Currie Club: Andy Robertson - Kit room apprentice to Scotland captainSep 27
Premier League 2020/21 halfway report - How has your team fared so far?
Riding high at the top or battling bravely against relegation? BTSport.com grades every team in the Premier League on their performance so far as the season reaches the halfway stage.
It feels like we've barely had a minute to draw breath but already the Premier League has reached the halfway stage of the season.
There have been no shortage of surprises as the unpredictability of an unprecedented year continues to make its mark on each one of the league's 20 teams.
Who has risen to the challenge and who has fallen away? BTSport.com runs the rule over every team as we look forward to another scintillating conclusion to the Premier League season.
Position: 11th (P19 W8 D3 L8, GF23 GA19, Pts 27)
Verdict: Rewind a month and it really was doom and gloom for Mikel Arteta’s men. A 1-0 loss at home to Burnley, their fourth on the trot, had left the Gunners 15th in the table and confirmed a worst start to a league season in 46 years.
While they’d tightened up at the back, Arsenal were creating almost nothing going forward. The goals had well and truly dried up for last season’s top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and new signing Willian looked a shadow of his former self in a red-and-white shirt. But a 3-1 win over Chelsea on Boxing Day proved a shot in the arm and Arsenal have now won four of their last five league matches and are rediscovering their creative spark.
With the introduction of Emile Smith Rowe into the side alongside Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, Arsenal’s supporters can cling to hopes of a brighter future even if this season might already be lost.
Overall grade: 3/10
Star man: Bukayo Saka. The 19-year-old was one of Arsenal’s shining lights last season but has since become indispensable in Arteta’s XI. The Hale End graduate’s performances on the right and left have more than made up for the lack of product from more senior wingers Willian and Nicolas Pepe.
Must step up: Willian. Even if you thought handing a 32-year-old a three-year contract looked foolish, most supporters would have expected some production out of the former Chelsea winger. It hasn’t been the case and nothing seems to have gone right for the Brazilian so far in an Arsenal shirt.
Trolley dash? Arsenal have brought in Mat Ryan to supplant Runar Alex Runarsson as the back-up goalkeeper and with Martin Odegaard arriving on loan, the creative burden on Smith Rowe will be eased somewhat.
Success this season would be: Considering how bad the start to the season was, qualifying for the Europa League through their league position would be a huge achievement.
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Position: 8th (P17 W9 D2 L6, GF31 GA18, Pts 29)
Verdict: After scraping survival last season, few would have expected such a strong start to the campaign from Dean Smith’s men this time around. But Villa came out of the blocks firing on all cylinders and won all four of their opening matches, including an incredible 7-2 thumping of champions Liverpool.
Smith appears to have settled on a dynamite formula in midfield with John McGinn and Douglas Luiz, while Jack Grealish has gone up another level from the left. In Ollie Watkins, who ended a recent drought against Newcastle, they appear to have a striker perfect for their system.
Villa’s wins on the road at Arsenal, Leicester and Wolves have been particularly impressive and the Midlands side have all the hallmarks of a Premier League mainstay once again. An outbreak of Covid-19 at the club’s Bodymoor Heath training ground means Villa must play catch-up but a comfortable victory over Newcastle demonstrated Smith’s side have carried over little rust from their recent period of inactivity.
Overall grade: 8/10
Star man: Jack Grealish. It feels obvious but Grealish has once again been the man to make Villa tick in the final third. Everything goes through the Villa skipper and Grealish has laid on eight assists and scored five of his own in a campaign which has seen him finally force his way into Gareth Southgate’s England squad.
Must step up: Wesley Moraes. There are few to choose from in this category with positive contributions all over the pitch but Smith will hope injured forward Wesley Moraes can provide some competition for Watkins once he returns to full fitness.
Trolley dash? The January purchase of Morgan Sanson for £15.5million fills the gap left by the loaned out Conor Hourihane and provides Smith with another option in what is probably Villa’s strongest area. With their bench often looking relatively weak, further reinforcements in almost any position would be welcome.
Success this season would be: Before a ball was kicked this season, Villa’s supporters might’ve taken a lower mid-table finish. But flying high in eighth and with games in hand on their rivals, anything lower than tenth would be a disappointment.
Position: 17th (P19 W3 D11 L11, GF22 GA29, Pts 17)
Verdict: In a year where supporters were hoping for some progress and stability, Brighton find themselves once again battling relegation at the wrong end of the Premier League table, just as they have been in each of their three seasons since promotion to the top flight.
