English Football – Premiership Midseason Review – A to M

With all of the Premiership clubs having played either 19 or 20 games out of 38, it’s time to check in with how each team has performed thus far and their expectations and hopes for the second half of the season. This post covers the clubs from Arsenal to Manchester United – for Newcastle to Wolverhampton Wanderers, click HERE

Arsenal

Current position: 5th – 36pts; Best result: Chelsea 3 – 5 Arsenal Oct 29th; Worst result: Blackburn 4 – 3 Arsenal Sep 17th

The 8-2 loss away to Manchester United may be considered to be the low point of the early season struggles of Arsene Wenger’s men, but that came at a time their squad was depleted through injury and straight after Samir Nasri had fled to City. In contrast, the defeat at Blackburn was

Friends reunited - Wenger and Henry

with an almost full-strength team and was down to poor defending, indeed two of Rovers’ goals were put into their own net by Arsenal defenders. A loss in the North London derby two weeks later was the catalyst for a nine game unbeaten run in the league – of which they won eight – before a narrow 1-0 reverse away to Manchester City. That good form had propelled the Gunners into 4th place prior to Monday’s defeat to Fulham – a game they had been leading with just five minutes remaining – and they now sit a point behind Chelsea in the race for a Champions League berth. The priority will be qualifying for Europe’s top club competition again next year and Arsenal will be hoping to overtake London rivals Chelsea and Tottenham in the second half of the season. Club legend Thierry Henry is back with the team, on loan from New York Red Bulls, and Arsenal will be hoping he takes some of the pressure off Robin Van Persie – who has been a goalscoring machine this year with 17 Premiership goals already. The FA Cup remains Arsene Wenger’s best hope of ending a silverware drought that goes back to 2005 – the last time they won that trophy – but his focus will be on the League and their upcoming Champions League tie with A.C. Milan. Season rating so far: 6/10

Aston Villa

Current position: 13th – 23pts; Best result: Chelsea 1 – 3 Aston Villa Dec 31st; Worst Result: Aston Villa 1 – 2 West Brom Oct 22nd

As the former manager of archrivals Birmingham City, Alex McLeish was always going to have a tough time endearing himself to the Villa faithful – his team’s form this season has certainly not helped. Having sold Ashley Young to Manchester United during the summer transfer window, the fear was that Aston Villa would struggle to create enough scoring chances – and a ratio of just 1.1 goals per game thus far reflects exactly that issue. Away from home, they have lost just twice in ten games, but have only won the same number, with six of their road trips ending in draws. With the middle of the table tightly packed, Villa sit just two points behind 9th place and will be hoping that a fit-again Darren Bent can fire them to a top half finish by the end of the season. Season rating so far: 5/10

Blackburn Rovers

Current position: 20th – 14pts; Best result: Manchester United 2 – 3 Blackburn Dec 31st; Worst Result: Blackburn 1 – 2 Bolton Dec 20th

Blackburn have managed just three wins in twenty league games, yet two of those victories have come over Arsenal, and away to Manchester United. In Yakubu, they also have the fifth highest scorer in the Premiership to this point. They have scored as many goals as 7th place Newcastle (29) and five more than 6th placed Liverpool, yet Steve Kean’s side is languishing at the foot of the table as they have been leaking goals at the back. They have conceded 44 in their 20 games and are yet to keep a clean sheet in the league. The home defeat against Bolton consigned Blackburn to the cursed bottom stop on Christmas Day, but the fixture was also marked by Rovers fans chanting for the sacking of their manager for the majority of the game. To this point, Kean survives in his post and may be given the funds to bolster his squad in the January transfer window. Strengthening the defence must be the priority and, if they can do that, plus continue to feed the Yak(ubu), avoiding relegation is a realistic possibility. Season rating so far: 2/10

Bolton Wanderers

Current position: 18th – 16pts; Best result: Bolton 5 – 0 Stoke Nov 6th; Worst result: Bolton 0 – 2 Sunderland Oct 22nd

