Monthly Archives: January 2015

Premier League Midseason Check-In

As we reach the midpoint of the 2014-15 Premier League season, it’s time to check in on how my preseason predictions for the table are shaping up.

Each team is listed in order of their standings after 19 of the 38 games, from worst to best, with their current position, position I picked them to finish in at the start of the season in parentheses, and the difference between the two numbers next to that.

*Editor’s Note: Since the Premier League crams so many fixtures into this time period, I realize that this post is being published just after the 20th games of the season are being played for each squad. Just know that everything was written beforehand and the stats and standings reflect the table after the 19th games for each squad.

Leicester City – 20th (13th) (-7)

Leicester City represents one of the biggest misses of my predictions thus far. I had the Foxes pegged for a solid mid-table finish in the 13th spot, but nothing has gone right for Leicester in its return to the Premier League; particularly as of late. Just one point from their previous nine games going into last week had them buried deep in the basement, and only a 1-0 win against Hull City on December 28, has them within three points of another team.

I identified Leicester as my “reach” pick at the beginning of the season and was banking on some incredible goalkeeping from Kasper Schmeichel to steal them a few extra points. While Schmeichel hasn’t had any really bad games he hasn’t, perhaps through no fault of his own, been able to come up with too many spectacular performances. His injury in early December that will keep him out for at least a month is a big blow to club’s hopes though.

Allowing 31 goals in 19 games, tied for the second-most in the Premier League, will always make life difficult for a newly promoted side. Leicester will need to shore up its back line, and maybe add a few more goals, if it hopes to avoid the drop.

Burnley – 19th (19th) (+0)

Burnley are the first of just four teams whose positions I have gotten completely correct from my predictions at the beginning of the season. Their biggest problem has been scoring, as the attack hasn’t been up to the necessary level for the top division. If you only score 14 goals in 19 games… it doesn’t really matter how few you give up, you aren’t going to win too often.

Young striker Danny Ings has been inconsistent as well. The 22-year old forward has just four goals on the season and hasn’t found the back of the net in his last six appearances.

However, after an extremely slow start, Burnley are starting to improve in recent weeks. They have claimed points in six of their last 10 games, including all three of their victories on the season. Even more impressive is that three of those games where they earned at least a share of the spoils came against teams in the top half of the table.

Crystal Palace – 18th (17th) (+1)

Crystal Palace are one of four teams who have just three wins on the season, and are clearly a player in the relegation dogfight to avoid falling through the trapdoor. However, very similarly to Burnley, Palace have gained momentum since their 3-1 win against Liverpool on November 28.

Including that victory, they have earned at least a point in five of their last eight games, which is half the total number of games they’ve earned points in this season. The apparent arrival of new manager Alan Pardew from Newcastle could help them continue to build and improve.

Hull City – 17th (14th) (-3)

Things haven’t gone quite to plan for Hull City in 2014-15. After opening the season with a victory against QPR, things quickly fell apart. The worst stretch came in November when the Tigers failed to earn a single point. Hull’s win against Sunderland on the day after Christmas was their first win since the beginning of October. Even those three points simply give them enough to stay out of the drop zone on goal differential.

Striker Nikica Jelavic is the only real player of note with five goals on the season, decent enough for a player who was going to need to carry the brunt of the offense after Shane Long was sold over the summer. My prediction of a 14th place finish seems like a reach at this point in the season based on their performance. Hull City will need either some reinforcements in the January window or a bit of luck… or maybe both… to avoid being relegated to the Championship.

West Bromwich Albion – 16th (18th) (+2)

West Brom are out of the bottom three, at least for now, but not by much. Just one point separates them from falling as far as 19th in the standings. Young forward Saido Berahino has been the breakout star with seven goals to this point in the campaign, far and away more than anybody else on the roster. He may be the only reason this squad isn’t mired in the basement… yet.

Now the issue becomes whether or not the Baggies can hold onto their prized player. It doesn’t look likely. Even with it taking a large transfer fee for the club to sell, several teams are preparing to swoop in for him in the January transfer window. I still stand by my pre-season prediction that West Brom won’t beat the drop.

Queen’s Park Rangers – 15th (20th) (+5)

QPR were my pick for dead last in the standings, and while they could still end up there, the West Londoners are currently one of my more off-base predictions at five spots higher up the table than I thought they’d be. The reason for which can be stated in just two words… Charlie Austin.

The forward has been playing like a man possessed with 12 goals in 17 matches, good for third-most in the Premier League, behind the likes of Sergio Aguero and Diego Costa. He has been a huge success, surprising only in that few expected his goal-scoring prowess at the Championship level to translate to the England’s top division.

Now if QPR can only find a way to improve their defense, which has leaked a league-worst 34 goals this season (nearly two per game), they might just have a chance at staying in the Premier League for 2015-16.

Sunderland – 14th (15th) (-1)

If you had told me at the start of the Premier League campaign that by the midway point Sunderland would only have three wins and striker Jozy Altidore would not have scored at all, I would have changed my pick and had Sunderland as a shoe-in for a team to be relegated.

