We are now exactly half way through the season in the English football calendar, and it’s fair to say there are a few surprises to be found in the Premier League table – Arsenal top, Man Utd 6th, none of the newly promoted clubs in the bottom 3, but we have seen that things can change incredibly quickly, so the table at this stage may not look anything like the final table. With the January transfer window coming up, teams at the top and bottom will look to add to their squad to prepare for the final 5 months of the season, which is sure to be one of the closest in recent memory.
Arsenal – 1st
Last Season: 4th
Best Player: Aaron Ramsey
Arsenal have been underachieving for quite a few years now, but the deadline day signing of Mesut Ozil seems to have given the club a lift, despite Ozil himself not playing to his best thus far. The much lamented Aaron Ramsey has exploded into the best form of his career, and the centre back pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny has become arguably the best in the league.
The general consensus is that a striker is needed to challenge with Olivier Giroud for a place, as the only other striker they have in backup in Nicklas Bendtner. With Bacary Sagna stalling on a new contract, a right back wouldn’t go amiss either, and possibly a left winger to compete with Lukas Podolski. Money isn’t an object either, so they can afford to go all out for the title.
They Should Sign: Alexandre Pato, Sime Vrsaljko, Julian Draxler
Aston Villa – 13th
Last Season: 15th
Best Player: Brad Guzan
After battling relegation for a long while, Villa seemed to be improving towards the end of last season, with a mix of young signings from the lower leagues in England, and bargain buys from abroad. However, they haven’t built on last seasons progress and sit just 4 points above the relegation zone at present, no doubt partly because of Christian Benteke’s lack of goals – he seemed to be carrying the whole team at times last season. Libor Kozak signed from Lazio in the summer, and he has partly filled in for Benteke, but will they have enough? Some fans think not, and are calling for Lambert to go.
With such a youthful team, experience might be what is missing – an experienced midfielder who can inspire his team could be exactly what is missing. With not much money to spend, they could look at a loan for a player not getting game time at a bigger club to lift their season.
They Should Sign: Darren Fletcher (loan), Michael Essien (loan)
Cardiff City – 16th
Last Season: 1st in Championship
Best Player: David Marshall
Cardiff’s form has been overshadowed by the off-field drama between now ex-manager Malky Mackay and owner Vincent Tan. Despite this, Cardiff cannot complain about how they have begun life in the Premier League – the object of any promoted team should be to simply stay up, and right now they are looking a good bet to achieve that aim. With the right managerial appointment, they could even push on for a mid-table finish – but the question is, who would want to work for Tan?
A consistent goal scorer – Fraizer Campbell has shone in fits and starts, but Odemwingie and Cornelius have yet to get going properly in a Cardiff shirt. Tan hasn’t been afraid to splash money in the past.
They Should Sign: Jordan Rhodes
Chelsea – 3rd
Last Season: 3rd
Best Player – Eden Hazard
Many peoples, including my own, tip for the title after appointing Jose Mourinho as manager for the second time, Chelsea started slowly but now are just 2 points off the top, and in with a good chance of winning their first title since 2010. I believe their summer transfer window was flawed, as they brought in more attacking midfielders, and disrupted the effective trident of Hazard – Mata – Oscar. Andre Schurrle and Willian haven’t convinced me they are a better option, while Van Ginkel has been ruled out for the season and De Bruyne, who had some good games at the start of the season, has barely featured since.
A world-class central defender, Chelsea should take advantage of Juve’s failure to qualify for the knockout stage of the Champions League and put in a big money bid for Giorgio Chiellini. Many think they also need a striker, but I believe their system does not suit strikers – how else have so many quality strikers failed at Chelsea in the last few seasons. (Torres, Eto’o, Ba, Sturridge)
They Should Sign: Giorgio Chiellini, Falcao
Crystal Palace – 17th
Last Season: Play-off winners
Best Player: Marouane Chamakh
Palace were predicted by most to finish rock bottom, and seemed to be headed that way until Ian Holloway was replaced with Tony Pulis, who has completely transformed them. While they have probably the weakest squad in the league, they are looking an intimidating opponent at the moment – Man City could only beat them 1-0 at home, where they have scored freely all season. Continue like this, and they should stay up – but it’s a big if for me, as eventually quality will tell.
Premier League rejects Cameron Jerome and Maroune Chamakh have somehow formed a decent partnership up front – if they could add a quality creative player to provide them service, it would be a big help. While the defence has been very stubborn in recent games, a quality defender wouldn’t go amiss either.
