We are officially one half of the way through the Premier League season and to celebrate the occasion, we’re going to give out some half-season awards. There are no trophies that will accompany these awards, just our heartfelt congratulations for the outstanding (either positively or negatively) performances that illuminated the first nineteen matches of the 2014-15 season. Without further ado:
Best Player of the Half-season: I’m really tired of the argument between “best” and “most valuable” when player of the year awards are given out so I’m going to give one out for each. There seems to be little doubt that the best player race for the first half of the season comes down to Sergio Aguero and Cesc Fabregas. Fabregas is on an incredible assists pace and has taken a Chelsea attack that looked disjointed at times last season and made it occasionally extraordinary and almost always very good. There have been a few bumps recently but overall, he has been exactly what Chelsea needed. Unfortunately, his brilliance has been surpassed so far by Sergio Aguero who has scored more goals than Fabregas has assisted on and done so in five fewer matches started. Now, Aguero’s injury issues may be the reason that Fabregas ends up with the full season award but for now, Kun is the man of the half-season.
Most Valuable Player of the Half-season: Most valuable, as opposed to best, is meant to reward the player who is most influential on the fortunes of his team so far this season. For my money, the only two players really in the conversation are Alexis Sanchez at Arsenal and Charlie Austin at QPR. Sanchez has been involved in 16 of Arsenal’s 34 goals with ten scored and six assists as well as providing a level of aggression that has kept the Gunners going with a skeleton crew due to injuries. That total can’t hold a candle to Charlie Austin who has scored 12 and assisted on 2 of QPRs meager total of 21 goals. That’s a grand total of SEVEN goals that QPR have scored over half a season that Austin hasn’t been involved in. He looks like the only thing standing between the Rs and a quick relegation. Get that man a raise.
Least Valuable Player of the Half-season: Deciding on a “worst” is a hard thing to do but Least Valuable is pretty easy with Liverpool struggling as mightily as they are and Mario Balotelli being the abject disaster that everyone thought he would be when he arrived. Brown Ideye may have scored his first goal of the season but he wins the non-Liverpool division of Least Valuable Player of the Half-season. Falcao was in the running here as well given the high price to acquire him and how little he’s seen the field but Balotelli was just too strong.
Most Improved Player of the Half-season: In a season where a lot of the improvement has come via the transfer market, the names that come to mind are Nathaniel Clyne, Juan Mata and Stuart Downing when it comes to “most improved”. Because Mata and Downing have both been anywhere between extremely good and very good at other points in their careers and are really demonstrating improvement after big drops in form, I’m going to go with Clyne who appears to be yet another canny youth buy from Southampton who have a number of other candidates waiting in the wings with James Ward-Prowse, Matthew Targett and Harrison Reed making an impact.
Young Player of the Half-season: At the quarter pole, Andrew Robertson had this award locked up but he has found playing time harder to come by in the season’s second quarter and when he has seen the field he’s not been as good as he was at the start of the season. Erik Dier also put in an early bid for this award only to see his fortunes fade massively. Calum Chambers played a lot as a young player but didn’t play well enough to merit consideration for an award for anything other than “Lee Catermole Award for Accumulating Yellow Cards”. The statistics haven’t been massive yet but I’m giving the nod to Ayoze Perez who has come from the second division in Spain and looks like the real deal as his form has steadily improved over the course of the season.
Lower Division Import of the Half-season: We’ve already given an award to Charlie Austin so here we are going to recognize Aaron Cresswell who has come up from Ipswich Town and solidified the left side of the West Ham defense to great effect. Andy Carroll, Diafra Sakho, Stuart Downing and Alex Song seem to be getting most of the press for West Ham’s huge improvement but upgrades at both outside back spots with Cresswell and Carl Jenkinson have been huge as well.
Loan of the Half-season: Even with an injury derailing a significant portion of the season Victor Moses’ performances for Stoke City are among the best from a loan player this season but it is fellow Chelsea player Ryan Bertrand who gets the award for the extent to which he has impressed after looking fairly useless on loan to Aston Villa over the second half of last season. Both Moses and Bertrand seem to have found the right homes with Chelsea poised to play the transfer market to perfection by positioning themselves to offset any upcoming buys with solid transfer fees for the likes of these two now that they’ve found appropriate homes.
