Two months have passed and quite a bit has changed since our last rigorously scientific ranking of the mood across the Premier League.
TL;DR: They’re happier at Manchester City and Villa, but not at Everton. Or one-defeat-in-10 crisis club Manchester United…
November’s rankings are here.
1) Manchester City (12)
Weren’t even top of the real table when we last did this in November owing to an inexplicable habit of failing to score goals against your Southamptons, your Crystal Palaces and the Tottenhams of this world, an intense source of frustration that sent them plummeting all the way to mid-table in the all-important mood ladder. Have now ironed out this curious flaw, wisely deciding to now score goals against all the teams they play. This has resulted in an 11-match winning run and another Premier League title pretty much in the bag. Their Carabao monopoly has ended, but they’re still well placed in the Champions League (Sporting in the last 16) and FA Cup (Fulham at home in the last 32) as the relentless trophy assault continues. Nowhere else is everything quite so rosy as it is at the Etihad.
2) West Ham (1)
Wobbled alarmingly in a run of one win in seven Premier League games – that one win incongruously coming against Chelsea – but back-to-back wins over Watford and Crystal Palace combined with the failure of anyone else to properly sort it leaves them still firmly in the chase for the final Champions League spot. Which is a marvellous place for West Ham to be. Also non-zero chance of a first actual proper pot since 1980 to show for it all at the end of the season. Kidderminster stand between the Hammers and the last 16 of the FA Cup after a VAR-assisted win over Leeds, while the Europa League group stage was handled in masterly fashion given the club’s lack of experience with that kind of plate-spinning.
3) Tottenham (9)
Optimism tainted by full knowledge of the fragility of the Conte Revolution. When plonking them mid-table last time, we reckoned they would either be first or last by now. Hasn’t quite happened, but definitely nearer first than last. They have the best manager outside the top three and a first team capable of matching his standards. That’s been shown by an eight-match unbeaten start under Conte in the Premier League. But while the squad is large, the depth of talent is not. That’s been shown by the Europa Conference defeat to Mura and the first-half Carabao capitulation at Chelsea. Eric Dier has been truly excellent under Conte, but has now assumed a position of paramount, irreplaceable importance that simply cannot be healthy. If the 14 or so players in Conte’s circle of trust can get through the season unscathed – and Son Heung-min is already injured – then this could be a great season, and the next one could be even better. But there’s a race against time at play here: can Spurs complete the huge squad rebuild they need to get the most out of having such a great manager before that great manager buggers off in, at best, two seasons’ time?
4) Liverpool (4)
The title is once again slipping away, with fans of the huge and successful football club starting to mutter darkly once more about grand conspiracies against them, to grim chuckles from pretty much every other club in the land. Had to come from behind to beat Shrewsbury at home in the FA Cup, which was a first normal-time win in five games. Really things are still pretty much fine; they’re going to finish second or third in the league, are two games from Wembley in the Carabao, have a home draw in the fourth round of the FA Cup and Inter in the last 16 of the Champions League. They should probably be happier than they appear to be, really. There just seems to be a weariness there, born of intense frustration at the unstinting standards required to keep pace with City.
5) Brighton (3)
The boos that greeted the final whistle of a goalless draw against Leeds back in November baffled Graham Potter but did show there is at least the potential for frustration at Brighton’s now-legendary propensity to turn mountains of xG into very few actual G. That game did come towards the end of a run of eight draws in 10 Premier League games that was far too Brighton for its own good. They’ve had wins over Brentford and poor old Everton since then with goals and everything, though, so things are looking good again. They never really looked bad.
