Worst players of the season... so far
While it is a comment that applies to entire teams, the half-term report card for certain players contains the unwanted words 'could do better'. The only consolation is that the second half of the season presents an immediate opportunity for improvement. But if not, it won't represent a year to remember for the following:
Arsenal: Emmanuel Eboue
While the majority of his team-mates have exceeded expectations, Emmanuel Eboue is an unfortunate exception. His campaign has hardly been a disaster, yet the transition from attacking full-back to right-sided midfielder is proving awkward. While Eboue provides vitality on the right, his lengthy wait for a Premier League goal is one indication that he has his shortcomings in the final third. In addition, his aggression can be misplaced, and the Ivorian could have been dismissed against either Middlesbrough or Chelsea.
Manchester United: Michael Carrick
If Owen Hargreaves was initially perceived as the threat to Michael Carrick's place, Anderson has emerged as another. Even with Paul Scholes sidelined, Carrick has been a spectator for the majority of the matches against Arsenal and Liverpool with the axis of Anderson and Hargreaves preferred. It all suggests that, though he remains a fine passer, Sir Alex Ferguson is unconvinced, with questions remaining about his capacity to dominate the biggest games.
Chelsea: Claudio Pizarro
Adding strength in depth on the cheap can prove problematical, even for a club with the pull Chelsea exert. Steve Sidwell, Tal Ben-Haim and Alex all have their doubters, but Claudio Pizarro ranks as the greatest disappointment among the fringe players. A Premier League debut goal against Birmingham promised much, but it remains his only strike and the Peruvian's performances have made Avram Grant's need for another forward evident.
Liverpool: Peter Crouch
His band of admirers appears to grow with each occasion he is omitted, but the case for Peter Crouch is as thin as the man himself. Without a Premier League goal since March, his domestic drought this season is usually attributed to a lack of opportunities. Yet Crouch has been granted 13 games in English competitions and one of his most ineffectual displays, in the ignominious defeat to Marseille, placed Liverpool's Champions League place in doubt. And because of the dreadful tackle that led to his dismissal at Stamford Bridge, he must also take a sizeable share of the blame for Liverpool's Carling Cup exit.
Manchester City: Darius Vassell
Among the enduring mysteries of Darius Vassell's career is that that he has 22 caps, all awarded by Sven-Goran Eriksson. Yet at Manchester City, Eriksson has deployed Vassell as an ersatz and often unproductive right winger, which has only served to show the importance of Stephen Ireland to the City cause. Even with a City strike-force that Eriksson appears to mistrust, Vassell has been restricted to two Premier League starts in attack. He may have ended December as the first-choice forward but with Eriksson already securing striking reinforcements in January, it is hard to imagine Vassell featuring as prominently in the New Year.
Everton: Tony Hibbert
He has missed the majority of Everton's winning run, but Tony Hibbert has the unfortunate distinction of starting each of their seven Premier League defeats. While his dismissal in the Merseyside derby was debatable, those results indicate that Everton are a superior side with Phil Neville, providing a higher quality of cross, or Phil Jagielka, a speedier defender, at right-back. Hibbert's efforts cannot be questioned, but better options are starting to emerge.
Aston Villa: Curtis Davies
At least Curtis Davies has been honest. Rather than proffering excuses for Aston Villa's Carling Cup exit at the hands of Leicester City, he made the frank admission that: 'I looked like a pub player.' A rather expensive pub player, however; with Villa having agreed to spend £10 million on the defender, such words were unlikely to have reassured Martin O'Neill. With Zat Knight, his other defensive addition, making a rather quicker impact and injury hindering Davies, he managed a mere eight minutes' Premier League action before Christmas. It should not take much for the second half of the campaign to be an improvement, and a goal at Wigan suggests it will be.
Portsmouth: David Nugent
The English striker can appear an endangered species, but they are playing a part in their own downfall. When the much-coveted David Nugent eventually left Preston, he had options, but his choice of Portsmouth should be questioned. Still without a Premier League goal, Nugent has not started since August. Apart from becoming a Carling Cup specialist, he has been reduced to a series of unmemorable cameos, while Harry Redknapp's entertaining Africans appear a class apart from their £6 million substitute.
Blackburn: Morten Gamst Pedersen
He was once the likeliest target of a raid on Blackburn from one of the 'big four', but not any longer. Morten Gamst Pedersen's slump in form has meant that mantle has passed to David Bentley or Roque Santa Cruz. Other indications of his underachievement include his omission for several games - when the right-footed David Dunn deputised on his flank - and the fact that the possessor of one of the finest left feet in the division is still looking for his first Premier League goal of the season.
West Ham: Freddie Ljungberg
Among the perplexing glut of attacking midfielders at Upton Park, Julien Faubert has been spotted least, but that is entirely the product of injury. But Freddie Ljungberg, whose descent from regular scorer to irregular presence in his final two years at Arsenal prompted his exit, has represented the major disappointment. In a stop-start season, his case for inclusion, thus far, is rather weaker than those of Nolberto Solano, Lee Bowyer, Luis Boa Morte and Matthew Etherington. The bench, at best, beckons when others are fully fit.
