We have reached the halfway mark of the Premier League’s 2016-17 season. (OK, almost halfway. Matchday #19 isn’t finished playing until January 1st. So I’m jumping the gun). Like before, we can take a swift look through what has happened to every club and also make a recommendation on a possible transfer target that they can look to bring in during the winter window. Let’s not wait any longer.
Arsenal: The Gunners appeared to start off slowly — losing to Liverpool and drawing against Leicester — and then they came to life. Thirteen games unbeaten in the League had seen them climb to the summit. With Alexis Sanchez leading the line and Mesut Ozil scoring instead of assisting, the Gunners have been able to beat most opposition. Back-to-back 2-1 losses to Everton and Manchester City set Arsenal back down to 4th with a 9-point gap, but there’s no reason to believe they cannot climb out of that. The key will be to get key pieces back — such as Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Danny Welbeck and eventually Santi Cazorla. They also need to start holding teams back and collecting clean sheets.
Verdict: A good run brought back by poor outings against immediate rivals.
Transfer Wish: Expect 1000 links to Wolfsburg’s Julian Draxler. The Gunners could use someone else creating in the final third.
AFC Bournemouth: So far, the Cherries have been living according to type. They beat the teams worse than they and they lose to teams that are better than they are. That said, they’ve been a fun side to watch and have given us one of the games of the season in their 4-3 comeback win against Liverpool. Much of the blame for their losses goes to a defense that has shipped 31 goals. In their quest for goals, Eddie Howe’s men also concede a lot. But at least they’re in the mix of teams in the middle of the table. Plenty of teams would switch spots with them.
Verdict: They continue to be a team worth watching but get beat badly.
Transfer Wish: More steel in midfield or defense to help cut down on goals.
Burnley: Things have not been as easy for the Clarets in the Premier League as they were in the Championship. Vokes and Gray lead them in goals but together they’ve only 6. Meanwhile, their defense has already surrendered 28 goals so far (they gave up 35 all of last season). To be fair to them, 10 of them were shipped in just 3 matches — Chelsea, Leicester and West Brom. They’ve had a good run at home: 6 wins, 1 draw. For the Clarets to avoid sliding into the relegation fight, they need to start picking up more points on the road — only 1 draw away from Turf Moor.
Verdict: Not been pretty, but they’re doing things right to survive.
Transfer Wish: A proven Premier League goalscorer would help to gain more points.
Chelsea: But for the minor blips against Liverpool and Arsenal, the Blues have pitched a perfect game so far this season. They’ve won convincingly against most opponents and thrashed teams from Everton to Manchester United to Bournemouth. They’ve managed to win tight games and already have 11 clean sheets to their name. The success of Antonio Conte’s reshuffled 3-5-2 system has led them on a run of 12 wins since the 3-0 defeat to Arsenal. Led by Diego Costa’s 13 goals and Eden Hazard’s 9 goals, as well as the imperious work of N’Golo Kante’ in the middle of the pitch, the Blues look like a team that isn’t going to stop winning.
Verdict: The team that’s setting the pace. FYI, every season they’ve led by Christmas, they’ve gone to win the league.
Transfer Wish: Another central defender who’s more at home in a back 3? Napoli’s Koulibaly will be strongly linked.
Crystal Palace: 16 points from a maximum of 54 is relegation form and it has cost Alan Pardew his job. What exactly will Sam Allardyce do to right the ship? That’s a good question. Their record hides that they’ve lost 9 games by a single goal — including 1-0 defeats to Spurs, West Ham and Chelsea. How much different could things have turned out if some of those losses turned to draws or even wins? They’ve had a good return of goals from Christian Benteke (8) but are desperate for more from other players. The current squad won’t have long to impress the new boss.
Verdict: A bad first half means they’ve little room for error in 2017.
Transfer Wish: Someone who can help create goals.
