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Tuesday,October 20,2020 05:38 AM

Premier League half-term report

By AFP

Added 29th December 2019 10:19 AM

Given the sky-high standards set by City over the previous two seasons, their failure to keep pace with Liverpool ranks as a disappointment for Pep Guardiola's men

Premier League half-term report

Pep Guardiola's season has gone awry. AFP Photo

Given the sky-high standards set by City over the previous two seasons, their failure to keep pace with Liverpool ranks as a disappointment for Pep Guardiola's men

The Premier League season reached the half-way point on Friday with runaway leaders Liverpool surging towards the title.

Here, AFP Sport takes a look at how the traditional 'big six' have fared so far, with surprise package Leicester also coming under the microscope:

Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp fulfilled Liverpool dreams during an incredible 2019, but the best looks set to come next May as the leaders, winners of 17 of their 18 league games, power towards a long-awaited English title.

Last May, Liverpool painted Madrid red as they beat Tottenham 2-0 in the Champions League final to secure a sixth European Cup.

That continental conquest eased the pain of being pipped to the Premier League by Manchester City and Klopp's troops have been on a mission to recapture domestic bliss ever since.

After winning their first Club World Cup in December, Liverpool returned from Qatar to deliver a chilling statement of intent as they demolished Leicester on Boxing Day and moved a step closer to being crowned English champions for the first time since 1990.

Manchester City

Given the sky-high standards set by City over the previous two seasons, their failure to keep pace with Liverpool ranks as a disappointment for Pep Guardiola's men.

A third successive title has perished on the rocks of questionable close-season recruitment and a possible dip in desire after City's treble-winning glory last term.

Stripped of Vincent Kompany's invaluable leadership and old-school defensive qualities after the Belgian moved to Anderlecht, City have been further hamstrung by injuries to Aymeric Laporte, Leroy Sane, Rodri and Sergio Aguero.

Kevin De Bruyne has been excellent and inspiration could come in the Champions League, a competition City have never won and Guardiola hasn't conquered since 2011 with Barcelona.

Chelsea

Expectations were low when Chelsea legend Frank Lampard returned to Stamford Bridge in the close-season, but the Blues have enjoyed an encouraging start thanks to their manager's youth revolution.

Lampard's lack of experience in the dug-out -- he was hired after just one season in charge of second tier Derby -- hasn't stopped him reviving stale Chelsea with an infusion of young blood headlined by Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori.

While Chelsea have been too leaky at the back and lack a cutting edge against defensive opponents, Lampard's team have largely held their own and look far more vibrant than the dour unit assembled by his predecessor Maurizio Sarri.

Sitting fourth in the Premier League, through to the Champions League last 16 and with their transfer ban ending in time for the January window, Chelsea have reasons for optimism heading into 2020.

Tottenham

Unable to build on their stunning run to last season's Champions League final, Tottenham stagnated so badly that Mauricio Pochettino's five-year reign ended with the sack in November.

Knocked out of the League Cup by fourth tier Colchester, hammered by Bayern Munich in the Champions League and unable to put together a winning run in the league, Pochettino wasn't helped by chairman Daniel Levy's failure to off-load several unwanted players, leaving a distracted squad too reliant on Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.

Jose Mourinho's appointment to replace Pochettino has sparked an upturn in results, with his uncharacteristically good-natured approach lifting spirits, but whether that is enough to finally win Tottenham's first trophy since 2008 remains to be seen.

Manchester United

Halting his club's six-year decline has proved a mammoth task for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the United manager heads into the new year with his position under scrutiny.

Eye-catching wins over Manchester City and Tottenham, as well as an impressive draw against Liverpool, have been offset by dismal losses to Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Newcastle, West Ham and Watford.

Solskjaer has overseen the encouraging development of teenager striker Mason Greenwood and young midfielder Scott McTominay, but Paul Pogba's apparent desire to force a move away from Old Trafford remains a damaging distraction for a squad short on mature veterans and lacking quality in several areas.

In seventh place after their worst start to a season since 1989, United must improve fast to keep Ole at the wheel.

Arsenal

It says everything about Arsenal's wretched season that the highlights for Gunners fans so far came when their own team weren't even playing.

The sacking of unlamented boss Unai Emery was a ray of sunshine in an otherwise relentlessly gloomy campaign, in which Arsenal endured their worst run since 1977 as they went nine games without a win in all competitions.

Languishing in 11th, a top four place looks a pipedream unless new manager Mikel Arteta can make a remarkably quick impact on a squad lacking direction and desire since the final days of Arsene Wenger's reign.

With Champions League football out of reach, Arsenal's desperate supporters took solace in the sight of their rivals Tottenham suffering a humiliating 7-2 home defeat against a Bayern Munich side inspired by former Gunner Serge Gnabry -- it's been that type of year in the red half of north London.

Leicester

Although heavy losses to Liverpool and Manchester City have taken some of the gloss off Leicester's sparkling start, Brendan Rodgers' side deserve immense credit for confounding the pundits with their unlikely surge into the title race.

Rodgers has fashioned a cohesive unit built around the predatory instincts of ageless striker Jamie Vardy and a solid defence thriving despite the close-season sale of Harry Maguire.

Emerging playmaker James Maddison and Ricardo Pereira, among the best right-backs in the Premier League, also deserve praise, but it is Vardy's goals -- 17 so far -- that have been key and will remain so if Leicester are to cap their memorable season by finishing in the top four.

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