At the halfway point in the season, read Tommy John’s review of what has been a fascinating campaign of Premier League action:
Liverpool’s 4-1 demolition of Swansea on December 29th signalled the halfway point of the Premier League this season, and as we say our goodbyes to 2014, the League continues to dazzle once again. The scrap for survival is already delicately poised to produce a nail-biting climax, the race for the top 4 has more contenders than ever before with West Ham and Southampton entering the fray, and Chelsea and Man City are continuing their unrivalled onslaught to be crowned the Champions of England come May.
Some critics may stress that this campaign has failed to deliver in terms of entertainment as less goals have been scored in comparison to seasons before (at the same stage), and Chelsea and Man City seem to be light-years ahead from the chasing pack.
However, as the New Year approaches, football fans across the country are filled with optimism like no other. The unpredictability of a ‘fresh start’ evokes an invaluable buzz among all sets of supporters, and despite the trouble and turmoil of matches before, each fan is entitled to believe that this year is their year.
So let this half term review bring about hope for all clubs, whether your team are flying high and flourishing or slipping down and suffering, it’s still all to play for in 2015:
Position – 6th
Predicted position end of season – 4th
Best player so far – Alexis Sanchez
Area for improvement – Central Midfield/Defence
Key fact so far – The Gunners have allowed the least amount of attempts at their goal even though 4 other teams conceded less.
Wenger must be counting his blessings that Sanchez opted for life at the Emirates this campaign, as the Gunners would seriously be struggling without the Chilean’s contribution. The ex-Catalan carried Wenger many times as poor form other luxury players and the vulnerability of the Arsenal spine left them exposed on occasions. However, the return to form from Cazorla and Ramsey and the return of Giroud has led to more free flowing football and positive results for the North London outfit. Furthermore, Mertasacker and Koscielny have seemed to compose themselves at the back, albeit if it may be temporarily. If Wenger can purchase a dynamic defensive midfielder and a top class centre half then Wenger will be challenging once again, but until then, the experienced Frenchman will galvanise his existing squad to comfortably achieve Champions League football.
Position – 12th
Predicted position end of season – 14th
Best player so far – Ron Vlaar
Area for improvement – Final third/creativity in midfield
Key fact so far – Ashley Westwood is the only Villa player to average at least 1 key pass per game this season.
When looking at the Aston Villa squad individually, it’s hard to believe that this side has only managed 11 goals – the least amount of any side this season. With players like Agbonlahor, Weimann, Delph and Benteke – all of whom have proven quality – Lambert needs to adjust the shape of his side to try and make these top players perform to their potential. Westwood, Vlaar and Guzan have been the shining stars for the struggling Midlands side, and with the return of the injured Benteke, Villa may be rejuvenated once more.
Villa should utilise the counter attack as they have the pace and guile to do this better than most. They don’t possess enough creative players in midfield to break down teams as they are showing. Until then, their position in the league will remain as it is.
Position – 19th
Predicted position end of season – 18th
Best player so far – Danny Ings/Jason Shackell
Area for improvement – Centre forward/Defence
Key fact so far – Only Stoke have won more aerial battles than Burnley this season.
Sean Dyche is certainly one of the best young managers in English football, and if anyone can keep Burnley afloat this year, he can. Jutkiewicz was brought in by Dyche in hope that he could forge a partnership with star man Danny Ings. However, injuries to Ings has meant that he’s struggled to carry his Championship form to the Premier League, even if he has scored and created the most goals this season for the Clarets (4 goals and 2 assists). Furthermore, Jutkiewicz is second only to Peter Crouch in aerial duels won, proving there is potential for a prosperous partnership between the two, as the elusiveness of Ings can benefit from any knockdowns.
Shackell and Trippier have done very little wrong at the back, but it’s arguable whether their defence is Premier League quality. Therefore, it’s at either box where Dyche’s men will struggle to out- perform their opponents, and with little funds available, it’s difficult to see a vast improvement for Burnley.
