Southampton's high-pressure approach could help them stun Arsenal and sit top of the PL standings come tea-time on Saturday.

Winners and losers: Who defied expectations during the 2013-14 Premier League season

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On the field and off, here’s a quick look back on who exceeded (and failed to meet) expectations during the 2013-14 Premier League season:

On the field

Winners

Adam Lallana, Southampton – Nine goals. Six assists. The 2013-14 season was more than a just a statistical breakthrough for Lallana. It was a springboard to Brazil.

In the process, Lallana’s rise came to symbolize more than one player’s growth. Praise for the Saints attacker became shorthand for acknowledging Southampton’s broader success. Mauricio Pochettino’s team finished eighth while vaulting Lallana, Luke Shaw, Rickie Lambert, and the now injured Jay Rodriguez into the England national team picture.

Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool – Coming into the season, doubts about the post-Chelsea Sturridge centered on whether he and Luis Suarez could reach their potentials in the same attack. You don’t hear those doubts anymore. Still only 24 years old, Sturridge finished the season with 21 goals, with only Suarez eclipsing him on the league’s goal scoring chart.

Curtis Davies, Hull City – Once a promising Luton product that commanded a near-eight figure fee, Davies’ inconsistency eventually saw him out of the Premier League. Bought by Steve Bruce before the season, the 29-year-old’s return the first division turned into best season of his career. In addition to team of the year consideration, Davies earned calls for a spot in Brazil.

Luis Suarez, Liverpool – The Premier League hasn’t seen a weapon this dangerous since Didier Drogba’s peak. Suarez finished the season with 31 goals, becoming the seventh player in league history to join the 30-goal club.

source: APLosers

Marouane Fellaini, Manchester United – Just as Lallana came to symbolize Southampton’s rise, Fellaini represented Manchester United’s fall. Following David Moyes to Old Trafford, Fellaini vacillated between injured and ineffective. The Belgian only made 12 starts, but for some Red Devils’ supporters, that was 12 starts too many.

Roberto Soldado, Tottenham Hotspur – It was two months into Soldado’s Premier League career before the Spaniard scored from open play. Though he finished the season with six goals, four came from the spot, with the former Valencia forward eventually playing his way out of Spain’s World Cup squad.

Jozy Altidore, Sunderland – For the second time, Altidore took a crack at the Premier League, and for the second time, the U.S. international failed to produce. After a one-goal season, Altidore has two goals in 62 Premier League appearances.

Nicolas Anelka, West Brom – Anelka’s odyssey from Chelsea to China, Turin to The Hawthorns came to a disturbing end. Thanks to the former French international, Premier League fans became familiar with the quenelle.

source: Getty ImagesOn the sidelines

Winners

Tony Pulis, Crystal Palace – A club like Stoke may have the luxury of turning its back on a manager like Pulis, but for Crystal Palace, he proved a savior. In last place at the time of his appointment, the Eagles finished 11th, nine months after most pundits predicted they’d go down.

Roberto Martinez, Everton – Despite winning last year’s FA Cup, plenty of doubts surrounded Martinez after Wigan’s relegation. In David Moyes’ wake, the former Swansea City boss revolutionized the Toffees, leading them to their best Premier League point total.

Gus Poyet, Sunderland – The Uruguayan’s stock was on the rise before his time at Brighton came to a sudden end. At Sunderland, he was brought in to clean up the mess. With his in last place come mid-April, Poyet engineered a spring 180, with four straight spring wins securing another season in the Premier League.

Mark Hughes, Stoke City – Hughes’ departure from Fulham in search of a bigger job turned into an embarrassing move, but after Peter Coates picked him to change Stoke’s approach, the former Blackburn and Manchester City boss was redeemed. The Potters’ transition away from Pulis’s blunt approach saw Hughes guide the team to ninth – the team’s highest finish since 1975.

source: Getty ImagesLosers

Paulo Di Canio, Sunderland – The Italian manager’s Sunderland tenure came to an end five games into the season, after only 12 games in charge, overall. Repeatedly speaking out against the club in the wake of a player revolt, Di Canio ensured he won’t be back on a Premier League sideline anytime soon.

