The London Economic

Premier League Half-Term report

By David de Winter – Sports Editor

@davidjdewinter  @TLE_Sport

It’s been a funny old season in the Premier League – certainly the most topsy-turvy I can remember.  And whilst the English leagues eschew a winter break, TLE Sport has opted for the continental approach and taken a few weeks off (although it is debatable whether it will improve its performance in the second half of the season).  Thoroughly unrefreshed and rather too full of Christmas cheer, here’s a half-term report on the Premier League so far.


Top of the league and through to the last 16 of the Champions League, it has been an excellent first half of the season for Arsene Wenger’s men.  Even when down to the bare bones due to injury the team keeps on winning.  The form of Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott, Petr Cech and especially Mesut Özil has been mesmerising.  Best chance of a league title in years.  Verdict: Model Student A-

Aston Villa

From the sublime to the ridiculous.  Villa’s policy of selling their best players and replacing them with less good ones is finally backfiring.  One league win (on the opening day of the season) is guaranteed relegation form; even sacking Tim Sherwood and brining in Arsene Wenger Mark II, Remi Garde, hasn’t arrested the slide.  Going forward they are as potent as a sterilised eunuch and the defence really couldn’t be more accommodating to opposition strikers if it tried.  Little to cheer but plenty to fear – away trips to Rotherham for instance.  Should sign Charlie Austin.  Verdict: Woeful.  Total dearth of application and ability.  See me.  E


Eddie Howe’s team have been a breath of fresh air.  Never afraid to get the ball down and play they have recorded impressive victories over both Manchester United and Chelsea.  Need to eliminate calamitous defensive errors like in the 5-1 drubbing to Spurs.  However, three points clear of the relegation zone at this stage of the season is as good as they could have hoped for.  Verdict:  Real chance of avoiding the drop.  Keep up the good work.  B


One of the most spectacular falls from grace in Premier League history befell Jose Mourinho.  Seven months after leading Chelsea to the title he was sacked, due in no small part to an apparently mutinous dressing-room.  Whilst I am usually the first to lambast the classless Portuguese, I feel a little sympathy for him – his players have a lot to answer for.  A team of Chelsea’s quality shouldn’t be hovering three points above the drop zone.  If they get their act together I think they can still pinch fourth place.  Verdict:  Arrogant, self-destructive and complains too much.  Detention.  E

Crystal Palace

Flying high in seventh position, the Eagles have continued where they left off last season.  Alan Pardew has done a sterling job at Selhurst Park and it is a credit to Palace that they are up the top end of the table on merit rather than luck.  Yannick Bolasie has been the star man, ably supported by Wilfried Zaha and Yoann Cabayé.  Scott Dann and Wayne Hennessey have been instrumental too in Palace having the third stingiest defence behind Spurs and Man Utd.  Can they finish in the top six?  Verdict:  Solid and hard to beat.  Excellent term’s work.  B+


The Toffees have one of the hottest strikers in Europe at the moment in Romelu Lukaku but still find themselves languishing mid-table.  They may be the third highest scorers in the league but 29 goals conceded already tells its own story.  Full-backs Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman haven’t been quite as effective as usual.  On the flipside, Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu are having excellent seasons.  Need to keep scoring and stop conceding.  Outside chance of a European spot.  Verdict:  Inconsistent.  Have the potential to be brilliant.  Prone to lapses in concentration.  C

Leicester City

What a difference a year makes.  From the foot of the table at Christmas 2014 to 2nd place (only on goal difference) at the end of 2015, the Foxes’ story has been Roy of the Rovers stuff.  Lead by the irrepressible Jamie Vardy and backed up the magical Riyad Mahrez, Leicester thoroughly deserve their elevated position in the league.  Much credit must go to Claudio Ranieri.  Often derided as a figure of fun during his time at Chelsea, he is proving himself to be an astute manager on and off the pitch.  And to think that I tipped them for the drop.  Reached the magic 40 point mark already.  Verdict:  Exceeded all expectations.  Gold star.  A+


An average start to the season eventually did for previous manager Brendan Rodgers.  His replacement, Jürgen Klopp, arrived on Merseyside in a triumphal blaze of glory but despite impressive victories away to lowly Chelsea and Manchester City, it has all been a bit of an anti-climax.  Too many individual errors at the back combined with a worrying inability to locate the back of the net (only 22 league goals scored all season) means the Reds find themselves in 8th position.  Verdict:  Disappointing, especially after the summer spending spree.  Must improve in the new year.  D+

Manchester United

All is not well at Old Trafford.  Rumblings of discontent early in the season have given way to howls of unhappiness by the United faithful, especially after the tame Champions League group-stage exit.  Louis Van Gaal’s cautious tactics have also not gone down well with the locals (United have only scored 24 league goals all season – fewer than Watford) to such an extent that his job is in serious jeopardy.  The players often seem directionless (not always the manager’s fault) and the terrible form of captain Rooney is a serious concern.  Verdict:  Not the normal high attainment of recent years.  Have seemed very unsettled of late and often retreated into their shell.  C

Manchester City

Despite having lost five times in the league already this season, the Citizens find themselves only three points off top spot.  Going forward they can be irresistible – especially when attacking trio Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Agüero are purring.  At the back City are vulnerable, particularly when without captain Vincent Kompany.  Not at their best but still in the hunt.  Need to keep Agüero fit.  Verdict:  For the ability they possess, an average term’s work.  Could do better.  B

