JOE’s review of the 28.94 per cent of the Premier League season gone so far, Part Two
While we covered the bottom part of the table yesterday, today we are concentrating on those sides in and around mid-table. From Spurs in seventh to the Swans in 13th position.
Reasons to be cheerful: Let’s not lose sight of the fact that although they sold their star player and brought in a number of new faces, Spurs lie in seventh position, only five points off top spot. Their only away defeat has been a single goal loss to Arsenal and they have been incredibly difficult to break down, conceding just six goals – three of those to West Ham in their worst performance of the season – and only Southampton have a tighter defence.
Reasons to be fearful: Only the Saints have conceded fewer, but only the bottom two Crystal Palace and Sunderland have scored less than AVB’s men. The home supporters are not happy with their shortcomings in front of goals, added to the fact they have been beaten twice at White Hart Lane already by West Ham and Newcastle. Unless they get their scoring boots on soon, their Champions League challenge could falter.
The star so far: Probably a toss-up between Hugo Lloris and Paulninho and considering how water-tight the defence has been we’ll give it to the French shot-stopper. The term ‘sweeper-keeper’ has been coined thanks to his own high line, but his marshalling of the defence and authority in the area has led many to suggest he is the in-form keeper in the Premier League. And he’s a hard ba**ard too.
Flop: We'll have to go with AVB on this one. Yes there has been a big turnover at White Hart Lane, but at times Spurs look as dull as dishwater, and the way he conducts himself doesn't endear him to fans, not even his own. Criticising the home crowd might not have been his greatest ever idea. His comments after Lloris' concussion were baffling and after spending so much money in the summer, the former Chelsea man still has a lot to prove.
Most hilarious moment of the season so far: While concussion is not a laughing matter, Lloris’ defiance about going off while Brad Friedel was ready to take to the field at Goodison Park was certainly amusing. Of course the goalkeeper should never have been allowed return, and while his courage was admirable, the look of bemusement on Friedel’s face said it all.
8th Manchester City
Reasons to be cheerful: Despite losing more than a third of their games so far, they are just two points outside the top four and primed for the knock-out stages of the Champions League. They have serious attacking weaponry and once the defence starts tightening up away from home, they will be confident of rising up the table.
Reasons to be fearful: That away form is simply diabolical. Aside from a point at Stoke, they have lost every other game and some of those teams aren’t exactly world beaters, no offence to supporters of Cardiff, Aston Villa, West Ham and Sunderland. The defence is looking incredibly vulnerable on their travels and Manuel Pellegrini has his work cut out if City are to claim a second Premier League title.
The star so far: Without a doubt Sergio Aguero. Eight goals in nine games in the Premier League and when you add in assists, no one has contributed more that the Argentinian this season. A class act, and if he remains fully fit for the season, he could well carry the hopes of a team plagued by inconsistency.
Flop: We’ll let Joe Hart of the hook here – the poor fella needs a break – and while he been culpable on a number of occasions this season and lost his place to a Romanian monster, it is most likely a form issue. Martin Demichelis on the other hand is a different story. The 32-year-old has looked all-at-sea in City colours, struggling to adapt to the intensity and pace of the Premier League, the most recent game at Sunderland a prime example. Joleon Lescott can’t be that bad can he?
Most hilarious moment of the season so far: Unfortunately for Hart, he has provided quite a bit of entertainment, if only for opposition fans. His succession of clangers has cost him his City spot for now, though his England position is still probably safe. Will be chomping at the bit to rectify his difficult start
Reasons to be cheerful: Considering all the doom and gloom at the start of the season, most Magpie supporters will be more than happy to be sitting just above mid-table. Mixing the truly inept (4-0 defeat to City, awful first half at Everton) with the unexpected (wins over Chelsea and away to Spurs), it is never a dull moment on Tyneside.
Reasons to be fearful: When they are bad, they are truly wretched. The opening 45 minutes away to Everton is as bad a half as you are likely to see, while Hull also left the North-East with all three points. Inconsistency has always been an issue at St. James’ Park and this season looks like being no different.
The star so far: Loic Remy. They just love their centre-forwards in that part of the world don’t they? Well, that’s the guff we are generally told, but in Remy they look to have a saviour with Papiss Cisse currently forgetting how the game of football works. A great bit of business by Joe Kinnear. A line we are unlikely to ever utter again.
Flop: Maybe a little harsh considering his blistering form at the start of the season, but Hatem Ben Arfa's form has dipped and watched successive wins over Chelsea and Spurs as an unused substitute. Maybe the kick up the backside is what the Frenchman needs to get his campaign back on track.
Most hilarious moment of the season so far: Moussa Sissoko’s headed clearance against Chelsea without looking at the ball will take some beating. For those that haven’t seen it, or fancy another look, here you go.
10th West Brom
Reasons to be cheerful: Mid-table can never be a bad thing for the Baggies and they have been models of consistency with five draws in between three wins and losses, with 12 goals scored and conceded. A sign of their season is that they were aggrieved, and rightly so, to have left Stamford Bridge with just a point last time out. A great turn around after going the first four games without a win.
