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Premier League half-term report: Leicester, Liverpool, Man City, Man United and Newcastle

With just over half the Premier League season completed, BTSport.com takes stock of how each of the 20 teams has fared to date and their hopes and aspirations for the remainder of the campaign. Here is the third instalment of this four-part series.

Premier League half-term report

As the second half of the Premier League season begins in earnest, BTSport.com provides its half-term report on Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Newcastle.

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Leicester City

League position: 7th

Record: P21 W9 D4 L8 F25 A23 Pts 31

Top scorer: Jamie Vardy (7)

Most assists: Kelechi Iheanacho & James Maddison (3)

Star man: James Maddison

Having lost the influential Riyad Mahrez to Man City in the summer, it appeared the club would have some task in finding a capable replacement.

But up stepped Maddison, who has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water, offering Leicester that creative spark and forming an instant relationship with Vardy.

The only blot on his copybook was his red card against Brighton, when he was sent off for a dive just three minutes after being booked for a bad tackle.

Unsung hero: Ricardo Pereira

The Portugal international has made a storming start to his time with the Foxes, slotting in seamlessly at right-back and, at times, as an auxiliary right winger.

Capable both offensively and defensively, the 25-year-old could well go down as one of the signings of the season if his form continues.

Joint-third for both goals and assists, he has added an extra dimension to Leicester and along with left-back Ben Chilwell, gives Leicester the valuable ability to stretch the pitch to the maximum.

Season to date rating: 7/10

It’s been an unbelievably difficult season for both the football club and the city of Leicester after the tragic death of their owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in October.

Having financed the Foxes to do the unthinkable and lift the Premier League in 2015/16, his legacy is assured among the Leicester faithful. But more than that, he also had a hugely positive impact on the community.

On the field, Claude Puel’s men have continued to do him proud after battling on to sit seventh in the table.

Despite upsetting the odds and lifting the title three years ago, breaking the monopoly of the “top six” on the European places could be beyond them.

They boast one of the best defences in the league but have struggled for goals so far and have been reliant on top scorer Vardy to win them points.

January transfer window wish list: A deputy for Vardy

Possibly the most difficult player to try to recruit and then keep happy - a back-up striker.

Leicester have no doubt struggled for goals this season and if they want to close the gap to the top six, they’ll need to start scoring more regularly.

Vardy has notched his fair share again this year but without him they lack that killer instinct up front, with Iheanacho not really convincing during his time at the King Power.

A good second half of the season would be: Best of the rest

It sounds a little pessimistic to suggest consolidating seventh position would be a strong showing for Puel’s charges, but such is the strength of the “big six” it makes breaking into their party very difficult.

If they were to crash that elite club once again it would be a remarkable season considering all they’ve had to contend with, but staving off pressure from the likes of Watford and Wolverhampton Wanderers will no doubt be their primary concern.

Liverpool

League position: 1st

Record: P21 W17 D3 L1 F49 A10 Pts 54

Top scorer: Mohamed Salah (13)

Most assists: Mohamed Salah (7)

Star man: Virgil van Dijk

In his 35 Premier League games for the Reds, Van Dijk has notched almost as many clean sheets (18) as he has goals conceded (20) and is still to taste defeat at Anfield.

He has marshalled the best defence in the league this season – just ten conceded in 21 matches – and has hardly missed a minute of action.

Add to that, his commanding nature has seen young defenders Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold flourish under his tutelage.

Unsung hero: Georginio Wijnaldum

The Dutchman has figured in all but one of the leaders’ league games this season and has seemingly made one of those crowded central midfield positions his own.

With the big-money summer arrivals of Naby Keita and Fabinho, not to mention captain Jordan Henderson, also playing in his position many might have expected the former Newcastle man to make way.

But for boss Jurgen Klopp, Wijnaldum is the perfect balance of energy, quality and intelligence, and thus one of the first names on the team sheet each week.

Season to date rating: 10/10

“If someone had told me after both games against Man City we were four points clear, I would have paid money for it.”

That was Klopp’s assessment of Liverpool’s season to date and few would argue with it considering the gap between the two sides last season.

After impressive summer recruitment, the Reds have shown a steely determination to win games they would have dropped points in last season and have had the league’s tightest defence by some distance.

