English Football – Premiership Midseason Review – N-W

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 Newcastle to Wolverhampton Wanderers – for Arsenal to Manchester United, click HERE

Newcastle United

Current position: 7th – 33pts; Best result: Newcastle 3 – 0 Man Utd Jan 4th; Worst result: Newcastle 2 – 3 West Brom Dec 21st

Newcastle had a fantastic start to the season – in fact they were unbeaten, until I wrote this piece praising the impact of Alan Pardew on the team. Since then, they have taken just 8 points from 9 games – although incredibly four of those points were gained at the expense of Manchester United. An injury to Steven Taylor was a major cause for the decline in form, shaking up a previously stable back four unit, but they had also

Demba Ba - worth every penny - and a lot more

enjoyed an easier run of games to start the season, than they have had in recent weeks. Demba Ba has proven to be a fantastic signing – and one that did not cost anything as he arrived on a free transfer – the Senegalese striker already has 15 goals to his name. Unfortunately for Newcastle, he will be missing several games later this month as he will be representing his country at the Africa Cup of Nations – a big loss for Pardew’s side. While they are highly unlikely to break into the top four this season, there is an outside chance they could qualify for Europe next year if more places go to the league (which happens if teams already qualified win the Carling Cup and FA Cup, plus the losing finalists of the FA Cup – it’s complicated but if things go their way, 7th place can mean Europa League football). Season rating so far: 8/10

Norwich City

Current position: 9th – 25pts; Best result: Norwich 4 – 2 Newcastle Dec 10th; Norwich 0 – 1 West Brom Sep 11th

Norwich have been dubbed this season’s Blackpool by many pundits – hardly a moniker they would want given that the Tangerines ended up being relegated by the end of the year. However, the Carrow Road club have enjoyed a better-than-expected start to their life back in the Premiership, and have won over many fans with their attacking football. Solid performances both at home and away have taken them up to ninth in the table, 9 points clear of the relegation zone – impressive stuff for a side that was in the third tier of English football the season before last. It is important for the players and fans to recognise the primary goal is still survival, despite their lofty position in the table, and the fabled total of 40 points (traditionally enough to keep a team in the Premiership, but don’t tell that to West Ham fans) must be reached before they begin to aspire to greater things. In Paul Lambert, Norwich have one of the most astute managers in the Premiership and it is vital they do not allow him to move to another club, should a job offer be made to him. Season rating so far: 7/10

QPR

Current position: 17th – 17pts; Best result: QPR 1 – 0 Chelsea Oct 23rd; Worst result: Fulham 6 – 0 QPR Oct 2nd

Although promoted as Champions, QPR have been the newcomers to struggle most with life in the Premiership. The win over Chelsea is their only home win of the campaign so far and they been scoring at a rate of less than a goal a game. Last season’s player of the season in the Championship, Adel Taarabt, has not been able to recreate his sparkling form on the big stage (plus, he will now be going to the Africa Cup of

Joey Barton - a thinking man's Lee Bowyer

Nations with his native Morocco) and no other players have filled the gap. Twitter’s Joey Barton joined from Newcastle in the summer and has strengthened their midfield, but without a significant threat up front they will continue to struggle. Helguson has managed a respectable seven league goals, but nobody else in the squad has more than two. With the bottom five in danger of becoming adrift from the rest of the table – the gap from 15th to 16th place is already 5 points – QPR could find themselves in a dogfight trying to avoid being one of the three teams in that group to be demoted. Nevertheless, Neil Warnock, Rangers’ manager, is not a man to shy away from a fight and he motivates his sides best when their backs are up against the wall. **NOTE – JAN 8th – Warnock did not shy away from the fight, but the board decided he wasn’t the man for the job as the sacked him.  Season rating so far: 4/10

Stoke City

Current position: 8th – 29 pts; Best result: Stoke 2 – 1 Tottenham Dec 11th; Worst result: Bolton 5 – 0 Stoke Nov 6th

Although sitting comfortably in mid-table, on their little own island in 8th, four points below Newcastle and the same number above Norwich – Stoke have struggled to adjust to the added demands of European football alongside their league campaign. On Sundays after Thursday Europa League fixtures, they have lost 4-0 to Sunderland, 2-0 against Swansea and 5-0 at Bolton – all games they would have expected to be competitive in – as well as a 3-1 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates. They have won their last two after Continental commitments, against Everton and Wolves, and so will hope that their progress in Europe will not hinder their Premiership performances anymore. It was an oddity of the fixture list that they have been forced to play away games after all of their Europa League group matches, making the quick turn-around even tougher for Tony Pulis’ men. Peter Crouch, brought in during the summer from Tottenham, has scored 8 goals in all competitions, with Jonathan Walters (7) and Kenwyne Jones (6) just behind. Strength in depth will be important across the squad as they have already played 31 competitive fixtures this season between the Premiership, League Cup and Europa League. At the Britannia Stadium they have only lost twice, but away from home they have scored just 8 goals – although somehow have still managed to pick up 4 victories on their travels. With no danger of a relegation battle again this year, Pulis can focus his squad on further progressing in Europe and in the FA Cup – a competition they reached the final in last season. Season rating so far: 7/10

Sunderland

Current position: 10th – 24 pts; Best result: Sunderland 1 – 0 Man City Jan 1st; Worst result: Sunderland 1 – 2 Wigan Nov 26th

There is no doubting that replacing Steve Bruce as manager with Martin O’Neill was a wise choice for the Sunderland board – the team has gone from fourth bottom in the league to the top half since the Northern Irishman took charge. Appointed before the loss to Wolves at the beginning of December, O’Neill did not take over first-team affairs until the following week’s game against Blackburn. Their record since then has been: Played 6; Won 4; Drawn 1; Lost 1 – their sole defeat being a narrow 1-0 loss away to 3rd place Tottenham. Now that he will be able to buy new players in the January transfer window, O’Neill will be looking to improve the squad he inherited from Steve Bruce and put his stamp on the team. The defensive performance against Manchester City on New Year’s Day – a game which they ended up winning thanks to a strike by their young South Korean international, Ji-Dong-Won, in the 5th minute of injury time – showed a new steely mentality has already been introduced to Sunderland, and the new boss should keep them safely in the Premiership for another season. Season rating so far: 5/10 – under Steve Bruce, 2/10

Swansea City

Current position: 12th – 23pts; Best result: Liverpool 0 – 0 Nov 5th; Worst result: Blackburn 4 – 2 Swansea Dec 3rd

Swansea’s relatively impressive start to their first season in the Premiership has been built upon making the Liberty Stadium a fortress – only Manchester United have come back from Wales with a victory thus far. They are very well organised at the back and have only conceded four goals at home – the joint lowest in the Premiership with Manchester City. That solidity in defence has gone some way to helping them compensate for a lack of firepower, as they have only scored 20 goals in the same number of games. Their most recent match, a 2-0 victory at Aston Villa, was their first away win of the season, but they did earn an impressive draw at Anfield in November. Northern Ireland youngster Rory Donnelly is set to join in the January transfer window and manager Brendan Rodgers will be hoping he can provide the goals to ensure Swansea do not get drawn into the relegation battle. If they can maintain their home form and pick up a few more points outside of Wales, they have a good chance of retaining their Premiership status for another season at least. Season rating so far: 6/10

Tottenham Hotspur

Current position: 3rd – 42pts; Best result: Tottenham 2 – 1 Arsenal Oct 2nd; Worst result: Tottenham 1 – 1 Chelsea…just kidding Stoke 2 – 1 Tottenham Dec 11th

A season that started out so negatively has become Tottenham’s best campaign to date in the Premiership era. After their first game of the season, at home to Everton, had to be postponed due to rioting in the area, Spurs were convincingly beaten by both of the Manchester teams (3-0 away to

Academy Award Nominee - Gareth Bale

United; 5-1 home to City). Following those results, Redknapp brought in striker Emmanuel Adebayor, on loan from City, and defensive-midfielder Scott Parker, who signed from West Ham. These two players proved to be the missing pieces in the Tottenham squad and they went on a run of ten wins and a draw in their next eleven league games. Adebayor’s presence up front helped all those around him, especially Rafael Van der Vaart who scored in five consecutive Premiership fixtures. The biggest addition, though, was Parker, who has brought steel to the midfield, giving more attacking freedom to Luka Modric in the process. Parker’s work rate has also been contagious and all the Spurs players seem to be putting in an extra effort to match his tireless fighting for the cause. In Gareth Bale, Tottenham have one of the best players in European football, let alone the Premiership, and he has continued the progress he was showing last season. However, I have one gripe with him: Bale needs to stop rolling around on the floor every time he is fouled. Admittedly, he is targeted by the opposition a lot, but the Welshman looks as though he has suffered a serious injury every time he goes down, but is then up and running about again minutes later. He has the talent and the ability to be one of the best players around, there is no need for the theatrics and it has never been the Tottenham way to try to unfairly gain an advantage – it is about outplaying the opposition fairly and squarely. Get up, take the free-kick, and get on with the game – let the referee deal with the discipline. Rant over. There is a big threat looming over the success of Spurs this season – manager Harry Redknapp faces a court case, starting on January 23rd, on two counts of tax evasion. The day before, Tottenham travel to Manchester City, a difficult enough game without having their coach distracted by criminal proceedings – but he has to stand trial for the charges against him. If he is found not-guilty, or at least avoids jail time, Redknapp will be hoping that the second half of the season goes as well as the first. Being considered title-contenders is not unreasonable, given their position and proximity to the leaders, but Tottenham’s main aim will be to end up as London’s top club at long last – finally finishing above Arsenal and Chelsea again. Season rating so far: 9/10

West Bromwich Albion

Current position: 15th – 22pts; Best result: Newcastle 2 – 3 West Brom Dec 21st; Worst result: West Brom 1 – 2 Wigan Dec 10th

Roy Hodgson’s side have been much better away from home than at the Hawthorns so far this year – having won just twice in ten games in front of their own fans, scoring just seven goals in those matches. As the side closest to the bottom five, West Brom will want to pick up points as quickly as possible to try to avoid making it a bottom six, otherwise their five point advantage over Wolves in 16th could disappear quickly. There were signs of improvement after the defeat to Wigan in December, as they won away at Blackburn and Newcastle and then held Manchester City to a draw at home, but West Brom have lost their last two – against Everton and Tottenham. Between now and the end of February, Hodgson’s men have a run of fixtures against teams around them in the league, giving them an opportunity to propel themselves up a tightly packed middle part of the table (they are only three points below 9th place Norwich). Neither of their main two strikers – Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie – are likely to get 20 goals a season, so pragmatic displays, focusing on defence first, will be Hodgson’s approach. Season rating so far: 4.5/10

Wigan Athletic

Current position: 19th – 15pts; Best result: Wigan 1 – 1 Chelsea Dec 17th; Worst result: Wigan 1 – 3 Bolton Oct 15th

As a side that secured their status in the top flight on the final day of last season, Wigan are no strangers to relegation battles. That is a good thing for them, as once again they find themselves at the wrong end of the table. The Latics started out the season unbeaten in their first three games, playing all of those against the newly promoted sides, and earned their only home win of the season against QPR. However, that was followed by 8 straight league defeats and their best run of games since then was a win away at West Brom, followed by back-to-back draws with Chelsea and Liverpool. They’ve scored just 18 goals, while allowing 31 against, and have managed just three victories all season – yet somehow they are currently only two points from safety. Roberto Martinez does not have a strong squad to work with and he will need to make some savvy moves in the transfer market if Wigan are to avoid being relegated for the first time in the club’s history. Season rating so far: 1.5/10

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Current position: 16th – 17pts; Best result: Arsenal 1 – 1 Wolves Dec 27th; Worst result: Wolves 0 – 3 QPR Sep 17th

Wolves, like Wigan, avoided relegation on the final day of last season and once again are candidates to drop down to the Championship. Mick McCarthy’s men started out the season with two wins and a draw, but since then the going has been much tougher. Earning a draw against Swansea, having been 2-0 down with less than 10 minutes to play, showed that Wolves have plenty of fight in them. Having a goalscoring threat of the caliber of Steven Fletcher will be a huge asset to them down the stretch – the Scottish striker has scored 8 league goals already this season. The games they have won – against Blackburn, Fulham, Wigan and Sunderland – give evidence that Wolves can beat the teams in and around themselves in the table – a crucial trait to have as the relegation “six-pointers” pile up in the latter half of the season. On the last day of the season, they must travel to Wigan – meaning that only one of them might be able to perform another last-day great escape to stay in the Premiership. Season rating so far: 3/10

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