Winners & Losers Judges The Top Ten

It's Xmas and it feels like time for an overview: Matthew Stanger looks at what's gone right and wrong for the top of the table. Who saw this coming at Liverpool?

Last Updated: 23/12/13 at 14:00 Post Comment

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1. Liverpool
What has gone well?

A lot. Usually we would write something along the lines of 'even the most optimistic Liverpool fan wouldn't have predicted this start to the season', but of course that doesn't apply when the Reds are involved. How we pointed and laughed at the annual claims in the mailbox that this was going to be Liverpool's year back in the summer, but those chirpy supporters are now returning the favour as fans of rival clubs start to worry that the Reds might actually last the pace. With no European football and a League Cup exit at the hands of Manchester United, Brendan Rodgers has been able to focus solely on the club's Champions League mission, and all is looking rosy after 17 games.

Rodgers' shrewd management has arguably been the biggest plus in Liverpool's season so far. While Luis Suarez's remarkable performances have played a pivotal role in the Reds' rise to the top of the table, the manager has laid the foundations for an unlikely title challenge. He has continued to demonstrate great adaptability - ensuring the loss of Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard has had minimal impact on the team's form - while helping last year's fringe players to progress. The win against Cardiff emphasised that Suarez's supporting cast deserve enormous praise for their role in the Reds' success - Jordan Henderson in particular - while nine of the 13 players Rodgers used in the 5-0 win over Tottenham were aged 24 or under, which suggests that Liverpool are only going to get stronger as their squad matures.

We knew Liverpool meant business in their bid to return to the top four when they refused to entertain Arsenal's offer for Suarez in August, and persuading the striker to sign a new contract at this juncture has augmented the feelgood factor around Anfield. Whether he stays at the end of the season or not isn't a concern at the moment - if he can fire the Reds back into the Champions League they will obviously be in a much better state to cope with his departure than they would have been in the summer. And what wonderful entertainment he is supplying in the meantime.

Rodgers' forays into the transfer market have remained hit and miss, but the signings of Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho have bolstered the manager's defensive options and provoked a much-needed improvement in Martin Skrtel's displays. Jon Flanagan has also impressed after returning from the wilderness, but Rodgers will seek to capitalise on a fine start by adding to his squad in January. If he can find two gems similar to last year's winter recruits - Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho - then Liverpool really can begin to dream.

And what hasn't...
The problem with not being able to offer Champions League football is that the best players all choose to move elsewhere. After Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Willian turned their noses up at moves to Anfield in the summer, Rodgers was forced to gamble on the likes of Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto, with neither making an impact in their first half-season in England. The former's contribution has mirrored Fabio Borini's first year at Liverpool as a number of underwhelming displays have been followed by an extended absence through injury. Alberto, on the other hand, was never expected to play an important role in this campaign, but one still wonders whether his £7million fee could have been better spent on strengthening the first team.

On the pitch, Rodgers has ongoing concerns over the Reds' vulnerability at set-pieces, underlined by Jordan Mutch's header for Cardiff on Saturday. "It's just concentration. From a set-piece you are given a job and I think it should be the simplest part of the game," said the manager at the end of October. "We started the season with three clean sheets and we just need to get back to that mentality because we know that we can get goals. It is something we need to improve on."

That improvement has not been forthcoming, however, as just two more clean sheets have followed, with the Reds (five) recording fewer than Norwich (six) at this stage of the season. With Liverpool also conceding the joint-highest number of goals from indirect free-kicks (four) and 33% of their total 'goals against' from set-plays (the fourth highest proportion in the division) Rodgers must focus on curing his team's defensive lapses. Manchester City will no doubt be ready to punish the slightest mistake on Boxing Day.

After Cardiff ground out a 1-0 win after the break on Saturday, it's also worth noting that Liverpool have won only five second halves in the 17 matches they have played so far. Perhaps this means very little, or perhaps it hints at a complacency that will be punished by their rivals at the top. It must come as some disappointment to Rodgers that his half-time team talks have resulted in two more second-half defeats than victories and he will be looking for better responses from his team in the future.