They Should Sign: Tom Ince, Ezequiel Munoz
Everton – 4th
Last Season: 6th
Best Player: Romelu Lukaku
Everton’s target every season is to try and break into the top 4, but this season they are looking more likely than ever to do it, thanks to some excellent signings made by new manager Roberto Martinez, namely Lukaku, Deulofeu, Barry and McCarthy. That 3 of those players are only on loan must be a concern though – it is highly unlikely that Lukaku or Deulofeu could be tempted to stay permanently.
The defence and midfield are solid, and Lukaku is a top striker, but the alternatives to Lukaku are not on his level. A experienced striker to keep Lukaku on his toes and fill in should he be injured is what they need.
They Should Sign: Jermaine Defoe
Fulham – 18th
Last Season: 12th
Best Player: Scott Parker
Fulham have been very disappointing this season, largely down to most of their star players massively underperforming, mainly Berbatov, Bent and Ruiz. Martin Jol paid the price, and Rene Meulensteen has been thrown into the hot seat. They have enough talent to survive comfortably, but do the players have the fight for it? The re-signing of Clint Dempsey on loan for 2 months might give them a kick start.
Another quality defender to partner Brede Hangeland. Talent isn’t their problem, determination and a fighting spirit is what they need.
They Should Sign: Eder Alvarez Balanta
Hull City Tigers – 10th
Last Season: 2nd in Championship
Best Player: Tom Huddlestone
Hull would have scarcely believed it if you had told them they would be 10th at this point, yet they haven’t received the praise they perhaps deserve – although when things change as quickly as they do this season, it could be catastrophic if they were to get complacent.
A consistent striker – Danny Graham, Yannick Sagbo and Matty Fryatt haven’t scored many goals between them.
They Should Sign: Abel Hernandez
Liverpool – 5th
Last Season: 7th
Best Player – Luis Suarez
Top on Christmas Day, 2 defeats to Man City and Chelsea since then have seen the Liverpool drop outside the top 4 where they have been most of the season. With Suarez in the form of his life, and Sturridge also in the best form of his career, Liverpool have played far better than many expected and in with a great chance of returning to the top 4, although it may be too early for a title challenge. Tying down Suarez until 2018 is massive for the club.
Liverpool’s transfer targets depend on their aims for the season. They should have enough to reach the top 4, but are 3 or 4 players short of a title challenge. Main areas to strengthen are both full backs, centre back and centre midfield.
They Should Sign: Martin Montoya, Inigo Martinez, Ben Davies, Alex Song
Manchester City – 2nd
Last Season: 2nd
Best Player: Sergio Aguero
After sorting out their poor away form at the start of the season, City are looking good to win back the Premier League title. Aguero and Yaya Toure are both at their best, summer signings Negredo and Fernandinho have settled in well and the team can’t stop scoring, especially at home. Their aim must now be shifting to the Champions League, and a daunting last 16 tie with Barcelona. I believe they can defeat the Spanish giants if they play at their best, but can they maintain a challenge on multiple fronts for the whole season?
Questions remain over Joe Hart, despite being returned to the starting line up, and they could do with a stronger left back, as neither Kolarov or Clichy has been consistent this season. Matija Nastasic is a promising centre back, but they could do with another defender on the level of Vincent Kompany until Nastasic is ready to become a regular.
They Should Sign: Julio Cesar, Fabio Coentrao, Mats Hummels
Manchester United – 6th
Last Season: 1st
Best Player – Wayne Rooney
The post-Ferguson era has not gone to plan for the current reigning champions – it would take a miracle at this point for them to retain their title. Failure to address problem areas in the summer, Van Persie being set back by niggling injuries, and a weak-looking defence and midfield mean their target now is simply to reach the top 4. Wayne Rooney has carried them for a lot of this season, but four straight wins to end the year could be a sign that things are turning around. It would be a brave man to rule out a big resurgence in 2014.
Centre of defence and midfield are the weak areas, as well as both wings. To fix all these problems will be an expensive task, but necessary for United to return to the team they should be,
They Should Sign: Pepe, Hernanes, Pedro, Antoine Griezmann
Newcastle United – 8th
Last Season: 16th
Best Player: Loic Remy
Newcastle’s resurgence this season has come as a surprise to some, but in reality last season was a massive underachievement for them as they have one of the most talented squads in the league. With no Europa League this season, they sit in their rightful place in the top half, with strong performances from Remy, Ben Arfa and Cabaye. They should be aiming now to return to the Europe League, and to add more depth to their squad to challenge on multiple fronts.
