Premier League Gradebook: Arsenal and Liverpool excel, Manchester United in detention

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With the current international break disrupting Premier League play for two weeks, now is a good time to take stock on the season so far.

So, that’s exactly what we’re doing at ProSoccerTalk.

Right here, we give each team each a grade on their start to the 2013-14 campaign, and also pick out their ‘star pupil’ who is excelling and a ‘class clown’ who must do better.

MORE: PREMIER LEAGUE STANDINGS & TOP PL GOALSCORERS

On Thursday we will look at each manager, but for now, here’s the lowdown on every single PL teams start to the season. Some big sides better hit the books between now and Christmas, because they’re barely passing…

ARSENAL A

A tremendous start to the season for the Gunners, as the signing of Mesut Ozil for $60 million on Transfer Deadline Day galvanized the squad. Coupled with the remarkable form of free-scoring Welshman Aaron Ramsey and Oivier Giroud’s sublime hold up play, Arsenal have gone from top four hopefuls to title contenders in the space of the last six weeks. Ramsey’s remarkable start, eight goals already, has been the shining light in a great start for Arsene Wenger’s men who sit top of the table. And at the back they looked settled and assured, could this be the year they finally win a trophy again? Record – (5-1-1)

source: Getty Images
Ramsey can’t stop scoring, ad the Gunners sit top of the tree.

Star Pupil: Aaron Ramsey
Class Clown: Nicklas Bendtner

ASTON VILLA C

A solid start for Villa this season, with two massive wins on the board already. Victories over Arsenal and Manchester City were slightly fortuitous, but they’re certainly getting the breaks that they missed out on for the majority of last season. Their squad is stronger after a full season in the PL together last term. Can Paul Lambert keep his side firing on all cylinders from now until Christmas? If they can keep Gabriel Agbonlahor and Christian Benteke fit, there’s no reason why not, while USMNT ‘keeper Brad Guzan is having another wonderful year. Record – (3-3-1)

Star Pupil: Brad Guzan
Class Clown: Ciaran Clark

CARDIFF CITY C-

A few disappointing results to end September has seen the Bluebirds take a bit of a nosedive, but they’ve fared pretty well in their first-ever season in the Premier League. Cardiff are solid and hard to break down, especially at home, but I do wonder where the goals are going to come from. Young Danish striker Andres Cornelius has been injured, and veterans Craig Bellamy and Peter Odemwingie may be just over the hill to cause teams too many problems. News of unrest in the boardroom could spell trouble in South Wales. Record – (2-3-2)

Star Pupil: Aron Gunnarsson
Class Clown: Andreas Cornelius

CHELSEA B

The screw is starting to turn for the Special One, slowly but surely. The first few weeks of the season has seen a very unsettled picture prevail at Stamford Bridge, with squad rotation the aim of the game. Keeping everyone happy isn’t easy, and Mourinho has certainly been feeling the pressure. However a promising second half against Spurs and a determined win away at Norwich sees his side sat just behind the leaders. I think Chelsea now know their best starting XI, with Juan Mata, Oscar and Ramires all slotting into midfield together. Watch out, because if Fernando Torres or one of their other forwards gets going, the Blues will be right up there. Record – (4-1-2)

Star Pupil: Oscar
Class Clown: Samuel Eto’o

source: Reuters
Oscar has been Chelsea’s main attacking threat, with four goals

CRYSTAL PALACE D

One win and six defeats from their opening seven games… it’s going to be a long, hard season for the Eagles. You have to love Ian Holloway’s persona, but this Palace team just aren’t capable of playing all-out attack in the PL, like his Blackpool side were a few years ago. They’ve had tough trips to Manchester United and Liverpool, so now those are out of the way, Palace can focus on picking up big wins at home. Defensively they’re not bad, but like Cardiff, I’m not sure who will grab the goals they need to stay up. Youngster Dwight Gayle is their only hope. Record – (1-6-0)

Star Pupil: Mile Jedinak
Class Clown: Adrian Mariappa

EVERTON B+

The Toffees have to be happy with their start under new manager Roberto Martinez, I for one was skeptical but he’s been a revelation on Merseyside. With just one loss in seven games coming away at Man City, Everton have started brightly and despite three draws to open up, they record three straight wins with stunning 3-2 victories against West Ham and Newcastle. Switching between the 3-5-2 system and a flat back four is working, and Martinez has brought attractive and free-flowing soccer to Goodison Park. I’d be very surprised if they don’t make the top six this season. Record – (3-1-3)

Star Pupil: Romelu Lukaku
Class Clown: Nikica Jelavic

FULHAM D-

Having seen the relief at Craven Cottage first hand following their win over Stoke last weekend, you can tell it’s been a struggle so far from Fulham. A core of experienced players has failed to gel and Martin Jol is still under the cosh, with defensive lapses late in games proving costly. If they can get Dimitar Berbatov and Darren Bent playing together, they will cause problems. But with a new owner and tough games ahead, I worry for Jol. Maybe that scrappy win against the Potters will be the turning point? Record – (2-4-1)

Star Pupil: Patjim Kasami
Class Clown: Giorgos Karagounis

HULL CITY B+

What a tremendous start for the Tigers, with 11 points form their first seven games. Hull are exceeding everyone’s expectations and despite not playing an attractive brand of soccer, plenty of people are pleased to see Steve Bruce’s side excel. Hull have only scored six goals, with Robbie Brady grabbing three of them and a big win at Newcastle gave them confidence. They’ve only let in seven and have plenty of PL experience throughout their team, but I still expect Hull to get sucked into the struggle later on in the season. Record – (3-2-2)

Star Pupil: Sone Aluko
Class Clown: Danny Graham

source: Reuters
S.A.S. have been a mean double act in the past few games. Can they keep it going?

