A few weeks ago, I analyzed each of the teams the bottom half of the Premier League and graded each club’s performance in league play so far this season. Admittedly, we are currently a few matchdays past the halfway point, but it’s still a good time to analyze the performances of each team as the title race, qualification race and relegation battles all start approaching their climaxes.
Without further ado, let’s jump into grading each team at the top of the BPL.
The mastermind and genius of “The Only One” continues. At the beginning of the season, I declared the title race already over. Even though Chelsea has slipped up slightly in recent weeks in the league (preventing them from earning an A+), Jose Mourinho’s boys look practically unstoppable. Even though Mourinho has the luck to field one of the best squads in Europe, he has gotten some really tough and brutal win from his team. Chelsea have played some exciting soccer, and guys like Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa, Oscar and Eden Hazard have been lighting up the Premier League with some fantastic performances. And of course, “The Only One” has not disappointed on the ridiculous comments front. Expect to see Chelsea holding up the League trophy come May.
- Manchester City
Manuel Pellegrini’s side came off a successful 2013-14 campaign with expectations of a title repeat. It hasn’t quite worked out as planned. For much of the season, City was behind Chelsea by double digits. In recent weeks, however, they have closed the gap to just five. They have also brought goalscoring machine Wilfried Bony from Swansea City, who will surely bolster an offense that has had some trouble scoring of late. While Bony will add some venom to City’s attack and Sergio Aguero’s return from injury will also provide renewed spark up top, the depth of City’s squad pales in comparison to that of Chelsea’s. Don’t get me wrong – City’s bench is pretty good. But at Chelsea, guys like Peter Cech and Loic Remy can’t get any playing time, and that is quite simply ridiculous. Unfortunately for City, I think they’ll have to settle for second this season.
- Manchester United
Where should we begin when we talk about Manchester United? This season was supposed to be redemption after last season’s catastrophe under David Moyes. Louis van Gaal, coming off a successful World Cup campaign, would clear out the deadwood, bring in quality players, re-energize the squad and bring some stability and success for the next few years. The season has not really gone according to plan, however. United have been atrocious. Despite their current spot in the table, they wholly deserve a D. The Red Devils just have not played well, and too often has David de Gea (who’s having an incredible season) bailed them out. Some say that the sign of a good team is the ability to win when you don’t play well. That’s not the case with United. Van Gaal’s team has not played well, but there is just too much talent in the squad for them to not beat the likes of Burnley or Hull. I could go on and on about what’s wrong with United, but I’ll leave it at this: Their third place berth is very undeserved, and I do not know how long they can ride the performances of a select few in the squad while the rest play so awfully.
Okay, so if you’ve read my articles before, you might’ve have guessed that I have a little bit of a soft spot for the boys from St. Mary’s. That being said, I think they wholly deserve all the plaudits they have received this season and more. The Saints’ position at fourth is nothing short of incredible, and they have earned every point they have. The talk in the first half of the season was how long Southampton could continue this improbable form. Many people (myself included) said that Southampton was going to falter any day. Now, surely, the talk has to be that Southampton could finish in a Champions League spot this season. I’m starting to think that they very well could, but the EPL is a fickle lady, and teams have collapsed before. For now, however, just sit back and enjoy these guys for as long as it lasts.
This area of the table has basically become the norm for Arsenal over the past decade or so. In recent years especially, it seems that Arsenal have basically accepted the fact that they’re going to finish fourth every season. This season hasn’t really been any different than the last few. They’ve had their ups and downs, and my guess is that they will continue the mix of good results and bad results that we’ve come to expect from the Gunners. With Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil back in the squad, their attack has a lot more bite to it, but their issues at the back are still cause for concern. The zone between third and seventh is pretty small (just five points separate Manchester United in third and Liverpool in seventh), so it’s possible that Arsenal could make to third or fall lower than fourth to one of the Europa League spots. Expect another mediocre finish to the season.
