Rob Wilson gives us his thoughts on each teams first half performance with a round up and the player who has been pivotal to their season so far.
After an exciting first half to the season, Andre Dack takes a look at who has performed the best and what his team of the season is so far. Opting for a 4-2-3-1 formation he picks the eleven players worthy of the place in the team.
The first interview in our â€˜Matchdayâ€™ series has us talking with a Middlesbrough season ticket holder who talks us through his matchday experience and a little about his club.
After starting the season with two goalless draws it seemed that Arsenal’s start was going to mirror their start from last season, which is exactly what Arsene Wenger didn’t want. But a quick change of form and only one loss in September in all competitions soon had Arsenal dreaming of winning the title again. But a seemingly toothless performance away to Norwich was a disappointing contrast to the performances that saw Arsenal claim a point at Manchester City the previous month. Giroud’s disappointing goalscoring form has contributed to Arsenal’s stuttering performances. It felt as if Arsenal were beginning to worry that Robin Van Persie’s departure would cost them more than initially feared. Giroud has popped up with a few goals, but it seems to be Theo Walcott and Lucas Podolski taking the reins up front so far this season.
Santi Cazorla - he’s been a bright spark and a joy to watch at times. Despite being here for less than 6 months it’s hard to deny that he’s one of the Premier League’s finest players.
It took Villa three games to find their first win the Premier League season and by the end of September things were looking very bleak for a side under new leadership from Paul Lambert. 6 points from a possible 29 left Villa hovering dangerously above the relegation zone - but since the 5-0 defeat to Manchester City, Villa have had a change of form and things have certainly started improving. Benteke has continued to score goals, Andreas Weimann seems to be forming a nice partnership with him and things seem to be looking up for Lambert and Villa at last. But I do expect Villa to be hovering between 14th and 18th towards the end of the season. A good turn of form for a team below them could leave them in trouble if they’re not careful.
To quote Steve Zacahranda of Sabotage Times: “He’s big, powerful and scores for fun and has probably doubled his value in the last ten games.”
It’s been yet another season of change and transition for Chelsea. After a wonderful preseason that saw them sign Eden Hazard, Oscar and Marco Marin they lost the Community Shield to Manchester City and all the hype was briefly doused until they exploded into life and saw themselves rocket to the very summit of the table in the early stages of the season. But this is a marathon, not a sprint. A run of five games and no wins saw Roberto Di Matteo hastily removed by Roman Abramovich and replaced by Rafael Benitez, much to the fans’ dismay. There are rumours of Falcao arriving in January, but they’re going to have to turn up the volume and return to their early season form if they want to show that they can offer Falcao more than what Atletico are currently providing him.
It seems to be a running theme with the star player nominations that they’re new signings, and Hazard has only faced competition from Juan Mata for Chelsea’s best player award with some fine displays and stats that are hard to argue against.
His performance in Everton’s victory against Manchester United on the opening day of the season was an indication of what was to come from Marouane Fellaini this season. He has helped Everton to one of their most impressive starts to a Premier League since they last qualified for the Champions’ League back in 2005. But impressive wins soon turned into performances that left the Everton fans scratching their heads. And after Everton’s 6th draw in nine games against Stoke at the weekend Everton lie 6th behind Spurs and Arsenal, and early-season talk of a comfortable top four finish has been hit with a reality check of silence. Everton have the players to do it, but keeping them fit and available is proving to be harder than expected, with Fellaini set to the miss the next three games thanks to an attempted headbutt on Ryan Shawcross.
Now that he’s in a more advanced position he seems to be having a bigger influence on Everton’s attacking play. His performance against Manchester United on the opening day will hopefully go down as one of the season’s best individual displays.
It would appear that Fulham have the title of “most-misleading team”. Unbeaten at home until the visit of champions Manchester City, Fulham looked to be sitting in a promising position. Jol’s purchases seemed to be working well and he seemed to be forming a team all of his own, and Europa League ambitions where whispering around the terraces of Craven Cottage. But a winless November, including a disappointing loss to Sunderland as well as a draw away at Arsenal has seen Fulham’s early-season form almost go to waste.
