Premier League Gradebook: See who finished top of the class

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The final marks are in for the 2013-14 Premier League season and it is time to flick through the gradebook to see how each club fared.

Pass, fail, or scraping through by the skin of their teeth, it was a real mixed bag in the PL.

Plenty of clubs have exceeded their expectations, put in the extra hours on the practice grounds and excelled over the course of the season.

FULL COVERAGE: Premier League season reviews

However, as is always the case, I have to report that we did have some slackers, folks. Here is the midseason gradebook we compiled so you can see how the teams did halfway through the campaign.

The talking is over and the action has played out since last August, now it is time to dish out the final grades for each team.


GRADE

source:

Midseason grade A+
Liverpool: Second place in the final PL standings but top of the class this season. Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool exceeded everyone’s expectations. I did not see one preseason poll predicting the Reds would be in the top two. They only blot on their copybook was the late season collapse that cost them the title. That aside, tremendous progress at Anfield as a bright future beckons. Record: W 26 – D 6 – L 6
source:   Midseason grade A
Manchester City: The Citizens won the PL title and deservedly so. Manuel Pellegrini, known as ‘the Engineer,’ built a solid foundation for City’s creative stars to flourish and they got over the line. They were only top for 14 days of the season but were there when it mattered most after banging in 102 goals to lift the PL crown. Record: W 27 – D 5 – L – 6
source:   Midseason grade A
Everton: The Toffees came so close to sealing a top four spot, and in almost any other season their return of 72 points would have sealed a UCL berth. Roberto Martinez shouldn’t let that spoil a wonderful first season in charge at Goodison, as the Spanish coach has developed a silky style admired around the country and blooded talented youngsters like Ross Barkley and John Stones. Record: W 20 – D 9 – L 8
source:  Midseason grade A
Southampton: Mauricio Pochettino’s young side have shown everyone just how good they are down on the South Coast. Saints finished in their best ever PL position of eighth, recorded their highest ever points tally and have three players off to Brazil with England. Possessing a squad brimming with talented teenagers (Luke Shaw etc.) and the likes of Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert, the future is bright for the Reds. Record: W 15 – D 11 – L 12

source:

