Report cards are out, and unlike the enterprising child who raced home from school to intercept the mail before it met the gaze of inevitably crestfallen parents, for the Premier League’s 20 sides, there’s no escaping these grades.
With two months of domestic football and a snip more than 20 percent of the campaign in the bag, here’s a look at grades for each side in England’s top flight. The reports are in order of their respective places in the table, and relative to the expectations each club had before the season kicked off:
Manchester City: A-
Looking to become the first side to repeat as Premier League winners since 2009, Manchester City have plenty to be pleased about, especially in the absence of midfield metronome Kevin De Bruyne. With the Belgian talisman set to return and the club boasting a plus-18 goal differential fueled by a league-best 21 goals scored, it’ll take a collapse of mythical proportions to knock Pep Guardiola’s charges out of contention for the title.
From Antonio Conte’s conservative-minded and rigid 3-4-3 setup to Maurizio Sarri’s expressive and attack-oriented offering, Chelsea underwent a significant tactical change in a short window. The Blues have adapted to “Sarri Ball” remarkably fast, and with Eden Hazard performing at top-tier levels and Jorginho acclimating quickly, Chelsea are a legitimate threat to claim the title.
Even with a once electric front-three that now appears strangely stagnant, Liverpool sit joint-top. The attack has been underwhelming, but the midfield and backline have improved on last season’s efforts. The Reds are contenders because of a balanced squad, and once newcomers Naby Keita and Fabinho hit their stride, Liverpool should be incredibly difficult to beat.
Like a pupil who switches schools for a clean slate, Arsenal have moved on from Arsene Wenger quicker than anticipated. Unai Emery’s tactics were apparent in the dismantling of Fulham, and while the Spaniard may not yet have the necessary parts for his fluid approach, the Gunners have won six league matches on the spin. A first Premier League crown since 2003-04 remains unlikely, though there’s plenty reason for hope.
Mauricio Pochettino and Co. are languishing in footballing limbo. While Spurs have made gains since the 2015-16 title run, those around them have as well, and at a greater clip. The move into the new White Hart Lane should help inspire, though Tottenham appear no closer to ending the wait for trophies. Injuries to Jan Vertonghen, Christian Eriksen, and Dele Alli will hamper top-four ambitions.
There was a time not so long ago that Bournemouth was a defensively porous side short on ideas in attack. Well, Eddie Howe’s Cherries still concede for fun – their 12 goals allowed is second worst in the top half of the table – but this season they’ve been scoring as well. Through eight games, Bournemouth is averaging two goals per match compared to 1.2 last season. They also boast the fourth-best home form.
The Portuguese diaspora at Wolves has provided one of this season’s more enjoyable storylines, and Nuno Espirito Santo’s men have not disappointed. Sitting seventh courtesy of four victories in five matches, the Molineux locals haven’t scored much, but they haven’t conceded a ton, either. The days of a promoted side like Nottingham Forest or Blackburn finishing top-four are a distant memory, though Wolves can feasibly target a top-half finish.
Manchester United: C-
Last weekend’s stunning come-from-behind victory over Newcastle temporarily abated the Red Devils’ supporters with pitchforks in tow, though it seems a crisis is just around the corner for Manchester United. Jose Mourinho is at his most vexatious after firing shots at executive Ed Woodward in the media, while a usually dependable core of Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, and David De Gea have been mercurial.
The Premier League’s misfits have been handed a week of detention for recording more red cards than any side since 2015. After a red-hot start had Watford dreaming of a spot in Europe, Javi Gracia’s Hornets have come back down to earth. Still, the Spaniard’s motley crew have overachieved this year, and they should be a lock to secure a fifth successive season of top-flight football.
Leicester City: C
Considering Leicester City sold Riyad Mahrez, their most influential player, this summer, the Foxes’ current top-half standing has been a minor surprise, with former Norwich City creator James Maddison a notable highlight. Claude Puel will need to get more out of Jamie Vardy and less out of Wes Morgan, who has been sent off twice in six appearances this season.
