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Premier League Roundup: At the Halfway Mark

PL Half - OzilWith the last kick in the Liverpool-Sunderland game, we officially reached the halfway mark of the Premier League season.  19 games done, 19 games to go.  And it’s already been the kind of season that drives analysts to drinking.  Who could have predicted the rise of Leicester City?  Or the fall of Chelsea?  Who would have bet that Brendan Rodgers wouldn’t last the year at Anfield? Or that Eddie Howe and Quique Sanchez Flores would stand in greater stead with their fans than Louis Van Gaal has at times with his?  But all of these things have happened and so, with an eye towards the second half, let’s look back at each team and how they’ve done. Plus, let’s mention a possible January transfer window wish for each.

Arsenal:  I feel like anything I say about Arsenal will fall in line with someone’s preconceived notion of the Gunners.  A talented bunch capable of challenging for the title?  Hey, look at them sitting near the top of the table with key wins against Manchester United, Manchester City and Leicester City.  A mercurial team prone to pushing the self-destruct button? Look at the season opener against West Ham (Lost 2-0) or the game at Southampton (lost 4-0).  Though injuries have robbed them of their central midfield as well as key contributors like Alexis Sanchez and Jack Wilshere, Arsenal are still capable of putting teams to the sword. Mesut Ozil is playing like the best Player in England right now.
Verdict: A stumble or two aside, so far, they’re on course.
Transfer Wish: A CM and a CDM to help provide stability to Arsenal’s creators up the pitch.

Aston Villa: Nothing quite captures the Villans season qite like this:  They’ve not had a win since their opening day victory against Bournemouth.  They’ve scored the least amount of goals so far this season (15) and have the worst goal differential so far with -19.  All of this resulted in Tim Sherwood’s firing and the eventual hire of Remi Garde.  But so far, little has changed.  The feeling around Villa Park has to be one of doom as it is beginning to feel it’s only a question of when, not if, they will fall through the trap door.
Verdict: A disastrous first half that will require a miracle to turn around
Transfer Wish: All the goalscorers they can find!

AFC Bournemouth: On paper, it looks as if the Cherries are doing exactly what everyone would expect.  They lie at 16th place with 20 points from 19 games.  This, of course, is only half the story.  Big wins at Chelsea and against Manchester United highlighted their first half in the top flight of English football.  More importantly, they’ve shown a verve and a tenacity that belies their club’s size.  Young manager Eddie Howe has them playing with a fearless attitude that makes all neutrals root for them.  Will it be enough to stave off relegation?  They need to find a way to get more wins and that involves getting more clean sheets (only 2 so far) and more goals.
Verdict: Exciting newcomers but still could find themselves going down.
Transfer Wish: A striker and a centerback.

Chelsea: Where to start with the Blues? Played 19, won 5, drawn 5, lost 9. That’s the same form as Norwich and Bournemouth.  How about their -6 goal differential?  Or that at the once formidable Stamford Bridge, they have as many losses (4) as wins?  Nothing about this makes sense. Not the form of players like Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas, Nemanja Matic, Cesar Azpilicueta or Branislav Ivanovic.  Not the response from former manager Jose Mourinho, who seemed at times to be as lost as the rest of us. Everything about this crazy season indicates some major problem that no one can pinpoint. It’s now Guus Hiddink’s problem to solve. At least Willian is saving their bacon with performances that defy everyone else’s season.  They’re too good to go down, even if their form says otherwise.
Verdict: A disaster on all fronts.
Transfer Wish: A striker that can score goals and can stay healthy.PL Half - Mourinho

Crystal Palace: When Alan Pardew arrived, the hope was for the Eagles to stop flirting with relegation. And he has made sure that’s the case and then some. Palace sits at a surprising 5th, ahead of both Manchester United and Liverpool. That’s due in part to a consistency from the entire squad both home and away.  It’s also due to the scoring and creativity of Yannick Bolasie, Yohan Cabaye and Jason Puncheon but also to the form of Scott Dann and Wayne Hennessey.  Games will get harder in 2016, but there’s no reason to expect Crystal Palace will suffer a major loss of form.
Verdict: A great season for Pardew, Kayla, the cheerleaders and everyone at Selhurst Park
Transfer Wish: Another goalscorer to ensure they keep racking up points.