Midseason grade B+
Stoke City: A terrific campaign for the Potter as Mark Hughes’ men have turned on the style at the Britannia. Six wins from their last ten games saw Stoke finish ninth, their highest ever PL finish and their first time in the top 10, as they’ve finally shaken off that ‘long ball merchants’ tag. Can they challenge for the top six next season? Record: W 13 – D 11 – L 14
source:   Midseason grade  B+ Crystal Palace: After Tony Pulis took charge of Palace in late November the Eagles never looked back. They ended up finishing in 11th place after picking up just four points from August to November. Pulis was rightly named PL Manager of the Year and the Eagles beat the likes of Chelsea at home and stunned Liverpool in a late comeback. Pride, passion and commitment, they battled their way to this B+. Record: W 13 – D 6 – L 19
source:  Midseason grade  B+ Hull City:Many didn’t think Steve Bruce could keep the Tigers up, yet early in the season they were flying. Big wins over Liverpool at home and Newcastle away were crucial but their season did peter out. That was due to their run to the FA Cup final which inadvertently also handed them a place in next season’s Europa League. Record: W 10 – D 7 – L 21
source:   Midseason grade B
Arsenal: A blip in the middle of the season curtailed the Gunners’ progress this campaign… but this still have plenty to be proud of. Up until January they pretty much led the way in the PL, as Arsene Wenger’s new signing Mesut Ozil ran the show. Then he dropped away and Arenal struggled, yet they still finished fourth and have an FA Cup final to look forward to. All in all, a good season and another top four finish. Record: W 24 – D 7 – L 7
source:   Midseason grade B
Chelsea: The ‘Special One’ didn’t win any silverware on his return to Stamford Bridge, but he came mighty close. Chelsea’s young squad hung in the title race until the penultimate weekend of the season but their downfall was losing to Sunderland, Villa and Palace, despite picking up five wins and a draw in their games against the top four. A UCL semifinal defeat to Atletico Madrid was a bitter pill to swallow. Third place is a tough start for Mourinho in his second spell. Record: W 25 – D 7 – L 6
source:  Midseason grade  B- Sunderland: Gus Poyet asked for a miracle at the Stadium of Light… he got one. The Mackems became just the second club in PL history to avoid the drop after being bottom of the standings at Christmas. Paolo Di Canio was dismissed after a torrid start but four wins in a row in their last five (including victories at Chelsea and Man United) kept Sunderland up against all the odds. Oh, they reached the League Cup final too, but lost to Man City. Record: W 10 – D 8 – L 20
source:   Midseason grade B-
Tottenham: Spurs badly missed Gareth Bale, as the $130 million they reinvested from his transfer fee was very poorly spent. That ultimately cost Andre Villas-Boas his job as the Portuguese boss saw his team battered by Man City and Liverpool early on. Tim Sherwood stepped in, became Spurs’ best-ever PL manager (stats wise) and guided them to fifth…. Then Sherwood left after the season finished. Lots of uncertainty around White Hart Lane. Record: W 21 – D 6 – L 11
source:   Midseason grade C+ Swansea City: The Swans were in real danger of relegation for much of this season, as Michael Laudrup suffered ‘second-season syndrome’ badly. The Danish manager left and defender Garry Monk was put in charge as he led the Swans to a 12th place finish after flirting with the drop. A charge to the Europa League knockout stages didn’t help their league form. Wilfried Bony was their star pupil as the Ivorian banged in goals for fun. Record: W 11 – D 9 – L 18
source:   Midseason grade C Newcastle: It all started so well for Newcastle as Alan Pardew’s side challenged for the top four before Christmas. Then the wheels fell off as Pardew was banned for headbutting an opposition player, the Magpies plummeted to 10th and their were huge protests from fans against the owner and their manager. All is not well at St. James’ Park. Record:  W 15 – D 4 – L 19
source:   Midseason grade C-
West Brom: Somehow the Baggies weren’t relegated as they won just seven games, the lowest total in the PL. They missed the goals of last season’s loan striker Romelu Lukaku and Steve Clarke lost his job ludicrously early in the campaign. From eighth last year to three points and one place above the relegation zone, the decline at the Hawthorns was shocking. Spanish boss Pepe Mel was brought in but after many issues with the playing staff, he left at the end of the campaign. Record: W 7 – D 15 – L 16
source:   Midseason grade D+
Aston Villa: No wonder American owner Randy Lerner wants to sell Villa, two seasons of struggle for the Midlands giants has pushed the fans’ patience to the brink. Manager Paul Lambert has failed to kick the club on and Villa only secured their safety a week from the end of the campaign. There needs to be a clean sweep at Villa as they keep scraping by. Record: W 10 – D 8 – L 19
source:   Midseason grade D
West Ham: Sam Allardyce could well be on his way out of Upton Park as fans of the Hammers have turned against his direct style of play. It was a real rollercoaster ride for West Ham as they started poorly, then picked up in the New Year, before finishing with a whimper on 40 points. Losing Andy Carroll for over half of the season through injury didn’t help but overall it was a season to forget. Record: W 11 – D 7 – L 20
source:   Midseason grade F
Manchester United: What a simply wretched season for the Red Devils. David Moyes lasted 10 months before he was fired and put out of his misery. United lost 12 PL games for the first time in a season, finished out of the top four for the first time in PL history and failed to qualify for Europa for the first time since 1990. An aging squad is finally being broken up but that should’ve happened last summer. A new manager is on the way this summer, after Ryan Giggs stepped in on an interim basis, but the reigning champions surrendered their crown in embarrassing fashion. Record: W 19 – D 7 – L 12
source:  Midseason grade
F
Fuham: Three managers had a crack at keeping the Cottagers in the top-flight, as Fulham made a right pig’s ear of this season. Martin Jol assembled an aging, yet talented, squad which struggled early on. Jol was fired and his assistant Rene Muelensteen was put in charge, however he lasted less than two months as German boss Felix Magath arrived. A string of late wins gave Fulham hope but their awful defending sent them down as they had the second worst defense in PL history with 85 goals conceded. Record: W 9 -D 5 – L 24
source:   Midseason grade F
Cardiff City: Cardiff’s first-ever PL campaign became the ‘Vincent Tan show’ as their eccentric Malaysian owner is now the number one villain in the Welsh capital. Memorable home wins over South Wales rivals Swansea and Manchester City gave Bluebirds fans hope, then Tan fired manager Malky Mackay and new boss Ole Gunnar Solksjaer just wasn’t given enough money, or time, to turn things around. Back to the Championship as they struggled for goals all season and bagged just 32. Record: W 7 – D 9 – L 22
source:  Midseason grade
F

Norwich City: Talking of struggling for goals, Norwich were the PL’s lowest scorers with 28. Chris Hughton was fired with five games to go as his expensive summer signings, Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel, failed to score the goals Norwich needed. Sacking Hughton was pointless as Norwich’s last four games were against Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United. Relegation was inevitable but it was an awful season at Carrow Road as the players massively underperformed. Record: W 8 – D 9 – L 21

Spurs “have the capacity” to win the Champions League

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We know. They just drew 2-2 away at Rochdale in the fifth round of the FA Cup. We know.