The Seagulls sit in 17th place, kept out of the drop zone only by strugglers Fulham, West Brom and Sheffield United. Brighton are too often guilty of lacking a cutting edge to finish off some progressive approach play in Graham Potter’s preferred 3-4-3 formation.
Having gone nine games without a win, the recent 1-0 success at Leeds – just Brighton’s third victory all season - could prove crucial come the end of the season. Wednesday’s home tie against Fulham has relegation six-pointer written all over it.
Overall grade: 3/10
Star man: Tariq Lamptey. The 5ft 5ins right wing-back, who often plays on the opposite flank to towering 6ft 7ins Dan Burn, is often the source of Brighton’s best attacking moves. Since arriving from Chelsea, Lamptey has played without fear and has been key to most of what's been good about Brighton this season. Potter will have been delighted to tie down the 20-year-old’s future when he signed a new five-year contract this month.
Must step up: Aaron Connolly. It might seem harsh to criticise a 20-year-old, but Aaron Connolly must start finding the net if Brighton are to climb up the table this season. Fellow forward Neal Maupay has netted seven of Brighton’s goals this campaign but the Frenchman is hardly prolific and needs support from his fellow forwards.
Trolley dash? Always looking to left field in the transfer market, Brighton are aiming to seal a deal for Ecuadorian midfielder Moises Caicedo but it’s unlikely the teenager will be ready to contribute immediately. The return of Percy Tau from a fruitful loan spell at Anderlecht gives Potter another option in attack but Brighton may be best placed searching for a new source of goals given their struggles at that end of the pitch.
Success this season would be: Avoiding relegation. While Brighton may have held loftier ambitions for the outcome of their fourth campaign in the top flight, their Premier League status is under threat and must be retained at all costs.
Position: 15th (P18 W5 D4 L9, GF10 GA22, Pts 19)
Verdict: So far, so good. Perennially tipped to go down, Burnley's time looked like it might finally be up this season. After a summer that saw Sean Dyche reportedly clash with the Burnley board over a lack of ambition, the Clarets collected just two points from a possible 15 to start the season.
But brighter times were just around the corner and Burnley have won five of their 11 matches since then, including a first-ever Premier League win over Arsenal and a first win at Anfield since 1974. A takeover from American investment group ALK Capital has further increased optimism off the pitch.
Since the return of first-choice central defensive partnership Ben Mee and James Tarkowski, the solidity Burnley pride themselves on has returned. Dyche’s men might not score many (they are the joint-lowest scorers in the division with ten) but they make them count, with four of their five wins this season secured by a 1-0 scoreline.
A little more production up front from Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes – who have five between them – and Burnley will extend their stay in the top flight to a sixth season.
Overall grade: 6/10
Star man: Nick Pope. It’s been another outstanding season so far in goal for probably the best English shot-stopper around. Pope, who narrowly missed out on the Golden Glove award last season, has kept seven clean sheets from 17 matches so far, making 65 saves in the process.
Must step up: Dwight McNeil. Burnley’s most creative player last year hasn’t hit the heights of 2019/20 thus far. The winger has yet to score and has laid on just one assist for his team-mates.
For a team who rely on McNeil’s crosses for such a high proportion of their opportunities, the lack of production from the 21-year-old has been a big factor in why Burnley have only managed ten goals this season.
Trolley dash? The Clarets’ first window under new ownership has seen them pursue two Irish 19-year-olds from the Championship - midfielder Jason Knight from Derby and centre-back Nathan Collins from Stoke. With Burnley bracing themselves for further bids for Tarkowski, it could be a wise move to bring in two for the future.
Success this season would be: Avoiding relegation. After such a dismal start, Burnley have had to rein in some of their hopes for this campaign. Ensuring the new owners’ first summer window is ahead of a Premier League season is the priority.
Position: 9th (P19 W8 D5 L6, GF33 GA23, Pts 29)
Verdict: A run of two wins in eight games proved the death knell for Frank Lampard at Chelsea as Roman Abramovich once again demonstrated his ruthlessness by sacking the club’s favourite son on Monday.
Lampard had done a creditable job under the constraints of a Chelsea transfer ban in his first season. But with big-money signings came big expectations and the Blues have regressed, finding themselves a way off the Champions League places with more than half the campaign in the books.
In comes Thomas Tuchel, fresh from his dismissal by Paris Saint-Germain, as the German bids to reignite Chelsea’s season. His first task will be to get the best out of his compatriots Kai Havertz and Timo Werner in attack as the summer signings continue to struggle to make a telling impact since arriving from the Bundesliga.
