We’ve hit the midway point of the Premier League season and with the FA Cup break coming up, now is a good time to reflect on the first half of the campaign and dish out some grades.
Ah yes, the gradebook is open.
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From teams starting fast and floundering to others building momentum slowly, it has been a crazy first half of the 2021-22 Premier League season.
Riveting? Yes. Fun? Absolutely. Predictable? Anything but.
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With all that in mind, below I’ve dished out a grade for each of the 20 Premier League teams based on their play so far and have some analysis on each.
There has been a ton of progress at Arsenal this season and I didn’t see it coming. Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White, Martin Odegaard, Aaron Ramsdale and Albert Sambi Lokonga were the big summer additions and I thought the Gunners needed a few more new players in. But the likes of Emile Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli, Gabriel and Bukayo Saka have been superb, alongside Ramsdale, Odegaard, White and Tomiyasu all becoming regulars. After a poor start to the season Arsenal have fought back admirably and Mikel Arteta should be applauded for getting the balance between youth and experience right, while also creating a new culture at the club. On the pitch they’re fun to watch and the next step is beating some of the big boys. Arsenal are serious top four contenders in the Premier League and that is a massive step forward.
Aston Villa: C
A poor start led to Dean Smith being fired and after the end to last season, there weren’t many complaints. The decline had been a gradual one over the last 12 months and hiring Steven Gerrard gave this talented Villa squad a proper kick up the backside. New signings Danny Ings, Leon Bailey and Emiliano Buendia have taken time to settle in but John McGinn and Emiliano Martinez have been superb and Villa look like a comfortable midtable team. That is where they should be and if Gerrard can add a few key attacking players, next season they could push for a top six finish.
What an addition to the Premier League the Bees have been. The new boys are pushing for a top 10 finish (23 points from 19 games so far), have given the big boys a real run for their money at home and they have an entertaining, full-throttle style of play. Manager Thomas Frank is a breath of fresh air too and Brentford are pretty much everyone’s favorite second team. If Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo can get firing up top again a top 10 finish is not out of the question. Remarkable.
Brighton and Hove Albion: A-
Graham Potter’s side have been excellent so far this season and should be even higher in the table than ninth. The Seagulls play lovely stuff and were soaring early in the season as they edged tight games. They then hit a bumpy few months as goals dried up and they kept drawing games. Now they are back on track and pushing for European qualification. If Neal Maupay and Leandro Trossard can keep creating and scoring Brighton will easily finish in the top 10.
A very poor season so far for the Clarets. Sean Dyche’s side are struggling to score goals (even though summer signing Maxwel Cornet has been sublime) but their play is more adventurous this season. They’ve won just one of their opening 17 games and sit in the bottom three, but are just two points from safety. Is this the season Burnley finally get relegated from the Premier League?
What a weird season this has been for Thomas Tuchel and Chelsea so far. They looked like the pacesetters early on and most believed they would win the title. But then Romelu Lukaku was injured and since then he’s spoken out about being unhappy and the wheels have come off due to injuries and coughing up late goals after not putting chances away. Chelsea sit 10 points off league leaders Man City but it feels like they could mount a huge winning streak in the second half of the season. Can they get their title bid back on track?
Crystal Palace: B
Patrick Vieira’s side are a lot of fun to watch and they are comfortably above the relegation zone. That is much better than most predicted and Conor Gallagher has been sensational, while Palace could be much higher in the table had they not conceded so many late goals. The big win at Man City was the highlight and Palace are no longer a counter-attacking team as they can mix things up and keep the ball. This young squad will do well and Vieira is an underrated manager.
After such a great start under Rafael Benitez things have gone south. Badly. Injuries to Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison haven’t helped matters and they are just above the relegation battle. There have been some bright spots recently with a win against Arsenal and draw at Chelsea, but there’s isn’t much to smile about at Goodison. Benitez’s style of play isn’t great to watch and Everton’s entire squad needs an overhaul (once again), especially in defense. What a mess.
Leeds United: C-
Marcelo Bielsa’s side have too much quality to go down and injuries have hit them hard this season as they’ve had a bit of a second season slump. Being without Patrick Bamford and Kalvin Phillips for large chunks of the season has been rough and they have endured some heavy defeats. That said, they are well clear of the relegation zone and should be just fine.
Leicester City: C
A very peculiar season for the Foxes as Brendan Rodgers’ side have secured some big wins but they’ve been wildly inconsistent. Defensive injuries have hit them hard and they were knocked out of the Europa League, which was a huge shame. Jamie Vardy started off on fire but has struggled in recent weeks and they haven’t found any rhythm at all. Despite all of that they look primed to push for a top eight finish once again. Not bad, all things considered.