Everton: At first glance, a 7th-place spot would indicate things are going normally at Goodison Park. They’ve drawn points off Tottenham and Man City and beaten Arsenal and Leicester. Yet they’ve also lost to Bournemouth, Burnley and Watford. At times, the defense has looked like it hasn’t improved from last year’s, which isn’t a good sign for Ronald Koeman. At least, they’ve had Romelu Lukaku in impressive form, scoring 10 goals so far. Unfortunately, that’s as many as their next 5 goalscorers combined. That’s not good enough for a team with Top 4 aspirations and only highlights the flaws in defense when they make a mistake. What happens if Lukaku is sold for astronomical money though?
Verdict: On course for another midtable finish.
Transfer Wish: A striker that can bang in the goals
Hull City: Ah, remember the good old days of August 2016? Back when Hull had shocked everyone and won back-to-back against Leicester and Swansea? They were top of the table then. Even a 1-0 loss to Man United didn’t seem to damper spirits and the Tigers took 7 points out of their first 4 matches. Then the bottom fell out: 4-1 loss to Arsenal, 5-1 loss to Liverpool, 2-0 loss to Chelsea, 6-1 loss to Bournemouth. 11 losses in 14 matches. The worst goal differential in the league with -25. The fewest goals scored in the league with 14 goals total. And nailed on to the bottom with 12 points. If they cannot manage to conjure up more goals, they won’t be long for the top flight.
Verdict: A dream that quickly turned to nightmare.
Transfer Wish: Goalscorers, defenders and a miracle worker.
Leicester City: The bloom is off the rose. Last year, the Foxes lost only 3 times for the entire season. So far, they’ve already lost 3 times as much! Big 4-1 losses against each of Liverpool and Manchester United are the lowlights of poor form away from King Power Stadium as they’ve yet to record a win on the road. Much of the reason is the loss of Kante’ (is it any surprise Chelsea are top of the table while Leicester languish?) but there’s also the average seasons by Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez. Neither has been the talisman they were last season. There’s also a question as to the form of the defense of Morgan, Fuchs, Simpson, etc. The Foxes have already given up 31 goals when they surrendered only 36 all of last season. A change in form is a must in the new year.
Verdict: The second-worst title defense by any Premier League team.
Transfer Wish: A Kante’ clone? Someone who can help shield the back 4
Liverpool: So far, so good, right? Though they’ve had the occasional blip — losing 2-0 to Burnley or dropping a game they were winning at Bournemouth — but the Reds have taken to Jurgen Klopp’s style like ducks to water. They’re far and away the best scoring side in the Prem — 45 goals so far. Their form has been equally good at home and on the road — beating Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton away from Anfield. Led by Sadio Mane’, Lallana, Firmino and Coutinho, Liverpool look like a side reborn, fast and deadly. Will that speed remain in the new year as FA Cup duties enter into the equation? If there’s any concern, it’s that they’ve only had 5 clean sheets so far. Improvements on defense wouldn’t hurt this team keep their title chase going.
Verdict: Looking very much like a contender thanks to a potent attack
Transfer Wish: A world-class defender or two to help shore up the backline
Manchester City: A high-flying start through August and September saw the Citizens atop the Premier League. Dropping games against Spurs, Leicester and Chelsea as well as points to everyone from Everton to Boro have resulted in City sliding back from the league leaders. Some of that is down to the absence of captain Vincent Kompany and the issues the backline has had — only 4 clean sheets this season being the result — as it also deals with adapting to new keeper Claudio Bravo. Some of it has been due to absences, whether injuries (Gundogan) or suspension (Aguero, Fernandinho). You still gotta expect Pep Guardiola will figure things out and have City in the mix come the end of the season.
Verdict: A stumble here and there, but so far involved in the title fight.
Transfer Wish: The best defender they can find.
