Chris Hughton‘s men have stumbled in recent weeks, and they will have to focus on putting in yet another superb defensive display if they’re going to get anything against Arsenal. Unai Emery‘s men beat Burnley last time out and they will fancy their chances of pushing into the top four over the festive period.
Below we grade each team. Let us know if you agree in the comments below…
Arsenal: B+ Unai Emery has transformed the DNA of this Arsenal team and a 22-game unbeaten run in all competitions proved he has them heading in the right direction. Defensive injuries have decimated their backline in recent weeks, but shoring up their defense remains the long-term goal. Going forward the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (the PL’s leading scorer) and Alexandre Lacazette continue to deliver, while Lucas Torreira and Mateo Guendouzi have been stars in midfield. The big issue: can Mesut Ozil fit into Emery’s 3-4-3 system? A really good start for the Spaniard in north London.
The Cherries have been hovering around the top six for most of the season and Eddie Howe has successfully taken them to the next level. Jefferson Lerma and David Brooks have been inspired signings, with the latter complementing the pace and power of Josh King, Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser perfectly. They are in the hunt for Europe.
Brighton & Hove Albion: C
A weird season so far for Chris Hughton‘s Seagulls. Big home wins against Man United, West Ham and Wolves have them in midtable, but they continue to struggle on the road and that must change if they’re going to stay clear of being sucked into the relegation zone. Glenn Murray is their main man, again, but after his injury Pascal Gross is struggling to regain his form from last season.
Awful start to the season for Burnley and Sean Dyche‘s men are deservedly in the bottom three. Yes, their run in the UEFA Europa League qualifying rounds didn’t help their small squad at the start of the season but that was a long, long time ago. After finishing seventh last season, the expectation levels at Turf Moor have changed. The only thing we can expect from Burnley in the second half of the season is an almighty scrap against being relegated. Their main issue has been a leaky defense, which is so unlike them.
Cardiff City: C+
Better than we all expected would sum things up nicely for the Bluebirds and Neil Warnock after their promotion. They are hard to beat, especially at home, and they can hit teams on the counter and cause problems from set pieces. Picking up big wins at home against teams around them has kept them out of the relegation zone, but they must start winning games on the road. A relegation dogfight coming up, and this squad will relish that challenge.
A bizarre season so far. At times, Maurizio Sarri‘s men have been unstoppable, but like Eden Hazard‘s form they flitted in and out of games and shock defeats to Wolves and Leicester underline just how far they have to go to be called genuine title contenders. A top four finish is on, which was the goal before the season, but Sarri-ball has yet to take the PL by storm. Wins against Arsenal and Man City at home proved they can outplay the best, but getting the best out of Hazard and N'Golo Kante will be key to kicking on in the second half of the season. Also, their defensive line needs to step up in games against the so-called smaller teams.
Crystal Palace: C
Average start to the season, but that big win away at Man City boosts their grade a little. Roy Hodgson‘s side dig deep in each game and are hard to beat. Wilfried Zaha‘s pace on the breaks causes big problems but having him out injured for a few spells has hit Palace hard. Scoring goals remains an issue, but maybe the shackles will come off if they can sign a new striker in January.
Signs of promise for Marco Silva, but perhaps this grade is a little harsh considering the hammering they took at the hands of Tottenham. Everton are at least going for it in games and new signings Richarlison, Lucas Digne and Andre Gomes have all been very good so far. The Toffees are still well placed to finish seventh, but Silva must sort out their defensive issues (not helped by injuries) which have hampered their progress. In fairness, defending has never been a strong point for the teams he has managed.
Bottom of the table after spending over $150 million on new players in the summer, the Cottagers are a bit of a mess. Claudio Ranieri arrived to take over from Slavisa Jokanovic, and with him came a complete 180 in terms of their playing philosophy. Fulham were lovely to watch in the early weeks of the season but were opened up easier than a tin of beans by opposition attacks. Ranieri has brought some solidity to their play, but there’s a long way to go. Relegation favorites, as things stand, and that will remain unless this squad is freshened up in January.
