The Premier League season has hit the halfway point with Chelsea at the top of the table and reigning champions Manchester City in hot pursuit.
But speculation that the second half of the season is a predictable procession among the top teams is hasty after Chelsea managed only a draw at Southampton and City were frustrated again as they let slip a two-goal lead at home to Burnley.
Here’s a rundown of how the top teams are doing and what to expect.
Arsenal – 5th
SEASON SO FAR: Mixed, but recent London derby wins against QPR and West Ham United moved them up to fifth in the Premier League. Still look unable to beat their closest rivals, demonstrated against Chelsea and Manchester United, but the Gunners are well placed and into the Champions League knockout stages again.
HOW IS THE MANAGER DOING?: Arsene Wenger is under severe pressure again. There was a banner demanding his departure after Arsenal’s win at West Bromwich Albion and also angry scenes at a train station after the loss at Stoke. Wenger still manages to get the wins to keep his job but still has serious issues to address. Signing Alexis Sanchez in the summer helped him keep his job.
WHAT THEY NEED TO DO NEXT: As in seasons past, Arsenal need a central defender of authority – definitely not someone who ducks out of the way of dangerous crosses such as Per Mertesacker did at Stoke and Liverpool – and also a commanding holding midfield player.
Chelsea – 1st
SEASON SO FAR: Excellent. Just one league defeat so far, at Newcastle, and impressive displays throughout, partly because of Jose Mourinho’s two stellar summer signings: Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa. Costa has scored 13 times in the league, and Fabregas has created 13 league goals.
HOW IS THE MANAGER DOING?: Mourinho’s expertise is evident again, molding the exciting skills of Costa, Fabregas and Hazard with the powerhouse Nemanja Matic and ever-reliable players such as captain John Terry. A perfect blend of skill and power. Still the consummate coach, although he is bringing up conspiracy theories again after Fabregas was refused a penalty at Southampton.
WHAT THEY NEED TO DO NEXT: Not much other than keep the likes of Costa and Terry fit – and mind the threat of Manchester City, who they play at Stamford Bridge in January.
Liverpool – 8th
SEASON SO FAR: Underwhelming. From the high of almost winning their first title in 24 years last season to barely scraping into the top half of the table so far. With Luis Suarez sold to Barcelona and Daniel Sturridge injured since August, they have been a shadow of that exciting team. Some signs, though, that a little form may be returning, and Sturridge should be back soon. A dismal Champions League group campaign, with only one win and an early exit, was a real blow, although not totally surprising.
HOW IS THE MANAGER DOING?: Tough times for Brendan Rodgers, who does not deserve that his job is under discussion six months after almost winning the title. He has struggled to blend new signings and occasionally not seemed to know his best side, although he has had to juggle to find a formula. At least the 4-1 win over Swansea on Monday eased some pressure on him and the side.
WHAT THEY NEED TO DO NEXT: Offload Mario Balotelli in the January window, sign a new goalkeeper to replace the erratic Simon Mignolet, and hope that their medics can actually keep Daniel Sturridge fit.
Manchester City – 2nd
SEASON SO FAR: Denied a club record 10th successive win in all competitions after conceding that two-goal lead at home to Burnley, but have shown signs recently of being back to their best, even without Sergio Aguero. David Silva is fit again, and the confidence gained from reaching the knockout phase of the Champions League boosts morale.
HOW IS THE MANAGER DOING?: Typical Manuel Pellegrini is understated and modest. But he would love to outwit his old adversary Jose Mourinho, and he feels City are capable of doing it.
WHAT THEY NEED TO DO NEXT: Like Chelsea, they are pretty complete, but everyone at the Etihad hopes that the brilliant Aguero finally has a long run without injuries. He could yet be the title clincher.
DID YOU KNOW? Frank Lampard’s goal against Leicester in December was his 175th in the Premier League, putting him level with Thierry Henry. Only Alan Shearer, Andy Cole and Wayne Rooney have scored more.
Manchester United – 3rd
SEASON SO FAR: Getting back to something like the old Manchester United before the disastrous David Moyes era. Definite signs that the Old Trafford twinkle is back under Louis van Gaal. Title talk is highly ambitious, but top four and a return to the Champions League are a real possibility.
HOW IS THE MANAGER DOING?: Exactly as you would expect from someone of Van Gaal’s pedigree and success, totally undaunted, unlike Moyes, by the scale of Manchester United with firm belief in his approach and the authority to command complete respect from his players.
WHAT THEY NEED TO DO NEXT: United need to shore up a defense that concedes too many chances, which may be helped by clearing a packed treatment room. These are van Gaal’s priorities for the second half of the season.
Southampton – 4th
SEASON SO FAR: The season’s surprise package. Tipped for relegation after a summer exodus in which Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert went to Liverpool, Luke Shaw to Manchester United and Calum Chambers to Arsenal.
Instead, with signings such as Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle, as well as the immense presence of manager Ronald Koeman, they have emerged stronger. An example of superb management.
HOW IS THE MANAGER DOING?: Magnificently. Koeman’s calm approach, even after a run of recent defeats, saw Saints turn the tide with wins against Everton and Crystal Palace and a fine draw against Chelsea.
Cool and with a flexible tactical approach, Koeman’s experience working alongside Van Gaal and Mourinho at Barcelona has slotted in quickly in the Premier League after replacing Mauricio Pochettino.
WHAT THEY NEED TO DO NEXT: Make sure they do not lose any more key players – which is unlikely as they are in the top four. They may also look at the likes of Lovren and Lambert, who have not settled well.
Tottenham Hotspur – 7th
SEASON SO FAR: Spurs are nicely placed in seventh after the draw at home to Manchester United following an indifferent start. Harry Kane has been a revelation, and Christian Eriksen is pure gold. Shown great resilience in securing late wins at West Ham, Aston Villa, Hull City and Swansea City.
HOW IS THE MANAGER DOING?: Mauricio Pochettino’s approach is slowly gathering traction. His emphasis on physical fitness is certainly being rewarded with those late victories.
WHAT THEY NEED TO DO NEXT: More goals are needed to finish in the top four. Too much reliance on Kane and Eriksen with Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor not firing as they should.
West Ham United – 6th
SEASON SO FAR: The year took a late dip with defeats to Chelsea and Arsenal, but sixth place was a rarified spot to West Ham fans before the start of the season used to fighting relegation.
HOW IS THE MANAGER DOING?: Sam Allardyce has confounded his many critics with his success. The demands from co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold for more attractive, attacking football have been met with the introduction of Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho, while Stewart Downing is rejuvenated.
WHAT THEY NEED TO DO NEXT: Keep hold of star defender Winston Reid, who has not signed a new contract and may attract a tempting offer in January.