Andre Villas-Boas, Tottenham Hotspur – Turns out the player culture around Chelsea wasn’t the only problem. Given a second Premier League chance by Daniel Levy, the former Porto boss make if half-way through season two before losing his job.

Michael Laudrup, Swansea City – In year one, the Danish great led Swans to a League Cup. In season two, however, the club needed to go in another direction. Mentioned in connection with bigger jobs last summer, Laudrup is now out of a job entirely.

David Moyes, Manchester United – The long-time Everton boss proved the same man with the Red Devils that he was at Goodison Park. Unfortunately, it was a terrible fit. For all his success at Everton, Moyes will forever be known as the man who took Manchester United to seventh place, the club’s worst finish in 24 years.

source: Getty ImagesIn the standings

Winners

Everton – The Toffees only finished one place better than they did in 2012-13, but the manner in which they did so has rejuvenated the club. People are no longer dwelling on Everton’s limitations. They’re talking about the club’s potential.

Stoke City – Had Stoke finished in the bottom half of the table, 2013-14 would have still been considered progress if the team played a better brand of soccer. Under Hughes, the Potters not only began that stylistic transition but also climbed the table. By season’s end, Stoke was only six points behind a much more ballyhooed Southampton.

Crystal Palace – In August, some though Cardiff’s spending has produced a survivor, while fewer had faith in Hull. Almost nobody, however, thought Crystal Palace would stay up. Thanks to Pulis’s appointment, the Selhurst faithful will enjoy another season in the Premier League, having defied expectations with a finish just outside the top half.

Liverpool – Ten days removed from its collapse at Selhurst, Liverpool’s disappointing finish obscures the fact that Brendan Rodgers’ team was the story of the season. In a league that’s rarely has surprise title contenders, the Reds jumped from seventh to within two points of the crown.

source: Getty Images

Losers

Manchester United – Following in the rivals’ footsteps, United fell from its perch among the league’s elites, but whereas the Liverpool’s’ fall came after a series of poor choices by Rafa Benitez, one choice undid the Red Devils. Liverpool spent four seasons outside the top four. Manchester United will hope for a quicker response.

Fulham – Blame Michael Jackson, blame the three managers who couldn’t turn the team around, or blame the new owner. In fact, blame them all. The Cottagers ended up five points from safety, giving up 85 goals while punching their ticket to the second division.

Norwich City – The acquisitions of Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Johan Elmander, and Gary Hooper should have provided enough goals to avoid relegation. Instead, thanks in part to Chris Hughton’s conservative approach, the Canaries only scored 28 goals, losing six of their last seven en route to the Championship.

Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs sold Gareth Bale, but as Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal showed, it’s possible to compete for Champions League without the Welsh international. Tottenham had the talent but never found the right formula, with a series of one-sided results against the league’s top teams forcing Spurs to regroup.

source: Getty ImagesFar afield

Winners

John Henry, Liverpool – Whoever returned Liverpool to glory would also win Anfield’s hearts. While Rodgers has received much of the credit, Henry’s also gotten his due. His management team’s first choices weren’t the right ones, but four years after purchasing the club, Henry and Fenway Sports Group have made the Reds title contenders. And they’re back in Champions League.

Peter Coates, Stoke City – His decision could have blown up in his face. Pick the wrong man to replace Tony Pulis, and Stoke would go down. For Coates, however, change was worth the risk. For the first time in 39 years, the Potters finished in the first division’s top half.

The Class of `92 – From their deal to buy Salford City FC, to Gary Neville’s continued, prominent place in English soccer, to Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, and Paul Scholes’ seats on United’s bench, the club’s famous Class of `92 class returned in more than just documentary form. Their influence off the pitch may never match their impact on, but Manchester United’s golden generation will continue to play a role around the Premier League.

