With the busy festive period about to kick into high gear, it's time to take stock and see which Premier League teams are exceeding expectations and who needs to apply themselves more with our mid-term report.
Arsenal - B
Whisper it quietly, but Arsenal may prove to be more than just top four contenders and could force their way back into the Champions League for the first time in five years.
Manager Mikel Arteta is slowly winning over the doubters as his team of young, exciting players are starting to show real consistency and the manager's patient introduction of the likes of Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinell is paying dividends.
It’s not all good news for the Gunners however as Arteta is going to have to decide just what to do with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the January transfer window, having dropped the frontman and stripped him of the club captaincy.
The Aubameyang situation has the potential to be a distraction and Arsenal will be eager to avoid another Mesit Ozil type situation but Arteta has already shown enough backbone to suggest if the player does come back into the squad, it will be on the manager’s terms.
Aston Villa - C+
Getting rid of Dean Smith was never going to be an easy decision.
Having led Villa to promotion and an 11th place finish last season, Smith had plenty of credit in the bank but a series of five defeats in a row left them hovering over the relegation zone and the decision made to make a change.
In came Steven Gerrard and he’s made an immediate impact, tightening up the Villa defence, raising levels of intensity and organisation all over the pitch.
In his short time there, Gerrard has made Villa difficult to beat and results have quickly followed.
He’s unlikely to have significant funds to spend in the January transfer window, given how the club splurged the Jack Grealish transfer money in the summer and Gerrard will very much have to make do and mend but a top-half finish looks likely for the Villains.
Brentford - B
Quietly going about their business and coming in under the radar in recent months, Brentford have impressed since their arrival in the Premier League and are already half-way to the 40 points that should ensure their survival.
They announced themselves in style on their opening day of the campaign with a 2-0 victory over Arsenal at a raucous Brentford Community Stadium and gave Liverpool a bloody nose at the same venue in a thrilling 3-3 draw a month later.
A string of five consecutive defeats between October and November had many wondering if their bubble has burst but manager Thomas Frank has helped to turn thing around by tightening up the defence and they’re well clear of the bottom three and look likely to remain so.
Brighton & Hove Albion – C
Graham Potter’s side got off to a blistering start this season as they won four of their first five games and were being touted as potential dark horses for a top seven finish.
Things have fallen apart for them since those heady days of September and the Seagulls have not won a game since, going 11 matches without victory as they have slid down the league table.
A lack of goals has been Brighton’s biggest problem this season, averaging under a goal a game but their defence has been relatively solid and they’ve managed to scrape out draws against the likes of Liverpool and Leicester.
The return of Danny Welbeck to fitness should bolster their options up front and Potter will hope to see them start to turn draws into victories but they go into the Christmas period nine points above the relegation zone and it shouldn’t take too much for them to remain there.
Chelsea - B
While the Premier League title race has yet to devolve into a two-horse affair, Chelsea’s recent dip in form means that they can’t afford to lose any more ground over the festive period.
Thomas Tuchel’s side started this campaign in fine fettle and made a statement of their title intentions, keeping pace with Manchester City and Liverpool, although perhaps crucially, they were only able to take a single point from their first meeting with both sides.
Their title challenge has stuttered of late however with just two wins from their last six as they find themselves struggling to hold on a lead.
The absence of the injured N'Golo Kante is certainly one reason that Tuchel could point to for his side’s dip in form and the French midfielder’s absence has been keenly felt but so too has the poor return in front of goal from the big money strikers Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner.
Crystal Palace - B
Seen as a poison chalice during the summer, the role as Roy Hodgson’s successor went to Patrick Vieira and few really knew what to expect from the former Arsenal player.
Vieira was inheriting an aging squad that was very much drilled to play one particular style of percentage football and they were among the pre-season favourites for relegation.
Just under halfway through the season now and they’re a side reborn, playing an exciting brand of high-pressing attacking football and they look far more comfortable in possession than and anytime during the last few seasons.
Vieira has helped to revitalise the likes of Wilfred Zaha and Christian Benteke and made some very astute signings in the form of Conor Gallagher and Odsonne Edouard who are starting to make a major impact.
Everton - D
A reactive managerial and transfer policy and lack of any real long-term planning over the last five years has led to a perfect storm on discontent for Everton supporters.
Five different managers in five years with transfer outgoings of over £500million in that period has left Everton with a woefully unbalanced squad that even a manager with the backing of the club’s supporters would struggle with.
At any other club Rafa Benitez would be the ideal man to put a shape on a such a mess of a squad but most Evertonians are struggling to see past his Liverpool links.
Initial results were encouraging and bought Benitez some time but with just one win in 11 games, that time may be running out now. They at least have a decent run of fixtures coming up but injuries to key players such as Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Yerry Mina and Richarlison mean that Everton may soon be looking for their sixth manager in six years.
