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

Klopp hails players in blowout, downplays squad rotation

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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain isn’t bothered by Jurgen Klopp‘s squad rotation at Liverpool.

“The front four have been on fire, they are not bad,” he said after the Reds battered Bournemouth 4-0 on Sunday.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

“Everyone’s a quality player and the rest of us have to sneak our noses in there. Squad rotation is important, keeps us fresh.”

Klopp was a little more critical of his squad, saying the changes had more to do with how the Reds performed against West Brom than a need to keep players fresh.

“I like them but against West Brom they didn’t hit the target. I don’t change my mind in three minutes, but we have to be consistently good because we are Liverpool.”

The manager especially loved how well Liverpool started, as Bournemouth didn’t have a chance to get moving. Klopp gets plenty of criticism, but he almost always has his finger on the pulse of his club. Sunday was a big win for the manager and his club, even if it was somewhat expected.

Making sense of the table in a Man City world

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There are natural advantages to being atop the table deep into a Premier League season, the most evident being the ability to enter into any match against a challenger knowing a draw will likely be fine.

But what about being ahead of the field by double digits?

Perspective is a major challenge when a team is as doing as well as Manchester City. Pep Guardiola‘s men have drawn just once in 18 matches, and hold a 11-point lead on Manchester United, 14 points better than third place Chelsea.

Speaking of the Blues, manager Antonio Conte raised an interesting point after Chelsea beat Southampton on Saturday. Conte says City’s crazy run has colored over his team’s fine results, as last season’s champions are 8-1-1 since losing two-straight in October.

[ MORE: WBA 1-2 Man Utd | Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

Four losses is four losses — United has three — but it’s an interesting notion. Both sides have lost to City at home, but otherwise will finish the weekend boasting multiple match leads on the field when it comes to second- and third-place.

Is this much different from recent years? Consider the following seasons after 18 weeks.

Remember: Manchester United has 41 points, and Chelsea 38 (And United has been missing its World XI class player for all but eight games. Some of his doing, some not).

2016-17

Chelsea led the table with 46 points, six better than Liverpool and seven ahead of Man City. Spurs, who would finish second, had 33 points with a match-in-hand. That 13-point gap closed to seven.

2015-16

Leicester was atop the table with 38 points, just two better than Arsenal and three ahead of Man City. They’d finish 10 points better than Arsenal’s 71.

2014-15

Chelsea (45 points) held a three-point advantage on Man City and 10 on third place Manchester United. The Blues would finish eight points ahead of City.

2013-14

Liverpool and Arsenal were dead even with 36 points, one better than eventual champions Man City. The title winners finished two ahead of Liverpool, four free of Chelsea, and six past Arsenal.

So… both United and Chelsea would be leading the Premier League in two of the past four seasons, which is certainly notable.

I don’t want to belabor the Pogba point too much, especially since the most recent absence comes from a red card suspension, but what if United had him for all those matches? Do they find a goal in the 0-0 at Liverpool? Get a point from the 1-0 loss at Chelsea? Flip the script on the 2-1 loss at Huddersfield Town?

Let alone the City loss.

But again, seasons like this one from City remind us of the challenges of framing seasons when one campaign is oh-so-dominant.

Liverpool mashes Cherries

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  • Coutinho, Salah score beauties (video)
  • Cherries winless in six
  • Reds unbeaten in nine
  • Robertson key on left side

Liverpool ran a red-hot first half to an easy 4-0 win over Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday.

Mohamed Salah and Philippe Coutinho scored highlight reel goals, with Dejan Lovren and Roberto Firmino pitching in flying headers, as the Reds moved into the Top Four with 34 points.

Bournemouth sits 16th, a point ahead of the relegation zone, and witnessed a match much different than last season’s 4-3 win over Liverpool at the same venue.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Joe Gomez curled a shot wide of the goal in the fourth minute. A Nathan Ake foul six minutes later gave Liverpool a free kick just outside the 18, and Philippe Coutinho struck a sweet effort off the inside of the post… and out.

Coutinho nearly put a chance home moments later, so it was not surprise when he scored the match’s first goal. A mazy dribbled past two Cherries ended with a shot across his body and inside the near post. Wonderful stuff. 1-0.

Lovren had 2-0 within six minutes, hitting the deck with a diving header goal after Roberto Firmino saved a corner kick on the line at the back post.

Jermain Defoe timed his run well for a 1v1 with Simon Mignolet, but his shot caromed off the far post.

It would’ve been 3-0 were it not for an outstanding reaction save from Asmir Begovic as Mohamed Salah attempted to cap off a terrific team play in the 43rd minute.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Salah got his goal in stunning fashion, bodying off a defender before dribbling past two more to finish with an off-balance belt past Begovic.

Substitute Ryan Fraser had a chance to pull one back in the 56th minute, but rang it wide of the near post.

The Reds raised their advantage to four on another Robertson started move, with Firmino heading a Coutinho cross beyond Begovic.

Mourinho on muted celebrations from Lukaku, himself

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There’s a lot of buzz about celebrating, and not celebrating, when it comes to Manchester United.

Star striker Romelu Lukaku‘s post-goal actions were muted for a second-straight week, and manager Jose Mourinho appeared nonchalant on the bench.

[ RECAP: WBA 1-2 Man Utd ]

For Lukaku, that could be down to his status as a former West Brom player (and to be sure he was quite energetic in support of Jesse Lingard‘s insurance goal).

As for Mourinho, this is a man who was quite critical of Man City’s celebrations after winning a derby at Old Trafford. And Jose isn’t one to let a story line die unnecessarily.

Here’s Mourinho when asked about Lukaku’s non-celebration, from the BBC:

“Maybe he looks to the bench and sees his manager doesn’t celebrate. Maybe he loves West Brom. Maybe he remembers the team that helped him early in his career.

“I will celebrate if my team scores a winning goal in the last minute. But you have to have more maturity and keep your feet on the ground. If some guys want to be kids until the last day of their careers or if they want to act to the cameras then they can. But if we score an important goal then I can do anything.”

On one hand, I get it. On the other hand (and a third if I can find one), be okay with having a bit of fun, Jose.

United is back to within 11 points of leaders Man City, and it’s a massive mountain to climb for the Red Devils. Yet Ander Herrera, who was terrific again on Sunday, said the directive is simple: control what you can.

“We won three titles last season, which was very good. It is true that the top of the table is difficult to reach right now but this is Premier League, you never know. Our aim is just to keep winning games.”

The side’s 41 points through 18 matches would’ve been enough to lead the Premier League in two of the previous four seasons. No one’s going to tell United to be content with where they stand, but it’s been a fine season for Mourinho’s men so far.