Position – 1st
Predicted position end of season – 1st
Best player so far – Eden Hazard
Area for improvement – Holding midfield to support Matic
Key fact so far – Eden Hazard completes 5.2 dribbles per game this season, more than anyone else. He is also the leagues most fouled player.
Mourinho’s work in the summer transfer market proved exactly why he’s regarded as the best club manager in the world. The acquisitions of Courtois, Fabregas, Costa and Matic have been invaluable, as it seems that the Portuguese Maestro has achieved an equilibrium greater than any of his rivals. The partnership between Costa and Fabregas has been superb, resulting in Costa topping the scoring charts and Fabregas already equalling the most assists from last year. Furthermore, Hazard has been electrifying, running defenders ragged and adding a further dimension to the Blues squad. The defence have also carried forward their excellent form, conceding only 14 this campaign with Matic playing a vital part. His breaking up of play has been tremendous and he’s excelled in starting attacks and playing key balls forward. When he’s been missing, Chelsea looked less effective, which should trigger Mourinho to find a similar dynamic midfielder if he’s to ensure Premier League glory.
Position – 18th
Predicted Position end of season – 16th
Best player so far – Mile Jedinak
Area for improvement – Composure in midfield
Key fact so far – Crystal Palace have the lowest possession rate (39.4%) and pass completion rate (68.7%) in the league
If a team are capable of scoring goals when it matters, they should stay up. The eagles have netted a respectable 20 goals this campaign, more than all their relegation rivals. The attacking threat of Yannick Bolasie has been a breath of fresh air at times, and goals from Gayle, Campbell and Jedinak have given Palace fans glimpses of delight this season. However, it isn’t difficult to spot the problems for Palace. Their ball retention is very poor allowing their defence to be penetrated much more than is required to remain in the Premier League.
However, the imminent arrival of Pardew will invigorate the squad to make them believe they are capable of survival. If he can encourage the midfield to be confident and composed on the ball, they may just about be a Premier League team next season.
Position – 13th
Predicted Position end of season – 7th
Best player so far – Leighton Baines
Area for improvement – Sloppy mistakes in defence
Key fact so far – Leighton Baines has claimed 5 assists from crosses this season – the most in the league.
The Toffees have been one of the most disappointing teams this season. Everyone expected Martinez’ men to be challenging for top 4 after their impressive 5th place finish last year, especially as they have largely the same side as the last campaign. However things have been tough for the blue half of Merseyside. They’ve conceded the most amount of goals from individual mistakes, and despite Baines leading the assist charts from crosses, Everton have delivered the least amount of crosses into the box unbelievably. They’ve also missed the craft and trickery from Delofeu in the final third at times.
The troubles predominantly lay at the back with 31 goals conceded, and Martinez may be looking for a centre half to strengthen the back four and cover Distin, who is struggling to play well every week at the age of 38.
However Everton are notorious slow starters, and Martinez will ensure that his star players will deliver to maintain a respectable position in May, even though the damage may already be done to reach the heights of least season.
Position – 15th
Predicted position end of season – 20th
Best player so far – Allan McGregor
Area for improvement – Final third
Key fact so far – Hull have allowed the most shots on their goal (188), while only attempting 105.
Goals have been a rarity for Hull this year. With only 18 to their name, they’ve unsurprisingly found themselves fighting for survival again. Livermore and Huddlestone have both failed to reach the high standards they set from last year, with only a single goal between them. Furthermore there’s no denying that Jelavic possesses great quality, but he’s never been credited with being a prolific goal scorer, and striking options such as Brady, Chester and Hernandez have failed to hit the net regularly. Hull have Diame and McGregor to thank, as the ex-Hammers energy and tough tackling undoubtedly saved many perilous attacks, and McGregor’s smart shot spotting and penalty saving has contained opponents on many occasions to only concede 26 goals.