Leeds United – D
Manager Marcelo Bielsa is currently in the midst of his longest spell ever in charge of a club but as he looks into his fifth year in charge of Leeds, questions over his future and the direction of the club are beginning to grow.
Bielsa is more than a cult hero at Leeds and his methods and approach to football are responsible not just for their return to the Premier League but their survival last season. But Bielsa’s philosophy can be a dual-edged sword.
Favouring a small squad who expected are to work intensely, Leeds under Bielsa have often started a season brilliantly only to fade in the later stages as the games take their toll.
This time out however, they haven’t had that strong start to build points in the bank and they currently sit just five points off 18th place Burnley who have three games in hand on them.
Hamstring injuries for Patrick Bamford, Kalvin Phillips and Liam Cooper point toward wear and tear having an increased impact on the small squad an with such key players side-lined, Leeds could easily get dragged into a relegation scrap.
Leicester City – C
The good news for Leicester City fans is that’s they’re likely to be spared any last-day Champions League heartbreak this time out. The bad news is that they’re not going be in the top-four conversation, going by what we’ve seen so far.
Defence is where Leicester have had their biggest problems. Long-term injuries for Wesley Fofana and James Justin have certainly played a part but the Foxes have the worst defensive record of all top-half teams with just two clean sheets this season.
Brendan Rodgers has been forced into some makeshift defensive line-ups as the manager has chopped and changed in search of some kind of solidity. He hasn’t been able to find it and the Foxes have been particularly vulnerable to set-pieces and corners.
They face a tough festive period when they take on Manchester City and Liverpool back-to-back and while Rodgers is unlikely to come under any real pressure should they lose those games, any chance of a top-four push will surely be over.
Liverpool - A
Three points off the lead with only one league defeat all season, Jurgen Klopp’s side are looking every inch of Manchester City’s biggest rival for the league title.
Top-scorers in the league, averaging close to three goals a game, Liverpool have broken scoring records and when in full flow are a sight to behold.
Klopp has, thus far, not had to content with the level of injuries that saw last season’s title defence end shortly after the New Year. With a settled squad that know just what is expected of them and how to deliver it, they are an incredibly tough team to stop.
That’s not to say it can’t be done. Teams that have looked to stop their attacking fullbacks and play through the high Liverpool press have met with some success and they can often come unstuck to a simple long ball over the top, as they did in a recent 2-2 draw with Tottenham.
Liverpool have a smaller squad than their title rivals and one that’s going to hit hard by the African Cup of Nations with Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita all flying out to Cameroon and that may be where their hopes of keeping pace with City come unstuck.
Manchester City – A+
Anyone hoping that Manchester City’s opening day defeat to Tottenham may have been a sign of a vulnerable team was swiftly disavowed of that idea when Pep Guardiola’s side followed up that defeat with back-to-back 5-0 wins.
Since then City have look imperious and very much the favourites to win their fourth title in five years.
With the meanest defence in the league and a wealth of attacking players that can quickly overwhelm teams, Guardiola has been able to operate without a recognisable striker, having failed to land Harry Kane in the summer, as other players step up to compensate for the lack of goals from a traditional frontman.
17 different players have found the net for City in the league with Guardiola seemingly able to fill any short comings that may be in his squad with the sheer quality that lays elsewhere. Key players such as Aymeric Laporte, Joao Cancelo, Rodri and Bernardo Silva are all playing the best football of their lives.
City have already faced Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United away from home and with what what many would consider to be their toughest games behind them, it’s hard to see how they’re going to be stopped.
Manchester United - C+
So Ole’s no longer at the wheel, Ralf Rangnick has been trusted with reviving Manchester United’s season, and it may not be as impossible a task as it first looked.
The first third of the season was a disastrous one for United who were quickly becoming both a soft-touch and a laughingstock, having stuck far too long with a manager who had be promoted far above his ability and experience.
The Solskjaer reign came to a miserable end after hammerings from Liverpool and Manchester City were book-ended by a 4-1 defeat to Watford in mid-November.
The good news for United fans is that their side are unbeaten since that game and under Rangnick seem to at least be slightly motivated as they implement his more structured and demanding approach.
Ten points from 12 since Solskjaer’s exit have left United five points off the Champions League places with two games in hand and well poised for a European push in the second-half of the season.
Newcastle United - F
'Man City, we’re richer than you’ was the song that echoed around St James’ Park as Newcastle watched their side get thrashed 4-0 by Manchester City last week.
Newcastle supporters are happy to claim to be the richest team in the world, following their takeover by a group led by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, but the way that they’re going, they’ll be the richest team in the Championship next season.
Whatever funds that are available to Eddie Howe in January will have to be substantial, if only for exorbitant wages to convince decent players to join an awful squad who have managed just one win all season.