Salah, meanwhile, has proven any doubters that said he was a “one-season-wonder” well and truly wrong to continue leading Liverpool's potent front three.

The combination of Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have also shown flexibility in formation which has offered Klopp a different element in attack – as has the creative influence of Xherdan Shaqiri.

January transfer window wish list: Pacey forward

During his Anfield tenure Klopp has spent well and strengthened his squad in key areas, but they still rely heavily on their devastating front three.

They do have attacking alternatives in the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi but should Salah and Mane suffer a long-term injury the Reds would almost certainly have to change the way they play.

Nabil Fekir was a rumoured summer target and a player of that ilk could make the difference during the run-in.

A good second half of the season would be: A maiden Premier League trophy

Synonymous with winning league titles particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, the 29-year wait to be crowned champions of England again is almost unthinkable for a club like Liverpool.

Having gone close in the Premier League several times since its inception in 1992, this could be the Anfield side’s best chance to end those years of hurt and without doubt have a season to remember.

Manchester City

League position: 2nd

Record: P21 W16 D2 L3 F56 A17 Pts 50

Top scorer: Sergio Aguero (10)

Most assists: Leroy Sane & Raheem Sterling (7)

Star man: Bernardo Silva

A knee ligament injury sustained in August left City with a Kevin De Bruyne-shaped hole in their midfield and losing a player of his quality would hurt any team.

But Silva has dutifully deputised for the Belgian and made the position his own – only two outfield players have more clocked up more minutes in the league.

Five goals and six assists is not a bad return at all, but perhaps more significantly it’s been the diminutive creator’s battling qualities that have shown he can more than cope in the centre of a Premier League midfield.

Unsung hero: Fernandinho

It’s no great surprise that two of City’s three league defeats this season coincided with the veteran Brazilian’s absence through injury.

Boss Pep Guardiola emphasised the 33-year-old’s importance to City in the wake of the win over Liverpool, the Spaniard claiming “we do not have a replacement for him".

For a team that attack with the panache of the champions, the defence-minded midfielder is only ever appreciated when it becomes clear he’s sorely missed.

Season to date rating: 8/10

After setting the bar at a record high last season, it was always going to be difficult for City to replicate that form as they look to defend their crown.

Yet last week’s win over leaders Liverpool has propelled them back into the title race and gone some way towards limiting the damage of an out-of-sorts December.

No team has retained the title since Man Utd won three in a row between 2006 and 2009 but City appear to be making a better fist of it than most.

Tipped as favourites by the bookmakers at the start of the campaign, Guardiola’s side have fallen slightly below what is expected of them in the league so far.

But having reeled rivals Liverpool in slightly there’s still scope for that rating to rise significantly over the coming months.

January transfer window wish list: Fernandinho's successor

Ilkay Gundogan and John Stones have looked uneasy replacements for Fernandinho of late.

City’s interest in Jorginho, who chose a move to Chelsea over the Etihad Stadium in the summer, was public knowledge and as such the engine room remains a target area.

Guardiola has gone on record as saying “we are not going to sign anyone” which suggests there won’t be much activity for fans to cheer, but that’s not to say there won’t be some last-minute drama.

As with Mahrez last year, perhaps City will start their pursuit this month even if they don’t get someone over the line.

A good second half of the season would be: The title

There’s no doubt that the only target for the champions is to retain their crown and lift consecutive Premier League trophies for the first time.

After coasting to glory last year, they look set for a titanic battle with Liverpool and potentially Tottenham Hotspur in what could be one of the closest title races for years.

Commitments in cup competitions may well have an impact but City will hope their strength in depth proves enough to compete on four fronts.

Manchester United

League position: 6th

Record: P21 W11 D5 L5 F43 A32 Pts 38

Top scorer: Romelu Lukaku & Anthony Martial (8)

Most assists: Paul Pogba & Marcus Rashford (6)

Star man: Anthony Martial

Most of the squad could be accused of under-performing when Jose Mourinho was in charge as the side that finished second last season slumped drastically in the league.

In their time of need, it was Martial who offered the brightest of attacking sparks as he netted in five consecutive league games in October and November.

Has not benefitted as much from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s arrival as might have been expected but he has still been United’s best player this season.

Unsung hero: Luke Shaw

Considering only six teams have conceded more Premier League goals than United this season, it may seem a little odd that a defender is given this accolade.

