Review: The 2018/19 season will forever be overshadowed by the tragedy that struck Leicester City in October, and with that in mind performances on the pitch have paled into insignificance. Fans have been broadly unhappy with the dull possession football of Claude Puel, and his position remains under threat following the decision to rest key players for a League Cup quarter-final tie. A recent win at Chelsea was proof they should return to their counter-attacking philosophy.
Best player: James Maddison – Leicester’s new number ten has settled superbly at the King Power, providing five goals and three assists so far this season. His ability to drive forward in possession and thread a through ball has seen the Englishman forge a strong partnership with Jamie Vardy
Biggest disappointment: Rachid Ghezzal – Signed as a direct replacement for Riyad Mahrez, so far Ghezzal has failed to impress under Puel, scoring just once in 12 matches. He is yet to record an assist.
Target: A top half finish is the best Leicester can hope for.
Review: Liverpool fans couldn’t have expected such an outstanding response to the disappointment that followed last season’s Champions League final defeat. Jurgen Klopp’s side have followed the path of his old Borussia Dortmund team in suddenly clicking into an unstoppable gear, thanks to a hugely improved defence, a more pragmatic attacking approach, and added squad depth in the shape of Xherdan Shaqiri and Fabinho.
Best player: Virgil van Dijk – The Dutch centre-back might just be the best player in the world in his position right now, helping Liverpool to concede a mere seven goals in the first half of the campaign. Brilliant in the air and with his feet, Van Dijk sends a ripple of calm into his team-mates.
Biggest disappointment: Naby Keita – It’s still early days for Liverpool’s £53 million central midfielder, but after a promising debut Keita has struggled to settle at Anfield. The flashes of quality he has shown suggest Keita can be a huge asset for Klopp in the future.
Target: Following Man City’s back-to-back defeats Liverpool fans can smell a first Premier League title since 1990. That has to be the goal, even if it means sacrificing the latter rounds of the Champions League.
Review: Things were going perfectly up until two weeks ago. Even in Kevin de Bruyne’s absence Man City looked better than in 2017/18, racking up wins as pundits predicted another run-away success in the league. But a series of defeats has threatened to destroy their campaign as opponents highlight their vulnerabilities in defence and the lack of cover for Fernandinho. It’s not quite time to panic, but with expectations sky high it’s been a disappointing half season for Pep Guardiola.
Best player: Bernardo Silva – A quietly outstanding campaign for Bernardo Silva is probably best highlighted by how little City have missed De Bruyne. Silva’s running with and without the ball has added a grace to the right side of midfield.
Biggest disappointment: full-backs – Kyle Walker is having a bad season, which is terrible timing considering City’s issues on the other flank. Benjamin Mendy doesn’t have the positional awareness to defend to the highest level, while Danilo and Fabian Delph both struggle when defending one-on-one.
Target: Become the first team this decade to retain the Premier League title.
Review: An unmitigated disaster – until Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arrived and United’s players breathed three huge gulps of fresh air. It’s psychological freedom driving them at the moment (the hard tactical work begins in January), and so we can only really review Jose Mourinho’s ill-fated third season. In a word: pathetic.
Best player: Anthony Martial – The Frenchman has excelled in spite of Mourinho this season, contributing eight goals in 15 matches so far from the left wing.
Biggest disappointment: Jose Mourinho – From whinging about transfers to throwing players under the bus, from his clueless tactics to his dreadfully dull football, Mourinho’s third year at Old Trafford conjured black clouds over Manchester. Good riddance.
Target: Eight points behind Chelsea in fourth might seem a lot, but Maurizio Sarri’s side are dramatically slowing down. Certainly United can fight hard for a Champions League place.
Review: There has to come a point when either Rafael Benitez gets bored of Newcastle or Newcastle gets bored of Rafael Benitez: his tedious defensive football is understandable in the circumstances, and is unlikely to end until Mike Ashley finds a buyer. Their league position and prospects are as achingly dull as the football at St. James Park.
Best player: Salomon Rondon – Strong in the air and clinical in the box, Rondon is a classic Newcastle striker. His five goals have been absolutely crucial in avoiding what looked – at one point – to be a disastrous season for the club.
Biggest disappointment: Kenedy – Once so highly rated, Kenedy has failed to kick on and remains a hit-and-miss player for Newcastle. The Brazilian is far too unreliable at this level, amassing just one goal and one assist from 14 league games.
