Arsenal (NH): 6/10
Once again, the second half of this season will be nothing more than a battle for fourth for The Gunners and despite what Arsene Wenger seems to think, that is not a trophy. Of course, they finally ended their nine year silverware drought last season so not being able to build on that with the addition of a top class playmaker from a Spanish giant has to go down as an underachievement.
Best Player – Alexis Sanchez
The performances of the little Chilean have been breathtaking to watch and it is quite possible that without him, they would be sat in mid table and struggling like Liverpool. This is possibly the easiest and most obvious choice of a best player for any of the 20 teams. Part of that could be down to the fact that the rest of the Arsenal team haven’t been firing on all cylinders but even if they had been, they wouldn’t have been able to match Sanchez’s brilliance.
It’s obvious where Arsenal’s frailties lie and that is in defence. Despite spending big money for a second summer transfer window in succession, everything but the perennial problem of their back line was addressed. Yes Sanchez has, as mentioned above, been a revelation but had they have followed up that coup of a signing with a quality centre back and/or defensive midfielder, we could have been talking about Arsenal being in the title race. Sami Khedira, Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama were all linked and perhaps the latter would’ve been the best choice as he could’ve provided power and strength to an otherwise lightweight midfield.
Review Of The Season
Arsenal went into the season on a high having finally won a trophy in May and they defeated Man City 3-0 in the Community Shield. However, they began the league campaign slowly with just two wins in the first eight games and one of these was a last gasp victory at home to a manager-less Crystal Palace. Once again, fans have been losing patience with, and venting their frustration at, Arsene Wenger – particularly after away defeats to Swansea and Stoke. After that latest battering at the Britannia, they have picked up a decent return of 13 points from 18 available but that includes a defeat to Southampton which could prove vital in the race for fourth.
Burnley (NH): 8/10
Nobody expected the team with a significantly smaller budget than the rest to have a chance of surviving this season but the fact that Burnley fans can approach the second half of the season with genuine optimism that their team can finish 17th at least is testament to how well they’ve played and the fantastic job that Sean Dyche has done.
Best Player – Danny Ings
For me, Burnley don’t really have a stand-out player and that is partly why they’ve fought so well to get into the position they’re in – they have a hungry and determined team with no huge stars. However, they are going to be reliant on Danny Ings’ goals if they are to complete the Mission Impossible and stay up – even though Ashley Barnes has chipped in with his fair share as well. Not only that but Ings is already being linked with potential moves away from Turf Moor at the end of the season.
They could do with adding some Premier League experience on loan in January, ideally at the back as in the likes of Ings, Barnes and also Sam Vokes coming back from injury, they have enough firepower to win games if they can successfully keep teams out at the other end. They also need to inject some pace into the side as their wide men are more like wide midfield players rather than natural wingers and having that player in your side that can shift the whole team up a gear or two can really make a difference.
Review Of The Season
Since getting the pressure-relieving first win of the season against Hull, they have gone on to give everyone they’ve faced a real run for their money. Their 2-2 draw at the Etihad is particularly praise-worthy and impressive. That day underlined how far they’ve come from the early weeks of the season. The likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich would’ve been proud to come back from two goals down at half time to the defending champions of England and many teams who’ve been in that same position have gone on to be hammered. In fact since beating Hull, they’ve won just as many as they’ve lost (three wins and three defeats) and as a result, Burnley are currently out of the bottom three.
Chelsea (NH): 8/10
Jose Mourinho has built another Premier League juggernaut and despite Manchester City still breathing down their neck, it’s difficult to see anyone stopping them this season in their pursuit of their fourth title (their third under Mourinho).
Best Player – Cesc Fabregas
Whilst Diego Costa has definitely filled in the missing piece of Chelsea’s jigsaw from last season in that he has been a reliable and prolific all round striker, the addition of Fabregas into the midfield has been vital. He has assisted 14 goals for Chelsea this season. That is not only more than any other player in the league, it’s nearly double the amount that Leighton Baines and Gylfi Sigurdsson have managed in joint second place. Not only that but he has chipped in with goals as well and that combined contribution of goals and assists can’t be matched by anyone in the Man City squad so he has been a major difference for Chelsea so far.
