With nine games left in the Premier League season, there is still plenty to play for. The title could yet find its way to either Manchester or Liverpool, with the Reds breathing down the necks of Pep Guardiola’s side ahead of a crunch clash on April 10th.
Further down, three teams are competing for the illustrious fourth place, and with it qualification for Champions League football next season. The relegation dogfight is fierce too, with as many as 6 teams still potentially in danger of beginning next season in England’s second tier.
So, into the final stretch, 101 looks at who has impressed this season, and who needs to step their game up.
Manchester City (A+)
Star pupil: Bernardo Silva
Struggling to pass: Jack Grealish
Currently top of the Premier League, the champions are probably the best football team in the Premier League, and perhaps even the world, right now.
Pep Guardiola’s side have won 22 of their 29 games so far this campaign, more than any other side, as they look to retain their crown won last year. And, to that end, Bernardo Silva has excelled, with the Portuguese continuing to flourish in Sky Blue despite seemingly wanting to leave the club in the summer.
One man who has struggled more, however, is big-money addition Jack Grealish. Never signed for his volume of goals or assists, he has nonetheless underwhelmed in a Manchester City shirt, with just 4 goal contributions. The former Aston Villa man will surely come good, but it hasn’t quite clicked yet.
Star Pupil: Mo Salah
Struggling to pass: No one
The only side capable of challenging Manchester City this season, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side have no obvious weakness and are enjoying the fruits of Mo Salah’s continuing brilliance. With a Carabao Cup trophy already in the cabinet, it is unclear whether they will end up with more silverware in 2021/22, but the Reds will certainly run their opposition close.
With the addition of Luis Diaz in January, the side has more depth that sees it rely less on their Egyptian talisman, while the return to fitness of Virgil van Dijk this season has allowed Liverpool to return to the gung-ho style of football that they enjoyed in their title-winning campaign.
Star Pupil: Reece James
Struggling to pass: Romelu Lukaku
Relative to their start-of-season expectations, the Blues have been slightly underwhelming this campaign. But, while Romelu Lukaku has not had anything like the impact expected of him when he was brought back from Inter Milan for a second Stamford Bridge stint, there are more extenuating circumstances for Thomas Tuchel.
These come in the form of the injuries picked up by Ben Chilwell and Reece James, crucial parts of the Chelsea system that have been missing for large chunks of the season. James in particular has been fabulous when on the pitch, but has not been on it enough to help his side sustain a title charge.
Star Pupil: Bukayo Saka
Struggling to pass: Alexandre Lacazette
With nine games left to play, Arsenal are favourites to secure 4th place after back-to-back eighth place finishes. Such a finish would represent a massive improvement for the Gunners, and something that no one could have predicted heading into the season when Mikel Arteta’s side looked well off the pace.
Central to this improvement have been England pair Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, who are among the top contributors to the side. However, on the other end of the scale, Alexandre Lacazette has left plenty of fans frustrated with his contributions, and it is clear where the next piece of the Arsenal puzzle is needed.
Tottenham Hotspur (B)
Star Pupil: Heung-min Son
Struggling to pass: Emerson Royal
It’s been a rollercoaster of a season for Tottenham, who have seen their captain go through the worst form of his career after failing to seal a transfer, Nuno Espirito Santo sacked after just 17 games, and a COVID-19 outbreak force them out of the Europa Conference League.
Amid all of their inconsistency, it is hard to look away from Heung-min Son as the man who has perhaps been the best of a bad bunch across two managers. The South Korean has managed 13 goals and 6 assists in the top flight this season.
On the other hand, Emerson Royal has failed to impress since his deadline day move from Barcelona, and has lost his place to formerly cast-aside Matt Doherty.
Manchester United (E)
Star Pupil: Cristiano Ronaldo
Struggling to pass: Harry Maguire
Where to begin with Manchester United? Seemingly in the race for the title at the beginning of the season, they now know that Champions League football next season is reliant on monumental collapses by both Arsenal and Spurs.
Given the expectation, the money spent and the additions of Cristiano Ronaldo, Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho, it has been a failure of unforgivable proportions on all fronts, and the season cannot come to a close fast enough for the Red Devils and interim boss Ralf Rangnick.
In the chaos, Ronaldo has at least offered reminders of his quality, including a brilliant hat-trick against Spurs. However, Harry Maguire has severely underperformed, and his removal against Atletico Madrid was met with cheers from the Old Trafford faithful.