Manager of the Half-season: Sam Alardyce and Alan Pardew both threw their hats in the ring in a significant way but with everything he faced coming into the season, Ronald Koeman is the run-away winner for the first half of the season.
Worst Manager of the Half-season: Steve Bruce is putting in a strong bid but after what was perceived as a strong summer in the transfer market, Roberto Martinez wins this award after watching his Everton squad dip to 12th and look bad doing it. At least Brendan Rodgers can blame the loss of Luis Suarez and significant injury issues for Daniel Sturridge with the issues on his side of Liverpool. Martinez has no such excuses. His players have been relatively healthy and every significant player from last season is back, they’re just playing worse.
I could keep going all week with different awards but that would inevitably lead to awards related to the transfer market with my pulling my hair out trying to figure out who blew it more between Liverpool spending a ton of money and only coming away with a good-but-not-great Adam Lallana, West Brom spending that much money on Brown Ideye, Newcastle getting virtually nothing from Cabella, Riviere, and De Jong, and the North London duo of Arsenal and Spurs failing to address needs – forward for Spurs and holding midfielder/reserve center back for Arsenal – that even the dullest fan of the league could see they needed desperately. There’s an entire column, maybe more, in the failures of the summer of 2014 transfer window but that’s not what we’re here for today. We hope that those honored appreciate their awards.
I’m going off the board for today’s column. Rather than our usual format, I’m going to do a quick run through the table with the following for each team:
- How they did over the past two matches
- What they should be shopping for in January
- Any specific transfer targets that come to mind
Chelsea – Unlucky not to get the full six points over the past two matches with a crucial penalty on Cesc Fabregas going uncalled in the draw at Southampton. Still, dropping two points on the road to the current fourth place team is hardly an embarrassment. We’ll call it a solid three days’ work. As for the transfer market, what do you get for the team that has everything? Maybe a reserve holding midfielder better than Jon Obi Mikel but it’s hard to imagine a significant upgrade that would be interested in riding the pine behind Nemanja Matic most weeks.
Manchester City – Who would have guessed that the place that their injury issues would have caught up with them was at home against lowly Burnley when they were already up two goals. They could have pulled within a point of the top but instead they blew a golden opportunity. A forward is the obvious priority here with the presumption that they’ll be looking for a reserve along the same lines as Chelsea’s purchase of Loic Remy over the summer. If only they had an aging star on the decline on the company payroll somewhere in the New York region who could play a role for a month or three until Aguero, Dzeko and Jovetic are all healthy again. Wait, is that David Silva’s music we hear? NYCFC training camp will apparently be happening in Eastland starting a little earlier than MLS usually kicks off.
Manchester United – Like Chelsea, it’s hard to get too upset about United dropping two away points to a solid team like Spurs over the holiday period. A win would have been a big deal as it would have pushed them away from Southampton and Arsenal below them and tantalizingly toward the two front runners but alas, it wasn’t to be. It would be great for United if the January transfer market could see them acquire a new Physio because the current one appears to be doing his best impersonation of an Arsenal Physio. As for actual players, a stud center back along the lines of a Mats Hummels seems like the order of the day but the defense has actually been pretty solid. A right back comfortable playing in both a 3-5-2 and a 4-4-2 might be a better buy while LVG continues to try to sort out what he has in Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling, et al.
Southampton – Four points, the same as the three teams ahead of them but that one draw was a much bigger deal for the Saints than it was for Chelsea or either of the Manchester clubs. Securing a point against one of the Premier League’s big boys will be a huge boost to their confidence ahead of matches against Arsenal and Manchester United over the next two match weeks. As for the transfer market, a lot depends on the health of Jay Rodriguez. As it stands, if Graziano Pelle were to go down the Saints would be without a recognized center forward. Shane Long is more of a withdrawn forward as opposed to being the sort of target man that Pelle is who can take advantage of the sort of crosses that Tadic, Ward-Prowse, et al are capable of providing.
