Ahead of the new year and the opening of the transfer window, and with every team now having played half of their 38 games, there is a brief time for reflection on a Barclays Premier League in which the key races for the title, Champions League places and to avoid relegation all remain very much alive. Here’s how each team has fared so far and how they are shaping up for the second half of the season:
1. Chelsea -- Points: 46 Grade: A, Title Odds: 4/11 (provided by Bovada.lv)
As expected, the decisive addressing of their needs in the summer with the signings of Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas has made Chelsea a much different proposition this season. While they have been less decisive in recent weeks and they aren’t yet the runaway leaders that appeared likely early on, Jose Mourinho’s side still look the most complete and consistent outfit in England. It would be a significant surprise were they not Premier League champions in May.
2. Manchester City -- Points: 43, Grade: B, Title Odds: 5/2
After a poor start, it appeared that Manchester City would defend their title in the same lackluster manner as two seasons ago. Yet, despite often being without key players, they have recovered well in recent weeks to ensure they remain very much in the hunt for the championship. Their capacity for mental lapses, though, means they are likely to fall short of Chelsea.
3. Manchester United -- Points: 36, Grade: B, Title Odds: 16/1
Manchester United’s objective at the start of the season was for a top-three finish, and, after a horrid start to Louis van Gaal’s reign, they remain on course to achieve just that. The club has rarely excelled, but that is excusable given that they have battled an incredible list of injuries. There are also definite signs that, not only is Van Gaal getting his ideas across, but that he is returning the aura to Old Trafford. A title challenge will be beyond them, but third place should be theirs.
4. Southampton -- Points: 33, Grade A, Title Odds: 400/1 After selling off a host of key players in the summer, as well as losing their manager and replacing him with a man whose coaching career has been very much a mixed bag, worrying times looked in store for Southampton. Instead, some shrewd signings and impressive guidance from Ronald Koeman has the South coast club riding high. They lack the strength in depth to remain in the Champions League places, but they will still be prominent in the top half of the table.
5. Arsenal -- Points: 33, Grade: C, Title Odds: 66/1
Despite adding another world class player during the summer in the form of the brilliant Alexis Sanchez, this season has been a frustratingly familiar story for Arsenal. They often look great against acquiescing opponents, but crumble when the pressure is on. Meanwhile, injuries have continued to come thick and fast to highlight Arsene Wenger again leaving his squad short in key areas. In all probability they will finish fourth, but Champions League qualification is no longer the achievement it was during Arsenal’s years of enforced financial prudence.
6. West Ham -- Points: 31, Grade: A, Title Odds: 1500/1
Unloved for his style of play at Upton Park, Sam Allardyce went into the season not only under pressure to deliver results but to produce a more nuanced, entertaining style of play. He has delivered impressively on both accounts. The signings of Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia, combined with Allardyce moving Stewart Downing to the head of a midfield diamond has given West Ham a new dimension, although they retain their physical component. A top-six place may prove beyond them, but there has been a significant step forward this season.
7. Tottenham -- Points: 31, Grade B-, Title Odds: 500/1
After yet another change in manager and philosophy, it was always likely to be a season of transition for Tottenham. Mauricio Pochettino was denied the funds to bolster his squad significantly in the summer and instead has been left to try and get the best out of the wave of signings made in the wake of Gareth Bale’s departure. With Pochettino lacking the players needed to play his high intensity approach, a Champions League place is too much to ask, but improved consistency of late suggests a credible top-six berth is certainly possible.
8. Liverpool -- Points: 28, Grade: D, Title Odds: 400/1 After exceeding expectations last season and then losing their best player by a distance in Luis Suarez, this campaign was always going to be a challenge for Brendan Rodgers. Not helped by Daniel Sturridge also missing almost the whole season to date, Liverpool have been insipid going forward and still embarrassingly error-prone at the back. Heading into 2015, there are at last some signs that Rodgers has found a way to get back their attacking verve, but it will come too late to earn a return to the Champions League.
9. Swansea City -- Points: 28, Grade: B, Title Odds: 2000/1
A mid-table place and 28 points at the halfway point of Garry Monk’s first season in charge is certainly deserving of significant credit. Pushing on to better things in the second half of the season is likely to prove beyond them, especially if they were to lose striker Wilfried Bony, but they should certainly avoid being dragged into a relegation battle.
10. Newcastle United -- Points: 26, Grade: B-, Title Odds: 1500/1
How to evaluate Newcastle? A woeful start that led to widespread demands for manager Alan Pardew to be dismissed was followed by a fine run that included becoming the only team so far this season to beat Chelsea. And now the manager is leaving of his own accord to join Crystal Palace. While Pardew had an up-and-down ride in charge, owner Mike Ashley’s history in appointing managers suggests that Newcastle fans may in time look back on Pardew’s reign with increasing fondness.