LIVERPOOL– A

The Reds have been exceptional in the opening weeks of the season, with Daniel Sturridge the star of the show. Leading the league for long spells, Brendan Rodgers’ side have looked great going forward and their aim to make the top four seems to be well within reach. However, they’ve struggled to create since losing Philippe Coutinho through injury. But with Luis Suarez returning and no European competition this season, league play is the sole focus for Liverpool and that’s a great thing. The 3-5-2 system is looking good, how long can they keep this momentum going? Record – (5-1-1)

Star Pupil: Daniel Sturridge
Class Clown: Iago Aspas

MANCHESTER CITY B-

A real mixed bag for City so far, but Manuel Pellegrini’s side are still set up nicely. They’ve been Jekyll and Hyde, with tremendous displays at home, four wins from four, but no wins on the road after two shock defeats to Cardiff and Aston Villa. When they’re on form, they’re unstoppable, as the 4-1 derby demolition of Manchester United proved, but the Citizens must be more consistent if they’re going to win the PL title. Joe Hart’s form in goal is worrying, but up front new signings Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas have slotted in well with Sergio Aguero and Sami Nasri. Record – (4-2-1)

Star Pupil: Yaya Toure
Class Clown: Joe Hart

MANCHESTER UNITED F

Well, this isn’t going to plan. Sitting in ninth and suffering three defeats in their first seven matches, David Moyes’ reign at United has been underwhelming so far. The big problem is that this isn’t Moyes’ side, with hardly under roster changes form the Sir Alex Ferguson era. That aside, Wayne Rooney is looking fresh and hungry, but new signing Marouane Fellaini has struggled. However, youngster Adnan Januzaj is a star in the making following his two goals giving United a win vs. Sunderland on his full-debut. Defensively, United look old, with Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra exposed on several occasions and teams picking them off. There’s certainly work to do, can United drag themselves bag into the title race by December? Record – (3-3-1)

Star Pupil: Wayne Rooney
Class Clown: Rio Ferdinand

source: Getty Images
Worrying times at United, as the old guard look fragile.

NEWCASTLE UNITED C

Inconsistency has riddled the Magpies season, with scintillating attacking displays often followed up by inept defense in the same game. Loic Remy has scored five goals so far, and a great win down at Cardiff will spur Alan Pardew’s men on after the international break. But poor defeats at home to Hull City and away at Man City have been the low points. A fully-fit squad will see Newcastle steer safe from relegation, but can they keep sneaking up the table? Record – (3-1-3)

Star Pupil: Loic Remy
Class Clown: Papiss Demba Cisse

NORWICH CITY C-

So far the Canaries are just passing, but Chris Hughton will be disappointed with a lack of goals once again. Last season they struggled offensively, and the expensive additions of Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper have failed to click due to injury and loss of form. They’ve scored just four times in seven games so far, the lowest total in the entire league. Norwich are solid but unspectacular, and I worry about them slipping into a relegation scrap if goals continue to evade them. Record – (2-4-1)

Star Pupil: Nathan Redmond
Class Clown: Ricky van Wolfswinkel

SOUTHAMPTON B+

What an incredible start to the season for the Saints, and could be even better. Four wins and just one defeat sees Mauricio Pochettino’s team in fourth spot and home draws against Sunderland and West Ham should have been wins. Five clean sheets from seven games gives them the best defense in the league and their massive win at Anfield to burst Liverpool’s bubble proved just how good they are. Their high pressing style is breaking down every team, and expensive new additions Victor Wanyama, Dejan Lovren and Daniel Osvaldo have slotted in seamlessly. Can the Saints break into the top six in just their second season back in the big time? Record – (4-1-2)

Star Pupil: Artur Boruc
Class Clown: Gaston Ramirez

source: Getty Images
Surprise package of the season so far… Can the Saints keep marching in?

