Winners & Losers Judges Bottom Ten

My word, there's a lot of dross in the Premier League. Our Matthew Stanger switches his attention to the bottom half of the table and looks at what's gone right/wrong...

Last Updated: 23/12/13 at 14:02 Post Comment

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11. Swansea
What has gone well?

Perhaps the biggest achievement of Swansea's season is that they have clambered to 11th and seven points above the drop zone despite struggling to find consistency. After holding on to Michael Laudrup and Michu in the summer, as well as adding several new recruits, it looked as though the Swans might kick on this year, but we are still waiting to see their best form. That wait is likely to be extended by tough fixtures against Chelsea, Man City, Man United and Tottenham in their next six matches.

And what hasn't...
Jonjo Shelvey rather personifies the Swans' campaign, impressing and frustrating in equal measure, typified by his hilarious performance against Liverpool. The midfielder clearly possesses plenty of talent, but he is occassionally guilty of poor decision-making and slowing the team's build-up play.

That was evident in the 2-1 defeat to Everton - which the visitors' richly deserved - and Swansea have thus far won more games away from home (three) than at the Liberty (two). Combined with the team's failure to win two matches in a row at any stage, it hasn't been a season to dispel Laudrup's fears that he has taken the Swans as far as he can without enormous investment.

The board are unlikely to give the manager much to spend in January either, after backing him as much as they could in the summer. Laudrup has struggled to get goals out of £12m record signing Wilfried Bony, who has managed only four strikes in the Premier League so far, and the sooner Michu returns to full fitness the better.

Moment of the season
Charlie Adam's controversial 96th-minute penalty that gave Stoke a 3-3 draw at the Liberty. The Swans' season of matching each step forward with one step back was rather summed up by a game in which they fought back from 2-0 down to lead 3-2 before being denied at the death.


12. Hull
What has gone well?

Enough to encourage friend of F365 Adam Bate to write about Steve Bruce being a 'hipster icon' on Sky Sports. He almost convinced us, too.

Few would have predicted Hull would occupy 12th place at Christmas, nor that they would possess the joint-sixth best defence in the division at this stage. The Tigers' remarkable achievement thus far has been founded in their excellent home form, epitomised by a convincing 3-1 win against Liverpool.

And what hasn't...
Unsurprisingly, all three of the promoted teams have struggled for goals this term, with Hull scoring only 14 in their first 17 matches. Bruce somehow squeezed a strike from Danny Graham in the 1-1 draw with Swansea, but we can expect that he will dip into the transfer market for more attacking options in January.

West Brom's late equaliser on Saturday rather defined Hull's disappointing away form, which has seen the Tigers pick up a solitary victory and only five points in nine matches. If they can maintain their home form, the away woes shouldn't harm the club's survival hopes to a great extent, but a few more points on the road would help to increase the healthy-looking gap to 18th.

Moment of the season
The deserved 3-1 win against Liverpool in which Bruce reverted to last season's trusted 3-5-2 formation to out-wit Brendan Rodgers.


13. Aston Villa
What has gone well?

The first two months of the season saw Villa pick up wins against Arsenal, Man City and Norwich before adding just two further victories (against Cardiff and Southampton) in the last 11 matches. The team's counter-attacking ability has remained a core strength, but they failed to demonstrate this advantage against Stoke at the weekend in a match many predicted them to win.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Villa's season so far is that they haven't dropped a single point from a winning position, while Fabian Delph's performances in midfield have been pivotal in any success they have enjoyed. Of the club's summer signings, Leandro Bacuna has been the most impressive.

And what hasn't...
As the defeat to Stoke emphasised, Villa have missed a fully-fit Christian Benteke this season as they look to progress in Paul Lambert's second year in charge. The Belgian grabbed five goals in his first five appearances (in all competitions), but hasn't scored since as groin and thigh problems have impeded his influence.

With Andreas Weimann and Gaby Agbonlahor also struggling for goals, Villa are lacking the necessary firepower to climb into the top half, with Libor Kozak taking time to adapt to the Premier League and Nicklas Helenius yet to play a significant part.

Villa are a point better off than at this stage last season, however, and should avoid being dragged into a relegation dogfight by the poorer sides below them.