After last season’s 15-loss campaign, Marco Silva could march onto the Goodison Park pitch sporting a John Barnes kit while singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and garner a better response than tactical dissident Sam Allardyce. A slow start has since yielded two straight wins for Everton, and with Gylfi Sigurdsson rounding into form alongside an emerging Richarlison, finishing no worse than seventh should be a plausible target.
It’s all gone a bit pear shaped for Sean Dyche’s Clarets. A first continental spot in 51 years saw Burnley shoot itself in the foot on two fronts, crashing out of the Europa League against Olympiacos while losing four of their first five in the league. If anything, the League Cup dismissal to Burton Albion might help, and with seven points out of nine, including a potential season-changing four-goal showing against Bournemouth, things are looking up at Turf Moor.
Relative to modest expectations, Brighton & Hove Albion’s second season has provided plenty of highlights, not the least of which was the enthralling 3-2 victory over Manchester United at The Amex. Chris Hughton’s lot, which includes emerging talents like Yves Bissouma and reclamation projects with something to prove like Martin Montoya, has played well. Also, Glenn Murray is a treat.
Crystal Palace: D
After Croydon local boy Roy Hodgson snatched safety from the jaws of relegation last season for Crystal Palace, the Eagles could have feasibly entered the 2018-19 campaign with high hopes. Moves for Max Meyer and Cheikhou Kouyate provided massive upgrades in the middle, and there was hope that Christian Benteke couldn’t get any worse. Two months later, nothing has gone to plan, with the south London lot sitting 14th on seven points. Oof.
West Ham: C
It’s hard not to feel gutted for Manuel Pellegrini with West Ham sitting at the bottom after starting the campaign with four consecutive losses. A toxic atmosphere at London Stadium and the meddling of nitwit ownership have since partially receded thanks to wins over Everton and Manchester United. Much of that is owed to Marko Arnautovic and career-restoring performances from Felipe Anderson. It could be a lot worse for West Ham.
What exactly is the benefit of employing Mark Hughes? With a seven-year run in England’s top flight now at risk, Southampton supporters are calling for the gaffer’s head as the side gets perilously close to the drop. Dusan Tadic’s cut-rate move to Ajax has stripped the Saints of their creative fulcrum, Shane Long and Charlie Austin aren’t up to snuff, and Southampton have been on the wrong side of three straight clean sheets.
In just two months, nervous excitement at Craven Cottage has been transformed into fear as Fulham sit 17th with an astonishing league-worst 21 goals conceded in eight matches. Fulham have regressed following a busy summer window that saw the additions of Jean Michael Seri, Andre Schurrle, and Luciano Vietto, and with a draw and three defeats away from home, Slavisa Jokanovic’s side has the league’s worst away record.
Huddersfield Town: D-
Few expected David Wagner’s Huddersfield Town to survive a maiden season in the Premier League, and reality is setting in after the Terriers narrowly avoided relegation last year. Three points through eight fixtures isn’t going to cut it, and neither will league-worst standards for goals scored and differential. The most telling stat: Huddersfield have scored four goals, with three coming from central defenders (Zanka, Christopher Schindler, Jon Stankovic).
Newcastle United: F
Mike Ashley spends more on groceries than he does on transfers, though Newcastle gaffer Rafa Benitez is not infallible amid a crisis that has the Magpies eyeing a return to the second tier after a one-year hiatus in the Premier League. One of three winless sides, Newcastle have lost five of six games and are the only club in England’s top flight yet to register a point at home. At least they’ll always have that spaghetti bowl on Ashley’s dime.
Cardiff City: D
Of the three sides to earn a promotion, winless Cardiff City’s expectations paled in comparison to the Wolves and Fulham, their bigger-budget brethren. Five years after finishing last in the Premier League, Neil Warnock’s troops appear destined to repeat the feat, with a 15-4 goal differential over five straight losses. But that begs the question: What were Cardiff’s expectations? A miracle doesn’t appear likely, though at least Warnock has his bowling side hustle.