Manchester United: At first glance, the season Man United have had wouldn’t seem to be worth all the stories and the rage that at times seems ready to swallow it all. Really, besides the 3-1 loss to Watford and the 4-0 thrashing Chelsea gave them, there isn’t a result that is horrible. Yes, they’ve conceded late against Arsenal and Everton and struggled to beat teams at other points. But Zlatan Ibrahimovic is scoring for fun, Juan Mata and Paul Pogba are a strong midfield partnership and David De Gea continues his normal form. If they could get healthy, Jose Mourinho may find a better side than has appeared at times. They need to start turning draws into wins.
Verdict: Not an auspicious start but could still finish in Top 4.
Transfer Wish: Someone who can replace Michael Carrick and connect defense and attack
Middlesbrough: To be fair to Boro, they’ve not had that poor a time in the Premier League — a 3-0 loss to Liverpool their worst outing so far. They’ve managed to take points from Arsenal, Man City and Leicester. And they’ve both beaten and been beaten by the teams around them. They’ve conceded only 20 goals so far — much better than any other team in the bottom half of the table. Their problem is scoring, as they’ve only netted 16 goals so far — tied with teams in the relegation zone for least in the Prem. Alvaro Negredo, their top scorer, has 5 goals. They need a way to turn those 1-goal losses into draws if not wins to ensure they don’t get sucked into the relegation battle.
Verdict: Solid in the back but tame up front
Transfer Wish: Another goalscorer to help steal points off teams
Southampton: New boss, new side, same old Saints. Halfway through and they’re in 8th place with a run of 6 wins, 6 draws and 6 losses. Not surprisingly, they’re stronger at St Mary’s than they are away from it (4-3-2 at home vs 2-3-4 away). A 4-1 loss at home to Spurs, however, pops some of that home mystique. They’ve only had Charlie Austin for a short while and yet he still leads them in goals. Their leading assist maker is midfielder James Ward-Prowse and he’s started only 6 matches. Were it not for Fraser Forster and the form of the defense by Virgil van Dijk, Jose’ Fonte, etc who knows where they’d be. The fear for Claude Puel is if a bigger club offers the moon for van Dijk what will happen to his backline.
Verdict: Doing well but could yet be even better.
Transfer Wish: Besides keeping VVD? Someone to create more chances and goals.
Stoke City: So Stokealona really hasn’t taken shape this year. The Potters are still having to scrounge and grind results like in years past. But their once-stout defense is nothing like the one in years past. They’ve had 4-1 lossses three times this season (to Man City, Crystal Palace and Liverpool) and a 4-0 loss to Spurs. In fact, they’ve lost 1-0 only twice — so when Stoke lose, it’s likely a big loss. They’ve struggled to score goals at times — with Joe Allen leading with 5 so far. That’s as many as Marko Arnautovic, Wilfried Bony and Jonathan Walters have combined. They’re getting by but they’ll need more to keep their Premier League status.
Verdict: Not been pretty but they’re still in the fight
Transfer Wish: Someone who can partner with Joe Allen and create goals
Sunderland: It’s tough to say the Black Cats aren’t where everyone expected. 4 wins and 2 draws. 31 goals conceded, 16 scored. 14 points and in the relegation zone. They’ve lost 8 games by a single goal. So perhaps they’ve been unlucky. Considering how they had to scramble to replace Sam Allardyce, it would be unfair to find too many knocks against them. That said, they are extremely dependent on 34-year-old Jermain Defoe, who leads in goals (8) and co-leads in assists (2). Should he go down for any length of time, I shudder to think what would happen to them. You have to expect David Moyes will have this team fighting till the end. It might be a tall order, but they’re not dead yeat.
Verdict: In a relegation fight but remain feisty.
Transfer Wish: A striker that can take some of Defoe’s burden off him.
Swansea City: What can be said about the Swans? They went on an eleven-match winless run between their 1-0 opening day victory against Burnley and their 5-4 bash against Palace. They only had one more win after that (3-0 vs Sunderland). Getting only 1 win cost Guidolin his job. Doubling that effort to 2 wins cost Bob Bradley his job. Where they look next is anyone’s guess. The new boss will find a side with some talent (Fer, Llorente, Sigurdsson) which has scored 21 goals but a defense that has conceded a league-worse 41 to have them at the bottom of the table with 12 points. Good news is only 4 points can get them out. Bad news is they’re going to have to turn form around fast.