Again it’s a new signing being given a shining star award. Berbatov was looking for game-time when he left and five goals in his first few months at Fulham has him sat at the top of their scorers chart.
It seems to be more of the same for Liverpool this season – lots of chances but not a lot of goals unless Suarez can stick his toe on it. Brendan Rogers, bless him, is trying his best to try and get his Liverpool side to play the way that worked so well at Swansea, but a busy European schedule has seen Liverpool struggle for form in the league. Raheem Sterling has certainly been a beacon of hope amongst the dark and managed to get himself an England call-up in the process. Add to that some promising performances from Jonjo Shelvey and the usual heroics from Suarez, it seems Liverpool could be back in the top half by the end of January if the rumours about Sturridge and Ince are true.
I think it’s fair to say Liverpool would be in a mess without him.
After a largely disappointing transfer window that featured a load of panic-buying on the last day, City’s early-season performances were obviously not up to the standard we’ve come to expect after their title victory last season. A hangover from winning the Premier League is certainly evident amongst the ranks as the likes of David Silva and Mario Balotelli have failed to live up to what was spoken up them during the Euros. But City have shown that they can come from behind when required and a new spirit in the team that seems to have inspired this City side to never really know when they’re beaten is slowly emerging – that was, until, they came up against the masters of not-knowing-when-they’re-beaten: Manchester United (and they remained unbeaten until that day). On one side they’re a bit behind in the title race and their Champions’ League form has been dire, but on the other hand they’re starting to show signs of becoming a team that can stay around at the top for a while, and not just be a one-hit wonder.
A weapon like no other from the bench, Dzeko’s heroics towards the end of games have drawn comparisons with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and earned City some valuable victories.
It’s hard to describe United this season. They’ve been free-scoring, but free-conceding as well. It feels like every game United have won this season has been 3-2, with the third goal being scored late on. This can’t continue, surely? It’s excellent for the neutral but the 3-2 wins might turn into 3-2 losses for United, like we’ve seen once already this season in the game against Tottenham. One big positive all by himself is Robin Van Persie, who has formed an excellent partnership with Wayne Rooney, and seems to be worth the money. A perfect inclusion for this United team who seem to be very much “we’ll score one more than you this season” in terms of style of play this season.
As well as forming an excellent partnership with Antonio Valencia, he’s been required to play nearly every single one of United’s games this season because of injuries to other players and not looked tired once. He’s been given a chance to shine and boy has he taken it.
It’s been hard for Newcastle to come to terms with just how poor they’ve been domestically this season. An injury to Yohan Cabaye has seen Newcastle have a mini-capitulation as we head to towards Christmas and six losses in their last seven games doesn’t give Newcastle’s fans much hope of finishing as high as they did last season. Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse also seem to be suffering from a unique case of “I’ll-scorewhen-you’re-not-scoring” syndrome. Cisse took the reins from Ba towards the end of last season, when Ba’s scoring form dropped and now it appears Demba Ba has been left to nab the goals in Cisse’s downturn. Newcastle’s fans should be hoping that Ba can stay consistent and Cisse can rediscover the spring he had in his step back in the first few months of 2012.
In the middle of it all, there’s a promising youngster at Newcastle in the shape of Shane Ferguson who, having only turned 21 in the summer, has impressed me. He’s looked assured, tidy and agile.
After a pretty dreadful start that saw them hovering just above the relegation zone thanks to a couple of heavy defeats at the hands of Liverpool, Fulham and Chelsea, Norwich have steamrollered their way into the top half thanks to a nine-game unbeaten run and have also turned in some impressive performances (and home wins) against Manchester United and Arsenal. The Canaries can now dare to have European ambitions after seeming to be everybody’s favourites to suffer from “second-season-syndrome” before the season began. If they can keep up this form (or at least keep it to a stable level), Norwich could record another impressive season in the Premier League and gain themselves more plaudits in the process.
