Can the Gunners extend their lead at the top? Or will they come unstuck against the Toffees?

Midseason Reports: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Cardiff, Chelsea, Crystal Palace

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Every day this week at ProSoccerTalk we will be assessing how all 20 Premier League teams have fared so far, as we issue our midseason reports.

The second half of the season is already upon us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t reflect on what’s been a sensational start to the 2013-14 PL campaign. Here we go…

ARSENAL

Best moment: A dominant 2-0 win over Liverpool showcased exactly why the Gunners are top of the table. Giroud was the focal point and a plethora of attacking options destroyed the opponents defense.

Worst moment: A 6-3 hammering by Manchester City at the Etihad. Arsenal didn’t play that poorly and created plenty of chances, but incidents involving Mesut Ozil not applauding Arsenal’s fans and Jack Wilshere flipping the bird at City’s supporters left a sour taste in the mouth.

Top player: Aaron Ramsey. Has perhaps been the player of the season so far in the PL. 13 goals across all competitions in the opening half of the season from the flourishing Welshman has driven Arsenal to the top of the league. Hopefully he isn’t out for too long with a recent injury.

Manager: Wenger has done what he needed to do, buy a big name player that complemented his squad. Ozil has done that. Arsenal’s defense has also improved drastically.

GRADE: A-

Almost top marks for the Gunners who led the way by eight points in November. That lead at the top is down to just one point now but players returning from injury is good news.

ASTON VILLA

source: AP
Villa need to stick together, as a tough second half of the season beckons.

Best moment: One of two massive wins at the start of the season, as Villa beat Arsenal 3-1 away on the opening day and Man city at home a few weeks later.

Worst moment: A 1-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace on Boxing Day saw the Villans drop perilously close to the drop zone. A last-gasp defeat made the natives restless.

Top player: Gabriel Agbonlahor. The Villa veteran is still young and his electric pace has caused plenty of problems. Plenty of goals from him this season too.

Manager: Paul Lambert still has his hands tied behind his back, with a young squad and no money to spend. That said, there’s been no real progress.

GRADE: C

Still plenty of work to do at Villa, but some massive wins here and there have shown promise. But there’s been plenty of dismal displays, especially going forward. Given all that, their league position isn’t bad.

CARDIFF

Best moment:  Beating Man City 3-2 at home on a hot August day in South Wales definitely the highlight. Frazier Campbell scored twice late on to give the Bluebirds a famous PL win.

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New boss Ole Gunnar Solksjaer must splash the cash in January if the Bluebirds are to stay up.

Worst moment: Losing 3-0 at home to Southampton on Boxing Day spelled the end for Malky Mackay, as the entire saga between Cardiff’s manager and controversial owner Vincent Tan came to a head.

Top player: Jordon Mutch. The young attacker has taken to the PL like a duck to water, four goals and three assists easily make him Cardiff’s most productive player.

Manager: Mackay was doing a good job but Tan’s involvement made it untenable. Now the Bluebirds’ hopes live with Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, as the former Manchester United boss manages in the PL for the first time.

GRADE: D+

Cardiff were so strong and solid for most of the opening weeks but as the season wore on Mackay’s personal feud with Tan took over. A decent squad who can dazzle on their day, new boss Solksjaer must buy big in January.

CHELSEA

Best moment: The 2-1 home win over Liverpool on Dec. 28 showed how Jose Mourinho’s side can defend well, are resolute and full of creative nous when needed.

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Chelsea’s young attacking stars have to take center stage from here on out.

Worst moment: A 1-0 away defeat at Everton early in the season proved there was plenty of work to do, as the offense looked weak and devoid of ideas. A wake up call.

Top player: Eden Hazard. The young Belgian winger has flourished under the Special One and has scored plenty of important goals, plus he looks hungry to succeed.

Manager: Mourinho repeatedly states he’s starting a project at Chelsea, and with the exciting young attackers he has you can see that. But Chelsea look at their best with staunch defense and lightning-quick counters. So far, so good.

GRADE: B+

Chelsea have plodded along nicely, beaten the sides they should have and frustrated the top teams with tight defensive displays. The Blues are perfectly poised for a title push in the second half of the season.

CRYSTAL PALACE

Best moment: A 2-0 win against Cardiff City at home completed a great run for Palace as their fans began to believe they could survive in the PL.

source: AP
Tony Pulis has brought belief to Palace. But the Eagles are still fighting for their PL lives.

Worst moment: A 4-1 hammering by struggling Fulham, as Ian Holloway knew his time was up at Selhurst Park and left soon after.

Top player: Mile Jedinak. Doesn’t grab many goals but captain Jedinak has been superb in the midfield engine room. The Aussie is powerful, keeps the ball and thwarts the opposition.

Manager: Holloway stepped aside as he thought someone else could save Palace… turns out he could be right. Tony Pulis has arrived and the Eagles have been soaring.

