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?




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.



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.


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.

Serie A: Napoli go top for first time in 25 years; Inter a close 2nd

Gonzalo Higuain, SSC Napoli
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A quick roundup of Monday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

Napoli 2-1 Inter Milan

For the first time since the final day of the 1989-90 season, Napoli are top of Serie A all by themselves after a top-of-the-table clash with previous leaders Inter Milan.

Gonzalo Higuain bagged both goals for the Azzurri, the first of which came after just 65 seconds. His tally on 62 minutes held up as the game-winner after Adem Ljajic pulled one back for Roberto Mancini’s side in the 67 minute. The opener (below video) was a powerful finish from inside the penalty area which served as a strong reminder as to why a club like Arsenal is consistently linked to the Argentine striker.

Sassuolo 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina, who had a chance to stake their own claim to the top spot, dropped two points away to seventh-place Sassuolo earlier in the day, opening the door for Napoli to go top with their victory. After shooting out of the gates red hot (6 wins in their first 7 games), the Viola have now drawn back to back games — to Empoli and Sassuolo — and find themselves third, two points behind Napoli.

Borja Valero put Fiorentina ahead after five minutes on Monday, but Sassuolo equalized through Sergio Floccari just before halftime to keep their own dreams of European qualification alive.

Serie A table

Matchup by matchup: Picking a favorite for MLS Cup 2015

Portland Timbers FC
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We’re T-minus 137 hours to the kickoff of MLS Cup 2015, between Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

When the two sides meet at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (4 p.m. ET), the general public will have picked a slight favorite to hoist MLS Cup, just like any other game. Only, this one’s a bit tougher to call — there’s no clear-cut favorite as is usually the case in MLS Cup, so we’ll do our best to explore a few key matchups that might slant Sunday’s title tilt in one direction or the other…

Crew SC width (Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay) vs. Timbers width (Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell, Rodney Wallace, Dairon Asprilla)

  • Pinning the wingers back — There’s two ways to beat Crew SC: 1) sit with eight or nine men behind the ball and frustrate them through a lack of space to attack; or, 2) pin Finlay and Meram deep inside their own half, defensively, by getting your full backs forward and forcing them to defend. It’s doable, but it’s not easy. On the other side, best of luck to Wallace and Asprilla with the tracking back they’ll be forced into with perhaps the best attacking right back in MLS, Afful, and Francis overlapping on either side. Fanendo Adi could find himself on an island very quickly if the Crew SC full backs get forward as often as they’d like.
  • Where the help comes from — That’s the biggest issue for Portland, who ever since dropping Darlington Nagbe into midfield, play with a lone defensive midfielder, Diego Chara. He’s great at covering the entire field and providing help to blow up an opposing attack, but he can only be on one side of the field at a time. This means Borchers and Ridgewell will be stretched wider and forced to defend Finlay and Meram in space, where they’re oh so deadly.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Crew SC announce MLS Cup sold out 15 hours after qualifying ]

Kei Kamara vs. Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell

  • All it takes is one chance — Neither one of Borchers or Ridgewell can physically compete with Kamara’s rare combination of speed and athleticism — to be fair, few center backs this side of the world can. Therefore, 90 percent of “defending” Kamara will be staying tight to the 22-goalscorer during the regular season and, with any luck, not losing track of him once the ball gets out to the wings. Once Kamara gets that yard of space in any direction and the ball goes up on the cross, the center backs’ chances of winning the next ball are much, much lower. That said, Kamara will find far less space against Borchers and Ridgewell (and Diego Chara) than he enjoyed against Montreal and New York thus far in the playoffs. There’s very few center back duos with the experience and nous of the Timbers’ backbone.
  • Advantage: Timbers

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Timbers midfield three (Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri) vs. Crew SC midfield three (Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain)

  • Nagbe the key to balance — Darlington Nagbe will, one day, be an MLS Best XI central midfielder. Today is not that day, though. He’s still a work in progress, and probably the most exploitable individual on the field in Crew SC’s eyes. Tchani and Trapp are, in my opinion, the best deep-sitting midfield duo in the league, and they’ll press, harry and harass Nagbe for 90 (0r 120) minutes, probably starting a fair few of those deadly counter-attacks in the middle third of the field.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

Gregg Berhalter vs. Caleb Porter

  • Lineups set themselves — Neither coach is likely to throw out a huge surprise before kickoff — dance with one that brought you, or something like that. Up until recently, I was completely convinced that Porter was vastly overrated and didn’t understand the constant adoration that surrounded the man his first two or three years in charge. Everything was a bit stale and rigid, organized, but lacking flair. Then he moved Nagbe into midfield to allow his biggest game-changer more opportunities on the ball to affect the game much more. This leads me to believe Porter is a bit more flexible in seeing his team and system operate in slightly different ways, but only barely.
  • Advantage: Timbers

Crew SC announce MLS Cup 2015 sold out 15 hours after qualifying

Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
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The building formerly known as Crew Stadium has hosted its fair share of famous soccer games since it opened in 1999 — dos a cero, anyone? — and Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 looks set to rank right up there among them.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Roughly 15 hours after advancing to this year’s MLS Cup, which they will host this Sunday (4 p.m. ET), Columbus Crew SC announced on Monday that MAPFRE Stadium is officially sold out.

Crew SC president of business operations Andy Loughnane addressed the fanbase in a blog post on the club’s official site Monday afternoon and said, “As of late this morning we are sold out of the extra capacity seating that was created for MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. While there is a small chance that additional seats could be released for purchase as a result of MLS holds being returned, we are sold out of all known available seats.”

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Crew SC, making their second MLS Cup appearance in club history (2008 champions), will host first-time MLS Cup contestants, the Portland Timbers, on Sunday.

PL clubs combined to pay out $200 million in agent fees in 2015

Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke
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What a time to be an agent in the footballing world, eh? The rich just keep getting richer and richer and richer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The steady increase in transfer fees being paid for players — bad, good, great and amazing alike — has made quite a few “selling” clubs rich reach over the last decade or two, to be sure, but it’s also made another group of people obscenely rich: player agents.

As the soccer world has gone crazy with its “now, now, now” approach — managers must win now, or they’re fired; new signings must become stars now, or they’ll be sold; etc. — agents are the ones making out like bandits — no losses to be sustained on players who turn out to be flops; no future loss of wages due to taking “too long” to settle in and being labeled a flop — at the expense of clubs and, most cruelly, the players.

More than $195 million was paid out agents by Premier League clubs across the January and summer transfer windows, with Liverpool — ever the club in constant change — paying out $21.5 million in agents fees to remain top of the table for a second straight year. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were the four other clubs to top $15 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Payback — The Diego Costa era over at Chelsea? ]

Agents not only receive a fee when players change clubs through transfers, but can only be compensated again and again when one of their clients signs a new contract with their current club.

For instance, Wayne Rooney has signed at least four new contracts since joining Manchester United in 2004, the latest of which came barely three years after he was given a new five-year deal in Oct. 2010 upon handing in a transfer request in an attempt to force a move to Manchester City. Rooney’s current weekly wage is reported to be in the neighborhood of $450,000. His agent, Paul Stretford, will have received a sizable payday upon negotiating the deal in Feb. 2014.

At the end of the day, sports are little more than a business, and it’s the ones who play the game — the political game, that is — the best, and most ruthlessly, who are making out like bandits.