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Premier League Half-Term Report, part 2

January 8, 2010

Part 2 of our Premier League Half-term report now. We’ve seen the top 5: now we take a look at those competing for European places and with designs on the top 4: here are the clubs currently placed 6th-10th.

Aston Villa

Villa's Ashley Young is just one of their exciting young talents

Martin O’Neill’s men are once again flirting with the top four but despite the undoubted talent of their young British contingent of Agbonlahor, Young and Milner they will once again miss out. The bottomless pit that is the Roberto Mancini budget, along with the deeper squad at the disposal of Harry Redknapp, means that they have been overtaken in the race to replace a stuttering Liverpool in fourth place.

This was underlined by a heavy December defeat at Arsenal and losing 1-0 at home to Liverpool, when Martin O’Neill would have hoped to have taken advantage of Rafa Benitez’s wounded side. O’Neill’s side is well admired, for their easy-on-the-eye style of play and O’Neill’s committment to young English players, but the small size of his squad and a need for a recognised goalscorer means that they will again fail to break through the glass ceiling.   

Current Position: 6th
Videprinter prediction: 7th

 —

Liverpool

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard will be wanting more celebrations like this

This season’s big underachievers, leaving those on the red half of Merseyside wondering where to point the finger. Supporters of Rafa Benitez point to lamentable owners Gillett and Hicks who are only outdone in the unpopular owner stakes by Mike “SportsDirect.com” Ashley and – for some – Malcolm Glazer at Old Trafford. All this despite an early exit from the Champions League.

A team that relied on two world-class players has been exposed, with Steven Gerrard struggling to carry a depleted side and Fernando Torres yet to find full fitness and top form this campaign. Everyone has now realised just how good Xabi Alonso was and £20million “replacement” Alberto Aquilani remains an enigma. It is clear that he doesn’t play in the same position as the “galactico” and the Liverpool medical staff made a howler in misjudging the state of his knee.

Rafa wasting money? Never.

Current Position: 7th
Videprinter prediction: 6th

Birmingham City

Cameron Jerome celebrates equalising at Anfield - skysports


Birmingham are this year’s surprise team as eleven games unbeaten has taken them to an impressive 8th place, leaving the St.Andrew’s faithful dreaming of European football. When Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung took over the club boss Alex McLeish may have thought he would have needed heavy January investment to ensure survival.

But with the Blues only eight points short of the magic 40-point mark, the former Rangers boss is now urging owner Yeung not to force signings on him that might destabalise what is a very settled side. A failed £8 million bid for Liverpool’s out-of-favour Ryan Babel demonstrates ambition though.

The Blues may move to secure Joe Hart on a permanent basis as well, as the on-loan Manchester City man’s performances make him a strong candidate to fill England’s goalkeeping void in South Africa.

Current Position: 8th
Videprinter prediction: 11th

Fulham

Roy Hodgson’s expert management of a small squad across the Premier League, Europa League and domestic cups has led to some calling for him to replace Fabio Capello whenever the Italian decides his work is done.

Bobby Zamora powers home in Fulham's best win of the season so far

The size of Hodgson’s squad may cost him in the second half of the season, underlind by his side’s inept first half performance at Stoke on Tuesday evening, which saw them 3-0 down by the break. The game also saw the Cottagers lose arguably their two star players as, after a frustrating evening, a rejuvenated 11 goal striker Bobby Zamora suffered a dislocated collarbone. Hodgson’s side also lost giant central defender Brade Hangeland with a recurrence of his knee injury.
Hodgson’s side continue their European adventure against Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk on Feburary 18 and the fitness of key players, Danny Murphy and Andy Johnson included, will dictate whether Fulham can build on an impressive first half of the season.

Current Position: 9th
Videprinter prediction: 10th

Stoke City

Tony Pulis’ side continue to defy those who brand them a direct, one- dimensional and predicatable side. The inspired signing of Matthew Etherington last January and of Tuncay in August mean the Britannia Stadium faithful are treated to some good football as well as Rory Delap’s towel and long throws, and the Potters seem to have successfully avoided “Secondseason syndrome”.

The Britannia remains a place that no team wants to visit with one of the best atmospheres in the league. They do lack goals however, with Etherington’s four goals in  all competitions making him the side’s top scorer.

Have James Beattie and Tony Pulis have put their differences behind them or is the striker going to leave?

Pulis looks likely to invest in a striker anyway, if only to replace the outgoing James Beattie who is expected to leave following his bust-up with Pulis after the former Plymouth boss refused to give his side a Christmas party. The performances of teams below Stoke means they shouldn’t be dragged into a relegation battle, but they’re unlikely to move up either.

Current Position: 10th
Videprinter prediction: 12th

Are we wide of the mark? Will one of these sides break into the top 4 after all, or slip away? Comment below.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. George Gilbert permalink
    January 8, 2010 1:37 pm

    Hi guys,

    Enjoy the writing, the analysis is good, and i think the predictions are very fair based on what we’ve seen so far and the few seasons past. As a Spurs fan the only thing i’d like to bring up is that our ‘keeper Gomes has been very good this season, and in fact was for the last half of last season also. We all know he made quite a few basic errors when he first came but he seems to have recovered – and it seems unfair to judge him now based on the first few games if his career in England. Apart from Reina who has kept Liverpool in quite a few games i don’t think another ‘keeper has had a better half season.

    It’s interesting that you pick Man United to win – i would still suggest Chelsea but Drogba will be a big miss. Out of interest, did anyone who writes for you think that Liverpool would win the league this season? Or indeed predict at all they would struggle so much?

    • January 8, 2010 5:31 pm

      I didn’t think Liverpool would win the league but I have been surprised by how poor they’ve been. I think it shows just how much they relied on the trio of Gerrard, Torres and Alonso last season. With one struggling for form, one struggling with injury and the other gone to Real Madrid, Benitez’s pretty average squad players have been badly exposed…

  2. Ben Winstanley permalink
    January 9, 2010 10:26 am

    I thought when Liverpool came up short last year that they had blown their best chance for a while. I thought that they would struggle a little this year as Chelsea strengthened – not to this extent, though.

    Gerrard and Torres were helped out by a good season from Kuyt and Benayoun; none of the fringe players have contributed enough this season and the side is obviously missing Alonso.

    It’s got to the point where it’s no longer a surprise when they fail to win any game. I think their chances of finishing top 4 are minimal; so many teams look stronger than them.

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