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Transfer window grades: See how each Premier League team fared

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Over the past week at ProSoccerTalk, we have been analyzing all 20 Premier League teams and the deals they did in the January transfer window.

Now that all the wheeling and dealing is done, PST’s writers gave each team a grade based on their business and you can open up an individual post on each team for an in-depth look at their window activity, by clicking on the team name.

Here they are, let’s open up that old gradebook once again and see who finished top of the class…

Fulham – Grade: A-

New manager René Meulensteen had his work cut out for him entering January and arguably did more to change his side’s fate than any other manager in the Premier League. The acquisition of Mitroglou gives the Cottagers a proven, physically-imposing and skillful striker who looks tailor-made for the Premier League.

In Holtby, they’ve acquired a bright-spirited, creative midfielder who’s hungry to prove himself to both his parent club, Spurs, and his national team, Germany. The lanky William Kvist looks a real find as well while Dempsey provides experience and added depth, even if he looks off the pace so far. Heitinga provides depth to the back line although he’s not the kind of game-changing defender fans would’ve hope to bring in.

Meulensteen showed a keen eye for the future as well, signing Manchester United youngsters Ryan Tunnicliffe and Larnell Cole. But perhaps the most important move the Dutch manager made was to rid his side of cancers, Adel Taraabt and Dimitar Berbatov. Both players, while talented, looked completely disinterested at Craven Cottage and had to go. Sending the underpeforming Bryan Ruiz out on loan was also a smart decision. Talent-wise, there’s little question Fulham should stay up. Now fans have to hope Meulensteen has assembled the right cast of characters to keep the club in England’s top-flight.

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Fulham did the best business of the window, as Mitroglou arrived for big bucks.

Hull City – Grade: A-

Prying Long from The Hawthorns was not easy, as Bruce and the club endured a drawn-out transfer saga.  Hull made a big run at Long last summer and seemed to have an agreement before the deal fell through late. So, half a season later, the Irish international is finally in place on a three-and-a-half year deal.

By then, Jelavic had already been secured – and happily so, it would seem, having found himself down the pecking order of forwards at Goodison Park. Like Long, he was also signed to a three-and-a-half year deal, according to reports.

The pair have already paid dividends, proving to be quite a handful for Tottenham in their weekend debut for Hull (a 1-1 draw). Long (described by Bruce as his “crown jewel”) had the goal. On a feed from Jelavic, no less.

One thing could have helped make the period even more prosperous:  Hull kicked the tires on luring Tom Ince from Blackpool but struggled to ever gain real traction on that one. (That’s the “minus” on the grade, on what could otherwise be called a grand transfer time for Bruce’s boys.)

Sunderland – Grade: A-

Marcos Alonso’s loan from Fiorentina has already made a huge difference. The former Bolton Wanderer has been among Sunderland’s best players in each of his appearances, fitting in perfectly with how Poyet wants to play moving forward.

Long term, the Spaniard may not be the team’s most valuable addition, even if they manage to keep him. That honor could belong to Ignacio , who has been one of South America’s most sought after strikers since he was playing in the Argentine Primera. Sunderland managed to snare him for $4.3 million. Although Jozy Altidore‘s play has improved and Steven Fletcher provides another viable option, Scoccio has the talent to be a starter in the Premier League. It’s just a matter of seeing if he adjusts (and if he can adjust this season).

Add in Ustari as a nice depth acquisition, Bridcutt already starting in central midfield, and the Black Cats finding homes for the likes of Cabral, Ji, Diakite and Graham, and it’s hard to image a more successful window. Everybody wants to see a big signings, but given the moves the Black Cats made this summer, that may not have been in the cards. Instead, Poyet’s brought in three of four key additions while keeping all his core components. That’s a successful window.

Tottenham Hotspur – Grade: A-

The argument could be made that by selling Jermain Defoe to MLS side Toronto FC, another striker should be brought in. But with  Roberto Soldado, the emergence of Emmanuel Adebayor under new manager Tim Sherwood and some talented youths on the up-and-up, a rush buy was not necessary. Letting Lewis Holtby go out on loan in a bid to make the German World Cup side was a good move. Rumors had him wanting a complete transfer away from White Hart Lane but the winger has bags of talent and selling him – or any other of the new boys brought in like Etienne Capoue – would have been a mistake.