Huddersfield Town: D
Another favorite for the drop, as the Terriers just can’t score goals. David Wagner‘s men have had some great performances and have lost so many games narrowly, but the euphoria over promotion seems to have evaporated this season. Losing the likes of Aaron Mooy and Danny Williams through injury were big blows, and if Huddersfield are serious about staying up this season they have to bring in an experienced striker in January. Simple.
Leicester City: D
Another team who have been a real Jekyll and Hyde so far, as Claude Puel had been under intense pressure to be fired. That was before Leicester won away at Chelsea over the weekend. With the tragic situation off the pitch at Leicester, many would forgive the Foxes for letting their season peter out, but a strong second half of the campaign should see them battle for seventh and Europa League qualification. Puel’s system doesn’t really suit this Leicester squad though, and it is probably best for everyone if he moves on in the summer.
Pretty much perfect. Liverpool have got better in almost every department and especially in defense, where Alisson and Virgil Van Dijk have kept things together and they’ve let in just seven goals in their first 18 games of the season. Up top the usual suspects are firing with Mohamed Salah almost back to his best and Xherdan Shaqiri helping Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino with their workload. Fabinho has been key in recent weeks and this squad is strong and dealing with injuries well. Jurgen Klopp‘s men remain the only PL team unbeaten, and their huge clash at Man City on Jan. 3 will likely determine if the PL trophy is finally heading to Anfield. Lot of pressure for the second half of the season.
Manchester City: B+
Some funny displays mixed among sheer brilliance for Pep Guardiola, as City have now dropped further behind Liverpool in the title race after that shock defeat against Palace. Kevin De Bruyne, Benjamin Mendy and Sergio Aguero missing for large chunks of this season has hurt, but the form of Raheem Sterling and reemergence of Leroy Sane has been a plus. Keeping David Silva and Fernandinho fit is key to them getting back on top as the reigning champs are feeling the heat.
Manchester United: D
Should probably be lower than a D, but given all of their issues and Jose Mourinho being fired, the fact United still remain in sixth and are eight points off the top four points towards the quality players they possess. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s arrival as caretaker boss will help rebuild the confidence of Pogba, Rashford, Lukaku and others, as this team has woefully underperformed in the rigid defensive style Mourinho wanted them to execute. United should be challenging for the title with the squad they have, but a top four finish would be a wonderful achievement and could just land Solskjaer the job on a full-time basis.
Newcastle United: C
They are where they should be after spending little cash and Rafael Benitez working wonders. The Spaniard has said it will be a “miracle” if they stay up again, and the only way they will do that is by staying solid in defense and getting crosses into the box for Salomon Rondon to finish. Newcastle could easily get sucked into a relegation scrap if, as expected, they don’t reinforce in key areas in January. Mike Ashley’s long-awaited sale of the club still hasn’t happened and it needs to happen if the Magpies are to realize their true potential.
The only reason this isn’t a big fat F is because of the last few weeks under new manager Ralph Hasenhuttl. The Austrian took over from Mark Hughes as Saints had won just once all season and were devoid of any confidence going forward and were leaking goals galore. That is not a great combo. Hasenhuttl has galvanized this young side and given them a high-pressing style which already has the fans back on board after a few years of drifting along. Hiring the former RB Leipzig manager was a massive coup for Saints and the equation for him is quite simple: keep Danny Ings fit and Saints will pull well clear of the relegation zone.
Tottenham Hotspur: A-
Spurs have been superb in recent weeks and despite so many struggles off the pitch, Mauricio Pochettino has kept his squad focused. Six points off the top of the table, in the last 16 of the Champions League after recovering from an awful start and in the last four of the League Cup suggests this team is moving forward. All of that was done without signing a single player in the summer and having the move to their new stadium delayed several times as they’re still at Wembley. With Harry Kane getting better, Son firing on all cylinders and Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen back to their best and several squad players stepping up admirably, Pochettino’s well-oiled machine shows no signs of slowing down. Spurs are genuine title contenders, while their manager is wanted by both Man United and Real Madrid this summer. If Tottenham win a big trophy, that seems like the only way Pochettino would stay.