Let’s be honest, they have very little to improve on. They have a perfect squad to win the title with several world class options in every area of the team. I’d personally like to see one or two of the youngsters pushed up the pecking order a bit, rather than just being temporarily discarded on loan. However, in terms of actually improving their first team, there’s really nothing that could or should be done this season as they have the perfect balance. It’s definitely not broken so Mourinho mustn’t attempt to fix it.
Review Of The Season
Whilst Mourinho has always been a specialist when it comes to playing the big games, Chelsea missed out on the title last season due to dropping points at home against sides they’d expect to beat. This season that has been well and truly addressed as none of the ten teams to have visited Stamford Bridge this season have taken even one point. There have been a couple of disappointing results away though which have re-opened the title race. One point out of six in the North East and a five goal drubbing to a Harry Kane-inspired Tottenham have been the only blemishes on what has been an almost faultless campaign.
Crystal Palace (NH): 5/10
This was always going to be a very difficult season for Palace after Tony Pulis’ departure just days before it began and until they recently replaced Neil Warnock with Alan Pardew, so it proved. They’re still hovering precariously and will probably be in a battle for survival until the very end but there is evidence to suggest that The Eagles can win the fight and extend their stay on the Premier League perch.
Best Player – Mile Jedinak
The Aussie skipper averages around a goal in every three Premier League games and has been very consistent for Palace not just this season but ever since he arrived at Selhurst Park. He is the ideal player to have in a relegation battle, a true leader and he also takes on the responsibilities of taking penalties and free kicks and he has been quite handy at those this season as well, scoring a lovely free kick against Liverpool and also scoring all three of the penalties he’s taken.
They need a striker and previous manager Neil Warnock made it no secret that he was in the market for one before he was sacked. Unfortunately for Palace, a couple of their relegation rivals possess strikers who are on fire at the moment. QPR have Charlie Austin who is the third highest goal scorer in the entire league with an incredible 13 goals and Burnley have Danny Ings and Ashley Barnes who have 10 goals between them. Palace’s front line hasn’t produced anywhere near those amounts. In fact, their top scorer in the league is Jedinak who isn’t a striker. As I write this, they have secured the loan signing of Yaya Sanogo but given that he hasn’t yet hit the net for Arsenal (and has had plenty of opportunities to do so), it’s not certain that he’ll be the answer for them.
Review Of The Season
Palace’s performances haven’t quite been rewarded with wins so far as they haven’t actually been as poor as their league position suggests. As mentioned above, their season got off to the worst possible start with Tony Pulis, who’d worked a minor miracle to guide them to an 11th place finish last season, leaving just days before the first game at Arsenal. Under Keith Millen, they put in a brave display at the Emirates and were only narrowly beaten by a late winner. They soon appointed Neil Warnock but he only managed three wins whilst in charge, although two of those wins (at home to Liverpool and away to Everton) were very impressive wins. However, since replacing Warnock with crowd favourite Alan Pardew, the whole club has been given a massive boost and results have had an immediate upturn as well and the win against Tottenham last time out could prove to be a huge turning point.
Everton (AT): 5/10
Following the impressive impact Martinez made at Goodison Park last season many expected the Toffee’s to do the same again. However, their defensive frailties have ultimately cost them so far this season as they sit in a mid-table position.
Best Player – Steven Naismith
For me Steven Naismith has been Everton’s stand out player this season. He has been ever present for the Toffee’s this season and has chipped in with seven goals. The Scot has been influential in Everton’s attacking presence this season and provides a great link between the midfield and their attack. It could easily have been their skillful winger Mirallas. Similarly to Naismith he has scored seven goals this season and has created a lot of chances for Lukaku too, however Naismith’s work rate and team effort is second to none and he has been incredibly important for Everton.
It seems strange saying this after Everton were so good at the back last season. However, their defensive displays this year have cost them vital points in their search for European football. Martinez’s men have already conceded more goals than last season and have the second worse defence this year. This may be due to the increasing age of Jagielka and Distin. Jagielka was increasingly questioned for his performances during the 2014 World Cup by many England fans. It’s quite surprising that youngster John Stones hasn’t been given more of a chance this season. However for their fortunes to improve they would need another defender in the transfer window or some extra organisation at the back to cut out silly mistakes.
Although Lukaku has scored eight goals, he also hasn’t hit the form expected since his permanent move from Chelsea. Lukaku was sensational in Everton’s charge up the table last season, but hasn’t been able to replicate that form this season. If a few more players were added to the Everton squad they could create a surge up the table towards the end of the season. However, there is doubt whether that will occur.