Gareth Bale, Real Madrid – When Bale arrived at White Hart Lane, he was a left back/left winger project, albeit one with tremendous potential. At the beginning of the season, Tottenham cashed in on their investment with a world record transfer fee, giving Bale a path to the Champions League final.

source: Getty ImagesLosers

Alex Ferguson – Moyes wasn’t the only manager whose legacy was harmed by his move. Once his poor fit at Old Trafford became apparent, fans started questioning the man who picked the former Everton boss for Manchester United’s post. For all the right choices Ferguson made at United, his final call was the wrong one.

Assem Allam, Hull City – Allam’s quest to change his club’s name to Hull Tigers was eventually rejected by the Premier League. Along the way,  the team’s owner alienated many of the club’s long-time fans. It almost feels awkward calling them “Tigers” after this year’s ordeal.

Randy Lerner, Aston Villa – News of Villa’s impending sale was met with hope, not trepidation. The reaction was telling. Three straight relegation battles have left supporters disillusioned. Now they’re counting on new ownership to resuscitate the club.

Vincent Tan, Cardiff City – The Bluebirds’ eccentric owner was the object of ridicule during his battle with Malky Mackay. Once the former Cardiff manager was gone, Tan’s true troubles began. After convincing Ole Gunnar Solksjaer to join up, Tan saw his club sink to the bottom the table, relegating the second division winners back to the Football Championship.

Mike Francesa rants about Sports Illustrated’s Copa America coverage, Lionel Messi cover

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - MAY 11: Copa America 2016 is displayed during the Soccerex Americas Forum Mexico City Day 1 at Camino Real Polanco Hotel on May 11, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Victor Chavez/Getty Images for Soccerex)
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Clueless clown Sports talk host Mike Francesa is known for being a crotchety, opinionated old man who has trouble adapting to changing times.

He’s had plenty of sparkling moments where he displays his ignorance room to grow when it comes to the world outside of New York sports, such as his knowledge of the Catholic hierarchy or his love for synergistic network promotion. He is the Tommy Wiseau of sports broadcasting.

So when Mike’s beloved childhood magazine Sports Illustrated soiled its cover with a picture of Lionel Messi, whom apparently he nor any of his staffers know anything about beyond his last name, the man was enraged.

You can listen to the whole segment here. Let’s break this gold mine down.

I got my SI, and the cover is “Summer of Soccer.” Where is the summer of soccer going to be? I have no idea. Now, I know I get accused of knowing nothing about soccer, because I don’t. I know absolutely zero about soccer, and that’s more than I want to know. Sorry! Just being honest. It’s a little late for me and soccer.

So…uh…why are you talking about it then?

On the eve of ‘Copa America’ SI has how many pages in its magazine this week…1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8…9…10…11…pages on this event. 11 pages, and I can’t find anybody who’s ever heard of it. 11 pages…you gotta be kidding me! No wonder they can’t give them away. This is a magazine that, as a child, I used to read it from cover to cover.”

So Mike thinks magazines don’t sell because they cover soccer, and he thinks that because he never read about soccer as a child, he shouldn’t have to read about that dang sport now.

He proceeds to then ask his cohost/producer/sidekick if he’d ever heard of Lionel Messi, to which his cohost/producer/sidekick sheepishly says he’s heard of him but only by his last name. Let’s just skip that part.

I’m sure to soccer fans this is an enormous event, which God bless them, I have no issue with. But mainstream America is not paying…doesn’t even know…if I go out and poll the newsroom, no one’s ever heard of this event. My guys in here didn’t even know what it was…nor have I! Nobody’s ever mentioned it. Has anyone ever called you [producer] to promote the Copa America on my show? [he says no]. If you’re going to promote something in sports you’re going to do it on this show. Bottom line is no one’s ever done that.

Guys, we should all just go home, we forgot to promote soccer on Francesa. Fuggetaboutit.