Jurgen Klopp had the Reds in a title fight until just before the festive period but some bad results and injuries have hit them hard at just the wrong time of the season. Liverpool will still be in the title race in the second half of the season and that is largely due to the brilliance of Mohamed Salah who has been consistently excellent and is
definitely the best player on the planet right now. Defensively there have been some teething issues and midfield injuries has disrupted their flow. When they are fit and firing on all cylinders, Liverpool can still beat anyone in the Premier League and Champions League.
Manchester City: A-
A run of 11-straight wins through November and December has once again underlined the incredible squad depth Pep Guardiola has at his disposal. There were a few poor results early in the season but that was largely due to players not being up to speed after a busy summer. Jack Grealish has struggled to settle but City are clicking through the gears and Kevin de Bruyne is back to his best. City are threatening to runaway with the title as they aim to secure a fourth Premier League crown in five seasons.
Manchester United: D-
Just so many issues to sort out. So many. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lost his job after plenty of poor defeats and United sit in seventh place in the table, four points off the top four with a game in-hand. That doesn’t sound bad but the displays under interim boss Ralf Rangnick haven’t been good and there is talk of issues behind-the-scenes with the playing squad. David de Gea has won so many points for them and they look unorganized, Bruno Fernandes Harry Maguire are both having a nightmare and they look so disjointed and unable to control games. Add in the fact that Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo have arrived and can’t seem to help consistently and this is a squad of very talented players that is underachieving massively. United were supposed to be battling for the Premier League title, not trying to sneak into the top four.
Newcastle United: F
An awful season so far. Steve Bruce was fired and Eddie Howe replaced him amid the Saudi Arabian-led takeover. One win from 19 games would usually see them cut adrift but remarkably they are just two points from safety as they enter the second half of the season. Newcastle can survive but they need to buy a new defense in January and hope Callum Wilson, Jonjo Shelvey and Allan Saint-Maximin stay fit. If all of that happens then then could just stay up. Just.
Norwich City: D-
The hugely likeable Daniel Farke was fired and Dean Smith hired and Norwich are hanging in there better than most people expected. They are three points from safety (four if you count goal difference) but don’t look like they will score enough goals to stay up. New additions are needed in January to give themselves a chance but will that actually happen? Probably not. Smith has to get the best out of Billy Gilmour, Teemu Pukki and Ozan Kabak to give themselves a chance of staying in the Premier League.
After losing Danny Ings, Ryan Bertrand and Jannik Vestergaard last summer many people believed Saints would be relegated. They’ve actually done okay. James Ward-Prowse continues to be their main man and some of the youngsters Ralph Hasenhuttl has signed are very, very good with Tino Livramento and Armando Broja excellent. If Saints can keep improving defensively and put away a few more of their chances they can push for a top 10 finish. But if they start to struggle again at the back they could be sucked into a relegation battle. Big month or so coming up.
Tottenham Hotspur: C+
Nuno Espirito Santo didn’t last long despite a great start and now Antonio Conte is in charge, there’s a whole new dimension to Spurs. They are tough to beat and are grinding out wins and that is what it is all about under Conte. Harry Kane has yet to hit his stride and the balance of this team isn’t quite there yet. That said, Spurs are in the top four battle and are two points off fourth-place Arsenal with two games in hand. You’d fancy Conte to push them into the top four and Spurs should have brought him in this summer. Now they have, watch out.
Xisco was fired after a very decent start and that was very much a Watford move. Claudio Ranieri has struggled since replacing him and although they are starting to look better defensively, it will be a relegation battle this season for the Hornets. Ranieri’s boys are very dangerous in attack as Emmanuel Dennis has been exceptional and Josh King and Ismaila Sarr (injured for the last month or so) cause problems. Watford have to shore things up at the back if they want to push away from the bottom three.
West Ham United: A-
Another sensational season for the Hammers, so far. David Moyes’ side have beaten Chelsea and Liverpool at home and are in the Europa League last 16 after a fine European campaign. Their small squad has largely stayed fit but injury issues with Michail Antonio, Kurt Zouma and Angelo Ogbonna threatened to derail their top four push. They’re still hanging in there and Declan Rice has been marvellous in midfield. The Hammers looked set for another top six finish and that would be an amazing achievement.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: A-
Did anybody see this coming? Wolves look very good under Bruno Lage as they play a more expansive style and have had some great results. Raul Jimenez is slowly getting back to his best and their 3-4-2-1 system is tough to break down. They draw a lot of games and the next step is taking more opportunities. They sit in eighth place and are seven points off the top four. Could they surge towards the Champions League spots in the second half of the season?