Man City on course for record-breaking season as Burnley defy expectations: Premier League midway report

As the English top flight enters the second half of the season, Richard Jolly offers his assessment so far and predicts how the season will send for each club.

Manchester City's players celebrate after Manchester City's Sergio Aguero, obscured, scored his side's first goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Bournemouth at Etihad stadium, in Manchester, England, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
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Current position: 6th

Excellent at home, abject away, where a lack of goals and wins could come at a cost. Arsenal have given the sense that potential has only really been fulfilled when they beat Tottenham Hotspur, but are nevertheless in top-four contention. Alexis Sanchez has been largely disappointing. Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette, Aaron Ramsey and Sead Kolasinac have offered highlights in flashes but some of Arsene Wenger’s selections have been odd compromises in the search for the optimum formula.

Star so far: Shkodran Mustafi – Defensive record is excellent when he plays.

Prediction: May just miss out on Uefa Champions League qualification – unless they win the Europa League.


Current position: 18th

The toughest of their three Premier League campaigns to date. Bournemouth made a slow start and, after recovering, have had a difficult December. A side that promised goals, especially with Jermain Defoe’s arrival, has averaged under one a game, with Joshua King struggling to replicate last year’s prolific form. Their home form has been unusually poor. At least the defence have been decent against their peers.

Star so far: Charlie Daniels – Scored a spectacular goal against Manchester City and part of the improving defence.

Prediction: Will be touch and go if they stay up.


Current position: 12th

Confounded expectations when an autumn run took them into the top half, but a subsequent slump has provided an unwanted reality check. A well-organised side were boosted by the arrival of an excellent creator, in Pascal Gross, but while Glenn Murray had a flurry of goals, they lack a scorer. Brighton have only conceded more than two goals once, to Liverpool, a sign of their competitiveness, but they can be the masters of the respectable 2-0 defeat.

Star so far: Shane Duffy – Excelled at the heart of the defence alongside the similarly defiant Lewis Dunk.

Prediction: If they don't get a goalscorer in January, they may return to the Championship.


Current position: 7th

Outstanding. Set the tone with their shock win at Chelsea and their away form has been a dramatic improvement on last season’s. Their brilliant defensive record and top-seven status makes it all the odder no one has poached Sean Dyche. Jack Cork has been a superb signing as Burnley now have a technically better midfield, but the number of 1-0 wins show how narrow the margins are, yet also how good they have been at pivotal points.

Star so far: James Tarkowski – Stepped up wonderfully to replace the departed Michael Keane in defence.

Prediction: May fall away a bit but should finish in the top 10.

Soccer Football - Premier League - Chelsea vs Newcastle United - Stamford Bridge, London, Britain - December 2, 2017   Chelsea's Eden Hazard celebrates scoring their first goal    REUTERS/David Klein    EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Chelsea forward Eden Hazard. David Klein / Reuters


Current position: 3rd

A title defence that ended early. The opening defeat to Burnley was a sign Chelsea have lost the consistency that made them so formidable. The highs have nevertheless been high – the wins against Tottenham and Manchester United, Eden Hazard’s sparkling best, moments when Alvaro Morata has looked high-class, Andreas Christensen’s precocious form and Marcos Alonso’s scoring habit, but hampered by some of their summer business and with David Luiz relapsing, Chelsea have regressed.

Star so far: Cesar Azpilicueta – The most consistent defender is also high in the assists charts.

Prediction: Should finish third in what may prove Antonio Conte's final season.


Current position: 16th

Made history of the wrong sort by becoming the first team to lose their first seven Football or Premier League games without scoring. The experiment with Frank de Boer was brutally aborted and Roy Hodgson has brought a dramatic turnaround. Instead of being cast adrift, Palace are out of the relegation zone, despite not scoring away until December. They could do with more goals from Christian Benteke, though.

Star so far: Wilfried Zaha – Unstoppable at his best.

Prediction: After that nightmare start, should stay up, perhaps comfortably.


Current position: 9th

Contrived to spend a club record £140 million (Dh686.9m) without replacing Romelu Lukaku. Ronald Koeman paid the price for confused thinking and wretched results in both England and Europe. Improvement has come swiftly under Sam Allardyce. Youngsters Jonjoe Kenny, Mason Holgate and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have impressed and Wayne Rooney has been more prolific than anticipated. But summer signings Davy Klaassen, Sandro Ramirez and Michael Keane are among the disappointments.

Star so far: Idrissa Gueye – The one outfield player to have been fairly consistent.

Prediction: Might just repeat last season's seventh-place finish. Certainly top 10.


Current position: 11th

Despite a handful of abject displays, have overachieved hugely with the division’s lowest wage bill. Memories were made with the opening win at Crystal Palace and a first victory over Manchester United in 65 years, amid a remarkable atmosphere, and they have a knack of halting bad runs with vital wins. But went four months without scoring on the road and are very reliant on midfielder Aaron Mooy and strikers Laurent Depoitre and Steve Mounie for goals.

Star so far: Christopher Schindler – The giant German has been a rock at the back.

Prediction: Huge achievement if they stay up – and might just.

Soccer Football - Premier League - Leicester City vs Manchester United - King Power Stadium, Leicester, Britain - December 23, 2017   Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez in action with Manchester United's Ashley Young   Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers    EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.  Please contact your account representative for further details.
Leicester City winger Riyad Mahrez, left. Andrew Boyers / Reuters


Current position: 8th

Apart from one shock result against Crystal Palace, their only defeats have come to the top six, yet Craig Shakespeare was still sacked. Claude Puel was a surprise appointment, but he made an immediate impact and, despite his cautious reputation, Demarai Gray and Riyad Mahrez have shone under the Frenchman. Vicente Iborra is settling well and Shinji Okazaki has added goals to his game while Wilfred Ndidi continues to excel.

Star so far: Harry Maguire – A terrific signing. Slotted in seamlessly in the heart of the defence.

Prediction: May end up the best of the rest. Top half at the least.


Current position: 4th

Some things have changed. Jurgen Klopp has rotated the most of any manager and, a 4-0 thrashing of Arsenal apart, Liverpool have lost their knack of beating the best. Some have not: they still play scintillating football, with Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino to the fore. Some may done: the defensive record has improved after early-season embarrassments, though Liverpool let in three at Arsenal. Some need to stay the same: Liverpool have to retain their top-four status.

Star so far: Mohamed Salah – The signing of the season. Hugely prolific.

Prediction: Should just hold off the challengers for fourth.


Current position: 1st

Almost immaculate, dropping only two points and going on a run of 17 straight league wins. They have turned a potentially competitive title race into a one-horse affair. Victories at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford are obvious highs, along with demolitions of Liverpool and Tottenham. Raheem Sterling, Fabian Delph and Nicolas Otamendi are competing to be the most improved player, Kyle Walker and Ederson to be the most influential signing.

Star so far: Kevin de Bruyne – Some astonishing passes and outstanding performances.

Prediction: Champions – the questions instead surround how many more records they will break.


Current position: 2nd

It started so well with Romelu Lukaku scoring, Paul Pogba starring and Henrikh Mkhitaryan creating chance after chance. The sheen has come off the season since, even though United topped their Champions League group, have a fine defensive record and are a demonstrably better side than last season. Such is the effect of their neighbours’ excellence. Mkhitaryan’s fall from grace and Lukaku’s more inconsistent form nevertheless highlight the sense all is not well.

Star so far: David de Gea – And not just for his extraordinary display in the win at Arsenal.

Prediction: Second. The more intriguing part may be how they fare in the Champions League.

epa06394083 Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez reacts  during the English Premier league game between Arsenal and Newcastle United at the Emirates stadium in London, Britain, 16 December 2017.  EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications
Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez. Facundo Arrizabalaga / EPA


Current position: 15th

Briefly, it looked as though Rafa Benitez’s strategic skills could compensate for his players’ individual deficiencies and a frustrating transfer window. Losing eight of nine games before Saturday’s win at West Ham United has proved otherwise and made a second relegation in three years a real threat. Mikel Merino, Matt Ritchie and Ciaran Clark have offered cause for optimism, but poor goalkeeping, Jonjo Shelvey’s stupidity and the lack of a top-class striker are issues.