Review of the Season
Everton’s start to the season was less than impressive although they didn’t have an easy start. Their defensive frailties were shown almost straight away as they conceded ten in their first three games against Leicester, Arsenal and Chelsea. They only won one in their first seven which shocked fans all over England, especially after their summer acquisitions.
The turning point in their season was a 3-1 win over Burnley which started a good run for Everton but after travelling abroad for the Europa League has seemed to take its effect. Whether that is down to all the travelling or the tiredness of his relatively small squad, Martinez’s side have never really got going and put a run of wins together.
So far this year Everton have dropped points against Leicester, Stoke, Hull and Crystal Palace all teams they would’ve expected to beat. They have undergone another tough spell without a win in six once again not the form of a side with Europe expectations.
For Everton to make a challenge in the league this season they need to improve all over the pitch but specifically in defence. If the correct additions are made and mistakes are cut out Martinez’s side could rocket up the table. However, I think a top half finish is the best Everton can achieve this season.
Hull City (AT): 4/10
Steve Bruce made some excellent signings in the summer as he was transforming his Hull side into a Premier League side. However, his success in the transfer window hasn’t been replicated on the pitch with Hull being involved in this year’s relegation battle.
Player of the Season – Ahmed Elmohamady
Since the start of the season Hull’s best and probably most consistent performer would be Ahmed Elmohamady. The wing back has been incredibly important for the Tigers this season both going forwards and in defence. Jelavic has been Hull’s top scorer this season and could be a contender; however he has drifted in and out the squad as Bruce looks for that winning formula. Elmohamady’s hard work, however, has been appreciated by Bruce and he has appeared in every league game this season. The Egyptian international has also chipped in with three assists as he looks to help his team climb away from trouble.
It has come to some surprise that Hull have struggled scoring goals this season, especially after they signed Uruguayan International Abel Hernandez, Gaston Ramirez, Robert Snodgrass and Hatem Ben Arfa. However, the summer signings haven’t impressed so far this season which leaves Bruce’s side with a problem going forwards. They have been linked with a move for Jermaine Defoe to try and find those all important goals to keep them in the Premier League. A creative spark in the midfield could also be needed to set up more chances to allow the strikers to have a bigger impact. This is due to Huddlestone and Livermore not replicating their form from last season.
Even though Bruce made a lot of signings in the window a problem he faces is having quite a small squad. The Tigers are struggling this season as their squad is down to its bare bones. They had to recall Tom Ince and Maynor Figueroa from loan spells in the Championship for their FA Cup clash against Arsenal. Bruce will need to sign players that can make an impact into his side straight away.
Review of the Season
Hull didn’t have the best start to the season and were immediately involved with the Europa League. They started the season well with a 1-0 win over QPR. However, since that game they didn’t win a game until the 4th October. This time it wasn’t the goal scoring ability of his side it was the defensive ability. Hull couldn’t seem to buy a win and the start of the season. They may have been scoring two goals but conceded more in the same game.
In mid-October his side stopped conceding goals for fun but stopped scoring them too. Hernandez didn’t hit the form Bruce expected of him and Bruce openly came out and said Hernandez wasn’t used to the rigours of English football. Jelavic and Hernandez have only scored nine goals between them this season. To make matters worse his side only scored two goals in nine games during a horrific spell that dropped Hull into the relegation zone.
During and just after that spell they lost to Premier League newcomers Burnley and Leicester, which put increased pressure on his side. Bruce may have thought his side as unfortunate in the defeat to Leicester as his side couldn’t find a way through Leicester goalkeeper Ben Hamer. But finally his strikers found the net in a shock 2-0 win over Everton.
Hull will face a long old season and battle for relegation. If the form of Hernandez, Huddlestone and Chester doesn’t improve then I can’t see Bruce’s side surviving a second year in the Premier League.
Leicester City (AT): 3/10
After an impressive start to the season, Nigel Pearson’s side looked like favourites to stay up, but since their 5-3 win against Manchester United they failed to record a win for thirteen games. The Foxes’ were bottom of Christmas and face a tough battle to stay in the Premier League.