West Ham (A+)
Star pupil: Jarrod Bowen
Struggling to pass: Nikola Vlasic
Everyone expected West Ham to be a flash in the pan after finishing 5th last season, but they have kicked on this time out and though Champions League qualification seems unlikely, the Irons have made it to a European quarter-final, and are in position to be playing Europa League football again in 2022/23.
Central to their form has been Jarrod Bowen, with the winger continuing to demonstrate why Liverpool took an interest in him last summer. However, Nikola Vlasic, signed to replace Jesse Lingard in the squad, has struggled to live up to his 30 million pound price tag, and has left the Hammers somewhat short of rotation options in attack.
Star Pupil: Jose Sa
Struggling to pass: Fabio Silva
A low-scoring side, Wolves’ season has dropped off somewhat from once-outsiders for the top-4, but they remain strong contenders for the Europa League places, a significant improvement from their final season under Nuno Espirito Santo.
They have been helped by the form of Jose Sa, who has looked a step up even from the impressive Rui Patricio since his move to Wolves in the summer. However, Bruno Lage’s men have still lacked poise in front of goal, with Fabio Silva failing to live up to his price-tag even two seasons on from his arrival. Nonetheless, it has been a strong season for the Molineux outfit.
Aston Villa (C)
Star Pupil: Jacob Ramsey
Struggling to pass: Leon Bailey
An altogether hit-and-miss affair at Villa Park to this point in the campaign, the Claret and Blue have too often flattered to deceive on the back of a big-money summer outlay which saw the likes of Emi Buendia and Danny Ings arrive in the west Midlands.
Up-and-coming midfielder Jacob Ramsey has proven a bright spark, whilst Villans fans will no doubt be hopeful of January arrival Philippe Coutinho’s signing being made permanent, but Steven Gerrard has his work cut out in guiding his new club away from mid-table and back towards the demanded heights of European football.
Leicester City (C)
Star Pupil: Harvey Barnes
Struggling to pass: Jannik Vestergaard
Leicester’s campaign never really got going, as a pre-season injury suffered by Wesley Fofana derailed any plans that they had of success. Following back-to-back fifth-place finishes, and a seemingly smart recruitment policy in the summer, it was expected that they would be around the Champions League spots once more.
However, with 11 games to go, the Foxes sit 10th in the Premier league, while they were knocked down into the Europa Conference League after coming third in their Europa League group. Harvey Barnes, when fit, has been a shining light for the King Power side, but the void left by Fofana has been one that Vestergaard was expected to fill, and one that he has failed to.
By their recent high standards, this season has been a failure.
Star Pupil: James Ward-Prowse
Struggling to pass: Moussa Djenepo
Just a spot off the Premier League’s top half, Southampton, all told, have exceeded expectations to this point in the campaign.
Never in real danger of being dragged into the relegation dogfight, the Saints have thanked the brilliance of the likes of captain James Ward-Prowse and summer addition Tino Livramento for another impressive season to date.
Boss Ralph Hasenhuttl also deserves major credit, amid continued excellence on the St. Mary’s touchline.
Crystal Palace (B+)
Star Pupil: Conor Gallagher
Struggling to pass: Luka Milivojevic
Crystal Palace could well have been looking at an A grade here, had it not been for a whole host of points dropped right at the death, versus the likes of Arsenal and Brighton.
Still, Patrick Vieira’s up-and-coming Eagles have provided the club’s loyal fanbase with plenty to get excited about, on their way to a spot in mid-table.
Chelsea loanee Conor Gallagher has proven the undisputed star of the show, but fellow youngsters Tyrick Mitchell, Marc Guehi and Michael Olise (the former pair of whom were afforded their senior England bows this week) have all shone bright, too.
Add to this the return to fitness of Eberechi Eze, and there appears reason aplenty to smile as a Crystal Palace fan at present.
Star Pupil: Yves Bissouma
Struggling to pass: Neil Maupay
A season which initially promised so much on the south coast, Brighton & Hove Albion, after finding themselves amongst the heights of the battle for European football early on, have been brought back down to earth in a major way of late.
Graham Potter’s men, all told, have succumbed to six straight Premier League defeats, to slip to the depths of the bottom half of the table.
Nevertheless, reason for optimism remains, with in-demand boss Potter looking likely to remain beyond the summer, and a top-half finish not out of the question, should the Seagulls enjoy a post-international break return to form.
