way to ensure success.
Norwich need to step it up in the second half, as some massive defeats have shown their weaknesses. Scoring goals has again been a problem, will that led to Norwich being sucked into another relegation scrap?
When things are clicking, West Brom can be a very tricky side to play, as Arsenal, Everton and United have all found out. Sacking Clarke was the wrong move and, at just four points above the drop, it’s time for chairman Jeremy Peace to hire a permanent manager.
Still plenty of work to do at Villa, but some massive wins here and there have shown promise. But there’s been plenty of dismal displays, especially going forward. Given all that, their league position isn’t bad.
Nobody expected great things from Palace but they’ve given themselves a fighting chance of staying up with four wins since November. Some shrewd signings in the transfer window could see them just beat the drop.
For a squad noted to be one of the best pure footballing sides in the Premier League, Swansea have been vanilla at best this season. The Europe League is leaving its mark so much that, if the Swans remain in that tournament, don’t be surprised if they slip to the bottom of the Premier League table.
United’s aging team has been exposed terribly and without Rooney and RVP (who’ve both been out injured) it’s been a torrid start for Moyes. In seventh and 11 points off the pace, United need a massive second half of the season to just get into the top four.
Yes, Sunderland is in last place but they’ve had to undergo a major transformation since Di Canio’s sacking. Poyet and the players have handled it admirably, defeated some quality opponents (City, Everton) and if calls/injuries start going their way, could be the next club to make The Great Escape.
Cardiff were so strong and solid for most of the opening weeks but as the season wore on Mackay’s personal feud with Tan took over. A decent squad who can dazzle on their day, new boss Solksjaer must buy big in January.
But for the injuries, the grade would be an F. West Ham is too big of a club to be playing such poor, leaderless football. Deservedly sit second from bottom, three points adrift from safety. Will take a special effort for this club to stay in the top flight.
Too much wasted talent in this side, they should be nowhere near the relegation zone. Leadership needs to step forward in the wake of Brede Hangeland‘s injuries.
Top 5 Premier League Story Lines ahead of Matchday 22
Down in the relegation zone, however, is another story. Tough matches await the four lowest sides, with three sides on the road and a fourth hosting Everton.
All that and more, below.
Make or break at the Etihad Stadium?
Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC
If 10 points back of Chelsea isn’t enough for Man City boss Pep Guardiola to concede the PL title — and it shouldn’t be — 13 could do the trick. And Spurs’ seven point gap would feel dire should it dip to 10.
With the Blues expected to handle Hull City at Stamford Bridge, both Spurs and City are facing extreme damage to their title hopes when the London club looks to complete a season sweep of Guardiola’s side.
Time has proven that electric talent doesn’t mandate instant success in the Premier League, but many eyes will be trained on Gabriel Jesusshould he debut for City. The Brazilian wonderkid has already made an impact in the Olympics, World Cup qualifying, and the Brazilian top-flight. The PL is next on his list.
Relegation candidates sweating bullets
Liverpool vs. Swansea City — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN
Crystal Palace vs. Everton — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on CNBC
West Brom vs. Sunderland — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League ExtraTime
Chelsea vs. Hull City — Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN
It’s getting to be that time of year, when being more than three points above the drop zone feels like the freshest possible air.
No one in this batch of four knows that feeling well at all.
Crystal Palace and Hull City are level with 16 points, one ahead of Sunderland and Swansea City. Only the Black Cats will truly fancy their chances at a win this weekend.
That said, Hull supporters will feel confidence anew after a couple of transfer buys and a healthy Abel Hernandez joined new manager Marco Silva at the KC. A win over Bournemouth will buoy their confidence, but a trip to Chelsea is a tall task.
Right about now Palace fans are putting their hopes in goal differential and weak fellow relegation candidates rather than “never been dropped” Sam Allardyce. Their goal-leaking side welcomes an Everton side that hung four on Man City.
Sunderland simply needs to find a way to break down Tony Pulis‘ Baggies at the Hawthorns. Given the chance to put heat on the three other candidates, a win would serve much more than a few moments outside the drop zone.
Gunners need to avoid pitfall
Arsenal vs. Burnley — Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN
The first of two home matches against middle or lower table sides, Arsenal needs all three points against Sean Dyche‘s cagey and well-oiled Clarets. They sit in the top half of the table, and would relish added a big-name to its list of defeated PL sides.
Simply put, Arsenal’s title hopes rest as much on the points it needs to claim as massive encounters like Feb. 4’s trip to Chelsea.
Mourinho’s Red Devils go for 17
Stoke City vs. Manchester United— Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN
It’s been 16 matches since Jose Mourinho has tasted defeat as Manchester United boss, and Stoke’s recent dates against top sides haven’t gone well. All three were on the road, but the Potters have fallen to Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal by a combined score of 11-4. Does this make it fait accompli? No, but like Arsenal vs. Burnley, you like to think a true title fighter finds a way to three points.
Merseyside encounter holds significant weight
Southampton vs. Leicester City — Sunday, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN
Perhaps Saints and Leicester supporters figured their sides might struggle to repeat last season’s heroics, with European competition on the docket and key pieces leaving this offseason from either the dugout or the playing field. But 13th and 15th? Unlikely. Leicester can take another step toward righting the ship by heaping misery on the home side, who sits three points clear of the Foxes and eight ahead of the drop zone.