The start of any new year is a time for self-reflection – so what habits will each Premier League side look to change in 2019?
Here’s our look at the New Year resolution each Premier League side should look to take up in the second half of the season.
Part 2 looks at Leicester City through to Wolves…
LEICESTER CITY… settle the Puel question
He’s never going to win Sports Personality of the Year, but the criticism coming towards Claude Puel this season seems excessive given he has led Leicester to impressive victories over Man City and Chelsea and has them sitting 7th in the Premier League.
Yes, the Foxes’ form has ebbed and flowed this season, but Leicester’s title-winning heroics of a few years ago have perhaps masked the fact a top half finish is a more than respectable return for the Foxes. Puel’s lack of emotion on the sidelines certainly seems to have alienated some fans, but in a results business, it’s hard to fault much of his work during his time in English football.
LIVERPOOL…. win the mental battle
The Reds hardly need to look at changing much given their fine first half of the season, but the mental battle really heats up once a team stops being the hunter and becomes the hunted.
Even if Klopp’s side continues to stretch their lead at the top, that might not necessarily help calm the nerves as Premier League glory becomes tantalisingly within reach. Liverpool’s mettle will now be tested after defeat against Man City – and fans will be concerned another ‘Gerrard slip’ moment might further change the narrative at the top of the table. Klopp will be hoping their impressive resilience this season will hold even if an invincible season is no longer in play.
MAN CITY…. brush off their recent blip
Defending a Premier League title is hard. In fact, it’s been 10 years since any side successfully retained their title – so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that Man City experienced a tricky Christmas in the race for the title.
The 3-1 victory away at Southampton was a welcome return to form for Pep Guardiola’s side and if they can regain their rhythm from earlier this season, they will be more than ready to pounce if Liverpool suffer a case of the yips. Sometimes a few defeats can help refocus minds – and Pep will have his side fired up for the challenge.
MAN UTD…. banish the memory of Mourinho
It has to be said, at this stage in time, the short-term appointment of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer looks something of a masterstroke, with Utd looking a team transformed under the likeable Norwegian.
You couldn’t get a bigger contrast in personalities between the two most recent Man Utd managers, with Solksjaer’s good-cop approach currently paying dividends.
A harder fixture list over the next few weeks will determine how much Utd have really changed, but the outlook suddenly looks a lot brighter for Utd fans at the start of 2019.
NEWCASTLE UTD… remember that football can be fun
Rafa Benitez deserves the Freedom of Newcastle for keeping a limited Magpies side competitive at Premier League level, particularly in the face of the ongoing ownership saga at the club.
However, there’s a still a nagging feeling his safety-first approach can hold some of his more creative players back, particularly at St James Park where ‘Newcastle 0’ is far too common a sight on the scoreboard. Magpies fans will be hoping a few extra hard-fought wins this winter will allow Rafa to take the shackles off in the spring and deliver a little extra entertainment on Tyneside.
SOUTHAMPTON…. give Hasenhüttl free rein
After ousting Mark Hughes earlier this season and restructuring behind the scenes, the appointment of Ralph Hasenhüttl has brought fresh hope for the St Mary’s faithful, with Southampton no longer looking like a side meekly drifting towards Championship football.
Hasenhüttl has already spoken about his plans to start implementing a high-energy, pressing style at St Mary’s. His impressive record in German football suggests Saints’ best survival strategy will be to leave him to it in the January transfer window after already lifting spirits on the South Coast after his leftfield appointment last month.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR…. keep Pochettino sweet
Forget moving into the new stadium, there’s only one major goal for Spurs heading into 2019 – ensuring their main man stays happy.
If it ends up being another trophy-free season in North London for Mauricio Pochettino, the in-demand boss will surely start to consider his options in the summer after almost five years at the club.
Some extra spending this January would surely help add some reassurance for the Argentinian about the club’s ongoing ambitions, with Man Utd and Real Madrid likely to come knocking this summer.
WATFORD…. stick with a settled side
The Hornets have every right to be considered one of the Premier League teams of the season with a first ever top half Premier League finish well within their sights – but there’s a sense they could they be even higher up the table.
Over Christmas, Javier Gracia opted to shuffle the pack far more than other Premier League managers, arguably costing Watford all three points in a winnable game against Newcastle at Vicarage Road. With the Hornets looking up rather than down, fans will be hoping Gracia can mount a potential FA Cup run – provided he doesn’t continue to meddle.
WEST HAM…. stop switching off in games
On their day, the Hammers can look one of the best teams in the division, but Manuel Pellegrini’s side are all too often the architects of their downfall with their tendency to switch off in winnable games.
Conceding two goals in two minutes to a Brighton side that are often toothless on the road in their recent 2-2 draw at the London Stadium shows how the Hammers are still vulnerable despite taking some obvious steps forward this season. If Pellegrini can improve concentration levels for the remainder of this season, a European tour could potentially be on the cards in 2019/20.
WOLVES…. avoid complacency against less fashionable teams
Nuno Espírito Santo has enjoyed a fine first season as a Premier League manager, even putting his side’s financial firepower to one side. Wolves are the only side outside the ‘Big Six’ who regularly look capable of giving the elite a bloody nose.
However, the one major criticism that can be levelled at the Premier League new-boys is their bad habit of dropping their guard in more low-key games. Surprise home defeats to Crystal Palace and Watford and an away loss to Cardiff suggests they are not quite the finished article – but given their rapid progress in 18 months, arguably a few bumps in the road are to be expected.