Verdict: A disaster on every level.
Transfer Wish: Defenders. Lots of defenders.
Tottenham Hotspur: A quick glance would tell you that Spurs are having another good year. They have the second-best defense in the league (giving up only 13 goals so far). They’ve yet to lose at their home away from home in Wembley. They’ve only lost twice — both tight affairs away to Chelsea and Man United. Their young side led by Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane is scoring and assisting while their defense has survived the injury to Toby Alderweireld. The key for them will be to turn some of their draws — Everton, Liverpool, West Brom, Leicester, Arsenal, Bournemouth — into wins. They’re right on the edge of the title run. A few results go their way and they could find themselves setting the pace.
Verdict: They haven’t lost a step from last season.
Transfer Wish: Another creative outlet in midfield? Just in case Eriksen goes down?
Watford: It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Hornets are sitting in midtable comfort. What is though is that they’re doing it thanks to the form Etienne Capoue, who’s leading them with 5 goals. Oh, Troy Deeney is still there, scoring 4 and assisting 3. But the form of last year’s leader, Odion Ighalo is surprising — only 1 goal and 1 assist. They’ve still scored a solid 22 goals and conceded an average 30 goals — 6 of which they shipped against Liverpool. They’ve managed to beat Man Utd and Everton and remain a team capable of shocking a bigger side from time to time. Which is likely as good as it will get for them.
Verdict: On pace to continue life in the Premier League
Transfer Wish: Someone to shield the defense if Capoue is going to keep attacking
West Bromwich Albion: If the Baggies had a more middle-of-the-road season, they’d have road kill on top of them. They’ve beaten all the teams you’d expect them to beat, like Burnley, Leicester, Watford and Swansea. They’ve lost to all the teams you’d expect them to lose — Arsenal, Man Utd, Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool. Salomon Rondon, Nacer Chadli and Matthew Phillips have done all the work up front. They have only had 3 clean sheets all season long — so any help for their defense wouldn’t hurt. Fact is Tony Pulis has them right where they should be expected. Now the quest will be to stay there.
Verdict: A good first half that will need to be turned into a full season.
Transfer Wish: Another defender that helps them keep opponents at bay.
West Ham United: A year removed from Upton Park and the Hammers seem to be missing their old stomping grounds. They’ve won 4 matches in the new Olympic Park but scored only 9 goals. They’ve dropped points against West Brom, Southampton, Boro, Stoke and Arsenal — so it’s not just losing to “bigger” sides. Much of this is the falls to the loss of form of last year’s talisman, Dimitri Payet. While his 6 assists lead the club, his 2-goal tally is way below his mark. Where the Hammers would be without Michail Antonio and his 8 goals is a question, I doubt they’d want answered. Put simply, the Hammers need to start scoring more and to find a way to turn those 8 losses into draws, if not wins. Middle of the table may mean a good run ends with them in European competition. It can also mean a relegation fight if they aren’t careful.
Verdict: A disappointing fall after last year’s high
Transfer Wish: Someone to score more and help them win more.
Let me end with my Team of the First Half. Since it’s become the hot new thing, I’m going with a 3-5-2 formation.
GK: Courtois (Chelsea)
D: Azpilicueta (Chelsea), van Dijk (Southampton), Walker (Tottenham)
M: Hazard (Chelsea), Mane’ (Liverpool), Eriksen (Tottenham), Capoue (Watford), Kante’ (Chelsea)
F: Costa (Chelsea), Sanchez (Arsenal)
Bench: Lloris (Tottenham), Koscielny (Arsenal), Lallana (Liverpool), Allen (Stoke), Ibrahimovic (Man Utd), Defoe (Sunderland), Lukaku (Everton)