Moment of the season
Antonio Luna's goal to cap a 3-1 win at Arsenal promised so much on the opening day.


14. Norwich
What has gone well?

The reaction to the 7-0 shellacking against Man City, which has brought three wins and two draws in the last seven matches (although there was another hammering by Luis Suarez in the middle of that run). That Norwich have only dropped two points from winning positions this season is also reason for encouragement, although getting into a winning position remains a problem.

Considering only eight clubs spent more than Norwich in the summer, Chris Hughton is probably failing to fulfil his remit, having won only two more matches than Steve Clarke in 2013. However, leniency is due when the Canaries' wage budget is factored into account, while the squad is still packed with Championship players. It should be remembered that this is only Norwich's third season back in the top flight after back-to-back promotions from League One. It is not easy to become established, even if you have the sort of money that QPR were throwing around last year.

Of the arrivals in the summer, Leroy Fer has been by far the most impressive, but Gary Hooper's goals (four in nine so far) are likely to be key in Norwich maintaining the healthy six-point gap to 18th. Nathan Redmond has shown his talent in fits and starts but should continue to develop, while Norwich can at least rest assured that no-one will be trying to poach their players in January.

And what hasn't...
Only the bottom two have conceded more goals so far and only five teams have scored fewer. If you're looking for mediocre, then Norwich are your team, possessing an unconvincing defence and an attack blunted by a lack of creativity in midfield. That issue could possibly be remedied by utilising Wes Hoolahan more frequently, although Hughton appears reluctant in that respect, handing the playmaker just three starts.

It has been difficult to judge Ricky van Wolfswinkel following his £8.6million move from Sporting Lisbon, with the striker's contribution stunted by poor service. That the Dutchman has managed only one goal (on the opening day) and three shots on target in nine matches is a huge concern for Hughton and a problem he needs to fix in order to hold on to his position.

Just four away wins in 28 matches during Hughton's reign is another point of frustration for supporters and, while a draw at Sunderland wasn't necessarily a poor result (it's more than Man City got, for starters), there is a demand for more adventure. Surely if City could be beaten at the Etihad on the final day of last season, there is a case for Norwich to go for the jugular more often on their travels around the bottom half.

A final point - it remains a mystery why the Canaries launched an ambitious bid for Toby Alderweireld in the summer but failed to move for another defender after the Belgian's rejection. Centre-back is an area that desperately requires reinforcement, and Hughton should chance his arm with the board in January. It's time to be bold.

Moment of the season
The fight-back against West Ham that may have saved Hughton his job. Just when it seems that the manager is close to the guillotine, his players always pull through.


15. Cardiff
What has gone well?

Well, not the last week, that's for sure. The positives in Cardiff's campaign so far - the win over Man City and draw with Man United chief among them - have almost paled into insignificance as Vincent Tan seems intent on undoing Malky Mackay's good work by forcing the manager to resign. The truce that has followed Saturday's defeat to Liverpool will only be shortlived, and Mackay would do well to jump ship to West Brom as soon as possible.

Despite Tan blaming Mackay and sacked sporting director Iain Moody for a £15million overspend in the summer, Cardiff invested wisely in bolstering the spine of the team. Steven Caulker and Gary Medel have proven to be smart acquisitions, but the Bluebirds' measly goals total of just 13 has not been aided by £7.5million recruit Andreas Cornelius.

And what hasn't...
Cardiff have bigger problems than Cornelius's contribution, of course, and there are legitimate fears of an immediate return to the Championship now Tan has gone full-crazy. If a lack of goals and the fifth-most porous defence in the league weren't already a headache for Mackay, his situation has been made almost impossible by the yo-yoing nature of Tan's backing. It doesn't appear that the owner has come to his senses at all; his u-turn merely looks like a cynical ploy to force Mackay's hand.

Moment of the season
Fraizer Campbell's brace against City that secured an unlikely fight-back victory and led to that handshake between Tan and Mackay.


16. West Brom
What has gone well?

After picking up 11 points in six games between September and the start of November, it appeared that Steve Clarke had eased the pressure after a difficult start to the campaign and disappointing end to last season. Indeed, the Baggies lost only once (at Liverpool) in a run of nine matches, beating Man United and drawing with Arsenal and Chelsea.