[ MORE: Dele Alli and the diving debate

But Tottenham Hotspur’s last 2-2 draw was much more impressive as they went to Juventus and outplayed the reigning Italian champions in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

Heading into the second leg at Wembley on Mar. 7, it appears that new signing Lucas Moura, who scored their opening goal against Rochdale on Sunday, is a fan of what he’s seen in his short time at Tottenham.

Speaking to reporters after his first goal for Spurs on his full debut, Moura has high hopes for his time in North London.

“I am 25 years old but I think I gained a lot of experience with PSG and I think I can help Tottenham. I think we have a lot of quality and a great structure and can arrive at the end of the season with a trophy. The Champions League is the most difficult cup but I think we have the capacity to win it if we always think in positives and always work hard,” Moura said, via the Guardian.

“We did a big game against Juventus away. It was a good result in Italy and I am sure we can do a good game with our fans and continue. It’s always important to win. Every player wants to win trophies, to make history and I am here to make history with my new friends, my new team-mates. I believe that because we have a lot of quality, a great structure – I am really impressed – and I think we can dream with the Champions League.”

Does Moura have a point? Aside from a weakened side struggling away at Rochdale on a freshly laid pitch, they’ve been superb in recent months.

And given the current form of Harry Kane and the entire Spurs team there won’t be a single club who says “you know what, let’s take Spurs” if they make it through to the last eight of the UCL.

The high-pressing style of Mauricio Pochettino saw them bully Juve away from home and all of a sudden it seems like the rest of Europe has woken up and realized just how good they are.

If injuries are kind to Spurs and Moura continues to show flashes of brilliance since his arrival from PSG in January, the Brazilian could well be on to something. Tottenham are by no means favorites to win the Champions League, but their recent results against Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool prove they are a force to be reckoned with.

Top Chelsea v. Barcelona moments

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Ahead of Chelsea hosting Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg, let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?

And boy, we have a lot of golden moments to choose from between these clubs as they’ve meet in the UCL knockout rounds on five previous occasions.

[ MORE: Man United, Chelsea in UCL action

In recent years Barcelona against Chelsea has become essential viewing whenever they meet and Tuesday at Stamford Bridge will be no different as Lionel Messi looks to score for the first time ever against the west London club after firing blanks in all of his previous eight encounters.

From epic semifinal goals, to late drama and heartbreak, below is a look at some of the greatest moments in European history between these two clubs.


1. Fernando Torres‘ goal at the Nou Camp sends Chelsea to the UCL final in 2012

Down to 10-men and trailing 2-0 on the night and 2-1 on aggregate, Chelsea looked doomed after John Terry was sent off in the first half at the Nou Camp. Then Ramires pulled a goal back in the first half with a fine lob, before Lionel Messi hit the post and struck a penalty kick against the crossbar as Barca couldn’t find the all important third goal. With everyone pushed forward, one long punt up the pitch found Fernando Torres late on and he rounded Victor Valdes before slotting home (last goal in the video below) to make it 2-2 on the night and send Chelsea onto the final in Munich against Bayern. They once again recorded another improbable win in the final to secure their first-ever European trophy on penalty kicks and this comeback against Barca, against all the odds, proved it was written in the stars.


2. Andres Iniesta’s last-gasp strike at Chelsea sends Barcelona to the UCL final in 2009

Barcelona went to Stamford Bridge after being held to a 0-0 draw at the Nou Camp in the first leg and they went 1-0 down, with Chelsea seemingly heading into the UCL final. Then, late on the ball found Iniesta on the edge of the box and his perfect finish sent Barca to the final where they would beat Manchester United to be crowned European champions. A wild night of celebrations in Barcelona ensued and Iniesta added yet another glorious moment to his legendary career.


3. Chelsea squander 3-1 first leg lead, fall 6-4 on aggregate in UCL quarterfinals

What drama. Stamford Bridge was rocking as Chelsea beat Barca 3-1 in the first leg of their quarterfinal with two goals from Tore Andre Flo and a fine free kick from Gianfranco Zola and everybody believed they’d make it through to the last four of the Champions League. Umm, probs not. Luis Figo and Rivaldo each scored in the second leg as they looked to be sending Barca through on away goals, but Flo hit back to give Chelsea another advantage. Dani Garcia then scored seven minutes from time to take the game to extra time and Barca scored twice in the first half of extra time to make it 6-4 on aggregate and seal their passage to the final four. One of the greatest quarterfinal clashes in UCL history.