Overall grade: 4/10
Star man: Reece James. With honourable mention to Mason Mount, it’s another academy product who has been Chelsea’s best performer from right-back this campaign.
James has added more defensive awareness to his barrelling runs forward and the 21-year-old’s form has seen him force his way into the England squad in what is the most competitive position of all.
Must step up: Timo Werner. Tipped by many to top the goalscoring charts after 28 goals in 34 matches in the Bundesliga last season, many felt Chelsea had pulled off a major coup in persuading Werner to move to Stamford Bridge over Liverpool.
But it just hasn’t worked out for the German in west London and Werner has scored just four goals in 19 appearances for his new club. Displaced by both Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud at times this season, Werner’s penalty miss against Luton Town in the FA Cup on Sunday summed up how it’s gone for him so far in blue.
Trolley dash? Having splashed out £220m on new arrivals in the summer, Abramovich is running out of time to get new recruits in for incoming manager Tuchel. A solution to the goalkeeping situation should be top of the list as Edouard Mendy has failed to truly convince, while it looks a strange decision to loan out promising defender Fikayo Tomori to AC Milan.
Success this season would be: Qualification for Europe. With such a tight pack emerging in front of them, an improvement in form could see Chelsea haul themselves into the reckoning for the European places. Upcoming matches against Wolves, Burnley, Tottenham and Sheffield United will prove crucial.
Position: 13th (P19 W6 D5 L8, GF22 GA33, Pts 23)
Verdict: Solid, if unspectacular. In the past eight seasons in the top flight Palace have never finished higher than tenth or lower than 15th. Sitting 13th with exactly half the season gone fits the bill as far as the Eagles are concerned.
Roy Hodgson, as he repeatedly states in post-match press conferences, is there to ensure Palace remain in the division and they are well on their way to do just that once again. High points from the campaign include a 3-1 win at Old Trafford in September and thumping victories over newly-promoted sides Leeds and West Brom.
But Palace were also the first side to lose to Burnley and a 7-0 thrashing at home to Liverpool, Hodgson’s “worst scoreline ever”, have tempered any brief hopes of a run on the European places. The return to form of Wilfried Zaha has been a bright spot and Hodgson will hope to get more from the talented Eberechi Eze as the campaign continues.
Overall grade: 6/10
Star man: Wilfried Zaha. Hodgson publicly criticised Zaha for lacking focus following the final game of last season after the winger’s move to a bigger club failed to materialise yet again.
But the Ivorian has returned to form in 2020/21 and with eight goals, five more than his nearest rival, has proven to be the X-factor in the Palace lineup. Hodgson’s side struggle badly without Zaha, as demonstrated in a recent limp display at Manchester City, and are as reliant as ever on the 28-year-old.
Must step up: Jordan Ayew. Nine goals last season but just one this campaign, Ayew has fallen away significantly and has been dropped in favour of shot-shy Christian Benteke on occasion. The Ghanaian must start to recapture his form of 2019/20 and weigh in with some goals to ease the burden on Zaha.
Trolley dash? Palace have snapped up French forward Jean-Philippe Mateta on an 18-month loan deal from Mainz to give Hodgson another option in attack. With ten goals already this campaign in Germany and an option to buy at the end of the deal, it could prove a shrewd piece of business.
Success this season would be: A top-half finish. With no games against Big Six sides this month and clashes against Leeds, Brighton, Fulham, Burnley and West Brom on the horizon, Palace should pull further away from the drop zone. The continued development of youngsters such as Tyrick Mitchell and Eze would represent a bonus too.
Position: : 6th (P17, W10 D2 L5, GF28 GA21, Pts 32)
Verdict: Everton occupied top spot after four games of the season after a 100 per cent start to the campaign, leaving those of an optimistic disposition on Merseyside to dream of a title challenge.
Since then they’ve come crashing back down to earth but still sit just eight points off the summit with two games in hand over some of those above them. Carlo Ancelotti even felt it necessary to rule Everton out of the title race when asked about it earlier this month.
New signings Abdoulaye Doucoure, James Rodriguez and Allan – though the latter two have been out injured in recent weeks – have proven masterstrokes. In defence Michael Keane and Yerry Mina’s partnership is as good as any in the division and up front England international Dominic Calvert-Lewin continues to look the part.
Overall grade: 7.5/10
Star man: Calvert-Lewin. With none in his last five in the league, the goals may have dried up slightly for Everton’s number nine but Calvert-Lewin remains comfortably the club’s top scorer with 11 strikes in the Premier League.
The 23-year-old enjoyed a ridiculous hot streak to begin the season with six in his first four league matches, including a hat-trick against West Brom, and scooped the Premier League Player of the Month award for September. A return to that early-season form would be just the ticket for Ancelotti and Everton.
Must step up: Jordan Pickford. The former Sunderland stopper has endured a steady decline since the highs of the 2018 World Cup campaign with England and is struggling badly for form at Everton.
Following the latest in a string of costly errors – against Brighton in October – Pickford topped the charts for the most mistakes leading to goals of any keeper in the past three-and-a-half seasons. It saw Pickford lose his place temporarily to Robin Olsen in goal and while the England number one has kept three clean sheets in his previous four, Ancelotti will remain concerned that his goalkeeper isn’t up to the task.
Trolley dash? After splashing out on five arrivals in the summer, it doesn’t look like there’ll be further additions in January. Everton sporting director Marcel Brands insists the club “don’t expect to sign new players this window” and are instead focusing on offloading fringe members from a bloated squad.
Success this season would be: Top-six finish. Currently above both Chelsea and Arsenal, Everton will harbour ambitions of stealing one of those places among the big boys at the top of the table. The Toffees have a real platform to build upon and should be on course for their highest finish since claiming fifth place in 2013/14.
Position: 18th (P18 W2 D6 L10, GF15 GA27, Pts 12)
Verdict: Favourites for relegation but battling manfully against the drop, Fulham have the look of the hard-luck team in the Premier League this season. The Cottagers were written off - literally in the case of one bookmaker - as the whipping boys after four defeats from their opening four, but have since improved and look ready to make a fight of it.
Scott Parker’s men endured a frustrating run of five straight draws across the festive period and a failure to convert any of those into a third victory will probably come back to bite them.
One-goal defeats against Chelsea and Manchester United earned the west London side plaudits but no points and that’s fast becoming the story of the season for Fulham.
The upcoming clash at Brighton, directly above them in the table but pulling away, represents a potential lifeline, as does the following two against West Brom and Burnley.
Overall grade: 5/10
Star man: Ademola Lookman. The on-loan RB Leipzig winger scored his third of the season in the recent 2-1 defeat against Manchester United and looks the most dangerous of Fulham’s attacking threats. The former Everton man has recovered from an embarrassing last-minute penalty miss against West Ham to earn his place as Parker’s most trusted source of inspiration in recent weeks.
Must step up: Aleksandar Mitrovic. There were high hopes for Mitrovic following Fulham’s promotion via the Championship play-offs but the Serbian has looked way off the pace upon his return to the Premier League.
Mitrovic bagged 26 goals in the Championship last term but has found the net just twice this time around. Parker has even moved to a different system to lessen Fulham’s reliance on the 26-year-old.
Trolley dash? “There’s nothing I can give you that is remotely close,” Parker admitted when quizzed on Fulham’s hopes of adding to their 11 new additions made in the summer window. Given Fulham’s predicament, reinforcements in any areas of the pitch would be welcome at Craven Cottage.
Success this season would be: Avoiding relegation. The situation looks increasingly perilous at the bottom with Fulham already five points off Brighton and in danger of being cut adrift with West Brom and Sheffield United. Survival would represent a significant success with many feeling Fulham were doomed before even kicking a ball this season.
Position: 12th (P18 W7 D2 L9, GF30 GA34, Pts 23)
Verdict: The return of Leeds to the Premier League after a 16-year absence has been one of the most intriguing storylines in England’s top flight this campaign, starting with the opening-day 4-3 defeat at the home of the champions. Marcelo Bielsa’s philosophy of attack, attack, attack means Leeds games are usually box-office viewing for the neutral. When it goes right, it’s brilliant, as evidenced by 3-0, 5-0 and 5-2 wins over Aston Villa, West Brom and Newcastle respectively.
But when it goes wrong, it can get ugly. Leeds have been beaten 4-1 (twice) and 6-2 already this campaign and as they bomb forward relentlessly they can leave themselves horribly exposed at the back. It follows that they sit in lower mid-table at the midway point of the season after winning admiration along with what should be enough of a platform to stay in the division.
Overall grade: 7/10
Star man: Patrick Bamford. With honourable mentions for the ever-reliable Kalvin Phillips and tricky Brazilian Raphinha, Bielsa’s favoured forward has been Leeds’ most effective performer so far.
Bamford received criticism for his profligacy in the Championship last campaign and many wrote the forward off ahead of his return to the top flight in 2020/21. But ten goals in 18 games, including a sensational hat-trick in a 3-0 win over Aston Villa, have silenced the doubters and shown the former Chelsea striker can cut it at this level.
