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Soccer Insights – Premier League mid-season review

Following the Liverpool v Swansea game last night, the final ball has been kicked in the Premier League during 2014. With each team having played 19 matches, it also happens to be the halfway point of the season. With that in mind and the rest of European football taking a break, let’s review the fortunes of each team so far, in order of their position in the table.

1. Chelsea 46pts

The Blues are reaping the rewards from Jose Mourinho’s excellent summer business, when the club signed Filipe Luis, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, as well as installing the returning Thibaut Courtois as the new No. 1. Chelsea were many people’s favourites before the season began, and remain so now with the fans and the bookies. Talk of an unbeaten campaign ended with defeat at Newcastle, but they can be delighted with their season so far. They also have a Champions League date with PSG and a League Cup semi-final with Liverpool to look forward to.

2. Manchester City 43pts
In what looks like a two horse race for the title, defending champions Manchester City sit three points off the top. Sergio Aguero has been a key factor behind their form, leading the scoring charts with 14 goals so far. However, he has ongoing injury concerns which could determine how far their title push goes. In their final game of 2014 they threw away a two goal lead at home to Burnley which denied them a club record 10th successive win in all competitions, a complacency that they cannot afford. The Citizens will meet Barcelona for the second year running in the Champions League last-16.

3. Manchester United 36pts
The chasing pack is led by Manchester United, a surprise considering their poor start to the season and plethora of injuries. Their weak defence has often been bailed out by an attack boosted by the arrivals of Radamel Falcao and record signing Angel Di Maria, with a six game winning streak key to their current position. Without the distraction on European competition United have been able to focus solely on the league, with Louis van Gaal looking good to guide them back into the Champions League.

4. Southampton 33pts
The Saints have been one of the surprise packages of the season so far, especially with many fans and pundits tipping them for relegation after the summer exodus of players including Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren and Luke Shaw, not to mention manager Mauricio Pochettino. Their replacements have by-and-large been excellent, with Graziano Pelle contributing eight league goals and Dusan Tadic running the show from midfield. While a top four position come May is unlikely, Southampton have a great chance of qualifying for the Europa League.

5. Arsenal 33pts

Arsenal fans could be forgiven for feeling a sense of déjà vu. The Gunners are dealing with a seemingly never-ending injury list, and have a fragile defence to undermine their attacking verve. Summer signing Alexis Sanchez has been a revelation, and Arsene Wenger has confirmed that he will look for defensive reinforcements in the January transfer window. Whatever happens, you can bet your bottom dollar that Arsenal will be in the top four at the end of the season – that’s just what they do. Whether that will be good enough for the fans is another matter.

6. West Ham 31pts
Along with Southampton, West Ham are the other big surprise this season. Their summer business may have passed under the radar, but Aaron Cresswell, Cheikhou Kouyate and Diafra Sakho have all been superb signings. With Stewart Downing recapturing the form that earned him a move to Liverpool and Andy Carroll regaining fitness, the Hammers have plenty of attacking options. They ended the year with defeats against Chelsea and Arsenal, but this is nothing to worry about and they look on course for a top 10 finish this season.

7. Tottenham 31pts
It’s been a solid, if unspectacular, first season in charge for Mauricio Pochettino. The big story at White Hart Lane has been the emergence of youngster Harry Kane, whose goals in the Europa League eventually earned him a starting spot in the Premier League, an opportunity he has grasped with both hands. Spurs don’t look strong enough to challenge for a top four spot, and their Europa League ambitions will be tested with a tie against Fiorentina. They have a great chance of a Wembley appearance with a League Cup semi-final against League 1 Sheffield United.

8. Liverpool 28pts

What a difference a year makes. Liverpool began 2014 battling for top spot, but end it in 8th place and 18 points off the lead. The loss of Luis Suarez to Barcelona would always have an impact, but with Daniel Sturridge missing most of the season through injury the Reds have struggled for goals – the pair scored 53 league goals between them in 2013/14. Rickie Lambert has just one league goal, while Mario Balotelli, who felt like a panic buy at the time, has none. Other summer signings such as Dejan Lovren and Lazar Markovic have been poor, as has goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. Liverpool have a tough task of qualifying for the Champions League, a competition they have already been knocked out of after finishing behind Real Madrid and Basel in the group stage. They will play Besiktas in the Europa League and Chelsea in the League Cup semi-final.

9. Swansea 28pts
The Swans began their season with a superb win at Old Trafford, and can be very pleased with their position at the halfway point. Summer signing Gylfi Sigurdsson has been instrumental to their play, and in Wilfried Bony they possess the player who has scored the most Premier League goals in 2014. Keeping hold of the Ivory Coast hitman amid reported interest from Spurs and Liverpool will be vital if the Welsh team are to have any hopes of pushing for European qualification.

