With 2012 coming to a close it also means that the first half of the 2012-13 Barclays Premier League season is completed. Most of the 20 teams have gotten in their 19 matches, with the exception of Arsenal, Chelsea, Southampton, and West Ham United. The current EPL table going in to the weekend has Manchester United on top with 46 points followed by Manchester City on 39. Chelsea is third with 35 points (and a game in hand) with Tottenham close behind at 33.
Behind Tottenham the 5 – 8 spots have been competitive. At the moment Everton and West Brom in fifth and sixth have 33 points with Everton edging West Brom due to goal difference (9 – 5). Arsenal have a game in hand and are in seventh with 30 points while Stoke have performed exceptionally well this season and are up to 8th with 28 points.
The middle of the table 9-11 have Swansea and Norwich doing well and Liverpool in the middle of the three performing rather unpredictably. All three teams have 25 points, but Swansea is edging out Liverpool for ninth place with a +4 goal difference compared to Liverpool’s +2. Norwich’s early season struggles keep them in eleventh with their -8 goal difference.
In the bottom half of the table it has gotten very close with 12-15 each separated by 1 point as you go down the list and each one of these teams will be hoping to stay out of the relegation battle. West Ham has done well for a promoted side and have managed to keep an even goal difference with their 23 points. Sunderland have largely underperformed as have Fulham and Newcastle United with each of them on 22, 21, and 20 points.
The last five teams are the 5 teams that will almost certainly remain in the relegation battle. Aston Villa sit in 16th place on 18 points while Southampton have 16 only a point above 18th place Wigan. Reading and QPR are in the basement with 10 points apiece.
The first half of the season has been exciting so far. The top three teams might not surprise anyone, but the battle for fourth and the other European spots has been something to watch for. Seeing teams like Tottenham, Everton, West Brom, and even Stoke and Swansea battling it out and doing well has been enjoyable. I would like to see all of these teams continue to do well and challenge the top four status quo.
The bottom half of the table has seen some disappointments. Many feel that Sunderland, Fulham, and Newcastle United should have all done better. Of those three, only Sunderland has shown any recent improvements. Despite Newcastle getting 3 goals at Old Trafford, they still conceded 4 for the loss and have more losses than they do wins, including being winless away (which puts them in the same statistical category as Reading and QPR).
At the very bottom of the table Reading and Queens Park Rangers are the only 2 teams to have gotten only one win each this season. QPR is a team that should be playing much better than they are. They have a wage bill that should be reserved for teams in the top four and have players who seem more interested in spending their money than in actually earning it on the pitch.
At the top of the table Chelsea had a shaky start to the season that got worse through November. Their recent form is what has really kept them in third place. Manchester City is another team that seems out of sorts and their individual talent is what is really keeping them in the chase. They should be doing much better than they have done. At the very top is Manchester United who continue to leak goals with a rather poor defense. They only manage to maintain their top position through their sheer goal scoring willpower.
Perhaps the most impressive sides this season have been those in the middle of the table. These are teams that are mostly fun to watch and are generally involved in exciting matches. Tottenham are currently playing with some excellent form and have a world class player in Gareth Bale who, along with Jermain Defoe, is really leading this team to victories. Everton have shown lately that they don’t need to always rely on Marouane Fellaini, but his presence this season has been solid. West Brom is another team that is reinventing itself as a contender for European placement and even a fourth place finish. Steve Clarke has taken this team to the next level and I hope they can maintain that.
Swansea City is a team that was fun to watch last year and is even more fun this season. Michael Laudrup has improved upon what has been developed over the past several years and made this team into one that presses other teams while maintaining possession and scoring goals. Stoke City is a team that many people complain that they are boring and too defensive, but they seem to add a new aspect to their game each week. They have shown that they can play a quick passing game along with the long ball, they defend well week in and week out and they have shown that they can score goals.
The last team I’m including in this group of improving teams is Norwich City. They started out the season very slowly (their opening day 5-0 loss to Fulham was harsh), but were then able to go on a 10 game unbeaten run until last weekend’s loss to West Brom. They tend to play a very solid, well rounded game that suits them well in their bid to stay in the Premier League another year.
Arsenal still has a chance to make it in the top four, considering how close the middle of the table is, but they have disappointed far too often this season. Many fans continue to call for Arsene Wenger to either step down or get the sack, even after getting results. It has been a rough road to this point with many disappointing results along the way. This can all be said for Liverpool as well, but then again, many could say that they are overachieving in some regards. They have a single proven striker and few world class players. Their manager is still young and ambitious, but has he been too ambitious? Is it too soon to try to implement this new style of play? I suppose we will find out the second half of the season.
What would you say has been the biggest surprise of the season? For me I would say that the middle of the table has been the biggest surprise, particularly West Brom’s rise. Which teams put in the best performances? Which teams put in the worst?