The 2018/19 Premier League season is already past the halfway point. Time certainly flies when you’re having fun, doesn’t it?
Well, it does for most people who enjoy watching the beautiful game on England’s shores. For every fan delirious with their team challenging for the title and European places, there’s another lamenting their club’s current plight as they languish at the bottom of the table. And then, of course, there’s Jose Mourinho.
The first half of the season has seen plenty of wonder goals, shocking tackles, upsets, hammerings, and of course controversy both on and off the pitch. But amongst the chaos, how has your team performed?
In what has been a season of ups and downs for Arsenal under Unai Emery, the ups have been far more frequent and have largely outweighed any blemishes. It was always going to be a season of significant change at the Emirates following the departure of Arsene Wenger after 22 years as the Gunners boss.
The season started in concerning fashion, with back-to-back defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea seeming to warn that there was much work to be done by Emery in returning Arsenal to the summit of English football. However, the Gunners put many doubts to bed in some style, as Emery guided his new side on a 22-match unbeaten run in all competitions – a fitting number as the Spaniard grew comfortably into his succession of Wenger’s 22-year tenure at the club.
That run saw Arsenal turn in a number of significant displays which, in many ways, were more important than the results in reflecting the Gunners’ progress under their new head coach.
Reinforced senses of energy, purpose and direction have been refreshingly clear. A 1-1 draw at home to Liverpool, followed by a 4-2 triumph over Tottenham in Emery’s first taste of the north London derby at the Emirates, both suggested that Arsenal are back in the mix among the big hitters and once again able to hold their own against top quality opposition.
However, defeats to Southampton in the league and Tottenham in the Carabao Cup brought Arsenal’s winning run to a grinding halt.
A 5-1 dismantling at the hands of Liverpool also provided a stern reminder of how much work is still to be done to guide the Gunners through a successful transition under Emery. However, Arsenal bounced back with wins after both setbacks, and the Gunners have continued to display the kind of resilience which had previously been lacking in recent seasons.
With a tough run of fixtures on the horizon and the usual mid-season succession of injuries to contend with, there is still much work to be done as Emery attempts to carve out a successful debut season at the Emirates The clear signs of progress are there for all to see and exciting times are ahead for Arsenal.
By Joe Woodward
It speaks volumes about the progress Brighton have made in a short space of time that they are ten points clear of the relegation zone, and well on their way to a third year in the Premier League, despite rarely hitting top form this season.
A neutral would probably choose the 3-2 win over Manchester United as their highlight of the campaign so far, but for Brighton fans it doesn’t come any better than beating Crystal Palace, as they did with a first half obliteration at the Amex Stadium in December.
Brighton showed in both of those matches that they can blow teams away on their day, so it is a source of frustration that they often seem conservative in their approach; particularly away from home. The Seagulls are still struggling on their travels, with just two wins from eleven.
Glenn Murray’s eight goals have won Brighton nine points so it would be hard to argue against him being their player of the season so far, but other star performers include goalkeeper Matt Ryan – currently away at the Asian Cup – and midfielder Davy Propper.
Chris Hughton will be the first man to tell you that survival is all that matters, but Brighton should be looking up rather than down. Once they reach the 40-point mark, we will hopefully see them throw off the shackles and produce the performances we know they are capable of.
By Sean Drury
At the start of the season, if you showed Bournemouth fans where they are in the table right now – 12th placed on 27 points – most would be fairly content with what they’d see.
It’s been pretty good going for Eddie Howe’s plucky little southern team, but it’s been a bit of a bizarre season for the Cherries to get themselves to where they are. Early on, Bournemouth were the underdog darlings, the ultimate overachievers.
From the first 10 games of the Premier League season, they picked up an impressive 20 points. The fact that in the following 11 games they’ve mustered just seven makes clear their issues.
But, regardless of form, they’ve nearly always entertained. At the back things have been rather leaky, with the Cherries conceding 40 goals already this season. But going forward, at times they’ve been been scintillating. In Callum Wilson, Josh King, Ryan Fraser, and the excellent new singing David Brooks, Howe has his own discount version of Liverpool’s famed attacking quartet.