Everton: On the one hand, the Toffees are performing as expected.  They’re beating the teams they’re supposed to be beating and struggling against the teams they’re expected to struggle against.  Romelu Lukaku is finally fulfilling the promise his young talents made when he made the move from Stamford Bridge.  Ross Barkley, Gerard Delofeu and Arouna Kone are all scoring and creating for fun. The problem is that their once-strong defense has, well, gone to shit.  They’ve conceded the most goals at home (19) in the entire league! Whether it’s the form of Timmy Howard or the back 4, Roberto Martinez has to figure out a way to get his team to stop leaking goals.  Games like the 4-3 loss to Stoke are awesome for the neutrals, but death for his side.
Verdict: Goodison Park has become every club’s slumpbuster. That’s not good.
Transfer Wish: A defender or DM (or maybe both) that can help stop sieving goals.

Leicester City: By any standard, this has to be  one of the greatest season so far in Leicester City history.  They’ve been at or near the top of the table just about all season.  Jaime Vardy and Riyad Mahrez will be finalists for Player of the Year – Vardy for his record-breaking goal-scoring run and Mahrez for being the alchemist at the heart of this magic trick.  Everyone still expects them to fall off the pace, in spite of their tenacity.  If Claudio Ranieri (a shoe-in for Manager of the Year) is to keep the Foxes at this end of the table, he’ll need to find a way to cut back on their goals allowed (25), which is the most of any club in the top half.  The longer they stay near the top, the harder it will be to feel it’s just a phase.
Verdict: As great a season as any club could want.
Transfer Wish: Hang onto all their key players first. Add more defensive depth if possible.

Liverpool: 8 games, 3 wins, 3 draws, 2 losses, 12 points. That was all it took for Fenway Sports Group to realize that Brendan Rodgers was not the man to take them forward anymore. Out he went and in his place came highly-coveted Jurgen Klopp.  And while Klopp has seen Liverpool get some big wins – notably at Manchester City, at Chelsea and against Leicester — there’s also been stumbles at Newcastle and at Watford. All of which point to a team still mired in transition.  Their top goalscorer is Christian Benteke, who seems to not fit Klopp’s system.  They’ve conceded almost as many (12) as they’ve scored (14) under Klopp, partially due to injuries to the defense, but also to a poor form by Simon Mignolet.  Klopp has said he’ll give this squad the year to learn his system, but it will be tempting to dive into the transfer market now.
Verdict: A middling season that holds the promise of a brighter future.
Transfer Wish: A defender or a goalkeeper of better pedigree.

Manchester City: It’s going to be tough to be too critical of the Citizens’ season so far.  They sit in 3rd place, 3 points off the top.  They’ve had to deal with absences of two of their very best in Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany.  This has shown up in big losses like their 4-1 to Spurs and Liverpool respectively.  And still they’re fighting for a title. Aguero, De Bruyne, Toure, Silva and Sterling have been working well together.  The issue is at the back where Kompany’s absence seems to be exposing the limitations of Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi.  How much worse would things be without Alek Kolarov and Joe Hart having great years?  The Pep Guardiola talk won’t abate this year though.  So if Manuel Pellegrini wants to keep his job, he will have to find out why his defense seems so breakable.
Verdict: On pace to contend for a title and will remain the favorites of the pundits.
Transfer Wish: If there’s a superstar available to improve, they’ll be seeking him.

PL Half - LVGManchester United: A few months’ back, the Red Devils were topping the league in spite of a string of uninspired results.  However, that belied that the team never seemed to be firing on all cylinders. They were getting the results though.  However, for the last couple of months, results have not gone their way and, as a result, Louis Van Gaal is facing both a bloodthirsty media and an angry supporter base.  It’s what happens when you spend over 250 million pounds on players that aren’t delivering, while the ones you let go are scoring for fun.  Truth is there isn’t much he can do to fix Wayne Rooney’s many injuries.  Or turn back the hands of time on players like Bastian Schweinsteiger or Michael Carrick. He’s relying on the form of David de Gea once again – and isn’t it lucky he’s still around, at least. But reinforcements are necessary or that Top 4 spot they regained last season might be in danger this time around.
Verdict: Uninspired performances and poor results could derail a once-promising start.
Transfer Wish: The best goalscorer they can find. Right now. Like now.

