We’re at the halfway mark and the fireworks have cracked for 2016. But what’s been the story so far for the top flight’s 20 sides? Huw Davies assesses...
We're at the halfway stage of the Premier League season, a campaign handily bisected with exact precision by the new year. So as 2016 arrives, FFT looks at which teams impressed in the latter part of 2015 in relation to their ambition, wealth and squad make-up, and which teams... well, which teams were Newcastle.
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20. Chelsea (14th)
From off-field crises to transfer failures to a surprisingly leaky defence, Chelsea's 2015/16 has been an object lesson in how not to defend your title
Well, who else? Only a truly diabolical half-season could outstrip Aston Villa's decline, but this is one of recent history's worst title defences. Worst of all, it was so unexpected. Jose Mourinho's wagon generally falls off the rails in his third season, but so quickly after romping to the Premier League title? What went wrong?
In short: everything. From off-field crises to transfer failures (if you've seen Radamel Falcao or Papy Djilobodji, call this number) to a surprisingly leaky defence, Chelsea's 2015/16 has been an object lesson in how not to defend your title. And just as worryingly, Guus Hiddink, no longer the manager he was, may not be the man to rescue them. It seemed inevitable they'd recover to reach the Champions League, then the Europa League, but watching them now you wonder if even the top half – some nine points away – looks attainable.
19. Aston Villa (20th)
If it wasn't for that lot, Villa would be a very distant last place in this list, as far adrift from our make-believe 19th spot as they are from the Premier League's very real 17th. Despite marginal improvement under Remi Garde, they still haven't won since the opening day of the season and are already making plans for the Championship.
Years of malaise culminated with naïve summer spending to create a perfect storm of excrement
It isn't all Garde's fault, nor Tim Sherwood's – years of malaise culminated with naïve summer spending has created a perfect storm of excrement. The Premier League might well lose three of its best-attended teams, and Villa – 11 points adrift now – are virtually guaranteed to lead the charge of the sh**e brigade.
18. Sunderland (19th)
Sam Allardyce, like Tony Pulis, seems to represent an effective Faustian pact for teams fearing relegation. Sure, you sacrifice beauty for efficiency, but at the end of the day you have another season in the Premier League, which is clearly the limit of Sunderland's ambition.
Yet Allardyce has lost eight of his 11 games in charge. A run of five straight defeats leaves the Black Cats seven points adrift already. Quite simply: this wasn't meant to happen. With a tough final four fixtures ahead of them, Sunderland effectively need to be safe by mid-April – and right now, that looks unlikely. Things are grim in the north-east.
17. Newcastle (18th)
That Newcastle aren't in our figurative bottom three reflects more on other teams. Yet another miserable campaign (albeit with consecutive wins over Tottenham and Liverpool) leaves supporters doubting Mike Ashley's ambition, despite the £50m summer net spend. They're fearing the worst, not least after a record-setting sixth straight defeat in the Tyne-Wear (or perhaps Whine-Tear) derby.
Relegation seems incomprehensible. But with Bournemouth and Norwich both improving and Swansea likely to get their act together, a small gap could quickly become a chasm. Steve McClaren's contract could run until 2023 if he's successful. That looks less probable than McClaren giving up on his remaining strand of hair.
16. Swansea (17th)
Months after Garry Monk was effusively praised for continuing Swansea's progress, the 36-year-old was unceremoniously sacked. The club used the word 'reluctantly' in their announcement but there were many, in south Wales and beyond, who felt it was shoddy treatment of a man who'd been with them for 11 years.
Nevertheless, their position in the table and a pitifully low goal return in the league doesn't reflect well on Monk. With stadium expansion plans afoot and Andre Ayew – a hell of a ‘free’ transfer, despite a whopping sign-on fee (reportedly £5.7m) – commanding the usual admiring glances, Swansea must get their managerial appointment right. In the meantime, three clean sheets and a first win since October has steadied the ship.