Almost eight years after their memorable promotion from the Championship, Stoke’s run in the top flight looks in no danger of ending anytime soon. They continue to flourish under Mark Hughes and look well-placed to better the ninth-place finish they have achieved in the previous two seasons under the Welshman’s guidance. Their solid campaign is perhaps not surprising given some of the talent at their disposal, particularly in attack. Midfielder Marko Arnautovic in particular has impressed with seven goals in the league so far. The Britannia Stadium remains a daunting away fixture for Premier League teams, even for the leading sides. Man City and Man United both suffered defeats there in December, while Arsenal and Leicester could also only manage a point from their respective matches. If club-record signing Xherdan Shaqiri can regain his fitness and play to the best of his ability, the Potters will remain a force to be reckoned with.
After a difficult few seasons, it was no surprise to find Sunderland involved in yet another relegation battle. After a poor start to the campaign, which saw them go without a win in the league until the end of October, manager Dick Advocaat left the club after just seven months in charge. Advocaat was replaced with Sam Allardyce, a smart appointment given his record of bringing stability to clubs in crisis. A 3-0 thrashing of local rivals Newcastle in Allardyce’s first home game in charge was a positive sign, but Sunderland have simply been unable to string a run of results together this season. Their defence has been the main reason for their struggles, as they have conceded the most goals out of any team in the Premier League so far. However, they do have a proven goalscorer in Jermain Defoe, who already has nine league goals to his name. The former Tottenham striker will be vital to their chances of survival, and with Allardyce at the helm, the Black Cats’ chances of survival should not be dismissed just yet.
For the first time since their promotion in 2011, the South Wales club are facing a real threat of relegation. Manager Garry Monk’s departure from the club in December was disappointing given the Swans’ impressive showing last season, but was not surprising following a difficult start to the 2015/16 campaign. Although Andre Ayew has impressed this season and striker Bafetimbi Gomis enjoyed a prolific start to the season, goals have been the main problem for Swansea. Only bottom of the table Aston Villa have scored fewer goals to date. Their away form has also been an issue, with their only victory on the road coming at Villa Park in October. Swansea undoubtedly have the necessary quality to remain in the Premier League with players such as Ayew and Gylfi Sigurdsson in their ranks. The appointment of Francesco Guidolin as Head Coach was a surprise choice, but he enjoyed successful spells in Italy with numerous clubs, though he will have to adapt to the Premier league quickly to ensure Swansea’s survival.
Spurs have enjoyed a solid season thus far in Mauricio Pochettino’s second season in charge. Their defence in particular has been impressive, as they currently have the best defensive record in the top flight. They have also been impressive in attack, with striker Harry Kane continuing his impressive form for the club with 13 league goals so far. However, Kane has not been the only English prodigy to shine at White Hart Lane this campaign. Eric Dier and Dele Alli have also won plaudits and have been vital to Tottenham’s solid showing. Pochettino’s side are well-placed to secure a Champions League place this season and are far from out of the title race. If they are to reach their potential, they must look to convert some of their draws into victories and particularly must aim to take three points from their games against the leading sides. They have proved they are capable of doing this throughout the last few months; they took a point in the North London derby at Arsenal and have inflicted heavy defeats on Man City and West Ham.
Watford fans will be hopeful that they have finally secured a long-term manager in Quique Sanchez Flores. The former Atletico Madrid coach became the Hornets’ seventh manager in four years following his appointment in June last year, and he has enjoyed a good start to life in the Premier League. Led by striker Odion Ighalo, who has scored over half of Watford’s league goals this season, Watford look well on their way to securing their Premier League status. Ighalo has formed an impressive partnership with fellow striker Troy Deeney, and the pair have 20 league goals between already. Flores’ side do face a potentially tough second half of the season, with many of their games against the leading sides coming away from home. This makes Ighalo’s presence in the team even more important to Waford’s fate this season.
West Bromwich Albion
Tony Pulis has continued to show his steadying influence at the Hawthorns. After guiding them to safety last season, the Baggies look set to secure their Premier League status for a seventh straight season. Their form has been largely inconsistent thus far, but they have done enough to suggest they will not get dragged into the relegation battle, particularly as their form against the teams below them has been strong. Goals have been difficult to come by, and they will be looking for more from their strikers in the second half of the season. This is particularly the case because they have some difficult fixtures to come, as they face away trips to all of the current top four.
West Ham United
There was no doubt that the Hammers took a risk by parting company with Sam Allardyce at the end of last season after the former Blackburn and Newcastle manager brought Premier League football and stability back to the club during his four years in charge. However, their campaign thus far under Slaven Bilic would suggest it was a gamble that is paying off. They have thrived under the former Croatia manager, despite their campaign being hindered by a number of injury problems. Their attacking options in particular have been affected, with Andy Carroll, Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia all enduring injury-hit seasons, although the form of summer signing Dimitri Payet has helped compensate for this. They have impressed both at home and on the road, as they are unbeaten at Upton Park since August and have achieved notable away victories at Arsenal, Liverpool and Man City. Fifth place is certainly not beyond their reach, although this may depend on how well they continue to cope with their injury problems. Securing European football would be the ideal send off in their final season at the Boleyn Ground.