Moment of the season so far
The 5-0 thrashing at Spurs that Daniel Storey called 'the most complete team performance of the season' in 16 Conclusions. "First and foremost, our work-rate, how we pressed the ball as a team, was outstanding and that earned us the right to play," said Rodgers in his post-match interview. It revealed a great deal about the mentality the manager has instilled in his players and hints at a solid grounding as the title/top-four race continues to unfold.


2. Manchester City
What has gone well?

That City have scored more goals at home than 18 Premier League teams have managed in total points to their key strength in the first half of the campaign. Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United have all been comprehensively outclassed, while Hull are the only opponent to concede fewer than three goals at the Etihad thus far. As Brendan Rodgers said before Liverpool's trip to Manchester on Boxing Day, it's City's title to lose at this stage, and the bad news for their rivals is that they are improving with each passing week.

City may have splurged in the summer to strengthen their squad for a renewed title challenge, but it has proven to be money well spent in the cases of Alvaro Negredo, Fernandinho and Jesus Navas. The former has been simply phenomenal in his first season in England, flaunting his superb finishing ability with seven goals in 16 top-flight matches (12 starts) and striking up a brilliant understanding with Sergio Aguero. Negredo's performance against Fulham eased fears over how City will cope in Aguero's absence, and he demonstrated the cuter side of his game with a stunning pass for James Milner to score the fourth in a 4-2 win. "He's the perfect player for the Premier League," said Pellegrini following the 6-0 thrashing of Spurs. "I think the way the team plays is very comfortable for him."

While Negredo appeared to settle immediately - embarrassing Rio Ferdinand in his first Manchester derby - Fernandinho's adjustment has been a little more gradual. There were early concerns as to whether the Brazilian was the perfect fit alongside Yaya Toure in a central midfield containing two players who favour quick transitions, but the pair have made a mockery of those initial doubts and developed an encouraging understanding. Fernandinho's display against Arsenal was perhaps the best of his short City career to date, but it is away from home - in the victories over West Brom and West Ham in particular (and Bayern Munich in the Champions League) - where his contribution has truly been appreciated.

The power City possess in the middle has allowed Pellegrini to switch to a 4-4-2 formation and, despite Navas being the only 'natural' winger, they have exhibited excellent balance and variation in their attacks. Samir Nasri's contribution has been especially pleasing following a disappointing 2012/13 and Pellegrini's ability to eke more consistency out of the Frenchman - as well as keeping fringe players such as Edin Dzeko happy - has been a refreshing change from Roberto Mancini's ill-tempered final campaign.

And what hasn't...
This column has commented many times on its disbelief at City allowing for three of Sunderland's ten points thus far, and that sorry afternoon at the Stadium of Light highlights a perplexing Achilles' heel. Cardiff and Aston Villa have also taken maximum points against the title favourites, but Pellegrini has remained unfazed, with his faith repaid by City winning four of the last five away from home in all competitions.

It seems unlikely that freak results will continue to occur now that City have found their rhythm, but it is impossible to account for Joe Hart's blundering. The keeper's late mistake in the 2-1 defeat to Chelsea was the final straw for his manager, who dropped Hart for seven Premier League matches before he returned at Fulham. With Pellegrini confirming that the 26-year-old will keep his place against Liverpool, it seems the No 1 shirt is now Hart's to lose again, and he must avoid forcing his manager another difficult decision.

One area where Pellegrini should feel his hand being forced is defence, with Martin Demichelis' displays reinforcing the view that City need to sign another defender in January. The manager is clearly a fan of the Argentine, having worked with him at Malaga, but he has been an unconvincing deputy to the increasingly injury-prone Vincent Kompany, and recently Matija Nastasic. City will stand a much better chance of maintaining their form when Pellegrini is able to pick a centre-back partnership that was responsible for conceding the fewest goals in the Premier League last season.