Best Player – Esteban Cambiasso
This season Leicester have had three stand out players, but without Esteban Cambiasso the Foxes’ would be in an even worse position. Many would’ve suggested top scorer Leonardo Ulloa or winger Riyad Mahrez but Cambiasso is the spark Leicester needed in the middle of midfield. The Argentine midfielder turns defence into attack in one quick movement and the way he reads the game is second to none. Even at the age of 34, no-one can question his work rate or commitment and he’s even chipped in with two goals, one in the win against Manchester United.
Leicester have really struggled defensively this season. The Foxes’ have the third worse defence in the league conceding a total of 33 goals. Not many changes were made to the Foxes’ back line after they performed admirably in the Championship. However, Nigel Pearson’s decision to keep faith with his defence has proved to be a bad one. His side could really benefit from a left-back and centre back in the window. Both Kyle Naughton (Spurs) and Efe Ambrose (Celtic) have been linked.
Going forwards Leicester didn’t seem to have many problems at the start of the season. The eight million pound man Leonardo Ulloa started the season on fire as he scored four goals in his first five games. He now sits on seven in the league but his form hasn’t been replicated by his fellow strikers. Last season’s top scorer, David Nugent only has two while Jamie Vardy has only scored once. Pearson has already added to his side’s attacking options with Andrej Kramaric, hoping the Croatian International will change his side’s fortunes. Leicester have also been linked with Shaun Maloney (Wigan), Aaron Lennon (Spurs), Jermaine Defoe (Toronto) and Danny Ings (Burnley) as they try and strengthen for their fight for survival.
Review of the Season
After having possibly one of the hardest starts to the season facing Everton, Chelsea, Arsenal, Stoke and Man Utd in their first five games, Leicester collected eight points. Following this impressive start Leicester were tipped by many to stay well clear from relegation. However, after that historic victory over the Red Devils, Leicester seemed to struggle. Many blame the high they gained from that win, however, it could be because of their 2-2 draw with Burnley. After Burnley scored a last minute free kick after some questionable goalkeeping from Kasper Schmeichel the Foxes’ confidence seemed to be shot.
After the Man Utd game, Pearson’s side went thirteen games without victory. They lost to fellow relegation candidates Crystal Palace, West Brom and QPR during that spell, which could be vital at the end of the season.
Leicester’s defending was woeful at times and cost them match after match. However, they did improve towards the end of the run. They were unfortunate in defeat to both Man City and Tottenham at home, until their horrible run came to an end in a 1-0 victory over Hull in what many called a season defining match. After that win, Leicester looked ready for the relegation dog fight. After going two down at Anfield, after Mike Jones awarded Liverpool two incredibly questionable penalties (the first that hit Morgan in the face not the hand). The Foxes’ showed their desire and fought back to end the game 2-2.
If Nigel Pearson adds to the squad in the correct places, Leicester could perform the Great Escape. However, the squad will need to cut out defensive mistakes and keep their burning desire to stay in the Premier League.
Liverpool (LV): 6/10
It has been tricky to really judge where Liverpool are at this season in the absence of Daniel Sturridge but clearly they haven’t hit the heights of last season. A number of poor signings, Dejan Lovren and Mario Balotelli the most notable, means Rodgers has been left under serious pressure and the club have a lot to do if they want to achieve their top four ambitions.
Best Player – Raheem Sterling
Who knows where last season’s runners up would be if it wasn’t for this young man. Still aged only 20 Sterling now has over 100 Liverpool appearances to his name and has become invaluable for both club and country. In recent weeks he has found himself being played as a striker due to the lack of goals from Liverpool’s other options in that area and has somewhat struggled as can be seen in the 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford. Still, he has been one of the few positives at Anfield this season and with the prestigious European Golden boy award up his sleeve as he matures he can surely only get better.
Where do I start! The first thing to stress is that Rodgers has tried many different formations and systems this season and haven’t looked particularly convincing in any of them. Fans had hoped the £20M arrival of Southampton’s Croatian centre halve Dejan Lovren would have solidified last season’s shaky defence but sadly his hap hazardous method of defending has somehow made the defence look worse. Liverpool sold vice-captain Daniel Agger for a mere £3M to Danish club Brondby but this now looks like a terrible decision. To give some perspective Liverpool have looked most solid when veteran Kolo Toure and natural midfielder Emre Can have occupied the defensive spots. Another area needed to improve on is the goalkeeping. To say Simon Mignolet has looked nervous between the sticks this season is an understatement. In terms of shot stopping Mignolet can’t really be faulted but his distribution and ability to command his area have been so bad the club resorted to experimenting with Australian back up keeper Brad Jones. An injury to Jones has meant Mignolet has regained his place but a goalkeeper signing in the January window is a must with Petr Cech and Norberto Neto the top of Liverpool fans wish lists.
