NBA First Half Awards
With the season just over halfway done, let's look at the major awards. Feel free to disagree but it's James Hardens world right now and we're just living in it.
With 18 games played, the English Premier League will soon be at the halfway mark. Sadly, there isn't much excitement left at the top of the table. Manchester City picked up their 16th consecutive win at the weekend and lead the pack with an 11-point edge. However, there were still plenty of talking points in Gameweek 18. Here are five of them.
1. De Gea keeping Manchester United afloat
Manchester United are the nearest challengers to their city rivals, but where would they be without David de Gea?
United picked up their 13th win of the season away to West Brom after a couple of nervous moments in the 2nd half. In the end, the Red Devils managed to hold on to a 2-1 lead thanks do de Gea's good work. It wasn't for the first time this season.
There have been many narrow wins in which United gets totally outplayed in the second half. That seems to be the biggest difference between the two Manchester sides. Can you imagine City holding on to dear life, trying to scrape a win against the likes of West Brom and Southampton?
De Gea made four saves against the Baggies and in total, he now has 69 saves to his name. That's 3.8 per game. Only Swansea's Lukasz Fabianski has so far made more saves among all Premier League goalkeepers (72). All other goalkeepers from the “big six” sides have less than 40 saves.
The numbers look great individually for the Spaniard, but it's an ugly stat for the team. United are currently “the best of the rest”, but without de Gea, they would once again be fighting for scraps outside the top four. Jose Mourinho must be praying regularly that de Gea manages to keep his form until the end of the season.
2. Everton's resurgence directly connected to the performances of Sigurdsson and Rooney
Over the last five Gameweeks, only one side has collected more points than Everton. That's, of course, Man City. The Toffees have won four of their last five, getting 13 points. Sam Allardyce has his fair share of critics, but you can't say his methods aren't working.
His teams have always been hard working and tough to break down. The style of play isn't generally easy on the eye, but it's effective and that's the reason why teams looking for a quick fix always call him first.
With Everton being the biggest club Big Sam has managed, he actually has had the team playing some decent stuff. In the five games since his appointment on November 30, they have scored 10 goals across all competitions.
The key to getting Everton to play well again was always going to be the performances of Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson. Allardyce has delivered on that.
Rooney has scored in three straight games in the Premier League to make it ten goals for the whole season. The forgotten man is suddenly joint-fourth on the league's top scorers list. He combined for only 13 league goals during his last two seasons at United.
Sigurdsson started his Everton career with a wonderful goal in the Europa League qualifiers, but it took him until Gameweek 13 to open his Premier League tally. He's been on fire lately, getting three goals and two assists in last seven league outings. The goal against Swansea looks like a sign that the good old times have indeed returned.
Sitting on 25 points, Everton is now only six behind Tottenham and less than ten points away from the Champions League places. Who would've thought that could be possible only a few weeks ago?
3. Benteke got his first goal of the season
Only eight current players have more Premier League goals than Christian Benteke (67). He's been regularly getting 10+ goals per season since making his move to England in 2012. Yet, the big Belgian hadn't scored a single goal this season before Gameweek 18.
Dating back to last season, Benteke was on a 13-game goal drought before finally putting an end to it with a powerful headed finish. Overall, he had gone 1106 minutes without a goal before knocking in Andros Townsend's cross.
It was also the first away goal for Palace in the Premier League since April, when Benteke's brace secured a 2-1 result at Anfield.
The 3-0 win at Leicester catapulted the Eagles from the relegation zone all the way up to 14th. It's been a quite a rise from the side that lost its first eight matches of the season without scoring a single goal.
Roy Hodgson's team has now at least two goals in five of their last seven games. They haven't lost any of the seven matches. It's the longest ever unbeaten run in the Premier League for the club. Talk about a Jekyll and Hyde season.
4. Looks like van Dijk will finally get his wish in January
The Summer is long gone, but the transfer saga of Virgil van Dijk has remained. It seems like every week Southampton boss Mauricio Pellegrino is forced to answer questions regarding the Dutchman's future. It looks like it won't be at Southampton after all.
After a few positive performances, the Saints had an awful week. Last Wednesday they lost 4-1 at home to Leicester and followed up that result with a 1-0 defeat at Chelsea.
The performance against Leicester was probably the worst of the season for the team. Pellegrino publicly apologized for it to the fans and said that from now on he'll look to only use players who are 100 per cent focused on helping the team.
Pellegrino made a bunch of changes for the Chelsea match and surprisingly van Dijk was among those missing from the starting XI. After the match, Pellegrino noted that van Dijk is still an important part of his plans, but didn't assure the fans that the centre-back won't be sold in January.
Things can of course change before the winter transfer window opens in a few weeks time, but currently, it does seem like van Dijk is more likely to leave than stay.
5. Watford (and Martin Atkinson) have fallen in love with the red card
Watford has played some eye-catching stuff under Marco Silva this season, but their form has faded quite a bit in recent weeks. They have picked up only one point from the last five matches. In the most recent games, they have hurt themselves badly with multiple red cards.
After Troy Deeney got the marching orders on Saturday in a 4-1 loss to Huddersfield, the Hornets became the first Premier League side given a red card in three consecutive matches since West Ham in 2015.
Overall, Watford now has four reds this season and nine since the start of last season. No team has more.
Martin Atkinson seems to be the only person involved in the Premier League who's loving red cards just as much as Watford players. The 46-year-old referee has handed out a red card in three straight games he's been in charge. The latest one coming after a second yellow for a dive by Leicester's Wilfred Ndidi.
The Nigerian became the fourth player in Premier League history to be sent off on his birthday.
Atkinson will officiate Arsenal vs Liverpool on Friday next. Will he make it four in a row?