We all know who’s at the top of the Premier League. This is our attempt at ranking the sides according to their pre-season expectations. Who’s top?
To give an idea of how it works, position 10 would indicate a perfect meeting of predictions with reality. Position one would represent maximum over-performance, and 20 would signal the most disappointing effort.
For example, Manchesters United and City were largely expected to compete for the title, hence they’ll be stuck mid table in our rating system. Swansea and Norwich were expected to take their parachute payments straight back to the Championship, meaning they’ll feature towards the top.
It’s difficult to recall the seemingly dire context that the Geordies’ season was facing from the outset. With the departure of Barton, Carroll, Enrique and Nolan, among others, prior to the season, and the arrival of almost no one save for unknowns such as Cabaye, many were predicting a difficult period for Mike Cashley and his boys.
Further, there were murmurs of discontent around the tactical nous of Alan Pardew, who had been labelled as dour and unimaginative, pointing to a season of discomfort on Tyneside.
Much has been written around the Moneyball renaissance of the club having laid the blueprint for those perennially facing mid-table malaise to step up as realistic challengers.
I’ve revisited a feature in fourfourtwo from July 2011 that included all 10 football “experts” tipping the Canaries to face the drop.
Mr Lambert has combined the three elements of a successful first season in the top flight: a goal-scoring striker in Holt, solidity at the back, and that mix of determination with self-belief. Norwich have epitomised efficiency, beating the teams below them at home, and turning Carrow Road into a tricky encounter whether your name is RVP or Gary Caldwell.
In a similar vein to Norwich, the Swans have proven that Welsh football does deserve its spot in the English top flight. Bringing a fluid style to the League, Brendan Rodgers has given supporters a refreshing change from the typically drab brand served up by some of the sides adjacent to the Welshmen on the table.
As with Norwich, they’ve secured their defence first, with Ashley Williams surely developing into one of the more underrated players in the league. Next they’ve added proven creative quality all over the pitch, particularly with the mercurial Sigurdsson since January.
Lastly they’ve made the Liberty into a place of respect and trepidation for visiting supporters.
The North Londoners were coming off a tumultuous summer and were facing constant taunts about their youth and lack of physicality when that awful 8-2 happened.
The Gunners displayed a resolve that many believed they were incapable of to turn their campaign into a success, having ensconced themselves squarely in European football for next year. They’re just a decent centre back and a Wilshere away from a serious title challenge in 2013.
While four may seem a tad high, rewind to September and you’ll recall the back pages awash with the demise of the Emirates and Mr Wenger.
While Spurs now have a veritable title-contending squad on paper, their current disappointing standing should not undermine their outperformance for the majority of the season.
Much maligned in recent times, the Yids have surely been distracted by off-field managerial developments, undoing the considerable progress made in the first two thirds of the league. With the easiest run in, the Londoners could still secure the coveted fourth position that could be crucial in retaining the spine of their carefully constructed side.
6. West Bromwich Albion
The Baggies have avoided second-season syndrome with aplomb under the masterful guidance of Woy. They continue to operate within the tightest of budgetary constraints and have uncovered even more quality freebies in Gareth McAuley and Billy Jones.
They look to have established themselves as part of the Premier League furniture, the way it should be for a club with such a richly developed history. Improving on 11th and 47 points from last time around will be an outstanding achievement.
7. Manchester City
I’ll put the blue half of England’s footballing capital just ahead of their red counterparts, as even though several pundits predicted Tevez et al to win from the outset, actually following through and putting the title within their own grasp with three fixtures remaining is another story altogether.
Distracting European struggles and the oft unfathomable off-field antics of Super Mario and his golfing buddy Tevez couldn’t sway Mancini from his own rites of passage. Most importantly, the Blue Moon Rising looks set to continue, with a 2013 that could see further development both on and off the pitch.
8. Manchester United
Sir Alex and his boys are tracking squarely to where we expected and slot neatly into the striker’s jersey. Disappointing cup and European adventures have marred a season that has produced results, but has been enveloped by a pervasive backward-looking bias with the continued dominance of Scholes and to a lesser extent Giggs.
A major plus is the flourishing partnership between Welbeck and the hairy-again Rooney – but their season hasn’t been anything spectacular.
With an ageing squad many feared the worst, but the revelation of Mata, the obvious benefit of experience, and the defiant change in fortunes under Di Matteo has seen Chelsea finish the season in strong fashion.
While missing European football would be nearly calamitous for our favourite Russian oligarch, the Blues have beaten Barcelona somewhat convincingly in Europe and could still lift the much sought-after symbol of power that is the European Cup. So much relies on the final month of the playing year for this side that will surely undergo a heavy reconstruction through the summer.