Moment of the season
The thrilling 6-3 victory over Arsenal that brought out the perfectionist in Pellegrini. "It's very important to be an entertaining team but I would prefer we won 6-0 rather than 6-3," he said. "Attacking, it was a very good performance, it's not easy to score six against Arsenal - the best defence in the Premier League but I think we had four more good, clear chances to scores goals, so in that sense I'm very happy but we must keep improving."


3. Arsenal
What has gone well?

Much more than we expected, with Arsenal remaining in first for longer than any of their rivals so far and having the opportunity to return to the summit with a win against Chelsea.

As I wrote following the victory over Cardiff in November, Arsenal have shown remarkable resilience to recover from set-backs this season and there is no reason, other than Laurent Koscielny's absence, to suggest they can't do so again when Chelsea visit the Emirates on Monday.

Perhaps the greatest encouragement for Arsene Wenger - who is 'more concentrated, more conscious' this year, according to Santi Cazorla - is that his team have proven they can learn from their mistakes. Despite being thoroughly out-thought in the 2-1 home defeat to Borussia Dortmund in October, Arsenal adapted their approach to leave the Westfalenstadion with a 1-0 win just two weeks later. Successive defeats at the Emirates to Dortmund and Chelsea were followed by a ruthless display of domination in the 2-0 win over Liverpool while Napoli and Spurs have also been brushed aside with ease.

It is little wonder that Wenger appeared unfazed following the 6-3 thrashing at City and he was right to focus on the positives. "Quite amazingly, despite the fact we conceded goals, (the Man City match) was not all negative because we could have scored six as well, so on the offensive front we have shown that we have huge potential," he said.

"I believe that we should come out of that game even stronger in our belief, even stronger in our resolute attitude, because we have shown until now that we can be very strong defensively, and as well on the day we have shown that we can be dangerous against anybody.

"We can rectify the defensive problem, but that's what we want to show against Chelsea."

Considering that Arsenal had the best defensive record in the league before that heavy defeat - and were second only to City last season - Wenger's confidence is not misplaced. That individual errors proved costly against City points more to fatigue following a gruelling run of fixtures than any long-term concerns, and we should see the 'real' Arsenal as they seek to bounce back against Chelsea.

With Jack Wilshere missing through suspension, the Gunners will rely on Aaron Ramsey's drive through midfield on Monday, and the Welshman has been a sensation so far this season despite failing to score in his last four matches. The 22-year-old's unexpected progress, along with the improvement of Wojciech Szczesny and Olivier Giroud, has been a key factor in Arsenal returning to the title race and progressing from the toughest group in the Champions League.

Meanwhile, Mesut Ozil's arrival, which shocked everyone in September, has enabled Wenger to cede control in favour of more penetrating performances, with the Gunners demonstrating more intelligence and focus in their approach this year. They have dropped from first to ninth in the Premier League ranking for average possession, but have climbed two places and possess eight more points than at this stage last season. It all points to a positive start that has engendered genuine hope of maintaining a title charge until the bitter end.

And what hasn't...
The biggest disappointment for Arsenal in the first half of the season was a 1-0 defeat to Manchester United in which Wenger claimed his team looked 'nervous'. It was an opportunity to take full advantage of United's struggles, and yet the Gunners failed to produce anywhere near their best form as Robin van Persie inflicted their second defeat of the season.

With fatigue increasingly becoming an issue, Wenger may also be made to pay for failing to strengthen the squad sufficiently in the summer. The first team coped well in the absence of Theo Walcott (who was excellent against City on his return) and Lukas Podolski, but Giroud and Ozil are clearly in need of a rest.

"We have to give Mesut a break - but not tomorrow night," said Wenger ahead of the Chelsea clash. "He has played a lot. But we have had a little break since we played last Saturday at Manchester City and, hopefully, he has recovered."