He then stumbled through reading what the Copa America actually is and what it entails, with an overly forced exasperated tone just to prove how frustrated he is with Sports Illustrated. Shame on them! Oh, and in this part he calls FIFA “Fie-fuh,” confuses the Olympics with an actual team that’s playing, and thinks it will be played in France. Yawn. Let’s wrap this up.

To spend 12 pages in SI on that? I mean, listen, I understand there are people here who love soccer, and they’ll be glued to it, and watch it on TV, which I understand, but man, how is that going to be part of mainstream America? I don’t get it.

You know, I don’t get it either. We should all just go home. Go home everyone! Fun’s over, we’ve been found out.

I left out the part where he calls Sports Illustrated “a sad reminder of the of a different world.” Ironic considering who it’s coming from.

For the record, callers lit Francesa up after this, so some justice was served. If you can’t get enough of the Francesa soccer shenanigans, check out this MLS read he attempts to get through, which takes him two and a half minutes and our hero realizes that NYCFC doesn’t have a “nickname” and that David Villa is pronounced like Pancho Villa. Stuff of legends.

Cellar dwelling Houston Dynamo, Owen Coyle decide to part ways

TORONTO, ON - MAY 10:  Head Coach Owen Coyle of the Houston Dynamo smiles prior to an MLS soccer game against Toronto FC at BMO Field on May 10, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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A week ago, Owen Coyle was whispered as possibly leaving the Houston Dynamo to lead Celtic.

With that opening filled by Brendan Rodgers, the Dynamo and Coyle cut ties anyway.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

Coyle struggled to pick up the pieces left behind by Dominic Kinnear in Houston, and the Dynamo are dead last in Major League Soccer after a quarter of the season.

On Wednesday night, the Dynamo announced that Coyle wanted to be closer to his family in England and would be leaving the club immediately.

From HoustonDynamo.com:

“I asked Chris (Canetti) if I could speak with him today and I explained to him the challenge of being away from my family and how we all want the best for Houston Dynamo,” Coyle said. “I want to wish all members of the staff, from owner Gabriel Brener to president Chris Canetti to general manager Matt Jordan, everyone has been such a source of support, along with the players and the technical staff. I’d like to thank the Dynamo supporters, who have been outstanding. We have a brilliant club, and I have no doubt success is just around the corner.”

The Dynamo went 14W-21L-11T during his reign, but have also been severely lacking in talent. The long delay from acquiring Cubo Torres to getting him on the pitch was one of the many things that frustrated progress in Houston.

Coyle is best known for his time with Bolton Wanderers, though that ended early in a Championship season following relegation. Houston is 3W-7L-2T this season, and has Vancouver up next.

Wade Barrett and a pair of Dynamo assistants will lead the club in the interim.

Three things we learned from the late USMNT win over Ecuador

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Frickson Erazo #3 of Ecuador battle for control of the ball against Clint Dempsey #8 of the United States in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Darlington Nagbe was the star against Ecuador, giving the United States the late 1-0 win in Frisco. There wasn’t much to take away from the match, but one attacking setup certainly performed better than the other, and that was the biggest talking point.

[ RECAP – United States earns late win over Ecuador ]

Three things we learned

1 – When the US plays good defense, it has a creativity problem.

This isn’t anything new, as teams who sit back obviously will have less of the ball. But this isn’t exactly that. The US defended quite well through the first 45 minutes, and they held the majority of the possession, but they failed to do much with it. It resulted in…

That. Yuck. It was horrid to watch, and is frustrating given the level of competition being faced compared to the level of competition to come.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings against Ecuador ]

2 – Does the Pulisic-Wood-Nagbe lineup have more to offer?

The United States began with Clint Dempsey isolated up front, supported by Gyasi Zardes and Graham Zusi, with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones sitting deep. That lineup was utter trash in the attacking half, producing one good chance in the first half which Zardes flubbed. When Klinsmann switched things up soon after halftime, bringing on Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood, Darlington Nagbe, and Alejandro Bedoya, the attack began to show life. It certainly helped that all those substitutes were placed in their natural positions, something not always a given for Klinsmann. This may give the US manager a good look at the more creative setup, and could bode well for the aforementioned players heading into the Copa America. There are obvious downsides to this lineup, such as lack of experience, but it might be worth the risk, especially with those players much more likely to be contributors in 2018 given their age.

