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.

Everton 2-0 Hajduk Split: Toffees cruise in Europa League first leg

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  • Keane nabs first EFC goal
  • Baines, Rooney with classy assists
  • Gueye scores rare goal
  • Second leg Aug. 24 in Croatia

Michael Keane and Idrissa Gana Gueye scored as Everton took a 2-0 lead over HNK Hajduk Split in a UEFA Europa League playoff round first leg at Goodison Park on Thursday.

Leighton Baines and Wayne Rooney had assists for the Toffees, while Jordan Pickford, Ademola Lookman, and Davy Klaassen also posted lively performances for the hosts ahead of next week’s second leg.

The Toffees could’ve scored four or five if not for questionable offside calls alone, and the match was interrupted in the first half when the Hajduk support section got out of hand.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Ademola Lookman won an early corner for Everton that led to nothing, and played a terrific ball into the center of the box that Davy Klaassen just missed with a sliding effort.

Hajduk had a moment in two in transition, but the Toffees handled it well. Baines in particular broke up the earliest sign of danger.

The breakthrough goal was splendid, with Baines scooping up a punched corner kick and darting past a defender to dink an aesthetically-pleasing ball into traffic for Keane to head home. 1-0, 30′.

The match was stalled for 5-10 minutes after riotous behavior from visiting Hajduk Split supporters, who tossed bottles onto the field and charged at the stewards (one appeared to punch a security guard).

The Toffees went up 2-0 off a classy assist from Rooney, who was moving away from the defense when he cut a ball to a darting Gueye. The Senegalese engine provided a rare goal in the 45th minute.

[ MORE: Europa League schedule ]

The chances were at a premium for both sides in the second half, with Everton still having the better of play. But Jordan Pickford had to get horizontal to make an outstanding two-handed parry on a Hajduk rush in the 61st minute.

Hajduk really found its game late as Everton seemed to rest on its laurels. Pickford was livid, and called into duty to make some big stops and preserve an important home clean sheet.

America’s latest Bundesliga teenager eyes the future

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As recently as Wednesday, Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie joined his American teammate Nick Taitague and fellow Yank teenager Christian Pulisic for an afternoon of FIFA at Pulisic’s place in Gelsenkirchen.

How long those sort of friendly meetings will endure is up for discussion, because one of the world’s best rivalries has two young American friends on either side.

McKennie is a whopping 21 days older than Borussia Dortmund’s Pulisic, and will turn 19 on August 28. He’s also following in the footsteps of Pulisic as a teenage member of the Revierderby.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks ]

“When we hang out it doesn’t come up, but we know in the back of our heads that when that game comes around we’ll have to hit pause on our friendship,” McKennie told ProSoccerTalk. “After that game we’ll see how it goes, but I’m sure it’ll be the same.”

The friendship of McKennie, Pulisic, Taitague, and Haji Wright — Wright has left Schalke for a loan stint at Sandhausen in 2.Bundesliga — has otherwise been a boon to the American quartet, and it isn’t wild to consider the unit’s formative days in Germany as a harbinger of what’s to come for the United States men’s national team.

McKennie, 18, could be a massive part of American soccer in the future. Rated the 13th best U-20 prospect in the Bundesliga, the Texas-born midfielder has drawn glowing reviews from new manager Dominic Tedesco, who lauded the player’s “super pressing game” in a senior debut earlier this week, and veterans Benedikt Howedes and Matija Nastasic only had good things to say in conversations with PST this week.

“In the defensive midfield he already operates very mature,” said Howedes, the longtime Schalke man who won the 2014 World Cup with Germany. “He works hard all the time and showed in pre-season that he can help us. If he develops like he has done until now, the team will be pleased with him. Also, he is clever in his head and a really funny guy.”

Nastasic, who won the Premier League with Manchester City in 2013-14, is very pleased with McKennie’s two-way game.

[ MORE: Thursday’s transfer rumor roundup | Wednesday | Tuesday ]

“He’s very very good player in the middle because he can go up front and finish actions but also in defense he’s very good,” Nastasic said. “For me, he’s a box-to-box player who can run and is strong. He can be very very good.”

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Both players stressed patience with McKennie and a Schalke squad that has youthful talent in bunches. In addition to the American teenager, there’s Swiss sensation Breel Embolo, Algerian midfielder Nabil Bentaleb, and German trio Max Meyer, Leon Goretzka, and Fabian Reese.

In Meyer and Goretzka, McKennie has teammates who boast more than 210 league appearances despite a combined age of 43. Both won silver medals at the 2016 Olympics and Goretkza won the Silver Boot and Bronze Ball as Germany won the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.

