Midseason Reports: Sunderland, Swansea, Spurs, West Brom and West Ham

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Every day this week we at ProSoccerTalk have been assessing how Premier League clubs have fared through the first half of the 2013-14 campaign.

Today it’s time to relay our verdict on the final five clubs: Sunderland, Swansea City, Tottenham, West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United. 

Let’s get stuck in. 

SUNDERLAND

– Best moment: The 1-0 victory over Manchester City on November 10th. The win not only handed the Black Cats their second league victory of the season but it also served to boost their survival hopes and justify the approach of new manager, Gus Poyet.

– Worst moment: The 0-3  loss to West Bromwich Albion prompted some ridiculous sign-language antics by Paulo Di Canio to the Sunderland supporters, who had seen enough of his side’s poor form. Two days later, the Italian manager was sacked.

– Top player: Ki Sung-Yueng. Installed as the center piece in Gus Poyet’s lineup, the Swansea City loanee has regained the strong form he displayed at Celtic, scoring crucial match-winning goals against Chelsea in the League Cup and Everton in the league.

– Manager: Poyet has done an admirable job straightening out the squad following the destruction imparted by Di Canio. The Black Cats are playing an improved form of football but the true test is whether the Uruguayan gaffer can take the league’s last placed team out of the relegation zone.

– Grade: 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: Getty ImagesSWANSEA CITY

– Best moment: Humping Newcastle 3-0 on December 3rd.

– Worst moment: Losing to arch-rival Cardiff City 0-1 in the first South Wales derby to be played in the Premier League.

– Top player: Jonathan De Guzman. The Canadian-born, Dutch international is the fulcrum for this Swansea side. Tenacious in defense, with a great motor and the creative skills to open channels for strikers, De Guzman is one of the most underrated center midfielders in the league.

– Manager: Michael Laudrup. One of last season’s best managers, this season has been a poor one for Laudrup. The Europa League is taking a toll but Laudrup’s squad plays with little emotion and enthusiasm, which doesn’t seem to bother the Danish manager.

– Grade: 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: Getty ImagesTOTTENHAM 

– Best moment: Firing Andre Villas-Boas. On the pitch, however, the best moment was the 2-1 away win over Manchester United.

– Worst moment: The 0-6 away pasting by Manchester City was bad but the 0-5 home loss to Liverpool was downright embarrassing.

– Top player: Jan Vertonghen. The Belgian defender has endured an injury riddled last few weeks but in the 14 matches he did play, he was sensational. Too often deployed as a left-back to cover for other injuries, Vertonghen accepted the assignment without complaint and still made himself a nuisance to opposition. A tough, physical defender on the ball, Vertonghen is one of the best in the world at bombing forward.

– Manager: Tim Sherwood. Seems like a good bloke, although it’s questionable how long Daniel Levy will be content without a big-name manager. Sherwood came to Spurs’ rescue, relieving the club from the over-thinking Villas-Boas and instilling the players with a new found sense of freedom.

– Grade: 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: Getty ImagesWEST BROMWICH ALBION

– Best moment: The 2-1 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford that announced Saido Berahino to the world.

– Worst moment: The 0-1 loss to Cardiff City and the subsequent sacking of manager Steve Clarke. Never should’ve happened.

– Top player: Stephane Sessegnon. It was a major coup for the Baggies to snag Sessegnon from Sunderland and the Benin international is the creative engine that drives West Brom.

– Manager: Keith Downing. He’s done a decent job since Clarke’s unfortunate axing but he’s simply not a top-tier manager.

– Grade: 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.

UPDATE 3:00pm ET: West Brom have hired Pepe Mel as their new head coach (Peace must’ve read the column).

source:  WEST HAM UNITED

– Best moment: The 3-0 drubbing of Tottenham at White Hart Lane.

– Worst moment: The 0-1 loss to Crystal Palace was rather dismal.

– Top player: Ravel Morrison. The former Manchester United man has come into his own at Upton Park, driving the midfield with his barreling runs and ability to finish off the dribble.

– Manager: It’s been a horrible season for Big Sam Allardyce and, despite the backing by West Ham’s owners, it feels only a matter of time before he’s sacked.

– Grade: 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.

While PSG has won the title, Areola’s playing for his future

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PARIS (AP) Although Paris Saint-Germain has easily won the French title, Alphonse Areola still has plenty to play for.

The next four games could be crucial in deciding whether PSG keeps the goalkeeper or tries to sign a big name in the transfer window, possibly Thibaut Courtois. The 25-year-old Areola is the same age as Courtois, but has nowhere near the international standing of the Chelsea keeper.

[ MORE: Turkey hands bid plans to UEFA for EURO 2024 ]

It is hard for Areola to stand out, however, in a team noted almost singularly for its attacking prowess. While PSG has already scored more than 100 league goals, and remains on course to reach 100 points this season, Areola has rarely been talked about.

The common perception is that PSG will thrash teams in the French league, so letting in a goal or two is irrelevant.

However, Areola has been one of PSG’s most consistent players this season, and last Sunday he made a personal record of eight saves in a 1-0 win at Bordeaux.

He was also one of the few PSG players to come through the loss to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League with any credit. Without Areola’s shot-stopping, and particularly his bravery rushing off his line, the 5-2 aggregate loss would have been bigger.

With 104 goals, PSG’s attack is the best in the league by far and has netted 25 more than deposed champion Monaco.

But PSG’s defense is also the best and Areola has conceded only 21 goals in the 31 he has played. Although PSG has dominated most of those, losing only twice all season, he has still made on average four saves per game.

Having replaced Kevin Trapp as No. 1, Areola has missed only three league games all season. It represents a reversal for both.

When Trapp was signed by former coach Laurent Blanc in 2015-16, Areola went on loan to Spanish club Villarreal. He established himself as regular in Villarreal’s side and gained further experience in the Europa League. Spanish media were largely impressed by his consistency and his agility on the goal-line.

He returned to PSG and battled with Trapp for the starting position last season. But coach Unai Emery seemed unsure who he really preferred, with Trapp starting 24 games to Areola’s 14. PSG ended up losing the title to Monaco.

But the hierarchy is much clearer now and the error-prone Trapp, once hailed by Blanc for his passing out from goal, is the one expected to leave.

Areola has further incentive to do well with the World Cup coming up. He is challenging Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to be France’s No. 2 behind Hugo Lloris in Russia. For now, Areola is a squad member but has yet to make an international appearance under coach Didier Deschamps.

But he has done well at every level for France, starting with the under-16s a decade ago. He got his first taste of international success when he helped France win the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

While Paul Pogba was one of the stars of the tournament, Areola’s crowning moment came in the final itself. France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and he saved two shots in the penalty shootout. Prior to the shootout he had a word with France’s designated penalty takers, confidently telling them “do your job and I’ll do mine.”

With Emery almost certain to be replaced next season, it promises to be a frenetic offseason of buying and selling at the club.

But whoever replaces Emery should perhaps think twice before letting Areola leave. The Parisian-born Areola came through the youth ranks at PSG, as did center half Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

Star-studded sides like PSG often import their best players and fans are happy to see them arrive, because it shows ambition. But they nevertheless identify more closely with homegrown talents such as Areola.

More AP Ligue 1 coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Infantino has ‘full confidence’ in Samoura amid ethics issue

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he retains “full confidence” in secretary general Fatma Samoura after an attempt to embroil her in an ethics investigation.

[ MORE: Turkey hands in bid plans to UEFA for 2024 EUROs ]

Samoura has expressed irritation at “totally ridiculous and baseless” claims she broke FIFA rules by not declaring an alleged conflict of interest in the 2026 World Cup bidding contest.

FIFA has not specified the exact nature of the complaint or the progress of any ethics investigation after it was alleged she was a relative of former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who is an ambassador for Morocco’s bid.

Samoura insisted on Wednesday the former Liverpool forward “is not a member of my family and therefore everything is crystal clear.”

FIFA’s top administrator received a public show of support from Infantino.

“I can confirm my full confidence in Fatma Samoura to lead the FIFA administration,” Infantino said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The former United Nations official was hired by Infantino in 2016 months after he was elected as Sepp Blatter’s successor.

Morocco is due to take on a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico in the June 13 vote for the 2026 World Cup host.

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
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A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

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When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

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Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.