Norwich have managed to keep four clean sheets on their impressive run and Sebastian Bassong appears to be the mastermind behind it. He’s also chipped in with a few goals, and despite being a centre-back, sits second behind Grant Holt in the scoring charts with three for the season.
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. With the squad they assembled during the summer it appeared QPR would have had Europe will within their sights by now, but relegations scraps are more on the cards after they failed to win any of their first 16 games. However, the decision to sack Mark Hughes and hire Harry Redknapp seems to have worked, with the new man turning QPR’s form around completely. They’ve finally jumped off the bottom of the table and some of the displays they’ve actually been producing all season are finally turning in to wins. And there’s talk of Le Sulk (Nicolas Anelka) joining them in January from Shanghai – if he can drag the world’s longest CV with him – so some added quality up front to partner the efforts of Taarabt, Hoilett and Cisse could see QPR finish in a respectable position yet. There’s definitely no way it can get worse for them after the opening half of the season, surely?
QPR are lucky to have this kid. Last year it looked like the Championship Player of the Year 10/11 was struggling to adapt to Premiership lift, but four goals from midfield and sudden improvement under Redknapp may have him picking up more personal awards in the future.
After such a brilliant comeback in the Championship last season to win the league, Reading really haven’t been able to deal with the pace that the Premier League is played at – it seems, anyway. They’re leaking goals for fun in ways that are more soft and avoidable than a slowly drifting cloud, and they remain the only side not to reach double-figures in points as of when this was written. Brian McDermott tries his hardest, bless him. He’s an honest guy trying his best, but the players he puts out aren’t doing the job for him. They’re certainly scoring more than the teams around them but that’s only worth something if your defence is performing above the level of everyone else around you, and it’s certainly not showing any signs of improving.
He has been the provider of plenty of goals from set pieces and crosses this season and is adding some valuable experience from his days at West Brom.
After a brilliant twenty minutes on the opening day of the season that saw them equalise and take the lead against Manchester City, Southampton have been buried under a learning curve, similarly to their promotion partners Reading. But they appear to be building something to stand on, with three wins coming from their last six games. One of the hopeful factors of Southampton’s survival bid is that they have quality in important places that they can call on when times are dark where teams such as Wigan may struggle to find it. Players such as Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Jason Puncheon have given Southampton inspiration when they needed it (their performances against Manchester United earlier on this season perfect proof).
His six goals have earned Southampton some great points and some great memories, scoring against both Manchester sides this season.
In a season where nobody has really spoken about them, Stoke find themselves sitting comfortably in the top half as we head into Christmas. Stoke haven’t received as much attention as thy probably deserve for their impressive defensive record.
And an addition of a striker in January could see Stoke starting to bang them in on a more consistent basis and help them launch an assault on the Europa League spots. They’re unbeaten in seven games and yet seem to be going unnoticed – potential dark horse for 7th spot?
Eight clean sheets and only thirteen goals conceded isn’t a coincidence when Shawcross is at the back. His performances have seen him linked with a move back to the club that let him go.
Another team that should probably be doing much better than they are. The honeymoon period that seemed to span from when Martin O’Neill took over, right up until the end of the season, seems to be well and truly over. Three wins all season leaves Sunderland teetering over the drop-zone and they don’t look like marching towards the top-half any time soon. Other than an impressive win away at Fulham, the likes of Adam Johnson and Stephane Sessegnon haven’t linked up as well as they’d hoped and the only saving grace is their shining star.
A great signing for a team like Sunderland, who are looking to make their mark a respectable one. For a long time he was the only scorer in Sunderland’s team this season and will probably be worth the money they paid for him by the end of the season.
Michael Laudrup has definitely got something going on at Swansea this season. They may not be sat near top of the table like they were after three games of this season but their heroic draw against Chelsea and their away win at Newcastle are definitely a true testaments to the character and quality that this Swansea team have conjured up more than once this season. Pablo Hernandez has been a delight to watch in the middle of the park for Swansea, and Wayne Routledge has been chipping in with a few goals and assists to, all for the man who is undoubtedly Swansea’s shining star.
