Every day this week we at ProSoccerTalk have been assessing how Premier League clubs have fared through the first half of the 2013-14 campaign.
Today it’s time to relay our verdict on the final five clubs: Sunderland, Swansea City, Tottenham, West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United.
Let’s get stuck in.
– Best moment: The 1-0 victory over Manchester City on November 10th. The win not only handed the Black Cats their second league victory of the season but it also served to boost their survival hopes and justify the approach of new manager, Gus Poyet.
– Worst moment: The 0-3 loss to West Bromwich Albion prompted some ridiculous sign-language antics by Paulo Di Canio to the Sunderland supporters, who had seen enough of his side’s poor form. Two days later, the Italian manager was sacked.
– Top player: Ki Sung-Yueng. Installed as the center piece in Gus Poyet’s lineup, the Swansea City loanee has regained the strong form he displayed at Celtic, scoring crucial match-winning goals against Chelsea in the League Cup and Everton in the league.
– Manager: Poyet has done an admirable job straightening out the squad following the destruction imparted by Di Canio. The Black Cats are playing an improved form of football but the true test is whether the Uruguayan gaffer can take the league’s last placed team out of the relegation zone.
– Grade: C –
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.
– Best moment: Humping Newcastle 3-0 on December 3rd.
– Worst moment: Losing to arch-rival Cardiff City 0-1 in the first South Wales derby to be played in the Premier League.
– Top player: Jonathan De Guzman. The Canadian-born, Dutch international is the fulcrum for this Swansea side. Tenacious in defense, with a great motor and the creative skills to open channels for strikers, De Guzman is one of the most underrated center midfielders in the league.
– Manager: Michael Laudrup. One of last season’s best managers, this season has been a poor one for Laudrup. The Europa League is taking a toll but Laudrup’s squad plays with little emotion and enthusiasm, which doesn’t seem to bother the Danish manager.
– Grade: C –
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.
– Best moment: Firing Andre Villas-Boas. On the pitch, however, the best moment was the 2-1 away win over Manchester United.
– Worst moment: The 0-6 away pasting by Manchester City was bad but the 0-5 home loss to Liverpool was downright embarrassing.
– Top player: Jan Vertonghen. The Belgian defender has endured an injury riddled last few weeks but in the 14 matches he did play, he was sensational. Too often deployed as a left-back to cover for other injuries, Vertonghen accepted the assignment without complaint and still made himself a nuisance to opposition. A tough, physical defender on the ball, Vertonghen is one of the best in the world at bombing forward.
– Manager: Tim Sherwood. Seems like a good bloke, although it’s questionable how long Daniel Levy will be content without a big-name manager. Sherwood came to Spurs’ rescue, relieving the club from the over-thinking Villas-Boas and instilling the players with a new found sense of freedom.
– Grade: C+
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.
– Best moment: The 2-1 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford that announced Saido Berahino to the world.
– Worst moment: The 0-1 loss to Cardiff City and the subsequent sacking of manager Steve Clarke. Never should’ve happened.
– Top player: Stephane Sessegnon. It was a major coup for the Baggies to snag Sessegnon from Sunderland and the Benin international is the creative engine that drives West Brom.
– Manager: Keith Downing. He’s done a decent job since Clarke’s unfortunate axing but he’s simply not a top-tier manager.
– Grade: C
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.
UPDATE 3:00pm ET: West Brom have hired Pepe Mel as their new head coach (Peace must’ve read the column).
– Best moment: The 3-0 drubbing of Tottenham at White Hart Lane.
– Worst moment: The 0-1 loss to Crystal Palace was rather dismal.
– Top player: Ravel Morrison. The former Manchester United man has come into his own at Upton Park, driving the midfield with his barreling runs and ability to finish off the dribble.
– Manager: It’s been a horrible season for Big Sam Allardyce and, despite the backing by West Ham’s owners, it feels only a matter of time before he’s sacked.
– Grade: D
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.