Arsenal – What a huge three day period for Arsenal. Chelsea, City, United, Southampton, West Ham and Spurs all dropped points while the Gunners picked up the full six. The loss of Giroud for the West Ham match as well as the next two (Southampton and Stoke City) hurts a lot but despite all of the anguish thus far they’re tied on points with Southampton with an entire starting midfield’s worth of players due back soon. On the transfer front, there’s no need to rehash the obvious needs that Arsenal faces in January. The common wisdom is William Carvalho and Winston Reid are the right answers and those seem like solid answers.
West Ham United – Given that they were @CHE and vs. ARS over three days, how you feel about their performance just depends on how high you let your expectations get for a team that started out the season as a relegation candidate looking to ax its manager. That they lost to two Champions League teams isn’t a huge surprise given that lens. If you look at it as a team that was in a Champions League spot mere days ago then it is a little more disappointing. The real disappointment though, will be if they can’t recover from the two losses to punish West Brom as the second half of the season begins. West Ham have already done a lot of transfer work over the past four months so unless a patented Big Sam bargain presents itself, they would probably be wise to stand pat as they are reasonably deep.
Tottenham Hotspur – Another escape by the narrowest of margins followed by a home draw with Manchester United. Not bad but not great either. I’ve written about Spurs issues in the transfer market before. The problem is that they’ve got a lot of B and B+ players but no A players. It’s hard to get A players when you’re not in the Champions League or even the biggest club in a two mile radius of your own stadium. What they need is an exceptional forward to take the pressure off of everyone else the way Luis Suarez did at Liverpool last season but unless Gareth Bale is going to make a shocking return to White Hart Lane then that isn’t going to happen. The only other choice is continuing to add B quality forwards like Roberto Soldado and hoping one of them has another level that he finds upon arrival.
Swansea City – Three points so far with the final match of the first half of the season to be played at Anfield this afternoon. This stretch could anywhere from outstanding with a win seeing the Swans even on points with West Ham and Spurs to OK if they draw or lose and remain in eighth. Given that everyone had them as potential relegation candidates after the mess at the end of last season, things are definitely looking good heading into 2015. The transfer market for the Swans is more about keeping Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wilfried Bony rather than adding anything specific. They could certainly use another center back and if that player could also slide over to left back in the event of a Neil Taylor injury, that would be great.
Newcastle United – The undressing at the hands of Manchester United on Boxing Day looked like it was going to signal a hard return to reality for the Magpies but a huge win against Everton that ensured a top half finish for the first half of the season makes the three days a relative success. Alan Pardew could really use a boost from his thus-far ineffective (and/or injured) compliment of Cabella, Riviere and De Jong. If any of the three live up to their reputations in the second half it will be (wait for it…) like a new signing. If they do bring in an actual new player then a goalkeeper might be in order given the difficulty they’ve had keeping them healthy on Tyneside this season.
Liverpool – Three points in the bag with the visit of Swansea to follow later today. Hard to say what Liverpool need more right now, the forward they were hoping to get when they bought Mario Balotelli or an honest-to-goodness holding midfielder that can protect their back four. Remember when we all thought so highly of Dejan Lovern last season because he had Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin in front of him? I’m guessing that two of Joe Allen/Lucas/Steven Gerrard isn’t giving him the same protection. Hard to imagine Schneiderlin choosing Anfield over the Emirates if the Saints decide to let him go at all but if they decide it’s time to cash in and Arsenal have already grabbed William Carvalho (I know, I’m dreaming there) then Brendan Rodgers should pounce.
Stoke City – The only other team in the table other than Arsenal to pick up six points between Boxing Day and Sunday. The Potters are still inconsistent but they have the sort of squad that could push higher as teams like Swansea, West Ham and Newcastle potentially fade slightly. The best bet for Mark Hughes’ men is to pick up a talented but somewhat raw player from a big club somewhere. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see an Adnan Januzaj link up with Bojan and an eventually healthy Victor Moses. That could be an interesting attack for sure.
Everton – Zero points from matches with teams in Stoke City and Newcastle that you’d think Everton would at least split with if not better. Unfortunately, that isn’t the Toffees lot in life this season. To make matters worse, they’re probably pretty well tapped out in the transfer market. They could hope for a loan arrival to add a spark but if their core players don’t start playing better no outside addition is going to help them improve.