There are issues to be addressed in this side, the imbalance is obvious – even if Jefferson Lerma has added some needed steel to the heart of midfield. The recent 3-3 draw away to Watford almost perfectly describes this team: Lethal going forward, woeful at the back.
Still, the Cherries sit 12th in the table – only two points off eighth- with no thoughts of relegation seemingly relevant. If Howe can just find a solution to sure up that backline, he’ll almost certainly guide this team to another impressive league finish. Their goal should be to cement themselves into the top half of the table come May – so far, it looks perfectly achievable.
By Hal Fish
Just a week ago, Burnley had won just one game in the Premier League since September – and possessed a cumulative goal difference of -22 in that 12 game stretch – this would’ve been a much more dour read.
But crucial back to back wins over West Ham and Huddersfield, the latter of which was only the Clarets’ second win away from home this season, coupled with the return of Tom Heaton (coincidence?), has Burnley fans feeling much more rosy.
Of course, others may be pondering why we’re in this mess to begin with, but perhaps it just highlights the miraculous job Sean Dyche did last year.
Taking Burnley to the Europa League was an unbelievable achievement, and is also something that has evidently hampered the club domestically this term. I’m confident we can stay up, just because there’s three teams worse than us, but the long-term future of the club, especially if Dyche departs, feels a bit less promising at the minute.
Last season, Neil Warnock did it again. He earned a record eighth promotion in English football after guiding Cardiff back into the Premier League.
This is not something to be sniffed at.
However, it does have one pitfall which can be represented in Cardiff’s season so far. The Bluebirds overachieved in getting themselves into the top division, and now they are suffering for it.
Essentially the squad just isn’t good enough to thrive in the Premier League. But, after 21 league games so far, they find themselves just outside of the relegation places – it’s about as much as they could have hoped for.
And for that reason they should be credited. To currently be in 17th place with 18 points is decent going, especially when you consider the massive spending sprees the other newly promoted sides went on during the summer. After all, Cardiff spent about £27m and still find themselves four points ahead of Fulham, who spent £100m.
With this in mind, you can say the season has been a relative success. Most fans would have simply hoped to still be in with a chance of survival at this time of the year, and that’s exactly where things are at.
Impressive displays from goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and loanee midfielder Victor Camarasa have given the side just enough quality so far, and if Warnock can keep on top of things, his side might just manage to stay up come May.
By Hal Fish
It’s been season of mixed fortunes for Chelsea so far, that’s for sure. With new manager Maurizio Sarri bringing his exotic ‘Sarriball’ philosophy to Stamford Bridge, we’ve seen the Blues playing squad adapt to the style of play with varying degrees of success.
Marcos Alonso has suffered without a back three to cover his marauding runs forward, while N’Golo Kanté has been farmed out into an unfamiliar position, following the arrival of Sarri’s golden boy, Jorginho.
On a positive note, Eden Hazard has looked backed to his best, afforded the freedom of roaming the pitch to his heart’s content, and continually popping up with a moment of magic.
Similarly, new goalkeeper Kepa has wowed Blues fans with his exceptional distribution; a necessity for Sarri’s desire to play out from the back. And here’s certainly been some very enjoyable highs: an early season victory over Arsenal; ending Manchester City’s unbeaten streak with a 2-0 win; and a last-gasp equaliser against Manchester United that rocked Stamford Bridge to its very foundations.
There’s also been some real frustrations: an abject, humiliating loss to Spurs; a shock home defeat to Leicester City; and David Luiz offering levels of consistency akin to that of an underfunded, rural train service.
Scoring goals has also been a real problem for Chelsea of late, with the club desperately in need of a reliable striker to lead the line. Let’s face it, with Liverpool and Manchester City spending megabucks, it was always going to be a tough task for Sarri’s side to challenge for the title, and Champions League qualification was, and remains, a realistic target for the Blues this season.