GRADE: C

Nobody expected great things from Palace but they’ve given themselves a fighting chance of staying up with four wins since November. Some shrewd signings in the transfer window could see them just beat the drop.  

Liverpool sign goalkeeper Loris Karius. What is he all about?

MEYRIN, SWITZERLAND - JULY 22:   Loris Karius of 1. FSV Mainz 05 in action during the pre-season friendly match between 1. FSV Mainz 05 and AS Monaco at Stade des Arberes on July 22, 2015 in Meyrin, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
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Liverpool have announced the signing of German goalkeeper Loris Karius, 22, from Mainz 05.

[ MORE: Mourinho in talks with United ]   

The former Manchester City academy product has excelled in the Bundesliga over the past four years, keeping 19 clean sheets in 67 games over the past two campaigns as he became the starting goalkeeper for Mainz, the team Jurgen Klopp used to play for and manage.

In a statement on the club’s website, Liverpool announced that Karius will become their player on July 1 and reports claim the transfer fee is $7.5 million for the Germany U-21 international.

[ MORE: Premier League money table 2015-16 ]

Speaking after signing a five-year deal at Anfield, Karius is delighted to arrive in the Premier League.

“It’s a very good feeling and it’s an honour to play for a club like this. They have a special history and the fans are amazing here, so I look forward to playing at Anfield,” Karius said. “I know a lot about the club from watching them on TV. The history, everybody who plays football knows. There a lot of things in my head when I think of this club. I spoke to the manager and I had a good feeling afterwards because he told me what he wants to do with the club and with the players. It was a good talk with him and after that I was convinced this was the right decision.”

[ MORE: Conte slams MLS after leaving Giovinco, Pirlo out of Italy squad ]

Karius’ arrival will initially spark thoughts that Simon Mignolet‘s position as Liverpool’s first-choice goalkeeper is under threat, especially when you see that Karius has been handed the No. 1 jersey.

The Belgian international, 28, has made several high-profile mistakes during his time at Anfield but Klopp has routinely stated he’s happy with Mignolet and the former Sunderland stopper recently signed a new long-term deal with the club. Yet, when you look at the depth behind Mignolet they are struggling. Adam Bogdan has looked shaky when called upon and then you have youngsters Ryan Fulton and Danny Ward.

Judging by the clips and scouting reports you can find of Karius, he is a hugely energetic goalkeeper who will look to challenge Mignolet for the starting spot from day one.

He is also said to be aggressive in coming for crosses and is good with the ball at his feet. A future Manuel Neuer, perhaps? Liverpool’s fans will certainly hope so.

Take a look at these clips below. Impressive.

Cantona wants Guardiola, not Mourinho, as Man United’s manager

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Eric Cantona will cause quite a stir with these comments.

The eccentric Frenchman is a Manchester United legend so, naturally, whenever he says anything about the Red Devils people stand up and take notice.

[ MORE: Mourinho in talks with United ]   

Less than 24 hours after Louis Van Gaal was out as United’s manager, Cantona (who turned 50 today) has been speaking about the possibility of Jose Mourinho taking charge at Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Premier League money table 2015-16 ]

In true Cantona fashion he is a fan, but he’s not really a fan. What else did you expect from the man who said: “When the seagulls follow the trawler it is because they think sardines will fall into the ocean.”

[ MORE: Conte slams MLS after leaving Giovinco, Pirlo out of Italy squad ]

Anyway, here’s what “King Eric” had to say about Mourinho in a lengthy chat with The Guardian:

“I love Jose Mourinho, but in terms of the type of football he plays I don’t think he is Manchester United,” Cantona said. “I love his personality, I love the passion he has for the game, his humor. He is very intelligent, he demands 100 percent of his players. And of course he wins things but I don’t think it’s the type of football that the fans of Manchester United will love, even if they win. He can win with Manchester United. But do they expect that type of football, even if they win? I don’t think so.

“Guardiola was the one to take. He is the spiritual son of Johan Cruyff. I would have loved to have seen Guardiola in Manchester [United]. He is the only one to change Manchester. He is in Manchester, but at the wrong one.”

The Frenchman was also asked if he would become manager of United one day if they asked him? Here’s his playful answer.

“I do many things and I’m very happy. But if they asked me to become the manager of Manchester United, I would,” Cantona said. “Because Guardiola is in Manchester City and they want someone to win things with wonderful football? It’s me.”

Cantona so often speaks season in a roundabout way and it is hard to argue with his assertion that Guardiola would’ve been United’s preferred choice over Mourinho.

Look at the legacy Guardiola has left behind at Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Sure, he didn’t have to massively rebuild the entire squad like the new United manager is going to have to do, but he arguably improved both teams (okay, Bayern’s failure in the UCL muddies that argument slightly but they improved in many ways under Pep) and has left them in extremely strong positions.