Other concerns include subdued contributions from Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta, who has arguably dropped below Mathieu Flamini in terms of what he offers in defensive midfield. The defence has remained solid on the whole, but Thomas Vermaelen's hapless display against City left doubts as to whether he can prove an able deputy to Koscielny (who himself is guilty of the occasional clusterfudge). Arsenal have won only three of the last 14 matches that Vermaelen has started, which tells its own story about the captain's vastly diminished influence.

A final worry, perhaps, is the Gunners' vulnerability from their own attacking set-pieces. They have been picked off on breaks from their own corners against Aston Villa and Chelsea (in the League Cup), while Arteta was red carded following a similar situation at Crystal Palace. It will not be a major concern to Wenger, but it is an area on which their opponents may try to focus in the future.

Moment of the season
The 2-0 victory over Liverpool that suggested a gulf in quality, even though the Reds have since leapfrogged Arsenal at the top.


4. Everton
What has gone well?

The rapid transition to a more adventurous style of play under Roberto Martinez has made a mockery of David Moyes' request for patience at Manchester United, with Everton exhibiting their attacking prowess in the deserved win at Old Trafford. That famous result was followed by a hard-fought draw against Arsenal and two convincing victories over Fulham and Swansea, leaving the Toffees in fourth ahead of Chelsea's trip to the Emirates.

While Everton's attacking displays - and the contribution of Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku in particular - have been a refreshing change from the Moyes era, Martinez's predecessor perhaps deserves some credit for establishing a defence that has only conceded 16 goals this season - the best record in the Premier League.

"Moyes and Roberto Martinez are different, but even if it goes smoothly now, there is a big part of Moyes in that success; state of mind, desire, determination and fighting spirit," said Sylvain Distin at the start of December. "We never give up. That mental strength, he instilled it in us a long time ago."

That mental strength has been augmented by the loan signing of Gareth Barry, who has played a key role in Everton losing just one match so far - a 3-1 defeat to City at the Etihad for which Barry was absent - as Martinez has been able to focus on refining the team's approach in the final third.

Everton's climb from ninth in last year's rankings for average possession to sixth in the current campaign, and 11th to sixth in respect of pass completion, has been significant in the Toffees creating more and better chances. Only three sides managed more shots per game than Everton's average of 16.7 in 2012/13, yet despite that number decreasing this year, the club's goals-per-game ratio has increased from 1.45 to 1.7. It might appear marginal, but that equates to ten more goals over the course of the season, which could prove crucial as an unlikely top-four challenge unfolds.

And what hasn't...
Rumours that Nikica Jelavic and John Heitinga will both be allowed to leave in January reiterate fears over a lack of squad depth that could ultimately undo Everton in their bid to return to the Champions League. Lukaku's early burst has given way to no goals in his last four matches and the club must back Martinez in the transfer window if he is to maintain the Toffees' brilliant start to the season.

Moment of the season
Moyes' Everton failed to win away to any of the original 'big four' during his 12 years in charge, so Martinez's success at Old Trafford is something to savour.


5. Chelsea
What has gone well?

That Chelsea could jump into second on Monday despite performing some way below their best this season provides a clear warning to their rivals. Jose Mourinho has not quite put his finger on a winning formula - as recent defeats to Stoke and Sunderland have suggested - but he is not too far away either. The acquisition of a top striker could prove the difference in Chelsea's title challenge, but it won't be easy to complete such a deal in January.

And we all remember what happened last time...

And what hasn't...
This hasn't been the second coming we anticipated, with the so-called 'Happy One' looking anything but in his return to Stamford Bridge. An irritable Mourinho has tried to impose his vision by sidelining Juan Mata and David Luiz - distancing himself from Rafa Benitez's success - but unless he is allowed to spend on the Blues' midfield and attack, it is unlikely his plans will be able to fully materialise.