Instead, my original pick for them of 14th is only one position off, but it doesn’t make sense. You look at the stats and see that despite scoring the third-fewest goals of any team (and still giving up a fair amount) Sunderland have the most draws in the league, and by a large margin, with 11.

That doesn’t tell the whole story though. Their goals against mark is a bit inflated courtesy of an 8-0 thrashing they suffered at the hands of Southampton back in October. Discounting that embarrassing performance they have only given up 19, a pretty respectable amount. That and a knack for scoring just enough goals to get the job done has kept the Black Cats in a lot of games. If the rotation of Vito Mannone and Costel Pantilimon in net can keep doing what they’re doing, Sunderland should be just fine. A few extra goals wouldn’t hurt though.

Brad Guzan save

Aston Villa – 13th (12th) (-1)

Aston Villa are another team who have been saved time and time again by one player, and that man is an American! Goalkeeper Brad Guzan is making a strong case for remaining as the U.S. starting keeper even when Tim Howard returns from his sabbatical from the international game.

Among the league leaders in saves and with 6 shutouts already to his name, Guzan is making me look like a fool for doubting him and daring to suggest that Villa give Shay Given another chance at the starting spot. Even more impressive than all that is the fact that he’s boosted Aston Villa to 13th in the table when he only has gotten a putrid (and league low) 11 goals of support from his team all season. That’s 11. As in just one more than 10. In 19 games!

An injury to Guzan or turn in form for the worst could spell disaster for Villa who are still only five points above the drop zone. The January transfer window is their chance to bring in some offensive support.

Everton – 12th (7th) (-5)

While I didn’t have Everton as high up on my list as some preseason predictions, I still expected the Toffees to have a pretty good campaign. But that just hasn’t been the case. After last year’s sensational… yet still somehow disappointing under the circumstances… fifth place finish, Everton have failed to follow up with a similar campaign.

Massively expensive Romelu Lukaku has been okay with six goals on the year, but Everton would have expected more from the young Belgian after shelling out all that cash for him. They have been buoyed by ageless wonder Samuel Eto’o who continues to turn back the clock and a good year from Steven Naismith. But at the end of the day, Everton have been the epitome of average. Not terrible, not great, and that may just be where they stay.

Stoke City – 11th (8th) (-3)

Stoke City was the team I expected, wanted and maybe even hoped would take the leap forward this year and start to move closer to the top of the table. They are currently only three points behind Liverpool for 8th place, which is where I had them winding up at the end of the season, and their seven wins so far is an indicator that things are moving in the right direction.

With a little more time, Stoke may still prove to be the surprise package of the campaign. The Potters have already had a few massive and meaningful results with wins against Manchester City, Swansea and Arsenal. These could prove to be factors in deciding the race for the top four spots, which is something I thought would happen at the beginning of the year.

But they have also had some disappointing games with losses against the likes of Burnley and Leicester. A few less points dropped against teams they should really beat and Stoke are capable of making waves.

Newcastle United – 10th (11th) (+1)

Newcastle have had quite a swing up and down the table, with a recent streak of three straight losses settling them into the middle of the pack. Manager Alan Pardew bizarrely started the season on the hot seat with many expecting an early firing, only for Pardew to quit his job at Newcastle after solidifying his position. He appears to be headed for Crystal Palace. That could be enough to upset the apple cart and send Newcastle on yet another down stretch.

Papiss Demba Cissé has been the main player in attack with nine goals for the club, but he’ll be out of action for a little while as he plays for Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nation. Yet another reason to be wary of Newcastle’s current position.

Swansea City – 9th (9th) (+0)

Swansea currently reside in the ninth spot in the standings, exactly where I had them pegged to finish the season. One thing I got right was expecting Wilfried Bony to continue his goal-scoring form from last season. He already has eight tallies to his credit in 2014-15 and remains near the top five in total goals.

The big surprise for me has been goalkeeper Łukasz Fabiański who has been solid in between the posts with eight shutouts. After failing to establish himself at Arsenal I figured Fabiański would never make it as a #1 goalie in the Premier League, but the Polish international has proved up to the task. On the other hand, striker Bafétimbi Gomis has been a bit of a disappointment with just one goal in numerous substitute appearances, and could soon move on in the transfer window.

Mario Balotelli Liverpool

Liverpool – 8th (4th) (-4)

Liverpool have gone back to looking like the team they were before last season’s triumphant turnaround. Without Luis Suarez’s magic touch in front of goal, the Reds are no longer the same threat they were in 2013-14. Even worse, Daniel Sturridge’s early season injury (he played just three games before being sidelined, scoring one goal) left them without their best striker.

Steven Gerrard has continued to be his consistent self, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana have done their part, but none of them have scored more than five goals. Simon Mignolet has struggled in goal once again and has even been replaced at times by Australian Brad Jones. The majority of their new additions have also failed to pan out as expected, with Mario Balotelli representing the biggest flop. The bottom line is Liverpool have not been able to replace their best player.