Watford: A Javi Gracia and Watford have proved everyone wrong in the opening half of the season and I for one hold my hand up and say I didn’t see this coming. At all. They’ve beaten Tottenham at home and pushed plenty of other big clubs all of the way as they sit in seventh and have dreams of qualifying for Europe. Gracia was handed a new long-term deal and that suggests the Hornets may buck their trend of getting rid of managers each and every season. Gerard Deulofeu and Roberto Pereyra have been sublime on the wings and the duo of Abdoulaye Doucoure and Etienne Capoue dominant in midfield, with Ben Foster rolling back the years in goal. Overall, a wonderful season so far.
West Ham United: C+ Manuel Pellegrini has definitely turned things around at West Ham, but it will still take a bit more time for the Hammers to push up the table. Four wins on the spin had them flying into the festive period, and that was based mainly on their new defensive reinforcement settling in. Fabianski, Diop and Balbuena have made a big difference and without Arnautovic, Lanzini and Yarmolenko at the other end of the pitch (the former with a small injury, the latter out for the season) Felipe Anderson, Robert Snodgrass and Javier Hernandez have stepped up. West Ham will aim to finish in the top 10 and that should easily be attainable in the second half of the season.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: B+
Right in the hunt for seventh place, Wolves have been one of the stories of the season so far. Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side have played without fear and recovered from a bit of a wobble after their stunning start to the season. Raul Jimenez, Ruben Neves, Matt Doherty and Rui Patricio have all been superb, while the fluid 3-4-3 formation has worked wonders in opening up opponents on the counter. This team has a clear identity and when they decide to take their chances they can beat anyone in the league. European qualification is possible if they can kick on in 2019.
James McArthur conceded a penalty to the hosts, and Murray banged home his effort in the 24th minute.
Brighton wanted another penalty, but ended up down a man as it awaited a corner kick when Shane Duffy head-butted Van Aanholt. Kevin Friend spotted it, and sent Duffy off the pitch.
The Seagulls’ 29th minute lead would require quite a bit of work, but first it got a boost. Substitute Balogun, only on in the wake of the red card, lashed side volley home from the partially cleared corner kick.
And if you’ll believe it, the 10-men Gulls took a 3-0 lead when Andone chased down a loose ball and worked James Tomkins before finishing with his left peg. He might still be running.
Balogun gave a goal back in the second half with a takedown of Wilfried Zaha in the box. Milivojevic converted the penalty.
Below are 20 searingly hot takes on each PL club and what we’ve learned from their opening 13 games of the season.
Arsenal: They have more grit than the last decade, Lucas Torreira is the central midfield player they’ve been missing for the last decade and Unai Emery isn’t scared to drop big names: we’re looking at you, Mesut. Top four seems genuinely achievable and that would be a remarkable first season for Emery who has already changed the philosophy of this team.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Glenn Murray is a machine and the 35-year-old seems to be actually getting younger, as his seven goals so far show. We’ve learned that Brighton remain great at home and terrible on the road.
Burnley: That they’re relegation candidates and are leaking goals like a shoddy sieve. Sean Dyche can point to the Europa League hangover, but their incredible 2017-18 campaign seems like it was a flash in the pan. The Clarets are now returning to their mean of being the plucky underdogs.
Cardiff City: Harry Arter personifies this Cardiff team and they are horrible to play against, especially at home. Neil Warnock‘s men aren’t pushovers and won’t go down without a huge fight. Plus, they’re better going forward than we previously thought. Also, Warnock remains must-see in his pre and post-match interviews.
Chelsea: Jorginho is the man their team is built around and also their kryptonite. If you can shut him down like Spurs did, you can shut down Sarri-ball. Perhaps not genuine title contenders after all, unless Eden Hazard goes on another tear. Also, figuring out the best place to play N'Golo Kante is vital as he just isn’t dominating games in a more advanced role like he was as a true defensive midfielder in the past.
Crystal Palace: Without Wilfried Zaha they may never score a goal, but even with him they don’t seem as fluid as last season. Zaha seems to be battling small injuries constantly and that is not good news for Palace. Roy Hodgson may not last the season despite his incredible turnaround in 2017-18.