Review of the season
Inconsistency has been the theme of Liverpool’s season so far, quite the opposite to last campaign. Just when it looks like the reds are getting back into the swing of things with a superb 4-1 win over Swansea they go and surrender a two goal lead to bottom of the league Leicester City. Rodgers has much to ponder as we go into the New Year and a large section of supporters are already turning against the optimistic Irishman. It is obvious to see that Liverpool are struggling to plug the gap left by Suarez and Sturridge but even so any Liverpool team would be disappointed to draw at home to Hull, Sunderland and Leicester. The club spent over £100M on new faces in the summer and it is understandable it will take time for all of them to settle in, and the likes of Lallana and Moreno are now beginning to look comfortable in a red shirt. However, on the whole the summer window was not successful and it is wishful thinking to expect Sturridge to come back in after 5 months out and have an immediate effect. Saying that Liverpool are in the 4th round of the FA cup, Semi-finals of the League cup and still in Europe all be it in the Europa League. Even though top 4 is not out of their reach by any stretch of the imagination perhaps it is wise to concentrate on the cups if Liverpool want any success this season.
Manchester City (AT): 8/10
Last year’s Champions are once again challenging for the title and are only two points off the top challenging Chelsea. Pellegrini didn’t add many players to his title winning squad but they haven’t failed him so far this season.
Best Player – Sergio Aguero
Without a doubt Sergio Aguero has been Man City’s stand out player this season. The ability from the Argentine striker shines through the wealth of talent at the Etihad Stadium. Even though his season has been hit by injury he has still managed to score an incredible nineteen goals in seventeen appearances. He put four away against Spurs all be it two were from the penalty spot. Aguero has helped Man City chase down, Chelsea who were touted as run-away leaders earlier this season. The striker will be influential if City want to retain their title.
What could you possibly improve at Man City? Their squad is full of multi-million pound players and lead them to the title in the 2013/14 campaign.
In theory there is only one position that the Citizens could add, in their attack. This will sound completely ludicrous after what has been written about Aguero. However, their squad depth upfront is very limited. With Aguero and Dzeko out injured Pellegrini had to play youngster Pozo or Mr Versatile, James Milner. City have been linked with Wilfred Bony in the current window and he would definitely improve their frontline and challenge Dzeko for a back-up position behind Aguero. However they would have to pay a whopping £30m for the striker. An interesting link has also been made with Burnley striker Danny Ings for £8m.
Apart from these not many other changes could be made to a squad that pretty much has everything.
Review of the Season
City have fared very well, almost as many people would have expected them too. However, they have come unstuck against lesser opposition which has been the difference between them and the leaders Chelsea so far this season.
This was evident early on as Pellegrini’s side were unable to replicate their 3-1 win against Liverpool when they faced Stoke at the Etihad and lost 1-0. Once again they got themselves back on track with wins against Hull, Aston Villa and that impressive 4-1 victory over Spurs before losing 2-1 to West Ham.
They won the Manchester derby 1-0 which once again seemed to spur them on and has left them unbeaten in their last twelve Premier League matches. However, once again newly promoted sides QPR and Burnley have them trouble as both matches ended in a 2-2 result. City had to come from behind twice at Loftus Park to earn a point, whereas they let a two goal lead slip against Burnley.
They finally managed to top the table after the games on New Year’s Day; however, a draw away at Everton meant they once again slipped behind Chelsea in search for their successive title.
If City can stop dropping points against lesser teams and grind out results from winning positions the title race could come down to the end of the season between them and Chelsea.
Manchester United (RH): 7/10
As internet sensation Andy Tate once said towards the end of David Moyes’ tenure at Old Trafford: “A monkey in a suit could do a better job”. Perhaps so. We will never know, but at the start of the season Louis van Gaal could not seem to buy a win as the Red Devils got off to their worst start since 1986. That said however, a lot has changed since then.