Must step up: Rodrigo Moreno. No player has been disastrously bad for Bielsa’s side but after arriving for a club-record £27 million from Valencia, Rodrigo has failed to live up to the billing.
Three goals in 15 appearances represents a paltry haul for the 25-cap Spain international and Bielsa will be desperate to get more out of the forward in the second half of the season.
Trolley dash? Leeds are another side who don’t look set to make any new additions in the January window with Bielsa, via a translator, insisting he is “happy and comfortable” with the squad at his disposal.
Success this season would be: A mid-table finish. Leeds occupied the European places in the early stages of the season but have since been dragged down to 12th place. While they don’t look in any danger of going down, a successful season would be a stable finish somewhere in the middle of the Premier League table and a platform to build upon for next season.
Position: 3rd (P19, W12 D2 L5, GF35 GA21, Pts 38)
Verdict: In what is a wide-open Premier League season, Leicester are in with a real shout of upsetting the odds once again. Liverpool’s poor run of form and the dodgy starts to the season made by the two Manchester sides have allowed Leicester fans to dream of repeating their 2015/16 title-winning glory.
A couple of blips aside, Brendan Rodgers’ men have been impressive for large stretches of this season and three wins on the trot has them sniffing around the summit with intent at the halfway point. There have been outstanding performances in defence from Jonny Evans and new signing Wesley Fofana, while Wilfried Ndidi, Youri Tielemans and James Maddison make up a formidable midfield.
One potential cloud on the horizon, however, comes in the form of Jamie Vardy’s groin surgery. The forward is expected to spend a “few weeks” on the sidelines according to Rodgers and the Leicester boss will turn to Ayoze Perez and Kelechi Iheanacho to fill the void.
Overall grade: 8.5/10
Star man: James Maddison. Maddison is one of the foremost creative talents in the league and the England midfielder now looks to have added goals to his game with four in his last four in all competitions.
The 24-year-old links up wonderfully with his Leicester team-mates and stars as a No 10 in front of the midfield shield of Ndidi and Tielemans. Maddison’s form will be particularly key in the absence of Vardy if Leicester are to stay in the hunt.
Must step up: Ayoze Perez. Not necessarily due to his poor form, but Perez is another who must start scoring more regularly if Leicester are to cope without Vardy. The Spaniard has netted just once in the Premier League this campaign but looks set to lead the line in the absence of the Foxes’ top scorer.
Trolley dash? After letting Islam Slimani leave on a permanent deal, Leicester have been linked with two strikers this window in Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard and Southampton’s Danny Ings but it’s unlikely either will materialise into a move this month at least. Leicester were interested in a move for Martin Odegaard but the Norwegian has opted to join Arsenal on loan.
Success this season would be: Champions League qualification. Having missed out on the top four by a whisker last time, Leicester will be desperate to ensure they last the distance in 2020/21 and secure a second season at Europe’s top table. Given their position at the midway stage, it would represent a disappointment if they didn’t.
Position: 4th (P19 W9 D7 L3, GF37 GA22, Pts 34)
Verdict: Not many Liverpool fans would have been satisfied with the team’s current position in the table if you had asked them to settle for fourth ahead of this season.
As it transpires, a top-four spot might rank among Jurgen Klopp’s best achievements at the club if he can maintain their current position.
A constant injury headache in the heart of central defence combined with a forward line who suddenly look shorn of their usual clinical instincts have given the German maestro plenty to think about.
With significant January additions appearing unlikely at this late stage, Klopp will keep faith with the players who have served the club so brilliantly over the past three years.
But the gnawing sense remains that he will need all of his famed motivational powers to ensure Liverpool finish a relentless season on a high.
Overall grade: 6/10
Star man: Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian talisman has not been on his best form so far this season but remains by far and away the team’s best goal threat. His 13 Premier League goals put him seven above comrade Sadio Mane (six) and eight clear of Roberto Firmino (five).
A brace in Sunday's FA Cup defeat at Manchester United brought a relatively dry spell in front of goal to an end and Klopp will hope the 28-year-old can settle back into in his normal prolific groove from here.
Must step up: Trent Alexander-Arnold. Reds fans have become accustomed to nothing less than excellence from the young English wing-back but he has failed to meet his own high standards so far this year. Still only 22, he will bounce back – but with the season now reaching a critical juncture, it needs to happen sooner rather than later.
Trolley dash? Any central defender. Seriously, any first-team central defender!
Success this season would be: Securing a Champions League spot – and all the riches that come with it – would allow the team to strengthen for a renewed assault on the title next year.