It still bemuses to watch the Toffees struggle through January, leading to rumblings about the Moyes’ use-by date and the shoestring budget, before predictably embarking on their customary second-half run that includes big-team scalps and persistently positive results.
Lower-top half with a decent cup run is getting a little predictable, and if marked improvements aren’t forthcoming over the next two seasons, the Blues will begin the slide downwards. This is not a league for standing still.
The Wearsiders have made progress under O’Neill but have failed to capitalise on their outstanding vein of form over the festive period, and sit in a disappointing lower half position. Not too much to report here – bang on average for me.
Fulham could easily be lower, but expectations of a realistic European push should be tempered with the addition of a new manager and an array of fresh faces gracing Craven Cottage.
In promising signs for the future, many of their signings have shown enough to suggest an optimistic outlook. The continued development of Dembele into a proven talent (should progress to the standing of Ben Arfa next year), Dempsey into a genuine top-liner (should resemble Arteta next year) and Pogrebnyak into a prolific sharp-shooter (should resemble Ba or Cisse next year) could spell a strong challenge in 2013 from the noisy neighbours from London.
In Roberto Martinez, Wigan has one of the finest young managers in football, and their apparent survival for another season can be largely attributed to the gaffer and his swelling reputation in the game. On paper the worst squad in the league, Wigan haven’t really progressed nor digressed through 2011/12, and could find themselves feeling a form of final day deja vu.
The Premier League new boys were expected to be the strongest of the sides coming up, but for much of the season the Rs have struggled to build any form of momentum. In saying that, their best run has developed at the pointy end, and Mark Hughes is using every reserve of his managerial experience to build a case for 2013 in the top division.
With serious financial investments being made, it is disappointing to see the side still scrapping for survival, but in the end, 17th and up will be acceptable.
Bolton’s primary objective from the outset will always be 40 points as quickly as possible, and a team of their calibre should not be struggling as they are. Bolton have been entrenched in the relegation doldrums for more than 50 percent of the footballing year, and if they return to the first division, it will be due to inept off-field dealings that saw the departure of Elmander and Sturridge without replacements, leaving an attack devoid of quality in Klasnic, N’gog and Kakuta. Could easily be lower than 15th.
The Potters invested heavily with a number of seemingly astute purchases of proven top-flight quality. Tony Pulis’ fantastical ride may be grinding to a halt, however, with a year of taking steps firmly in the wrong direction.
Europe was simply too much to ask for an ageing and threadbare squad. Their no-frills and more than occasionally dour style has lead to more detractors than supporters, as the likes of Swansea have shown it is possible to survive without wasting on average 13.8 percent of your games on Rory Delap’s arms. Distinctly below average.
When it emerged that Steve Kean’s new employers were unaware of the possibility of relegation, the tone was set for an overwhelmingly forgettable campaign for all those involved. There have been few protagonists from this sorry saga to emerge with any flicker of credibility, maybe Hoilett and Yakubu are the only ones, and while still undecided, relegation seems deserved for this season of underperformance.
18. Aston Villa
Villa were a difficult team to place. Almost everyone questioned the arrival of the Big Eck to the Midlands, but I’m sure few could sincerely predict the woeful events that have followed.
Watching the Villians is a truly difficult thing at current, with consistent fan discontent from the terraces juxtaposed with a non-existent goal threat on the pitch. Villa Park has become the worst place for football and is a crude characterisation of everything that is wrong and outdated with the English game. Too many quality departures over recent years.
So much has been written that any expansive comment feels unnecessary. In a year that produced such rampant, flagrant spending and such inept on-field performances, only Liverpool and their continued arrogance could ensure they dominate footballing rhetoric. Welcome to mid-table anonymity, Mr Dogleish.
In the end it wasn’t third time lucky, with the West Midlanders’ challenge whimpering into submission with the shambolic Terry Connor at the helm.
Wolves were devoid of creativity up front, apart from the sometimes dangerous Fletcher, and woeful at the back with summer signing and captain Roger Johnson becoming the home fans’ boo-boy early on in the piece. With stadium expansions well underway, the club could face serious financial struggles over the next five years.
So there we have it. Newcastle, Norwich, Swansea, Arsenal, Tottenham and West Brom take the European places with a season of outperformance. City, United, Chelsea, Everton, Sunderland, Fulham and Wigan are aligned with pre-season hypotheses. QPR, Bolton, Stoke, Blackburn, Villa, Liverpool and Wolves end a diffcult season.
Make sure you get involved in the comments below with your own opinions.