Newcastle: Jose Enrique
The presence of a winger, in the shape of Charles N'Zogbia, at left-back for the majority of the season has hardly endeared Sam Allardyce to many among the Newcastle support. Yet, with Celestine Babayaro paid off, the only alternative is his £6 million acquisition Jose Enrique, and it is understandable why Allardyce has been reluctant to field the former Villarreal man. With 12 goals conceded in his five Premier League starts, the Spaniard - present, if not correct, for the home humiliations at the hands of Portsmouth and Liverpool - is certainly taking time to acclimatise to the English game. Much of the £62 million Newcastle have spent on defenders in the last decade has been wasted, and Enrique is in danger of joining a roll of dishonour at St James' Park.
Tottenham: Younes Kaboul
When Juande Ramos decided to travel to Belgium for a UEFA Cup tie with only one fit central defender, his actions were explicable. The alternative was to select Younes Kaboul, who has become a byword for mistakes. A litany of errors have resulted in goals already this season, with the grateful beneficiaries including Birmingham's Gary McSheffrey and West Ham's Carlton Cole in the two games prior to Kaboul's omission. Ledley King's extended absence was lamented for many reasons, but Kaboul's continued blundering was among them.
Reading: Michael Duberry
Repeating their heroics of last season was always unlikely, but Reading's porous defence has endangered their Premier League status. Michael Duberry is one of those who, especially when playing away from the Madjeski, has appeared best suited to the Championship. Conceding 19 goals in his last six appearances to date helps explain the significance of Ibrahima Sonko to the Reading cause and the 7-4 defeat at Portsmouth comprised an afternoon to forget for Reading, in general, and Duberry, in particular.
Middlesbrough: Jonathan Woodgate
Normally, the problems with Jonathan Woodgate concern his fitness, not his form. This season, however, has been the exception. The sight of strikers bettering Woodgate has been a comparative rarity over the years, but it has happened with disturbing frequency in recent months. Woodgate, usually mentioned in dispatches for England, has barely rated a mention. The cause for optimism for Boro is that the December victories over Arsenal and Derby have appeared to herald a return to form for the usually dependable defender.
Birmingham: Garry O'Connor
At least his season started well. Garry O'Connor's debut goal against Sunderland briefly pushed him to the forefront of Steve Bruce's thinking. Since then, however, O'Connor has failed to find the net in the Premier League and successive managers, Bruce and Alex McLeish, appear to have pigeonholed him as a substitute. That even the often diplomatic McLeish has told him to 'mature quickly' is a sign the Scot has much to do if he is to be anything better than a substitute.
Bolton: Gerald Cid
No one disagreed when Gary Megson, with more than a hint of understatement, announced: 'Andy O'Brien is not Bobby Moore or Franz Beckenbauer.' But the Bolton manager was lamenting the absence of O'Brien after, with Lubo Michalik deputising, his side conceded eight goals in two games. And Gerald Cid is rated below Michalik at the Reebok. The decline in Bolton's fortunes this season is a consequence of a loss of solidity, coinciding with Sam Allardyce's departure and Cid's arrival. Hauled off after a disastrous 45 minutes against Everton, there were suggestions he was injured. Few were convinced.
Sunderland: Greg Halford
It may seem perverse to nominate a Sunderland defender who missed the 7-1 thrashing at Everton but Halford's haplessness explains his absence then. And, error-prone as Paul McShane and Danny Higginbotham have proved, they have retained their places and, perhaps, Roy Keane's confidence. Halford has not. His incorrigible clumsiness has already brought two red cards and Keane has taken to selecting a squad of 16 without a specialist right-back, with McShane, Ian Harte, Dean Whitehead and Nyron Nosworthy standing in. At the moment, the sale of Halford for £3 million ranks as Steve Coppell's best bit of business in the summer.
Wigan: Titus Bramble
Yes, he is an easy target. But when Titus Bramble, under no pressure, can contrive to gift the opposition the lead 30 seconds into his new manager's first match, it is understandable why. A move from Newcastle has brought less mockery, but only because Wigan are rarely in the spotlight. He remains as prone to pratfalls as ever. At least, contrary to Steve Bruce's pre-match prediction that Wigan could not afford to concede three goals and win, he could enjoy the 5-3 victory over Blackburn, if not Bramble's defending.
Fulham: Diomansy Kamara
There was a time when mentions of Fulham and £6 million signings did not seem so incongruous. After the enforced parsimony of Chris Coleman's tenure, Lawrie Sanchez restored them to the category of big spenders. But Diomansy Kamara, who appeared the Championship equivalent of Thierry Henry last season, has reverted to the role of the Premier League let-down, with goals outnumbered by misses. Having struck only once in his last top-flight campaign, he has at least topped that tally, but, flitting in and out of the Fulham team, that is about as much as can be said for his season.
Derby: Andy Griffin
Having bought brilliantly in the Championship, Billy Davies recruited terribly for the Premier League. If singling out any one individual is unfair, given the mediocrity that abounds at Pride Park, Andy Griffin has had a particularly undistinguished season. Found wanting in the top flight in previous campaigns, he appeared an odd signing and, in retrospect, another spell at Stoke may have been more beneficial for all concerned. As an honest trier who lacks the requisite quality, he epitomises Derby, but the frequency with which his immediate opponents - including Ryan Giggs, Salomon Kalou, Lee Bowyer, Ashley Young and Ryan Babel - have scored is surely no coincidence.