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Midseason Reports: Man United, Newcastle, Norwich, Southampton, Stoke

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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…

MANCHESTER UNITED

Best moment: There haven’t been too many to choose from, but the 1-0 home win over league-leaders Arsenal proved David Moyes’ side can still beat the best.

Worst moment: So many low points so far, but the humiliating 4-1 hammering by Man City at the Etihad in September back in September has to take the biscuit. It could’ve easily been more too.

Top player: Wayne Rooney. Despite rumors he was leaving all summer, Wazza has stuck around and orchestrated United’s attack superbly. Must sign a new deal if Moyes is to succeed.

Manager: Moyes has the impossible job, and after a pretty wretched start it’s got harder. Countless defeats at home and a worrying hangover from the Ferguson era has hampered his first season in charge. Is it too early to judge him?

GRADE: C-

United’s aging team has been exposed terribly and without Rooney and RVP (who’ve both been out injured) it’s been a torrid start for Moyes. In seventh and 11 points off the pace, United need a massive second half of the season to just get into the top four.

NEWCASTLE UNITED

Best moment: A 1-0 win away at Old Trafford shows how far the Magpies have come, their first win at Man United’s home since 1972, brought joy to the Geordies as they ruthlessly shut out United and snatched a win. Also, a 2-0 home win over Chelsea is worthy of an honorable mention.

source: AP
Newcastle are in the top eight after a sublime first half of the season.

Worst moment: Doesn’t get much worse than losing the local derby. A 2-1 defeat to Sunderland right at the death was a bitter pill to swallow for Alan Pardew.

Top player: Loic Remy. The French striker, on loan from QPR, has been sublime up front. Remy has scored 10 goals and is coolness personified in front of goal. The Magpies must sign him permanently at the end of this season.

Manager: Pardew has a fully fit squad at his disposal this season and his shrewd signings last January have come to fruition. That 8-year contract he signed was looking dodgy last year. Not anymore.

GRADE: B+

Newcastle have exceeded many people’s expectations this season, as they sit in the top eight and are firing on all cylinders. Last season’s relegation battle was a blip. Can they finish in the top six?

NORWICH

Best moment: A 1-0 win away at Stoke City showed everything that’s good about Norwich. Solid defensive play and opportunistic finishing. Sadly, there haven’t been a plethora of highlights thus far.

source: Getty Images
Gary Hooper has been the major plus point for the Canaries thus far,

Worst moment: That 7-0 drubbing at Man City is the stuff nightmares are made of. Horrendous defending was ruthlessly punished, as the Canaries were torn apart.

Top player: Gary Hooper. Despite being injured for long spells of the season so far, whenever he starts Hooper looks sharp and alive in the box. Absolute poacher.

Manager: A few people thought Chris Hughton would be on the chopping block around Christmas, but the Canaries have turned things around with some big home wins.

GRADE: C

Norwich need to step it up in the second half, as some massive defeats have shown their weaknesses. Scoring goals has again been a problem, will that led to Norwich being sucked into another relegation scrap?

SOUTHAMPTON

Best moment: A 1-0 win away at Liverpool in September showed us just what the Saints are capable of, as their young team stopped the Reds and bagged a memorable win.

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Saints’ talented crop of youngsters are impressing at St. Mary’s

Worst moment: A demoralizing 3-0 home defeat to Chelsea. Despite several injuries to key players, the Saints just folded in the second half.

Top player: Adam Lallana. In his second season in the Premier League, Saints’ captain has taken the league by storm. He impressed after his England call up and has added goals and assists to his silky skills.

Manager: Massively impressive start for Mauricio Pochettino in his first full season in charge. His teams form has dropped slightly, but injuries and tough schedule account for that. Great high-pressing style and his philosophy is to use young English talent.

GRADE: B+

The Saints have been the surprise package for much of this season and have a talented crop of teenagers who are impressing. Despite a recent dip in form, the future is bright on England’s South Coast.

