Manchester United are leading the way in the Premier League, Liverpool’s slump has surprised many and Aston Villa are battling for a European place.
It has been a typically eventful first half of the Premier League season, but who is exceeding expectations and who is underachieving?
Here’s my half-term Premier League report.
The optimism of last season’s FA Cup triumph turned sour so quickly for Mikel Arteta in his first full campaign, as poor form prompted searching questions, and even talk of a relegation fight, after the 2-1 defeat at Everton in December left them 15th and four places off the relegation spots after their worst start since 1974-75.
There were some signs of the tide starting to turn but the awful FA Cup fourth-round loss at Southampton, when the Spanish manager inexplicably picked a weakened team, has restored much of the gloom.
Big weeks ahead for Arteta and Arsenal. Must do much better.
Phil McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 6th
Arsenal’s current position: 11th
Half-term report card: Underwhelming all round – but young guns do offer shafts of light.
The most improved team in the Premier League.
Villa escaped relegation on the final day of last season but a summer of smart recruitment, plus retaining the inspirational Jack Grealish, means they have been transformed into one of the most exciting and entertaining teams in the division.
The highlight was the sensational 7-2 home win against champions Liverpool. Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez has been outstanding while Grealish’s class has stood out in a season that holds rich promise for the months ahead.
Phil McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 15th
Aston Villa’s current position: 8th
Half-term report card: New arrivals and smart management have sparked huge improvement. Real European prospects if progress continues.
Brighton and Hove Albion
Struggles for the Seagulls mainly centre around goals – 22 in 19 games – and three wins in the Premier League is a very poor return.
The victory at Leeds United in their last league match could be just the catalyst they need and in Tariq Lamptey they possess an outstanding young right-back, while midfielder Yves Bissouma has admirers.
It is at the other end where they need more action, so heavy responsibility lies with seven-goal Neal Maupay – no other player has more than two goals – to finish off their attractive football.
Phil McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 17th
Brighton’s current position: 17th
Half-term report card: Brighton need to find a cutting edge or relegation fears will continue.
The Clarets were struggling and lacking goals, still only 10 in the league so far, but spirits will have soared with one of the results of the season when they ended Liverpool’s 68-game unbeaten home league record on Thursday.
And Burnley, under new ownership, have the confidence of a manager in Sean Dyche who knows his way around the Premier League and knows what it takes to maintain that status. He will need to find an answer to the lack of goals but what a boost that Anfield win will give the whole club.
Phil McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 16th
Burnley’s current position: 15th
Half-term report card: Must build on the huge Anfield win and find more goals to avoid struggles ahead – but Dyche is the trump card.
Frank Lampard paid the price for a dramatic slide in fortunes from a run of 17 games unbeaten earlier this season into what the statement announcing his sacking described as “mid-table” after a run of five losses in eight league matches.
The 42-year-old was out after big signings such as Timo Werner and Kai Havertz misfired badly and now it looks like it will be up to their fellow countryman, the highly-rated Thomas Tuchel, to try to re-energise Chelsea once more.
The focus will surely be on getting those two big-money Germany forwards going at full throttle.
There is undoubted talent in this Chelsea squad but they have been in dismal form and Tuchel must rebuild confidence and belief.
Phil McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 3rd
Chelsea’s current prediction: 9th
Half-term report card: Tuchel must breathe fresh life into Chelsea to revive their all-important top four hopes.
They have had a mixed bag of results such as the 5-1 win at West Brom then a 7-0 home loss to Liverpool – but this seems to be life under manager Roy Hodgson. It is hard to see Palace going down but will they go up very much either?
Palace still rely so heavily on Wilfried Zaha, although summer signing Eberechi Eze shows real promise, adding an X-factor to Hodgson’s trademark organisation. I suspect they will rumble on to another season of mid- or lower-table safety.
I tipped Palace to go down before the start of the season but may be proved wrong… just.
Phil McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 18th
Crystal Palace’s current position: 13th
Half-term report card: Mixed effort and must be careful not to drop into trouble.
Carlo Ancelotti has proved his enduring quality at Everton this season as they opened with a blaze of goals, suffered a poor period, before the manager showed his calm command as they recovered to stand fourth.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin has progressed as a striker while Michael Keane has been outstanding in defence. Recruitment has finally stepped up a level with James Rodriguez adding class, Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure rejuvenating midfield, and defender Ben Godfrey a revelation since his move from Norwich City.
It has also been achieved with injuries to the likes of Allan, Rodriguez, Seamus Coleman and latterly Calvert-Lewin. This is where Everton might be undermined via squad strength but there is no disguising the vast improvement on last season.