Position: 2nd (P18 W11 D5 L2, GF31 GA13, Pts 38)
Verdict: The current iteration of Manchester City are a far cry from the free-scoring outfit we have become accustomed to during the Pep Guardiola era.
Instead, the Catalan has focused on rebuilding his team from the back this season. And ominously for City's title rivals, it looks like his efforts are starting to pay off. Guardiola has revitalised John Stones’ career, with the Everton man joining forces with impressive new signing Ruben Dias to help City keep six clean sheets in their last eight league games.
After a scratchy start to the campaign, the Citizens have powered up the table in recent weeks and their form is all the more impressive considering injury and illness have restricted Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus to limited appearances.
The upcoming six-week absence of talisman Kevin de Bruyne is a major blow, but once the Belgian and their front duo are back on form and fitness, it's hard to escape the feeling that City could run away with it this year.
Overall grade: 8/10
Star man: John Stones. It was not too long ago that his career looked to be emphatically over at the Etihad having slipped way down the pecking order in the heart of defence. Now virtually undroppable and showing the quality that convinced City to bring him to Manchester in the first place, his story has been pleasing to watch.
Must step up: Raheem Sterling. In the absence of both Aguero and Jesus, the England winger might feel he should have contributed a few more goals to help alleviate City’s attacking woes.
Trolley dash? A target man capable capable of offering something different to Aguero and Jesus would undoubtedly add another string to City's bow. Edin Dzeko, anyone?
Success this season would be: The Premier League title.
Position: 1st (P19 W12 D4 L3, GF36 GA25, Pts 40)
Verdict: This was not in the script. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United side look like bonafide contenders once again and the momentum is firmly with them as the title race reaches the halfway point.
With a bulging squad of talented individuals and multiple solid options in most positions, United are almost uniquely placed to make hay in a chaotic season that appears to be taking its toll on many of their rivals.
Key players are coming into form at the right time thanks to genuine competition for places and there is a creeping feeling that United, finally, could be ready to scale the summit of English football for a record-extending 21st time.
Understandably, there is a spring in Solskjaer's step but the Norwegian is shrewd enough to know that the most difficult challenge now awaits. Can the Red Devils prove they are capable of maintaining the championship consistency that has eluded them in recent years?
Overall grade: 8/10
Star man: The peerless Bruno Fernandes continues to dazzle but Marcus Rashford has become as talismanic for United on the pitch as off it. The England forward can change the game in a heartbeat. He has had a few injury niggles this season but looks to have found the perfect foil in Edinson Cavani over the last few weeks.
Must step up: Anthony Martial. His talent has never been in question but the French forward remains a puzzling player. Just two league goals to date - despite the quality of service provided by Fernandes, Rashford, Paul Pogba and company - is a hugely disappointing return.
Trolley dash? A central defender or a world-class winger could elevate this United side to another level. Dayot Upemacano and Jadon Sancho have long been linked but moves for both may have to wait until the summer.
Success this season would be: The Premier League title being a realistic aspiration is a sign of their progress but a genuine challenge to the Liverpool-Man City duopoly should be acceptable.
Position: 16th (P19 W5 D4 L10, GF18 GA32, Pts 19)
Verdict: A season in total collapse. Under-fire head coach Steve Bruce looks to be on borrowed time with his beloved Geordies in complete freefall over the past few weeks.
Winless in the last ten games, one goal in 13 hours and damaging defeats to relegation rivals; there is not a great deal to smile about on Tyneside right now.
The return of maestro Allan Saint-Maximin from a lengthy battle with Covid cannot come soon enough if Newcastle are to turn around their fortunes.
It was remarkable to see Bruce lay down the gauntlet in such public fashion to his players, many of whom are apparently resistant to his desire to switch to a back four in a bid to eke out more creativity.
The move is yet to provoke an upturn and it's tough to escape the feeling that a change in the dugout could happen imminently if the results don’t improve.
Overall grade: 3/10
Star man: Saint-Maximin. Newcastle have won just twice without the 23-year-old, who transforms the team into a more potent threat with his mere presence alone.
Must step up: Ryan Fraser. The Scotsman has had rotten luck with injuries since his free transfer arrival from Bournemouth last summer but his red card against Sheffield United was unforgivable. Must do more.
Trolley dash? A lack of energy in central midfield and a dearth of creativity in the final third are the two main issues Newcastle must address. Hamza Choudhury of Leicester has been linked with a loan move.
Success this season would be: Survival.
