Season’s greetings, whoever you support, and I hope you have had a fantastic Christmas – despite the restrictions.
In the past, Boxing Day has often marked the halfway point of the campaign, and Headteacher Sav would be writing his half-term reports.
But the late kick-off in September means I am only marking each club based on the first 14 games.
Arsenal, Sheffield United and West Brom fans may prefer to look away now, or keep the cold turkey nearby for comfort, but here are my verdicts on each Premier League club over the season so far, with a maximum five stars to be awarded.
It may not take very long to count some clubs’ stars…
Arsenal – 0.5/5
Incredible decline – they have gone from Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles of 2004 to Mikel Arteta’s Unthinkables of 2020. I never thought that we would be talking about Arsenal being in a relegation battle. I don’t think they will go down, but they only get half a star because they are not in the bottom three.
Aston Villa – 4.5/5
That’s what you get for sticking with your manager after a close shave with relegation. Dean Smith’s recruitment, notably striker Ollie Watkins and goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, has been top-drawer, Jack Grealish is a joy to watch and it still beggars belief that they put seven past Liverpool.
Brighton – 1.5/5
Maybe they have not put as many points on the board as their performances have deserved, but playing nice football does not make you immune to relegation. Have they kicked on since Chris Hughton was replaced by Graham Potter? Not in terms of results – and I fear they will go down.
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Burnley – 3/5
Yet again Sean Dyche is defying logic on the Premier League’s lowest budget and lowest net spend. Before a ball was kicked I was concerned it might be the Clarets’ turn to go down, but they have hauled themselves out of the bottom three and I fancy them to survive now.
Chelsea – 4/5
Owner Roman Abramovich does not spend £250million in a single transfer window to mingle with the also-rans. Although they are six points behind Liverpool going into Christmas, don’t rule them out of the title race. When Timo Werner and Kai Havertz hit top gear, they will go close.
Crystal Palace – 3/5
Forget about that seven-goal hammering by Liverpool – it wasn’t the first freak result since lockdown and it won’t be the last. Eberechi Eze has been an exciting signing, Wilf Zaha is back to his best and they will win enough games to steer clear of trouble.
Everton – 4.5/5
Carlo Ancelotti won the title with Chelsea 10 years ago and he’s lost none of his know-how. He’s brought the best out of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and his midfield makeover – bringing in Allan, Abdoulaye Doucoure and James Rodriguez – has been a big success. This season is a real opportunity to break into the top five or six.
Fulham – 3/5
I tipped them to go down, so in that sense they are doing as well as expected. Scott Parker has plugged some of the leaks which threatened to undermine them early on, and they can draw encouragement from winning at Leicester and playing well against Liverpool. Don’t write them off.
Leeds – 4/5
Win or lose, they have been a joy to watch and Marcelo Bielsa’s approach has been a breath of fresh air. Even at 6-1 down at Old Trafford, they were going for it and the lack of fear factor in their play is fantastic. But they have been a bit too naïve and conceded more goals than anybody so far.
Leicester – 5/5
To get over the immense disappointment of missing out on a top-four finish last season by turning over Pep Guardiola, Marcelo Bielsa, Mikel Arteta and Jose Mourinho in their own back yards is phenomenal. If they can get their home form right, they are going to be right up there.
Liverpool – 5/5
After ending a 30-year wait to land the holy grail, we wondered if Liverpool would be able to climb the mountain again – especially when they lost 7-2 at Villa and then lost Virgil van Dijk, the best defender in the world, to a serious injury. The League table is their emphatic answer.
Manchester City – 3/5
Eight points off the top with a game in hand? Sorry, the gap’s too big – and Pep Guardiola must be so disappointed with only 19 goals from 13 games. City have been very good in the Champions League, but in the title race they are already relying on others to slip up.
Manchester United – 4.5/5
Win their game in hand and they would be only two points behind Liverpool. They couldn’t… could they? No manager has been under the microscope more than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer this season, and he’s never been further away from ‘crisis’ than the next defeat – but United are slap-bang in the title race.
Newcastle – 2.5/5
If you judge their season to date on style of football, or share of possession, they are not going to win any awards. But for points on the board, Steve Bruce deserves high marks because he has kept Newcastle out of harm’s way after the latest takeover saga that came to nothing on Tyneside.
Sheffield United – 1/5
It grieves me to see the Blades so far adrift, and still waiting for their first win. They did so well to reach the Premier League and knock on the door of Europe last season, but Chris Wilder has been a victim of his own success. If they go down, as seems inevitable, they must stick with him.
Who will win the Premier League this season? Have your say below.
Southampton – 1/5
Fantastic manager, a fantastic tempo to their game and I enjoy watching them play. From Che Adams to Danny Ings and James Ward-Prowse, head coach Ralph Hasenhuttl has improved so many players and Saints have become a real handful – especially away from home.
Tottenham – 4/5
A couple of weeks ago, when Spurs were top of the league, they would have got the full five stars. Back-to-back defeats have given them a reality check, but Jose Mourinho’s brief was to end the club’s 12-year trophy drought – and I expect him to deliver. Harry Kane’s double act with Heung-min Son has been outstanding.
West Brom – 1/5
It’s not a huge surprise to see the Baggies where they are. But I didn’t like the way they got rid of Slaven Bilic and the performance against Villa, in new manager Sam Allardyce’s first game, was arguably their worst of the season. Big Sam is going to have his work cut out to keep them up.
West Ham – 4/5
I like the recruitment – Tomas Soucek has been a good signing, Said Benrahma has quality and when Jarrod Bowen cuts in off the right flank, and shifts the ball on to his left foot, he reminds me a bit of Chris Waddle or Gareth Bale. The Hammers have been enjoyable to watch.
Wolves – 2.5/5
They have not kicked on as I expected. Obviously they have missed Raul Jimenez – and we wish him a full and speedy recovery after his horrific injury – but they don’t look right. It’s nice to see Conor Coady getting England recognition at last, but I thought Wolves would be nearer the top six than halfway.