The most important move Spurs made this season was to get rid of Andre Villas-Boas and hire Sherwood. The 45-year old is the quintessential player’s manager. He doesn’t over-coach, has a relaxed approach and he afford his players freedom in their style of play. Whether he’s the long-term answer is unclear but in the short-term he’s everything Spurs front office needed to counter-balance the overly-complicated ways imposed by Villas-Boas.

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Vincent Tan stumped up the cash to make sure Cardiff bolstered their squad.

In conclusion, Tottenham’s (potential) success this season had little to no bearing on the January transfer window. All the pieces were (and are) in place, it’s now up to Sherwood to make sure they fit snug.

Cardiff City – Grade: B+

It was a really good transfer window for Ole Gunnar Solksjaer and Cardiff City, as the team now looks a lot stronger as the squad has been bolstered with some talented youngsters joining.

The likes of Zaha and Fabio, who both joined from Man United, have something to prove and will be key to the Bluebirds survival bid between now and May. Wollf Eikrem, Moller Daehli and Inge Berget are unknown quantities but are rated highly by Solksjaer. So don’t be surprised to see a few of those Scandinavians burst onto the scene. With all of that youth on board, bringing someone like Kenwyne Jones is exactly what Cardiff needed. He scored the winning goal on his debut against Norwich on Saturday, as Solksjaer’s transformation is taking shape already. Terrific window of wheeling and dealing for the young manager. Cardiff won’t be going anywhere without a fight.

Chelsea Grade: B+

It could be argued that selling Mata, and doing so to a fellow Premier League club, was a mistake. But United are not competitors of Chelsea this season and the influence of Mata will only serve to frustrate Chelsea’s true competitors, Arsenal and Manchester City, who have yet to face the Red Devils for a second time. In the future Mata may come to roost but the facts now are that Jose Mourinho wasn’t playing him, already has Oscar, operates in a club flush with cash and made a £14M profit (after three trophies in three years) in selling the Spanish attacker. That profit, however, went directly to the purchase of Matic, who Chelsea previously sent to Benfica as a makeweight for the £25M purchase of David Luiz in 2011, meaning they took a heavy loss in bringing him back to Stamford Bridge. The sprawling Matic will be a huge defensive boost to the holding midfield, and, in time, the 19-year-old Zuoma will blossom into a beasting center-back for the Blues.

Finally, it could be argued that Mourinho failed to address his greatest need, that being for a proven striker. While Fernando Torres or Samuel Eto’o (and to a lesser extent, Demba Ba) could catch fire, The Special One claims that the issue of buying a world-class striker will be addressed in the coming summer (likely in a swap deal of Thibaut Courtois for Diego Costa). If, however, Chelsea fail to win the Premier League this season, Mourinho’s failure to do the business in January could be seen as a major oversight. Only time will tell.

Crystal Palace – Grade: B

If the new Eagles’ boss entered January hoping to make room and bolster, he accomplished both. Finding homes for 12 players, four leaving on permanent moves, Pulis has done his spring cleaning in winter, with the players being brought in all looking like useful parts.

source: Getty Images
Puncheon sealed his permanent move to Palace.

In that way, this wasn’t just shuffling the deck. In Ince and Ledley, Pulis brought in the type of players he didn’t have at his disposal. There’s an upside to Dann that could make him a value buy (assuming that undisclosed fee is reasonably low). Puncheon provides the goals that Cameron Jerome has been unable to find, while Hennessey gives the team depth should anything happen to Julian Speroni. It wasn’t spectacular, but Crystal Palace’s January window was eminently solid. It was the Tony Pulis of transfer windows.

Everton – Grade: B

Everton manager Roberto Martinez checked all the boxes for his side’s needs but many fans felt let down at his failure to purchase a striker. Bringing in the 6′ 8″ Traore on a loan seems a good bit of business but with the sale of Nikica Jelavic to Hull City, the Toffees now boast two true strikers, both of whom are on loan.

The issue won’t be a problem this year but in terms of building for the future feels a bit short-sighted. Had Everton purchased a young striker he could have worked with the likes of Romelu Lukaku, giving him an invaluable experience entering the 2014/15 season. Instead, the Toffees will head into this summer with Arouna Kone, who’s coming off a major knee injury, the seldom-used Apostolos Vellios, and Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas, who can play the role despite not being true strikers.

The addition of McGeady was a welcome one and at £2.5m was good deal financially. The speedy Irishman will patrol the right wing, allowing Mirallas to take up more central roles. McGeady is now the fourth Republic of Ireland midfielder on the Toffees roster and early indications are that he loves the club and fits in well, although his on-field performances haven’t overwhelmed.

The loss of Bryan Oviedo to injury is a tough one for Everton after the Costa Rican made an impact at left-back and left midfield in the first half of the season. The failure to replace him and Johnny Heitinga with another defender could look an oversight although the rise of young John Stones should provide sufficient cover.

Southampton – Grade: B

As we mentioned, Saints didn’t bring anyone in this January, but why would you need to when you have so many young studs rolling off the production line at their renowned academy? Right now they have academy products Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Callum Chambers, James Ward-Prowse, Harrison Reed and Sam Gallagher regularly involved in the first-team squad and are the envy of clubs across the PL.

Many thought Pochettino would bring in another striker to replace Osvaldo, after his remarkable training ground bust-up which saw him banned, but instead 18-year-old Gallagher was put into the first team and has shown he’s good enough to play in the PL. Keeping onto Lallana, Shaw and Lambert was key for stability at St. Mary’s. Now Saints can kick on in the final few months of the season to try and bag their highest-ever finish in the PL.

source: Getty Images
Yohan Cabaye left Newcastle, as the Magpies sold him to PSG for $30 million

Newcastle United – Grade: B-

“Oh my God, they sold their best player and they get a B,” that guy you know from Twitter’s about to say. They do, and the grade would be higher if the Magpies had done more to augment their other holes. Though Cabaye’s departure arguable creates another problem, their ability to work $30 million out of the situation is a huge positive.

The negatives: They’re left hoping a three-man middle of Vurnon Anita, Cheik Tioté, and Moussa Sissoko will work (a reasonable guess); they didn’t get a proven scorer to augment Rémy; and their lack of depth at the back could still see Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa utilized as a full back, when injuries or suspensions arise.

Manchester City – Grade: C+

Perhaps there are some in panic mode after watching Chelsea put an end to Manchester City’s absurdly-heroic and prolific run at the Etihad, It’s very difficult to fault Pellegrini for not adding to his squad and he protected any major perceived want-aways from hurting his depth. Really their only significant move was letting Guidetti get some match time over at Stoke City (which was pretty intelligent considering, again, that the young Swedish player wasn’t about to dent a lineup that’s already rung up more than 100 goals).

That’s the softest C we could offer. Even if City ends up dealing with a gross amount of injuries, it’d be fair to write it off as fate rather than unpreparedness. The squad appears deep enough for two Cup runs — one that only has a single date left — and Europe. How many other squads can say that?

source: AP
That man Mata was United’s club record signing and will be integral if they’re going to make the top 4.

Manchester United – Grade: C+

Getting Mata goes a long way toward a good grade, but United overpaid. Based on this weekend’s loss at Stoke, they also seem willing to move the Spaniard out of his best position, casting Mata as an extremely talented but overpriced player for whom United are unable to carve out a position. Mata may excel wide and justify every pounds spent. He may also leave Red Devils’ fans wondering what $61 million could have done in midfield and defense.

It’s still difficult to argue United haven’t gotten better in the winter window, which it why I’ve given them a passing grade. But given their needs, the Champions League stakes, and their resources, the Red Devils could have done more.

Aston Villa – Grade: C

Aston Villa are not big spenders and were never going to buy big in January, that’s not the clubs philosophy. They needed some extra depth in a few positions and Paul Lambert got that with the loan deals for Ryan Bertrand and Grant Holt. Bertrand has been great at left back, while Holt will add something different to the pace of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann up top.

All in all, a very quite window for Villa. Not much to see here. Now the focus, for yet another season, is on Premier League survival.