Aston Villa – A single point from their two matches and what is clear is that they could use a midfielder or winger who is more prolific than their current group. Christian Benteke can’t carry the burden alone and Andreas Weimann, Gabby Agbonlahor and company just don’t provide the sort of fireworks that they need to improve on the eleven goals that they managed over the first half of the season. With budgets still presumably tight, loan moves for players like James Wilson of Manchester United and a returning-to-health Serge Gnabry of Arsenal might provide an attacking boost for the Villains.
Sunderland – Like Villa above them, their only point over the two matches was their draw at Villa Park. To add insult to injury, they lost to Hull City. Hull City! No one does that these days. This is a team in dire need of a forward. They seem to have midfielders capable of pitching in if they could play off of a capable number nine but right now they don’t have one of those and the supporting cast clearly can’t do it on their own. One wonders if Liverpool would be willing to cut the wage bill by loaning out Rickie Lambert for the second half of the season. He hasn’t provided much at Anfield but he’d be a huge step up for the Black Cats.
Queens Park Rangers – A single point in one of their last obviously winnable home matches of the season against Crystal Palace. The home schedule gets a lot tougher over the second half and the Rs have yet to pick up so much as a point on the road. If they are to do so then Harry Redknapp will have to dip into his bag of transfer tricks to come up with a central defender to ensure that we never see Rio Ferdinand in blue and white hoops again. It was a horrible idea at the time and hasn’t proved any better since it happened. Might Steve Bruce think about cashing in on what’s left of Curtis Davies’ value in the transfer market? It would be a risk for ‘arry but since when has he shied away from those?
West Bromwich Albion – Nothing from either of their past two matches and a sinking feeling that they will make their supporters squirm through another relegation-threatened campaign until the final days of the season. They are still striving to fill the Romelu Lukaku-shaped hole that they’ve had since the Belgian’s loan spell ended. Brown Ideye hasn’t been the answer and while Victor Anichebe has been OK when healthy, he hasn’t been healthy nearly enough. I’m not even sure who the Baggies could attract to take up this battle, it might have to be someone from the Championship and I’m not familiar enough with the options to comment intelligently on who might have the best chance to make the leap to the Prem.
Hull City – Three points from two matches is a big deal for this group even if it meant not picking up any points at home against the bottom team in the table in Leicester City. I have to imagine that the current wage bill is pretty high given Steve Bruce’s propensity to bring in established Premier League players. That probably limits flexibility in bringing in any new bodies given the very real potential of going down at the end of the season. If they could find a center back then they should snap him up as fast as they can but I wouldn’t get my hopes up if I were them.
Crystal Palace – This is a team still reeling from the loss of Tony Pulis at the start of the season. They picked up a solitary point over their past two matches and they have fallen into the relegation zone as a result. The best thing they could do in January would be tempt Tony Pulis back to Selhurst Park for an encore performance. It wouldn’t take more than about six weeks of grinding out 1-0 wins to ensure another season of Premier League football and then Pulis could go back to being a big name waiting in the wings for every mid-table and below managerial opening.
Burnley – What a great comeback against Manchester City. They can compare stories with Leicester City supporters and their tales of the famous win against Manchester United when both are back in the Championship next season. If Burnley do anything in the transfer market in January, it should probably be more with an eye toward that player being willing to play a level down next season (and being cheap enough that the club can afford to have that player playing for them in the Championship). Picking up a young spare part who isn’t in the long term plans of one of the bigger clubs on a permanent move is probably the best bet. Maybe one of the Manchester United central defenders – Paddy McNair or Tyler Blackett – who deputized and showed reasonably well early in the season would make sense for both now and next season.
Leicester City – They picked up a win and gave Spurs everything they could handle in a loss on Boxing Day. Not bad for a team that has looked hopeless for more than two months. Still, that’s not enough to create a case for investment in this season. The Foxes should follow the same path recommended for Burnley. Look for players currently doing very well in the Championship or young players on the fringe of a big Premier League roster. Britt Assombalonga has been scoring goals by the truckload as he has moved up from League 1 Peterborough (24 goals in 2013/14) to Championship Nottingham Forrest (13 goals in half a season so far). At 22 years old he might have another move up to the Premier League in him while being a fairly sure bet next season assuming the Foxes are relegated.