6) Chelsea (2)
A season that feels like it’s just starting to fray round the edges as Thomas Tuchel gets increasingly tetchy. The defensive solidity that underpinned the success of his start has gone rather awry. Since winning six league games out of seven in September and October to announce a Proper Title Tilt, they’ve won just four of the following 11 to slip right out of contention. They’ve lost only one of those 11, so it’s not a normal crisis, and they’re still rock solid for a top-three finish. But even their most eye-catching recent result – a 2-0 win over Spurs in the Carabao semi-final first leg – came in the face of an opposition performance so heroically bad that not completely killing the tie dead feels like it could tempt fate. Really, though, Chelsea are having precisely the sort of season that could be expected – solidly top four, fine in Europe, going well in cups – but the way they’ve ended up in that position feels dimly underwhelming somehow. There’s a reason why we had them second in this list last time around.
7) Arsenal (7)
Who the f*ck knows, really. No club’s mood is currently more clearly defined by whatever has happened in the most recent match than Arsenal’s. There is a distinct lack of middle ground among the (online at least) reaction to anything they do. Defeat at Everton and the sky has fallen in, dismantle Southampton at home the following week and The Process is back on track and glory will swiftly follow. Things had been looking pretty good for a little while since that Everton defeat – even if the reaction to taking a 1-0 lead against Manchester City was slightly unhinged – but then came an absolute rotter of a non-performance at Nottingham Forest in a competition that has served Arsenal so well in recent years. In fairness to everyone involved, the hysterical reaction to everything Arsenal do, both good and bad, might have quite a lot to do with the sheer extremes of everything Arsenal do, both good and bad. Probably be top of this if we did it next week after they win the NLD. Also remain the only club that so frequently manages to get in a massive pickle over the identity of their captain, a largely honorary title in football and quite simply not worth the level of fuss it somehow attracts at the Emirates on a biennial basis.
8) Aston Villa (20)
The new manager bounce under Steven Gerrard has started its return to earth, but there is still a far greater sense of purpose and direction at Villa now. I mean, they’re definitely not bottom of this list like they were a couple of months ago. There is also, thanks to the travails of the bottom four, absolutely zero prospect of relegation. It’s a mood boost to everyone from 11th to 16th, frankly, every one of whom would normally be in Nervous Downward Glance territory at the very least. Gerrard already using the considerable clout and pull of his playing career to bring Philippe Coutinho on board is also very much the sort of thing to lift the mood around a club.
9) Wolves (10)
No matter how weird and confusing things get at Manchester United, if you’re Wolves and you’re three points behind them at the halfway stage of the season under a new manager who lost his first three league games in charge, then you’ve got to be pretty happy. Even in those early defeats there were more than enough signs that Wolves could be pretty good under Bruno Lage, and the general lack of panic around those early results is to everyone’s credit.
10) Newcastle (6)
Early promise in the transfer window was immediately followed by a calamitous FA Cup defeat at home to League One Cambridge that served as a timely reminder, as if the fans needed it, that this could still go horribly wrong and that just about everyone else in the country would be delighted to see it. Players refusing to acknowledge fans after the Cambridge game was a bad look and the sheer uncertainty around the place is creating a strange atmosphere. There’s also a sense that Newcastle fans, used to being told they are the best fans in the country and who support a club many others have a soft spot for, are struggling a bit to adapt to a world where everyone now hates them and wants them to lose every week. The ultimate pay-off for that, of course, will be the vast success that they hope to achieve over the coming years. That, though, remains far from guaranteed. We’ll know more after the next one of these, when Newcastle could potentially have signed four or five very good players and be clear of the bottom three. Or they could be in deep, deep sh*t.
11) Brentford (8)
Very good indeed and still absolutely loving life as they should. Concerns that their fast start would be followed by a significant downturn in the classic Hull or Huddersfield manner were stoked by a four-match losing run that was followed by a draw against Newcastle – effectively a defeat these days. So the impressive Thomas Frank and his impressive squad of players deserve huge credit for winning three of the next seven. It doesn’t sound like much, but runs of 10 points from seven games that include ignorable defeats to Tottenham and Manchester City are precisely the sort of thing that keeps exciting first seasons in the Premier League from becoming in any way fraught. Not inconceivable that the 23 points they’ve amassed thus far is already enough to stay up which makes for an enjoyable and pleasant second half of the season, although getting pumped 4-1 by Southampton is never a good idea.