Arsenal – Grade: C-

Arsene Wenger had one area to strengthen in the window, and he didn’t get to do it. I get it, it’s tough to find a top striker that’s better than what you have. But let’s be honest, Arsenal haven’t got a lot of options in attack. With Theo Walcott out injured, only Podolski, Bendtner and Giroud can play in the central role. With a hard slog of Champions League, PL and FA Cup matches coming up, they needed more depth. Wenger should have splashed the cash to bring in a top striker. This was the window where they should’ve made a marquee signing. But if a player isn’t available, like Diego Costa, then what can you do?

Bringing in Kallstrom was okay, he will slot in and do a decent job in the absence of Ramsey and Flamini for a few weeks. But I think Arsenal’s fans, and perhaps their manager, expected to do a lot better in this window.

source: Getty Images
Antonio Nocerino, right, has joined West Ham on loan from AC Milan.

West Ham United – Grade: C

Borriello, 31, has seven caps for Italy. No, that’s not exactly Paolo Rossi as Azzurri all-time strikers go, but he’s got something. Having scored once in 11 Roma appearances this year, a change of address can’t hurt, and maybe can find some of the 2008 form, when Borriello flirted with the Italian Serie A scoring leadership.At the very least, he provides some cover for the inconsistent and unreliable Andy Carroll.

Nocerino, 28, has 15 caps for Italy, most prominently as a member of the country’s European Championships team from 2012. While he’s not completely useless, he had become surplus around AC Milan, even more so now Michael Essien’s arrival from Chelsea. It’s fair to ask if a midfielder in such poor from around the San Siro is the man who can help the Hammers dodge relegation?

Norwich City – Grade: C-

Yeah, it’s a pretty low grade for the Canaries, because Chris Hughton has failed to strengthen in the area he needed to. However that might not be his fault as Norwich’s resources are likely to be limited, especially after splashing out over $20 million on van Wolfswinkel and Hooper this summer, and January didn’t have many bargains.

Last year Norwich brought in the likes of Kei Kamara to bolster the strikeforce late in the season and that worked to help keep them up. I do worry for the Canaries this year though, because I just don’t see where the goals are coming from. That, and they are only two points above the relegation zone.

Stoke City – Grade: C-

How you feel about Stoke’s window comes down to Odemwingie and Guidetti. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to say either represents a significant improvement. While each have the talent to have a major impact, recent history and early returns say Stoke’s treading water. Odemwingie is a skilled player who tantalized at West Brom, but in his last 72 Premier League games, he’s scored a Crouch-esque 16 goals. How much of an improvement that represents on Assaidi, Jon Walters, or Arnautovic is debatable, but it’s unlikely to be much.

Guidetti is already making noise about being unhappy with his playing time (he was briefly ill). Perhaps that gets worked out and he can have a major impact over the next four months. More likely: If he’s not getting significant time early, he has one or two other steps before being a relegation-saver.

Stoke failed to meaningfully address any of their issues, but they brought in two guys who could turn probability on its head. Given the cost (just wages, presumably), they’re worth a shot.

source: AP
Liverpool could not clinch the deal for Konoplyanka on deadline day, as the Reds struggled in the window.

Liverpool – Grade: D

It’s not right to toss a huge ‘F’ on the Reds, as the club is in pretty good shape. Their strike force is flying with SAS on cruise control and players like Jordan Henderson have been playing very well, but sometimes you need to take a risk to boost your chances at the Champions League and that time seemed now with no clear giant emerging this season (or better put: no club seizing the opportunities atop the PL). Sure, spending for spending’s sake isn’t a great idea but if the Reds are looking back at this year from a spot outside of Europe or mere points from the top, they’ll look back at a January window and wonder if it was fate… or just laziness.

Swansea City – Grade: D

Two points shy of the relegation zone with 14 league matches to play and the Europa League set to start up, Swansea City are in the muck and did little transfer-wise to give themselves hope of getting out of it. They desperately needed to land players who could contribute straight away and failed to do so.

N’Gog and perhaps Emnes are the only players of the lot who could potentially make an impact in the top flight. The 24-year old N’Gog has Premier League experience with Liverpool and Bolton and although he didn’t exactly light it up, there were matches where the 6’3″ Frenchman showed promise. The 25-year old Emnes scored 24 goals in 141 matches at Championship side Middlesborough, hardly numbers that will have the Jacks thinking the Dutchman can make an impact at the Liberty. Meanwhile Fulton, King and Hanley are all under the age of 20 and are projects for the future.

