The Top 6
We are just past the halfway marker of the 2017/18 EPL season and it’s been one-way traffic for some time. Pep Guardiola and his charges have been making a mockery of the league, drawing just once on their way to opening up a double-digit (and climbing) lead. What does their midseason report card look like and how does it look for those that have been left in their wake?
The Pep effect is there for full viewing pleasure as Man City continue to romp to a title. It seems to be less about if they will win the league and more about how much they will win by and just how much silverware this team will win in coming seasons. Raheem Sterling has turned a corner, and Leroy Sane, Nicolas Otamendi, Sergio Agüero, and Fernandinho have all been great.
Best Player – Kevin De Bruyne
He hasn’t been just the best player in the league. He’s a contender for best in Europe for the first half of the season. Forming the most imposing midfield trio anywhere at the moment with David Silva and Fernandinho, the Belgian has showcased just how all round his game can be with tackles, crosses, passes and jaw-dropping strikes with his weaker foot. What can’t he do? He’s the ginger Pele to Belgians who keeps it simple. Kevin de Beast.
Quiet Achiever – David Silva
Raheem Sterling could slot in here if his rise had actually gone somewhat unnoticed. The quiet achiever is a man who always does it quietly. David Silva has been the finest playmaker in England for many years, but his unassuming nature and low profile status wouldn’t immediately give him away. What sets him aside is how much he is able to dictate and control the entire attack, the entire game with his calm, measured and genius passing.
Worst Players – None
No, we can’t do this. Not now.
Manager – Josep Guardiola
After Antonio Conte stamped his class, Pep shows he’s still boss in his sophomore season in England. It’s up to the other elite managers around to respond.
Team Grade – A+
They’ve lost contact with the leaders after running them neck and neck for the first seven weeks and have settled into a fight for second place. Players who started on fire have cooled and it all began against Liverpool when Jose’s bus was recommissioned.
Best Player – Paul Pogba and David de Gea
Pogba was instrumental to Man United keeping contact with City in the early games, but ever since his return, the loss of form of the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and co have been too much of a bump to overcome. It’s slowed down, but Paul is still performing at a high level.
Quiet Achiever – David de Gea
The best goalkeeper in the world at the moment is still pulling off miracle saves for the Red Devils. Also noticeable is his ability to command his box better and organise his defense better. His distribution could improve, but Mancunians are very happy with Dave.
Worst Player – Ander Herrera and Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Ander has been given a basket to carry water with how he’s been used, but the Spaniard has undoubtedly regressed. Too often used as merely a disruptor of play, such an approach woefully underutilises his technical proficiency and eye for goal emanating from Frank Lampard-like runs on to the ball.
Mkhitaryan has been having a stinker ever since Pogba missed his first game. The Armenian is simply not pulling his weight and it’s down to not having the freedom of space with which he’s more effective, horribly defensive and pragmatic tactics and his own failures.
Manager – Jose Mourinho
There’s literally nothing new from Jose this season. Tactics the same. Antics are the same. Is it enough? He’s already begun using some tried and tested excuses. No second season statement this time around it appears. There’s still a lot of season and a transfer window to go, though, so all is not lost just yet.
Team Grade – B-
The second season hasn’t been all roses for the Blues. Glaring weaknesses in the squad have come to the forefront. However, they remain in contact with second position. Will they reinforce in January to try to pip Man United to second? Transfer activity may be a necessity and not a mere option.
Best Player – Eden Hazard
Chelsea’s talisman got his season off to a late start, but he has stamped his class at various points throughout. The master of the dribble in England has come up trumps with several man of the match performances in important games. He can’t do it all alone, but he sure tries.
Quiet Achiever – Cesar Azpilicueta
Mister Reliable reinforces his status as one of the best right backs in the game. A defensive gem, the Spaniard has added assists to his repertoire this term to go with his impeccable ability to keep the ball. The three centre back system fits him like a glove in that it doesn’t necessarily task him too much with attack, and showcases his defensive talents, but also allows him to surprise with attacking contributions.
Worst Player – Michy Batshuayi
For those who allow themselves to be tricked by pre-season, here is why you shouldn’t be. Should be moved on.
Manager – Antonio Conte
Jose Mourinho 2.0 isn’t having it his own way for the first time in club football in quite some time. The formula to closing the gap between themselves and Man City begins with money and ends with the Italian extracting everything out of his troops and more. His decisions have been questioned at times, as they should, but all managers have floundered on the sidelines and in interviews as the Cityzens take charge.
Team Grade – B
Spurs have taken a few steps back after putting the pressure on last season. A thin squad has been exposed somewhat and it’s up to Mauricio Pochettino and co as to how they’ll remedy this. Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, and others can’t be expected to play week in week out especially with Champions League demands. Something has to give, and the cries for trophies will get louder.