Newcastle United

What the Toon wouldn’t give for a quiet season of mid-table respectability?  At one point it was looking like they were doomed but Steve McClaren’s men have fought back valiantly to find themselves only two points adrift of the relegation zone after impressive back-to-back victories against Liverpool and Tottenham.  They have the third worst defence in the league – Tim Krul’s return can’t come soon enough.  It is also imperative that they either get one of their strikers firing, or that they buy one that already is in the transfer window – like Charlie Austin, for instance.  Verdict:  Effort has improved recently.  Hope to see continued progress next term.  D

Norwich City

The Canaries have gone under the radar a bit (well, mine at least).  They haven’t had a disaster but, equally, they haven’t pulled up many trees either.  The victory at Old Trafford aside they have been quietly going about their business in a very unassuming manner.  They need to score more goals as Cameron Jerome has never convinced me at this level.  The arrival of Steven Naismith is imminent but he has never exactly been a goal machine – maybe Charlie Austin instead?  I have a feeling their fate could go down to the wire.  Verdict:  Plenty of huff and puff.  More cutting-edge needed please.  B-


It has been a really inconsistent season for Southampton; notable victories against Arsenal and Chelsea have been overshadowed by too many tame defeats.  Also, with Saido Mane and Victor Wanyama’s futures uncertain, all is not well on the south coast.  The Saints desperately need Fraser Forster back between the sticks and Graziano Pelle back banging in the goals again.  Charlie Austin wouldn’t go amiss either.  Too good to go down but they need turn their form around pretty pronto if they want to ensure top-flight status.  Verdict:  Capable of brilliance but don’t show it often enough.  Frustrating.  C

Stoke City

In years gone by, I would be willing The Potters to be relegated.  The overly physical, long-ball, anti-football trumpeted by previous manager Tony Pulis used to depress me to the point of tears.  No-longer, however; the no-nonsense defending is still there, marshalled by captain Ryan Shawcross (surely unlucky not to have won more England caps) and goalkeeper Jack Butland, who has been a revalation.  Furthermore, in attack, they have the triumvirate of Bojan Krkic, Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri making hay against Premier League defences.  Verdict:  More of the same.  Outside chance of a European spot.  B+


Sam Allardyce will be glad to see the back of 2015 – five December fixtures brought five straight defeats.  Nevertheless, victory over Aston Villa on Sunday leaves the Mackems only 4 points adrift of safety.  If they want to survive they need to address their defence, which is currently leakier than a paper colander.  A commanding central defender is a must in the January transfer window, but, in my experience at least, they don’t exactly grow on trees.  Keeping Jermain Defoe fit healthy is key too.  Oh, and they should try to sign Charlie Austin.  Verdict:  Insipid.  Would struggle to keep a primary school attack at arm’s length.  However, have right man at helm in Allardyce – survival a real possibility…again.  D-

Swansea City

After a tidy start to the season, the Swans have gone into freefall, resulting in Garry Monk’s unceremonious sacking (a bit harsh in my opinion).  Results have improved slowly but the real problem has been scoring goals.  Need to appoint a new manager sharpish too – ideally a good one.  They should probably try to sign Charlie Austin too.  Verdict:  Not nearly as impressive as last year.  Improvement is a must.  D

Tottenham Hotspur

For the first time in my lifetime there have been genuine murmurings of a Spurs title challenge.  Six points off top spot and only two defeats in the first 20 games is a great return.  However, just getting into the top four would be a real result for the north London club and that should remain their priority – anything more would be a bonus.  They are the stingiest defence in the league, led by Vertonghen and captain Lloris, and have two youngsters in fine form (Dele Alli and Harry Kane).  Keeping the latter fit is imperative to their chances.  For once, little to complain about.  Verdict:  A very solid term with the odd flourish of flair.  Promise great things but can they deliver?  B+


Be honest now, Watford FC – top 10 at the start of 2016 – anyone predict that?  Anyone?  Nope me neither.  In fact, this ‘expert’ had them down for guaranteed relegation.  The Hornets’ forward partnership of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo has been making me eat my words all season.  They have been surprisingly watertight at the back too with goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes for once not a total accident waiting to happen.  Imperative that they keep hold of Deeney and Ighalo, and keep them fit too.  Between them they have scored 20 of Watford’s 25 goals.  Verdict:  Surpassed expectation.  Excellent.  A-

West Bromwich Albion

Mid-table obscurity for the Baggies is probably just how they like it.  With Tony Pulis steering the ship there is almost zero chance of a relegation scrap.  New striker Salomon Rondon has sparkled intermittently but a team goal tally of just one per game so far tells its own story.  This has not been helped by Saido Berahino seemingly behaving like a spoilt brat.  The sooner they sell him, the better and Charlie Austin wouldn’t be a bad replacement.  Basically safe already but not much else to play for either.  Verdict:  Same-old.  Enthusiastic but limited.  C+

West Ham United

As is often the case with the Hammers they have made an excellent start to the season, currently standing only four points off the Champions League places.  However, this time last season they were also flying high, only to have a woeful second half of the campaign to finish a lowly 12th.  Slaven Bilic’s challenge is to keep his team motivated to challenge for a European spot.  He has an exciting array of attacking talent at his disposal and the imminent return of playmaker Dimitri Payet could be the boost the club needs to kick on.  Should strive to give the Boleyn Ground the swansong it deserves.  Verdict:  Good start.  Must consolidate in the new year.  B+

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