And what hasn't...
The contentious last-minute penalty at Stamford Bridge that played a significant role in Clarke losing his job was followed by a crippling hangover that saw the Baggies throw away a two-goal lead against Villa before losing four on the bounce. That did for Clarke, who won only seven matches in 2013, but there is still a sense that the manager's sacking was premature.

As I have already said, Alan Pardew's revival of Newcastle points to the virtue of patience, and perhaps Clarke could eventually have turned West Brom's form around. The loss of Romelu Lukaku was clearly an important factor and finding a different way to score goals has not been an easy challenge, especially when the manager struggled to attain his top targets in the summer.

It seemed there was some friction between Clarke and the board over the way the club's transfer business was conducted in the post-season, and the arrivals of Nicolas Anelka, Matej Vydra and Diego Lugano have done little to improve the squad. Morgan Amalfitano has impressed on occasion, but the real success story has been Saido Berahino, whose development owes much to Clarke's guidance.

A great deal rests on who West Brom now appoint, with Malky Mackay linked to the vacancy amid the shenanigans at Cardiff. But who is to say that he is necessarily a better manager than Clarke? This may be a decision that Jeremy Peace lives to regret.

Moment of the season
Berahino's winning goal at Old Trafford. Talk about highs and lows.


17. West Ham
What has gone well?

The Hammers have kept the most clean sheets in the division so far (eight, joint with Everton) and there were signs of a promising partnership developing between Winston Reid and James Tomkins before the former's injury.

An opening-day victory over Cardiff and 0-0 draw at Newcastle left West Ham fourth after two games, but it has been all downhill from there as they now find themselves in 17th - just a point above the drop zone and two behind West Brom.

Ravel Morrison's progress has been something to celebrate, but even Sam Allardyce has been struggling to emphasise the positives in recent weeks.

And what hasn't...
Davids Gold and Sullivan have expressed their regret at putting all their eggs in Andy Carroll's basket in the summer, but one would expect the 13th-highest paid manager in world football to have coped better with the striker's absence. That Allardyce failed to devise a Plan B is almost unforgivable, with the manager forced into fielding an XI without a forward on several occasions.

Big Sam crowed that he should be called 'Allardici' after the shock 3-0 win at Spurs at the start of October, but that remains one of only two victories in the last ten games - the other of which came against a dreadful Fulham side at Upton Park. The Hammers clearly have enough talent and experience to keep their heads above water, but even Palace and Fulham have more wins at this stage.

It's likely that Allardyce will become increasingly negative as he looks for the 1-0 wins to secure survival, and much rests on Carroll's return and whether he can rekindle his understanding with Kevin Nolan. The captain has not provided his usual goalscoring contribution from midfield this season, and instead that responsibility has been put on the shoulders of the 20-year-old Morrison.

More is required from Mohamed Diame - who was linked to Arsenal only a year ago - while James Collins' diabolical display at Old Trafford reiterated that Reid's return can't come soon enough.

Moment of the season
The 3-0 win at Spurs is an obvious highlight, but Allardyce's decision to re-sign Carlton Cole on a short-term deal says much about his failure to plan for the campaign.


18. Crystal Palace
What has gone well?

Palace have picked up ten points in the nine matches since Ian Holloway's departure, compared to just three in the eight before, but they were thoroughly outplayed in the 3-0 defeat to Newcastle that underlined concerns over a general lack of quality.

There have been glimmers of hope that Tony Pulis can at least make a fight of it at the bottom and the Eagles conceded only three times in five matches before the Magpies' visit on Saturday. Marouane Chamakh's recent form (four goals from only eight shots this season) has also been cause for encouragement, while the industrious Mile Jedinak has impressed in midfield.

Credit should also go to Palace for having a live eagle at home matches. There simply aren't enough animal mascots in English football.

And what hasn't...
That Palace sit bottom of the Premier League charts for possession and pass completion points to the lack of quality previously mentioned, and it seems smash-and-grab is their best approach to picking up the wins required to stay up. It is difficult to be too critical, however, given the club's miniscule budget, and it should probably be considered an unlikely achievement that Palace are not bottom at this stage - just look at the contrasting expenditure between them and Sunderland.

