Phew! What a manic first half of the 2013/14 season that was...
There have been loads of ups and downs, shocks and surprises, goals galore and more managerial changes than you could care to shake a stick at during the season.
Arsenal, Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool have all gone to the top, only for Arsenal to regain it again right at the last minute. And their wheels still haven't fallen off yet.
They may actually have a chance of winning the league this year. But shhhhh, don't tell anyone...
Sit back, relax and take in our Premier League half-term report.
It's said that by Christmas you can gauge who will be fighting it out for the title come May. The hectic festive period is usually the point at which to determine each team's season-finish and often separates the men from the boys.
Regardless of which team and their position in the league, 10 games in a month is a tough task. Those that sneaked through December 2013 relatively unscathed, though, will have done their title credentials a world of good.
In the end, it is pretty much “as you were” regarding which team is at the top of the Premier League at the half-way point. Arsenal, to their credit—and maybe to many people's surprise—have been hugely consistent so far this season and have been the league leaders at one point during every single month since the campaign started.
The Gunners last won the Premier League a decade ago and have come close in seasons gone by, though they've fallen away during the business end of the season. Arsene Wenger's men look more resilient than ever this year, though. Having dropped just 15 points from their 20 fixtures, they look likely to collect their first trophy in nine years.
Others, though, will hope to usurp the Gunners at the top of the table and claim the Premier League trophy.
Manchester City are the odds-on favourite with most bookmakers, and going by their home form, it is not hard to see why. The Citizens have been in irresistible form at the Etihad during the 2013/14 campaign, winning all of their 10 home fixtures and having scored in 60 consecutive matches on home turf.
Manuel Pellegrini's men have sat atop the league table on a number of occasions this season—and moved above Arsenal for a few short hours on New Year's Day—though the Gunners confirmed their place as league leaders with a win over Cardiff City.
Also vying for league success is Jose Mourinho and his Chelsea side, who have been consistent throughout the season but hit form during the festive period. The Portuguese manager is hoping to lift the Premier League trophy during his first season back in charge of the Blues. Despite his side's relative shyness in front of goal—scoring the least out of those in the top four—they look like strong candidates to mount a challenge during the final 18 games.
Then there's Liverpool.
Everything looked to be going swimmingly on December 25. Brendan Rodgers must have thought that his next 10 Christmases had all come at once, as his Liverpool side were at the top of the pile.
Now, however, it all looks so different.
Of course, there's no saying that the Reds can't go on to lift the league trophy, but before their match against Hull City on New Year's Day, they sat fifth in the table after three disappointing defeats in December.
If Luis Suarez continues the sort of form he has shown all year and Daniel Sturridge picks up where he left off prior to injury, then there's no telling where Rodgers' men could end up.
“What about Manchester United?” you ask.
Oh yes. That's right, them.
If truth be told, nobody really expected them to win the Premier League this year. Not even the most ardent United fans—putting aside all of the club's history, tradition and knack for grinding out results and winning the league year after year—could have envisaged their side claiming a 21st league trophy.
It's probably a good job, because it's not going to happen. It is a year of transition for United, and it may take a couple of years for them to win. Who knows?
The Red Devils have started, stuttered and spluttered all season long, losing six of their opening 20 fixtures. They are seventh in the Premier League.
In between Liverpool in fourth and United in seventh are Everton and Tottenham.
Roberto Martinez's Toffees have surprised many and are just seven points off the summit, in fifth place. With just two defeats all season, Everton are worth a mention for a shot at the title, even if it is highly unlikely.
Wherever Martinez's team finishes this year, they will have gained plaudits for their excellent style of football—free-flowing and aesthetically pleasing when going forward, and extremely resolute at the back.
If you gave the Spanish boss the chance to finish the season now, he'd probably snap your hand off, but he'll enjoy the second half of the season as much as the first, especially if Everton can break into the top four.
Like Everton, Spurs won't win the league either, but their current confidence under new boss Tim Sherwood is a breath of fresh air, and they are one of the more exciting teams to watch in the league.
Three wins in their last four games—including a win over Manchester United at Old Trafford—will surely inspire them to give it their all during the final 18 fixtures.
“If you're bottom at Christmas, then you're destined for the drop.”
That's not good news for Gus Poyet and his Sunderland team. Only one side in the history of the Premier League has survived “the Christmas curse”—West Brom during the 2004/05 season.
Even before a ball was kicked this year, Sunderland were tipped for a rocky season under the guidance of the erratic Paolo di Canio. And so it turned out to be.
The Black Cats survived the drop by the narrowest of margins last season—finishing in the last place above the relegation zone—and are certainly in another scrap this year.