It was bargain basement shopping by Huw Jenkins. Over time, one or two of these players might pan out but the likelihood any will have a significant impact this spring is extremely low. Making things worse, Jenkins also went ahead and fired manager Michael Laudrup this week (appointing long-time defender Garry Monk as caretaker manager), so things at the South Wales club are, without a doubt, in shambles.

West Bromwich Albion – Grade: D-

It’s a D- rather than an outright F because the Baggies did get some money for Long. The Irishman was always bound to leave, wasn’t he? He came so close to putting the Hawthorns in his rear view mirror last summer, only to see that relocation into Hull collapse at the 11th hour.

With six months to go before he could leave on a free transfer, the Baggies more or less had to move him. When the offer came in over $10 million, there really wasn’t any choice. Now, should management have done more with that money? Of course. Reinforcements anywhere around the ground would have helped, but the gaping hole was at left back, where neither Liam Ridgewell nor Goran Popov have proven capable of holding serve consistently.

FA Cup draw: West Ham-Man City, three more all-PL matches

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City is challenged by Winston Reid of West Ham United during the Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham United at Etihad Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images
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There will be four All-Premier League match-ups when the top two tiers enter the FA Cup in early January.

The most intriguing of the bunch, should the sides go close to full-strength, is West Ham United hosting Manchester City.

Five relegation candidates also have to face Premier League opposition: Burnley goes to Sunderland, Hull City hosts Swansea, and Leicester City is off to Everton.

[ MORE: Premier League Playback: Ranking superstars ]

Alluring for Manchester United fans is the return of stalwart defender Jaap Stam to Old Trafford, as the big Dutch manager brings Reading to town.

The matches will take place between Jan. 6-9.

FA Cup third round draw
Ipswich Town vs. Lincoln/Oldham
Barrow vs. Rochdale
Manchester United vs. Reading
Hull City vs. Swansea
Sunderland vs. Burnley
QPR vs. Blackburn
Millwall vs. Bournemouth
West Ham United vs. Manchester City
Brighton vs. MK Dons/Charlton
Blackpool vs. Barnsley
Wigan Athletic vs. Nottingham Forest
Birmingham City vs. Newcastle United
Chelsea vs. Peterborough/Notts County
Middlesbrough vs. Sheff Wednesday
West Bromwich Albion vs. Derby County
Everton vs. Leicester City
Liverpool vs. Newport/Plymouth
Wycombe vs. Northampton/Stourbridge
Watford vs. Burton Albion
Preston North End vs. Arsenal
Cardiff City vs. Fulham
Stoke City vs. Wolves
Cambridge United vs. Leeds United
Bristol City vs. Shrewsbury/Fleetwood
Huddersfield vs. Port Vale
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Aston Villa
Brentford vs. Halifax/Eastleigh
Bolton vs. Crystal Palace
Norwich City vs. Southampton
Sutton United vs AFC Wimbledon
Accrington vs. Luton Town
Rotherham vs. Oxford/Macclesfield

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Premier League Playback: Ranking the superstars, so far

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WHICH STARS HAVE BEEN TOP-CLASS, SO FAR?

This season the Premier League is littered with glittering superstars. Wherever you look, star players are lining up for the top teams but have all of them lived up to the hype?

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Below is a look at how the so-called “world class” players have performed so far this season, with a mark out of 10 for each of them.

There are two players from each of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham with the main attacking talents deemed to be the “world class” by most, although plenty of other players can certainly be classed in and around this upper echelon.

It’s time to grade the stars…


Alexis Sanchez – 10/10 – They don’t call him “El Nino Maravilla” for nothing. Sanchez has been on another planet this season and his sensational hat trick against West Ham this weekend (see video above) summed up how dangerous he is. He can beat players with pace and power, plus has stunning technique and can finish. His best role is probably out wide but he’s being used as a central striker and is ripping teams apart. Easily the best player in the Premier League this season. Easily. His new contract value must be going up by the day as Arsenal try and lock him down long-term.

Diego Costa – 10/10 – Okay, so Diego Costa isn’t far behind Sanchez and the Spanish international has been a huge part of Chelsea’s incredible eight-game winning streak. With 11 goals and five assists, he has been the focal point of Antonio Conte‘s attack and Costa looks more controlled this season. He is focused and fired up to prove the doubters wrong. Boy, is he doing that. An absolute beast of a striker when he’s fit and focused.