Player of the Season – Wayne Rooney
A wide range of players were in with a shout of being my Manchester United player of the season so far. At times, summer signing Angel Di Maria has shown glimpses of why Louis van Gaal decided to break the British record transfer fee to sign him. His exquisite scooped finish in the shock 5-3 defeat at the hands of Leicester is just one example of the instant impact he had on the side. David De Gea’s form in the last couple of months has been superb and in truth, he was the reason the 3-0 scoreline over Liverpool was not more like 3-3. It is no surprise that he is being so heavily linked with Real Madrid. While the defence has looked like a shambles thanks to Van Gaal’s insistence on playing with three at the back, it has been Michael Carrick of all people slotting in that has prevented so many goals. Strong in the tackle and with a tremendous ability to read the game, Carrick is perhaps one of the most underrated players not only at Manchester United, but in the Premier League as a whole. Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney have hit eight goals apiece so far this term but in some matches, the formerly mentioned Dutchman has gone missing in games. Van Persie appears to have rediscovered a bit of form but by no means has he been a match for the consistently excellent England captain. Wayne Rooney is now entering the latter end of his career and has matured dramatically to the point that he has adapted his game this season to even pull the strings in the middle of the park. He has also laid on four assists for his teammates and has grown into his new role as captain and for those reasons, he edges it as my player of the season so far.
A top quality centre-back. Its as simple as that. I find it unacceptable that £156m was splashed out on new recruits in the Summer and that not one of them was an out-and-out defensive rock. They were linked with Mehdi Benatia, who chose Bayern, and Mats Hummels, who still appears to be on their radar, but quite frankly, anybody that means Van Gaal stops throwing youngsters who are not ready in at the deep end like Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett will suffice.
Victor Valdes has been signed after his long rehabilitation from a knee injury and will act as an understudy for De Gea. That’s some understudy. United obviously have no problems attracting the big names to Old Trafford, despite their current lack of Champions League football, so I have no concerns about them not being able to bring in that much-needed replacement for Vidic and Ferdinand the club has been longing for.
Review of the season
United’s downfall has quite clearly been in their defensive setup. In the Manchester derby at the start of November, Louis van Gaal employed his eighth, ninth and tenth different centre-back pairing. This must have been so frustrating to watch as a United fan as I would go as far to say that United are just one world class centre-half away from being able to assemble a genuine title challenging side.
What must be stressed however is that they should already be a title challenging side. In my eyes, despite currently lying third behind rivals City and Chelsea, Van Gaal’s men have been under-performing in the league this season. Having spent £156m in the summer and without the distraction of the Champions League, I would argue that United really should be at the top of the table and by some distance.
There have been some baffling results including the aforementioned 5-3 loss at home to Leicester and the disgraceful Capital One Cup exit to MK Dons but the fact is, United are in the ascendency and the fans as well as the the players are fully behind the manager. Their run of six straight wins just before Christmas must also be commended. Even Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini are playing well so the manager must be doing something right.
But United have improved vastly since the side that lost three of the first five fixtures of the season and look sure to claim third spot in the Premier League. Champions League football was the minimum requirement I believe for Louis van Gaal in his first season in English football and they look nailed on to achieve it.
Newcastle United (LV): 6/10
It has once again been a turbulent campaign for the Geordie faithful after losing manager Alan Pardew to Crystal Palace they face another period of uncertainty. On the field it has been a season of two halves so far spending long stages of the early months in the bottom three they soon climbed the league but what will happen now is anyone’s guess.
Player of the season – Ayoze Perez
This was a tough choice as Moussa Sissoko and Jack Colback have represented plenty of positives in the centre of the park, however Perez has quite literally been the difference in some games. Brought in for just £2M from Tenerife in the summer, he is another example of Newcastle’s fantastic recruitment system. It is rumoured Perez chose Tyneside over Real Madrid in the search of first team football and many magpies supporters will be thrilled he did. The Spaniard has a modest six goals so far this term including the winner in a match against Liverpool. His brilliant work ethic and the way he constantly hassles defenders forcing them into errors has made him an instant fan favourite at St James’s Park. He has certainly taken to the Premier League better than other summer arrivals Remy Cabella and Emmanuel Riviere and unsurprisingly there are whispers of a big money move to Arsenal or Manchester United this month. Geordies will be hoping that Perez will remain at the club which in another unstable period for the club as they search for a new manager and perhaps for the time being Newcastle are a good fit for Perez as he continues his development which has already seen him win his first Spain under-21 cap.
