After reviewing the first half of the season for the top half of the league in my previous post, I’m now going to turn my attention to the bottom half of the table.*
Aston Villa (10th, 24 points)
After last year’s relegation scrap, Villa’s fans were more hopeful this season after their young squad had gained another year of Premier League experience. However, since the opening day victory over Arsenal the season has been a familiar tale for Villa. Despite a great victory against Man City, Villa’s home form has been poor and that is why they find themselves struggling to stay clear of the bottom half once again. The recent poor form of Benteke has been a real problem for them; they have at times lacked a presence up front. The signing of Grant Holt on loan may well be a good piece of business if he is able to hold up the ball for the quicker Agbonlahor and Wiemann.
Best Player so far: Fabian Delph
Norwich (12th, 23 points)
The home win against Hull at the weekend delivered a greatly needed three points for Chris Hughton. Norwich would not have expected to be involved in a relegation battle after some big summer signings, most notably Van Wolfswinkel who has only managed one league goal so far. Hughton needs to re-enforce his defence during the January transfer window and also find a way to coax the best out of Van Wolfswinkel to be sure of top flight football next year and preserve his job.
Best Player so far: Leroy Fer
Stoke (13th, 22 points)
Mark Hughes was brought in during the summer to try and help Stoke play a more attractive style of football and while he may have succeeded on some occasions, he is finding it a tough job. Stoke have still only managed 22 goals in 22 games and often rely on set pieces to threaten the opposition. Their solid home form is again helping to keep their heads above water – they have only picked up 5 points on the road all season. Hughes needs to get his team to play with a little more attacking intent if they want finish in the top half this season.
Best Player so far: Asmir Begovic
West Brom (14th, 21 points)
It’s been a difficult few months for West Brom. Loosing Steve Clarke, Shane Long and the Anelka controversy have not helped their quest for a top half finish in the slightest. Clarke was sacked after a poor run of results and the unknown Pepe Mel has been put in his place. It will take time for Mel to stamp his authority on the side but he won’t have much time as fixtures against Liverpool, Chelsea and Man Utd all come in the next six weeks. With the loss of Long and Lukaku from last season’s squad, WBA are becoming more reliant on the ageing, controversial Anelka and they need to find some goals from elsewhere or risk dropping into the bottom three.
Best Player so far: Jonas Olsson
Swansea (15th, 21 points)
It’s been an odd season so far for Michael Laudrup’s side, despite often controlling games with over 60% of the possession they struggle to find the finishing touch and find themselves languishing in 15th place after a 3-1 home defeat to Tottenham. In fairness to Laudrup, his squad has been completely ravaged by injury for most of the season, with the absence of Michu being the most pressing concern. Recenty however, the form of summer signing Wilfried Bony will be pleasing and most people believe Swansea are too good to be in a relegation battle. But try telling that to Newcastle or Leeds!
Best Player so far: Ashley Williams
Crystal Palace (16th, 20 points)
Tipped by many for an immediate and swift return to the championship, for the first three months it seemed exactly that way. But since Pullis’ arrival at Selhurst Park, Palace have been well organised and hard to beat – everything you’d expect a Pullis side to be! They appear to have shored up their defence successfully and this has lifted them out of the bottom three but if they want to stay out of it then they’ve got to buy a striker in the next two weeks. Palace lack any real goal scorer and history shows that if you can get a fit and firing striker in January it can help lift you to safety.
Best Player so far: Mile Jedinak
Fulham (17th, 19 points)
It’s hard not to fear for Fulham’s premier league survival when you take a look at their ageing squad. Relying on players such as Parker, Riise and Duff has meant that Fulham often lack creativity and pace in their attack. If Berbatov has on off day, and these are happening more regularly recently, then Fulham often look toothless up front. The departure of Martin Jol was a long time coming and his replacement, Rene Muelensteen, has a tough job on his hands and it’s hard to see Fulham surviving without his strengthening his squad.
Best Player so far: Steve Sidwell
West Ham (18th, 18 points)
After a poor first half to the season, Sam Allardyce has pinned the season, and possibly his job, on the returning talisman Andy Carroll. Carroll’s absence has led to West Ham playing without a recognised striker at times, although this did lead to a memorable 3-0 victory at White Hart Lane it’s hard to survive in the toughest league in the world without a strong front man. Defeats at the hands of Newcastle, Fulham and Crystal Palace will have particularly hurt the Hammers and they must recover quickly in February to avoid being cut adrift from the pack above.
Best Player so far: Kevin Nolan
Sunderland (19th, 18 points)
This season started disastrously for Sunderland under the ill-fated stewardship of Paolo Di Canio, but there are signs of a revival under the more popular Poyet. Last weekend’s 2-2 with Southampton may only seem like a point but it’s the manner in which Sunderland came from behind that will please the fans and Poyet alike. Borini has shown some signs of form recently and with Fletcher returning from injury, things are looking up for a side who have been in the bottom three for 3 months. The form of Adam Johnson will also provide hope to the Black Cats, Johnson’s hat trick against Fulham was one of the performances of the season and if he can maintain his form he is capable of driving Sunderland up the Premier League Table.
Best Player so far: Jack Colback
Cardiff City (20th, 18 points)
It’s been hard to notice that beneath the controversy surrounding maverick owner Vincent Tan Cardiff have quietly slipped to the bottom of the table. The loss of firm fans favourite Malky Mackay still wrangles with fans, but Solskjaer appears to be able to win them over. But he will need results quickly to secure both the fans support and premier league survival. Cardiff have interspersed great performances against both Manchester clubs with terrible displays that have led to them dropping to 20th. Their performances don’t warrant their current league position and fixtures against Norwich, Villa and Hull in the next few weeks should ease the pressure on them.
Best Player so far: Peter Wittingham