With grades decided by contributers to the Sport section, The Student has decided which clubs needs to work harder, who is failing their PE lessons, and who is top of the class in their mid-season review of the Barclay’s Premier League.
1st: Leicester (A+) – Conor Matchett
To say that the Foxes are the surprise of the season would be a huge understatement, not only did they survive by the skin of their teeth last season after a remarkable run of victories in their last 10 games under Nigel Pearson, but the appointment of the eccentric Claudio Ranieri raised more than a few eyebrows. However, with the most consistent results of the whole league, a record-breaking striker in the shape of Jamie Vardy, alongside a settled midfield and defence has meant Leicester sit pretty at the top of the Premiership table.
Riyad Mahrez, N’Golo Kante, Danny Drinkwater, and Kasper Schmeichel have all impressed, the question is a simple one, can they keep going and pull off the unthinkable?
2nd: Arsenal (B) – Matt Ford
Arsene Wenger’s side can be happy with their start to the season. At the time of writing the Gunners are just two points off top spot in what looks to be a close fight for the title. Despite only adding Petr Cech over the summer, Arsenal look every bit title contenders. However with a small squad and injuries to the likes of Francis Coquelin, depth is something that will need to be addressed in January if they are to give themselves the best chance of ending their 12-year league title drought.
Disappointing results, including a defeat to West Brom and a draw with Norwich could stunt their title charge. Arsenal still need to prove they can win the ‘big’ games. Victory over Manchester United was comprehensive as was their win at Leicester, but defeat to Chelsea coupled with draws with Liverpool and Spurs have left some familiar lingering doubts.
3rd: Man City (A) – Charles Nurick
It has been an impressive start for Manuel Pellegrini’s men so far this campaign. But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised given the known quality of their squad. Big name summer signings Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne have certainly been valuable additions, as City have found themselves perennially lurking near the top of the table.
The hunt for the quadruple is still very much alive but perhaps not for much longer. Recent slip-ups have been noticeable however, with the powder blues having victorious in just one out in their last four league games. Injuries and a fixture list stocked fuller than their owners’ wallets are partly responsible for this, but if an upturn in form is not forthcoming then Pellegrini could well begin to worry.
4th: Manchester United (B-) – Conor Matchett
It’s not been a good season for the red half of Manchester. Despite a summer which promised much at the start with the signings of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger, the last minute splurge on Anthony Martial had all the signs of a panic buy. Despite the Frenchman’s obvious talent, United’s purchase was exactly that, panic. What has followed has been some of the dullest football seen at Old Trafford in nearly 40 years, not even Moyes’ reign produced the exceptionally eye-gougingly boring football that Louis van Gaal’s men are responsible for. On top of that, Wayne Rooney is in the biggest slump of his career, the wide-men of Mata and Depay are looking lost in van Gaal’s system while Ander Herrera struggles to break through to the first team.
Despite all this, United sit only three points off the top of the league, and if Man City and Arsenal continue their current form, United have to continue to be considered title contenders. Although after an embarrassing exit from the Champions League, Louis van Gaal is now beginning to rely on borrowed time.
5th: Tottenham Hotspur (A) – Gurjot Thind
Perpetually confined to the battle for fourth place, Tottenham sit nicely just three points behind the top four. Mauricio Pochettino is now into his second season at Spurs, and given the progress made so far, it seems a coveted Champions League spot is certainly within reach for the North London club. A number of their players have suddenly hit good form. Hugo Lloris successfully guards the goal with great confidence and effortlessly continues to show all men out there how to perfectly rock the dishevelled-chic look.
Added to this is the bright, youthful sparks of Dele Ali and Eric Dier, and the prolific goal-scoring record of Harry Kane. However, Spurs seem to be dancing on a volcano; an injury to Kane will leave them redundant in attack and, as with in the past, miles away from the centre stage of Europe.
6th: Crystal Palace (A) – Matt Ford
Things are looking up in south London. Crystal Palace have come on leaps and bounds since Alan Pardew arrived and their start to the season has been impressive. The marquee summer signing of Yohan Cabaye has added a new dimension to the Palace midfield and is a signal of their intent to kick on.
The standout result for Palace has to be their 2-1 win at Anfield against Jurgen Klopp’s revitalised Liverpool. However, inconsistent home form has been an issue which is a surprise. If they can make Selhurst Park a fortress then there is no reason why Palace cannot continue their early season momentum. Pardew’s men have taken points off Manchester United, demolished lowly Newcastle and won at Chelsea too. The pace of Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha has been pivotal putting fear into the hearts of defences this season. Europa League qualification is not out of the question.
7th: West Ham United (A-) – James Gutteridge
West Ham have been far from a revelation this season but have consolidated their position as a mid-table Premiership team with the addition of some canny signings and a continuation of the unspectacular but highly effective brand of football carefully curated by previous manager Sam Allardyce. New manager Slaven Bilic has added a slightly more honed cutting edge to his team, personified by midfielder Dimitri Payet whose creative talents were essential to West Ham’s early season success.
The loss of Payet and powerful striker Diafra Sakho to injury is a definite cause for concern for the Hammers and finding appropriate replacements in the January window must surely be a priority if they wish to continue to build on their solid start.