Newcastle United: To be fair, the Toon have been performing as expected this season.  They’ve lost more games (10) than either drawn or won.  They sit fairly on the top end of the relegation end.  And for much of the Toon Army, the blame lies at the feet of owner Mike Ashley.  It hasn’t helped to lose Tim Krul for the season.  On the bright side for Newcastle, the additions of Wijnaldum and Mitrovic have given them some much needed spark and bite to their attack.  They’ve combined with Ayoze Perez and Moussa Sissoko to give the Magpies moments of hope.  However, with major losses like a 6-1 against Manchester City and a 5-1 to Crystal Palace helping to worsen their goal differential, it’s going to take a very strong effort to avoid the drop.  Steve McClaren could be out before that happens.
Verdict: Right on schedule to fall through the trap door.
Transfer Wish: A defender to assist them with stopping goals.

Norwich City: To be fair to the Canaries, they have managed a victory or two along the way — beating Man Utd 2-1 — along with draws against Arsenal, Everton and Liverpool. However, whether losing big to Newcastle or closely to Chelsea, the majority of Norwich’s season has been a series of losses both home and away. If they are going to avoid the drop that they’re fighting against, they’ll need more from Cameron Jerome, Wes Hoolahan and Nathan Redmond.  It may be as much down to the form of others as much as their own whether or not they survive in the Premier League. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t fight like hell though. Manager Alex Neill will be doing his damn best.
Verdict: Fighting hard against the drop.
Transfer Wish: Someone who can assist to create and score goals.

Southampton: For a while there, it looked as if the long-expected nadir of the Saints had arrived. 4 points from 4 games to start the season will do that.  They seemed to right the ship after a while, but then began dropping points right before the holiday period.  Even a 4-0 drubbing of Arsenal didn’t seem to right the ship. The good news for them is that Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama seem to continue without a beat.  The bad is that they’re linked with moves away which, combined with the down form of Dusan Tadic, Jose Fonte and others, could create a storm to drop them down the table.  The Saints need to start picking up wins and badly to prevent a relegation battle.
Verdict: For the first time in a long time, it’s looking dicey at St. Mary’s
Transfer Wish: Hang onto Mane and Wanyama.

PL Half - ShaquiriStoke City: It’s taken Mark Hughes some time, but it seems if, at long last, he has managed to disassociate the Potters from their old reputation as physical, brutish orcs. Instead, thanks to the play of Xherdan Shaquiri, Bojan Krkic, Marko Arnautovic and Glen Johnson, the Potters are as likely to blow you away as they are to outmuscle you. Don’t get it wrong though: between Jack Butland in goal and those old defensive stalwarts, Stoke can just as comfortably win 1-0 as 4-3.  They’re sitting comfortably in the middle of the table, but, should they find a way to cut the goals allowed even more, then this good run could continue for them.  In this crazy season, European dreams could be had.
Verdict: A pleasant surprise this season.
Transfer Wish: A DM that can shield the back 4.

Sunderland: It has not been a good season at the Stadium of Light.  A poor, winless start to the season had Dick Advocaat out the door. In stepped, Sam Allardyce, a veteran of past relegation survivals to conjure up a way to save the Black Cats.  While they’ve managed to nab big wins against Newcastle, Crystal Palace and Stoke, the simple fact is that it hasn’t been good enough. At least Advocaat’s purchases of Lens, M’Vila and Borini have fit in.  But they and Steven Fletcher and Jermain Defoe haven’t been enough; not with a -19 goal differential and a league-worst 38 goals allowed. Barring a major turn in form, Sunderland are looking a sure bet to fall down the relegation trap door.
Verdict: If it wasn’t for Aston Villa, they’d look even worse.
Transfer Wish: A ton of defenders to help cut those goals allowed.