There was much rejoicing among the Toon faithful when Steve Bruce was relieved of his duties any hope of a new manager bounce under Howe quickly disappeared as the effects of years of under-investment in the playing squad became starkly obvious as he’s taken just five points from his seven games in charge.
Howe believes that a record low points total could keep Newcastle in the Premier League, claiming that 30 could be enough this season but even seems a fanciful target for a side as poor as the Magpies.
Norwich City – F
Bottom of the Premier League on Christmas Day is never a place you want to be with only three teams to occupy that spot avoiding relegation in the last 30 years and Norwich look very unlikely to buck that trend.
Daniel Farke was up against it before a ball was even kicked with his summer transfer budget barely covering the £35million the club received from Aston Villa for Emiliano Buendia.
Farke won the Championship in style last season but wasn’t backed to keep Norwich in the top flight and was sacked last month having won just five points from 11 games. Dean Smith was swiftly appointed as his replaced and have managed to add another five points to Canaries’ total but they remain rooted to the bottom of the table without a win in five games.
There have at least been signs of green shoots for Norwich under Smith and he way well prove to be an astute long-term appointment but for this season relegation looms.
Southampton - D
With little backing in the transfer market and a squad of players that could perhaps ungenerously be described as journeymen, Ralph Hasenhuttl will probably consider Premier League survival a success this season.
The Austrian manager saw his biggest goal-threat and best defender sold in the summer as Danny Ings and Jannik Vestergaard were both allowed to leave with replacements not at their level coming in.
Southampton have seen a gradual weakening of their squad and their league position reflects that as they sit six points outside the relegation zone having two games move than 18th placed Burnley.
With no wins in six and a defensive midfielder their top goal-scorer in the shape of Oriol Romeu, the busy Christmas period will be a testing one for the Saints but they should have just enough to stay out of the bottom three.
Tottenham Hotspur - C
Nuno Espirito Santo and Tottenham never seemed like the right fit and so it proved.
It was public knowledge that the former Wolves man was low down their pecking order when it came to appointing a new manager and he seemed to be vulnerable from the moment he arrived.
Harry Kane’s summer transfer saga didn’t help nor did the striker and the team’s poor start to the season. Espirito Santo never seemed to have the backing of the players and there was little shock when he was sacked at the start of November having picked up just six points from an available 21.
The swift appointment of Antonio Conte looked to be a bit of a coup and the influence of the charismatic Italian is already apparent as Spurs appear to have found a backbone and some real fight on the pitch.
Unbeaten since Conte’s appointment, Spurs are moving in the right direction and can perhaps even look forward to a top-four challenge.
Watford - D
Few things in life are as inevitable as Watford sacking a manager mid-season so there was little surprise when Xisco Munoz was given the elbow just seven games into the campaign.
The club were sitting in 14th place with two wins and a draw from their opening seven and Claudio Ranieri was the surprise replacement, joining a two-year contract which is very unlikely to run its full course.
Ranieri at least has Watford looking dangerous in front of goal. A 5-2 win over Everton and a 4-1 victory against Manchester United are the only points the Italian has taken and his side sit precariously in 17th place, two points clear of the drop.
A porous defence is Watford biggest problem and they’ve yet to claim a clean sheet this season in the league. With tough tests against West Ham and Tottenham to come and an trigger-happy owner Watford could again be on the hunt for a new manager.
West Ham United – B+
The biggest indication of David Moye’s success at West Ham is that the club are now seen as genuine contenders for a Champions League place.
Moyes has put together a hungry side that blends both youth and experience and one that sits just four points outside the top four with a game in hand.
A thrilling 3-2 victory over Liverpool was a major statement of intent from the Hammers and while they may have suffered a slight dip in form since that game, losing three on their next six games, they remain very much in the hunt for the Champions League.
Injury to Aaron Cresswell has coincided with the Hammers’ recent sticky spell and his defensive versatility has been a boon for Moyes but the manager is expected to handed substantial transfer funds in January to help strengthen the squad and press their claims for a top four finish.
Wolverhampton Wanderers – B
Wolves go into the busy Christmas period sitting comfortably in the top-half of the league table and having come through a very testing December.
Bruno Lage was known primarily as an attacking manager when he took charge of the club but his most immediate impact has been to infuse Wolves a new found defensive solidity.
Both Liverpool and Manchester City needed both luck and for decisions to go their way to narrowly beat Wolves while the Molyneaux side were able to frustrate Chelsea and hold them to a scoreless draw.
Lage has built has side around a solid back three of Conor Coady, Romain Saiss and Max Kilman who have all excelled in that role and they offer both defensive solidity and a platform to build on as they pass out from the back.
Goalscoring has been a problem however and with just 13 goals they have the lowest return in the league outside of Norwich. January reinforcements may be needed in that department as Adama Traore in particular has struggled this term with no goal and no assists.