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.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”