EPL Review: Part 3

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The final installment of this season so far. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the teams at the lower reaches of the league and wonders if some clubs are already condemned.

Stoke: 

The Good: 

The resurgence in form in the last five games has being admirable given their horrendous start. Joe Allen has being sublime in recent weeks; his goals and performances have given Stoke much needed momentum in midfield. Defensively solid in recent weeks and it has allowed Stoke to move up the table. Relegation concerns should be allayed in the next couple of weeks.

The Bad: 

Set piece defensive woes early doors were compounded with a couple of penalty decisions given against Mark Hughes’ side. The loss of Jack Butland has being huge albeit Lee Grant has deputized superbly in recent weeks. Stoke need more from Bojan, Arnautovic and Bony needs to be the main goal threat provided that the service is up to scratch. Shrewd transfer deals are required to inject fresh blood into a squad profile which has several players entering the twilight of their careers.

Verdict: 

After a shaky start, Mark Hughes’ charges have improved in recent weeks on both ends of the pitch. Joe Allen will be the talisman for the club this season. Squad should be good enough to battle for a top ten league placing but there are issues ahead for this club with an aging squad next season.

Leicester City: 

The Good: 

There has being flashes of Leicester from last season where Mahrez and Vardy have shown the form of last season. Slimani is a good signing but opponents are wise to Leicester’s style of play this term which is one of the factors why they are in the bottom half of the table. Champions League form has being superb, four clean sheets. Gray is a player with massive upside, one to watch this season.

The Bad: 

Champions League involvement has meant that squad focus in the league has not being what it should have being. The defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford spoke volumes; squad selection and the subsequent team performance was nowhere near the standard produced last season. Leicester defensively in the league have being caught on a couple of occasions resulting in penalty and set piece concessions. Kasper Schmeichel’s injury woes have not helped matter in that respect. Transfers focused on attacking options but failed to shore up midfield and defensively gaps.

The Verdict: 

The league is gone but Leicester City should not be involved in a relegation battle. A top twelve position is where they end up considering the European commitments at play this season. December and January will be pivotal for Leicester City to get enough points in the bag to focus again on the Champions League tournament; their form after these fixtures in the league speaks volumes.

Middlesbrough: 

The Good: 

Great addition to the league, great fans and superb stadium to match. Boro’s result at Manchester City and Arsenal have being the standouts. Their defensive shape was superb in those results. Karanka is a manager whose tactical nous in away games will mean that Middlesbrough will be hard to break down. Gibson has being superb; one to watch this season. Valdes signing in goals adds experience to the Boro rearguard.

The Bad: 

Goal shy. Their ten goals in the league this season joint second last in the league. This ratio has to improve and puts much pressure on their defense to keep clean sheets. Jordan Rhodes could help in that regard but Negredo is first choice striking option currently. Karanka will need to recruit a couple of players in the January window to get the club over the line particularly in midfield and striker areas.

Verdict: 

40 points is the target but it all depends on Middlesbrough being able to find the net. Their goal average thus far is poor and lends itself to the club being involved in a relegation battle. The fixtures against the likes of Hull, Sunderland, Watford, Burnley will decide their fate. Middlesbrough have no problem performing against the top teams, it has being their performances against teams around them mostly which has them in this position. Hopefully will stay up and think they will by the skin of their teeth!

Crystal Palace: 

The Good: 

The new investment in the football club. Selhurst Park and their fans produce a superb match day atmosphere. Good business with the Bolasie deal (30 million). Steve Mandanda signing has being a plus point.

The Bad: 

Alan Pardew’s decision to offload Dwight Gayle to Newcastle is looking more baffling by the day. The lack of goals upfront is seriously undermining the football club and if not addressed will result in a lengthy relegation battle. Pressure aplenty for Benteke to produce the goods and score the goals to get the side to the magic forty point figure. Palace’s pace has being undermined by Bolasie’s departure. Zaha and Puncheon have struggled for form this season along with Cabaye. Palace need to keep clean sheets but at times defensively have looked vulnerable evident in the Burnley display.

Verdict: 

January cannot come quick enough for Alan Pardew. Benteke is an upgrade but needs more quality striking options. Palace will finish in the bottom six of the league but should do enough to survive for another season. Whether the new investors want Pardew to remain as manager given the shaky start to the season is another story.

West Ham United: 

The Good: 

New dawn with the arrival to the London Olympic Stadium surroundings, increased gates and revenue streams, shame that the new venue has failed to lift off in the manner expected. Payet is still at the football club.

The Bad: 

The ever increasing mess that is London Stadium. A steward’s worse nightmare and with a fan base who look more disillusioned in the new surroundings, the move has not gone to plan. West Ham United defensively have being all at sea; central defensive gaps exposed at times which beggars why James Tomkins was allowed to leave the club. Cresswell’s injury woes have not helped either or the early Europa League exit. A squad where the cheque book has being thrown at players who quite frankly have not produced. Ayew looks questionable even at this early stage.

Verdict: 

Slaven Bilic’s second season will be a long and frustrating one; results will continue to be inconsistent given the current squad makeup. Payet will provide the flair and attacking inspiration but defensively, question marks are there for all to see. Mark Noble will provide leadership to see the Hammers get to the coveted forty points but there will be few cheers this season. Club transfer policy rethink required.

Hull City: 

The Good: 

The opening day result against reigning champions Leicester and the victory against a Southampton side who were suffer the after effects of Europa League action. Apart from this, not much to write home about.

The Bad: 

A club in crisis; the boardroom instability was evident in the time it took to appoint Mike Phelan as manager. The lack of first team squad numbers indicates bad planning in the offseason which will come back to haunt them in the coming months. The squad will work hard for the manager but they will suffer some horrific hammerings against teams who are incisive in their passing evident in their drubbing away to Bournemouth. A season which will see relegation unless January window recruits are identified in all areas of the pitch. Phelan may lose his job before season end; unfortunate but given the way that the club is being run, not that surprising.

Swansea City: 

The Good: 

The opening day result away win to Burnley and that is about it.

The Bad: 

The squad looks weak defensively particularly with the departure of Ashley Williams, their talisman. The central defensive options look incredibly weak at this time; set piece leadership is non-existent and more goals will be conceded because of it. The attacking options need to improve fast. Llorente has had an unremarkable start to his Swans career. Sigurdsson cannot keep this team up on his own. Bob Bradley’s appointment goes against the passing ethos of the football club. Gary Monk will look like a rock star in the next couple of months.

Verdict: 

South Wales, it has being a pleasure but the EPL dream will be over at the end of the season. Classic relegation ingredients in abundance at Swansea, cannot keep clean sheets and cannot score too many goals. Their meek effort against Stoke and Manchester United does not inspire confidence that fortunes will change anytime soon.

Sunderland: 

The Good: 

Jermain Defoe is still at the football club. First away win before the international break against an in-form Bournemouth.

The Bad: 

Underwhelming start to the season. Poor preseason transfer planning, signings came and gone and left massive squad depth issues in the club. David Moyes’ defensive options are the stuff of nightmares. Pickford in goals has being superb but defensively have being all at sea. January transfer window will be the difference between the Mackems staying up or not. Ellis Short needs to support Moyes in the transfer market or sell up.

Verdict: 

Will lull everyone into a false sense of security that they are definitely down and then come up with a most unlikely set of results around Easter to save their top flight status. Moyes if allowed to build a squad will improve the club long term but whether Short gives him that time is another story. Big Sam looming large in the horizon does not help matters. A pivotal couple of weeks beckon for Moyes and Sunderland.