However, Steve Bruce can’t rely on his keeper all season. The midfield and defence need to be more adept tactically and quicker to stop attempts on goal, as their luck will run out soon enough – especially when the forwards are failing to produce the goods at the other end of the pitch.
However more importantly, Bruce needs a prolific striker to save the Tigers this year, and these are extremely hard to find as he will probably find out.
Position – 20th
Predicted position end of season – 19th
Best player so far – Leonardo Ulloa
Area for improvement – Defence
Key fact so far – Leicester have taken the least amount of shots outside the box (42) and have failed to score with any.
Pearson’s men have been suffering from an identity crisis this year. After largely dominating the Championship last campaign, the free flowing football has seemed to dry up as the Foxes have been tentative in approaching the Premier League in the same vain. Instead they’ve been passive in their approach, struggling to find a style which will suit them and inevitably, finding themselves rock bottom.
Goals have been few and far between as they’ve netted only 17 times. The responsibility on Ulloa to fire the Foxes to safety has taken its toll as he has taken only one shot in his last 426 minutes of football since Leicester’s win over Manchester United. His 7 goals haven’t been enough so far, and Pearson needs other players to step up and assist the Spaniard if they want to stay in the Premier League.
However it is defensively where Leicester have essentially struggled. Only QPR have conceded more goals this year, and with Pearson still endeavoring to find a suitable defensive shape, teams of a higher quality have been able to dismantle them too often.
Pearson needs to either seek players who will suit his philosophy or adjust his tactical thinking and hope that the damage is not too severe to stay up.
Position – 8th
Predicted position end of season – 5th
Best player so far – Raheem Sterling
Area for improvement – Defence
Key fact so far – Liverpool have made the fewest attempts on goal from set pieces this season.
It was always going to be difficult to replicate the performances of last season, particularly with Suarez moving on and Sturridge being blighted by injuries. However Liverpool fans will be more than disappointed with the manner that 2014 has ended. The frailties in defence were obvious last year, but it was the genius of Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling in attack which concealed those weaknesses. The summer transfers have failed to reproduce the high quality of last year, therefore causing the ever-lasting goal leak to be particularly costly.
Recent performances have led Liverpool fans to believe that Champions League football can again be achieved. Rodgers dismissal of the out of form Balotelli has led to a more dynamic attacking three of Sterling, Lallana and Coutinho. The trio have began to re-salvage the magic of last year, and when Sturridge is fit again, goals should be more frequent for the Reds.
However, Rodgers main concern is in defence. A world class centre half must be acquired to achieve the heights of last year with Lovren failing to meet Anfield requirements. Furthermore, Rodgers may be looking to replace the mistake-ridden Mignolet to stop the goals flying in. Without this, teams will probably eclipse Rodger’s men to reach fourth place.
Position – 2nd
Predicted position end of season – 2nd
Best player so far – Sergio Aguero
Area for improvement – Adding further dimensions to their play
Key fact so far – City players are dribbled past more times than any other Premier League side (14.1). They are also dispossessed more than any other team (15.5)
After a somewhat complacent start to the campaign, the blue side of Manchester are starting to exhibit their devastating quality of late. With Toure beginning to bully the midfield again and Silva threading balls through the slightest of spaces, predators such as Aguero certainly won’t hesitate in punishing defences (as his 14 goals demonstrate). Furthermore, the sky blues could very well be topping the table if the lethal Argentinian hadn’t been so injury bound, putting into perspective how invaluable he is to the club.
However, despite City’s immense attacking flair, they have frailties to address to maintain their title surge. Joe Hart is yet to regain the form he’s capable of, and complacency has been issue as shown by losing to Stoke at home and surrendering a 2-0 lead to share the spoils with Burnley. It seems the champions struggle when their intricate passing around the box fails to penetrate, and although they are the joint top scorers, they fail to show the grit and determination of Chelsea.
If Pellegrini manages to retain Lampard’s services then City have every chance of winning the title once again, but even with Franks contribution from midfield, Chelsea should pip them to prize.bookmark me