Reasons to be fearful: The void left by Romelu Lukau has been a difficult one for Steve Clarke and without him, they lack the same threat up front. Goals could be at a premium, though from an Irish perspective we would hope Shane Long gets more chances to impress.
The star so far: Claudio Yacob. Along with Mulumbu, the Argentine midfielder has formed a solid midfield partnership for the Baggies and has been an integral part of the team’s success under Steve Clarke. Goes about his business in a tidy fashion but a valuable player at the Hawthorns.
Flop: Nicolas Anelka. While the striker was a popular choice among Fantasy Players out there, his impact isn’t what the home fans would have hoped. He has yet to find the net in seven outings in the league, and references to Lukau’s brilliant season last time out probably don’t help. Sorry Nic.
Most hilarious moment of the season so far: We’re not sure what the Baggies made of Paolo Di Canio knocking around the Hawthorns after the 3-0 over Sunderland, but we found it bizarre and entertaining. The Sunderland supporters didn’t find it quite so amusing and soon the Italian was given his marching orders.
11th Aston Villa
Reasons to be cheerful: After the season they had last time out, Paul Lambert will be satisfied with 11th place. It hasn’t been pretty at times, in fact it has been almost harrowing to watch some of the action from Villa Park, but minus the services of Christian Benteke for a period of time, they have more than held their own. And they have learned how to score again.
Reasons to be fearful: It’s an obvious point, but they are over reliant on Benteke in front of goals. After missing some action and slowly finding his form after returning from injury, Leandro Bacuna’s brilliant free-kick against Cardiff was Villa’s first in seven-and-a-half hours. Could do better is an understatement.
The star so far: Brad Guzan. While we are naturally disappointed to see that Shay Given is accustomed to life on the bench, it is hard to argue with Lambert’s choice of number one. He has been impeccable again this season, and more than anyone has helped Villa reach the safety of mid-table.
Flop: Nicklas Helenius. £2 million is a lot for Villa these days, and it is hard to see what the Danish striker offers the club at this early stage, besides serious height at 6ft 5in. Could follow in the footsteps of fellow countryman Nicklas Bendtner.
Most hilarious moment of the season so far: It's that man Helenius after he was caught with his pants down by Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen during the Carling Cup tie. It wasn't the Premier League, but there hasn't been too many funny moments to choose from at Villa this season.
12th Hull City
Reasons to be cheerful: Hull fans will be getting nosebleeds from the dizzying heights of 12th place. Most (we’ll include ourselves here) saw this being a long season of toil for Steve Bruce and his men and while Bruce can be painful to listen to as he blames officials for everything that goes against them, they have been impressive. Undefeated at home and an unlikely win away at Newcastle has seen them edge away from the relegation zone.
Reasons to be fearful: Aside from that game at St. James’ Park, they have struggled on their travels to score, never mind pick up points. And the home fixtures have been kind so far, so bigger challenges lie in store.
The star so far: Has to be our very own Robbie Brady. Has already scored three goals (his two penalties proving to be match-winners) and is a real danger with possession, illustrated by the fact the ball is given to him by his team-mates at every opportunity.
Flop: Danny Graham. The striker just can’t buy himself a goal. Nine games this season in the league without a goal, and 11 games with Sunderland last year without hitting the onion sack, there is a pattern emerging here.
Most hilarious moment of the season so far: Leaving aside Bruce's costly complaint over match officials - "I'm not going to start criticising match officials, but..." which set him back £10,000, the issue over the club name has been an embarassment for most associated with the club, aside from the owner Assem Allam it seems. Hull City Tigers quite frankly sounds as ridiculous as the manager's rants, but Allam is convinced it will help the club make an impact 'globally'. And not as a laughing stock.
13th Swansea City
Reasons to be cheerful: At times Swansea have looked like the great passing, entertaining side we have come to expect and the big victory away at an admittedly under-strength Valencia seemed to confirm as much. Michael Laudrup would have felt a big cash outlay in the summer (check) and decent results in Europe (check) would drive the club onto challenging for a European spot. Yet to put a run together, but look to be oh-so-close to doing so.
Reasons to be fearful: With just four wins in their last 20 games, Swansea fans have every right to be a little apprehensive. They are conceding late goals, their expensive signings are taking time to bed in and the Welsh derby defeat will be a sore point. Laudrup has cut a frustrated figure on the sideline and their home form needs addressing, with just one win at the Liberty so far.
The star so far: Wilfried Bony. The striker set the club back a fair few bob, or £12 million to be more precise, but he has shown at times why he was such a coveted player during the summer. He opened his account against Man Utd and after 10 goals in all competitions, looks like he is settling into his role in the team. A strong presence up front for the Swans.
Flop: Laudrup as we know likes his Spanish signings and Jordi Amat cost the Swans £2.5 million this summer. He hasn’t played a great deal (just three games in the Premier League), but from what he have seen, could take a while to find his feet.
Most hilarious moment of the season so far: Jonjo Shelvey’s performance against Liverpool was something else. He scored a belter and then set up his former side with a gift all within the opening three minutes. He then set up a Liverpool second goal, before assisting for Swansea’s equaliser. All-action.