- Tottenham Hotspur
Like their North London rivals, Spurs have also had a real up-and-down season. Consistency has been sparse this season for Mauricio Pochettino’s men. A 5-3 win against Chelsea followed up by a 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace should tell you that Spurs have been dying for some consistent form. But the real story out of White Hart Lane has been a certain young English lad by the name of Harry Kane. The native North Londoner has been one of the Premier League’s many breakout stars this season, and his goal against Liverpool earlier this week marked his 11th goal in his last 10 games. Kane has bagged 13 goals in 21 League appearances, and has 23 in 35 across all competitions. The young sensation is bringing back the classic number 9 back to the Premier League. Tall, smart, and industrious, Kane’s play hearkens back to the classic center forward of days gone by. His good touch and eye for goal are a real bright spot for Spurs, and there has been plenty of talk that Kane could be England’s savior as well as Tottenham’s. Kane and fellow young star Christian Eriksen have formed one of the most potent link-ups in the Premier League and have kept Spurs in the mix for a Champions League. If Kane and Eriksen continue their form, Spurs may well make a push into fourth or third.
The big question for Liverpool was how they would play with Luis Suarez’s departure this season. The hefty fee that Barcelona paid funded numerous transfers, none of which have really made a significant mark at Anfield. For a team that nearly won the Premier League (for the first time) last season, Liverpool will surely be disappointed by their performance so far. The lack of quality in the squad was clear, particularly when the Reds fell into the bottom half of the table in November. While Raheem Sterling has only continued to improve from his fantastic form last season and captain Steven Gerrard has banged in some important goals, Liverpool looked really poor for the first third of the season. They are undefeated in their last nine, and Daniel Sturridge has finally returned from his injury, so they are trending upwards. What’s more, Mario Balotelli FINALLY scored his first League goal. Still, I think that Liverpool’s poor results in the first third of the season will prevent them from challenging for third. I think they’re outside contenders for the fourth place Champions League spot, but I wouldn’t be very surprised if they finish outside of the top four, and I have to say that the fans should be disappointed in their team so far this season.
- West Ham United
Did you know that there was a point when West Ham was third in the table? No, it wasn’t in the beginning of the season. It was in December. DECEMBER. West Ham was in third in December. You could argue that it speaks more to the increase in competiveness in the League this season, but I really don’t think you can take anything away from Sam Allardyce’s boys. West Ham has played some great soccer that has been far above any type of soccer they have ever played before. Big Sam’s reputation as a “long ball” manager looks like it no longer applies. The Hammers have played some exciting, high intensity soccer, primarily due to the likes of winger Stewart Downing and powerful striker Diafra Sakho. The good times in East London looks has been dampened somewhat since the end of December, with the Hammers getting just one win since in their last eight in the League (hence the “/B+”). West Ham has far and away exceeded expectations so far. I don’t think they will be able to challenge the likes of Manchester United, Southampton, Arsenal, Liverpool or Spurs for a spot in Europe next season, but I would love to see it.
- Swansea City
Another overachiever, Swansea started out the season in fantastic form, winning their first three, including an opening day win at Old Trafford. Like West Ham, they have struggled since the new year, but nothing should be taken away from their performances in 2014. Much of their earlier success has to do with two players: Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wilfried Bony. Sigurdsson lit up the league while he was on loan at Swansea a few years ago. A move to Spurs saw him fail to live up to the same form he had at Swansea, but Swansea permanently re-signed him at the start of the season, and he has been in scintillating form. A real in-the-hole playmaker, Sigurdsson and Eriksen play a very similar, fluid style. The other important man in Wales was Wilfried Bony. The Ivorian striker has been absolutely fantastic since he moved to Swansea last season. The Swans were unlucky that Manchester City came calling over the winter transfer window, but his departure seemed inevitable. The real question will be whether or not Swansea can keep up in the top half of the table with arguably their best player gone.
- Stoke City
Over the past few seasons, Stoke have pretty firmly established themselves as resoundingly mediocre. Tony Pulis managed to bring them up from the uncertainty and fierce competition of the drop zone to the complete and utter anonymity of mid-table. Under Mark Hughes’ reign, this mid-table anonymity has only continued. Everything about Stoke is average. They don’t play really good or really bad soccer and they don’t have really good or really bad players. I had to give them a C because they are doing exactly how we expected them to do: average. There are no truly exciting storylines out of Stoke to talk about. Charlie Adam is still very aggressive. Peter Crouch is still tall. Jon Walters is still Jon Walters. Ok, fine, they have beaten City, Spurs and Arsenal. But they’ve also lost to Burnley, Sunderland and Leicester. Just expect Stoke to continue to mire in mid-table anonymity and obscurity.
Photo Credit: CFCUnoffical – Wikipedia.org