Position: 20th (P19 W1 D2 L16, GF10 GA32, Pts 5)
Verdict: Bleak. Barring an absolute miracle, Sheffield United’s brief tenure in the Premier League looks to be up.
The Blades were arguably the most feel-good story of last season as they soared to a remarkable ninth-placed finish. But this time around, their fate is all but sealed after a ghoulish opening half of the campaign.
Not until coming up against a pitiful Newcastle team on Matchday 18 did they register a victory – and even then, they required a late penalty from veteran Billy Sharp to find the back of the net against the ten-man Magpies.
Their goal-shy nature was identified as an issue at the start of the season and they show little sign of finding the answer to that quandary.
Overall grade: 1/10
Star man: Ben Osborn. Asked to step up in an unfamiliar left-wing back role with injuries blighting the Blades' back line, the former Nottingham Forest man has performed admirably.
Must step up: Chris Wilder. It’s tough to criticise the man who has done the impossible for United, but the manager must find a way to unlock the team’s goalscoring potential after spending a combined £40 million on Rhian Brewster and Ollie McBurnie alone.
Trolley dash? Goals. Not an easy thing to find in the January transfer window.
Success this season would be: Surpassing the 11 points accrued by Derby County's 2007/08 'vintage' to avoid registering the worst Premier League season ever, statistically speaking, must be the first port of call. Beyond that, Wilder will be looking closely at his players to see who he can count on next year to ensure the Blades bounce back to the top flight at the first time of asking.
Position: 10th (P18 W8 D5 L5, GF26 GA21, Pts 29)
Verdict: Ralph Hassenhuttl’s energetic Saints outfit look eminently capable of becoming this season’s dark horses.
Lying four points outside the European places, Southampton have shown they can be a handful for anyone in this league.
The goals of Danny Ings and the physicality and work-rate of Che Adams give them a serious threat going forwards, with the renaissance of Theo Walcott since returning to his boyhood club offering another welcome development.
Meanwhile the rejuvenated defence, anchored by the towering Jannik Vestergaard and Jan Bednarek, have restored some pride on the south coast after that infamous 9-0 defeat to Leicester City last season.
In midfield, the continued excellence of James Ward-Prowse and the under-rated Oriol Romeu provides further cause for optimism, with summer signing Ibrahima Diallo also catching the eye while deputising for Romeu in recent weeks.
Overall grade: 7/10
Star man: Ward-Prowse. Southampton’s dead-ball specialist has shown there is so much more to his game than just set-pieces. A genuinely impressive playmaker with the work rate and desire to match, JWP is the heartbeat of the team.
Must step up: Moussa Djenepo. It’s not yet really happened at St Mary’s for the Malian international since his arrival in 2019. With more yellow cards than goal contributions for the team this season, the 22-year-old will be hoping to turn it around in the latter half of the year.
Trolley dash? A long-term upgrade on Walcott. He is not getting any younger and bringing in a potential replacement for next season now looks a shrewder move than making his loan move from Everton permanent in the summer.
Success this season would be: A challenge to the top eight should be the minimum they aim for.
Position: 5th (P18 W9 D9 L3, GF33 GA17, Pts 33)
Verdict: Briefly considered title challengers at one point earlier this season, it still feels a little premature in Jose Mourinho’s Spurs transformation to see them as a genuine threat at the top of the table.
The Portuguese manager is beginning to make a real impression on the team and reshape them in his image, as their miserly defensive record proves. There has been a fair sprinkling of high points, mostly notably the remarkable 6-1 drubbing of Manchester United at Old Trafford in the early weeks of the campaign.
However, a few too many draws have cost them precious momentum and they still rely far too heavily on the ongoing brilliance of Son Heung-min and Harry Kane. The sight of Tanguy Ndombele finally starting to repay some of his hefty £55 million transfer fee is a welcome recent development on that front.
There are enough reasons to believe Spurs can win something under Mourinho - April's Carabao Cup final against Manchester City offering the first opportunity - but it would be a major shock if they upset the odds to deliver a first top-flight title in 60 years.
Overall grade: 7/10
Star man: Son Heung-min. Almost unstoppable this season, the 28-year-old is one of the premier talents in world football right now. His 12 goals and six assists in 18 league games are a large reason for Spurs’ success and most good things the team do require his involvement.
Must step up: Gareth Bale. The Welshman’s homecoming has not quite lit up the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium like many had hoped. Injuries have not helped but Bale does not appear readily suited for Mourinho’s tactical style either.
Trolley dash? Carlos Vinicius has shown promising signs but Mourinho does not appear to trust him fully in the Premier League so another goal threat besides the Kane & Son duopoly would be useful.