The fact that these players surround McKennie, Schalke’s youngest First Teamer, and have done so much at their ages is not lost on the American midfielder.

“Being around guys who’ve accomplished so much at a young age, even with Christian being younger than me and achieving so much and setting the way over here, you’re surrounding yourself with people who are only going to make you better,” McKennie said.

“Knowing ‘This kid’s only one year older than me. This kid’s only two years older than me,’ and seeing the way they carry themselves and the amount of experience they’ve had, it rubs off on you.”

And it’s not just the young guys bringing the energy as Schalke prepares for its Bundesliga opener on Saturday against Red Bull Leipzig.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Brooks out 3 months for Wolfsburg ]

“The spirit, if you could be in the locker room, it’s amazing,” McKennie said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are. The older guys like Naldo and Coke still joke around with young guys. Me being the youngest I get a little bit more than everyone else.”

As for his American hopes, McKennie has spoken of his hopes to get into Bruce Arena’s USMNT fold. He’s hopeful for a call into a friendly camp in the next year, and harbors long shot hopes for a spot on a potential World Cup roster.

Playing an important position in one of the world’s top leagues at age 18 won’t hurt that, though minutes will certainly be difficult to come by this season given Schalke has a rare campaign outside of both the UEFA Champions League and Europa League.

And it may not surprise then when asked to target his role as a potential international, he hopes to grow into a player who’d be described as a mix of two of the United States’ all-time best at that position (one who’s starred at Schalke).

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“I’d kinda say Jermaine Jones if you had to choose a national team player, for the stuff that he does and maybe Michael Bradley, one of those players who is calm on the ball and can play that long ball, the one that is there at the right moments.” McKennie said, though at his age he obviously hasn’t seen a wide variety of USMNT center mids.

“Jermaine in my eyes is one of those guys who gets stuck in no matter what. He goes with all he has, and does the dirty work. That’s kinda how I picture myself.”

All of that isn’t to put the cart before the horse. McKennie is very clear in answering any questions about his future with measured responses. He has a lot of work to do to continue his rise into Schalke’s set-up.

[ MORE: Costa — “I must return to Atletico Madrid” ]

For now, he’ll keep doing what he’s doing, working as hard as possible to maintain a spot in Tedesco’s mix and growing alongside Taitague and Wright, and across the pitch from Pulisic, even as his BVB buddy makes it a bit harder to go out on the town.

“In his area and even in Gelsenkirchen because we’re rivals, he’s noticeable, but he’s not a player who tries to be noticed,” McKennie said. “There are players who try to be noticed, but he’s not. He’s not gonna say no to taking a photo, but even if he’s having a bad day he finds a way to put on a smile. He’s younger than me and I can still look up to him.”

That is until they hopefully hit the same grass for one of the game’s best matches.

Clement says Sigurdsson fee could leave Swans better off

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Many have feared the worst for Swansea City following the sale of Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton, but fortunately the club’s boss isn’t too worried about the departure of his Icelandic star.

Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente were nearly all of Swansea’s attack last season as the Welsh side barely avoided relegation. The club’s third coach of the season, Paul Clement, was instrumental in that change of fate.

[ MORE: Thursday’s transfer rumor roundup | Wednesday | Tuesday ]

He’s not worried about the absence, though, because he feels the approximately $60 million coming into his transfer kitty can leave the squad better than it was before Sigurdsson was sold to Everton.

“We want to improve our playing squad, we want to improve our style we want to win more games we believe that with the funds we have available we can strengthen the squad and end up being a better team.”

And, Clement said, now agents and managers know Swansea has the money to do some business. He says they won’t panic because sometimes the deals improve right before the deadline.

“Yesterday various people who work here at this club, their phones were going, the texts were coming in, the emails were coming in from agents all over the world, because they know we’ve done the Gylfi deal and want to do business and bring players in.”

What do you think? Could Sigurdsson’s fee be the goodbye gift that keeps on giving for a Swans side which is considered a relegation candidate?

LIVE – Everton, AC Milan, Ajax in Europa League action

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Everton, AC Milan and Ajax, three of the bigger sides fighting for passage into the Europa League proper, find themselves 180 minutes from the group stage as the final round of qualifying kicks off on Thursday.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Everton have Croatian side Hajduk Split at Goodison Park for the first leg (3:05 p.m. ET), while Milan host Macedonian side KF Shkendija (2:45 p.m. ET) and Ajax are home to Rosenborg of Norway (2:45 p.m. ET).

[ MORE: Thursday’s transfer rumor roundup | Wednesday | Tuesday ]

Thursday’s notable Europa League fixtures

Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m. ET
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET