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

How long is Sebastian Giovinco for Toronto FC?

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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While Toronto FC’s CONCACAF Champions League success has largely been driven by Sebastian Giovinco — Wednesday’s final second leg not withstanding — perhaps the Reds’ brass isn’t convinced the diminutive 31-year-old can keep it up much longer (at least in terms of value).

[ MORE: Behind the scenes at NYCFC training ]

Toronto’s dynamic Designated Player says he wants to stay in Ontario, implying that he’d like to be there for the rest of his career, but TFC’s brass may not want to pony up DP dollars for the next stage of Giovinco’s career.

From The Toronto Sun’s Kurt Larson:

“I already talk, but they said it’s not the moment (for contract talks),” Giovinco told the Sun. “For them, that’s not a problem, for me it is a little bit. I want to know my future. I have family. I’m 31 years old. For what I do for the city, I think I deserve it, no? … For them it’s not a problem, for me it’s starting to be a problem … I already said I want to stay here forever … If not, I have to think about other options.”

Let’s look into Seba’s success. The Italian has three goals and four assists in seven CCL matches (though scoreless through three MLS matches).

2017: 32 games, 20 goals, seven assists (6W-3L-2T w/o him)
2016: 37 games, 22 goals, 16 assists (1W-1L-4T w/o him)
2015: 35 games, 23 goals, 14 assists (0W-2L w/o him)

The assist numbers took a hit with the emergence of Victor Vazquez, but the ex-Barcelona man is also 31 years old. Michael Bradley turns 31 this summer, and Jozy Altidore is 29 in November.

Who will stay long-term? Who could general manager Tim Bezbatchenko have in mind as replacements, upgrades, or buttressing? Inquiring minds are

Checking the Championship with two weeks to go

Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
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There are two match days left before the Football League Championship playoffs, and there’s still no clarity outside of who will finish first.

The champion Wolverhampton Wanderers have a 12-point lead on second place, but there are three teams still alive for the second automatic promotion spot and technically seven who can make it into the playoffs.

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

May 6 is the final day, and all kickoffs will take place at 12:30 p.m. ET

Instant promotion battle

Cardiff City, Fulham, and Aston Villa are the three sides aiming to finish second, with Cardiff currently holding the advantage. Their 86 points are one more than Fulham, and four clear of Aston Villa.

2. Cardiff (86 pts, +28): at Hull City, vs. Reading
3. Fulham (85 pts, +34): vs. Sunderland, at Birmingham City
4. Aston Villa (82 pts, +31): vs. Derby County, at Millwall

Projection: Cardiff has a decent run-in, but Fulham’s path will carry it past them should the Bluebirds stumble at all. Aston Villa faces two sides aiming for the playoffs, and is probably plotting out its strategy for the playoffs themselves.

Playoff spots

Aside from the two above sides who fail to grab second, there are seven other sides within varying degrees of probability for a playoff spot. Middlesbrough and Derby County hold fifth and sixth now, but Millwall and Brentford are within a win of the Top Six and Preston North End, Bristol City, or Sheffield United could get in with a win and help.

5. Middlesbrough (72 pts, +20): vs. Millwall, at Ipswich Town
6. Derby County (71 pts,+19): at Aston Villa, vs. Barnsley
7. Millwall (69 pts, +12): at Middlesbrough, vs. Aston Villa
8. Brentford (68 pts, +12): at Barnsley, vs. Hull City
9. Preston (67 pts, +9): at Sheffield United, vs. Burton Albion
10. Bristol City (66 pts, +10): at Nottingham Forest, vs. Sheffield Utd
11. Sheffield United (66 pts, +7): vs. Preston, at Bristol City

Projection: Brentford is the only club without at least one date against a promotion hopeful, but everyone under 8th will be rooting for Derby to lose out (and probably Boro to draw Millwall?). Preston and Sheffield are likely staging a knockout match on Saturday. Expect Tony Pulis and Boro to avoid dropping from the Top Six, an Derby should manage its fate well even with Villa on the fixture list. Yet don’t be surprised if Brentford climbs into sixth even though the Bees have only claimed a point of six from their remaining opponents.

Behind the scenes: A look into an NYCFC player’s training routine

New York City FC
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Professional athletes are often lauded for their achievements on and off their field of play, but for those that have never played their respective sport at the highest level it is often difficult to exactly understand what occurs on an everyday basis for that athlete.

Regimented training schedules, as well as pre-planned diets for each player are only a few of the considerations that take place between a club and its players, and New York City FC is no different.

[ MORE: Sweden coach says Ibra must reach out to have chance at World Cup ]

On Tuesday, Pro Soccer Talk and various members of the media had the unique opportunity to visit the Etihad City Football Academy — NYCFC’s new, state-of-the-art training facility in Orangeburg, New York to get a closer look at what the daily life of a soccer player is like.

PST’s Matt Reed, and decided to keep a journal of many of the day’s activities, from getting all geared up in the locker room to viewing his performance from the day’s training session following the workout.

Below, we’ll take an hour-by-hour look at what it means to be an NYCFC player.


9 a.m. ET

Upon arriving in Orangeburg, the first thing noticeable when pulling off of the Palisades Parkway was the town’s devotion to soccer.

Before driving into the parking lot at NYCFC’s facility, it’s nearly impossible to miss the various turf fields that lie in front of the City Football Group-owned ground. Those fields belong to World Class FC — a local U.S. Soccer Development academy that has begun working closely with the Major League Soccer side.

After parking the car and walking through the front doors of the venue, there was immediately a presence that could not be overlooked. On the near-side wall was a global map, which featured pinpoints of each of CFG’s entities around the globe, which include parent club Manchester City, NYCFC and Melbourne City, among others.

Breakfast was the first item on the agenda in the team’s cafeteria, which featured an open setting that allows players to either eat inside or outdoors right next to the pitch. Every food and beverage item features a card next to it indicating the calorie intake, which is something the organization is making a strong effort to pay close attention to.

Following the meal, we had the chance to walk through the facility, which features a very similar setup to that of Man City and Melbourne. The design is said to be nearly identical to NYCFC’s sister club in Australia.

Many of the club’s full-time staff for both the senior and academy teams work on-site in Orangeburg, with an office view that allows the employees to look directly outside to the pitch.

One major emphasis from the club and its vision of the facility was to allow everybody to be inclusive of one another.

That was in focus when we visited the indoor training area, filled with weights, stationary bicycles and various workout machines. Not only can players view the pitch outside, but the team’s medical staff is able to see everything in that room, as well as on the opposite side of the wall where players can be tended to for injuries, massages, ice baths and other amenities.

New York City FC

10 a.m ET

Although NYCFC has been training at its new facility for over a month now, the occasion served as an official opportunity to open up the ground with all of the club’s executives.

Technical director Claudio Reyna and head coach Patrick Vieira were on-site for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, along with Vice-Chairman of NYCFC, Marty Edelman, and president Jon Patricof.

Photo by Anthony J. Causi

As several of NYCFC’s higher-ups alluded to on Tuesday, their vision for the new facility won’t be simply for the club, but also give the opportunity to other teams to practice in Orangeburg when they are in town.

Man City has already been scheduled to make a visit to the training ground in late July when the incumbent Premier League champions arrive in the United States for the International Champions Cup.

They’ll face PL giants Liverpool on July 25 at MetLife Stadium, approximately 30 minutes from the NYCFC training facility.

PST then had an opportunity to speak to several players and staff members in an open media forum, so we decided to provide some of the most-notable takeaways from the discussions.

Patrick Vieira on links to Arsenal

“Who? Vieira said jokingly. “No. I’m sure you would know before I do. It’s an honor, of course. It’s Arsenal Football Club, and it’s a big football club.

Vieira on how the club has been able to become more inclusive at the training ground

“When I was talking to Claudio about what we really wanted here we wanted our departments to interact with each other. We wanted to be more like a family. People can see each other. It’s not too small, and it’s not too flashy. You understand what I mean? You have what you need. There’s nothing over the top that we don’t need. Every single room makes sense. At the same time it’s good, and it’s simple. I really love this facility. There’s nothing extra that we don’t need.”

President Jon Patricof on vision for pursuing a stadium

“This is not going to put our fans at ease. And nor should it. Listen, MLS is continuing to grow and the stakes are rising. The standards are rising. We’re really proud of this facility, but this is what is expected of MLS clubs today. It’s a huge milestone. It’s important.In no way does it slow down our plans in pursuing a stadium. We have to and continue to press full speed on that front. I recognize that expectations are high. We are highly focused on it.”

Technical director Claudio Reyna on having their own facility

“Manchester is still part of the group, so it’s an extended home for us as part of the team. Also, in January the weather isn’t great here. Not that it’s great in Manchester either, but it allows us to send guys there and get some preparation ahead of the MLS season. But of course, what we didn’t have at SUNY Purchase for December and January was a gym space. And if the field is in good condition then we can obviously use it. The players come earlier and leave later. They want to stick around, and they do extra work. It’s very motivating for them. Since this will be our first offseason here, we’ll see how the players use it, but I think a lot of them will be here once the season is over.

Goalkeeper Sean Johnson on setting the standard for other MLS sides

“I can’t speak for the rest of Major League Soccer because I haven’t been around to many club’s training facilities, but what I can say is that from my experience this place doesn’t compare to anything I’ve seen. For a player to have a place like this is amazing, and us as players don’t take it for granted. We feel this is very special, and we want to make sure that we’re doing our part and give back.”

Midfielder Tommy McNamara on being from the Orangeburg area

“It’s beautiful. We’re very appreciative to have it. We’re given everything we need to compete. We feel very grounded and settled here like we’re at home. My parents live three miles down the road. My cousins, you could walk to their house from here. My sister grew up on those fields. It means a lot to me because this is literally home to me.”


11 a.m./12 p.m. ET

It’s impossible to pinpoint one specific highlight that created the best memory of the experience, but viewing the locker room and physically participating in training have to be high up on the list.

After sitting down for the interviews, we got to suit up just as NYCFC players would, went out to the pitch, and experienced a Vieira-led training session up close and personal.

Before moving to the field, members of the media were given their own kits and changed in the locker room, which featured a unique twist on a traditional changing area.

The circular dynamic of the room is another measure of the team’s willingness to create a welcoming atmosphere for its senior players.

That was something McNamara and Villa stated repeatedly during his interview sessions with the media, and they believe it is one of several reasons why the club’s camaraderie has improved with the current group of players.

Then, it was time to hit the training room for several workout exercises to warm up, including leg lifts, several forms of dynamic yoga and box-jumping routines.

Once the warmups were over and everyone was loose, we went out onto the pitch to receive instructions from Vieira and the rest of his training staff. The former Premier League midfielder broke the session up into different groups to focus on certain drills, as the team would on a regular training day.

A communication drill kicked off the on-field display, as players passed the ball to one another in a small 10 yard by 10 yard grid.

Then, games of 3 versus 3 and passing drills designed to find the open player were implemented to get a better feel for the group of players.

Needless to say, t’s very easy to see how difficult some of the exercises are…


1 p.m. ET

After a filling lunch back in the cafeteria, the final stop of the day brought us to the film room, where we had the chance to view some of the action from our on-field session.

Several members of NYCFC’s coaching staff indicated the importance of these sessions, which normally takes place in small groups. Vieira stated that he has put an emphasis on the meetings to not only point out areas where his players can improve, but also to indicate something a particular player is doing well.

Matt Reed/Pro Soccer Talk

One person, in particular, who is often only caught behind the scenes for the club is Head of Performance Analysis, Daniel Fradley. Vieira suggested that Fradley has been an integral part in NYCFC’s analytical approach, which has helped the club improve since the team’s inception over three years ago.

On a regular day of training, NYCFC players have the opportunity to speak with Vieira, Fradley and other members of the staff about their individual play from their session on the pitch. This includes individual tactical approaches, as well as how the group as a whole should be performing as a unit.


Training evaluation

For about five minutes, there was a strong sense within myself that I could impress Vieira and the rest in attendance, but then I came the realization that I haven’t played competitive soccer in years and this was a lot more difficult than I had anticipated.

To be perfectly blunt, the warmup exercises were tricky enough as it was, and that was only coupled by the fact that the on-field experience featured my very sloppy touches on the ball and several missed opportunities shooting on goal.

Straying away from my personal lack of soccer skills though, it’s very easy to see why the NYCFC players enjoy their new facility so much.

As Vieira stated so succinctly, “The venue isn’t too big and it isn’t too small. It has exactly everything that we need.”

UCL Preview: Will CR7 continue to haunt Bayern Munich?

Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
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Bayern Munich hopes home field can be the key to its first win over Real Madrid in six tries.

The German powers have lost five-straight UEFA Champions League encounters against Real heading into Wednesday’s semifinal first leg at the Allianz Arena (2:45 p.m. ET kickoff).

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

Real knocked Bayern out of the 2013-14 and 2016-17 UCL, with Bayern eliminated Real in penalty kicks during the semifinal round of 2011-12.

All told, this is the 12th time Real and Bayern have met on the road to the European Cup.

It was the quarterfinal stage last season that saw Cristiano Ronaldo score five times over two legs including both goals in a 2-1 first leg win in Germany. He also scored twice against the Bavarians in 2013-14, and twice in 2011-12 (though he missed the first penalty of the semifinal shootout).

Real’s German midfielder, Toni Kroos, is quite wary of the superpowers from his home nation:

“I’ve been playing alongside a lot of Bayern players for many years now in the national team, but if you look at Bayern’s possible line-up, you can see that they have a lot of very good players. They’re in better shape than they were last year and we’ve got to go out and play our game.”

Real boss Zinedine Zidane knows there’s a juicy subplot with James Rodriguez on loan at Bayern and very much enjoying his football, but says it’s media-driven and nothing on the mind of Zizou or James.

“I didn’t want James to go, he decided to go. I never had any problem with James and it’s more about what is said in the press,” Zidane said, according to Goal.com. “I think he will be motivated because he is a football player. He doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. Anyone that thinks I am against James is wrong. He will want to go out and prove himself but because he likes football and that’s it.”

Rodriguez has six goals and 12 assists across 34 appearances for Bayern this season, though just one assist has come in the UCL.

Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes says James’ exit from Real might’ve been desired but it wasn’t easy for the player.

“He was a little depressed,” Heynckes said. “I took care of him, I had lots of talks with him, and step by step he found confidence. He is more relaxed within the team. Our fans here, when they see him play football, they enjoy it. Above all he is a player who has fantasy, has an overview. He is more open-minded and gives the impression he feels well and has settled in Munich.”