Conceding goals has been the main concern for Newcastle this season as at the time of writing they have let in 31 at the back which is only two goals less than bottom of the league Leicester have managed. Injuries have played their part and it isn’t looking any better on that front with Steven Taylor possibly out of action until next season with an achilles problem. Newcastle have also not had a consistent centre back partnership this season. Taylor, Williamson, Coloccini and Dummett have all played at centre back this season and a more consistent back four would probably help stop leaking the goals. Also through no fault of their own rookie keeper Jak Alnwick has had to eight games this season due to injuries to Tim Krul and Rob Elliot and his inexperience has shown at times especially in the 3-3 draw against Burnley. Newcastle also need more goals to come from midfield. So far this season only Papiss Cisse and Ayoze Perez have managed more than five goals and for a team of Newcastle’s ambitions is not good enough. The midfielders especially need more goals with Sissoko being the highest scoring midfielder with just three strikes.
Review of the season
As I have already alluded to Newcastle’s season so far has been very much in two sections. It started in a very negative manner as they didn’t win any of their first seven games. As expected the fans began getting restless and it wasn’t long before the knives were out and the ‘sack Pardew’ banners came out in force. Particular low points in those early months include the 4-0 defeat away to Southampton, who were having quite literally the opposite start to Newcastle, and the 3-3 draw at home to Crystal Palace where the magpies were leading with two minutes to go before Wilfried Zaha equalised in the fifth minute of stoppage time. It seemed only a matter of time before Pardew was sacked but the club stuck with him and soon got their reward. The much needed first win came at home against Leicester courtesy of a Gabriel Obertan goal and this sparked a run of five wins in a row including victories over Liverpool and Tottenham. Newcastle also became the first team to defeat league leaders Chelsea when Cisse bagged a brace. They even managed to hang on with ten men for the last ten minutes when Steven Taylor was sent off. The club have stagnated a touch of a late and losing 4-1 away at Arsenal and losing their fourth consecutive Tyne-Wear derby against rivals Sunderland won’t have gone down well with the fans but losing Pardew at such a critical time in the season will have gone down worse. They have to get the next appointment absolutely right otherwise they could get dragged into a relegation fight.
The Mackems are the draw specialists this season sharing the points 11 times more than any other side. This has left Sunderland looking over their shoulders at the relegation dogfight and praying they don’t get dragged into it.
Player of the season – Costel Pantilimon
The Romanian giant has been brilliant this season in goal for Sunderland since his summer move from Champions Man City. He had to bide his time with Vito Mannone being Poyet’s first choice goalkeeper for the first few games but once he was given the opportunity Pantilimon grasped it with both hands. They may have conceded 31 times this season but that is largely due to the players in front of Pantilimon’s poor form and if not for the Romanian it could have been more. If the club invest in better support for Pantilimon he could push on to be one of the best keeper’s in the league.
In one word: goals. Sunderland have scored a measly 18 times this season only Aston Villa have a worse record. Adam Johnson is their top scorer with just five and strikers Connor Wickham, Steven Fletcher and Jozy Altidore have only got eight between them highlighting the need for the owner to spend some money on a striker who is going to steer the team away from the dreaded drop zone. Against Liverpool they even resorted to bringing on serial loanee Danny Graham to try and grab a point and this highlights the serious need to improve in that area of the field. Wins are also something Sunderland are massively lacking in this season. They have won only three times this season and only one of these has come at the Stadium of Light. Cracks may have been papered over with that Tyne-Wear derby victory over Newcastle but there is no doubt that having just three wins at this stage of the season is relegation form. Defensively they haven’t been perfect either as can be seen in their horrific 8-0 defeat to Southampton in October. They have conceded 31 times this year and investment is needed in all areas of the field. Credit however has to go to Gus Poyet because a lesser manager could have seen the black cats in real trouble.