On the flip side, Shaw was named the club’s Player of the Month for both August and September and has notched more league minutes than in any previous season at Old Trafford already.

He is still to fully realise his potential following his horrendous leg break at PSV in 2015 but after a turbulent relationship with Mourinho last year, he has come on leaps and bounds in a few short months.

Season to date rating: 3/10

The season almost needs dividing in two – the Mourinho catastrophe and the Solskjaer revival.

Under the Portuguese, results were bad, players were alienated and fans were disgruntled. It all culminated in a hugely underwhelming assault on Man City’s title.

To make matters worse, along with their city neighbours, arch-rivals Liverpool were having a storming campaign and amplified the issues at Old Trafford further.

A defeat at Anfield ultimately spelled the end of the former Chelsea boss’ time in charge and paved the way for a United legend to take over.

In caretaker charge until the end of the season, Solskjaer has unified the club and unleashed the players, who have responded with goals, goals and more goals.

Although that has yet to have any real significance in terms of league position - they still sit sixth - the atmosphere is suddenly one of hope once again.

January transfer window wish list: Centre-back

Defensively, United have been a far cry from what they were last season. In fairness to Mourinho, he almost pre-empted these issues as he wanted the club to sign a new centre-back in the summer.

Aside from Victor Lindelof, who appears to have found some form, the Red Devils’ central defenders have had a season to forget and may be out of chances.

Whether the club trust their Norwegian caretaker enough to give him a transfer budget this month is another question.

A good second half of the season would be: Top four

Finishing outside the Champions League places cost David Moyes and Louis van Gaal their jobs at Old Trafford and that will be the minimum aim for this campaign.

That certainly would not have been acceptable back in August, but considering the situation Solskjaer inherited surely that would satisfy the club.

No doubt the former Cardiff boss will also be targeting success in the Champions League to solidify his credentials further.

Newcastle United

League position: 15th

Record: P21 W4 D6 L11 F15 A29 Pts 18

Top scorer: Salomon Rondon (5)

Most assists: Matt Ritchie (6)

Star man: Federico Fernandez

It’s been a tough old season for Newcastle again, with off-the-field stories continuing to dominate and the looming threat of relegation hanging over the Magpies.

One shining light, however, has been summer arrival Federico Fernandez, who swapped Swansea for the north-east and has settled into the Newcastle back line well.

Having worked with him at Napoli, boss Rafa Benitez certainly seems to know how to get the best out of the Argentine.

Unsung hero: Mohamed Diame

No outfield player has more minutes under his belt for the Magpies than the Senegal man this season and the fact he was forced off in the recent defeat against Man Utd is a concern.

With Jonjo Shelvey battling fitness issues of his own for most of the campaign, central midfield has been a problematic area for Benitez but Diame has been a dependable ever-present.

Having sat out the FA Cup draw with Blackburn, Newcastle will hope the player that made the most Premier League tackles in 2018 is back in time for their relegation battle.

Season to date rating: 5/10

On the face of it, sitting just two points above the relegation zone with 17 games to play would hardly be viewed as an average season in most people’s eyes.

But considering the backdrop against which the Newcastle squad are working, it’s a lot more forgivable.

Owner Mike Ashley continues his search for a buyer and as a result is unwilling to part with too much of his money to back Benitez in the transfer market.

Still fielding a squad with several players that helped the club achieve promotion from the Championship two seasons ago, another battle against the drop seems inevitable.

The standoff between fans and owner has seen the players forced to perform under toxic circumstances at times, while they aim to stay above the dreaded bottom three.

January transfer window wish list: Striker/creativity

Only bottom club Huddersfield have scored fewer times than the Magpies this season so the issue is fairly obvious – they need goals.

They have been linked with Miguel Almiron of MLS side Atlanta United for some time but rumours persist that his wage demands could scupper any potential deal.

If they do miss out on the Paraguayan midfielder this month, Benitez will hope those funds can still be used to recruit someone to spark their attack and lead their charge to safety.

A good second half of the season would be: Survival

Pure and simple, the aim for the club is to retain their Premier League status for another season.

At this stage last season, they went on a run that secured their safety – losing just twice in 11 matches across January, February and March.

Something similar might be needed this time around if they are to beat the drop and with a change of ownership still being mooted, the division the club find themselves in come May could have a significant bearing on that.

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