Considering the radical overhaul of playing style, and the fact that Sarri still needs time to build a squad capable of adapting to his methods, it’s not been a bad effort by any means. At the start of the season, if you were to offer any Chelsea fan the option of being three points clear in fourth place by the midway point, they would most likely have taken you up on it.
Indubitably, it’s been a solid start, but there’s definitely room for improvement between now and May.
By Richie Boon
14. Crystal Palace
It’s been a mixed season so far for Crystal Palace, with Roy Hodgson’s side in 14th having been in the bottom half of the table since September.
Despite this, the Eagles have never dropped into the relegation zone, only going as low as 16th. Two wins in their first 13 games was a poor start, though it was an improvement on seven straight defeats to open the 2017/18 season.
There have been some outstanding results, including the shock 3-2 win at Manchester City. On the other hand, Crystal Palace have fallen to three straight defeats on two occasions, and losing back to back games twice.
Summer signing Cheikhou Kouyaté has been solid alongside captain Luka Milivojevič, who is the Eagles’ top scorer this season. The midfield duo have been key for Palace, alongside star man Wilfried Zaha up front.
Palace have also been solid at the back, with the seventh best defence in the league, conceding just 26 goals.
However, there is clear improvement needed up front. Their four strikers have scored a combined two goals this season – with their first league goal coming on 2 January.
With the January transfer window now underway, Hodgson urgently needs to invest in his forwards. Overall though, it’s been decent for Crystal Palace, though a strong transfer window could massively bolster their season.
With a change of manager and an outlay of nearly £100m in the summer that saw three Barcelona players brought in, Everton were billed as the most likely club to break into the so-called ‘top six’.
What ensued has been largely disappointing, all things considered.
Arguably the most frustrating side to watch – from a Toffees viewpoint at least – during the first half of this Premier League campaign, there have been lashes of brilliance going forward from new samba signings Richarlison and Bernard, intertwined with some ghastly defending in an amazingly inconsistent campaign.
Marco Silva’s side sit in 11th place and interestingly no better off points-wise at this stage than they were last season when ‘Big Sam’ was in charge. Allardyce was lambasted by fans for his lack of results and negative attitude, however there is a leniency towards Silva as he implements a new style that is certainly more pleasing on the eye to appease the Goodison Park fans.
The ex-Watford boss will take confidence from the performances of Andre Gomes and Richarlison, but the balance of the team does need tweaking. With a top striker and a tad more defensive resilience, the second half of the campaign could prove to be a sweet one for the Toffees.
Fulham’s return to the Premier League was much anticipated following an impressive Championship campaign last season.
The hype was enhanced when the club went and spent around £100m in the summer – bringing in the likes of Jean Michel Seri, Aleksandar Mitrovic, André-Frank Zambo Anguissa; as well as some other big name loanees such as Andre Schurrle and Calum Chambers.
Oh how hopes were high, so so high. However, after 21 games, things have not exactly gone to plan at all.
The Cottagers sit 19th in the league table which just 14 points to their name. They have conceded more goals than any other team in Europe’s top five leagues. That number is 47 – they conceded one less in 46 Championship games last term.
The poor form came at a cost for manager Slavisa Jokanovic, who lost his job back in November. Claudio Ranieri has come in with a difficult to task on his hands – not winning the league with Leicester difficult, but still tricky.
So far under the Italian, things have improved slightly and the club has at least managed their first league clean sheet of the season, but there’s still a lot of work to do.
Up to this point, things have been mostly disastrous for the Cottagers. But don’t despair just yet. After all, it was about this time last year when Fulham really started to fly. If Ranieri can tighten things up at the back, and keep Mitrovic amongst the goals, there may be hope yet.
By Hal Fish
I mean, it’s not great is it? Eight points clear of safety and on a seven game losing run isn’t what you’d call ‘comfortable’. Or ‘good’. Or ‘even slightly okay’.
All of last season’s problems have come back hard, and the things they did right after winning promotion have disappeared.
The Wolves game – going to Molineux and winning 2-0 to seal a run of seven points from nine – felt like a turning point…but they haven’t picked up a single point since.
Huddersfield are so dull, such a non-entity as a football team this season, that it’s hard to put it into context. So here’s some facts comparing the 2018/19 campaign to that of last term.
