Premier League Grades – February 2019 – Part 1
We’ve given each Premier League side a grade as the season enters its final straight, with 13 games ahead before the curtain falls on the 2018/19 season.
Back in November, we graded each side’s performance after three months of the season, but have our grades changed much in the meantime?
In Part 1, we look at Arsenal through to Huddersfield…
Current position: 6th
Reasons to be cheerful: Emery’s decisions can sometimes be called into question, but he is at least a man who makes bold decisions – as shown in his handling of Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil. This is a man who appears to know what he wants – even if he has to make some uncomfortable calls to get there.
Reasons to be fearful: Arsenal still look far too ordinary away from home comforts, with five of their six defeats coming on the road. The travel-sick Gunners are still a side many of the less fashionable Premier League sides pinpoint as an opportunity for bonus points in their race for survival.
Verdict: It’s a case of ‘as you were’ in many respects for Arsenal, with little sign so far that Emery’s arrival at the Emirates has helped iron out the Gunner’s familiar flaws. However, it took Jürgen Klopp several windows to shape Liverpool into a potential title-winning outfit. Emery may need a similar grace period to finally tackle Arsenal’s long-standing problems.
Current position: 10th
Reasons to be cheerful: The fact Bournemouth aren’t even considered these days as part of the relegation mix just underpins the extraordinary work Eddie Howe continues to carry out on the South Coast. Even when this side gets stuck in a rut – not an uncommon occurrence – they are guaranteed to spring back into life with the minimum of fuss. Any side that can brush aside Chelsea 4-0 shouldn’t be having sleepless nights about surviving.
Reasons to be fearful: He’s not a manager who looks as if he’s got itchy feet, but surely the time is coming for Howe to make a big decision over his next steps. As the likes of Stoke, Swansea and West Brom has shown, Premier League consolidation can be a dangerous game if you get too comfortable. Will any vacancies open up to make Howe think this is the summer to bow out while the party is still in full swing?
Verdict: The Cherries blow hot and cold, but are unquestionably one of the Premier League’s most formidable opponents when they put their minds to it. A top-half finish would be another fantastic feather in Howe’s cap.
BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION
Current position: 13th
Reasons to be cheerful: The Seagulls always tend to be in a game, even against ‘Big Six’ opposition. If the fine margins within games swing their way in at least a third of their remaining 13 games, they should comfortably secure survival before a daunting final day clash with Manchester City.
Reasons to be fearful: Brighton remain serial underachievers away from the Amex – and to make things worse, they’ve developed a bad habit of throwing away valuable points on the road in recent games. In order to progress any further than lower mid-table, they need to improve their away-day mentality. Their once impenetrable home form is also faltering and that could leave them vulnerable.
Verdict: Make no mistake, another season of Premier League survival would again represent a job well done by the understated Chris Hughton, but there’s a sense the Seagulls could be making life a lot more comfortable for themselves if they just overcame their risk-averse approach to most games. As in 2017/18, it’s the home form that’s having to do much of the heavy lifting.
Current position: 17th
Reasons to be cheerful: The Clarets have finally rediscovered the hard edge that has served them so well since returning to this level in 2016. Given his incredible work at Turf Moor, it was only right Sean Dyche was handed the time and patience to turn things around. His tight-knit unit is rarely the prettiest on the eye – but they know Premier League survival is built on substance, not style.
Reasons to be fearful: Burnley’s recent revival still leaves them with little wriggle room for error if defensive mistakes start to creep back in. Their goals conceded column is only matched by the likes of Cardiff and Huddersfield, and with five of the ‘Big Six’ still to play, that defensive vulnerability could easily re-emerge.
Verdict: Back Burnley to box clever, picking up the points they need to survive against those around them. However, they probably need to address a distinctive lack of creative ingenuity in the middle of the park over the summer.
Current position: 18th
Reasons to be cheerful: They are still in the race – and that’s as much as anyone could have asked for from Neil Warnock’s side at the start of the season where some of the more outspoken pundits confidently predicted they would be ‘doing a Derby’ around about now. This is a club that reflects the image of its manager – gritty, stubborn and not afraid to get stuck in against more glamorous rivals. As victory over Southampton shows, they are also getting the rub of the green in the crucial six-pointers they will need to win to survive.
Reasons to be fearful: Warnock’s side is still sitting in the relegation zone despite confounding many of their critics. The next month will surely define their season with a tough run-in that includes four games against the ‘Big Six’ in their last seven matches of the campaign.