8th: Liverpool (B) – James Gutteridge
Liverpool’s season has been a case in point for how the right manager can make all the difference to a football club. Under Brendan Rodgers Liverpool looked devoid of the organisation, vigour, enthusiasm and creativity that had taken them so close to their first Premiership title only a couple of years ago. That new supremo Jurgen Klopp has had such an effect in such a short time is testament to his extraordinary managerial skills. Klopp’s Liverpool once again look threatening and, crucially, motivated to play the kind of exciting football that the Kop demands.
There are still doubts about their defensive solidity but there is room to remedy this with appropriate signings in the January window. If Klopp can continue to implement his new style of football expect to see Liverpool challenging for a top four spot.
9th: Everton (B-) – Charles Nurick
The blue half of Merseyside has endured a sluggish start to the season, finding themselves both comfortably out of relegation danger and comfortably out of qualification for Europe. Everton are yet to really get going so far this season, mixing the occasional good performance with the occasional bad performance, and adding it all to one big old pot of average.
With eight points from their last four league matches, perhaps things are on the rise for Goodison Park: if it isn’t their form then at least Romelu Lukaku’s goal scoring statistics certainly are. Roberto Martinez does have a cup semi-final against Manchester City to look forward to, and a win there could do wonders for the second half of their season.
10th: Watford (A) – Matt Ford
For many bookmakers, Watford were favourites for relegation. However, the Hornets have made a super start to their first season back in the top flight since 2007. New head coach Quique Sanchez Flores has been able to find a system to gel the 15 summer signings and get the best out of dynamic duo Odion Ighalo and captain Troy Deeney.
A tough Christmas period awaits Watford, with four consecutive games against Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester City. Back to back wins against Aston Villa and Norwich have propelled Watford into the top half. The only concern at the moment is perhaps an over-reliance on Ighalo and Deeney for the goals with the pair scoring 14 of the club’s 17 goals in the league. They have arguably been the most impressive of the three promoted clubs so far, but will be keen to avoid any complacency as we enter the second half of the season.
11th: Stoke City (B-) – Gurjot Thind
Without doubt, Stoke are the most consistently boring side in the Premier League. Rigid in every position, and depending heavily on the flair of Bojan Krkić, Mark Hughes has certainly stamped his own style of football on the Staffordshire side. Difficult to break down and playing a physical games of attrition, they seem to have fit nicely into this system, and now sit in middle of the Premier League table.
That said, Stoke shocked the footballing world by brushing aside Manchester City and putting two well-crafted goals past the title-favourites. Reports of a blue moon and flying pigs over the Britannia Stadium were later dismissed. With pace, physicality, and above all else a burning desire to get into the box, Marko Arnautovic shone throughout and pulled the lack-lustre City defence all over the park. Far from facing relegation, this side are sure to remain in the top-flight for another season.
12th: Southampton (C) – Conor Matchett
It has been a mixed season so far for Southampton, and has followed on from their rather sluggish finish to last season. Dumped out of the Europa League at the first hurdle, with Koeman’s signings not having the same impact as last season’s after the loss of Nathaniel Clyne to Liverpool and Morgan Schneiderlin to Man Utd, the St. Mary’s club has found themselves comfortably mid-table, but nothing more.
12th after 15 games into the season will be a failure for Koeman, with the expectation after last season being a challenge for a Top 4 spot, but with the Premier League throwing curveballs every week, teams like Watford and Leicester are taking up space that Southampton filled last year. The problem in a nutshell however is a simple one, the loss against Stoke City twinned with the draws against West Brom and Aston Villa have left Southampton off the pace, but there is surely more to come.
13th: West Bromwich Albion (C) – Conor Matchett
Tony Pulis’ side have turned into the epitome of a mid-table team, with no-one really standing out in their ranks and a consistently average run of performances, it’s hard to fault Albion but it is also difficult to find any positives. The signings of Jonny Evans, James McClean and James Chester in the summer added some much needed grit to the Birmingham side, while Salomon Rondon, a £12m signing from Zenit St. Petersburg, and the retention of Saido Berahino was meant to propel the club above the relegation zone and into the top half of the table.
However with only five wins in fifteen matches and a knack of losing by just one goal, Albion sit in the dangerous position of 13th, with clubs you’d expect to improve such as Chelsea, Swansea, Newcastle and Aston Villa all below. They’ll be no time for complacency however under Pulis, and West Brom fans will be quietly content about their season so far.
14th: Chelsea (F) – Conor Matchett
Jose Mourinho’s now well-known ‘third season syndrome’ has struck Chelsea this season, and it has struck them hard with their start to the season being the worst of a defending champion the Premier League has ever seen. The Blues were in a relegation fight until very recently, floating perilously above the bottom three, but after a small upturn in results the surge back up the table looked to be on the way. However, after a demoralising and frankly embarrassing loss to Bournemouth, the first newly promoted team to win away at a defending champion’s stadium in the history of the Premier League, the questions surrounding Mourinho remain.
Unlikely to reach the Top 4, improbable to reach the Europa League, and impossible to win the title, Chelsea are in deep, deep trouble. Warring factions within the dressing room are not helping either with Cesc Fabregas and the ever entertaining Diego Costa proving difficult characters under times of hardship. With Mourinho not yet under the same pressure as he was when he left during his first spell, the Portuguese is likely to stick around for a while longer, however with rumours circulating over Stamford Bridge about the imminent departure of Eden Hazard to PSG, things will probably get worse before they get better.
15th: Swansea (E) – Charles Nurick
Ask any football fan, who isn’t a Swans supporter, about how the season of Swansea is going and their response be generally be along the lines of ‘Huh? Are they still in the Premier League?’. Such little news has come out of Wales’s only top flight club that it’s almost painful to talk about them. Just one win in their last six games has seen them slip dangerously down the table, now hovering precariously above the relegation zone.
Gary Monk may well have given his heart and soul to the club, but today that just doesn’t cut it, and his bum could be getting awfully toasty in an increasingly hot seat. Oh how they must miss the days of Michu…
16th: Norwich (D+) – Matt Ford
It has been an up and down start to life back in the Premier League. Alex Neil worked wonders to revive Norwich’s faltering campaign last season and earn promotion via Wembley. However just one win in their last 10 games is a concern dragging the Canaries into a relegation battle.
Part of the issue has been a leaky defence. Norwich have shipped 27 goals and only scored 17. It is not hard to see why they have been struggling of late. Finding themselves behind in games has plagued them. However, there are positives too. Despite not adding the faces they wanted to over the summer, there is enough Premier League experience in their squad to give them a chance of avoiding relegation. Home form will be vital as it always is but a lack of a proven goal scorer could continue to be a problem if not properly addressed in January.
17th: Bournemouth (D+) – James Gutteridge
It would be hard for any football purist to criticise the approach of Bournemouth’s young manager Eddie Howe to the challenge of Premiership survival. Howe has refused to compromise on the scintillating attacking style of football that he has fostered at Bournemouth during their rise to the Premiership. However, this has brought little success for his side and perhaps should be tempered with a more practical approach to certain aspects of their game.
That said, winger Matt Richie is one of the most exciting new talents in the Premiership and to deny him the opportunity to play his naturally flair-filled game would be a crying shame. The early return of striker Callum Wilson would be a huge boost to Bournemouth’s survival hopes but this seems unlikely after the young Englishman suffered an ACL injury in late September.
18th: Newcastle (F+) – Conor Matchett
Oh dear, Newcastle have managed it again. After last seasons failed experiment with John Carver that nearly got the club relegated, Newcastle are embroiled in another dogfight at the bottom of the table despite now being under the stewardship of Steve McLaren. The Magpies have won only three times all season, and before the impressive win over Liverpool, had only beaten Norwich and Bournemouth.
The signing of Chancel Mbemba has done nothing to improve the club’s leaky defence, and Aleksander Mitrovic has found it very difficult to translate his form from Belgium to the English Premier League. There are a couple of positives for Newcastle, Georginio Wijnaldum, the £14m signing from PSV has shown his class and deserves to be playing in a more talented squad. The big one however is simple, Newcastle are not having as poor a season as Aston Villa or Sunderland, and as long as that is the case the Toon have a chance of survival.
19th: Sunderland (E-) – Gurjot Thind
Football in the North-East is waning, and Sunderland certainly embody the decline. The club is possibly the only team in the Premier League dedicated taking their battle for survival to the very last day of the season. Having narrowly escaped the jaws of relegation last season, fans hope that new manager Sam Allardyce will be able to cure the side’s inconsistency. Take nothing away from the side, they seem to turn up against Man City and rival Newcastle, but still continue to struggle against most other sides.
The team does have talent. In Jermain Defeo, John O’Shea, Younes Kaboul and Lee Cattermole, they boasts enough experience to compete in the top flight. However, apart from Adam Johnson and the young Duncan Watmore, Sunderland lacks the flair needed to climb the table. Sat in familiar surroundings in 19th place, they will spend the rest of the season desperately chasing the magic 40 points mark.
20th: Aston Villa (F) – Conor Matchett
Oh Remi Remi, what have you gotten yourself in to? The sacking of Tim Sherwood and the arrival of the Frenchman has not improved things for Villa, and despite a point at Southampton at the weekend, the club is rooted to the bottom of the Premier League on a miserly six points. After spending £46m in the summer on new arrivals, nothing has come off for the Villans. Jordan Amavi, a £7m signing from OGC Nice was injured and out for the season almost as soon as it had started, Jordan Ayew has been the less successful of the two Ayew brothers to arrive in England, and the signings of Idrissa Gueye, Adama Traore and Jordan Veretout have yet to live up to their price-tags.
The appointment of Remi Garde was seen as an odd choice, but may fit the club that is full to the brim with French players, however, seven points from safety and almost half the season gone, Villa’s season can only be described as a catastrophe. It may finally be time that the club stops clogging up the Premier League and drops into the Championship for the first time since the beginning of the Premier League, it is certainly starting to look inevitable.
Image courtesy of Ronnie Macdonald.