Phil McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 7th
Everton’s current position: 6th
Half-term report card: Excellent so far. Top four may be too much to expect but Everton will feel they have a chance in this unpredictable season.
Fulham’s poor early-season form marked them out as relegation certainties but it is credit to manager Scott Parker and his players that there has been real improvement, even if this cannot be measured in results yet.
Ademola Lookman has given the Cottagers an extra dimension but the task for the second half of the season is to transform good performances – such as when they drew with Liverpool – into better results.
Phil McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 20th
Fulham’s current position: 18th
Half-term report card: Growing in stature and have the ability to survive – but they need to turn decent results into wins and fast.
The great entertainers under manager Marcelo Bielsa, except that opposition teams often find them just as enjoyable to play against.
Fluent and pleasing on the eye, for all his principles and the unquestioning praise he receives from some quarters, Bielsa has to shore up a defence that has conceded more goals than any club apart from West Brom – or there may be worries ahead.
Probably would have settled for mid-table before the start of the season. They have been a thrilling addition to the Premier League but sometimes the rush to lavish praise on Bielsa disguises the fact he needs to fix obvious flaws.
Phil McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 11th
Leeds’ current position: 12th
Half-term report card: Wonderfully entertaining but must cure obvious frailties when defending to avoid any concerns lower down the table.
Leicester City recovered well from the disappointment of missing out on the Champions League places on the final day of last season – they even topped the table after beating Chelsea in their last game.
Manager Brendan Rodgers has bought well, with the excellent young French defender Wesley Fofana and Belgium right-back Timothy Castagne adding competition and quality. The Foxes look perfectly balanced in all areas although the loss of striker Jamie Vardy for a few games following hernia surgery is a huge blow.
Some mixed results, but Leicester have every reason for high optimism in the second half of the season.
Phil McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 9th
Leicester’s current position: 3rd
Half-term report card: The foundations have been laid, now can the Foxes stay in the top four and even make their mark in the title race? Why not?
Jurgen Klopp’s reigning champions started the season like they were going to blow away all comers in the style of last term, but the remarkable 7-2 loss at Aston Villa hinted that maybe things were not quite what they seemed.
Liverpool were then undermined by serious knee injuries to defensive duo Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, while new signing Thiago Alcantara was also out of action for a long spell.
However, their much-celebrated attack has also struggled and, after Burnley inflicted a first home league loss in 68 games, they have not scored in the Premier League for 440 minutes.
Liverpool were better in FA Cup fourth-round loss at Manchester United but the 3-2 defeat will only increase the recent sense of disappointment
Diogo Jota’s injury absence after the forward made a blistering start following his £45m move from Wolves has hit hard but the whole Liverpool team has been looking strangely flat. Never write Liverpool off but the spark has been missing too often in the last few weeks.
Phil McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 1st
Liverpool’s current position: 4th
Half-term report card: While it would be folly to write them off, a flat-looking Liverpool need to find inspiration soon after indifferent form.
Manchester City’s early-season form was stuttering, including a 5-2 home defeat by Leicester City, but since they lost 2-0 at Spurs on 21 November they have improved, looking very ominous as they lie in second place.
Since then they have conceded only three goals in 16 games in a defence marshalled by Ruben Dias and the wonderfully rejuvenated John Stones, while also finding more of a touch in front of goal. Their class showing when they demolished Chelsea 3-1 at Stamford Bridge.
The possible absence of Kevin de Bruyne for six weeks through injury will have its impact but manager Pep Guardiola will hope to cope with a squad and team that has that title look.
Phil McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 2nd
Man City’s current position: 2nd.
Half-term report card: Might have done even better in the first half of the season but now look the team to beat in the Premier League title race.
A strangely enigmatic team who never quite seem to fully convince, but a look at their results and the top of the Premier League table gives Manchester United’s perfect answer.
The win at Fulham was the seventh time they have come from behind away from home to win this season and they are unbeaten in 17 league games away from Old Trafford, very often a reliable measure of a title-winning side.
Bruno Fernandes is the inspiration, Paul Pogba is suddenly contributing vital goals and Edinson Cavani is a huge threat alongside Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.
Are they potential title winners? Their league position says they are even if sometimes they look scratchy. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can be satisfied.
Phil McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 4th
Man Utd’s current position: 1st
Half-term report card: The groundwork for glory has gone in – now can this enigmatic Manchester United team make it count in the second half of the season?