12 goals already this season in the league has Michu join top of the scorers chart with Manchester United’s Robin Van Perise, and he’s looking to be an absolute masterstroke from Laudrup’s scouting team.
After an excellent summer and some wonderful business that saw Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Dembele, Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson arrive, Spurs were struggling very early on, with no wins in the first three games. But four wins, including a 3-2 win at Old Trafford, pushed Spurs back up into the top 7 – a place they’ve not dropped below since. A disappointing derby defeat to Arsenal has been one of a few low points for Spurs this season, as well as looking like a team who seem incapable of not conceding late on (especially at home) this season, but AVB is still embedding himself in and the wins are starting to clock up.
Who else? He’s being given a proper run in the team and boy is it working!
Probably the season’s surprise package. An opening day thumping of Liverpool was a sign of more to come for West Brom this season. A great start to the season that had them hovering around the Champions’ League positions saw them take points from Chelsea, Everton and only just miss out on a draw against Manchester City. But recently the good form has been replaced with poor performances and bad results form. No win in four, including three losses, has seen West Brom fall to 7th, but there’s certainly enough quality there to sustain a challenge for European football next season.
This one is tricky and probably a straight fight between Claudio Yacob, Romelu Lukaku, Peter Odemwingie, Zoltan Gera and Shane Long. All five have been brilliant for West Brom this season.
Well, Big Sam has definitely gone in there, got the boys organised and made them hard to beat. A wonderful start to the season for the newly promoted Hammers has seen them keep a clean sheet against Manchester City and beat Chelsea convincingly at Upton Park and acquire all three points away to Newcastle. One problem has been the absence of big loan signing Andy Carroll, who can’t seem to stay fit for any length of time, which is a massive shame for Allardyce’s team, who seemed to thrive off his knock-downs and effort to win headers.
He’s been unplayable at times and West Ham sorely miss him when he’s not around.
And finally we come to Wigan Athletic, who may be doing their usual “relax in the bottom three for a while and then turn it on when we’re really in trouble” routine. They too seem to have quietly escaped attention just like Stoke - but for all the wrong reasons instead. At the moment they can’t seem to buy a win, losing all but two of their last seven games. But we’ll probably be left with egg on our face when they finish 16th and Roberto Martinez’s winking face will be forever etched in our minds just like it has been two seasons running now.
Topping Arouna Kone by scoring five goals from midfield, he’s been a ray of light in a particularly dull haze that seems to be surrounding the DW Stadium.
As we approach the half way point, Andre Dack picks his team of the season so far. Who has impressed him enough to make the team?
Stoke City have kept a remarkable eight clean sheets so far this season, having played seventeen matches – that’s almost a clean sheet every other game. Whilst the Stoke City defence have played a huge part, they owe debt to their keeper Asmir Begović. Whilst he hasn’t necessarily pulled off a string of remarkable reflex saves, his safe hands and stern control of the penalty area are impressive, and he has made some very important saves during the latter stages of matches where Stoke have been holding on (suggesting his level of concentration is high). Whilst the likes of Joe Hart and Petr Čech have been a little disappointing by their standards, Begović has been top class.
Due to an injury to Micah Richards, Pablo Zabaleta has played a lot of football for Manchester City this season, but at this rate Roberto Mancini may have a tough decision to make once Richards returns. Zabaleta has been exceptional for City thus far, reliable and solid at the back whilst offering a threat going forward (which has been necessary at times due to the lack of width in the team). Whilst Manchester City haven’t been at their best, they still hold an extremely impressive defensive record, and Zabaleta has arguably been the most consistent player at the back.
As previously mentioned, Stoke City have kept eight clean sheets, the most in the Premier League, and Ryan Shawcross has played a vital part. The Englishman epitomises the club, and constantly puts his body on the line. The club pride themselves on attacking and defending set pieces, and Shawcross is often at the heart of both. He is one of a few Stoke players who seem to rise to the occasion when playing the top sides, putting in fantastic shifts against Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal this season. Central defence is up for grabs in the England national team, and there’s no reason why Shawcross can’t challenge for a place.
Despite a very promising career at Newcastle United, Sébastien Bassong couldn’t quite get into the first team at Tottenham Hotspur. Seeking first team football, he arrived at Norwich City in the Summer, and the Cameroon international has been a revelation for Chris Hughton’s side. Bassong has been outstanding in defence, notably playing a huge part in Norwich’s home victories over Manchester United and Arsenal, keeping clean sheets in the process. Norwich have been one of the surprise packages of the season, and whilst they don’t score a high amount of goals, their defensive work and organisation has won them games, with Bassong being right at the heart of it. It’s evident that when playing week in week out, Bassong is one of the better defenders in the League.
It’s unfortunate for Leighton Baines that Ashley Cole is English, because otherwise he’d have that England left back position cemented. Consistent, committed and reliable, he is one of Everton’s key players. His defensive work is impressive enough, but going forward is where Baines has really sparkled – he and Steven Pienaar have a
remarkable connection down the left hand side, which has made for some wonderful football this season. Due to his superb left foot, Baines is the set piece taker at the club, and has dispatched a couple of important penalties already this season.
Scott Parker may struggle to get back into the Tottenham side when he returns, due to the consistently dominant performances Sandro is putting in this season. Improving with every game, the Brazilian is always committed to the cause, hassling the opposition for 90 minutes with no fear. This season his passing ability has (very rapidly) increased and he has formed an eyecatching partnership with Moussa Dembélé. A year ago he looked an adequate back up, now he’s becoming an extremely important player (undoubtedly achieved by playing every week), as his dogged work allows the likes of Dembélé and Bale to play their game.
Right from the opening weekend in August, Marouane Fellaini has undoubtedly been one of the stars of the Premier League this season. The Belgium international scored the winner in Everton’s home win over Manchester United in their opening game, and has since then scored and provided goals for his club in spectacular fashion: finessing a 25 yard shot into the bottom corner against Arsenal, weeks after setting up Nikica Jelavic with a sublime flick to win the game against Sunderland, are just two examples of such quality. Fellaini has shown how versatile a player he is, bossing games in midfield and terrorising defenders up front, and for someone with such a large structure, it’s impressive just how exceptional his first touch is.
Whilst Chelsea have had a frustrating and inconsistent season, their adaptable attacking midfielder Juan Mata has been fantastic. A real threat in the final third, perhaps what is most impressive about Mata is the variety of goals he scores and assists he provides. Weâ€™ve seen him convert with real finesse, for instance his brace at White Hart Lane, whilst also providing opportunities for his teammates with flair, racking up six assists so far in the League. The Spaniard also steered in a superb free kick at home to Mancester United â€“ he is seemingly a big game player, never shying away against Chelseaâ€™s main rivals. Whilst small in size, Mata holds his own and is strong on the ball, and although Hazard and Oscar have been impressive, Mata has continued to shine and stand out as the star man.
Scoring more goals than the likes of Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney and Sergio AgĂźero, perhaps not even Michael Laudrup expected Michu to make such a devastating impact in the Premier League. Swansea City signed the Spaniard for an extremely modest fee of two million pounds, and other clubs will undoubtedly be kicking themselves for missing out on such a quality player. Michu has shown quality finishing on multiple occasions, notably at Arsenal in early December - one on one with Wojciech SzczÄ™sny, Michu was the calmest man on the pitch, displaying outstanding composure as he slotted the ball past the Arsenal keeper to score his second in such nonchalant fashion to secure the win. If he continues to score goals at the same frequency, Michu could perhaps star as one of the best transfers in Premier League history.
Luis Suárez is finally making the headlines for the right reasons. Liverpool have left themselves well short up front this season, but thankfully the Uruguayan star has found goal scoring form. Undoubtedly one of the most exciting players to watch, Suárez has entertaining the Liverpool faithful with his dazzling dribbling ability and deft touches. Whilst this has always been the case, Suárez has scored an impressive amount of goals so far this season, although some would argue he is still a tad wasteful. Whilst his ‘win at any cost’ attitude has caused controversy, it’s also highly admirable in terms of effort and commitment, a trait that is appreciated by Liverpool fans. Luis Suárez has been a real nuisance for every defender he has faced in the Premier League this season, and no club enjoys playing against him.
Despite his unquestionable quality, the signing of Robin van Persie was still a curious one for Manchester United. The season of 2011-12 was a rare occasion for van Persie, as he remained injury free for essentially the entire season, and there is always a risk involved when paying such a high price for an injury prone player. Furthermore, Manchester United didn’t particularly have any trouble scoring goals last season – one would argue they lost the title due to poor defending, so perhaps they strengthened in the wrong areas. However, so far this season, whilst Manchester United have still conceded too many goals, the signing of van Persie has proved to be a very good one. At time of writing he is joint top goal scorer with Michu of Swansea, and he is almost always at the heart of Manchester United’s offensive play. Many consider van Persie the finest striker in the country, and it’s difficult to argue when he’s had such a remarkable calendar year.
Playmaker: How long have you supported your team? Fan: For as long as I remember really. I went to the odd game as a kid until I finally got a season ticket. I’ve had my seat for quite a few years now. P: How often do you attend games? F: As a season ticket holder I attend every home game. Last year due to work commitments I missed the every single first half of the season up till the new year, which was kind of weird. As for away matches I dont attend anywhere near enough, due to relationship commitments. We have a fantastic away following so I do intend to get to a few grounds this season. But being the most northern team in the division if you are to follow the club on their travels you do wrack up the miles. P: What would a typical match day be for you? F: We (my dad, brother and best mate from school) set off at around 1:30 for a 3 o’clock kick off which is quite early, but its a tradition of ours. This means we get into the concourse about 50 minutes prior to kick off. We’ll catch the end of the dinner time kick off in the concourse, we’ll have a mini competition to see who gets the most questions correct from the quiz in the matchday programme. Once the team has been announced we head to to our seats, there is usually some pre-match entertainment in the form of some school children dancing to LMFAO or some other pop tune. Most people complain about the matchday experience, but I wouldnt have it any other way if I’m honest.
P: Are you happy with how your team are performing this season?
P: Where is your favourite place to go on away days?
F: I’m thrilled. We are finally playing good football and turning performances into points. We are very much over performing. I find it amazing how we have managed to slash the wage budget my millions, yet come out of it with a squad which is much better.
F: My favourite away ground was Hilsborough. The whole place just wreaked of history... Oh, and it was no coincidence that Jeremie Aliadiere was rampant that game. P: What has been your greatest moment as a fan? Ask this to any Middlesbrough fan and two moments come to mind. Unfortunately I was slightly too young for the League cup win. So for me it has to be the greatest European adventure in the history of football took a small town in Europe to Eindhoven. To come from 3 goals down to progress in a European Quarter Final is one thing.
To do it twice, its just unheard of. I have the winning goal of the Basel game inprinted in my mind so firmly. You couldnt actually have written a story this good. 89 minutes on the clock, Steaua get the ball on the edge of their box, he passes it square and the full back miss-controls it. The ball
fumbles to Stewy Downing, he faints to cut inside then accelerates towards the north stand, he stubs it into the box it goes over everybodies head then suddenly out of nowhere Massimo Maccarone flies like a bullet and hammers the most glorious header in the history of football. Simply magical. It sounds ridiculous, but it actually does bring a tear to the eye. No moment in my life will ever top that. P: What young player should we be keeping an eye on from your team? F: As usual our academy is pumping out talent by the pail load. Josh McEachren from Chelsea is a top, top class footballer. But I love Andy Halliday. A young Scottish lad signed by Strachan at 18, he arrived as a striker, finished top goal scorer in the reserves league last season. However he has been converted to a left full back this, which is baffling. But, he has produced some fantastic performances. Rangers are apparently sniffing around him though, which is worrying. P: Where will you finish this season? F: 2nd. This season we have a spark about us which we have lacked for so many years. I think weâ€™ll just pip that last automatic spot.
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