WHO EXCELLED IN FESTIVE SPELL?
Tottenham Hotspur – Yep. They’re back. Dele Alli is on fire (seven goals in four games over the festive period) and Kane looks sharp. They scored 12 goals and conceded twice. Spurs now look like Chelsea’s biggest challengers for the title.
Manchester United – Six wins on the spin in the PL, plus Zlatan and Pogba on fire. What more could United ask for? Mourinho’s defense looks mean and the game against Liverpool on Jan. 15 will be a huge test of where they’re at.
Liverpool – It could’ve been so much better for Jurgen Klopp had they not conceded two penalties at Sunderland. Still, 10 points from 12 is a great return. Liverpool firmly in the title race.
Burnley – Sean Dyche is working wonders at Burnley and has turned Turf Moor into a fortress. All seven PL wins have come at home and they had narrow away defeat at Spurs and Man City.
Arsenal – Okay, so they lost at Man City and their comeback 3-3 draw at Bournemouth felt like a defeat. Sandwiched in-between were two laboring wins against West Brom and Palace. Stuttering.
Southampton – Oh dear. Claude Puel‘s side beat Bournemouth on Dec. 19 but he gave the team time off. Then they crumbled with three-straight defeats and two red cards. Sucked into a relegation battle?
Hull City – Mike Phelan was fired after the defeat at West Brom on Jan. 2 and Marco Silva is in. Hull needs new players but doesn’t have much money to spend. Should’ve beaten Everton but same mistakes costing them points. The struggled is real at the KCOM as ownership issues continue.
Crystal Palace – Sam Allardyce is already getting booed as he drew at Watford, lost at Arsenal and lost at home to Swansea. Not ideal after Alan Pardew‘s firing as Palace sit one point above the drop zone.
Watford – Six defeats in eight PL games has Walter Mazzarri‘s side hurtling towards a relegation battle in the second half of the season. Just like last season. Buckle up, Hornets fans.
All this week at Pro Soccer Talk we’ve been rolling out our midseason awards.
[ MORE: PST’s full midseason awards ]
Here’s a full list of the categories below, plus we had some fun with our revised PL standings at the halfway point.
Enjoy scrolling through the story of the season so far…
- Revised Premier League standings after 20 games
- Grades for each PL club at midway point
- Best XI of the season so far
- Player of the season so far
- Coach of the season so far
- Who has overachieved, most to prove and who has flown under the radar
When you look at the PL table as we enter the second half of the season everything looks about right.
After the madness of last season, normality is slowly but surely resuming.
The perennial top six are back where they belong, while the likes of Leicester, West Ham and Southampton are back in midtable or worse rather than the top seven where they all finished last season.Of course, Leicester cruised to the PL title last season, finishing 10 points clear of Arsenal in one of the greatest upsets in sporting history.
Things are back to normal this season, though, as Chelsea boss Antonio Conte confirmed following the end of his teams 13-game winning streak as they lost 2-0 at Tottenham on Jan. 4 to breathe new life into the title race.
“I think the situation is very clear. There are six teams that can fight for the title or for a place in the Champions League,” Conte said. “I am sure one of these six teams will be champions.”
That’s not to say this normality is boring. Far from it.
The top six have separated themselves from the pack with sixth-place Manchester United now nine points ahead of Everton who are in seventh.
Yet, there’s a real sense that even though United is 10 points off leaders Chelsea, the surging Red Devils (Mourinho’s men have won six-straight in the PL) are part of this six-way struggle for the title and there isn’t much between each team. Star players and managers clicked through the gears and proved their worth over the festive period.
3-MAN DEFENSE ALL THE RAGE
In the whole of the 2015-16 Premier League season teams started with a three-man central defense 22 times.
After 20 games for each side in the 2016-17 campaign, three at the back has been deployed 61 times from the start.
[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]
That’s a big difference and that tactical trend owes a lot to the success of Chelsea using a 3-4-3 to dominant in recent months.
As we saw in their 2-0 defeat at White Hart Lane on Wednesday, Chelsea’s wing backs had competition as Spurs switched to a similar 3-4-2-1 formation and matched them like for like.
This system is getting the best out of attacking full backs in the PL, of which there are many, and it also allows attacking midfielders who don’t want to defend, of which there are also many, to express themselves in the final third and support a central lone striker. There are of course downsides to using this system and we saw that for Chelsea against Spurs as their midfield was overrun and the holding players of N'Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic lost the midfield battle as they were pushed out wide to deal with Spurs’ galloping wing backs.
Like every system, it has its flaws but with full backs more eager to play an attacking role this 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 trend suits many PL teams.
With Spurs, Watford, Everton and obviously Chelsea deploying this system often, expect other teams to try it out in the second half of the season as managers try to snap losing streaks, reinvigorate their players or simply try to copy Chelsea.
Conte has started something here…
Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.