Dismal, joyless and heading straight into big, big trouble unless something changes fast – but will it? No sign of unloved owner Mike Ashley going anywhere with much-derided manager Steve Bruce seemingly powerless to drag the Magpies out of their inertia.
Bruce is in trouble but Ashley is so far unmoved and probably won’t be until Premier League status is seriously threatened, which will be very soon on current evidence.
Striker Callum Wilson has shown flashes but barely gets any service. Newcastle are without a win in 10 games and falling towards the relegation zone fast.
Phil McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 12th
Newcastle’s current position: 16th
Half-term report card: Dreadful. If things do not improve Newcastle and Bruce will have a full-on relegation fight on their hands… if the manager survives.
The second season was always going to be harder than last season’s wonderful ninth position but not even the most pessimistic of Blades fans could have predicted rock bottom, only one win and five points from 19 games.
I felt the Chris Wilder factor would keep them up and stand by the opinion that he is still a top-class manager but he has been swimming against the tide all season. Rhian Brewster, a £23.5m signing from Liverpool, has not delivered goals, while the loss of influential defender Jack O’Connell to a serious knee injury has been so significant.
Wilder will not give up but survival looks an impossible task for a team that is spirited while never looking like winning many games in the Premier League.
Phil McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 14th
Sheff Utd’s current position: 20th
Half-term report card: Not good enough. Not even a fine manager will get the Blades out of this hole. Relegation.
Superb first half to the campaign under the management of the charismatic and highly capable Ralph Hasenhuttl, who is implementing his high-intensity, entertaining style at St Mary’s.
Danny Ings and James Ward-Prowse are obvious standouts, but this is a team effort with top-class organisation, as shown in the win at home to Liverpool in the league and in the elimination of holders Arsenal in the FA Cup.
Phil McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 10th
Southampton’s current position: 10th
Half-term report card: Top-class stuff so far and, if it continues, they can drive into the shake-up for European places.
Jose Mourinho’s side have been a mixed bag but have looked outstanding on occasions, such as in the 2-0 win at home to Manchester City. They have had too many draws though and a habit of giving away leads through what looks like a conservative approach from the manager, most remarkably when West Ham came from 3-0 down to get a draw.
Mourinho vehemently rejects the suggestion that he tells his side to play that way and there is still real optimism for the months ahead with the brilliance of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, allied to one of the summer’s best signings, midfield anchor Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.
Gareth Bale’s return on loan from Real Madrid has, sadly, been a huge anti-climax so far.
Phil McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 5th
Tottenham’s current position: 5th
Half-term report card: Too wasteful on too many occasions but Mourinho knows this course and top four is a very realistic expectation. The title? Maybe out of reach but never underestimate the Special One.
West Bromwich Albion
Here we go again. In trouble? Ring Big Sam Allardyce and hope he can perform his tried and trusted escape act.
It seemed very harsh to dismiss Slaven Bilic, the man who got the Baggies promoted, after a 1-1 draw at Manchester City, but the thought of relegation induces panic in boardrooms.
Allardyce will organise but will need to find more goals from somewhere to keep a relegation off his CV. Robert Snodgrass is a smart signing from West Ham.
Phil McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 19th
West Brom’s current position: 19th
Half-term report card: Very poor so far. The Baggies have put it all on Big Sam to keep them up – but they have looked nowhere near good enough and vast improvement is needed if he is to maintain his reputation as a survival specialist.
West Ham United
A big success story so far. Manager David Moyes looks totally rejuvenated in his second spell at West Ham (he was pretty good in his first) and has shown a sure touch in the transfer market with the likes of Czech pair Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal.
Declan Rice is outstanding in midfield while Michail Antonio is a potent combination of power, skill and threat in attack. Moyes looks to be assembling a very decent, well-balanced package. He will have his sights on the European places.
Phil McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 13th
West Ham’s current position: 7th
Half-term report card: Very impressive work by manager and players. They have the winning habit and have put themselves right in contention for a tilt at Europe.
Disappointing season so far Nuno Espirito Santo’s side. Goals have disappeared from the team with the loss of Diogo Jota to Liverpool and the injured Raul Jimenez, who suffered a fractured skull in the win at Arsenal in November which left Wolves in sixth.
Teenage forward Fabio Silva is raw but full of potential, while Adama Traore has yet to hit the heights of last season.
Wolves have looked flat, despite occasionally impressive displays such as when Chelsea were beaten at Molineux. Nuno must hope the arrival of striker Willian Jose on loan from Real Socieded provides a spark.
Phil McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 8th
Wolves’ current position: 14th
Half-term report card: Under-performing and flat. Big improvement required to meet previous standards.