Premier League Breakdown with Kyle Martino: Jack Wilshere must step up

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Ever find yourself thinking, I need more Robbie Mustoe, Robbie Earle and Kyle Martino in my life?

Me too. Whether it’s tactics, results or analysis, few men in football have a better beat on the pulse of the Premier League than these guys.

In the feature series “Premier League Breakdown,” I chat with one of the NBC Sports’ Premier League analysts each week to dig deep into the most entertaining and competitive league in world football.

This week I sat down with former U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder, Kyle Martino, to talk about Wilshere’s need to step up his game, Fulham’s anemic attack and Sturridge’s impressive form.

Let’s get stuck in.

Q: While Santi Cazorla has been out injured Jack Wilshere has filled in at left wing, with Mathieu Flamini playing Wilshere’s favored holding role. Does Wilshere have a battle on his hands once Cazorla returns?

A: I certainly think so, yes. I’ve been really impressed with Flamini coming into the Arsenal midfield and making an immediate impact. He gives the Gunners that bite in the center of the park that they’ve been missing over the last few seasons, so I’m sure Wenger is glad to have him back.

For years now Wilshere has been the heart and soul of the Arsenal midfield, and it’s obvious that Wenger loves him, but for me he needs to prove that he can make it more than two or three matches without needing a break. If he’s going to be their midfield talisman he needs to be in that holding role, digging in every match.

We know he’s struggled with injuries in the past and that he’s still making his way back to full fitness. But until he does, I think there’s definitely argument that can be made in favor of Flamini, who has been so impressive since his return to North London.

Q: Everton has been a bit of a bogey club for Manchester City over the years, explain how a squad like the Toffees could give City problems this weekend.

A: Well, the Everton of old used to give clubs like Manchester City problems because they would sit in and absorb pressure from the back while looking to nick goals on the counter. In games like that City would press high up the pitch and eventually pile too many midfielders into the box where Everton would catch them.

But I don’t think that’s going to happen now that Martinez is at the helm. This is a different Everton team and they’re going to try and match the play of teams like City. They’re going to try and play soccer and take it right to them.

Do I think they’ll beat City? Probably not. But if they do it will be by Martinez’ style of play and not sitting back and being conservative.

Q: Six games in and Fulham have scored a league worst four goals, with Dimitar Berbatov yet to open his account. What’s wrong with Fulham’s attack?

source: Getty Images
Martino believes Berbatov remains the best pure finisher in the Premier League.

A: For my money, Berbatov is still the best pure finisher in the Barclays Premier League. The problem is he doesn’t get the ball in the box enough. Fulham are relying on Adel Taraabt to provide Berba with service and it’s just not working.

Jol has also brought in Bent, which has allowed Berbatov to drop deeper on the pitch to pick balls up but the lack of a midfield anchor prevents those two from getting into positions to score.

From a defensive standpoint, the players Jol is using presents problems as well. Berbatov is never going to defend, Bent does little defending himself, while Taraabt and Ruiz hate doing the dirty work. So that means that anytime Fulham lose possession they’re essentially playing down 3-4 men, which is killing them.

As for the midfield anchor, they’ve brought in Scottie Parker, who we have yet to see make the role his own.

I thought Jol should’ve been looking for a guy like Gareth Barry but Parker should be able to do the job and if he can, it should release the attack.

Q: Villa did well to capitalize on their opportunities last weekend but realistically, how long can they produce without Christian Benteke and Gabby Agbonlahor?

A: Not long. Without Benteke and Agbonlahor, Villa are in trouble. Lambert has his side playing good soccer but it’s a style that critically depends on the counter-attack and clinical finishing.

Agbonlahor is the key to their counter and you can’t say enough about Benteke’s finishing. Villa need those two back as soon as possible.

Q: Crystal Palace lack talent but they’re still capable of playing some impressive football. Does this team have any shot at beating Liverpool on Saturday?

A: No, not with the way Suarez and Sturridge are playing. We saw Liverpool last weekend were just too strong up top with Suarez and Sturridge. Those two played 10 matches together last season and looked decent but now they look incredible.

It’s interesting to note that Suarez is returning to Liverpool from suspension and not from injury. When a player returns from injury it means he hasn’t been training with the squad and needs to gradually incorporate himself back into the side. When that happens, partnerships suffer. But with suspensions, a player keeps training with his team and it’s obvious that Suarez and Sturridge have really been working on things during his ban.

They seem to be in perfect synch and have arguably formed the tight-bonded partnership that Manchester United fans would have hoped to have seen between Van Persie and Rooney. But it hasn’t happened yet.