Mesut Ozil – 9/10 – The Gunners playmaker has flown under the radar this season but his numbers, especially in terms of goals scored, are impressive. The big arguement about Ozil is his end product but clearly the German international is getting it right in the final third. He’s already scored eight goals this season which matches his tally from the whole of the 2015-16 campaign. Like Sanchez, he is currently in talks about signing a new deal and in this form he has Arsenal fans dreaming of another league title.

Philippe Coutinho – 9/10 – Such a shame that he’s gone down with an ankle injury and will miss five to six weeks in a busy stretch of the season. The Brazilian playmaker has been the creative heart of Liverpool’s high-pressing unit and delivers quality, goals and assists by the bucket full. Along with Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane (more on him shortly) and Roberto Firmino, that quartet has delivered hope to the Kop that Jurgen Klopp‘s project can yield trophies. Coutinho makes Liverpool tick.

Harry Kane – 8/10 – He is back fit after a lay off and Kane is on fire. After signing his new long-term deal at Spurs last week, he has now scored six goals in his last five Premier League games. Kane’s importance to Tottenham is undoubted and at the age of 23 he’s only just getting started.

Eden Hazard – 8/10 – Talking of getting started, Hazard has got going again and is on the way back to his best. You still feel like the Belgian wizard is playing in fourth gear but he can crank it up to fifth whenever he wants. In the 3-4-3 system at Chelsea he has more freedom and more cover from Marcos Alonso on the left flank. That is allowing Hazard to flourish.

Sadio Mane – 8/10 – The Senegalese flyer has been a revelation since arriving at Anfield in a big $45 million transfer from Southampton in the summer. Mane has scored seven goals and added three assists in 13 Premier League games, but it is his searing pace which terrifies opponents and is a perfect blend for the trickery of Coutinho and Lallana. A fine start to the season and Mane is becoming a bonafide star in the PL after two-and-a-half stellar campaigns.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – 7/10 – We know Zlatan can talk the talk but he has also proved he can walk the walk. Despite a lean spell when he failed to score in six games, he has scored 12 goals in 21 games in all competitions for United. Ibrahimovic is United’s main attacking threat and their top goalscorer. At the age of 35, he still has star power and he’s being managed perfectly by Jose Mourinho… as things stand.

Kevin De Bruyne – 7/10 – It has been a stop, start season or KDB so far but that’s mostly been down to injury. 7 out of 10 may be a little harsh, especially after his dominant displays at Manchester United in the PL and against Barcelona in the Champions League, but De Bruyne has gone missing in some games which is unlike him. He’s been played centrally by Guardiola and he still seems to be figuring out the best way to be dangerous in that role.

Sergio Aguero – 6/10 – Like KDB, this ranking may be a little harsh, especially when you consider Aguero has 10 goals thus far. However, he also has a bit of an issue with lashing out and he was lucky to get away with a vicious elbow on Winston Reid earlier this season and has since been banned four games for his horrendous lunging tackle on David Luiz last weekend. All of that has soured Aguero’s fine finishes a little.

Dele Alli – 5/10 – Tottenham’s playmaker just hasn’t got going so far. Again, he’s had a few injuries but he’s also been involved in plenty of controversy with a few dives for penalty kicks in the box. Alli had such an incredible first season in the Premier League that there was bound to be a drop off but just three goals and one assist thus far prove he’s well below the standard he set for himself last season.

Paul Pogba – 5/10 – Well, when you become the most expensive player on the planet plenty is expected of your right away. Just ask Gareth Bale… Pogba has scored a stunning goal against Swansea and a header against Leicester and apart from that he’s been in and out of games with Mourinho struggling to find his best position on the pitch early in the season. As the campaign has worn on, Pogba has looked more comfortable in an attacking midfield role in the center yet he still has plenty of work to do to prove he’s one of the best midfielders on the planet.


CHELSEA WIN BATTLE OF BACK THREE

It was one of the most eagerly-anticipated tactical battles of the season between two new managers who had excelled at top teams across Europe.

Antonio Conte beat Pep Guardiola in the tactical battle as both deployed three central defenders and wing backs.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

In truth, the 3-1 scoreline in Chelsea’s favor doesn’t tell the whole story of a game which had everything. Guardiola’s City looked uneasy early on but found their feet and deservedly led at half time through Gary Cahill‘s shocking own goal. But as Chelsea has shown in recent games, they’re now capable of handling a blow and striking back.

Diego Costa took the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half as he scored the equalizer and set up Willian for the go-ahead goal and Eden Hazard clinched the win late on to put some extra gloss on the scoreline.

[ MORE: Recap as Chelsea win ] 

From an attacking standpoint there wasn’t much in this and if anything City had better chances but failed to take them via a combination of bad misses (Kevin de Bruyne hit the bar, somehow, from four yards out) good goalkeeping from Thibaut Courtois and goal line clearances. Big calls also went Chelsea’s way, especially in the first half when Aguero and Luiz tangled, but overall Chelsea proved that their defensive solidity will help them grind through games and get wins.

City’s defense looked shaky for most of the game as their two wings backs were basically wingers in Leroy Sane and Jesus Navas in a 3-1-4-2 formation. Neither could defend and as the game wore on Chelsea’s wing backs in a more conventional 3-4-3 formation dominated with Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso providing plenty of width and attacking intent. Without Vincent Kompany in central defense, City struggled and the decision to not play the likes of Pablo Zabelta in a wing back role really backfired for Guardiola. Defensively his side must improve if they’re going to challenge Chelsea, and others, for the Premier League title this season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Conte won the battle of the three-man defenses and his Chelsea team also put down a huge marker of how good they are with an eighth-straight Premier League win which in turn hands Guardiola plenty of food for thought.

BONUS: The fact that Pep will be without leading scorer Aguero for four games and influential midfielder Fernandinho for the next three will also be concerning for City, as a mass melee at the end of the game ensued. Aguero’s horrendous tackle on David Luiz started it all off and Fernandinho‘s pushing and grabbing of Cesc Fabregas’ throat meant he joined Aguero in getting sent off as City finished the game with nine men.

On top of that, both teams have been charged with failing to control their players by the FA which should result in hefty fines. That said, this incident highlighted just how much this game meant to both sets of players as the title gauntlet has been thrown down earlier by Chelsea. Now, can City find a way to respond and kick on Guardiola’s project quickly?


BIG SCRAP AT THE BOTTOM

The race against relegation is quickly getting ugly and frenetic.

At this point of the season there’s usually one or two teams cut adrift from the rest. That’s not the case this season and it is making plenty of players, managers and owners nervous as we gear up for the busy festive period.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]   

Looking at the table below (before Middlesbrough’s game against Hull City on Monday) you can see Bob Bradley‘s Swansea City are rock bottom as they suffered a 5-0 thumping at Tottenham Hotspur. The Swans have nine points, and a rather favorable schedule coming up, and are just two points off safety.

Overall, there are seven teams separated by just three points from 19th to 13th and there are some big teams down there struggling.

pl-table-dec-5-2016

 

Reigning champions Leicester City continue to falter after losing at Sunderland (see video, below) and Claudio Ranieri‘s side are yet to win away in the Premier League this campaign. Making simple defensive mistakes is costing the Foxes dear and up top Jamie Vardy has just to goals in the Premier League this season, while Riyad Mahrez is struggling to create. Leicester is in real danger of getting dragged into the thick of the relegation battle and so is West Ham after they were smashed 5-1 by Arsenal. Manager Slaven Bilic admitted after that hiding that his team is in a relegation battle but he has already received the dreaded vote of confidence from the owners.

With all three newly promoted teams down at the bottom, plus Swansea, Sunderland, Leicester, West Ham and Crystal Palace in and and around the bottom three, we are all set for plenty of “relegation six-pointers” in the coming weeks.

It seems very soon to be saying that but with so many tights tightly bunched together at the bottom as we approach the halfway point, the relegation battle this season is proving to be yet another tight one.


