Just over halfway into the English Premier League season, we examine some of the best and worst performers so far.
There have been 20 matchdays in the 2023-24 Premier League campaign so far, which means the halfway mark has been passed for every club. And what a rollercoaster of a season so far with new twists and turns every week.
After 20 matchdays, we have seen incredible goals, matches, and performances that have us fans applauding or shaking our heads. There have been teams that have shocked the footballing world with their performances, and some that are underachieving massively so far.
Today we are going to look at some midseason awards, both positive and negative, for the 2023-24 English Premier League season.
Biggest Surprise: Aston Villa
This was a tough category to choose from as there have been quite a few teams that are causing shockwaves through the league with their results. However, the winner had to be Aston Villa. Villa is heading into 2024 in second place, level on points with Liverpool, who have a game in hand. They are unbeaten at home, only dropping points to Sheffield United in a 1-1 draw.
Led by Unai Emery, who has massively changed the fortunes of this football club, they are looking poised to finish in a Champions League-qualifying spot. Villa last made an appearance in the competition in the 1982-83 season, one year removed from winning the European Cup. With the likes of Manchester United struggling as well as Spurs being injury-riddled, Aston Villa have a strong chance to finish within the top four.
However, Ollie Watkins will need to continue his form from the first half of the season if Villa want to continue their success. The striker has nine goals and eight assists in 20 games. The midfield led by Douglas Luiz and John McGinn is crucial as well. It will take a team effort, and Emery will have to keep on rallying the troops.
Biggest Disappointment: Manchester United
It could only be one team in this category. After a promising third place finish in last year’s campaign, all eyes were on Ten Hag’s Manchester United to see how the club would improve on that finish. Twenty matchdays later and United sit in seventh place with a negative goal difference and the worst attack in the league.
With just 22 goals thus far, only relegation zone dwellers Sheffield United and Burnley have scored fewer times. Ten wins, nine losses and one draw is what the table states about United. The promising campaign of last year is washing away in the memories of fans, and only the horror of this season remains imprinted in their minds.
Old Trafford was a fortress last season, as United only lost one game at home throughout the 2022-23 campaign, which was to Brighton in the opening fixture. They would go 18 unbeaten after that. This season, United have already lost four home matches in just 10 games.
The club has a lot to fix with only 18 games remaining if it wants to have any chance of securing UCL football.
Best Game: Chelsea 4-4 Manchester City
This game had everything you needed in a high-quality match. Eight goals and more importantly quality play from both sides, as each one had a stretch where it looked better than its opponent.
There was controversy, as the penalty City received was highly questionable. You had the last-minute equalizer from Cole Palmer, who slotted his penalty home calm, cool, and collected.
On top of all that, this game had the one thing that all top football matches require: the narratives. You had Palmer, who had scored goals in two cup finals for Manchester City just three months prior to this match, making sure his new club secured a well-earned point with his late goal.
You also had Raheem Sterling, a longtime Manchester City player and considered by many of their fans a club legend, who scored in this game. Mateo Kovacic, who was a part of Chelsea’s 2020-21 UCL-winning squad, made his return to Stamford Bridge after leaving this past summer.
Overall, it was a wonderful game, and as a neutral you were on the edge of your seat throughout its entirety.
Best Goal: Alejandro Garnacho’s Incredible Bicycle
There was no other choice here. Alejandro Garnacho’s bicycle kick against Everton was by far the best goal so far in the 2023-24 season, and it will be tough to beat.
Within seconds it was compared to the Wayne Rooney bicycle in the Manchester Derby, which has gone on to become one of the most iconic Premier League goals of all time. It was perfect contact with the ball, from a good distance, and Garnacho got the perfect jump. He knew what he was going to do the moment he saw the ball go in the air.
What also makes a goal special is the occasion. This was Everton’s first game since they had received their points deduction, and the crowd was riled up. United were walking into hostile territory, and Garnacho silenced the crowd straight away with that wonder strike.
Best Transfer: Gugliermo Vicario
This one was tough to choose, and recent results may have played a factor in this decision. It was neck and neck between Gugliermo Vicario and Declan Rice. Vicario has been given the edge based on slightly more consistent performances. In a squad that has been decimated by injuries all season, Vicario has been the one guy always there showing his quality.
He has bailed Spurs out on several occasions with his incredible reflexes, and his positioning in that Spurs high line has been top. He’s always there to sweep up the ball and kickstart attacks. If it was not for a once-in-a-lifetime keeper in Alisson at Liverpool, Vicario would be regarded as the best in the league.
