Unpredictable. That’s the word to describe the English Premier League season thus far. At the halfway point, the storylines surrounding the world’s most popular league range from unexpected to mind blowing.
In the 2014/15 season, Leicester City went on a ridiculous run of results to end with 41 points, just safe from relegation. Just halfway through this season, the talents of Claudio Ranieri, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have Leicester sitting in second place on 39 points.
Last year’s champions, Chelsea; have followed up two trophies in 2015 with the worst defense of the Premier League title in history. The club has spent the majority of the season in and around the drop zone, leading to a second sacking for Jose Mourinho by owner Roman Abramovich. "The Special One" is now rumored to be in the mix to take charge of a struggling Manchester United side.
While Louis Van Gaal has struggled to get his big money arrivals firing on all cylinders, Arsene Wenger is flying high despite only buying a single player this summer.
Here’s a closer look at the outrageous storylines that have emerged this EPL season:
When journeyman manager Claudio Ranieri was hired to lead Leicester City in July, many were skeptical. But the fire he’s lit under this team of over-achievers is nothing short of miraculous. Jamie Vardy, who was playing non-league football just five years back, has broken Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s Premier League record by scoring in 11 consecutive games. Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have 38 goals and assists between them. Value players like Danny Drinkwater and Marc Albrighton have kept experienced Swiss star Gokhan Inler out of the team. Leicester continues to smash expectations, and have already bounced back from a Boxing Day loss at Anfield by earning a point against Manchester City.
North London Noise
Both Spurs and Arsenal are enjoying a successful first half of the season. The Gooners should be ecstatic come January, they’ve been able to make their way to the top of the table without spending major cash on summer transfers. Or fans at the Emirates could look back to the 2013/14 season, when they similarly topped the table at this time before finishing the season in fourth. Arsene Wenger’s men look consistent at times but have dropped huge points sporadically throughout the season, most recently to Southampton and Norwich. Mesut Ozil leads Europe in assists, and Olivier Giroud has silenced doubters’ striker worries with important goals. If Arsenal can get their squad fully fit, or buy reinforcements in January, they could be at the top of the table come May.
Mauricio Pochettino has Tottenham Hotspur looking sharp. Their high press, attacking football has been a nuisance for most opponents this season. In recent years Tottenham’s main obstacle in their top four hunt has been conceding too many goals. This year however, their defense has been resolute with Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen anchoring the back line. Spurs fans will hope Harry Kane and the team’s strong midfield play can continue to thrive and secure them a spot in the top four this season.
Chelsea in Disarray
Nine losses from 16 league games. That is the stat that defined Chelsea’s season when Jose Mourinho left the club on December 17. This season has been nothing short of a meltdown for the manager and club. Mourinho worked his way into a highly unfavorable public dispute with team doctor Eva Carneiro; racked up a couple of stadium bans, and lost the trust of his most important players. Now, Guus Hiddink has returned to Chelsea for a second stint as interim manager to try to conjure up an unlikely top four finish. Fans can only hope last year’s key contributors Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa will step up.
Misery in Manchester
After spending just shy of $400 million on his squad, Louis Van Gaal has been unable to extract performances from most of his big-name signings. The speed and skill of young French attacker Anthony Martial has been a revelation, but poor form from winger Memphis Depay, injuries for Morgan Schneiderlian and Matteo Darmian, and a suspension for Bastian Schweinsteiger have all come at the worst time for the English giants. United is now winless in eight matches, have dropped from first to sixth place in the Premier League, and are out of the Champions League.
Injuries and motivation have been the issues that plague the blue half of Manchester. Manchester City standouts Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany have struggled to stay healthy once again this season, with only 18 starts between them. Meanwhile, new arrivals Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling have racked up 10 goals and 10 assists between them. Motivation is a leading problem in this squad, with veteran Yaya Toure the most high profile culprit of not putting in consistent effort. With the rumored arrival of Pep Guardiola looming in the summer, Manuel Pellegrini must somehow kick his team into top gear and win some silverware.
One era ends, another begins in Liverpool
On October 4, Brendan Rodgers’ three-year project at Liverpool came to an end. Unconvinced with his long-term progress, American owners FSG brought in one of the most beloved managers in Europe, Jürgen Klopp. The charismatic, charming German that took Borussia Dortmund to two Bundesliga titles and a Champions League Final appearance has led Liverpool to big wins and disappointing losses since his arrival at Anfield. Klopp’s reign cannot be fully judged, though, until he can begin to shape his own team during the January transfer window.
Pardew raising the bar at Palace
Some fine football has been on display in South London’s only EPL team, Crystal Palace, this season. Palace legend Alan Pardew has the team breaking through barriers after the arrival of talisman Yohan Cabaye from Paris Saint-Germain. Yannick Bolasie has put on impressive performances in the midfield while Wayne Hennesey’s has been stellar in goal. It looks like Palace have the pieces to make a real push for Europe, but only time will tell if the Eagles can maintain this form.
Sexy, Sexy Stoke
With a glut of big-name signings over the summer, it was Stoke City that entered the season as the underdog team best positioned for success. But Mark Hughes’ side stumbled out of the gate, taking just three points from their first six games. The boys had hit their stride by November, though. Stoke has now picked up 16 points from their last eight, including wins over both Manchester giants, Chelsea, and Everton. Bojan Krkic has overcome an early injury, leading his side into the trenches as of late, with Marko Arnautovic finding form in the Spaniard’s absence. And in the last month, the summer signings have emerged from the shadows, with midfielders Xherdan Shaqiri and Ibrahim Afellay showcasing their brilliance in recent wins.
Success for the promoted clubs
While Bournemouth and Norwich City are far from being out of the relegation dogfight, all three of this year’s promoted clubs have strung together impressive performances as of late.
After a rough first 12 matches, Eddie Howe and Bournemouth took 12 points from seven matches (including wins over Man United and Chelsea) to give themselves some breathing room above the drop zone.
Norwich, meanwhile, have managed to ride a number of dominant performances by Irish midfielder Wes Hoolahan into 15th place.
Watford currently sits eighth in the table after an impressive first half of the season from Odion Ighalo with 14 goals (third in the league). Troy Deeney has also impressed for Watford with six goals and five assists.
Disappointments so far
The four teams that sit bottom of the table at this point haven’t offered their fans much to be excited about. Swansea City took eight points from their first four matches behind attacking weapons Andre Ayew and Bafetimbi Gomis, but have since been absolutely abysmal. Newcastle United is a trap that Dutch fans hope Georginio Wijnaldum can escape from, as the dynamic midfielder has been the only consistent bright spot on an otherwise unmotivated squad. And there are no words for bottom-feeders Sunderland and Aston Villa, two teams that pundits decisively expect to go down this season.
What’s to come?
With only 10 points separating the top of the table from 10th place, there is everything left to play for in the second half of this EPL season.
Is there any way Leicester keeps up this ridiculous form, riding their two superstars to an unprecedented league title? Will “Specialist in Failure,” Arsene Wenger finally silence his doubters and top the table once more? Where do you see struggling giants Manchester United and Chelsea ending the season?
Tell us your thoughts and predictions for the second half of the Premier League season in the comments below.
By Cole Kellogg