Success this season would be: A return to the Champions League.
Position: 19th (P19 W2 D5 L12, GF15 GA43, Pts 11)
Verdict: Big Sam has his work cut out if he is to rescue West Brom from the mire after coming in to replace Slaven Bilic.
The former England boss picked up a creditable 1-1 draw against Liverpool at Anfield in his second game in charge and masterminded an impressive 3-2 win over Black Country rivals Wolves earlier this month.
But the Baggies continue to ship soft goals while not being able to score many at the other end of the pitch - a combination that Allardyce knows only too well will lead to relegation if it is not corrected.
It’s not too late to turn things around, though; they remain just two wins away from climbing out of the relegation zone and there are no shortage of candidates who could replace them.
Home form - and perhaps some canny late additions in the current transfer window - will be key in the second half of the season as the Baggies look to achieve the unlikely.
Overall grade: 3/10
Star man: Matheus Pereira. The Brazilian is one of the few forward players in the West Brom lineup with real quality. At his best, there are shades of peak Willian in his play.
Must step up: Karlan Grant. Allardyce really needs his strikers to start finding the back of the net and with just one goal from his 12 Premier League appearances, former Charlton man Grant needs to start pulling his weight.
Trolley dash? A striker in Big Sam’s preferred mould has been touted. Andy Carroll and Christian Benteke are known to be men of interest.
Success this season would be: Survival.
Position: 7th (P19 W9 D5 L5, GF27 GA22, Pts 32)
Verdict: David Moyes deserves all the credit in the world for transforming the Hammers back into a force to be reckoned with this season.
Big and physically strong across the park, the Scotsman has emulsified Premier League steel with continental class to inspire a brilliant turnaround in fortunes for the often-embattled club.
Declan Rice continues to impress his many suitors and the young England star has formed an imperious partnership with Tomas Soucek, whose work-rate and eye for goal have been equally notable.
With the quietly impressive Vladimir Coufal and much-improved Aaron Creswell assisting a coterie of solid central defenders at Moyes' disposal, the Hammers now have a dependable base to build upon.
The next challenge for Moyes is to coax more goals out of his attacking unit. If he can solve that particular conundrum, West Ham will be firmly in the mix when the European places are being handed out at the end of the campaign.
Overall grade: 8/10
Star man: Michail Antonio. Having played in a variety of positions across various different incarnations at West Ham, the 30-year-old has undoubtedly found his most effective as the Hammers’ sole striker. An intelligent knack for being in the right place at the right time combined with his irrepressible strength and athleticism have made for almost the complete striker. The challenge now is to keep him fit.
Must step up: Pablo Fornals. Brought to the London Stadium for big money more than a year ago, the Spanish playmaker has shown brilliance in flashes. Now it’s time to deliver consistently.
Trolley dash? A striker is on David Moyes’ shopping list after the departure of big-money flop Sebastien Haller. Sevilla forward Youssef En-Nesyri has been strongly linked.
Success this season would be: Top eight.
Position: 14th (P19 W6 D4 L9, GF21 GA29, Pts 22)
Verdict: Wolves fans have been spoiled with their team’s performances in the past few seasons after their impressive rise from the Championship to the upper echelons of the Premier League and run to the Europa League knock-out stages.
But as the second half of 2020/21 looms large, Nuno Espirito Santo’s men are in the midst of their first mini-crisis for a while.
Without injured striker Raul Jimenez, their goal threat has all but evaporated, despite the best efforts of the game but still raw Fabio Silva, who has been thrown in at the Premier League deep end much earlier than Nuno would have liked.
Meanwhile, their previously miserly defence has been creaking over the past couple of months and they have not kept a clean sheet in any of their last 12 games.
The hope is that with such a talented squad, things can only get better for the Black Country outfit and the recent signing of Willian Jose should help remedy the hole in their attacking output.
Overall grade: 5/10
Star man: Pedro Neto. Wolves fans may have feared for the future after Diogo Jota’s surprise big-money departure for Liverpool but in Neto, they look to have his natural successor. Lightning fast and technically excellent, the 20-year-old is at the heart of anything positive about Wolves’ forward play.
Must step up: Nelson Semedo. An expensive replacement for Matt Doherty, the former Barcelona man has been passable, but no better, since his arrival. Wolves fans may feel he needs to deliver slightly more than that given what they came to expect from his predecessor.
Trolley dash? Midfield legs to help the ageing Joao Moutinho and less-than-athletic Ruben Neves may help.
Success this season would be: Top eight.