Target: Avoiding relegation is the best possible achievement for Newcastle.
Review: Saints are another club that have undergone a dramatic change of fortune since appointing a new manager. Mark Hughes’s uninspiring football had put Southampton on a course for relegation, but Ralph Hasenhuttl has sparked a revival based on high pressing, high intensity football. They will only improve from here, with a solid central midfield providing a good quality foundation for Hasenhuttl to build upon.
Best player: Mario Lemina – Southampton’s under-rated terrier in central midfield has tied things together neatly since Hasenhuttl’s arrival, providing bite in the tackle and quality in possession. Together with Pierre-Emile Hjojberg and Oriol Romeu Southampton have a midfield far superior to their relegation rivals’.
Biggest disappointment: Hughes’s mismanagement – Another old British manager left behind by modern tactics, Hughes played cagey defensive football that failed to utilise the cultured talent at the club’s disposal. He should have gone much sooner.
Target: Surviving relegation is obviously the priority, but a secondary target for Southampton should be to bring back their aesthetic football and lay the foundations for a revival next season.
Review: Considering they failed to make any new signings in the summer, Spurs have been brilliant so far. Mauricio Pochettino continues to improve his team, bringing through some exciting young prospects and adding a new sense of resilience; no longer do Spurs draw tricky games against defensive opponents.
Best player: Christian Eriksen – The Dane goes from strength to strength, running games just like Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric did at White Hart Lane just before his move to Real Madrid.
Biggest disappointment: No new signings – Spurs would be pushing for the title this campaign had Daniel Levy opened his cheque book and allowed Pochettino to strengthen in key areas. They need a new central midfielder, while Jack Grealish would offer a different dimension in the final third.
Target: Spurs can finish runners up, but a more important target is to convince Pochettino to stay – and that means making funds available in January, plus a smooth transition into the new stadium.
Review: Javi Gracia has continued a stable job at Watford, earning himself a new contract and ensuring that the club firmly join the newly forming mid-table. His narrow 4-2-2-2 formation is beginning to get found out, although with a talented squad Watford should continue to pick up points as they chase European football.
Best player: Etienne Capoue – Watford’s good season is built on a solid central midfield, and Capoue is the understated leader. Few Premier League players amass as many tackles and interceptions as the Frenchman.
Biggest disappointment: Still no striker – Watford really need a goalscorer to lead the line. Troy Deeney is playing far too often and Isaac Success is struggling to find the back of the net, which explains why Watford haven’t been able to push on after a strong start to the campaign.
Target: Top ten.
Grade: B +
Review: Since losing each of their first four matches of the season Manuel Pellegrini has done an exceptional job, quickly abandoning his expansive possession approach for a simpler, deeper counter-attacking system. The switch has helped Felipe Anderson and Robert Snodgrass flourish, while Pellegrini’s decision to move Declan Rice into central midfield proved to be a masterstroke. It’s the happiest West Ham fans have been since moving to Stratford.
Best player: Felipe Anderson – The Brazilian has taken to Premier League life far better than expected, scoring eight times already this season. The 25-year-old is the perfect fit for the Hammers, too, who have always indulged a luxury attacker.
Biggest disappointment: Jack Wilshere – Injuries and poor form have restricted Wilshere to just four league matches this season. West Ham really should have seen this coming.
Target: Seventh. There’s no reason why West Ham cannot become the best of the rest, ahead of Everton.
Review: Things could hardly have gone better for Wolves since being promoted. They had a very productive summer and almost every new signing has bedded in successfully, leading the club into a race for European football. The only drawback is that Nuno Esperito Santo sticks rigidly to a 3-4-3 formation, which could see them come unstuck eventually.
Best player: Joao Moutinho – The little Portuguese midfielder has shown great energy in the middle of the park, forming a strong bond with Ruben Neves to ensure Wolves keep a compact defensive shape despite only fielding two central midfielders.
Biggest disappointment: Scoring goals – Wolves look competitive in every game they play but just don’t create enough high-quality chances. Adama Traore is too inconsistent and for all their hard work Helder Costa and Diogo Jota don’t feed the striker often enough.
Target: A top ten finish would be a brilliant way to start life in the Premier League.
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