Everton: Marco Silva‘s revolution is coming along quicker than we thought after a slow start and the Toffees have finally found a way to get Richarlison, Sigurdsson, Walcott and Bernard all into the team at the same time. We’ve also learned that the $55 million spent on Richarlison was a bargain. Sixth place is achievable and their defense is now stronger with the additions of Lucas Digne and Yerry Mina, plus Jordan Pickford and the resurgence of Michael Keane.
Fulham: Claudio Ranieri has the ability to save their season after Jokanovic’s gung-ho approach left them bottom of the table. We’ve already seen it from their nail-biting 3-2 win against Southampton: Fulham haven’t got the players to implement Ranieri’s defensive strategy. Expect plenty of moves in the January window to add defensive reinforcements. Going forward they’re more than fine as Aleksandar Mitrovic and Andre Schurrle are delivering the goods.
Huddersfield Town: We’ve all written them off incorrectly. A striker still hasn’t scored for David Wagner‘s side but they are more than capable of picking up points at home. A relegation scrap is on its way and the Terriers are looking forward to it.
Leicester City: Their kids are more than alright as Chilwell, Maddison and Gray are all now regulars in the starting lineup. Jamie Vardy is still plugging away but other veterans from their title-winning season are finding it tough to get minutes. They are now a solid, steady midtable team and Claude Puel should be applauded for steering the players through a tough time off the pitch.
Liverpool: That they are the real deal and the only genuine contenders to Man City for the title. That is due to their newfound defensive solidity as Joe Gomez and Virgil Van Dijk must start together each week at center back. We’ve also learned that Jurgen Klopp has tweaked his “full throttle” style slightly and they are capable of picking and choosing their moments better.
Manchester City: They may be better than last season. It will be tough for them to surpass their record 100 point tally, but across the board they’ve improved drastically. In defense the partnership between Laporte and Stones looks formidable and City’s attackers have all upped their game after Riyad Mahrez‘s arrival.
Manchester United: Top four is as good as it will get and they still don’t have a long-term plan in terms of player recruitment or a playing style. In Jose Mourinho’s third season, it’s crazy they are this far off the title contenders and some of their defeats and performances this season have been way below what should be expected. That said, the old United spirit of launching late comebacks has returned.
Newcastle United: Whatever happens, Rafael Benitez deserves the freedom of Newcastle for working for Mike Ashley given the restraints placed upon him. With little money to spend, the Magpies have hit form in recent weeks after a poor start. Rafa never stopped believing and they should pull clear of the bottom three in the next few months.
Southampton: They’re in a mess. Off the pitch former chairman Les Reed has been fired, leaving them without a figurehead and on the pitch they’ve won just once. Although they’re playing well in stages, Mark Hughes‘ defense are making basic errors and his attack are missing big chances. Not a great combination as Saints’ player recruitment has once again failed to live up to is previous high standards. Another relegation battle awaits.
Tottenham Hotspur: That Mauricio Pochettino can work miracles and improve players quickly. We all know they didn’t sign anyone over the summer, but Poch has improved Moura, Foyth and Sissoko so they could come in and help Spurs deal with injuries. They are third, have had their best-ever start to a PL season and have a chance of reaching the UCL last 16. It hasn’t been pretty at times, but Spurs have a nice habit of grinding out wins. Not quite title contenders, but closer than anybody else to Man City and Liverpool.
Watford: Their model isn’t for everyone but it works and Javi Gracia has brought a calmness to the club. Constantly chopping and changing bosses and players, Watford often start the season superbly and then falter. Gracia has them inside the top 10 and they’re genuine contenders for a Europa League spot if they can have a solid second half of the season. A robust midfield and defense has allowed Pereyra and Deulofeu to express themselves in attack.
West Ham United: We haven’t learned a lot, in all honestly. We know they have quality players but this squad is unbalanced and it is down to Marko Arnautovic and Felipe Anderson to create the goals which will get them out of trouble. Under Manuel Pellegrini they haven’t improved defensively, which will be a concern given the big bucks they’ve spent.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: We’ve learned that we can expect inconsistency from a team back in the top-flight with plenty of expectation on their shoulders. After their heavy-spending in the summer, they have lots of players still getting used to the PL. An incredible start has given way to a wobble in recent weeks. A midtable finish should be easily achievable. We’ve also learned that Matt Doherty may be one of the best right wing backs in the PL.