As has been the story so many times over the last few campaigns Sunderland’s season did not start well. It took until October for that first win to come against Stoke and only two more have followed all season. Sadly their first win didn’t spark their season into life as just a week later they were hammered 8-0 away at Southampton a performance which Poyet described as his most embarrassing day in football. Sunderland have showed promise despite their poor results this season. They managed to win their fourth Tyne-Wear derby on the bounce when Adam Johnson’s late winner nicked the points, and even in games they have lost such as the 3-2 defeat to Man City they have showed periods of optimism but they haven’t been consistent enough. Poyet has stressed multiple times he needs to be allowed more movement in the transfer window to achieve bigger things and until he is allowed this it is unlikely we will see the black cats pulling up trees in the Premier League.
Tottenham Hotspur (LV): 6/10
Pochettino had an indifferent start to life at White Hart Lane but their are signs he is beginning to get it right. Spurs have had better luck on the road than at home but are now sitting comfortably in 5th place and looking to finally crack the top 4 which has alluded them for the last few seasons.
Player of the season – Harry Kane
The young Englishman has been in simply electric form for the North London club this season with 17 goals 7 of them coming in the league. Kane’s good form has come as quite a surprise to many after having a few less than successful loans at Millwall, Norwich and Leicester in recent years. If not for Kane this season then Spurs would not be in the position they are in the league with fellow strikers Adebayor, Soldado and Lamela all failing to impress in front of goal. The goals scored by Kane this season were also valuable ones. He scored the last minute winner against Aston Villa and got the equaliser in a 2-1 win over Hull and his best performance of the season was in the 5-3 victory over Chelsea when he bagged a brace and won a penalty which was converted by Andros Townsend. His performances this season have left many people calling for him to be given a chance by Roy Hodgson in the England setup.
The main area which Spurs need to improve upon this campaign is their home form. Performances at the lane this season have not what the North London faithful have come to expect with four defeats and two draws so far this campaign. Three of these four defeats came to sides Spurs would be expected to beat in the form of West Brom, Newcastle and Stoke. They also rode their luck at times against Crystal Palace where if not for better finishing from Puncheon and Bolasie they would have another defeat on their hands. The saving grace for Spurs has been their away form which has been the best in the league. Another area which Spurs need to improve upon is there goal difference. They have a goal difference of +2 which is the lowest in the top 7. They have scored 29 goals this term which is also the lowest in the top 7 and conceded 27 which again is the worst in that section of the league. Therefore, Spurs probably need to find a striker to help shift the goal burden of just Kane and tighten up their defence in the transfer window to improve upon that goal difference.
As I have already alluded to Tottenham’s season is very much a case of exceptional away performances and poor home ones. However, on a positive note when Tottenham have played well they have shown they can compete amongst the best. The 5-3 win over Chelsea on New Year’s Day was their best performance of the season and a rare team performance rather than just relying on Kane or Eriksen to bail them out like we have seen happen in wins at Leicester, Aston Villa and Hull. Whilst Kane did bag a brace Rose, Chadli and Townsend also pitched in with goals. However, they still managed to concede three goals at home which is slightly concerning. The 0-0 home draw against Manchester United was a much better defensive display as Manchester United had fourteen shots but Spurs still kept a clean sheet, mainly due to the heroics of Hugo Lloris in goal. If they can strike the balance between this defensive display and the attacking threat they showed against Chelsea there is no reason why they cannot compete for a European spot.
Player of the season – Saido Berahino
Whilst there are plenty of off the field problems for the Burundi-born starlet, what West Brom’s No. 18 is doing on the pitch is simply breathtaking. Its very rare for a 21 year-old to show such composure in front of goal and with a senior England cap to his name already, his stock is only going to go up and up. It is no surprise then, that Liverpool are reportedly ready to make a £25m offer to swipe him away from the Hawthorns.
Berahino has found the net 13 times in 23 games so far this season, but it has not just been his goals that have made him such an important player for the Baggies in recent times. He is very comfortable on the ball and does not have that tendency that so many young players have, to hold on to the ball for too long instead of looking for a colleague in a better position. The Albion faithful rate his talent very highly and with his electrifying pace and eye for goal, he has been likened by fans to the iconic Laurie Cunningham who enjoyed a spell at West Brom during the 1970s and later went on to play for Real Madrid.
In a season where club record signing, Ideye Brown has made next to no impact in the Premier League since joining for £10m from Dynamo Kiev, Berahino has essentially been there to pick up the pieces. Tony Pulis is the new man in charge and the former Stoke and Crystal Palace manager is no fool and will certainly realise how imperative it is that Berahino remains a West Bromwich Albion player.