Sunday, January 23, 2022

Premier League first-half grades: Manchester United close to failing mark; Arsenal and West Ham earn A+

The first half of the Premier League season is over, though some teams have played as many as 21 matches or as little as 17. And while the title race is practically Manchester City’s to lose, the chase for the top-four Champions League spots is heating up and the battle to avoid relegation seems to involve four teams who have won a combined one game in their last 20 contests. With FA Cup play coming up ahead of a mid-January return for the Premier League here are our first-half Premier League grades in order of the league’s table. 

1. Manchester City

Firmly the favorites to win the league and on an exceptional run of form. No team has scored more, and no team has conceded less. That’s a recipe for winning the Premier League … again. At 17-2-2 and with a 10-point lead atop the table, it feels like we are getting to close to them just running away with it all. Grade: A+

2. Chelsea

In second but not playing all that well. They had a promising start but have since struggled to defend. One win in their last five, the once unbreakable Chelsea defense has conceded in three straight and in eight of their last nine Premier League games. They’ll take second place and will be happy that they look like a lock for the top four, but a chance at the title is dwindling. Add in the Romelu Lukaku controversy, and there are uncertain times ahead. Grade: A-

3. Liverpool

Drawing more than they would like and on the verge of being out of the title race, they still have lost just two games and have a game in hand. Blowing the 2-0 lead at Chelsea stings, but if any team can catch City, it’s Liverpool. The Reds have enough firepower all over to capitalize if City slip, but they have to have to go on a run. Two points from their last three games has put them in a tricky spot. Grade: A-

4. Arsenal

They may have lost seven games already, but if you would have told them that at the turn of the year they would be in the top four, they would have taken it. Mikel Arteta has had to make some tough choices but has rallied this club and raised hope, expectations and their performances. A real bright spot so far. Grade: A+

5. West Ham

Not in the top four anymore, but don’t count them out. David Moyes continues to work wonders with the Hammers, and the fact that he has them above Tottenham and Manchester United says a lot. Manuel Lanzini’s recent form is encouraging, and if he can be a factor the rest of the way, why can’t they qualify for the Champions League for the first time in club history? Grade: A+

6. Tottenham

Finding their grove and unbeaten in the league under Antonio Conte. They haven’t always been impressive, but the results do not lie. It does feel like Gio Lo Celso should get more of a look to add a creative spark instead of relying so much on balls over the top. A team to watch in the January window, and when they get Cristian Romero back, look out. Grade: B+

7. Manchester United

Thoroughly disappointing. They are on their second manager, and they have just as many losses 19 games in (six) as they did all of last season. Harry Maguire’s quality has been rightly questioned, Raphael Varane cannot stay healthy and the 4-2-2-2 formation leads to little creativity. They are as predictable as can be. A 1-0 win on Dec. 11 against lowly Norwich and a 1-1 draw against struggling Newcastle at the end of December tells you all you need to know. They should be overpowering teams but aren’t coming close. Much to improve upon. Grade: D

8. Wolves

Ended the first half of the season with a hugely impressive 1-0 win over United at Old Trafford — their first there since 1980. They have just 14 goals in 19 games, but they’ve also conceded just 14 and are somehow eighth. It’s quite incredible how they’ve grinded out these results and are a tough team to play due to their technical ability and physicality. A real contender to qualify for Europe. Grade: B+

9. Brighton

They’re no longer viewed as relegation contenders. They lost 15 games last season and are on pace to lose just eight this season, cementing their spot in the Premier League. They’ve got incredible character, and the emergence of Argentine midfielder Alexis Mac Allister has been huge with his four goals. Graham Potter deserves a ton of credit for helping this team find stability in the top flight. Grade: B

10. Leicester City

When Wesley Fofana went down with his horrific leg break, you just knew it was going to be tough sledding in defense for the Foxes. They’ve been widely inconsistent, conceding six to Man City and then beating Liverpool. A spot in the Europa League seems out of the question unless they catch fire. Kasper Schmeichel continues to be their savior, but they may just need to bolster that defense during the winter transfer window. Grade: C

11. Crystal Palace

When they are on, they can compete with anybody. The problem is, the defense needs a ton of work. Patrick Vieira’s team has allowed multiple goals in three of their last four games, and when they don’t seem to concede, they can’t seem to score, like that 1-0 loss at a poor defensive team in Leeds at the end of November. A middle-of-the-road team, and that’s likely where they’ll finish. Grade: B

12. Brentford

They started the season hot but have seen fizzled a tad, yet here they are 12 points above the drop zone and feeling good. The defense remains strong, while the attack has to be sharper like it was against Aston Villa on Sunday. They are generating chances and have recorded an average of 4.5 shots on goal in their last 11 games before Sunday but have just 11 goals to show for it. Grade: B+

13. Aston Villa

Not living up to the expectations set after a busy summer transfer window, using the Jack Grealish funds to bring in some quality pieces. Emiliano Martinez remains one of the league’s best goalkeepers, but the attack lacks the sizzle. They need Leon Bailey to stay healthy and shine. Grade: C

14. Southampton

Not good enough to be noticed and not bad enough to be in a relegation situation, one would think they are pretty pleased with where they are. Mohammed Salisu needs to play a bit smarter, and if he can do that, they’ll be just fine. They will have to continue to grind out results. Grade: C

15. Everton

Injuries have really ruined any chances they had, albeit small ones, to push the top six. There is some serious quality there, but the inconsistency on both ends of the pitch has left them struggling to even be mid table. Richarlison can only do so much. They have only one win since late September. Grade: D

16. Leeds

Feels weird to have them flirting with relegation, but they deserve to be in this spot. They were once viewed as a potent attack and entered the weekend averaging just a goal a game, down from the 1.63 they averaged last season when they finished ninth. In the end, they will likely have enough, but if they don’t quickly get healthy in attack, they could have to sweat this one out. The 3-1 win over Burnley could just be the turning point they need. Grade: D-

17. Watford

On a horrid run of form but two points above the drop zone. Watford probably deserved a point against Tottenham only to concede in added time. They have more than enough to stay up but have to find some sort of consistency. Remember when they beat Manchester United 4-1 in November? Feels like ages ago. If Emmanuel Dennis can keep it up (eight goals in 17 league games), they’ll remain in the top flight. Grade: D

18. Burnley

Their attack is just bad. It isn’t Norwich City bad, but they are averaging under a goal a game. They’ll feel great about their chances because of that defense-first mentality that Sean Dyche relies on, but the goals have to come from somewhere. A creative midfielder is needed in this transfer window. Grade: D-

19. Newcastle

While they are dealing with their fare share of injuries, it just feels like this team has what it takes to escape relegation, especially if they make those big signings in January. But with Callum Wilson, Joelinton and the dashing Allan Saint-Maximin, safety will be well in reach if they can bolster that atrocious defense. They are the only team in the bottom four to have won a game as of late. Grade: F

20. Norwich City

Quite possibly one of the worst Premier League teams we’ve seen in ages. The Canaries have eight goals in 19 matches, and that is eight less than any other team. By comparison, Newcastle is one point above them and has scored 19 times. Somehow they are not far from safety, but it feels like a mini miracle is needed. They haven’t won a game since November. Grade: F

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