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Dyer’s creativity and speed could punish an over-zealous Southampton press.

Q: There’s an interesting tactics battle this weekend at Southampton with the Saints’ high pressure style taking on Swansea’s Welsh version of tiki-taka. How’s this one going to shake out?

A: Well anytime you’ve got a squad that likes to high-pressure it’s fun to watch because they’re always trying to force errors. Pochettino has installed this system at Southampton and it’s definitely working. The key component in a high-pressure system is not only a fast attack but quick, unrelenting defense once the ball is lost. You’ll notice this with Barcelona – as soon as they lose the ball they go into overdrive to get it back.

The problem with the high-pressure approach is that if you don’t defend well, you get punished. And this is what I worry about with Southampton. Is their defense strong enough to avoid conceding if they lose possession and have too many men forward?

Swansea are a clever team and they’ve got the ability to pick Southampton apart if they get over-eager. It’s definitely going to be an interesting tactics battle but I think one that Swansea – with clever, speedy players like Routledge and Dyer – should be able to win if they play their cards right.

Q: Daniel Sturridge seems to have undergone a big change since his days at Manchester City and Chelsea. He’s always had talent but now he has this unselfish look to his game where he seems happy to play the role of provider, in addition to finisher. Where does that come from?

A: It’s all about Rodgers. We saw Sturridge’s reaction when he scored the goal against Stoke City and he ran to the sideline to hug his manager. That spoke volumes. I think that Rodgers brought Sturridge in last January, gave him a chance and that Sturridge has really bought in to Rodgers’ system.

Somehow Rodgers got through to Sturridge that he would be a better, more effective striker if he just took that additional look to get his teammates involved. He has and it’s paid off. Sturridge is a much more mature player now than when he was at City and Chelsea.

Q: Manchester United (12th) and Sunderland (20th) meet this weekend at the Stadium of Light. Which side is the bigger underachiever this season?

A: United. I understand that the transition out of the Ferguson era is difficult but the fact is that United knew it needed to strengthen its squad this summer and failed to do so. Moyes even came out this past week and said that to compete in the Champions League a club needs five or six world class players. United currently has two, maybe three. So knowing that, why didn’t he push harder to land a big summer signing? In the end he brought in Fellaini, who right now doesn’t look like the answer to their midfield problems.

They will need to buy big in the January transfer window and it will come at a premium. Every club knows United will be desperate to land top players so they’ll have to pay full price and then some. Gone are the days when players want to go to Manchester United simply because it’s Manchester United. Now players will be looking at it as a club with history but one that may very well not be playing in the Champions League next year. So it will be tough to convince the best players to come. They’re going to have pay big to do so.

QUICK-KICKS

Q: Who’s the more in form player – Ramsey or Y. Toure?

A: Ramsey

Q: Which manager is more likely to be fired –  Jol or Pardew?

A: Pardew

Q: Better first Premier League goal – Osvaldo or Gnabry?

A: Gnabry

Q: Club more likely to drop points at home this weekend – Tottenham or Manchester City?

A: City

Q: More influential to his team –  Lambert (to Southampton) or Nolan (to West Ham)?

A: Lambert

Q: Better winning moment against City – Campbell’s goals in Cardiff or Weimann’s nick past Hart? 

A: Campbell’s goals

Q: More impressive start to his first season in the Premier League – Eriksen or Ozil?

A: Eriksen

Q: Manager who deserves more credit for his club’s performance this season – Hughes or Wenger?

A: Wenger

Ranking expectations for Premier League managers in 2017-18

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With the 20 Premier League managers now set for the start of the 2017-18 season (Frank de Boer joined Crystal Palace to occupy the final vacancy in the PL) things are slotting into place ahead of preseason kicking off for most clubs next week.

The expectations for each boss are now being amped up accordingly too.

[ MORE: Full PL schedule – 2017-18

Below is a look at the expectation levels for each PL manager, with a rating out of 10 and a brief description of what is expected to be achieved by each of their teams.

Yes, we know that plenty of transfers are yet to be made but there are just 47 days until the Premier League season kicks off and we all know how demanding PL fans can be.

Enjoy the last few days of your summer break, gaffers…


Jose Mourinho (Man United) – 10/10 – Expected to win the PL and at least reach the last four of the UCL. No joke. Always the most under-pressure boss, but delivered a EFL Cup and Europa League last season. Those trophies bought him plenty of extra time, but United’s fans are an expectant bunch and if they carry on drawing games then Mourinho could be in trouble midway through the season.