Swansea City: A promising start has not turned out like folks at the Liberty Stadium had hoped.  As August ended, the Swans had beaten Man Utd and Newcastle.  They’ve only had 2 more wins since then — at Aston Villa and against West Brom.  It all resulted in the firing of Garry Monk. As a matter of fact, Swansea remain in the hands of caretaker Alan Curtis; the club having failed to appoint anyone as Monk’s replacement.  And while Curtis seems to have figured out how to stop the Swans from giving up goals in bunches, he has yet to figure out how to get Gomis, Ayew, Montero and Sigurdsson to start scoring again. Unless he or someone manages to do that, Swansea will remain a fixture in the relegation battle.
Verdict: A promising start gone to hell in a handbasket.
Transfer Wish: A manager who can get his talented scorers a-scoring again.

Tottenham Hotspur: The season started with just 2 points from 4 games and Harry Kane somehow absent from the goalscorers’ table.  Luckily for Spurs, both of these things appear to have been rectified.  Kane is his old scoring self and Spurs have gotten major wins like beating Man City and West Ham 4-1 each and a 5-1 against Bournemouth.  Much of their success is down to the form of midfielder Dele Alli, who has partnered well with Kane and Eriksen. Even more is down to the quality of Lloris, Aldeiwereld, Vertonghen and the defense which is the best in the league (15 goals allowed). Tottenham has been here before, but never as good.  They will have to show they can keep the pace.
Verdict: A great first half of the season.
Transfer Wish: Another striker/goalscorer to help Kane and Alli.

Watford: By most measures, the Hornets’ season has been a solid midtable one so far.  They’ve beaten teams below the table and battled against those above with a big pelt or two to their name (beating Liverpool 3-0, drawing against Chelsea 2-2).  It’s how they’ve done it that’s impressing people.  At the back, they’ve established a tough defense anchored by the form of Heurelho Gomes in goal.  At the front, it’s all about the partnership of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo, who is scoring for fun.  In a season of strikers rising out of nowhere, Ighalo is one of the biggest and appears to be loving the terror he causes defenders.  This is entirely a team effort that manager Quique Sanchez Flores is generating and, barring major injuries or the sale of their talisman, there’s no reason to expect it to end.
Verdict: A fun outfit for the neutrals to enjoy.
Transfer Wish: Reinforcements in midfield to help create more goalscoring chances.PL Half - Ighalo

West Bromwich Albion:  It has not been an easy season at The Hawthorns. They’ve not scored enough and, when they do, their defense has seen fit to concede more.  Sure, the Potters have recorded the odd shock result (beating Arsenal 2-1, drawing with Tottenham) but so far the season has featured more losses than wins. If the Baggies are to survive, they need to find a way to start scoring more goals than the few Salomon Rondon and James Morrison have tallied. That will likely involve ending the feud between Tony Pulis and Saido Berahino and either motivating him to start banging the goals or selling him and finding a replacement that can help score goals. As things stand, it’ll require another backs-to-the-wall effort to avoid the drop.
Verdict: Less than they hoped for, but all there still to find a way to survive.
Transfer Wish: Someone to bang in the goals.

West Ham United: All things considered, the season has gone well for the Hammers. Slaven Bilic has settled in as manager and, for a while there, they were the big game hunters — taking the pelts of Arsenal, Liverpool and Man City on the road.  Much of that success can be laid at the feet of Dimitri Payet, who was one of the best players this year until his injury sidelined him until sometime March 2016. His loss has been felt. They’re still relying on Adrian, Cresswell, Kouyate and Sakho to remain somewhere safe until Payet returns. It would be nice if Andy Carroll banged in a few goals to help in that effort.
Verdict: A good season marred by a big loss.
Transfer Wish: Someone who can help create goals.

Finally, just for kicks, here’s my Team of the Season (So Far)

GK: Heurelho Gomes (Watford)
D: Hector Bellerin (Arsenal), Scott Dann (Crystal Palace), Toby Aldeiwereld (Tottenham Hotspur), Aleksander Kolarov (Manchester City)
M: Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur)
F: Romelu Lukaku (Everton), Jamie Vardy (Leicester City), Odion Ighalo (Watford)

Substitutes: David de Gea (Manchester United), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), N’Golo Kante (Leicester City), Ross Barkley (Everton), Dimitri Payet (West Ham), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)PL Half - Lukaku

Here’s hoping for a great second half of the season!

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