Verdict: 17th place would be a monumental achievement for the Bluebirds given the unexpected nature of their promotion and the limited resources Warnock has been working with. A few more spirited home wins could just see them squeak home.
Current position: 4th
Reasons to be cheerful: Chelsea’s high-stakes gamble in shipping in Gonzalo Higuaín during mid-season in place of the ineffective Álvaro Morata appears to be paying at least some dividends for under-fire Blues boss Maurizio Sarri. If Higuaín can hit the ground running at Stamford Bridge over the next few weeks, Chelsea’s winter wobble could be a distant memory come May.
Reasons to be fearful: Even if Maurizio Sarri successfully guides Chelsea through their recent blip, it still might not be enough to hold off a reinvigorated Man Utd side that will now view potential Champions League qualification as the cherry on the cake after unexpectedly recovering ground under Ole Gunnar Solksjaer. Will Chelsea keep their discipline to firm up fourth place? It may take them some time to recover from the 6-0 shellacking at Man City.
Verdict Patience should be a virtue at Stamford Bridge as Sarri looks to weather his recent storm. Will Champions League qualification and a domestic cup be enough for the Italian to keep his job at the notorious trigger-happy Blues? The next month or so should answer that question.
Current position: 14th
Reasons to be cheerful: Palace so often flatter to deceive, but there are easily three worse teams in this division. The Eagles have enough attacking guile to accumulate the points they need to scrape a mid-table finish, although this is a club that badly needs a re-think during pre-season to find out why they keep repeating the same campaign over and over.
Reasons to be fearful: Palace need to haul themselves comfortably above the 30-point mark before a tricky run of games in April, where they face a testing trip away to Newcastle before games against Man City, Arsenal and Everton. If they are still within striking distance by that point, their penultimate game away at Cardiff City could be huge.
Verdict: It looks set to be ‘Groundhog Day’ yet again in South London. Palace positively relish an early-season flirt with relegation before finally shaking themselves into life. They need to be careful their nine lives aren’t running out.
Current position: 9th
Reasons to be cheerful: It’s not exactly a reason to crack open the Champagne, but a Toffees side that has hardly pulled up any trees this season still find themselves sitting within surprising touching distance of the European places. This side has more than enough talent within its ranks to embark on a winning run – but will the under-pressure Marco Silva be given the time to prove his glowing references within the game can translate to sustained coaching success?
Reasons to be fearful: Things could get a whole lot harder before they get any easier for Silva, with Everton facing a nightmare run of home games against Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Man Utd amongst others over the next few weeks.
Verdict: Big Sam must be wondering what all the fuss over his reign was about with Everton once again treading water despite heavy investment. They still look a long way short of being the immediate challenger to the ‘Big Six’ monopoly, despite that being the clear ambition pre-season. Still, this side probably only needs minor surgery to improve rather than a radical overhaul.
Current position: 19th
Reasons to be cheerful: In Claudio Ranieri, they have the best possible man at the helm to ensure heads don’t drop even if the challenge of chasing survival gets harder and harder with every week that goes by. For all their flaws, Fulham’s £100m+ outlay last summer hasn’t been completely without merit, and with the likes of Mitrovic and Schürrle within their ranks, they have enough firepower to at least close the gap on their nearest rivals. Is it too little, too late however?
Reasons to be fearful: Fulham will need to break the habit of a lifetime (well, season…) and start stringing back-to-back wins together to simply reach parity in the race for survival. The recent 4-2 win against Brighton shows they have flashes of brilliance in their locker to turn things around, but consistency remains the major sticking point that could well prevent them making a decent fist of it.
Verdict: Time is running out fast for Ranieri to work his magic. With games against Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City all to come in the next month, the Italian surely needs to pull off another Premier League miracle to avoid Fulham making an immediate return to the Championship.
Current position: 20th
Reasons to be cheerful: It’s only three months until May and a fresh start. Plus, new rookie manager Jan Siewert is in that rarest of situations for a young manager having been handed an effective free hit for the rest of the season to start building a side in his own image.
Reasons to be fearful: Losing becomes a habit – and it’s not one that you want to carry into a gruelling Championship campaign. Siewert will be hoping to unearth a few green shoots before May to allow the Terriers to move on quickly from a horror show of a season.
Verdict: When the momentum drains away, the Premier League can be a very lonely place indeed. Huddersfield’s early enthusiasm towards their Premier League adventure meant they more than merited a second shot at top-flight football, but after a trying year, the chance to rebuild with fresh ideas in the Championship could be a blessing in disguise.
All image sources from PA Images
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