After 21 games, they had 24 points. Now they have 10.
After 21 games, they’d won six games. They’ve won twice.
After 21 games, they’d scored 18 and conceded 32. Now, that’s 13 and 37.
They were 11th. Now they’re 20th.
The club’s lone leading scorer in the league this season is a centre-back. He’s scored three goals.
It took until game 21 of the season for any Huddersfield striker to score a Premier League goal this season.
Unless something changes dramatically in the next month, Huddersfield are going down. Fast.
By Chris Deeley
10. Leicester City
Leicester City’s emotional rollercoaster year ended on a positive note following successive victories over title hopefuls Manchester City and Chelsea.
Alas, Leicester’s 2018/19 season will always be remembered for the tragic loss of owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who died in a helicopter crash in October after leaving the King Power
Stadium. The entire footballing world came together to remember the Thai businessman, as well as the four other people who lost their lives in the tragedy.
Returning to matters on the pitch, the Foxes sit comfortably in seventh place, which is an apt reflection of their season so far. The squad – boosted by the summer arrival of James Maddison – is capable of challenging the best sides in the Premier League (as shown by the victories over City and Chelsea), yet they can also frustrate, losing to Cardiff and being held by Fulham.
Additionally, Leicester have been poor in both domestic cups, with their recent loss to League Two side Newport County in the FA Cup a huge shock.
It seems like the Foxes will be destined to finish in the top half of the table, but well outside the European places.
By Will Imbo
If you had asked even the most optimistic of Liverpool fan (which I am certainly not) at the start of the campaign how the first half of the 2018/19 season would go, very few would have confidently plumped for this.
Early chat of ‘second season syndrome’ for Mohamed Salah died away pretty quickly, summer signings’ slow integration fears became about as relevant as anything Piers Morgan says, and the prospect of an early Champions League exit was batted aside too.
Virgil van Dijk, Alisson and the forwards have obviously excelled but the quiet development of Gini Wijanldum, Andy Robertson and Xherdan Shaqiri into seasoned world-beaters has also been a surprise source of immense joy.
Top at Christmas, top at New Year, fewest goals conceded…if anything it’s been too good.
Still, the first half of the Titanic is just a movie about a lovely cruise, and nothing is won by January (except the Scottish League Cup).
Please just keep it up Liverpool. While the team looks rock solid currently, there’s bound to be more than a few icebergs to navigate around in the coming months.
8. Manchester City
Following up a league-winning campaign in which the Citizens amassed 100 points was always going to be difficult, but City gave it a good go in the first half of the season.
It looked early on as if City had actually improved from last campaign; Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero were firing on all cylinders, whilst Bernardo Silva more than capably deputised for an injured Kevin de Bruyne.
Everything was in order for City to finally retain a Premier League title…until December happened.
Three defeats in five matches to Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Leicester City saw Pep Guardiola’s men drop from first to third, with an unbeaten Liverpool and resurgent Tottenham occupying the two positions ahead of them.
The wheels came off of the City Express, and they have it all to do to regain top spot. Of course there is still plenty of football to play, and the 2-1 win over Liverpool proved that this title race is far from over.
By Nosa Omoigui
7. Manchester United
The first half of Manchester United’s season in 2018/19 can be split into an unequal two parts: ‘With Jose’ and ‘After Jose’, with the difference between each monumental.
Following on from a promising 2017/18, Mourinho was clearly unhappy with a lack of squad strengthening before the campaign had even begun, leading the boss to cut a rather grumpy figure.
Even so, the season started well enough when United saw off Leicester at Old Trafford, but things quickly went downhill from there. There was rife speculation that World Cup winner Paul Pogba had fallen out with the boss, that top earner Alexis Sanchez had few or no friends at the club, and that Mourinho in general had lost his ‘special’ touch and most of the dressing room.
It impacted performances and results and United were dreadful. By mid-December, United were 11 points adrift of the all-important top four and something had to give. Mourinho was given the boot and Old Trafford legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer drafted in from Norway as caretaker boss.
