Can the Gunners extend their lead at the top? Or will they come unstuck against the Toffees?

Midseason Reports: Grades are in, find out how each Premier League team is performing

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This week on ProSoccerTalk we’ve sifted through every single Premier League team with a fine-tooth comb to assess their 2013-14 campaigns so far.

And as is the case with every large group, you often get a real mix of over-achievers, procrastinators and lost causes. That’s no different in the Premier League.

We’ve run the rule over all 20 teams, grouped together alphabetically, and the final ‘Midseason Reports’ have been filed, rubber-stamped and verified.

Below are the links to see all four batches of those reports published this week, plus that all important final grade that each team received.

Group 1: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Cardiff, Chelsea, Crystal Palace

Group 2: Everton, Fulham, Hull City, Liverpool, Manchester City

Group 3: Manchester United, Newcastle United, Norwich City, Southampton, Stoke City

Group 4: Sunderland, Swansea City, Tottenham Hotspur, West Bromwich Albion, West Ham United

And here’s the final grade book, with out verdict on each team at the midway point of the season.

Do you agree?

 CLUB GRADE
VERDICT

source:

 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). Roberto Martinez has worked wonders at Goodison.

source:  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.
source:  A-

Almost top marks for the Gunners who led the way by eight points in November. That lead at the top is down to just one point now but players returning from injury is good news.

source:  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:

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:  B+ Chelsea have plodded along nicely, beaten the sides they should have and frustrated the top teams with tight defensive displays. The Blues are perfectly poised for a title push in the second half of the season.
 source:  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.

source:  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?

source:  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.

source:  C+ It’s never easy to lose your best player (Gareth Bale) and bring in a whole litter of superstars. Gelling could take the entire season but Sherwood’s easy going demeanor is the best way to ensure success.
source:  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?
source:  C When things are clicking, West Brom can be a very tricky side to play, as Arsenal, Everton and United have all found out. Sacking Clarke was the wrong move and, at just four points above the drop, it’s time for chairman Jeremy Peace to hire a permanent manager.

source:

C Still plenty of work to do at Villa, but some massive wins here and there have shown promise. But there’s been plenty of dismal displays, especially going forward. Given all that, their league position isn’t bad.
source:  C

Nobody expected great things from Palace but they’ve given themselves a fighting chance of staying up with four wins since November. Some shrewd signings in the transfer window could see them just beat the drop.  

source:  C- For a squad noted to be one of the best pure footballing sides in the Premier League, Swansea have been vanilla at best this season. The Europe League is leaving its mark so much that, if the Swans remain in that tournament, don’t be surprised if they slip to the bottom of the Premier League table.
source:  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.

source:  C-

Yes, Sunderland is in last place but they’ve had to undergo a major transformation since Di Canio’s sacking. Poyet and the players have handled it admirably, defeated some quality opponents (City, Everton) and if calls/injuries start going their way, could be the next club to make The Great Escape.

source:  D+

Cardiff were so strong and solid for most of the opening weeks but as the season wore on Mackay’s personal feud with Tan took over. A decent squad who can dazzle on their day, new boss Solksjaer must buy big in January.

source:  D But for the injuries, the grade would be an F. West Ham is too big of a club to be playing such poor, leaderless football. Deservedly sit second from bottom, three points adrift from safety. Will take a special effort for this club to stay in the top flight.
source:  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.

Higuain to seal $98.7 million Juve move; Pogba to Man United closer?

DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 22:  Paul Pogba of Juventus is tackled by Gonzalo Higuain of Napoli during the 2014 Italian Super Cup match between Juventus FC v SSC Napoli at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium on December 22, 2014 in Doha, Qatar.  (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
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A major domino has reportedly fallen in the summer transfer window pack.

Gonzalo Higuain is set to complete his monster move from Napoli to Juventus in Serie A.

Sky Italia says that the deal for Higuain has been completed with the Argentine ace arriving in Turin for a transfer fee of $98.7 million (his release clause) and on a four-year contract worth over $8.2 million per season.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC

Higuain, 28, scored 36 goals in 35 games for Napoli last season and has scored 71 goals in 104 Serie A appearances since arriving from Real Madrid in 2013. Obviously he can score goals but is he worth $98.7 million? At his age, maybe not, and especially with Juve making so many impressive signings already this summer as Miralem Pjanic, Mehdi Benatia and Dani Alves all on board, plus Paulo Dyabla looking razor sharp in preseason.

That $98.7 million transfer fee would make Higuain the third-most expensive signing of all-time, although he could be overtaken by one man very soon: Paul Pogba.

Apparently Juve are locked in talks with Manchester United to try and finalize a move for Pogba, 23, and this huge outlay of cash on Higuain could suggest they’ve agreed the reported $130 million transfer of the French international midfielder.

[ MORE: Winter break pros and cons for PL ]

Pogba has been seen laughing and joking on vacation in Miami with his agent, Mino Raiola, but it is believed that deal is being held up due to the teams not agreeing on who should pay the reported agent fee of up to $22 million. No wonder Raiola is laughing.

Seriously, though, let’s see how this plays out but it is highly unlikely Juve would’ve dropped that much cash on Higuain if they didn’t have some major cash coming in from selling a certain player.

We all know who that is…

Premier League winter break talks ongoing: What are pros, cons?

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What if the Premier League had a winter break?

That is a topic of hot discussion in the UK after new England manager Sam Allardyce called for a midseason break during his opening press conference as the new Three Lions manager on Monday.