Pep Guardiola (Man City) – 10/10 – After a third-place finish and a poor showing in the Champions League, Pep has to get off to a flying start. Challenging for the title and reaching the final four of the UCL is a must. Total defensive overhaul is well underway with plenty of outgoings, while adding new full backs will be key. Make no mistake about it, Pep will be under pressure if City don’t start well.

Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool) – 9/10 – Following an up and down second half of last season, the jury is still out on Klopp for many when it comes to putting out a balanced team. We all know his teams can score goals and attack, but balancing UCL and PL action will be a huge test, and he needs to get in new defensive talent. Expectations are always very high at Anfield and they should be with players of a higher caliber courted this summer.

Antonio Conte (Chelsea) – 9/10 – So, you would think Conte will be way down this list. Not so much. The Italian masterminded an incredible turnaround last season as the Blues won the PL 12 months after finishing 10th. With UCL action now back on the table (Chelsea’s fans expect them to conquer Europe) Conte has huge expectations to handle. Better get spending big, Antonio.

Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham Hotspur) – 8/10 – Perhaps a little high, especially with a potentially unsettling move to Wembley, but Spurs fans and the soccer world have come to expect plenty from Poch. The Argentine boss had a talented young group to work with but finishing in the top four should be the priority. Going past the group stage in the UCL will be the main aim next season.

Arsene Wenger (Arsenal) – 8/10 – Arsenal fans will still be expecting plenty from Wenger after he signed a new two-year deal following plenty of uncertainty. The Frenchman will have to handle the rigors of the Europa League, but is likely to play a young squad in that competition and prioritize the PL. Nothing other than a push for the PL title will satisfy Arsenal fans, plus the future of Ozil and Sanchez will go a long way to determining expectations on Wenger.

Ronald Koeman (Everton) – 8/10 – The Dutch legend has raised expectation levels at Goodison after guiding them back to the Europa League and flirting with the top four at times last season. In his second season in charge, Toffees fans will be dreaming of a top four finish and a good cup run. No pressure, Ronald.

Rafael Benitez (Newcastle United) – 8/10 – Newly-promoted Newcastle will have huge pressure on their shoulders as they see themselves as a top six PL club who should challenge for the FA Cup and EFL Cup. Benitez has a huge rebuild to lead this summer and there are already reports he is frustrated at losing out on top targets. Magpies faithful are passionate and success-starved.

Frank de Boer (Crystal Palace) – 7/10 – With a big name comes big expectations and the Dutch legend will find that out in the PL. After taking his first job in England, de Boer will be expected to guide the Eagles to a top 10 finish and unlock the potential of their talented youngsters. Plenty of changes needed, especially in defense, if that’s going to be the case.

Slaven Bilic (West Ham United) – 7/10 – The Hammers need to get off to a very good start if Bilic wants to keep his job, long-term, with contract negotiations on hold. The Croatian saw his second season in charge of West Ham go horribly as they battled back to a respectable PL finish after crashing out of the Europa League in the qualifying rounds. Losing Payet and having multiple injuries didn’t help, but many of Bilic’s buys didn’t work out. His recruitment this summer will be huge in him keeping his job. Top 10 finish a must.

Mark Hughes (Stoke City) – 7/10 – With Stoke finishing outside the top 10 last season, Hughesy knows his forwards must start scoring or he will be in trouble of losing his job. The Potters are a stable club but were in real danger of being dragged into a relegation battle last season. Like Bilic, a strong start is needed for Hughes to keep everyone happy.

Paul Clement (Swansea City) – 6/10 – He kept the Swans up with a miraculous late run and now all eyes are on Clement to see if he can solidify the South Wales club in the PL. On the face of it, keeping Gylfi Sigurdsson is key to Clement’s plans as Swans fans hope a top 10 finish and two good cup runs will arrive. A slow start could see the Swansea board making yet another managerial change.

Marco Silva (Watford) – 6/10 – After working a minor miracle at Hull, Watford’s fans are hoping Silva can build a strong identity for their squad of misfits. The Hornets slumped badly last season under Walter Mazzarri but Silva will keep them solid in defense and dangerous on the counter. Top 10 finish would be very successful.

Mauricio Pellegrino (Southampton) – 6/10 – Many will point to Pellegrino taking over from Claude Puel as a bizarre decision, but Saints’ fans were so bored with Puel’s tactics and inability to inspire his players. Pellegrino’s task is quite simple: bring back the high-pressing style and play more attack-minded players. That, plus a top 10 finish and another good cup run, will do nicely. Not that easy to pull off though for a first-time manager in England though.

Craig Shakespeare (Leicester City) – 6/10 – After the title winning season in 2015-16, fans of the Foxes are understandably eager for more success. Shakespeare will be tasked with a top 10 finish and after their run to the UCL quarterfinals last season, expectations are high at the KP. More likely is another relegation battle and if that’s the case in December, Shakespeare could be under pressure.