In just a few games the difference is already tremendous. It was like hitting the reset button, and United, who already had a very talented squad, are suddenly now starting to play to their potential, all just because of a few smiles, some well placed arms on shoulders and some positivity.
6. Newcastle United
The more things change, the more things stay the same.
Except that’s not quite accurate, because nothing has changed on Tyneside. If anything, things have only gotten worse this season. Following a summer of an embarrassing lack of transfer activity, where the Magpies’ top signing (at least financially) was Yoshinori Muto for £9.5m, it took almost three months for Newcastle to get their first win on the board.
There have been a few bright spots in an otherwise drab season, including the three-game win streak which has been key in keeping the Toon outside of the relegation zone (for now), as well as the play of Matin Dubravka and Salomon Rondon (the club’s top scorer with six in all competitions).
But the fact that Rondon is a LOAN signing, as well as manager Rafa Benitez’s refusal to sign a new contract, speaks to the much larger problem on Tyneside: owner Mike Ashley.
Fan protests and general disgust has done little to inspire Ashley to make a change and for once pump some money into the club. In fact, Ashley claimed yet again in December that he was hoping to sell the club before the January transfer window, but that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. The timing of his ‘announcement’ – right before a scheduled fan boycott against Wolves which was subsequently cancelled in light of this news – is more than suspicious.
It’s not an overreaction to say that this January transfer window could be the most important in Newcastle’s history. If Ashley finally gives some money for Benitez to spend, the threadbare squad could be improved, the club could survive in the league and Benitez might sign a contract extension. If he doesn’t, there’s a real possibility that the Magpies will be relegated, Benitez will leave in the summer, and the future of this historic club will be bleak.
Here’s hoping for the former. And for goodness sake, can someone just buy the club from Ashley!?
By Will Imbo
On paper, if you’d told Southampton fans back in August that they’d be in the relegation places with just 16 points after their first match of the new year, very few of them would be as carefully optimistic as the mood around St. Mary’s seems to suggest.
Football is a funny sport that way, though.
In short, it hasn’t been a very good season for the Saints so far. Initially, it looked as if the bulk of Mark Hughes’ summer signings had been about as effective as a balloon made of lead (Danny Ings aside, of course) and that relegation loomed if the club didn’t act quickly and decisively.
One win in 16 matches meant Hughes had overstayed his welcome, having taken them back to square one after putting out the fire and just about keeping their heads above water last campaign, but his replacement hasn’t half lifted the mood around the club.
The 3-2 win over Arsenal at St. Mary’s seemed, at once, to lift years worth of hoodoo at home, and announced the arrival of Ralph Hasenhuttl in the loudest possible terms.
Recent defeats to West Ham and City served as a reminder that there is plenty of work to be done, but Hasenhuttl’s Saints so far look to be hungry for a bit more than just survival.
That could, of course, simply be down to the New Manager Effect™, but you can’t help get the impression that things are on the verge of turning around for the months – and years – to come.
What initially seemed like an odd start to the campaign has turned into a brilliant one for Tottenham.
After a summer of inactivity in the transfer window where Jack Grealish was the club’s main target, Spurs have made their best ever start to a Premier League season and are now being talked about as possible title contenders.
While no Tottenham fan should be getting too excited, they can be quietly optimistic about securing a top four spot and giving one of the cups a real go.
Sure, there’s a flavour of ‘what could have been’ after losses to Watford and Wolves, but that has to be weighed up against qualifying for the knockout rounds of the Champions League after it looked virtually impossible.
Fringe players have been given chances to impress, even if Mauricio Pochettino has been forced into those decisions with a horrendous amount of injuries in his squad, with Juan Foyth, Kyle Walker-Peters and Oliver Skipp all playing semi regularly and not looking out of depth.
When you consider the amount of injuries Pochettino has had to deal with, coupled with the constant swathe of negativity surrounding the club’s new stadium, it’s a minor miracle Spurs are in the position they find themselves in.