Tottenham Hotspur – 7th (6th) (-1)

Tottenham are unbeaten in their last five games and sit just two points out of a finish in the top four. They have done it with some great performances by a trio of players. Christian Eriksen, Nacer Chadli and Harry Kane all have at least five goals and Spurs haven’t lost to a team other than Chelsea since early November.

Former Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino has gotten his new team in order. It’s hard to see what exactly this squad needs in terms of new additions in the transfer window. A tough start with four losses in their first 10 games meant that Tottenham had a hole to climb out of. Now that they’re winning games it may be better not to mess with success.

West Ham United – 6th (16th) (+10)

West Ham United are by far my biggest miss of my preseason predictions. I expected West Ham to play one-dimensional football and struggle mightily before just barely staying up. Instead, the Hammers have thrived this season and are knocking on the door of European football.

Diafra Sahko, Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, Enner Valencia and company have been something of a revelation this season. The team’s total of 30 goals are thee sixth-most in the league and have them up to sixth in the standings. Four wins in five games was a spectacular run of form, but in their last two games against teams ahead of them in the table (Chelsea, Arsenal) they stumbled, losing both.

The smart move for West Ham seems to be to keep on doing what they’re doing since it’s obviously working. While they may not qualify for Europe in the end, they are in much better shape than they have been in many years.

Arsenal – 5th (3rd) (-2)

Arsenal have been a work in progress this season. They’ve managed to score goals and win games, but they have struggled to put a full performance together. Even when they seem to be bossing a game and on the verge of scoring, they’ll give up possession and allow a goal on the counterattack.

At various points players like Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck have gone through runs of good play, but the most consistent has been Alexis Sanchez. The former Arsenal man has a team-high 10 goals on the season. It has been the defense that has been shakiest for Arsene Wenger’s crew. Injuries and inconsistent play have taken their toll, and Arsenal are too far behind to play a part in the title challenge. Victory for the Gunners will be finishing inside the top four.

Southampton – 4th (10th) (+6)

Southampton have been another surprise team. After a good 2013-14, the Saints seemed to have resigned themselves to a poor year when they sold off most of their young, promising talent from the prior campaign. While they made a heap of money off the deals and brought in a few more players, Southampton didn’t seem to have the roster necessary to mount a top four challenge.

The Saints hit a rough patch after a great start to the season when they lost four games in a row, three of which came at the hands of teams in the top half of the table. Southampton shook it off and even managed a draw against Chelsea in their last match of 2014. Graziano Pelle, Sadio Mane and Dusan Tadic have been some of the standout performers. A top four finish and Champions League football would give a big boost to Southampton’s finances, but even if they don’t get it the Saints have shown you can be successful in the Premier League with smart transfers and a good youth academy.

Manchester United – 3rd (5th) (+2)

Manchester United started the season looking like they did last year, when they had one of their worst seasons in recent memory under David Moyes. Even with a heralded new manager in Louis van Gaal and a ridiculous amount of cash spent on new players, United stumbled out of the blocks. However, they have begun to turn things around, and while they aren’t in the title race they do look likely to qualify for Europe.

A few more high-priced acquisitions appear to be on their way in January, perhaps another of van Gaal’s Dutchmen. United appear to have avoided the worst-case scenario, which would be another year without qualifying for the Champions League. But they still have a long way to go before their back to being a team that could win the Premier League.

Manchester City – 2nd (2nd) (+0)

Man City have pulled within three points of Premier League leaders Chelsea by ripping off seven straight wins before a disappointing draw on December 28, against Burnley. All it will take is one slip up from Chelsea and a corresponding victory for the Citizens to put the teams on level terms.

The biggest issue for City, as it seems to be most years, could be the loss of midfielder Yaya Toure who will be part of the Ivory Coast’s squad at the African Cup of Nations this winter. There are plenty of reinforcements available though and they should be able to maintain their form.

This team definitely has what it takes to win the title, and they are right where I expected them to be. Now it’s just a race against Chelsea to the finish line through the second half of the season.

Chelsea – 1st (1st) (+0)

Chelsea were my pick to win the league at the beginning of the season and they’re still my pick to win the league here at the midway point. For a while it looked like the Blues might go undefeated, rivaling the unbeaten Arsenal squad from a decade ago, but a loss to Newcastle ruined those chances.

Chelsea seem to have hit on the winning formula, which is: score the most goals and allow the fewest goals and you should win the league. Manchester City have made things interesting by closing in on them, but this still feels like Chelsea’s championship to lose. Diego Costa has been a key acquisition for Jose Mourinho with the Spaniard scoring seemingly at will while Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard and Oscar provide the passes.

Chelsea look like the most complete team and don’t have any obvious flaws that need addressing. Even with a challenge from Manchester City, Chelsea should still have plenty to get the job done.