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Watch Live: Middlesbrough vs. Hull City (Lineups, Live Stream)

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: Alvaro Negredo of Middlesbrough celebrates scoring his sides first goal with team mates during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Stoke City at Riverside Stadium on August 13, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England.  (Photo by Steve Welsh/Getty Images)
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Middlesbrough host Hull City at the Riverside Stadium on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in a crucial game between two teams fighting for survival in the Premier League.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

It is not too early to call this a relegation six pointer up in the north east of England on what will be a chilly December night close to the North Sea.

In team news Boro make once change to the team which drew at Leicester as Viktor Fischer comes in for Adama Traore.

Hull make five changes to this side which beat Newcastle United on penalty kicks in the EFL Cup quarterfinals last week with Ryan Mason, Michael Dawson and David Marshall coming back into the starting lineup.

LINEUPS

Middlesbrough: Valdes; Barragan, Gibson, Chambers, Fabio; Clayton, De Roon, Forshaw; Fischer, Ramirez, Negredo. Subs: Guzan, Nsue, Bernardo, Leadbitter, Traore, Downing, Stuani

Hull City: Marshall; Elmohamady, Davies, Dawson, Robertson; Snodgrass, Clucas, Livermore, Mason, Henriksen; Diomande. Subs: Jakupovic, Maguire, Meyler, Huddlestone, Weir, Tymon, Bowen

CONMEBOL declare Chapecoense as 2016 Copa Sudamericana champions

ADDS NAMES - In this Nov. 2, 2016 photo, players of Brazil's Chapecoense team pose before a Copa Sudamericana soccer match against Argentina's San Lorenzo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Top row from left, goalkeeper Marcos Danilo Padilha, Bruno Rangel Domingues, Helio Hermito Zampier Neto, Cleber Santana Loureiro, Willian Thiago. Bottom row from left, Guilherme Gimenez de Souza, Ananias Eloi Castro Monteiro, Tiago "Tiaguinho" Da Rocha Vieira, Matheus Bitencourt da Silva, Dener Assuncao Braz and Jose "Gil" Gildeixon Clemente de Paiva. A plane carrying the Brazilian soccer club Chapecoense team that was on it's way for a Copa Sudamericana final match against Colombia's Atletico Nacional crashed in a mountainous area outside Medellin, Colombian officials said Tuesday, Nov. 29. (AP Photo/Gustavo Garello)
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Chapecoense have officially been crowned as the 2016 Copa Sudamericana champions.

The Brazilian Serie A club tragically lost 19 players, plus its head coach and many of its backroom staff and directors in a charter plane crash last Monday in Colombia as Chapecoense traveled to play Atletico Nacional in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final.

[ MORE: Latest on Chapecoense tragedy ]

In total, 71 of the 77 passengers on board died as the plane was reportedly short on fuel and suffered a complete electrical failure leading it to crash in a mountainous region just south of Medellin, Colombia.

Now, following a request from Atletico Nacional to award the trophy (the South American equivalent of the UEFA Europa League) to Chapecoense, the title has been officially ratified by CONMEBOL, the governing body of soccer in South America.

In a statement on their website, CONMEBOL confirmed that Chapecoense would receive the trophy and “all the honors and prerogatives of the 2016 South American Cup Champion” which go along with it.

CONMBEOL stated that the decision was made after they received a latter on Nov. 30 from Atletico Nacional asking “to hand over the title of the South American Cup to Chapecoense to honor its great loss and to act as a posthumous homage to the victims of the fatal accident.”

The governing body also confirmed that Atletico Nacional had been awarded a “Centennial Conmebol Fair Play award” for their remarkable act of fair play in such tragic circumstances.

Since the tragedy which has shocked the world occurred, the soccer community has come together to honor Chapecoense.

Last Wednesday, on the night the game between Chapecoense and Atletico Nacional should have taken place, fans of Nacional packed the stadium in Colombia and honored the victims in a memorial service and songs. Brazilian soccer has also acted to propose that Chapecoense is immune from relegation from Brazil’s top-flight for three seasons, plus plenty of the biggest clubs in the nation have said they will not charge loan fees for players if Chapecoense needs them.

The team from the small city of Chapeco in southern Brazil was on the verge of its greatest ever week as a club as they had battled up from the fourth-tier of Brazilian soccer in 2009 to the final of a continental tournament in 2016.

Now, they’ve been crowned the champions of the Copa Sudamericana to honor Chapecoense’s players, staff and all of those lost in the tragedy.