Why are we so concerned with Dele Alli and diving?

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Another weekend, another debate about Dele Alli taking a tumble in the penalty box.

Rinse, repeat.

There should be no debate about the latest penalty kick he won late on against Rochdale in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Sunday. He was clearly fouled and both opposition players and their manager had no complaints as the nimble Englishman went down under contact.

Alli, 21, was brought off the bench to try and drag Spurs back into the game and he did just that with Harry Kane slamming home the spot kick Alli won to put Spurs 2-1 up late on, only for the Premier League side to let in a late equalizer against their third-tier opponents to set up a replay at Wembley in 10 days time.

Yet it is the constant hubbub around Alli and diving which is the biggest issue which needs to be addressed because we are not focusing on the problem of simulation and how best to solve it.

With three yellow cards for simulation while playing for Spurs in the Premier League (more than any other player since 2015-16), plus his manager Mauricio Pochettino saying he understands diving to gain an advantage after Tottenham’s controversial 2-2 draw at Liverpool earlier this month, Alli is in danger of being pigeonholed as a cheat, if he hasn’t been already.

Speaking after the FA Cup game this weekend, Rochdale manager Keith Hill discussed the 88th minute penalty being awarded and Alli’s actions.

“I’m led to believe he was looking for it, but why not? If players feel there is an opportunity to be gained then brilliant, I don’t hold it against him,” Hill said. “I don’t blame him and I don’t have a problem with it. Whether it’s him, Harry Kane or [Rochdale’s opening scorer] Ian Henderson, it doesn’t matter who does it. If he does that for England in the World Cup this summer then I will definitely be supporting him.”

Comments like this, although deemed to be supportive by Hill, are the reason why Alli is being branded a cheat. Instead of vilifying him, the bigger issue of simulation in the game should be the focus. But it’s not. Lengthy bans have been discussed, so too have sin bins, but nothing is really being done to eradicate the issue.

Yet if someone praises Alli for initiating the contact and going down, he’s hammered. If he’s criticized for going down too easily, he’s hammered. He’s in a lose-lose situation. But why is Alli being singled out for special treatment?

Quite simply, it’s because he’s a special talent and because he is the next great hope for England, even if this season he hasn’t quite lived up to the hype of being crowned the PFA Young Player of the Year in each of his first two Premier League campaigns. Pochettino’s recent honest comments (which he since stated were taken out of context as he doesn’t condone diving) haven’t done the reputation of his players much good with Kane, Erik Lamela and others also scrutinized heavily after recent tumbles in the box.

“To stop the game, to punish people. Some 20 years ago, 30 years ago, it was like all congratulate the player when he tricks the referee. If you remember the football 30 years ago. That is the football I was in love with when I was a child. Football is about trying to trick your opponent. You know? Yes or no? Tactic – what does tactic mean?,” Pochettino said. “When you do some tactics it is to try to trick the opponent. You say, ‘Oh I play on the right but I’m going to finish on the left’. It’s a mix that I am worried that maybe we are going to kill the game. We love this game.”

Purists within the English game have long lambasted and singled out foreign imports (rightly or wrongly) for taking tumbles in the box, going down too easily and trying to con referees into giving them an advantage.

Many foreign imports to the PL who have since admitted they were taught at a young age to go down if they felt contact in the box which further enraged the debate. Now, with the heavy international influence at each PL club, we have seen simulation become a bigger part of the English game over the past decade and more anger emerge from pundits, coaches and fans alike.

A new rule introduced this season to retrospectively ban any players found guilty of diving (if the incident wasn’t spotted at the time by the officials) has seen Oumar Niasse and Wilfried Zaha banned, although Zaha won his appeal against the decision, and it seems to be having some impact, but it’s still not doing enough to stamp out simulation in the English game.

The initial impetus officials had at the start of the season to try and get rid of simulation has dwindled and old habits are sneaking back into the game.

Is Alli the only player who goes down often? No. Yet the way Alli plays the game, we will more often than not see him clattered into in the box. He flicks and pokes balls past defenders and his relatively slight frame means he will likely go down under contact from a bruising center back or midfielder. That’s just science and it’s the same for many other talented attackers who are built for speed and agility rather than strength and power.