Although many scoffed at the manager's decision to pick Oscar as his leading No 10 ahead of Mata, the Brazilian's contribution has proven it to be a shrewd move. The problem, of course, lies ahead of Oscar, in a centre-forward role that Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto'o and Demba Ba have all failed to grasp in their numerous auditions.

Meanwhile, Chelsea's ongoing reliance on Frank Lampard and John Terry points to a lack of necessary renewal in the squad, but these concerns have been off-set to an extent by the performances of three of last year's signings - Eden Hazard, Oscar and Cesar Azpilicueta. The trio have set an example for Willian and Andre Schurrle to follow and, should the newbies find more consistency, Mourinho might be allowed to loosen up a little in the second half of the campaign.

Moment of the season
Joe Hart's late blunder in the 2-1 win over Man City that affords Chelsea the opportunity to equal Liverpool's points total on Monday.


6. Newcastle
What has gone well?

Worryingly, all the things we laughed at in the summer. It seemed that Newcastle were set to implode after Joe Kinnear's appointment, but somehow they have held it together and climbed into sixth place after 17 games. Loic Remy's acquisition has been crucial - with the striker notching eight times so far - and if Kinnear can repeat the trick in January, the Magpies could stand a chance of snatching an unlikely Europa League spot.

Only three wins in the first nine matches piled the pressure on Alan Pardew, but the manager survived that run - which ended with a miserable defeat to Sunderland - to turn Newcastle's fortunes around. A deserved 2-0 victory over Chelsea at the start of November heralded a four-game winning streak - the club's best form since April 2012 - while defeat to Swansea was instantly brushed off with a hard-earned victory at Old Trafford.

Pardew has been forced to make several big calls this season, but his decision to drop the underperforming trio of Hatem Ben Arfa, Papiss Cisse and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa has been crucial. With the industrious Moussa Sissoko now starting ahead of Ben Arfa on the right and Shola Ameobi developing a promising partnership with Remy, the manager has found a better balance that has eked out an unexpected improvement.

As Nick Miller wrote here, it is becoming harder to judge how good a manager is in this era of short-termism, but Pardew's revival of Newcastle is a strong advocate for patience. After a remarkable achievement to finish fifth in his first full season in charge, he could quite easily have been sacked following the disappointment of last year, but it now appears that he has once again found a solution to the Magpies' previously uninspiring performances.

Holding on to Yohan Cabaye amid strong interest from Arsenal was the catalyst for a solid first half of the season, while Daniel Storey would never forgive me if I excluded Mike Williamson from the many positives surrounding the club at present.

And what hasn't...
Very little, in truth, given where many expected Newcastle to be after 17 games and where they are in reality. Ben Arfa's bit-part role has been to the detriment of entertaiment at St James' Park, but most fans would agree that the Frenchman should be made to earn his place after he ballooned over the summer. The gut was still in evidence against Crystal Palace, with Ben Arfa's claim in September that he can win the Ballon d'Or appearing more fanciful than ever.

Meanwhile, there has been little to suggest that the misfiring Cisse can rediscover his form of early 2012. The striker has only scored once in 15 appearances (all competitions) this season and eight times in his last 49 Premier League matches. "I am sure that, come January, a lot of teams will be looking at our situation," said Pardew of Cisse's predicament last week. "But they'd have to spend a lot of money to get him. I would suggest to any club, just look at Mike Ashley's record of selling players. Would it cost a hell of a lot? Correct."

Moment of the season
Remy's 89th-minute strike against Chelsea to seal a 2-0 win. Newcastle went into the match in 11th place, but haven't left the top half since.


7. Tottenham
What has gone well?

Not a great deal you might think, considering Andre Villas-Boas' sacking following the humbling 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool. However, Spurs' win over Southampton has left them with one more point than at this stage last season, which raises further questions over the lack of patience afforded to the Portuguese.