Star so far: Jamaal Lascelles – The captain has brought solidity at the back and a couple of vital goals.

Prediction: Depends on how they fare in the transfer window.


Current position: 13th

All rather underwhelming. Mauricio Pellegrino’s side have proved too similar to Claude Puel’s team, struggling to score but getting worse results. The Argentine was too slow to recognise that Charlie Austin is his best goalscorer. Keeping Virgil van Dijk, while a statement, has reaped too few dividends, and Fraser Forster has been error-prone again, but Mario Lemina looks an excellent addition. Now the test is to find a winning formula.

Star so far: Ryan Bertrand – Consistently good for a side who have not been consistent enough.

Prediction: Have the talent to get into the top half, but underachievement means they may not.


Current position: 14th

August’s win over Arsenal looks a false dawn. After that, Stoke have gone on the worst run of Mark Hughes’ time at the club and conceded the most goals in the division, which is made all the more damning because they have the personnel to do better and because goalkeeper Jack Butland has excelled at times. With fan unrest, Stoke’s board have so far taken the brave step of persisting with Hughes.

Star so far: Xherdan Shaqiri – Scored spectacular goals and been more consistent.

Prediction: Have the players to stay up, but Hughes must prove he is the right manager.


Current position: 20th

A shocking season. Paul Clement was sacked with his side bottom of the table and the lowest scorers, but others are also culpable. Selling Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente and not replacing the Icelander left them shorn of creativity, with the result goals have been a rarity. It has not helped that signing Renato Sanches has been a disaster. The next manager needs a stunning second half of the season: the sort Clement produced last season.

Star so far: Lukasz Fabianski – A reason why the defensive record is respectable.

Prediction: Would be a shock if they did not go down.

Soccer Football - Premier League - Burnley vs Tottenham Hotspur - Turf Moor, Burnley, Britain - December 23, 2017   Tottenham's Harry Kane celebrates scoring their third goal to complete his hat-trick   Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs    EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.  Please contact your account representative for further details.     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane. Paul Childs / Reuters


Current position: 5th

Seismic achievements have come in the Champions League, beating Real Madrid and topping a tough group. The Premier League has brought fewer great feats. Predictably, Spurs have found Wembley tougher than White Hart Lane. While Davinson Sanchez has been a fine signing, injuries a reason why their defensive record has deteriorated while Dele Alli’s loss of form has reduced their attacking threat. Apart from hammering Liverpool, results against their peers have been poor.

Star so far: Harry Kane – After a barren August, kept on scoring.

Prediction: Look likely to miss out on the top four.


Current position: 10th

It began so well, with a flurry of goals and an excellent away record. The last month has been altogether more dispiriting, with defeats marked by indiscipline. Marco Silva’s initial exploits drew interest from Everton and, while Watford kept him, the sheen has come off. Nathaniel Chalobah’s injury, after a fine start, has been a blow and Richarlison a revelation but the defensive record is an increasing issue.

Star so far: Abdoulaye Doucoure – A powerhouse in the midfield, who has also shown an eye for goal.

Prediction: May make their annual descent into the lower half of the table.


Current position: 19th

Joint top after winning their first two games. Sadly, they have not won since on a club-record run that cost Tony Pulis his job. Appointing Alan Pardew has not brought a new-manager bump. That their top scorer, Salomon Rondon, has just three league goals is one issue for a side lacking creativity; another is Albion’s inability to get Grzegorz Krychowiak to show his Sevilla and Poland form. But a decent defence offers a platform for revival.

Star so far: Ahmed Hegazi – Has done a fine job of replacing Gareth McAuley at the back.

Prediction: Once they finally get a win, could climb to safety.


Current position: 17th

Looking proof that sacking managers can work. West Ham were shambolic at times under Slaven Bilic and disastrous defensively. David Moyes has added solidity, after dropping Joe Hart, resolve and conjured fine performances from the previously unimpressive Marko Arnautovic and Arthur Masuaku. The next challenge could be to get Javier Hernandez back to his predatory best and to earn himself a longer-term deal.

Star so far: Manuel Lanzini – Showed more class than anyone else.

Prediction: Ought to climb to the safety of mid-table.