Alli’s reputation as a hothead supersedes these simulation allegations and previous bans for punching opponents in the stomach, lunging into tackles to be sent off and off the ball incidents certainly do him no favors in proclaiming his innocence.

But the vendetta building against him as a serial cheat needs to end before this vicious cycle gets further out of hand and his talent erodes amid the jeers from opposition fans.

It’s unlikely that Alli, like many players, will stop going down in the box anytime soon if he feels contact from an opposition defender. The sooner everyone starts to accept it, the sooner everyone can move on and focus on trying to eradicate serial simulation in the game once and for all. Be it with lengthy bans, sin bins or straight red cards, something drastic must be done.

That’s the bigger issue here. Not Dele Alli.

Man United, Chelsea prepare for La Liga tests

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The final two Premier League teams to get their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties off and running are Manchester United and Chelsea who both play this week.

Both PL giants face Spanish opposition but both are in very different situations heading into these games.

 [ MORE: Champions League schedule

United travel to Sevilla on Wednesday as the firm favorites to advance to the quarterfinals, while Chelsea host Barcelona on Tuesday hoping to still be in the tie after the first leg at Stamford Bridge against Lionel Messi and Co.

After Liverpool battered FC Porto, Manchester City demolished Basel and Tottenham went to Juventus and dominated in a draw last week, all of a sudden United and Chelsea are under a little bit of extra pressure to not let the PL sides down.

That pressure is ratcheted up given the fact that Spanish clubs have dominated the Champions League for much of the last decade, with six of the last 10 European champions hailing from La Liga.

Chelsea were the last PL club to reach the UCL final, when they beat Bayern Munich in 2012, while United reached the final in three of four seasons from 2008 to 2011 but only prevailed on one occasion… when they beat Chelsea in the final 2008. That rich run for English clubs in the Champions League saw seven of the eight finals from 2005-2012 have at least one English club in it, but none have made it that far since.

Six of the last eight teams to reach the UCL final have been from Spain, with Juventus reaching the final in two of the past three seasons but failing to the might of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Yet this season, with five teams from one league reaching the last 16 for the first time in the competition’s history, there’s a sense the English clubs are back to their best and are ready to put La Liga in their place. United and Chelsea will have the first crack at doing that in the knockout rounds with all eyes on what could be a seismic shift in power back to the PL.

Chelsea were the only one of five PL teams in the Champions League this season to not win their group and they paid the ultimate price for that as they were drawn against Barcelona, the current La Liga leaders and one of the red-hot favorites to win yet another European title.

Antonio Conte‘s men have recovered well in recent weeks after patchy form in the Premier League briefly dropped them out of the top four, but there’s no doubting that there are still issues behind-the-scenes with Chelsea’s Italian manager who many expect to walk away at the end of this season.

On the pitch, Chelsea continue to be Lionel Messi’s kryptonite as the Argentine star hasn’t scored in any of his eight previous outings against the Blues. Conte will hope that is once again the case and we may well see a more defensive Chelsea side than usual as they will keep it tight, then play it up to either Olivier Giroud or Alvaro Morata to link up with Eden Hazard on the break.

Barca lead La Liga and if Messi once again fires a blank against Chelsea, at least this time they also have Luis Suarez in reserve, although Philippe Coutinho is cup-tied and can’t feature in the UCL after his January move from Liverpool.

As for United, the rigmarole around Paul Pogba continues as Jose Mourinho’s star midfielder missed their FA Cup fifth round win at Huddersfield on Saturday due to illness but is expected to be fit to play against Sevilla. Does Pogba have a future at Old Trafford?

That’s the key question right now but the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez will be eager to lead United in the latter stages of the UCL for the first time since 2014 when they reached the quarterfinals, but Mourinho is dealing with an injury crisis as Marcus Rashford could join Ander HerreraAntonio Valencia, Zlatan IbrahimovicMarcos RojoPhil Jones and Marouane Fellaini on the sidelines.

Sevilla drew against Liverpool twice in the UCL group stage and even though their La Liga form has been up and down throughout this season (they currently sit in fifth place in the table) and since Vincenzo Montella was appointed as their new boss in December, they’ll be a threat.

Wissam Ben Yedder is Sevilla’s chief goal threat and has six goals in six UCL games so far this season, while ex Manchester City pair Nolito and Jesus Navas will cause problems and Steven Nzonzi continues to impress in central midfield.

Both United and Chelsea know they face tough tests against Spanish opposition this week, and it is perhaps made a little tougher with expectations growing for English clubs in the Champions League this season.