As Nick Miller wrote here, Tim Sherwood is perhaps the man Spurs need to lift them out of their 'slump' in the short term, and his decision to recall Emmanuel Adebayor is something I advocated earlier in the campaign. Whether that move would have yielded the same result for Villas-Boas, given the pair's fractious relationship, we will never know, but Sherwood deserves credit for the striker's impressive return to action.

And what hasn't...
Of the new signings in Spurs' ranks, only Vlad Chiriches has really impressed on a consistent basis, with the rest displaying their talent only in flashes. The decision to splurge the Gareth Bale money on seven new faces has failed to help Spurs push on in terms of playing style and the amount of expectation placed upon Villas-Boas pointed to a crippling lack of foresight.

"Look, when I said to you at the beginning of the season that when you sign more than three players you take a technical risk, you were all laughing at me, but it is a reality," said Arsene Wenger of Villas-Boas' departure.

"If you look purely at the mathematical problem, yes (it is a surprise), because he has the highest percentage rate of wins historically at the club."

If reports that Villas-Boas preferred to launch bids for Hulk, David Villa (who reportedly had a tour of Spurs' training ground) and Joao Moutinho are true, then it is clear that the manager had a completely different system in mind to the 4-2-3-1 formation that brought only 15 goals in the first 16 matches. However, it matters little at this stage, with the responsibility now passed to Sherwood to marry results with entertainment.

He certainly achieved that in the victory over Southampton, and the return to two strikers could well be the antidote to Spurs' lethargy in the final third. It was particularly encouraging to see Roberto Soldado pick out Adebayor for the equaliser with a cross from the left, and perhaps the Spaniard will start to improve now he has partner to work with.

The same is also required of Paulinho, who was suspended for the Saints clash, while Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela are tasked with providing the ammunition to Sherwood's new-look forward line. It's unlikely that Spurs will suddenly gel now Villas-Boas has left, but the initial signs were promising on Sunday. There is plenty of talent among the squad and plenty of time left to close the four-point gap to fourth.

Moment of the season
Paulinho's last-minute winner at Cardiff. It was no more than Spurs deserved and looked set to be a turning point in their season. How wrong we were...


8. Manchester United
What has gone well?

Can I get back to you on that?

Most of the positives in United's season were on show in the convincing win over West Ham at the weekend. Adnan Januzaj's display underlined his enormous potential, while Danny Welbeck took his goal with the confidence of a striker who is eager to make the most of his rare opportunity to play in the centre.

Along with Saturday's match-winning duo, Phil Jones has also kicked on this year, imposing himself in midfield and defence when called upon. However, that the 21-year-old has been a better option in the middle of the pitch than £27million signing Marouane Fellaini points to many of the problems that United have faced as they languish in eighth after 17 matches.

And what hasn't...
Tis the season of goodwill, so I'll try and be concise: David Moyes.

The new manager has thus far appeared well out of his depth following his promotion from Everton, with peculiar quote following peculiar quote and little on the pitch to distract supporters from failings elsewhere. Moyes' decision to replace almost the entire backroom staff has only looked more foolish as the season has progressed and, along with the signing of Fellaini, pointed to what is at best a lack of imagination, at worst a crippling fear that he can't go it alone.

Indeed, there are reports that Moyes will return for Leighton Baines in January as his mission to make United more like Everton continues, and the manager's reliance on what he knows only suggests that he is never going to succeed at Old Trafford.

That point is reinforced by the absence of a cutting edge to United's play this season, with the champions mustering only eight goals at home in the Premier League before the visit of the hapless Hammers. Robin van Persie has frequently looked frustrated by the poor service he has received, with Tom Cleverley becoming the first United midfielder to register a goal or assist this season with his strike at Aston Villa.

While Moyes has raised legitimate concerns over the quality he has available, his squad still marched to the title last season and so five defeats and only eight wins in the first 17 matches is simply unacceptable. The team are performing way below their potential in the Premier League and as yet there have been no signs that the manager can ensure a long-term improvement. Patrice Evra has spoken several times about the need to mount a winning run, but that aim has not been forthcoming.