3 – Christian Pulisic can actually be a useful piece this summer

On for the final half-hour, the young Borussia Dortmund winger provided positive touches along the left flank. He created a few opportunities for Bobby Wood and Graham Zusi, a promising development to push back against the “he’s not ready” crowd. Pulisic was electric down the left, and was vital in the push the last 20 minutes. It’s just 20 minutes, but it’s a promising small sample size.

Player ratings from the USMNT’s late win over Ecuador

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Brad Guzman #1 of the United States blocks a shot against Ecuador in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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“Fits and starts” is a good way to describe the United States friendly against Ecuador in Texas on Wednesday, a match that ended 1-0 to the hosts after a controlling second half.

The Yanks took more than 20 minutes to get their act together, and then had a bit of trouble penetrating La Tricolor’s back four.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

The second half, however, was straight-up dominant. The lack of finish was troubling, but Darlington Nagbe took care of that. The Portland Timbers man not only scored, but also piled vindication on supporters who couldn’t wait to see him up high, and Michael Bradley deep.

And Christian Pulisic, well, he’s a swoon-worthy talent.

STARTING XI

Brad Guzan — 8 — Didn’t have a ton to do, but did it very well. A welcome improvement from the Aston Villa keeper.

Fabian Johnson — 6 — Probably deserves a 7, but that missed trap of a Jermaine Jones cross was just so ugly.

Steve Birnbaum — 6 — Very shaky early, but settled into the game.

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Christian Noboa #6 of Ecuador takes a shot against John Brooks #6 of the United States and Brad Guzman #1 of the United States in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
 (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

John Brooks (off 78′) — 7 — Played very well after a weak opening 10 minutes or so. Still takes chances like the center back version of Jermaine Jones, but those chances came off well on Wednesday.

DeAndre Yedlin — 6 — Hit and miss from the right back, who had a heck of a task in dealing with Jefferson Montero. Still, the defensive improvement is impossible to ignore.

Kyle Beckerman (off HT) — 6 — Might’ve picked up an injury. Hard-nosed as usual, but feels like he’s a single lost step away from not fitting the bill.

Jermaine Jones (off 64′) — 6 — Playing as an attack-minded mid with some defensive responsibilities may be the role he was meant to play, and his early second half was promising before subbing off for Bedoya.

Michael Bradley — 7 — No surprise that he — and the States — thrived once Klinsmann moved the Toronto FC man deeper in the midfield.

Gyasi Zardes (off HT) — 5 — The effort was there, as were the runs. The kid works hard and has a brain for the game, but his first touch betrayed him once again. Should’ve been 1-0.

Graham Zusi (off, 88′)– 7 — You know what you’re getting with Zusi, and the Sporting KC man was one of several players who played an assist-worthy ball in this one. Bedoya tapped his 72nd minute pass just wide of the far post.

Clint Dempsey (off 63′) — 5 —  Will be kicking himself for a poor first touch on an early second half cross from Bobby Wood. Didn’t get much service in the first half, but did play a great ball to Zardes.

Substitutes

Darlington Nagbe (on HT) — 8 — This guy. We all knew he had it in him, even Klinsmann after a long enough wait. He was the best player on the pitch in the second half.

Bobby Wood (on HT) — 6 — Missed a few key chances, but set up Nagbe’s winner.

Christian Pulisic (on 63′) — 7 — Dangerous, lively, and that touch. More of him, please.

Alejandro Bedoya (on 64′) — 6 — Should’ve scored, but didn’t. Also probably should’ve started, so we’ll cut him a bit of slack.

Matt Besler (on 78′) — 6 — Totally fine, but Ecuador rarely tested during his tenure.

Michael Orozco (on 88′) — N/A