STOKE CITY

Best moment: A 3-2 win over Chelsea has been the marquee moment for Mark Hughes’ side. Stoke are tough to beat at home and a late screamer from Ossama Assaidi sealed the deal.

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Stoke’s substance has remained… but Mark Hughes has added style to their play.

Worst moment: The Potters were battered 4-0 by Everton just before Christmas as their defense folded. Enough said.

Top player: Asmir Begovic. The big Bosnian ‘keeper has been in stunning form this season, making top class saves and has a bunch of top clubs looking at him.

Manager: Hughes has changed the philosophy at Stoke, and you can clearly see a fluid passing style reigning supreme at the Britannia. It will take time, but he’s slowly moving them in the right direction.

GRADE: C+

A good passing grade, as improvements are there for all to see. Goals are still a problem so if they can stay solid and forward starts to fire, Stoke will soar up the standings.

Spurs’ Bentaleb off to Schalke on loan, joining PSG’s Stambouli

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 18: Nabil Bentaleb of Spurs U21 looks on during the Barclays U21 Premier League match between Leicester City U21 and Tottenham Hotspurs U21 at The King Power Stadium on March 18, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Schalke’s quest to rejoin Germany’s elite was buttressed by a pair of interesting pickups on Thursday.

The Royal Blues have added Benjamin Stambouli from Paris Saint-Germain and Nabil Bentaleb from Tottenham Hotspur.

The Bentaleb deal is a loan, as the oft-injured attacker looks to shake off his underperforming reputation. The 21-year-old has 19 caps and three goals for Algeria.

[ MORE: Boufal to Saints ]

Stambouli joins on a four-year deal. A defensive midfielder, Stambouli left Spurs for PSG last year and made 27 appearances for the French champions.

The side nabbed high-profile prospect Breel Embolo earlier this offseason, and should be a problem for most opposing sides when the season begins this weekend.

Schalke finished in fifth place last Bundesliga season, and brings back captain Benedikt Howedes and Olympic star Max Meyer.

Ranking toughness of UCL groups for Leicester, Arsenal, Tottenham, Man City

Kompany and City's defense struggled to contain Messi and Barca in the first half.
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Leicester City, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City all entered the UEFA Champions League at the group stage and they found out their fate on Thursday following the draw in Monaco.

[ MORE: UCL group stage draw ]

Right now Leicester, Arsenal and Spurs will be feeling pretty good about their chances of advancing to the UCL’s Round of 16. As for Man City, boy, it will be a tough route through the group stage once again for them.

[ MORE: Ronaldo wins top award ]

Below is a look at the toughness of the group stage draw for all four PL teams.


GROUP G: Leicester City, FC Porto, Club Brugge, Copenhagen

Their first-ever season in the UCL, the draw could not have gone any better for reigning PL champs Leicester in terms of their dreams of advancing. Claudio Ranieri‘s side have FC Porto, who will be a very tough test, but in Club Brugge and Copenhagen they drew two of the easier teams they could have faced. Overall, this is not a tough group especially when you see the full draw. Looks like the fairytale for the Foxes will go deep in the Champions League this season. Toughness ranking: 3/10


GROUP A: Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, FC Basel, Ludogorets

Arsenal will fancy their chances against PSG and when it comes to FC Basel and Ludrogorets they will expect to take two wins from each of these teams. But this is Arsenal so they’ll probably need a 3-0 win in their last group game to make the knockout rounds… Seriously, though, Arsene Wenger will be a relieved man to avoid the likes of Bayern Munich and Barelona in the group stage but Arsenal’s games against PSG will be pivotal in their chances of getting a good draw in the last 16. Overall, could’ve been a lot tougher. Toughness ranking: 4/10


GROUP C: FC Barcelona, Manchester City, Borussia Monchendgladbach, Celtic

It just had to happen for Pep Guardiola, didn’t it? He will return to the Nou Camp in his debut season at City to face his beloved Barcelona and Man City’s fans will be sick of the sight of Lionel Messi and Co. after they knocked them out of the competition in two of the last three seasons. That said, there will be two magnificent games between the giants with Barca the favorites to win the UCL this season. As for Monchengladbach, they are quietly a very strong team and even Celtic (who famously beat Barca in the group stage in 2012) will provide a tough challenge for City at Celtic Park in the away game. All in all, couldn’t have been tougher for City but they will likely squeeze through with Barca to the Round of 16.