STOKE CITY C

The Potters are much more ‘aesthetically pleasing’ than in recent season, as Mark Hughes’ team are playing attractive, attacking soccer. They still have an edge and their gigantic team get stuck in, but they’re almost too scared to revert back to the direct play that won them so many games in the Tony Pulis era. This season they have been unlucky with a few decisions and should have beaten Fulham. They’ve held Man City and pushed Arsenal hard at the Emirates, but there’s still plenty of work to do at the Britannia. Definitely a work in progress, but some promising signs. Record – (2-4-1)

Star Pupil: Steven N’Zonzi
Class Clown: Kenwyne Jones

SUNDERLANDF

As starts to the season go, this was one of the worst in living memory. Paolo Di Canio added 13 players over the summer and those new additions failed to impress, gel and eventually cost the Italian his job. Just one point form seven games tells the story, but the Black Cats really have been woeful and lacking in every single department. New manager Gus Poyet has a huge  job on his hands to stave off relegation, the last time a team didn’t win any of their first seven games and stayed up in the PL was in 1999-00, when Newcastle did so. Jozy Altidore hasn’t scored in seven, and has looked devoid of confidence and cutting edge. Can he get going under Poyet? Record – (0-6-1)

Star Pupil: Emanuele Giaccherini
Class Clown: Jozy Altidore

SWANSEA CITY – C+

A really tumultuous start for the Swans, who’ve excelled in the Europa League but struggled in the PL. As normally is the case when a small squad makes it to Europe, Michael Laudrup has found it hard to rest players and mix his squad up between the midweek and weekend games. New addition Jonjo Shelvey had that crazy game against Liverpool where he was involved in all four goals in a 2-2 draw, but has failed to prove he can be their ‘go-to’ guy. Swansea look good going forward, but a little suspect defensively this season. The Welsh team haven’t strayed away from the possession first approach, but they could do with having a plan B every now and then. Lackluster start. Record – (2-1-4)

Star Pupil: Wilfried Bony
Class Clown: Jonjo Shelvey

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR B+

Just one defeat from their first six games, a narrow loss to North London rivals Arsenal, saw Spurs right at the top of the table. But they unraveled against West Ham in a 3-0 home loss on Sunday. Andre Villas-Boas has overseen a terrific overhaul this summer, with the likes of Roberto Soldado, Erik Lamela, Paulinho and Christian Eriksen all impressing as they replaced Gareth Bale. Solid at the back and hugely powerful in midfield, Spurs will be pleased with a good start. Expect more good things from AVB’s side. Record – (4-2-1)

Star Pupil: Paulinho
Class Clown: Nacer Chadli

source: Getty Images
Spurs’ new-look side are gelling quickly at White Hart Lane.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION B

Steve Clarke’s men had a horrendous start to the season, but in the last few weeks they’ve turned things around. A big win against Sunderland, followed by a shock win at Old Trafford and a home draw with Arsenal, has seen the Baggies grow in confidence. Deadline day signings of Victor Anichebe and Stephane Sessegnon have certainly bolstered their attack, West Brom should be fine this season and showed they have what it takes to hang with the big boys. Record – (2-2-3)

Star Pupil: Saido Berahino
Class Clown: Nicolas Anelka

WEST HAM UNITED C+

Big Sam Allardyce has seen his side depleted by injuries, but they just keep plugging away. A big win at Spurs and an opening day victory against Cardiff have been the highlights so far. But the Hammers have definitely found it hard to create goals with Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing out injured. Ravel Morrison is a real talent in midfield, and things should only get better when the treatment tables clear. Things are looking up after a sluggish start to the 2013-14 campaign. Record – (2-3-2)

Star Pupil: Ravel Morrison
Class Clown: James Collins

Report: Liverpool to escape punishment over Van Dijk pursuit

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The Times states that Liverpool will not be punished further for pursuing Southampton defender Virgil Van Dijk.

[ MORE: Expectations for PL managers

Earlier this month the Reds issued a public apology to Southampton and stated they had ended their interest in the 25-year-old Dutch defender following allegations that Van Dijk was flown to Blackpool (just north of Liverpool) to meet with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and their manager messaged VVD “regularly” as they chased the Dutch international.

Southampton, as you would expect, were far from happy about this so-called “tapping up” from Liverpool and reported the Reds to the Premier League by making an official complaint.

Liverpool’s apology was then followed by a preliminary investigation, but reports state that there will be no further action taken against Liverpool by the PL with “insufficient evidence” to support the claims surrounding the alleged “tapping up” of Van Dijk and unless new evidence arrives then the case will be closed.

Regardless, this whole episode has been incredibly embarrassing for Liverpool, especially when you take into account their current ban from signing academy players when a similar case cropped up over chasing a youngster in Stoke City’s academy.

Klopp has not only lost the chance to sign Van Dijk (at least, that’s the way it seems for now) but Liverpool have also lost some respect for the way they supposedly went about this business. American owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) went to great lengths to apologize for this situation and are keen to stress they always conduct their business in a respect manner.

Now, we would all be a little naive to believe that this type of thing doesn’t happen a lot in soccer. A player (usually through his agent) will perhaps gently let another team know he’s interested in a move to them, and the ball gets rolling from there. Of course, the two clubs are supposed to agree a fee for the player first and then said player can meet with his potential new club to square away the details.

Southampton are said to still be furious about the approach from Liverpool to Van Dijk, so much so that if they were to sell their star player and captain this summer (they maintain he’s not for sale) they’d rather take less money from another club (Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal are all said to be interested) than let him leave for Anfield for over $70 million.

After Liverpool plucked Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne and Sadio Mane from Saints in the past few years, it’s easy to understand why the South Coast club are now standing firm and saying enough is enough.

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

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Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

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Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

[ MORE: USMNT’s 23-man roster questions ]

That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

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Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup