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.

AT THE HALF: Man Utd lead Ajax in UEL final, thanks to Pogba (video)

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After 45 minutes of Wednesday’s Europa League final, between Manchester United and Ajax, in Stockholm, Sweden, Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils have one foot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

After a cagey opening 15 minutes that saw neither side create anything of consequence, Man United pulled ahead on a fair bit of luck in the 18th minute. Paul Pogba received the ball 25 yards from goal, took a touch toward goal and fired a low shot toward goal. Davinson Sanchez did everything he could to get his body in front of the strike, but the ball glanced off his shin, sending it one direction and goalkeeper Andre Onana the other.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Europa League final ] 

Having conceded just eight goals in 14.5 Europa League games thus far this season, would you bet on United conceding an equalizer in the final 45 minutes? Hit the link above to follow along, live.

Valverde dismisses deal to coach Barcelona

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MADRID (AP) Departing Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde has been avoiding talk about a possible move to Barcelona, saying he has not entered into negotiations with any club.

Valverde did not confirm reports that he has already reached a deal to coach Barcelona next season, and did not dismiss taking a year off after four seasons at Athletic.

“I haven’t committed to any club, I haven’t talked to anybody,” Valverde said. “I have an agent and there are teams that have shown interest in me. Now I have to decide whether I will take on a new adventure, and it would have to be a challenging one.”

The 53-year-old Valverde has been widely touted to replace Luis Enrique, who announced earlier this year that he was tired and would not continue as Barcelona’s coach.

The Catalan club ends its season after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday.

The Mundo Deportivo newspaper reported this week that Valverde has already reached a two-year deal with Barcelona, with an option for a third season. The newspaper said the announcement would be made next week.

“I don’t know what’s been published,” Valverde said. “I never talk about negotiations with clubs and that won’t change. This wouldn’t be the first time that I have offers from important clubs.”

He said there was still the possibility of taking some time off and not immediately taking over another club.

“Why not?” he said. “In the end I can do whatever I want, no?”

A former forward, Valverde played two seasons with Barcelona in the late 1980s. He spent six years with Athletic from 1990-96.

Valverde didn’t hide that he will be hoping Barcelona wins the Copa del Rey title this weekend, which would guarantee Athletic a spot in the Europa League next season. Athletic finished seventh in the Spanish league, but will play in the second-tier European competition with a Barcelona victory because the Catalan club will play in the Champions League. Only the teams in fifth and sixth places automatically qualify for the Europa League.

Valverde led Athletic to victory over Barcelona in the final of the Spanish Super Cup in 2015, which marked the team’s first title in more than three decades. He also coached the club from 2003-05.

Valverde has also coached Espanyol, Olympiakos, Villarreal and Valencia.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

LIVE: Man United face Ajax in Europa League final

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Manchester United and Ajax square off in Stockholm, Sweden on Wednesday for the UEFA Europa League trophy and a place in the Champions League next season.

[ LIVE: Europa League final ] 

This a huge game for Jose Mourinho and United bad coming less than 48 hours after a suicide bomber killed 22 people in Manchester, this game has taken an entirely different complexion.

The mood around the Friends Arena is a somber one as Manchester United’s fans mourn those lost in the terror attack and people around the world send their love and prayers to Manchester.

Black armbands will be worn by both teams and there will be a minute’s silence before the game to honor the victims.

United have never won this trophy and they will have their work cut out against a young, talented Ajax side.

Click no the link above to follow the action live from Stockholm, while here at ProSoccerTalk we will have all the analysis, reaction and more from the final.

How will Man United line-up vs. Ajax in Europa League final?

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How will Jose Mourinho set up Manchester United for their crucial Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm on Wednesday?

[ MORE: Europa League final preview ]

With an automatic UEFA Champions League spot on the line, United must win to get back to Europe’s top club competition next season. If they don’t it is back to the Europa League for Mourinho’s men.

This won’t be easy, though, as United’s defense has been ravaged by injuries in recent weeks and they’re without Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Local lad Marcus Rashford has to come up with the goods.

[ MORE: Manchester clubs react to bombing

Ajax’s young, attack-minded side will be led by Kasper Dolberg and Bertrand Traore, while Davy Klaassen will pull the strings in midfield.

Back to United, and with Mourinho confirming Sergio Romero would start in goal ahead of David De Gea, just like he has done for most of the Europa League campaign, we know one starter. In defense it is likely to be Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in the center with Eric Bailly suspended, Marcos Rojo out injured and the duo of Ashley Young and Luke Shaw also missing. Valencia and Blind should get the nod out wide with Darmian in reserve.

Midfield is where things get tricky. Michael Carrick‘s experience may be invaluable but Mourinho is likely to go with Fellaini’s grit (if he’s fit) in the engine room alongside Ander Herrera.

Ahead of them in the three attacking positions, Mkhitaryan and Pogba seem certainties to start and then it’s a straight battle between Lingard, Mata and Martial for the other spot. Lingard may just win that battle due to his superior defensive abilities, but it will be close.

Up top it will be Rashford to start with Wayne Rooney waiting in the wings in what could be his final game for United.

Take a look at our suggested lineup below. Do you agree?


Manchester United starting lineup vs. Ajax, Europa League final

—– Romero —–

— Valencia — Jones — Smalling — Blind —

—- Herrera —- Fellaini —-

— Mkhitaryan — Pogba — Lingard —

—– Rashford —–