Bolton’s only home win so far was the 5-0 thrashing of Stoke – a team that currently sit 8th in the table – the other nine games they have played at the Reebok have yielded just a solitary point, with eight defeats. In comparison, their away form has been adequate – four wins and six defeats in ten games – they have picked up just a point less on their travels than fifth place Arsenal have. However, their best central defender, Gary Cahill, looks set to join Chelsea in the January transfer window as a fee has been agreed between the two teams. Unless Owen Coyle can adequately replace him, as well as strengthening other areas of the squad, his side could find themselves in the bottom three come the end of the season. Season rating so far: 3/10

Chelsea

Current position: 4th – 37pts; Best result: Chelsea 2 – Manchester City 1 Dec 12th; Worst result: QPR 1 – 0 Chelsea Oct 23rd

Andre Villas-Boas has endured a difficult start to life as Chelsea manager – discovering that although the last man (Mourinho) to move to Stamford Bridge from Porto on the back of European triumphs (Mourinho) won the league in his first season, there was never any guarantee he would have the same Midas touch. The derby defeat away to local rivals QPR cost them more than just three points and local pride, it was also the game in which John Terry is alleged to have racially abused Anton Ferdinand in, and he now awaits a criminal case against him this month. The bright points thus far for Chelsea have been: Juan Mata, who has added creativity and flair to the attack since his move from Valencia in the summer; and Daniel Sturridge, the young striker whose excellent performances and nine league goals have helped him force his way into the starting line-up ahead of Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba. Joining Arsenal as the only English sides left in the Champions League, Chelsea will be determined to progress as far as possible in that tournament, while ensuring they finish in the top 4 to qualify again for next season. As they are 11 points behind the leaders, Manchester City, the title looks to already be beyond them, even with so much football left to be played. Season rating so far: 6/10

Everton

Current position: 11th – 24pts; Best result: Everton 2 – 1 Wolves Nov 19th; Worst result: Everton 1 – 2 Bolton Jan 4th

Everton had a torrid start to the season and by mid-November had picked up just ten points from their ten games and were languishing just a place and a point above the relegation zone. The win over Wolves, earned by a late penalty converted by Leighton Baines, was the turning point for their season. Their form since has not set the world on fire – taking fourteen points from nine games – but it has been enough to propel the Toffeemen into mid-table and away from serious relegation trouble. As always in recent years, scoring goals has been the problem for David Moyes’ side, compounded by the fact that their once prolific midfielder, Tim Cahill, has yet to find the net this season. (In fact, Cahill now finds himself below goalkeeper Tim Howard in the scoring charts, as the American found the net from his own penalty area in Everton’s most recent game against Bolton.) With no money to spend, it is unlikely Moyes will be able to improve his squad during the transfer window and will need to make do with what he has, although Landon Donovan has been brought back on loan again. Consolidating their position in mid-table, and hoping for a good run in the FA Cup is about the best that Everton fans can hope for this year. Season rating so far: 5/10

Fulham

Current position: 14th – 23pts; Best result: Fulham 2 – 1 Arsenal Jan 2nd; Worst result: Fulham 1 – 3 Everton

Former Spurs manager, Martin Jol, has seen his side take 4 points off Arsenal and earn draws away to Chelsea and at home against Manchester City – as well as beating neighbours QPR 6-0 at Craven Cottage. However, the performance overall this season has been indifferent and Fulham are lower down the table than they would expect to be at this stage of the season. If they can avoid selling Bobby Zamora before the transfer window closes on January 31st, retaining their Premiership status should not be an issue for Fulham. They have a strong midfield, anchored by veterans Danny Murphy and Clint Dempsey and enhanced by the creativity of players like Duff and Frei. With Zamora and Andrew Johnson up front, scoring goals should not be a problem, yet they have managed just six goals away from home all season. One potential issue for Fulham is that their competitive fixtures began on June 30th, with Europa League qualifying – their “reward” for winning a Fair Play place last year – so they could fade fast in the latter stages of the season. Jol will be hoping to steer the team to a mid-table finish and then look to consolidate in the summer in order to improve upon that next year. Season rating so far: 5/10

Liverpool

Current position: 6th – 34pts; Best result: Chelsea 1 – 2 Liverpool Nov 20th; Worst result: Liverpool 1 – 1 Blackburn Dec 26th

Liverpool are unbeaten at Anfield in the league this season, have won as many games away from home as Manchester City, yet sit outside the European places in sixth. The primary cause for this has been their inability to convert draws into wins when playing in front of their own crowd – getting a point at home against Manchester City and Manchester United is good, but Sunderland, Norwich, Swansea and Blackburn have also left Liverpool with a share of the spoils. For a team with Champions League aspirations, the failure to win those games, as well as an away stalemate against Wigan, is much more damaging to their chances of finishing fourth than the 4-0 loss at Tottenham or 3-0 defeat away to Manchester City. With legend Kenny Dalglish as manager, the Anfield faithful will remain patient – unlike the treatment Roy Hodgson received last season. Nevertheless, the owners – John Henry and NESN, who just cleared house at the Boston Red Sox after their failure to make the playoffs – will demand qualification to Europe’s top club competition sooner rather than later. With Luis Suarez banned for eight games after racially abusing Patrice Evra – a suspension which Liverpool have wisely dropped their appeal against – the Dalglish will be relying on Andy Carroll to start showing the form that persuaded them to give Newcastle £35m for him last January. Season rating so far: 6/10

Manchester City

Current position: 1st – 48pts; Best result: Man United 1 – 6 Man City Oct 23rd; Worst result: Sunderland 1 – 0 Man City Jan 1st

Manchester City’s quest for their third ever league title, and first since 1968, could hardly have had a better start. Beating United 6-1 on their own turf will be the sweetest moment for the City fans, but their success has been built upon formidable home form. Their record at the Etihad Stadium

Maradona

this season reads like they have been playing FIFA on too easy a setting: Played 10; Won 10; Scored 31; Conceded 4. What a difference billionaire owners from an oil-rich state can make! After last season’s pragmatic approach to finish third, this year at least Mancini has unleashed his side’s full potential and City have been entertaining to watch in many games. Daniel Silva has been probably the best player in the Premiership thus far, but the addition of the Argentinian striker, Sergio Aguero, has been the real difference. Followers of the Spanish game knew that Aguero would be a success from his performances for Atletico Madrid, but 14 goals already this season suggests he has adapted to the English league more quickly than anyone could have expected. Although being knocked out of the Champions League at the group stages will have been a disappointment to a club with the riches of City, being able to concentrate on the Premiership, while playing a reserve side in the Europa League, will improve their title chances. Two recent away defeats (to Chelsea and Sunderland) will be of concern to Mancini, plus they have yet to prove they can maintain their form under the pressures of a Championship run-in, but the strength-in-depth of the squad makes them big favourites to take United’s crown in May. Season rating so far: 9.5/10

Manchester United

Current position: 2nd – 45pts; Best result: Man United 8 – 2 Arsenal Aug 28th; Worst result: Man Utd 2 – 3 Blackburn Dec 31st

Although the hammering by City at Old Trafford is likely to be the defeat that lives longest in the nightmares of Sir Alex Ferguson and the United fans, the losses in their last two games – against Newcastle and Blackburn – may end up being more costly. At a time when their cross-city rivals looked to be wobbling a small amount, Manchester United had the opportunity to move into first place heading into the new year. Having failed to do this, they’ve now dropped 3 points behind City and could be caught by third place Tottenham next week, should Spurs win their game in hand at home to Everton. Their attack has been feast or famine this year: scoring 8 against Arsenal; put 5 past Bolton, Fulham and Wigan; 4 against Wolves; and 3 on Tottenham and Chelsea; yet managed just a single goal in 7 straight league games. Poor performances in the Champions League – particularly against Basle, from whom they took only one point – saw them exit in the group stages for just the third time in the modern format of the European Cup. Like City, United are unlikely to put out a full-strength side in the Europa League and will be focusing on the Premiership for the rest of the season. Ferguson’s main aim will be to prevent their “noisy-neighbours” usurping them as Champions – expect mind-games, pressure on referees and a thoroughly entertaining title race for the last 18 games. Season rating so far: 8/10

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