Toughness ranking: 8/10


GROUP E: CSKA Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen, Tottenham Hotspur, Monaco

Maurcio Pochettino’s side will be grinning like a Cheshire cat with this draw. Arguably it is even easier than Leicester’s with CSKA Moscow perennial strugglers in the UCL, plus German side Bayer Leverkusen very beatable and Spurs have done well against Monaco in the Europa League recently. Overall, if Spurs don’t win this group they will be very disappointed. A great draw for the north London club. Toughness ranking: 3/10


Best Player in Europe: Cristiano Ronaldo beats Bale, Griezmann to win award

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 10:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal kisses the Henri Delaunay trophy to celebrate after their 1-0 win against France in the UEFA EURO 2016 Final match between Portugal and France at Stade de France on July 10, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
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Cristiano Ronaldo was named the Best Player in Europe by UEFA on Thursday in Monaco, following the group stage draw for the UEFA Champions League.

Ronaldo, 31, beat other finalists teammate and Welsh international Gareth Bale and France and Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann to the award for the 2015-16 season. Barcelona duo Lionel Messi came fourth and Luis Suarez finished in fifth.

[ MORE: UCL group stage draw ]

The Portuguese striker scored 51 goals in 48 games for Real Madrid last season and led Portugal to its first-ever major title as a nation, winning the EURO 2016 trophy.

Ronaldo said on stage that he was “living his dream” by playing football as he won the award for a second time in his career, the list title coming in 2014.

Previous winners of this prestigious award, which takes into account the form of the player both for this club team in Europe and also for his national team, include Messi (the only other player to win the award twice), Andres Iniesta and Franck Ribery.

UEFA Champions League group stage: Premier League teams learn their fate

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28:  The  UEFA Champions League trophy is displayed prior to the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Premier League teams got off very lightly, overall, in the UEFA Champions League group stage draw.

The draw took place in Monaco on Thursday as reigning Leicester City were handed a very comfy group of opponents in Group G with FC Porto, Club Brugge and Copenhagen, as were Tottenham Hotspur who were placed in Group E with CSKA Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco.

Arsenal also got a very decent draw with Paris Saint-Germain, FC Basel and Ludogorets in Group A, but Manchester City once again got a very tough draw at the group stage along with FC Barcelona, Borussia Monchengladbach and Celtic in Group C.

[ MORE: Full UCL schedule

Reigning champs Real Madrid have been drawn in Group F alongside Borussia Dortmund, Sporting Lisbon and Legia Warsaw, with Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid drawn together in Group D.

Below is the group stage draw in full with the opening group games to take place on Sept. 13/14 and a further five group games taking place — each team plays one another home and away — between September and December. The knockout stages then begin in February 2017 ahead of the UCL final in Cardiff, Wales on June 3, 2017.

You can click on the link above for the full schedule for group games.


GROUP A
Paris Saint-Germain
Arsenal
FC Basel
Ludogorets

GROUP B
Benfica
Napoli
Dynamo Kiev
Besiktas

GROUP C
FC Barcelona
Manchester City
Borussia Monchendgladbach
Celtic

GROUP D
Bayern Munich
Atletico Madrid
PSV Eindhoven
Rostov

GROUP E
CSKA Moscow
Bayer Leverkusen
Tottenham Hotspur
Monaco

GROUP F
Real Madrid
Borussia Dortmund
Sporting Lisbon
Legia Warsaw

GROUP G
Leicester City
FC Porto
Club Brugge
Copenhagen

GROUP H
Juventus
Sevilla
Lyon
Dinamo Zagreb