Midseason Reports: Everton, Fulham, Hull, Liverpool and Manchester City

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Every day this week we at ProSoccerTalk are assessing how Premier League clubs have fared through the first half of the 2013-14 campaign.

Yesterday Joe Prince-Wright issued midseason reports on Arsenal, Aston Villa, Cardiff City, Chelsea and Crystal Palace. Today it’s time to relay our verdict on Everton, Fulham, Hull City, Liverpool and Manchester City.

Let’s get stuck in. 

EVERTON

Best moment: While Evertonians were delighted to end the 21-year curse of not having won at Old Trafford with a 1-0 win over Manchester United (and former manager David Moyes), the best moment was Gerard Deulofeu’s stunning 84th minute strike to draw 1-1 away at Arsenal. Arguably the best pure footballing display of the season, Everton’s resilience was proven when just four minutes after Mesut Ozil handed Arsenal the lead, the Spanish starlet shimmied Kieran Gibbs before unleashing a fierce knuckler over the head of  Wojciech Szczesny.

Worst moment: Tim Howard’s unnecessary sprawl-out on Ki Sung-Yeung that resulted in the American goalkeeper being sent off and Sunderland scoring the decisive penalty in a 0-1 win at Goodison Park. That loss ended a home unbeaten streak that stretched back 361 days to the 1-2 loss against Chelsea.

Top player: Seamus Coleman. Since being signed from Sligo Rovers for the paltry fee of £60,000 in January 2009, Coleman has gone from average, to decent, to quality, to sensational. This season the buccaneering right-back has five goals in 20 league appearances, making him the most dangerous full-back in the Premier League.

Manager: Diffcult to argue against Roberto Martinez being manager of the year. Everton’s style has gone from conservative/lacking imagination to attacking/full of art. Tough to figure who’s happier – the players or the fans.

Grade: A

If Everton are to capture a spot in the Top 4 they’ll need to improve their depth by adding a player or two in the January transfer window (and not selling anyone) avoiding slip-ups against clubs they should defeat (e.g. Sunderland).

source:  FULHAM

– Best moment: Seven days after sacking the brazen Martin Jol, Fulham put on a fantastic display by dismantling Aston Villa 2-0 at the Cottage.

– Worst moment: The 0-6 defeat at Hull City was disgusting. After a dull, goalless first half Hull administered a merciless beating that saw Fulham collapse as David Stockdale conceded six goals in 35 minutes.

– Top player: Pajtim Kasami. In what has been a season with very few highs, Kasami provided the goal-of-the-season candidate with his incredible chest volley against Crystal Palace and is the Cottagers most dangerous player going forward.

– Manager: Rene Meulensteen. Since coming on board on December 1st, Meulensteen has managed to achieve some continuity at the club although the 0-6 defeat at Hull City was a moment to forget.

– Grade: D

Too much wasted talent in this side, they should be nowhere near the relegation zone. Leadership needs to step forward in the wake of Brede Hangeland’s injuries.

source: Getty ImagesHULL CITY

– Best moment: Just weeks after their horrible defeat to Crystal Palace, Hull City put on an inspiring performance at the KC, defeating Liverpool 3-1 behind goals from Jake Livermore and David Meyler.

– Worst moment: The 0-1 home loss to Crystal Palace was shameful.

– Top player: Tom Huddlestone. After years of failing to fit in at Tottenham, Huddlestone took a leap of faith by accepting a transfer to Hull City where he has led the Tigers to an impressive place in the top half of the table. Always excellent on the ball and a threat from distance, Huddlestone has emerged as the club’s leader and has an outside chance at playing himself into the England fold.

– Manager: Steve Bruce. His best managerial work to date, Bruce is a pleasure to listen to and watch on the sideline. A real player’s manager, Bruce loves his squad and his passion for the club is unrivaled.

– Grade: A-

No one expected this output from Hull City. They play the game the right way and, as Liverpool found out, will punish anyone who’s looking for a walk in the park. Would be a huge boost if they could find the money for a striker in January.

source: Getty ImagesLIVERPOOL

– Best moment: The 5-0 drubbing they handed Tottenham on December 15th, putting an end Andre-Villas Boas’ managerial reign at Spurs. The Reds were sublime on the day and the score didn’t flatter – what was five could have been six or seven.

– Worst moment: The 1-3 loss to Hull City.

– Top player: Luis Suarez. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Suarez is the Michael Jordan of the Premier League. When the season is over and he’s annihilated the scoring record by 10 goals only then will people truly understand the Uruguayan’s impact in the league and world football as a whole.

– Manager: Brendan Rodgers. Two years into his time at Anfield and the consensus is that Rodgers has a great footballing mind, the club is headed in the right direction and all the players have bought into his system.

– Grade: B+

The goal of finishing in the Top 4 will come only if Liverpool learn to avoid lapses like the one at Hull City while also knocking off at least one of top clubs in the league.

source: Getty ImagesMANCHESTER CITY

– Best moment: The 6-3 win over leaders Arsenal was emphatic, with Fernandinho and the strike-force of Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo reeking havoc on the previously tough Gunners’ defense.

– Worst moment: Doesn’t get much lower than losing 0-1 to bottom-of-the-barrel Sunderland, who handed City the fourth defeat in six league outings away from the Etihad Stadium.

– Top player: Yaya Toure. An absolute behemoth of a man with silky skills, creative ability and an unbelievable knack for scoring, Toure is a threat like none other. Ten goals and three assists in 19 league matches as a holding midfielder? That’s nuts.

– Manager: Manuel Pellegrini. After some initial rumbles, Pellegrini has his club playing exactly the way he wants with title hopes domestically and in Europe both serious possibilities.

– Grade: A-

The league favorites have settled into a nice shape but there are still questions in defense and in net – Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart are the keys to this club’s success in the second half of the season.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.

Southgate can see Defoe in England squad long-term

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Gareth Southgate praised Jermain Defoe after his contributions to England’s 2-0 win over Lithuania on Sunday, but accidentally put a condition on his position in the squad.

The 34-year-old scored the opening goal and contributed heavily to the buildup of Jamie Vardy‘s score, and Southgate was happy that his decision to play an in-form striker paid off.

“If he scores like he is in the Premier League, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be,” Southgate said. “We’re never able to pick a full cohort, so it’s important we can call upon the likes of Jermain and he can have the impact like he did today.

“I think we’ve got to look every time we get together as to who is in form. I don’t know if we can have a distinct pecking order because players who are playing well deserve the opportunity. If we are going to be successful, we have to have that competition for places. The reality is we will always lose players to injury.”

[ MORE: Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery before England game ]

A reporter asked him to clarify why he specified that Defoe should be scoring in the Premier League, and with his club Sunderland under heavy threat of relegation, Southgate admitted he let one slip.

“I walked into that,” Southgate said. “I guess the ideal world for all our players is they are playing regularly at a high level. The flip-side is we don’t have a huge pool of players to pick from.  We have to balance off a few different things. I can’t constrain myself on selection entirely, but I know ideally what I’d like to have. His performances and his goalscoring form this season have counted for him.”

Defoe has 14 goals in 28 Premier League appearances for Sunderland this season, but he’s proved the Black Cats’ only threat as they sit bottom of the league table with 20 points. Defoe has become the center of opposition game plans, and as a result he’s slowed down, with just two goals in his last seven games, and the club has little else to pick up the slack.

Still, at 34 years old, many wonder how much longer Defoe can contribute, and if he’ll be a viable option for next year’s World Cup.

Group F gets messy as Slovakia and Scotland grab wins

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England is in control at the top of Group F, but below them things are beginning to get complicated.

Despite the absence of Marek Hamsik due to a last-minute injury, Slovakia defeated Malta 3-1. They took the lead just 97 seconds in as Vladimir Weiss put the visitors in front with a beautiful curling strike from outside the box. Malta struck back through domestic striker Jean Paul Farrugia in the 14th minute, but that was all Malta could muster.

Slovakia would go ahead just before halftime as FC Copenhagen midfielder Jan Gregus put them in front in the 41st minute. The speculative shot from Gregus came from a great distance out, and as it skipped across the ground, it appeared Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg saw it late, as his dive was poor and it skipped off his hands and in.

Both teams ended with 10 men on the field, as Farrugia was sent off with 16 minutes to go for a second yellow, and Adam Nemec saw the same fate in injury time, but before he was sent off, Nemec was there to kill the game off in the 84th minute.

That put Slovakia up to nine points, and it moved them into second place thanks to late drama in Glasgow. Chris Martin gave Scotland all three points with an 88th minute strike as the home side won 1-0 over Slovenia, who dropped from second to third with the loss. The Fulham striker got a beautiful feed through the back line from Stuart Armstrong, and while his shot wasn’t terribly accurate, it was enough to win the game as Slovenia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik gave it a poor effort.

The win for Scotland pulls them above Lithuania and into fourth, a point back of Slovenia in third.