Di Canio was unable to turn around Sunderland's fortunes and was duly dismissed, replaced by Gus Poyet. Though their performances have been much improved, for the most part, Sunderland still lie bottom of the table, four points adrift of safety.
With 18 games remaining, it is difficult to see where Poyet's men will find the remaining 25 points to match last season's total. It is sure to be a monumental effort to secure Premier League status, but Poyet and his players will be relishing the task of attempting to become only the second team to be bottom on Christmas day and survive.
Other teams tipped for the drop were those that have emerged from the Championship to mix it with the big boys of the Premier League. That is the case for two of the promoted sides.
Crystal Palace and Cardiff City are certainly in a relegation battle, with the Eagles currently sitting in the final spot of the drop zone whilst the Bluebirds circle perilously above—just one point ahead of the London-based outfit.
The other promoted side, Hull City, have been one of the league's surprise packages. Steve Bruce's side have played with an air of confidence akin to Premier League regulars and have the eighth-best defensive record in the league.
The Tigers have clawed their way into the top half of the table, though they'd be foolish to let complacency creep in.
With just three wins under their belt all season, West Ham are also in for a battle during the second half of the campaign.
The Hammers' problem is that they had to operate without a recognised striker for much of the season. The injury-prone Andy Carroll hasn't featured for West Ham once so far, and other injuries to the likes of Ricardo Vaz Te and Modibo Maiga have limited Sam Allardyce's options.
Five points from their last 10 games sees West Ham with the worst form of any team in the Premier League—a rot they will need to stop if they are to survive.
But it's not just the bottom four or five that are in trouble this year. The 2013/14 season has turned out to be one of the most fiercely-contested Premier League seasons ever—both at the top and the bottom.
Just nine points separate Sunderland in 20th and Aston Villa in 11th, so the run-in to the business end of the season is sure to be an exciting one.
As in all walks of life people lose their jobs. The Premier League is no different. Except it is.
Every year we are surprised at the amount of dismissals and this year has been no different.
Before the halfway point of the season no less than six managers had lost their jobs. SIX! An astonishing figure, but one that makes the Premier League one of the most exciting, thrilling and crazy leagues in the world.
As reported by the Mirror, the average tenure for a Premier League manager now stands at less than a year.
Here's a breakdown of how the managerial changes came about:
Paolo di Canio
The explosive Italian was sacked after just 13 games in charge of Sunderland. Having been appointed on March 31 2013 following the dismissal of Martin O'Neill, di Canio, to his credit, kept the Black Cats in the Premier League. But a dismal start to the 2013/14 campaign resulted in the former Swindon boss losing his job on September 22.
Di Canio had ruffled a number of feathers during his time in charge of the north-east club and had, at one point, publicly criticised his players.
Four defeats in their first five games as well as reports of a bust-up with players proved to be the final straw on di Canio's topsy-turvy reign as Sunderland boss.
Gus Poyet has since been installed as the manager of the Black Cats.
Crystal Palace manager Ian Holloway was the second manager to vacate his post this season. But rather than being sacked, Holloway left by mutual consent.
The boss departed Palace with the club five points adrift of safety after winning just one game.
In an interview with the BBC, chairman Steve Parish stated that Holloway had said that the club might benefit from “a new approach” and that he walked into his office stating “I can't do it.”
The former Blackpool and Leicester manager had been in charge of Palace for less than a year and departed on October 23.
Tony Pulis has since taken over as the manager of Crystal Palace.
The third boss to be relieved of his duties was Dutchman Martin Jol who was sacked as Fulham manager.
A miserable start to the season had Jol installed as the favourite to be sacked by many bookmakers and that proved to be the case. On December 1 Jol was fired.
Three wins in 13 Premier League fixtures and a run of six successive defeats in all competitions proved to be the final straw for chairman Shahid Khan.
In what seemed like a pre-empted move, Jol's compatriot Rene Meulensteen—who was brought in as Fulham's head coach in November—took over as the manager.
West Brom boss Steve Clarke was a relatively surprise dismissal among many because of the style of football he had introduced to the Baggies.
West Brom had been on a poor run of form, however, and something needed to change and Clarke was dismissed on December 14.
BBC Radio 5 Live's Pat Murphy describes the situation best:
You have got to look at this in the context of this calendar year. They have played 34 Premier League games and scored 31 points.
Since they were third in the heady days of 2012, they have played 41 Premier League games and they have only won nine of them.
Their chairman Jeremy Peace is ruthless. He is unsentimental.
The Baggies are yet to replace Clarke at the helm, with caretaker boss Keith Downing overseeing current affairs.
With little over a week until Christmas, Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas left the club by mutual consent.
The Portuguese oversaw his side win every single one of their Europa League matches and left Spurs seventh in the league table, but a run of disappointing results culminated in him losing his job.
A 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Manchester City was followed by a 5-0 dismantling by Liverpool—which prompted Daniel Levy into a conversation with his manager. Villas-Boas left on December 16.
Tim Sherwood has since been handed a contract until the end of the 2014/15 season.
In what was one of the more scandalous dismissals of the season, Cardiff sacked Malky Mackay.
Bluebirds owner Vincent Tan was critical of his boss during the preceding weeks and the manager had even admitted he feared the sack.
Then in a bizarre turn of events, Tan stated that Mackay would keep his job “for the time being,” per
However, a 3-0 home defeat to Southampton on Boxing Day was the Scot's last game in charge.
Fan-favourite Mackay left the club with his “head held high”, per the Metro, and has subsequently been replaced by former Manchester United hero Ole Gunnar Solksjaer.
Everton may have only signed the Belgian international on loan for the season, but what was Chelsea's loss certainly has been the Toffees' gain.
Lukaku spent last season on loan with West Brom and finished as the league's sixth-highest scorer with 17 goals, and he has continued in that fine form again this term.
Not only is the Belgian the joint-fifth top scorer alongside Wayne Rooney with nine goals, the marauding striker has contributed largely to Everton's current fifth place standing.
His strength, pace, aerial ability and brutish style make him one of the league's most feared strikers, and at only 20 is sure to go from strength to strength.
Roberto Martinez is certain to want to keep Lukaku beyond the end of the season, but with Chelsea's strike force faltering this year they will have a battle on their hands to prise him away from the Blues.
With the talent brought into the Premier League over the summer, you might find it odd that I chose Tom Huddlestone as one of the season's most instrumental acquisitions, but the midfielder has been a revelation for Hull City this year.
The Tigers currently sit 10th in the league, and on merit, too. Steve Bruce's side are one of the more disciplined outfits in England's top flight and are effective when going forward also.
Huddlestone encapsulates everything that the Tigers stand for. His work rate is second to none and he always does the simple things well.
He has played every one of Hull's 20 fixtures this season, creating 34 chances for his team-mates, and while his goal return needs to improve, he has been a vital component in his side's success this year.
Quite unsurprising this one, but Mesut Ozil has been outstanding in Arsenal's midfield this campaign.
The German midfielder was signed from Spanish giants Real Madrid with a whopping £42.5 million price tag looming large over his head. But from the first moment Ozil has shown he is worth every penny of the transfer fee.
The creative midfielder has featured in 15 of the Gunners' 20 fixtures and has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water. Instantly fitting into Arsenal's attack-minded style of football, Ozil has linked with his team-mates time and time again and, boasting impressive stats (courtesy of Squawka), has been instrumental in his side's rise to the top of the Premier League.
Fellaini's acquisition was deemed as a “second best” choice by many and the Belgian midfielder has, so far, failed to prove his doubters wrong.
David Moyes had brought the midfielder with him from former employers Everton—a club at which Fellaini thrived and was a fan-favourite.
But so little success has the Belgian had during his short time at United that Moyes has only opted to play his fellow former Toffee eight times in the Premier League this year.
Fellaini's failings are only amplified by United's miserable season.
Tottenham smashed their transfer record to sign £30 million man Erik Lamela from Roma.
The Argentine winger attracted much attention from around the globe such was his form with the Italian giants, but Spurs got their man and paid the heavy price, too.
Big things were expected from the 21-year-old, but he has struggled to adjust to life in the Premier League and has only been used as a bit-part player.
The winger has featured just nine times in the league this campaign and has only created six goalscoring opportunities for his team-mates.
Tim Sherwood's insistence on playing a more expansive style of football could provide Lamela with a chance to prove himself during the second part of the season.
Ricky van Wolfswinkel
Everything looked to be going so well for Norwich City's Ricky van Wolfswinkel following the opening day of the season, despite only having eight touches of the ball during the entire 90 minutes.
The Dutch striker grabbed a late equaliser—a stunning header—in the 2-2 draw with Everton, but has since failed to add to that tally.
Van Wolfswinkel joined the Canaries from Sporting Lisbon for £8 million and was supposed to be the man to fire his side into the upper echelons of the Premier League—especially considering his European pedigree with FC Utrecht and Sporting.
It hasn't been the case so far, though, with the Dutchman proving to be one of the flops of the summer.