Newcastle United (C+)
Star Pupil: Joelinton
Struggling to pass: Miguel Almiron
Had our report card been unveiled at the midpoint of the term, Newcastle United could well have been staring at an F, after remarkably failing to pick up their first 3-point haul until December.
Since the turn of the year, owing to a combination of the instillation of Eddie Howe on the bench at St. James’ Park, and an influx of reinforcements on the back of the club’s big-money takeover, though, the Magpies have looked a team reborn.
Six wins and a draw from seven outings between late January and early March have catapulted Newcastle nine points clear of the drop zone, to what appears certain safety.
A special mention should also be reserved for Joelinton, with the once so-heavily maligned attacker having emerged as quite possibly the Geordie outfit’s most important player, since being handed the chance to impress in an all-action berth in the middle of the park.
Star Pupil: Ivan Toney
Struggling to pass: Marcus Forss
A solid showing to date for Brentford, amid the club’s first-ever campaign in the Premier League.
A head-turning stretch of impressive early-season form was always likely to taper off, and since has, with Thomas Frank’s men sitting 15th in the table, eight points clear of 18th-placed Watford.
Survival, though, was always the no.1 goal for the Bees, and as things stand, they appear well on their way towards securing precisely that.
Leeds United (D)
Star Pupil: Raphinha
Struggling to pass: Dan James
It is easy to suggest that second-season syndrome has hit Leeds hard after their impressive showing back in the top flight last season. And to an extent, that could well be true, but the Yorkshire side have been without key players for much of the season, in a system that relies heavily upon them.
Raphinha has once again been a shining light, but Kalvin Phillips, Liam Cooper and Patrick Bamford have all missed long stretches of the term, leaving the lack of depth in the Leeds squad clear for all to see. It has led to a tricky first season for Dan James, too, who has been deployed at times as a lone striker and has never been allowed to get any rhythm into his game.
Should they survive, the Whites should be much improved next season.
Star Pupil: Jordan Pickford
Struggling to pass: Richarlison
Everton are in a mess. With a squad performing much worse than it should be on paper, Rafa Benitez was an unpopular choice from the beginning and did nothing to win over the fans either on or off the pitch. Frank Lampard, the man chosen to replace the Spaniard, seems to be in over his head as he looks to keep them in the top flight.
That is not to say that there haven’t been bright sparks, albeit few. Jordan Pickford marks one such positive, having been solid if unspectacular in between the sticks, not helped by the rest of his team’s struggles.
Meanwhile, Richarlison’s pitiful return of four goals in 20 appearances for the Toffees has been a key reason as to why they find themselves in their current predicament.
Star Pupil: Emmanuel Dennis
Struggling to pass: Danny Rose
Deep down, Watford and their fans knew that they would be embroiled in a relegation dogfight this season, and so they have been. While incredible highs, such as the 4-1 win over Manchester United and the form of Emmanuel Dennis, have been brilliant, they have been infrequent, and the Hornets’ position in the top flight reflects this.
Meanwhile, Danny Rose has endured a year to forget on his return to top-flight football, and looked well off the pace in the first half of the season, before being banished to the stands for the remainder of the term.
Star Pupil: Dwight McNeil
Struggling to pass: Ashley Barnes
Could this prove the campaign which finally sees Sean Dyche’s Burnley outfit fall short in their efforts to stave off the drop?
As things, stand, the Clarets look primed for precisely that, having struggled to rediscover the famed ‘grind it out’ mentality which has for so long proven key to the club’s Premier League survival.
Dwight McNeil has represented a rare source of optimism amid an otherwise difficult term to date, whilst the January arrival of hitman Wout Weghorst has too aided Burnley’s endeavours in the attacking third.
Still, results must arrive, and soon, if Turf Moor is to remain a top-flight ground for the 7th successive campaign in 2022/23.
Star Pupil: Grant Hanley
Struggling to pass: Billy Gilmour
Another year in the English top-flight, and another swift return to the Championship on the horizon.
This has become something of a running theme at Carrow Road over recent seasons, and 2021/22 has proven no different, with Norwich City sitting dead bottom of the Premier League with a paltry 17 points secured from 29 fixtures.
The dismissal of Daniel Farke and ensuing appointment of Dean Smith late last year did culminate in something of a ‘new manager bounce’, but much more will be needed next time round, if the Canaries hope to carve out any sort of extended top-flight stay for themselves.