Mourinho has left shipwrecks behind at Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid in the past and he is all about the short-term. He gets results but Cantona hit the nail on the head, his style of play may not win over United’s fans. However, they just want to win and even Cantona, one of the greatest artists the game has ever seen, knows how important that is.

Premier League release prize money table for 2015-16 season

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 07:  Captain Wes Morgan and manager Claudio Ranieri of Leicester City lift the Premier League Trophy after the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on May 7, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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At least Arsenal is on top of one league…

The Premier League prize money table has been released for the 2015-16 season and Arsene Wenger‘s pulled in $147 million in prize money and TV money to lead the PL.

[ MORE: Mourinho in talks with United ]   

PL champs Leicester City received $135 million and come in fifth place behind Arsenal, Manchester City ($141.6 million), Manchester United ($140.8 million) and Tottenham Hotspur ($139 million).

In contrast with Arsenal’s $147 million at the summit of this table, Aston Villa sit in 20th place but still brought in $97.1 million.

[ MORE: Conte slams MLS after leaving Giovinco, Pirlo out of Italy squad ]

The PL released the statement below on its website about these figures and gave a little more detail as to where this money comes from and how it is distributed.

The revenue distributed to clubs includes income generated from the sale of central broadcasting rights (UK and international) and other central commercial rights.  The mechanism for distributing this revenue is the most equitable of Europe’s major football leagues and is based on the Premier League Founder Members’ Agreement, the contract signed by the initial clubs that formed the League in 1992.

It has resulted in a ratio of 1.52:1 between the club finishing top and that finishing bottom in 2015/16, the lowest such ratio in the history of the Premier League, and works as follows:

  • 50% of UK broadcast revenue split equally between the 20 clubs

  • 25% of UK broadcast revenue paid in Merit Payments (“Prize Money” per place in the table)

  • 25% of UK broadcast revenue paid in Facility Fees each time a club’s matches are broadcast in the UK

  • All international broadcast revenue, and central commercial revenue, is split equally among the 20 clubs

Each club gets an equal share of domestic and overseas TV income, plus central commercial (sponsorship) money and is rewarded with $1.8 million in a merit payment for every place it finishes in the league. So Aston Villa who finished in 20th received a merit payment of $1.8 million, while champions Leicester received $36.2 million for finishing top.

The values in the table below shows exactly how the money was distributed between the 20 PL clubs this season as teams who had more than 10 games live on TV received an extra $1.1 million for every game broadcast.


Conte slams MLS after leaving Pirlo, Giovinco off EURO 2016 roster

FLORENCE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 01:  Coach Italy Antonio Conte (L) and Sebastian Giovinco during an Italy training session at Coverciano on September 1, 2014 in Florence, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte isn’t a man to mince his words.

The Italian national team manager has given his reasoning for not including Sebastian Giovinco or Andrea Pirlo in his initial 30-man Italy squad for the 2016 European Championships in France this summer and it won’t be music to the ear of MLS fans.

[ MORE: Mourinho in talks with United ]  

According to La Gazzetta dello Sport Conte spoke to reporters at Italy’s training base and belittled Major League Soccer, essentially claiming that Giovinco and Pirlo playing in MLS means they aren’t up to speed and therefore weren’t available for selection for the Azzurri. Ouch.

In the past Conte had been positive about Giovinco’s move to MLS but apparently that’s not the case anymore.

[ PHOTOS: Ronaldo injured in training for Real

Here are Conte’s comments which will sound like fingertips scrapping down a chalkboard to MLS proponents.

“I spoke to Andrea, I needed to hear from him and we sent people to the US,” Conte said. “Nothing was left to chance. We evaluated [Pirlo] and Giovinco, it’s normal that if you choose to go and play MLS then you can pay the consequences in footballing terms.

“We evaluated them technically, we didn’t leave anything to chance. Anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong, we went everywhere to have clear and precise ideas. I picked the 30 who I think will give me the most guarantees.”

So, yeah, he said that: “If you choose to go and play MLS then you can pay the consequences in footballing terms.”

When you break down those comments, it appears to be more geared towards Giovinco than Pirlo. The latter has struggled since arriving in MLS but “The Atomic Ant” ripped it up last season on his way to the Golden Boot and MVP honors and has started off this season in similar fashion.

Conte will take over as Chelsea’s manager this summer and (you guessed it) their preseason tour will be in the USA as they play Liverpool, Real Madrid and AC Milan in the International Champions Cup.

It will be interesting to hear if Conte gets any abuse from the pro-MLS crowd but they’re pretty use to foreign coaches and players dissing their leagues over the years. This isn’t the first time and won’t be the last but it is still disappointing that a manager has decided to go down this route when discussing why he left players off the roster. If that’s how Conte really feels, though, you have to applaud him for being honest.

Yes, MLS is growing. Yes, the standard of play is improving. Yet however you want to sugarcoat it, comments like this from Conte will not improve the reputation of MLS in Europe and especially in Italy. Whether he meant to do that or not, that’s certainly what Conte implied.