They have quality all over the squad, but for up front. Papiss Cisse has been a shadow of the player he was in his first 6 months at Newcastle, Remy has been playing left wing, and Gouffran and Ameobi haven’t been consistent. Ashley doesn’t have a record of big spending, they should look to get a good player in a bargain deal.
They Should Sign: Mame Biram Diouf
Norwich City – 14th
Last Season: 11th
Best Player: Gary Hooper
Norwich’s transfer business was praised by many, but they had a very shaky start to the season and need to play better to avoid a relegation fight. Chris Hughton is under mounting pressure from the fans, sick of the poor football and results. Hughton did well last season, and replacing him would be a risk – it could fire them to safety, as Pocchettino did for Southampton last season, or it could go very badly. Ricky Van Wolfswinkel has been poor so far, but he is a proven striker who could keep them up if he hits some form.
A creative winger or attacking midfielder to give service to Hooper and Van Wolfswinkel, and maybe a right back too.
They Should Sign: Martin Kelly (loan), Anthony Knockaert
Southampton – 9th
Last Season: 14th
Best Player: Adam Lallana
Southampton made an explosive start to the season, correctly predicted by many after the progress made last season since appointing Mauricio Pocchettino, improving young stars Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse and Nathaniel Clyne and some excellent summer signings. Despite going off the boil in the last month, they were in the top 4 for a while and should not be ruled out of claiming a European place.
A goalkeeper – they have used Artur Boruc and Gazzaniga this season, neither of whom inspires great confidence.
They Should Sign: Costel Pantilimon
Stoke City – 12th
Last Season: 13th
Best Player: Marko Arnautovic
Tipped to struggle to stay up by many, Stoke have been solid but unspectacular as usual. A consistent mid table team, they are unlikely to either go down or reach the top half unless something drastically changes.
A prolific striker to provide the impetus they need to progress.
They Should Sign: Adrian Ramos
Sunderland – 20th
Last Season: 17th
Best Player: Steven Fletcher
The Paolo Di Canio experiment went disastrously wrong, and Sunderland sit rock bottom. If they were to stay up, it would be only the 2nd time a team bottom at Christmas has done so, so history is strongly against them. However, things have improved under Gus Poyet, and they are unbeaten in 4 games, including a battling a draw against Cardiff sealed with a 95th minute equaliser. Only 2 points from safety, the relegation battle is going to go to the wire, and don’t rule them out.
A weak defence and goalkeeper need to be improved to give them a good chance of survival.
They Should Sign: David Ospina, Davide Astori
Swansea City – 11th
Last Season: 9th
Best Player: Jonjo Shelvey
The most improved side of last season, Swansea haven’t quite been as good as last season. Michu hasn’t hit the heights of last season, while Wilfried Bony hasn’t scored as many as predicted. They have been solid in the Europa League, but face Napoli in the last 16.
Another winger to provide quality service for Bony, and another striker to put pressure on him to perform.
They Should Sign: Alessio Cerci, Alvaro Vadillo, Alvaro Morata (loan)
Tottenham – 7th
Last Season: 5th
Best Player: Sandro
After splashing £100m on top quality players, Spurs have been the biggest disappointment of the season. A bloated squad and too much rotation made it difficult for players to hit form, Roberto Soldado hasn’t had the service to score regularly, and they have struggled with injuries in defence. Andre Villas-Boas paid the price for several embarrassing defeats, and Tim Sherwood was surprisingly given the job full time. It will take a big effort for Spurs to make the top 4 now, although they are only 3 points off and have a lot of quality in the squad.
Left back is the problem area, and possibly another centre back.
They Should Sign: Stefan Radu, Mateo Musacchio
West Bromwich Albion – 15th
Last Season: 8th
Best Player: Saido Berahino
In reality, WBA overachieved last season, and Steve Clarke was somewhat harshly sacked and is yet to be replaced. Their summer signings have yet to get properly going, and none of their strikers are scoring consistently.
A striker to score consistently, and maybe a creative midfielder/winger to provide for him.
They Should Sign: Will Hughes, Charlie Austin
West Ham United – 19th
Last Season: 10th
Best Player: Ravel Morrison
West Ham’s revival last season conicided with Andy Carroll’s return from injury, and this season he is yet to play after signing permanently for a record £15 million. They have struggled to score, often playing without a striker at all, although Ravel Morrison has started to show the potential we’ve known he has for a while. Right now, they look likely for the drop, unless Carroll can revitalise them again.
A striker to take advantage of crosses from Jarvis and Downing.
They Should Sign: Fabio Quagliarella
Team of the Season So Far
Debuchy – Lovren – Mertesacker – Shaw
Nasri – Toure – Ramsey – Hazard
Aguero – Suarez