10. Newcastle 26pts
It’s been a topsy-turvy season on Tyneside – would we expect anything less? A slow start had fans calling for Alan Pardew to be sacked, only for the Magpies to go on a great run that saw them close on the top four. With Pardew reportedly set to become the new Crystal Palace manager the fans may finally get what they want, but you have to be careful what you wish for – there are strong suggestions that current centre back Fabricio Coloccini is set to be offered the job. It’s never dull in Newcastle!

11. Stoke 25pts
Mark Hughes is beginning to stamp his mark on the team, as they play a more attractive style of football compared to the Tony Pulis era. Last season he led them to a best-ever Premier League finish of 9th, a mark they’ll be looking to improve upon. Summer signing Bojan has shown that he can do it on a cold night at the Britannia!

12. Everton 21pts

The Toffees have been one of the biggest disappointments of the season so far. Roberto Martinez led them to a 5th place finish last season in his debut year in charge, but things are very different this year as they ended 2014 with one win in seven. They splashed out on record signing Romelu Lukaku, but it’s an aging defence which has been a problem, with replacements needed for Sylvain Distin and Tim Howard. Everton have fared better in Europe; after winning their group, they will play Young Boys in the Europa League next.

13. Aston Villa 21pts
Villa should be happy with 13th place considering their woeful attacking record – they have scored just 11 league goals. Christian Benteke has been a huge miss with injury and suspension, and he’ll be key to keeping them out of a relegation battle. Paul Lambert will also have to fend off interest in defender Ron Vlaar if Villa are to maintain their record of one of only seven teams to have appeared in every Premier League season since its inception in 1992/93.

14. Sunderland 20pts
The Black Cats have lost fewer games than 4th place Southampton, but their three wins is joint lowest in the league – 11 stalemates make them the draw specialists. Gus Poyet performed a miracle last season as he kept Sunderland up against all the odds, and although they look unlikely to threaten a top half finish, they should avoid the drop again this time around.

15. QPR 18pts

The Hoops have been heavily reliant on their home form this season, having lost all nine of their away fixtures. Although they currently sit outside the bottom three, they’ll have to improve on the road if they want to survive. Striker Charlie Austin has been sensational, netting 12 times already – not bad for a player who was playing non-league football just five years ago. Expect Harry Redknapp to be as busy as ever in the January transfer window, with Jermain Defoe just one name being linked with a move to Loftus Road.

16. West Brom 17pts
The Baggies have been in freefall with just one win in their last nine, and the recent defeat to Stoke was the final straw for the board as they sacked Alan Irvine. Tony Pulis and ‘Tactics’ Tim Sherwood are two of the frontrunners for the job, but whoever comes in will have a big task in ensuring that West Brom extend their stay in the top flight to six seasons.

17. Hull 16pts
The Tigers began the season playing in Europe for the first time, but failed to make it past the Europa League qualifying stages. They look set for a relegation dogfight, with a home defeat against bottom club Leicester in their most recent game upping the pressure on Steve Bruce. It’s hard to see where the goals will come from, which could ultimately prove to be their downfall.

18. Crystal Palace 16pts
Palace were rocked before a ball had even been kicked this season when Tony Pulis resigned less than 48 hours before their opening fixture. He was replaced by Neil Warnock, but he became the first managerial casualty of the season when he was sacked shortly after Christmas (not that it will be any consolation for Warnock, but this is the longest time until a sacking since the 1995/96 season when the first manager sacked was Roy McFarland on 2nd January). Alan Pardew is on the verge of taking over, and he’ll need to galvanise a squad that has what it takes for survival.

19. Burnley 16pts

Most people’s favourites for relegation have acquitted themselves admirably, evidenced by their most recent game when they came from two down at Manchester City to claim a draw. Burnley look like a team that are aware of their limitations and play to their strengths, with their teamwork and work ethic key to their hopes of staying up.

20. Leicester 13pts
The Foxes started the season very well, including a famous 5-3 win against Manchester United. However, that proved to be a high point as they had to wait another 99 days for their next league win, a 1-0 success at Hull in the final match of the year. Nigel Pearson appears to have the backing of the players and the fans, but Leicester will continue to struggle and they’d bite your and off for a 17th place finish if offered to them now.

Matchday 20
New Year’s Day is one of the few times when all 20 teams play on the same day – not a bad way to ring in the new year! Here’s what to look forward to:

Aston Villa v Crystal Palace
Hull v Everton
Liverpool v Leicester
Man City v Sunderland
Newcastle v Burnley
QPR v Swansea
Southampton v Arsenal
Stoke v Man United
Tottenham v Chelsea
West Ham v West Brom

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Greg Bortkiewicz