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.

source: Getty Images
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.

Benitez happy to stay at Newcastle if he “has the tools to compete”

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Rafa Benitez is approaching something vaguely resembling sainthood in the northeast of England — with the Newcastle United-supporting portion, at least — but his future remains in doubt as the end of the current Premier League season draws nearer and the next one approaches.

[ MORE: Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the year award ]

Benitez and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley have endured an unhappy working relationship for much of Benitez’s 25 months at the club. The Spaniard was true to his word, though, when he stuck around another season after being relegated from the PL in 2016, then again after winning promotion on the Magpies’ first attempt, but he’ll be faced with the same dilemma again this summer, even after guiding Newcastle to a mid-table finish (they currently sit 10th with five games left to play).

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

If he’s not given assurances that he’ll be handed the necessary funds to properly strengthen his squad during the upcoming summer transfer window, the 58-year-old could very well walk away and leave Ashley to play the part of all-too-familiar villain. Or, as Benitez put it this weekend, Ashley could fork over “the tools to be capable of competing” and make everyone, from the manager to the fans, happy — quotes form the Guardian:

“If they [Ashley’s representatives] want to talk to my people [about a new contract,] they can talk. The main thing is to be sure we share the same ambition.

“I want to win games and I want to win trophies and I want to have the tools to be capable of competing. At the same time, I like to improve players, coach players, follow a business plan, a realistic business plan in modern football. I have no problem with that because I did it in the past.

“We have to be sure to have all the tools to compete and achieve what we want to achieve because Newcastle is a massive football club and we want it to reach its potential.”

Of course, the perfect scenario for everyone involved would have been for any one of the numerous takeover bids to have gone through during the last two years, but as was most recently evidenced earlier this year, Ashley and the Toon can’t seem to quit each other just yet.

MLS: Timbers end NYCFC’s unbeaten start; Seattle get 1st win

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Sunday was a very good day for a pair of green-clad Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, as the former put to end the unbeaten start of the best team in MLS, while the latter picked up their first win of 2018…

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundupOther MLS Things — The Archive ]

Portland Timbers 3-0 New York City FC

Through their first seven games, NYCFC were almost inarguably the best team in MLS (aside: how much better is their opening-day walkover of Sporting KC looking these days?), but Patrick Vieira’s side might as well have not even shown up to Providence Park on Sunday. Chalk it up to “it’s only one game,” or “these things happen in MLS,” or “NYC to Portland is a long trip for Russian clubs,” or any other credible rationale you prefer, but they were nothing more than 11 passengers for the whole of 90 minutes.

A quick look at the defending on all three of Portland’s goals…

Vieira was right at halftime, when he said his side was lacking intensity and aggression, and that it’d be nigh impossible to get back into the game in the second half if they continued to play that way. Spoiler: it was, because they did.

Just as I’ll not be rushing to judgment over NYCFC’s no-show performance, I’m not yet buying into the idea that Portland have figured things out defensively on the back of one clean sheet (their first of the season).

Seattle Sounders 3-1 Minnesota United

Speaking of firsts, Seattle are the proud owners of points — as in, more than one point — after putting three past Minnesota but almost fatally failing to kill the game off after going 2-0 up. I’m not sure what any defender in black is doing on this sequence…

Alas, Gustav Svensson, Will Bruin and Jordy Delem were far more clinical with their chances than the Loons…

Still, though, Seattle were completely helpless when it came time to grab control of the game while in a commanding position. Osvaldo Alonso is nowhere near the player he once was, which is a massive problem against teams that set up to counter-attack, as Minnesota did on Sunday. It doesn’t help that Roman Torres and Chad Marshall are the plodding center backs behind him.

The obvious answer to the midfield problem is to play Cristian Roldan deeper, alongside Alonso as they did en route to winning MLS Cup in 2016, but injuries to a number of key attackers have forced him into a de facto no. 10 role for the time being. These things will work themselves out with a bit of time, I suppose.

Full MLS scoreboard

Sporting Kansas City 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps (Friday) — FULL RECAP
Montreal Impact 3-5 Los Angeles FC — FULL RECAP
Houston Dynamo 5-1 Toronto FC
New York Red Bulls 1-2 Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New England Revolution
Orlando City SC 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union
Real Salt Lake 3-0 Colorado Rapids
LA Galaxy 0-2 Atlanta United

Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the Year award

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LONDON (AP) Mohamed Salah has been voted Player of the Year by his fellow professionals in English football in recognition of an incredible scoring return to the Premier League with Liverpool.

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

The Egypt forward collected the Professional Footballers’ Association award at a ceremony in London on Sunday, two days before Liverpool’s Champions League semifinal first leg against Roma.

It is a reunion with the Italian club he left in the offseason for 42 million euros (then $47 million). The hefty fee appeared to be a gamble for Liverpool but now represents a real bargain.

The former Chelsea player has scored 41 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool – enabling him to beat Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne in second place to the PFA award.

Tottenham striker Harry Kane was third.

[ MORE: Man City thrash Swansea in pursuit of points record ]

“It’s a big honor,” Salah said. “I’ve worked hard and I’m very happy to win it.”

Salah is preparing to lead Egypt into its first World Cup in 28 years and he is the first player from the North African nation to win English football’s top individual prize.

“Hopefully I’m not the last one,” he said. “I’m very proud to win and I’ve worked very hard.”

Salah’s impact has been more remarkable given his underwhelming 2014-15 season at Chelsea before being offloaded by then-manager Jose Mourinho. He went on loan to Fiorentina in early 2015 and Roma in 2016, and then on a permanent basis to Roma in August 2016.

Scoring 15 goals and setting up 11 more for Roma convinced Liverpool to bring Salah back to a second spell in England.

[ MORE: Liverpool draw West Brom in final tune-up before UCL semis ]

His goal at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday was his 31st in the league this season, tying the scoring record in a 38-game campaign held by Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Shearer and Luis Suarez.

Suarez was the last Liverpool player to be crowned player of the year by the PFA in 2014 before moving to Barcelona.

It’s a sign of his remarkable impact that Salah secured the award with third-place Liverpool and that none of Manchester City’s newly crowned champions won the accolade.

But City winger Leroy Sane was voted PFA Young Player of the Year.

The PFA women’s player award went to Chelsea forward Fran Kirby, while Lauren Hemp of Bristol City secured the young player prize.

CONCACAF cancels women’s U-17 tournament due to violence

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) CONCACAF has canceled the rest of its 2018 Women’s Under-17 Championship following violence in Managua, Nicaragua, where the tournament began Thursday.

The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football made the announcement Sunday. The tournament was to have determined the region’s qualifiers for the Under-17 World Cup in Uruguay, which starts Nov. 13.

More than two dozen people have been killed since Wednesday according to the independent Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, though the government had acknowledged only nine dead. Dozens of shops in Managua were looted during protests and disturbances sparked by government social security reforms.

The U.S. opened Friday with a 4-0 win over Costa Rica and had been scheduled to play Bermuda on Sunday and Canada on Tuesday.