It seems like just yesterday that the 2014/15 Premier League season kicked off to huge anticipation. Nearing the halfway stage, the table is starting to take shape and at the bottom the battle to stay in the division looks as though it will be as tight as ever.
The newly promoted clubs currently occupy three of the bottom four places and look certainties for a relegation battle. But a good run after Christmas can easily translate into a mid-table finish, as Crystal Palace demonstrated so well last season.
Burnley, QPR and Leicester will keep fighting until the end, but what do their chances of survival look like as things stand?
Burnley's win over Southampton at the weekend moved the Clarets out of the relegation zone, a reward for an excellent run of form over the last six games. The team have picked up 11 points from a possible 18 since early November and will look to take that momentum into the vital Christmas period, despite a tough run of games that sees trips to Tottenham and Manchester City, as well as Liverpool's visit to Turf Moor.
The club actually enjoyed a reasonably good start to the season, even though a win was not immediately forthcoming and manager Sean Dyche has not been deterred from the energetic high pressing style that earned promotion in 2013/14. That tactic of defending from the front was never more evident than in the goal which beat Southampton and will continue to be an important aspect of their play for the remainder of the campaign.
General defensive rigidity and discipline have also been key to picking up points, with five clean sheets having been successfully preserved so far this season. However, scoring goals has been an issue and could ultimately be the area which lets the side down. Only Aston Villa have scored fewer than Burnley's 11, but while there is a feeling that things will soon fall into place with persistent effort, keeping Ings for at least the rest of the season will be crucial.
The Clarets have already been written off once, but have come back strong and a good run against fellow relegation rivals in late January is must, while a favourable 'run-in' in May certainly gives the club a fighting chance.
Queens Park Rangers have enjoyed a significant upturn in their performances of late, though positive results have still not been easy to come by. Losses against Liverpool and Chelsea seemed unfortunate, while they came away from a draw with Manchester City a little disappointed not to have gotten more from the game.
Harry Redknapp's team had actually started the season very poorly and immediately looked a certainty to drop back down to the second tier. However, the October international break seemed to mark a turning point and the team have won three games out of nine since.
Crucially, those victories have come against fellow strugglers in Aston Villa, Burnley and Leicester, while the losses in the same period could perhaps be termed as more 'forgivable' defeats. Coming up over the next three months, QPR have another run of important games which sees them take on many of the sides they would expect to be in direct competition with to beat the drop.
Goals don't seem to have been such a problem and the Hoops have actually outscored the rest of Premier League's current bottom eight, barring Crystal Palace. But keeping Charlie Austin out of the clutches of bigger clubs is critical. Defensively they haven't been strong enough and Redknapp will likely try to solve the problem in January.
If QPR maintain their performance level of the last two months and don't revert to their early season form, who knows what could happen, but they have to convert such performances into points. Unfortunately, the 'run-in' in May looks tough, but the final day trip to Leicester could be all-important.
So far, Leicester's season seems to have taken a rather different trajectory to that of their fellow promoted teams. The Foxes actually started the new campaign well, but have since seen their good form drop off a cliff and haven't won in 10 games, picking up just two measly points in that time.
But given that Leicester stormed to victory in the Championship last season, amassing a huge tally of 102 points, their subsequent inability to maintain the momentum has been somewhat surprising - since Bolton made an immediate return down to the second tier in 1998, First Division/Championship winners with 98 or more points have enjoyed successful debut seasons in the Premier League.
Winless runs are hard to break, but losing runs are even harder to break and that's what manager Nigel Pearson now finds himself with. Unfortunately, the squad just doesn't seem to have the right depth or quality to cope with the demands of competing in the Premier League. Playing without injured goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel will also be a big loss over the coming weeks.
It will be a long, hard struggle and fans should brace for the worst. However, if Leicester can just about stay in touch with the rest, the fact that they won't be playing any of last season's top seven in the final two months of the season still provides the tiniest glimmer of hope. Though given how things have gone so far, it is unlikely.
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