It’s halftime! Or thereabouts. We’ve watched a full half of the Premier League season unfold, and it’s surely been that doozy we were all promised. Let’s dive into a few of the more interesting points to follow in 2018.
I won’t waste your time with the Manchester City love in. You can turn the pages of any paper worldwide to get your City fix. The adulation, of course, is warranted, but mostly pandering rubbish hauled in by journalists all questioning Pep Guardiola’s abilities last season when Antonio Conte and Chelsea stayed disciplined and structured to grab the title. As predicted in the summer here: City will obviously win it all.
Everton have been disappointing to a massive degree. I picked them in August to be the team to watch for neutrals, but no one has stepped to the plate. They have a new manager in Big Sam Allardyce and of late the results have been turning around. Draws against Liverpool and Chelsea (and West Brom disappointingly at the weekend) mixed in with wins against Newcastle and Swansea have the Toffees up to 9th. At 27 points they are level with Leicester and only six points behind the darlings of Burnley fighting for European places. That’s a much brighter prospect than the one they were only just recently staring at in the relegation struggle. With that said, the new signings have been hit or miss. Wayne Rooney has an astonishing ten Prem goals (although 30% of that tally came in one match) as he continues to prove the doubters calling for his retirement wrong. Gylfi Sigurdsson has been quiet (did not notch a goal until late November) but now seems finally to be waking up (scored a screamer against his old club Swansea in mid December). They will certainly need much more from their record signing if the dreams of Europa League football in 2018-19 want to materialize. And, Congolese star Yannick Bolasie is back from his long term injury to contribute to the Evertonian cause. Bolasie has not really had a chance to leave his mark on the club as the injury ravaged his entire 2017. If he is his usual self expect this man to dance on the ball and wreak havoc going forward. He is just what the club needs as Everton has found a distinct absence of strikers. They did not adequately replace the departing Romelu Lukaku (Dominic Calvert-Lewin is only 20 years old and new boy Sandro Ramírez has been a gigantic flop) and find themselves struggling to score. If they can remain consistent and get some back line stability from Michael Keane in particular, there’s an opportunity to kick on and succeed for the Goodison Park side.
Burnley have been a nice surprise. They sit in 7th only five points from the Champions League spots. Sean Dyche has his side pressing and playing very disciplined. The key to smaller clubs finding true, normally unseen success in the Premier League is staying consistent and injury free. Both qualities the Clarets have discovered and utilized. Burnley play good football and have had triumphs away from home. I don’t, however, believe they have what it takes to continue the all out blistering points pace they’re on. They will remain difficult to break down and defeat, but I don’t see them breaching the top 6. Liverpool have already reinforced their porous back line with a stupidly high £75m fee for Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk. Tottenham have the world’s most prolific striker of 2017 in Harry Kane. And Arsenal will go on their usual three week run in the Spring (although will be interesting to see if the Gunners will have Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez to call on after the January transfer window) and save face whilst confusing their fans once again into believing in Arsene Wenger. Despite hopes being sky high, fending off Leicester, Everton and Watford for 7th will be an enormous success for Burnley in 2017/18.
The relegation fight is going to be blockbuster movie worthy. Currently, only ten points separate 11th and 20th. Ten points can get you from the foot of the table into the top half! It’s going to be war. Teams like West Ham and Crystal Palace who began the season with such mighty failings have started to find a bit of form under new managers. They both are above the relegation zone as we speak but are still deep in the mire. West Brom and Swansea have taken their place as the bottom feeders. I see nothing in Swansea to tell me that they have what it takes to improve. As they sack managers at a Guinness World Record pace (they just hired Carlos Carvalhal who was let go by Sheffield Wednesday last week), they have won only three times (versus Palace, Huddersfield and West Brom mind you) in 20 attempts. Tammy Abraham, Jordan Ayew and Wilfried Bony have simply not been good enough. The onus is on those three to produce and take the few chances the side creates. I know it’s difficult when service is rare and of a quality distinctly lacking any value, but it is necessary that the stars accept the pressure and take over. An eleven goal haul after TWENTY matches is exactly how you motor down Route 1 to relegation.
The other team I worry about is Bournemouth. They have the roster to stay up, but have not been able to get results. They’ve won twice in the last two months and have failed to get any meaningful performances from strikers Benik Afobe, Callum Wilson and Joshua King. Not to mention, perennial relegation savior no matter the club Jermain Defoe is currently injured. The Cherries need to find someone else to rely upon (Jordon Ibe has been disappointing on the wing thus far). With winnable matches coming up until March (Arsenal at home and Chelsea away their main hurdles), Eddie Howe’s men need to focus and could have a chance to progress up the table. It’s all to play for and a string of two or three wins can really save you this season. Even stacking up draws is imperative and as we’ve seen with the bigger clubs, the points are there for the taking. Besides City who seem to be facing sides already resigned to losing, every match in the Premier League has a tinge of unpredictability. That alone gives hope to the bottom dwellers that they too can stay up.
As the transfer window is preparing to reopen, splashing cash will certainly have its say on the final standings of the League. The aforementioned relegation threatened squads will attempt to buy as they fend off suitors for their stars (in particular, Crystal Palace will struggle to keep hold of starlet Wilfried Zaha). Sides like Huddersfield and Brighton who have surprised the masses by sitting comfortably in 11th and 12th, respectively, will need to make sure they keep their players and maintain the status quo. Both of them are playing well, and very attractively, as they continue to strip points off the rest of the Prem. But, the bigger clubs beneath them (read: Newcastle, Stoke and Southampton who are currently flush with van Dijk funds) will be looking to spend. Those three as well as West Ham have woefully underperformed and will not just sit tight in the January window. Expect movement (Basel’s defender Manuel Akanji? Dortmund’s forward André Schürrle? Mönchengladbach’s defender Reece Oxford? Leverkusen’s Leon Bailey?) and expect desperation as the weeks go by to snap up anybody anyone can afford.
So, strap in! 18 matches left for glory. I hope your heartstrings can endure!