[ MORE: PL preseason schedule

With the Premier League confirming that discussions between themselves, the English Football Association and the Football League are ongoing, it is obviously something the governing bodies which run English soccer are seriously considering.

It is believed that if a winter break was given the green light, it wouldn’t take place until the 2019-20 season at the earliest.

[ WATCH: Stream every PL game live ] 

On Tuesday the executive chairman of the Premier League, Richard Scudamore, discussed the notion of a winter break and was asked by Sky Sports about the feasibility of Allardyce’s proposal.

“He’s been very consistent. He’s been calling for it for a very long time, as has every England manager. We are not against a winter break,” Scudamore said. “We have gone on record saying that we are in discussions with the people we need to be in discussions with which is the Football Association and the Football League. It is an integrated calendar. Those discussions are taking place. I don’t know how close or far we are because I wouldn’t want to compromise those negotiations or those discussions.

“Even if the three of us, the three [governing] bodies come up with that solution, we then of course have to road test that with the clubs that are involved and the fans and everything else. We are in discussions, there is a willingness to make it happen but I can’t put anything like a timescale on that.”

Intriguing comments from Scuadmore as the PL seems to be in favor of at least giving the winter break a try. The English FA have been pushing that agenda for quite some time as they believe that heading into an international tournament the English national team suffer due to the long, hard slog of a season with a packed schedule through the winter months. At least, that’s what they’re going with after so many disappointing tournaments in recent years…

So, it’s worth asking, how much of a difference, if any, would this make? What are the pros and cons of a winter break?

Straight off the bat, it must not eradicate the traditional Boxing Day or Dec. 28 games. Those dates are sacrosanct in the UK sporting calendar. My proposal would be to keep those two matchdays and then have a break from Dec. 28 until Jan. 12, giving the teams over two weeks off.

In the PL there are obviously 20 teams which means that it isn’t quite as easy as the Bundesliga, for example, having a winter break as Germany’s top-flight teams only has 19 teams, meaning teams only have to play 36 games instead of the 38 games each Premier League side has to play. The FA Cup opening rounds would also have to be slotted back to late January but it could be more beneficial for the English national team and PL teams playing in European competitions as they would also have the same amount of rest as teams in Spain, Germany and Italy who all have winter breaks.

Well, regardless of what you think, here’s a quick list below looking at some of the potential positives and negatives of trying out a break.

Pros

  • Players rested, less injuries
  • PL teams could advance further in European competitions
  • English national team may have better chance in major competitions
  • Higher intensity in games throughout the season
  • Less midweek games during the season, more spread out schedule
  • Midseason breaks to warmer climates, small friendly tournaments could take place in USA or Middle East

Cons

  • Possibility of reduced games around the festive period
  • Confusion around when FA Cup third round would begin
  • Season running longer into May, possibly June, meaning less time before international tournaments

Report: Sakho sent home from Liverpool’s US tour by Jurgen Klopp

International Champions Cup 2014 - Manchester City v Liverpool
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Mamadou Sakho‘s days at Liverpool seem numbered.

According to multiple reports the French international defender has been sent home from Liverpool’s tour of the USA by Jurgen Klopp.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC ]

Per the reports, Klopp is said to be upset with Sakho’s behavior on the trip to California as he turned up late for the flight to the USA and that was brought up in one of Klopp’s interviews while the team visited Alcatraz.

Sakho’s attitude around team training sessions at Stanford University was also questioned by Klopp but the towering defender isn’t actually training as he continues his recovery from an Achilles injury which will see him miss the start of the upcoming Premier League season.

All of this caps off a turbulent few months for 26-year-old Sakho who was only cleared of a doping violation by UEFA earlier this month. European soccer’s governing body accused Sakho of failing a drugs test following a Europa League Round of 16 win over Manchester United in March.

Sakho hasn’t played since April — which forced him to miss the Europa League final and France’s EURO 2016 campaign — and now his future at Anfield must be in serious doubt.

It is believed Sakho will arrive back in the UK on Tuesday and will continue treatment on his injury at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground.

Klopp’s side face Chelsea at the Pasadena Rose Bowl on Wednesday in their first International Champions Cup game, before then facing AC Milan on Saturday in Santa Clara, Calif. Their U.S. tour concludes with a friendly against AS Roma in St. Louis, Missouri on Aug. 1.

Report: Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker out five months with serious injury

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Per Mertesacker of Arsenal celebrates at the end of the UEFA Champions League Qualifier 2nd leg match between Arsenal and Besiktas at the Emirates Stadium on August 27, 2014 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Numerous reports are claiming that Arsenal will be without their BFG until 2017.

German central defender Per Mertesacker has not traveled with the Gunners on their tour of the USA with the club confirming their vice captain suffered a knee injury during their friendly win over Lens last Friday.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC ]

Sky Sports in the UK claim that Mertesacker, 31, could be out for five months and they believe the club will announce that news in the next 48 hours.

That leaves Arsene Wenger with a real problem at center back.

Gabriel has also not traveled with Arsenal due to tonsillitis and Laurent Koscielny is also missing after being given extra time off following his part in France’s run to the EURO 2016 final.

That means only Calum Chambers and new signing from Bolton Wanderers, 20-year-old Rob Holding, are around as center back options for Wenger. Nacho Monreal could also slot in for the time being but Arsenal may now look to get another center back in before the end of the transfer window this summer.

The Gunners have arrived in the USA and play the MLS All-Stars in San Jose, Calif. on Wednesday, then Chivas de Guadalajara next Monday at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.