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 By Ian Darke

Assessing the Premier League so far: Ian Darke's midterm report cards

At the half way point of the Premier League campaign the picture is starting to fall into sharper focus. The January transfer window may change the prospects of some teams but this is what the teacher's report card might say so far:

Chelsea: Top of the class at Christmas and deservedly so. Hard to find fault with a team that has the perfect blend of silk and steel as well as the Mourinho factor, though you would worry about how any long-term injury to Diego Costa, Eden Hazard or Cesc Fabregas might affect the blend.

Manchester City: Took a long time to hit top gear, but have closed the gap to just three points even with the lethal Sergio Aguero out injured. Brilliant at times, but blips like this weekend's 2-2 draw with Burnley suggest a tendency towards complacency.

Van Gaal's Man United have soared into the top four but they're not Prem title candidates this year.

Manchester United: Unbeaten in nine games and looked like the old United against Newcastle and in the first half at Spurs. Defensive reinforcements still needed. Title? No. Top four? Yes.

Southampton: The surprise team of the season. Good enough to stay in the top six, but possibly a little short of squad depth to keep up a Champions League challenge.

Arsenal: Erratic and frequently disappointing, but they have a number of top players due for an imminent return and might well claim their usual top four finish. Need to buy a top defender and holding midfield player.

West Ham: Smart summer buys in Alex Song, Diafra Sakho, Enner Valencia and Cheikhou Kouyate. That and the Stewart Downing revival have transformed the mood. Can give any team a hard time.

Tottenham: Improving and taking on a more ruthless gritty character. Harry Kane (fourteen goals in all competitions this season) has been a revelation. But still a work in progress and likely to finish fifth or sixth.

Swansea City: They remain an attractive outfit well equipped to stay in the top eight, though will worry about a big money bid for top scorer Wilfried Bony in January.

Newcastle United: It has been a wild ride as ever for the Toon. But in the face of a near-mutiny by fans, ninth place represents satisfactory work and progress. Moussa Sissoko is the key man.

Liverpool: Even allowing for the loss of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, their form has been largely leaden. Lost spark and can only improve.

Bojan has brought fresh life to Stoke City, who have beaten Arsenal and Tottenham in recent weeks.

Stoke City: Mark Hughes believes they are a top 10 team and he is probably right. Ex-Barcelona wonder boy Bojan has given them a new creative dimension.

Everton: Leaking goals alarmingly. Boss Roberto Martinez needs to rebuild the defence he inherited from David Moyes. Refreshingly committed approach in Europa League deserves reward.

Aston Villa: Lowest scorers in the league with just 11 goals in 19 games. Facing trouble unless they rectify that problem.

Sunderland: Lost fewer games than fourth-placed Southampton but a whopping eleven draws tells the story of a team who are tough to beat (except in the 8-0 at Saints) but lack the devil to win often.

Queens Park Rangers: Their home form and the goals of ex-bricklayer Charlie Austin (12 goals in 17 Prem games) are keeping them alive. Yet to win a single away point. That surely has to change.

West Bromwich Albion: Capable of some sweet football but too soft-centered. Also, after seven losses in their last eight games, they've fired head coach Alan Irvine.

Hull City: Last season's FA Cup finalists have lost their way alarmingly, but Steve Bruce will not panic and they may have just enough to survive.

Crystal Palace: They have won the "sack race" (first to fire their manager), but not much else. Crying out for a striker who can cash in on the dangerous work of some pacy wide men.

Burnley: Sean Dyche's all-British blend looked out of their depth for a while, but recent displays like Saturday's 2-2 draw at Manchester City suggest they have a fighting chance of beating the drop.

Leicester City: Halted a calamitous nosedive with a vital win at Hull. Far too prone to defensive lapses and need to strengthen in that area to have realistic hopes of staying up.

Ian Darke, who called games for the network during the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, is ESPN's lead soccer voice in the U.S. Reach him on Twitter @IanDarke.

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