Tony Pulis (West Brom) – 6/10 – This is a strange one to judge as Pulis overachieved massively last season, but many West Brom fans were left underwhelmed by a ridiculous poor finish to the season. Scoring goals is the main problem for the Baggies and Pulis’ fate will depend on recruiting a new striker in the summer. Surprisingly the favorite with many to be the first PL boss fired in 2017-18.

Sean Dyche (Burnley) – 5/10 – The “Ginger Mourinho” can do little wrong in the eyes of Burnley fans. He is building a strong, stable squad but having the likes of Michael Keane unsure about his future will unsettle the Clarets. Another season in midtable is what Dyche needs but a relegation battle could see Burnley’s board get nervous in midseason.

David Wagner (Huddersfield Town) – 5/10 – Tough to see the eccentric German-American manager being under pressure at all after masterminding a miraculous promotion to the PL for the first-time in the Terriers’ history. Passionate and a real connection with the fans, a relegation battle is expected and Wagner is the type of character you’d want in that situation.

Chris Hughton (Brighton & Hove Albion) – 4/10 – After leading Brighton to promotion, Hughton deserves to be given a full season to see what he can achieve. In reality that may not happen if the Seagulls are floundering by the festive period, but Hughton is an experienced boss capable of building a strong defensive core. Staying up is the main aim.

Eddie Howe (Bournemouth) – 4/10 – One day they will probably build a statue of Howe in Bournemouth. And rightly so. Until then, expectations keep going up with his young squad finishing ninth last season after a fine finish. Despite that the Cherries faithful expect another relegation battle and anything other than that is a bonus. For Howe, he has a dream job with a club fully supporting his ideals.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Mbappe, Keita to Liverpool; Iheanacho wanted

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Liverpool are going for it, big time.

Jurgen Klopp‘s men having UEFA Champions League action to offer (the playoff round, at the very least) next season and they’ve already snapped up Mohamed Salah for a club-record fee this summer.

The Reds are also interested in bringing Kylian Mbappe, just 18 years old, to Anfield, according to Sky Sports in the UK.

Yes, signing Mbappe would not only be a massive financial commitment but it would also be a huge surprise as the likes of Real Madrid and Arsenal have long been linked with a move for the talented French teenager who led AS Monaco to the Ligue 1 title and UCL semifinals last season with 26 goals and eight assists.

The level of Liverpool’s “interest” is key here, as every club in the world would be “interested” in signing Lionel Messi, but realistically it ain’t gonna happen…

Per the report, Liverpool have lodged their interest in Mbappe with Monaco but are said to be unsure that he wants to move to the Premier League. After seeing his France teammates Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba struggle at Manchester United last season, perhaps he’s had a word of warning from some to either stay at take a huge payrise at Monaco or maybe head to Real Madrid where he can develop further behind star-studded strikers in Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karem Benzema.

Although the latter option would be incredibly enticing for an 18-year-old who is on top of the world right now, playing regularly should be his aim. Therefore, a move to Arsenal or Liverpool would make much more sense, career wise, for Mbappe. We all know it doesn’t often work out like that in the soccer world where careers are short and huge financial offers can be withdrawn after a lean spell or a serious injury. Mbappe is the most-wanted striker in world soccer as things stand and Liverpool’s chances of signing him are probably below 10 percent.


Another player Liverpool are chasing is Naby Keita from RB Leipzig.

And the Guinea international, a box-to-box midfielder, is now said to be available to buy via the Guardian, but only for $89 million.

Keita, 22, was a revelation for Leipzig as they finished second in the Bundesliga last season and qualified for the UEFA Champions League. In his first season in Germany’s top-flight he scored eight goals and added seven assists as Keita’s energy and powerful runs from midfield took the Bundesliga by storm.

With Liverpool reportedly willing to only pay $70 million for Keita, they may have to look elsewhere for a new midfield general. That said, with Leipzig now willing to do business, perhaps a compromise could be met.

Emre Can, Jordan Henderson and Georingio Wijnaldum are Liverpool’s leading contenders for the two central midfield roles but with Can’s inconsistency and Henderson’s injury problems, it’s easy to see why Klopp could be wiling to rebuild his midfield around the high-energy of Keita. Think of the Guinea star as a more attack-minded N'Golo Kante and you can see why he’d slot in perfectly at Liverpool.


Kelechi Iheanacho is a wanted man.