His price was another factor, as Rice was nine figures and already Premier League proven, while Vicario was signed for around €20 million from Empoli in Serie A. Also, Vicario is stepping into the shoes of former club captain Hugo Lloris, who he replaced this past summer, and it is safe to say he is filling those shoes quite well.
Most Underrated Player: Dominic Solanke
You can write five full pages of underrated players in the Premier League, but the winner of the most underrated goes to Dominic Solanke of Bournemouth. After a solid campaign for the Cherries last year which saw him score six goals to go along with seven assists, the striker has taken his game up another level, scoring 13 goals already, with one assist in 20 games.
His goalscoring prowess has led Bournemouth to 12th place so far, and they are only six points off a European spot. Solanke has everything you want in a modern-day striker as he can press and win duels, strike the ball well, is quick, and can link play adeptly. He has shown he can lead the line by himself while also having the attributes to play in a two-man partnership as well.
If this form were to continue, Bournemouth could finish in the top half of the table, and Gareth Southgate will have some tough choices to make when it comes to selecting his 2024 England EURO squad. Solanke has as good as a shout as anyone to be the second striker on that plane after Harry Kane.
Dark Horse: Tottenham
Spurs had the best start to the season, going 10 games unbeaten before losing 4-1 to Chelsea at home. That was the game that would change the fortunes of their next 10 games as they lost James Maddison and Micky van de Ven to long term injuries. Cristian Romero would also face a three-game suspension after picking up a red card in that Chelsea fixture.
Spurs have had mixed results these past 10 games, but the one thing that has not changed is Ange Postecoglou’s approach to the matches. No matter the lineup on the pitch, the philosophy and the principles remain the same.
Spurs have now lost Romero to injury for the next month and will lose some key players like Heung-Min Son, Pape Matar Sarr, and Yves Bissouma to AFCON and the Asian Cup. However, there is only one Premier League match in January so Spurs will not have to worry too much.
The likes of Maddison and van de Ven are due back from injury this month which means Spurs should have their best XI back by the early February fixtures. With only one game a week the rest of the season, who’s to say Spurs do not go on a similar run like they did earlier in the season and cause some chaos up in the table. The Premier League should watch out.
Best Manager: Gary O’Neil
The job that Gary O’Neil has done with Wolves is nothing short of remarkable. After being sacked by Bournemouth out of nowhere, O’Neil replaced Julen Lopetegui at Wolves late in the summer. Over halfway through the season he has them in 11th place and seven points off sixth place in the table.
There were a few people that had Wolves as shock relegation candidates, especially after the departure of Lopetegui. However, O’Neil has stepped in seamlessly and you could argue he is getting a better tune out of his players than the previous manager did. The likes of Hwang Hee-chan are thriving in attack, Matheus Cunha has become a solid all-around striker, and Mario Lemina in the midfield has been spectacular. At the time of writing, they have won three on the bounce including wins over Everton and Chelsea.
O’Neill has made Wolves into the tough and resilient team that they were when promoted in 2018, and if they continue this form they can cause serious noise around the last European spots in the table.
Best Player: Mohamed Salah
There has not been one player in the league that is well above the others, but it was time to give the league leaders some love. Liverpool is top of the table heading into 2024, and a big reason for that is Mohamed Salah.
When you think of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool you think of attack, attack, attack. This year that is somewhat the case. Liverpool have been formidable in the defense with the heroics of Alisson and the resurgence of Virgil van Dijk.
Meanwhile, in attack it is a one-man wrecking crew in Salah. He has put the Liverpool offense on his back and is doing everything for them. He has 14 goals and eight assists putting him at 22 goal contributions after 20 games. Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have been replaced by Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo, who are not contributing at the rate that their predecessors were, which has left Salah with a heavier attacking burden. Yet for him it is no issue, and he is delivering goals and assists for the Scousers.
Salah is likely to continue his attacking prowess in the second half as it will be hard to find a more consistent and efficient attacker. And if Liverpool were to hold onto this lead at the top of the table, then Salah has a strong chance of winning the PFA Player of the Year Award.
Champion Prediction: Manchester City
It’s hard to pick any other team to win the league than the team that has done it three years on the bounce. Manchester City have been underwhelming so far this season. Their defense has been leaky as they struggle to keep clean sheets. Yet they only sit two points off the top. City had won one in their last six games at one point, yet the teams above them failed to capitalize enough to put them to the sword.
Now they bring back one of the best players in the world in Kevin De Bruyne, who has missed 18 games. The goalscoring robot that is Erling Haaland is also due to return soon. And Manchester City have one advantage that no one else has. They have Pep Guardiola.
The sharks are ready to pounce as they have done in previous years.