Moment of the season
Adnan Januzaj's brace at Sunderland. The arrival of a wonderful talent in a match that epitomised United's struggles under Moyes.


9. Southampton
What has gone well?

After a difficult run of fixtures has coincided with a difficult run of form, it might be easy to forget that Southampton were third after 11 matches with the best defence in the division and having lost only once.

The unforgiving immediacy of the Premier League has seen Saints' achievements slip away into the background over the past month but, of the four defeats in their last six matches, the only one to cause real surprise was the 3-2 loss at home to Aston Villa - and that was undeserved.

It's rather puzzling that Mauricio Pochettino has chosen to break up the centre-back partnership of Dejan Lovren and Jose Fonte - which was responsible for Southampton conceding only five goals in their first 11 matches - and one would expect the manager to soon realise the error of his ways.

Pochettino has made few mistakes thus far, however, and he has built a tenacious team that press with aggression and then attack at speed when they have won back possession. The Saints' English youngsters have continued to impress, with Pochettino putting his trust in teenagers Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse and Calum Chambers, while Morgan Schneiderlin and Adam Lallana have remained at the heart of Saints' success.

And what hasn't...
As previously mentioned, Pochettino's decision to drop Fonte in favour of Jos Hooiveld has been enormously perplexing, with the Dutchman making two errors leading to goals in three Premier League appearances so far, as well as scoring in his own net against Tottenham.

It has been a rough month for Southampton and, amid speculation that he was on the shortlist for the Spurs job, Pochettino must now prove his mettle by turning around the team's fortunes. As well as recalling Fonte, he should probably seek to bury the hatchet with Gaston Ramirez, who has made only seven substitute appearances this year.

Dani Osvaldo, who arrived for a hefty sum, scored a fine strike in the 1-1 draw against Man City, but Nicola Cortese will have expected a better return on his investment than a paltry three strikes in four months. Southampton also need Artur Boruc back as quick as possible, with Paulo Gazzaniga some way below the quality required of a Premier League keeper.

Moment of the season
The deserved 1-0 win at Liverpool that proved Southampton should be able to recover from their recent blip once selection and injury issues are resolved.


Stoke
What has gone well?

The last month, which has seen the Potters pick up three wins and two draws in six games to allay relegation fears and climb into the top half of the table. Aside from a miserable 4-0 defeat at Everton, Stoke have shown encouraging signs of improvement of late, exemplified by the 3-2 win over Chelsea.

And what hasn't...
Stoke have attempted to play in a more attractive style following Mark Hughes' replacement of Tony Pulis, but it has not been an easy transition. Goals, in particular, have remained a problem, with the Potters mustering just 17 so far. Somehow, that is still better than last year's goals-per-game ratio of 0.89, which reinforces the view that change was required at the Britannia, even though it has demanded patience from a fanbase who were perhaps hoping for more pizazz.

There have been flashes of glitz and glamour from summer signing Marko Arnautovic, who scored a wonderful free-kick to give Stoke a half-time lead at Old Trafford, but Hughes' project is very much a work in progress. It was a similar case in his first full season at Blackburn, but Stoke supporters should be comforted by the knowledge that Rovers got there eventually. The signing of an ex-Blackburn striker, Mame Biram Diouf, could perhaps be a key piece of the jigsaw as Hughes looks to impress his ideas upon the team.

Moment of the season
Oussama Assaidi's thumping effort to claim a last-gasp win over Chelsea.


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Matthew Stanger

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e was right to leave, but not just because of the money City were coming into. If I remember rightly he had a reasonable amount of chances to shine at City, but he never passed the bloody ball. Loads of aimless dribbles and 40 yard shots and not much else. I would say that if he had learnt to be a bit more of a team player he may have done better at City.

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