Of course, the money that Holloway did spend in the summer could have been invested far more wisely, as he neglected his defence in favour of bloating the midfield and attack. The fans never seemed to take to Holloway, rather unsurprisingly, and his exit has coincided with a brighter run of form and a more positive outlook.

A lot depends on what Pulis will be allowed to do in January but, if anyone knows how to scrap to 17th, it's him.

Moment of the season
The 3-1 win over Sunderland that gave Palace a fleeting and misguided sense of belonging.


19. Fulham
What has gone well?

Really very little, as Martin Jol's vision for Fulham has been realised in an ageing, ramshackle squad that is going to find it enormously tough to survive. Fulham can perhaps take heart from the fact that they have scored more goals than six of their rivals in the bottom half - from the fewest number of shots in the Premier League - but unless Dimitar Berbatov, Adel Taarabt or Darren Bent find the back of the net with any regularity, it's difficult to envisage them securing the wins they so desperately need.

The 4-1 win over Crystal Palace that included a stunning goal from Pajtim Kasami was a rare highlight of the first 17 games, yet only five matches later Jol was handed his cards. Three defeats and ten goals conceded in Rene Meulensteen's first four games was surely not the boost that owner Shahid Khan had in mind and the billionaire must open his chequebook in January to escape relegation in his first year at Craven Cottage.

And what hasn't...
After scoring just three goals so far, Berbatov has been eyeing a January exit to avoid his career being tarnished by a top-flight relegation at 32. Keeping him could be crucial, but at the same time he has shown such little effort on occasion this season - Southampton away in particular - that relying on the Bulgarian could be to the detriment of the club's hopes of climbing out of the bottom three.

Along with Berbatov, the defence has frequently been a disaster, led by the calamity-prone Philippe Senderos. Meanwhile, there is such little energy in midfield that it's no surprise that set-pieces and own goals have accounted for more than 50% of Fulham's total thus far.

Despite finishing ninth in 2011/12, the Cottagers have failed to sufficiently renew their squad following the departures of Mousa Dembele, Andy Johnson, Danny Murphy and Clint Dempsey, but the latter's return on loan in January should provide a timely boost amid the gloom around the club.

Moment of the season
Kasami's goal-of-the-season contender at Selhurst Park. "Marco (Van Basten's) was very different. You can't compare them," said Jol, "...but this was better."


20. Sunderland
What has gone well?

Well, this is awkward. Aside from the miraculous win over Manchester City and a Tyne and Wear derby victory devoid of bragging rights, not a great deal.

At least they're allowed ketchup in the canteen again.

And what hasn't...
Sunderland have been something of a Spurs-lite (or a word that rhymes with that) this season after building almost an entirely new team in the summer before realising the flaws in that approach. While two of last year's better performers - Simon Mignolet and Stephane Sessegnon (who admittedly lacked consistency) - departed the club, the players Paolo Di Canio signed have struggled to prove they possess the quality required in the Premier League, with £6million striker Jozy Altidore scoring just once so far. Indeed, the Mackems' joint-top scorer after 17 games is Phil Bardsley (brought back in from the cold by Gus Poyet) so it's not much of a surprise that they find themselves rooted to the foot of the table.

Only once have a team avoided relegation after being bottom at Christmas (West Brom in 2005, trivia fans) and after an insipid 0-0 draw with Norwich, it appears that Poyet is running out of hope. The City result has bought the new manager plenty of credit with pundits, but Sunderland now have no wins in six and have failed to score in four of those matches. "We are losing time, we are losing games," said Poyet on Saturday. "I said we needed to win 11 games to think, 'Can we get to 40 points?', and we can't win a football game."

To make matters worse, Sunderland have huge disciplinary problems, suffering five red cards in the first 17 matches. The Black Cats have had eight players sent off in the 24 games since Di Canio's appointment, which equals their total from that juncture all the way back to the first day of the 2010/11 season (or 106 matches).

Forthcoming fixtures against Cardiff, Villa and Fulham are crucial to Sunderland's faint, faint hopes of survival, with Poyet relying on Adam Johnson, Emmanuele Giaccherini and Steven Fletcher to supply the goals required.

Moment of the season
Fabio Borini's stunning winner against Newcastle that brought brief hope amid a season of anguish.


For the top ten teams, click here

Matthew Stanger

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