United will be delighted to reach the halfway point with seven points between them and City in second place, but that tells little of the story. Essentially still without a convincing win to their name, the late drama and rescue acts seem to be needed every single week, with the old midfield problems more prevalent than ever and defensive struggles added to the problem. It's unlikely United will be able to get far in Europe if they don't sort themselves out in that respect, although at the moment their attacking form looks like being enough to secure the title.
Verdict: The clear favourites, particularly when they have much that could improve them and little else to go wrong.
If the rumours about Ferguson easing into his departure are true, it's looking increasingly likely that the first Manchester derby of next season will feature two new managers. Roberto Mancini has been unable to arrest a decline in his side's form since their title-winning season last year, with his new three-at-the-back formation proving a disaster and the club reliant on a tiny number of players to see them through. As well as a terrible display in the Champions League, City's attack has looked blunt of late and there are no immediate signs of resurrection. They are not far behind, but time is running out for them to put a good run together. History shows that the title race usually has a twist after the Christmas period, and City will need to find their old attacking form to create it.
Verdict: Unlikely to be anything other than champions or a close second in May, but they need to pick up their form soon.
Two victories don't make a great run, but if they are a sign that Chelsea have put the early woes of the Rafael Benitez reign behind them, then they are still an outside bet at being title contenders. Their squad is certainly good enough, but it depends on the form of key players and their correct deployment and utilisation. Their 8-0 destruction of an admittedly-awful Aston Villa showed what they are capable of, and a long winning streak is not unforeseeable for the Blues. They're still outsiders, but they can't afford to put too many feet wrong for the rest of the season now.
Verdict: Dark horses, but definitely still in the title picture.
The André Villas-Boas era at Tottenham has been a curious one so far, with some early inconsistent form permissable given the injuries to several key players, and since then they have looked like either comfortably the fourth-best team in England or a hugely limited side - it varies from week to week. They are heavily reliant on Jermain Defoe and Gareth Bale to be their matchwinners at the moment, and have frequently struggled to break teams down, but their squad is now well-balanced with good players in all positions. If they strengthen in January, they could make fourth place their own, but right now they will be sweating over Arsenal's resurgence.
Verdict: Favourites for fourth, but only just - there is still much work to be done.
At first Everton looked like they were going to give their usual slow start a miss as they began the season in fine form, but since then they've been inconsistent and mediocre. Nonetheless, they still have the capability to win any match on their day, and if they have their usual strong finish to the season, they could still be in contention for fourth place.
Verdict: They'll need luck with injuries, but fourth is still a possibility for David Moyes' men.
After a ludicrously good start West Brom have, like Everton, drifted into a period of mediocrity, and unlike the Toffees, they don't have a squad that looks born to be playing at this level. Steve Clarke has still performed miracles with this team, and they should still gain a top-half place without too much trouble.
Verdict: Europa League qualification is a realistic goal and would be great achievement for a club punching well above their weight. Anything higher would be unrealistic, and anything lower would almost be a disappointment after their start to the season.
Arsenal have been in this position plenty of times before, but rarely have they been so deep in trouble so late into the season, and with better teams above them. Their ancient rivals Tottenham are likely to be the team they'll compete with for fourth place, but the Gunners have been a mess all season. They have repeatedly threatened to go on a good run and then failed, with almost all of their players flickering in and out of form too quickly to go on a sustained run. It would be no surprise to see them finish in fourth place, but they face a very difficult fight to do so.
Verdict: Not favourites to finish fourth for once, Arsenal could be in real trouble unless the incompetence of their rivals saves them. More consistent team selection would help, but few of Arsene Wenger's players have given him reason to give them a continuous run.
After quietly punching above their weight, Stoke's rock-solid defence has rejuvenated a Potters side that was looking to be stagnating, and Tony Pulis' men look like they could enjoy their best Premier League season yet. They're still the same as they ever were - tough, uncompromising, ugly - but they've married that to some superb defensive form this year, and are reaping the rewards.
Verdict: A Europa League place is possible but unlikely for a team that look unrelegatable, but probably too limited to achieve much more.
Michael Laudrup has attempted to move Swansea on from the possession-focused Rodgers reign, attempting to expand their play and give them more options as a team. The results have been mixed, with the team generally looking like a proper top-half side but occasionally putting in some dire performances. It would be easy to point out that Laudrup has made little progression, but Swansea always looked likely to suffer from second-season syndrome, particularly after the departures of Joe Allen and Scott Sinclair. If there is a criticism to be made, it's surely that they're hugely reliant on the goals of Michu.
Verdict: Unlikely to get a Europa League place this year, but progress is being made at Swansea, who look capable of establishing themselves at this level for a long time to come.
Liverpool's 3-1 defeat at home to an Aston Villa side that would go on to get clobbered in both of their next game basically summed up the Reds' season so far - every time they look like going on a run, it comes to an abrupt halt in an abysmal performance. Liverpool have pretty much been awful or very good in all of their games so far, although more often the former than the latter. On overall balance, they're below where they should be - Rodgers needs to strengthen in January or even the Europa League looks a pipedream.
Verdict: Will surely come back stronger after January reinforcements. Europa League places likely.
After looking like sure-fire relegation candidates who were enduring a difficult second season, Chris Hughton has managed to both instil defensive solidity in Norwich and use it as a springboard to rapidly climb up the league table. Escaping the relegation battle - for now - was a remarkable achievement and Hughton, whose achievements at Newcastle have been made to look less glorious by his successor, now looks like a fine manager. They haven't really progressed, but not regressing was a fine achievement on its own.
Verdict: Should stay up, which is exactly what they needed. Time will tell if they can take it to the next level.
West Ham appeared to be in a false position for much of the early part of the season, and so it proved as they have quickly sunk down the table. Their weaknesses are obvious - reliant on too few players, and with a team with too many individuals who contribute next to nothing - Gary O'Neil and the disappointing Modibo Maiga among them. Despite their limitations, it would be a huge surprise to see them relegated, but at present only the poor quality of the bottom few teams has kept them from being sucked into a battle at the bottom.
Verdict: Would be a major shock to see them go down, but their form is falling away and so far shows little signs of picking up to any great extent. Mid-table mediocrity exemplified.
After Martin O'Neill got off to an excellent start in his tenure on Wearside, he appears to be having the exact same struggles as his predecessors at Sunderland. The team look depressingly mediocre despite possessing Stephane Sessegnon and Adam Johnson, and have been once again reliant on the goals of one man, this time new signing Steven Fletcher. There is plenty to work with here, but there is the sense that Sunderland's squad needs a major overhaul in the summer. O'Neill has plenty to work with, but there must be questions over whether he is the right man to carry out that transition.
Verdict: Won't pull up any trees and won't go down. It's the same as it ever was for Sunderland, a team that really should be looking to do better.
There is no other way to say this about Fulham: with these players, and this manager, they simply should be doing a lot better. They have a solid and capable outfit backed up with the attacking talents of Dimitar Berbatov, Bryan Ruiz, and Mladen Petric, and yet their early strong form has fallen away as the team struggle for confidence. That they have not won a league match for over a year after falling behind speaks volumes about their inconsistency. They could do with a more well-balanced team, but unless they can regroup in the second half of the season, it looks like being a disappointing year for Martin Jol's men.
Verdict: Won't get sucked into a relegation battle, thankfully, but it looks like they'll end up well below where they're capable of finishing.
Alan Pardew's eight-year contract is beginning to resemble the ultimate 'manager of the month' curse as his team continues to struggle for form. They've frequently been unlucky, particularly with injuries, but they still should have done better with the players at their disposal. Losing Demba Ba would be another blow for the Magpies, and one that looks increasingly likely. The return of Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa should see them climb back up the table, but it's likely they'll need to make some more good moves in the transfer market to be capable of having another season like last year.
Verdict: Unlikely to be in this position come May, but it's too late for them to do much worthwhile. Their European form and the chance for glory on the continental stage will be a silver lining for them.
When Paul Lambert was appointed Villa manager, there were few dissenting voices outside Norwich City - everybody though Villa had finally got themselves a manager who had the long-term vision and ability to finally help them get over their post-Martin O'Neill hangover. Halfway through the season, however, Villa are just three points clear of the relegation zone, have lost their last two matches by a combined tally of 12 goals, and have a squad that looks inexperienced, mediocre, and in danger of dropping into the bottom three. There have been signs that Lambert is worth sticking with, but they haven't translated into points or league form.
Verdict: Now in real danger of relegation, and Lambert fighting for his job too. Nobody said it would be easy...
At first, Southampton's decision to spend the majority of their transfer budget on Gaston Ramirez looked to be an odd one as they showed the many deficiencies of their team and promptly found themselves in a relegation battle, but lately the Saints have quietly been improving. Their defence still looks hopelessly Championship-esque, but they look like they may have enough about them to stay up.
Verdict: Still likely to go down, but easily look the most capable out of the three promoted clubs of staying up.
We know this one. We've been here before. Inconsistency, terrible defending, and general desperation plagues Wigan right up until they almost get relegated, when they suddenly turn into Barcelona and pull clear of the drop at the last minute. They've not been that bad up until now, but they'll probably be called on to do the same rescue act once again. Franco di Santo has been a revelation after several poor seasons in the Premier League, even earning an Argentina call-up and along with Shaun Maloney and Arouna Koné, it looks like Wigan will be banking on a few attackers saving them once again.
Verdict: WIll probably do what they always do, but Southampton are improving, and Queens Park Rangers will be fighting hard to escape...
Like Blackpool, Watford, and Derby before them, Reading sort of got promoted by mistake last year, and they've shown in the Premier League that they really don't look like they belong here. Until Aston Villa's humiliating defeat to Chelsea they'd put in the season's worst performances by a distance, and they look second-rate in every area of the pitch. Something remarkable will have to happen if they are to beat the drop.
Verdict: If one club is going down, it's Reading. Their promotion was simply too early for them.
Queens Park Rangers
Probably the strangest team in the Premier League, QPR's squad boasted Esteban Granero, Alejandro Faurlin, and Julio Cesar, yet they found themselves stone bottom without a win. Harry Redknapp is in charge now, and that trio have barely had a kick as he goes back to basics to attempt to put together a run that can take them out of the relegation zone. Redknapp has plenty of previous here, but if anyone thought his arrival would immediately galvanise the squad into playing at the level they're capable of, they were wrong. It's a difficult road ahead, but they certainly have the quality to do it.
Verdict: They'll almost certainly improve, but they may have left it too late. Whether they go down or not probably depends as much on Southampton, Wigan, and Aston Villa as it does on Harry Redknapp.