With Premier League teams taking a break as we settle down for some more Euro 2016 Qualifying matches, it’s the perfect time to assess which teams are performing above, at, or below, expectations in the 2015/16 season so far. There are four games done, 34 to go, but already it’s possible to see who has spent the summer performing useful improvements on the team, and which teams need major surgery in order to move forward.
Leicester City have come roaring out of the starting blocks in the first four games of the season, Claudio Ranieri’s team, little-changed from Nigel Pearson’s battlers of last term, showing the same bite and resilience that kept the team up in spite of being bottom for much of the time. Jamie Vardy has been a beneficiary of Leicester’s unbeaten start, getting called up again to the England squad, and generally giving the lie to those who called him a one-season wonder.
Swansea City were expected to consolidate its competitive mid-table form of last season; instead, Garry Monk has shown the tactical nous to go head-to-head with the best, and the Swans, like Leicester, are unbeaten, with last weekend’s superb win over Manchester United demonstrating this is a side to fear. Andre Ayew might be the signing of the season, and Bafetimbi Gomis is bursting with confidence in front of goal. Further back, Ashley Williams choosing to stay at the club has been a boon.
In Line With Expectation
Nobody expects as much from the Premier League as Sheikh Mansour, the owner of Manchester City. The Abu Dhabi investor has just thrown the kitchen sink at Wolfsburg in a successful bid to sign Kevin de Bruyne, and Manuel Pellegrini now has a midfield that any other team in the world would envy. Only the title is good enough for City this season. Raheem Sterling keeps on going like a train after his move from Liverpool, while Yaya Toure looks revived.
Manchester United officially didn’t set any targets for Louis van Gaal this season, but you can bet that the Dutchman wanted to win the league this time out. It hasn’t quite worked so far for the Old Trafford side, Memphis Depay looking superb in a playmaker position, but Wayne Rooney short on goals and confidence. New signing Anthony Martial might not be the ready-made goal-poacher the club seriously needs.
Watford came up from the Championship with most people expecting the Hornets to struggle against top opposition. It’s been that kind of story this season, though the Greater London side has not looked like lying down and accepting its fate – indeed the club’s new signings have blended in well, and when Troy Deeney gets scoring, Vicarage Road will see better things from the boys on the pitch.
Though Steve McClaren has made improvements at Newcastle United, it’s not enough to propel the Magpies to a position where they can challenge the very best, as owner Mike Ashley claims to want. Nonetheless, some clever signings for not very much money, allied to McClaren’s canny motivational skills, have made a real difference year-on-year with what we saw last season.
A lot of people, BookieSmash included, thought Sunderland would improve significantly on what we saw last season. Manager Dick Advocaat has done the best he can with some pretty average, ageing, players, but it doesn’t look good for the winless Black Cats, who seem to be in line for a season-long relegation struggle. With very little transfer investment in the club, the present squad doesn’t look good enough to survive.
Chelsea have had a nightmare start, only picking up a win and a draw from its first four games. That old Jose Mourinho magic seems to have deserted the club along with the old matchday medical staff, and it’s possibly no coincidence that this poor form coincides with the club’s relative parsimony in the transfer market, Chelsea having avoided paying big fees for new players, instead recruiting youngsters with potential, when Mourinho wants established talent.
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