However, now is not the time for Pochettino to rest on his laurels. There is still plenty for Spurs to fight for until the end of the season, and the real progress can only be measured through where the side finish in the league and how far they go in the Champions League.
It’s merely the halfway point and while things look relatively rosy for Tottenham right now, there’s still plenty of time for everything to go wrong. That may sound pessimistic, but hey, that’s the life of a Spurs fan.
Watford fans must be comfortable knowing their system of finishing mid-table(ish), sacking the manager and giving someone else a go seems to bear fruit.
The Hornets have had at least one manager every year since 2008 and even after promotion to the Premier League Slavisa Jokanovic could not keep his job…but in fairness the method appears to be working.
Under Javi Gracia’s leadership this time out, Watford have largely impressed putting on some cracking displays, particularly at the beginning of the campaign when they toppled Spurs amongst others to taste victory in their opening three games.
Gracia will be pleased with the attacking flair his side have shown, having Roberto Pereyra and Gerard Deulofeu at his disposal almost dictates the free-nature of the Hornets’ play, but it’s at the other end of the pitch they’ve had problems; epitomised by the recent 3-3 draw with Bournemouth.
A seventh-placed finish does look within Watford‘s grasp which would be an outstanding achievement. Consistency may be the stumbling block however, as almost every time Gracia’s men step onto the pitch it’s like a bag of revels, nobody’s sure what to expect.
2. West Ham
It’s been an entertaining start to life under Manuel Pellegrini at West Ham. And fortunately for all Hammers fans up and down the country, for all the right reasons.
But it could have been oh so different had the Chilean tactician stuck to his guns of playing two central midfielders for longer than the first four Premier League games. Outplayed, outclassed and looking dreadfully off the pace, West Ham found themselves bottom of the pile and pointless after defeat at home to Wolves – looking thoroughly miserable to boot.
Since then though, things have perked up somewhat. A change in formation brought a change of luck and the Hammers haven’t really looked back after outclassing bogey team Everton at Goodison Park.
Big money was spent in the summer on the likes of Felipe Anderson and Issa Diop – and what fantastic purchases they have proven to be. Couple their arrival with the shrewd, invaluable acquisition of Lukasz Fabianski and the rapid rise to prominence of Declan Rice in the holding midfield role, and you’ll do well to find a Hammers fan who isn’t beaming from ear to ear at the club’s progress.
Of course, getting carried away is what happens down in the east end – but without wanting to coerce a shocking run of form out of Pellegrini’s boys, you really do think that pre-season hopes of finishing comfortably inside the top 10 can actually be realised this season.
Let the good times roll, and let the expansive brand of football continue.
It is often a struggle for teams who achieve promotion from the Championship to easily adapt to the whirlwind that is the Premier League.
Yet in the case of Wolverhampton Wanderers, the move up in level has been embraced totally by both their manager Nuno Espirito Santo and their players as they have enjoyed a successful first half to the 2018/19 campaign.
The Portuguese revolution in the Black Country which started in 2017 continued in the summer as the Wanderers added the experienced duo of Rui Patricio and Joao Moutinho to their squad whilst also making permanent moves for promising youngsters Diogo Jota and Ruben Vinagre.
Arguably the most successful of Nuno’s signings in the summer has been Raul Jimenez, who has played a role in 11 of Wolves’ 23 league goals this season, scoring six and assisting five. Whereas fellow promoted sides Fulham and Cardiff City have failed to pick up a single point against the Premier League’s top six sides so far this season, Wolves have thrived on the big occasions, securing impressive victories over Spurs and Chelsea whilst also holding their own against Arsenal and Manchester City.
If you were to criticise any aspect of the Wanderers season so far it would be that they have yet to consistently replicate the levels that they have produced against the top sides when playing teams who are mid-table or lower.
However, with it being the club’s first top flight campaign for six years, their supporters will forgive the odd slip-up here and there, especially considering that Wolves are currently ninth in the Premier League and 11 points clear of the relegation zone.
With the real possibility that Nuno could lead his side to a top seven finish this season, Wolves are already establishing the foundations needed for the club to prosper in the Premier League for years to come.
By Josh Cole