12) Southampton (11)
They’ve been treading water for a while now, but the Sport Republic takeover – while not exactly turning them into Newcastle United – could at least bring back an era when Southampton were the epitome of Well-Run Non-Elite Club. It sounds drab, but they finished eighth, seventh and then sixth under Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman in a spell where shrewd cheap buys were sold for fortunes and reinvested in more shrewd bargains and so on and so forth. They’re not going to ANNOUNCE MBAPPE but they might stop finishing about 12th and losing 9-0 more often than is healthy. That has to be good for the soul, at least.
13) Crystal Palace (5)
Palace have had a strange old season in some ways. They’ve consistently looked decent and definitely look a better football team under Patrick Vieira than they did under Roy Hodgson. But they’re yet to put together a proper string of results to turn the positive vibes into something really tangible. Even when they went seven games without defeat, they only won two of them. They’ve always found a win quick enough to avoid being in bad form, but also conjured up enough faintly disappointing ones to never feel like they’re truly flying. They’re behind Leicester and Southampton, which seems hard to square with the prevailing #narrative around those teams. Definite, palpable sense of good things happening, though, even if putting them as high as fifth like we did in November seems a bit mad now. That said, they had just beaten Manchester City, which nobody has managed since.
14) Leeds (14)
There are four teams bad enough that Leeds are at no significant risk of relegation, which is nice, but it’s been a hard slog of a season. Will they ever not have an injury crisis? Being on the wrong end of another VAR daftness in London at the weekend at least allowed them to indulge in some conspiracy theories for a bit. Dangerous road to go down, but a tempting one. And if you’re going to go full tinfoil hat about something, better it be about tish and fipsy like football officials preferring teams from That London rather than what’s in the vaccine.
15) Leicester (15)
This season has been just injuries. Now it’s going to be injuries, and the Europa Conference League. F*cking hell.
16) Manchester United (16)
From eighth in the first Mood Table of the season to flirting with relegation at 16th in the second and still very much an officially designated crisis club. Half the squad apparently want to leave, they’ve appointed a German nerd obsessed with a weird formation that completely nullifies Bruno Fernandes, the player who has carried this club for the last two years, and they are playing awful, awful football. They have lost one match in the last 10, are four points adrift of fourth with a game in hand and still in both the FA Cup and Champions League. These are strange times indeed still desperately trying to find its post-Fergie place in the world.
17) Watford (13)
Closing in on a second manager axing of the season, which is standard Watford fare, as they circle the drain towards an instant return to the Championship. Slapping Everton and especially Manchester United silly was great fun, but for the most part it’s been a strangely joyless return to the top flight. Those two wins sit shining incongruously atop a sea of churning shod: they’ve lost the other 10 of their last 12 games.
18) Burnley (18)
Can’t be a huge amount of fun when Dycheball stops working. Even the club’s one joy bringer, Maxwel Cornet, is now on AFCON duty. If there is one tiny thing to which Burnley can cling in their tallest dwarf scrap against Norwich, Watford and the world’s richest football club, it’s that thanks to assorted postponements 12 of their remaining 21 games Premier League games this season are at home – they have lost only two of the seven they’ve managed to get played. It’s… something?
19) Norwich (19)
Pointless. Almost literally.
20) Everton (17)
Have reached the point where even extra-time thrikers to win cup matches are tainted by the knowledge it boosts the manager’s position. Rafa Benitez is a good football manager, but it’s increasingly hard to see how he can ever be a good football manager at this particular football club given the history. The Everton fans haven’t even had to come up with new chants to express their displeasure with Rafa the gaffer, just dip into the greatest hits collection. Goodison Park makes an incredible sound when things are going very well or very badly, so at least there’s been plenty of that to enjoy. If we go behind closed doors again there will be literally no point to Everton completing a season in which they are going to finish 14th. Worth remembering that last season, a campaign that featured several moments of genuine joy and excitement for the Toffees, they still managed to finish a shoulder-shrugging 10th. Those were the good times. Grim.