Best Player – Harry Kane
Has to be Harry Kane. Still, despite his ascendancy into world-class status beyond a reasonable doubt, Tottenham require more and are too dependent on the blond-haired assassin for joy. The top four battle will be interesting, but that looks like all they will get once more at best.
Quiet Achiever – Son Heung-Min
The South Korean continues to have the scoring touch. There’s also more to his game this term. He looks to have 20 league goal potential in him and he will need to hit those heights if Tottenham is to kick on. It’s difficult to see where else they can make inroads under this model, but Son’s contribution is a positive check mark.
Worst Player – Moussa Sissoko
The less said, the better.
Manager – Mauricio Pochettino
It’s good. It’s solid. But it’s not enough in a division where the standards have just been raised two or more notches by an unflinching Man City. The previous two seasons’ near misses may have been their best chance at a league title for a while.
Team Grade – C
Last year it was Sadio Mane. This season it’s a little Egyptian. It’s gone just about as expected for the Kopites. While losing their best player may be a formality, another has stepped up to take on the mantle even in his presence. The second half promises much with the return of Adam Lallana and the world record purchase of Virgil Van Dijk. They’ve made the first January move in the fight for top four, and this signing, in particular, puts them ahead of Arsenal and on par with Tottenham.
Best Player – Mohamed Salah
Classed as a depth signing by many who were still operating on the premise that he failed at Chelsea and was only good in a weak Italian league, Salah has shut all his detractors up so far. Searing pace, weaving runs, and precise enough finishing have all combined to make the Egyptian perhaps a joint-favourite for player of the year in England.
Quiet Achiever – Roberto Firmino
The contrast to the flair of Mo Salah is the Brazilian Firmino. More of a hard worker than a true samba footballer, the false nine works hard for the team enabling the heavy metal football of Jürgen Klopp tick. One who chips in with timely goals, his worth is greater than the sum of his individual abilities. Without a Bobby, there’s no Fab Four.
Worst Player – Simon Mignolet and Dejan Lovren
One of the main reasons Liverpool will not threaten for a Premier League title, the Belgian is too mistake prone and not a good enough anything as a keeper. A mediocre saves-to goals ration of 1.21 speaks volumes as does two errors leading to a goal.
Lovren is clumsy in a tackle and clumsy with the ball. Van Dijk’s exorbitant fee both conveys the desperation to find a stable defensive line as much as it does the current transfer market climate.
Manager – Jürgen Klopp
There’s a sense that it could get better soon for the team in red. However, doubts as to feasibility of his football in England beyond entertaining and making top four are valid until he proves otherwise. One January signing has made the task of getting that monkey off his back a little easier. However, with the impending departure of Philippe Coutinho, the depth and quality of the remaining squad will be tested if the move materialises.
Team Grade – B-
The cloud of likely losing their two best-fit players in short order has hung over the Emirates all year as neither has signed new contracts. That with the furor emanating from Arsene Wenger’s two-year contract extension amidst talks of defiance makes top four look like the least of the Gooners’ worries this season.
Going into 2018, Alexis Sanchez has been as infuriating as ever and the man brought in to solve the striker conundrum hasn’t set anything alight just yet. Somehow they find themselves in the mix for second place (let’s be real here). It’s more of the same for Arsenal overall, but with the others stumbling and fumbling it may be enough for Champions League football next season.
Best Player – Shkodran Mustafi
The presence of this calming influence at the back for a side prone to its fair share of panic has coincided with Arsenal’s best defensive displays. Correlation isn’t causation, but his athleticism and adeptness at organising a backline have helped Arsenal along to conceding seven in games in which he’s played at least 45 minutes and four in his 11 starts.
Quiet Achiever – Aaron Ramsey
It has to be him. A problem position ever since the mercurial Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere met with a spate of long-term injuries is ever so much better when the Welshman is in the lineup. Ramsey is much more like the Ramsey of old. With his uncanny eye and appetite for goal, Aaron is less looking like a man desperate to hit the back of the net and more like a man enjoying his football and letting his natural instincts take control.
Worst Players – Theo Walcott and Francis Coquelin
Both look like this level of football has passed them by. Theo found a niche on the right side a few seasons ago when he was regularly slipped in by Mesut Özil. Now, he just looks like a man to be moved on. Coquelin has not been anywhere close to the player who was singularly focused on containment. After all, he was support to the artistry of Cazorla, and with him out for an extended period, his limitations have come to the forefront.
Manager – Arsène Wenger
Inexplicably kept on from a footballing standpoint, the manager to manage the most matches in Premier league history continues to chug along. It’s looking like another year of déjà vu. It’s one filled with similar tropes and storylines. Striker is misfiring, defense continues to leak at the most inopportune times, points dropped where they shouldn’t have been, and a whole lot of disappointment and resignation to their fate. Is it his fault? Somewhat, but in this Premier League, money talks more than ever, and Wenger is a quiet guy.
Team Grade – C