11. Stoke City -- Points: 25, Grade B, Title Odds: 2500/1
More of the same from Stoke this season: Too good and resilient to go down, but lacking the necessary quality in attack to really push on. As they showed recently against Arsenal, they can still upset the big guns with their physical approach, while former Barcelona youngster Bojan Krkic has added some flair. But lacking a regular goal-scorer, they should again finish in mid-table.
12. Everton -- Points: 21, Grade C-, Title Odds: 1500/1
After such an impressive first season in charge, Roberto Martinez has really struggled in his second campaign at Goodison Park. The once so stable defensive partnership of Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka has shown clear signs of being past its best, while Romelu Lukaku has displayed more of his rough edges than frightening potential after Everton smashed their transfer record to make him a permanent signing. Martinez is a fine coach and Everton should still finish in the top half, but the squad needs renewing going forward.
13. Aston Villa -- Points: 21, Grade: C, Relegation Odds: 6/1
After taking 10 points from their first four matches, many believed Aston Villa were ready to kick on. But, they remain an incredibly one-dimensional side under Paul Lambert. Able to frustrate and upset the big teams with good organization and pace on the break, Villa are woefully lacking in the creativity required to take the initiative. With just 11 points from their last 15 games, Villa are heading for another relegation battle. They should, though, again have just enough to avoid the drop, especially with Christian Benteke now fit again.
14. Sunderland -- Points: 20, Grade: C, Relegation Odds: 11/2
Having shared the points from 11 of their first 19 matches, Sunderland are the Premier League’s draw specialists and on course to break the league record. After reaching the League Cup final and mounting a great escape last season, there was a hope that Sunderland might push on under Gus Poyet this season, but, with goals hard to come by, that hasn’t happened. Still, the defense has been shored up of late, and should ensure they again beat the drop.
15. Queens Park Rangers -- Points: 18, Grade: C, Relegation Odds: 7/4
They may have come up through the playoffs, but QPR had far more experience and quality in their squad than either of the other promoted sides. Thus, a record of played nine, lost nine away from home reflects badly indeed on the coaching of Harry Redknapp. The goals of Charlie Austin at Loftus Road have so far kept them afloat, but they will have to show more resilience if they are to avoid another disastrous relegation.
16. West Brom -- Points: 17, Grade: C, Relegation Odds: 2/1
While, by all accounts, impressive on the training ground and well liked, Alan Irvine’s appointment at West Brom always looked doomed. So it has proved, with Irvine being dismissed this week as West Brom tumble toward the relegation zone. The decision to turn to Tony Pulis is a major shift in strategy by a club that has relied on a head-coach, rather than all-encompassing manager model. But needs must, and the former Stoke and Crystal Palace boss may prove to be the best man to rescue what is a very limited squad.
17. Hull City -- Points: 16, Grade: C-, Relegation Odds: 7/4
After a late rash of signings in the summer, it appeared that Hull might be able to build on a strong first season back in the top flight. Instead Steve Bruce has, as at previous clubs, been unable to use significant transfer funds to move a team to the next level after beating the drop. With one win from 12 matches, Hull face a real battle to stay up and Bruce faces a fight to keep his job.
18. Crystal Palace -- Points: 16, Grade: C, Relegation Odds: 7/4
Losing Tony Pulis on the eve of the season was always going to make this a difficult season for Palace, something that the hasty appointment of Neil Warnock did nothing to rectify. Unsurprisingly, Warnock became the first Premier League manager dismissed, with the surprise imminent appointment of Alan Pardew now giving them a much improved chance to stay up. The squad will still need strengthening in January, however.
19. Burnley -- Points: 16, Grade: B, Relegation Odds: 4/9
Just the fact that Burnley remain very much in with a chance of staying up at the halfway point of the season is a significant achievement for Sean Dyche. With a paltry budget, no-one even expected Burnley to get promoted last season, and thus it was only right that Dyche retain the full confidence of his club despite a difficult start to life in the Premier League. The goals of forwards Danny Ings and Ashley Barnes coupled with the team’s phenomenal work rate provides Burnley with hope, but they are likely to ultimately fall short.
20. Leicester City -- Points: 13, Grade: C, Relegation Odds: 1/2
After such a positive start for last season’s Championship winners, things have gone downhill ever since a memorable 5-3 victory over Manchester United in September. Without a win since until beating Hull on Sunday, Nigel Pearson’s side are in danger of being cast adrift and may well have left themselves with too much to do in order to save themselves in the second half of the season.