The Manchester City striker, 20, is seemingly on his way out of the Etihad Stadium after failing to build on his impressive 2015-16 campaign last season. The Nigerian international scored 14 goals in 35 games in his debut season, but scored just eight times under Pep Guardiola last season.

West Ham United, Crystal Palace and Leicester City are also said to be keen on Iheanacho with City wanting $31.8 million for the promising striker.

Able to finish calmly and hold the ball up around the box, Iheanacho is a true poacher but has found himself behind Sergio Aguero, and now Gabriel Jesus, in the pecking order at City.

West Ham badly need a poacher to finish off chances created by Manuel Lanzini and wide-men Michail Antonio and Aaron Cresswell as Slaven Bilic‘s side couldn’t rely on the oft-injured Andy Carroll last season. Leicester’s goals dried up with Jamie Vardy and Islam Slimani streaky last season, while Ahmed Musa and Demarai Gray delivered just six goals between them in all competitions.

Palace have Christian Benteke, Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend in the three attacking areas, but having someone to fed off Benteke’s knockdowns would certainly be prefereeable for new Palace boss Frank de Boer.

Wherever he goes you can guarantee one thing from Iheanacho: goals.

Hazard and Co. set up NASL club in San Diego

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Soccer in SoCal continues to boom.

[ MORE: Sanchez, Aguero swap deal?

The North American Soccer League (NASL) announced Monday that San Diego will have a second-tier team for the 2018 season as professional soccer returns to San Diego County.

In a statement from the NASL it was revealed that San Diego’s new expansion franchise is owned by star players Eden Hazard, Yohan Cabaye, Demba Ba and Moussa Sow, as well as executives with experience of the San Diego market.

[ MORE: Latest Confederations Cup news

Hazard, a star for Chelsea and Belgium, revealed exactly why he believes San Diego deserves a soccer team.

“San Diego is a beautiful place and the love and passion that the people have for soccer made this an easy choice for us,” Hazard said. “My friends and I are honored to turn this dream into a reality and we can’t wait to get started and win some games.”

The quartet do not have a name, logo or colors for the team, but that is expected to be announced in the coming months. Bob Watkins will serve as the club president and Ricardo Campos, former technical director for thew New York Red Bulls, will serve in the front office alongside Katy Temple as the pieces are put in place for another new soccer team in California.

NASL will have 10 teams for the 2018 season with Orange County also joining the league — California added another team to NASL in 2017 in the San Francisco Deltas — which currently shares second-tier status with the much-larger USL who boast 30 teams.

With Orange County and San Diego arriving in NASL in 2018, LAFC to join Major League Soccer in 2018 and a consortium led by former USMNT star Landon Donovan hoping for an MLS expansion team in San Diego (based at the impressive Soccer City complex) in the years to come, soccer in SoCal is booming.

How involved Chelsea star Hazard, Crystal Palace midfielder Cabaye, Shanghai Shenhua striker Ba and Al-Ahli forward Sow get remains to be seen but they’ve obviously seen a gap in the market in San Diego.

Bakayoko to Chelsea, Matic to Man United close

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Two defensive midfielders will have new homes very soon.

[ MORE: Aguero, Alexis in swap deal? ]

Tiemoue Bakayoko, 22, is closing in on a move to Chelsea from AS Monaco as he is set to replace the outgoing Nemanja Matic who will link up with his former boss Jose Mourinho at Manchester United.

Multiple reports, including this one from the BBC, state the deal for Bakayoko is close to completion with Chelsea and Monaco agreeing the $41.8 million fee and the French midfielder is expected to be a Chelsea player in the next 48 hours.

As for Matic’s imminent arrival at Old Trafford, the Serbian destroyer, 28, will reportedly complete his move this week with the Guardian stating the clubs have agreed a price of around $50 million and wages of $197,000 per week have also been agreed between the player and United.

United badly needed a defensive reinforcement in central midfield and Matic (who has won two Premier League titles in three seasons since rejoining Chelsea in 2014) would fit the bill. Able to start attacks and possess the ball as well as a fine reader of the game who uses his lanky frame to intercept passes and sweep up in front of the defense, Matic would surely be the perfect foil for Ander Herrera in United’s engine room and they’d allow Paul Pogba to roam free.

As for Chelsea, there’s no doubt that losing Matic is a blow but Bakayoko is rated as one of the top defensive midfielders in Europe after excelling for French champions Monaco in Ligue 1 and the UEFA Champions League last season. He’s a more composed version of Victor Wanyama and alongside N'Golo Kante he’d provide Chelsea’s defense with a formidable shield. This is just the type of midfielder Antonio Conte loves.

Both United and Chelsea would considerably improve their central midfield areas with these additions.