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Best of 2016: Top moments in the Premier League

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The Premier League had so many memorable moments in 2016.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Our writers got together to discuss some of their best memories from the past 12 months.

Over to them…


Best individual performance by player in Premier League:

Joe Prince-Wright: Some truly incredible displays from Leicester’s players over the course of their title win but I remember their 1-0 win against Southampton in the run-in. N'Golo Kante dragged them through on his own. He has taken that form with him to Chelsea.

Nick Mendola: N’Golo Kante, Leicester City and Chelsea. Just generally an absolute machine.

Kyle Bonn: I’m going for a team performance. Has to be Chelsea’s 4-0 demolition of Manchester United in October. The fans chanted “You’re not special anymore” to Jose Mourinho, who was humiliated by Antonio Conte in his return to his former cub.

Matt Reed: Andy Carroll hat-trick vs. Arsenal (April 2016)

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 17: Ngolo Kante of Leicester City holds off pressure from Winston Reid of West Ham United  during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and West Ham United at The King Power Stadium on April 17, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Best game you watched in 2016:

Joe: I would go with Tottenham 2-2 Arsenal in April 2016. The atmosphere was electric at White Hart Lane and both teams were in the title hunt at that point. Harry Kane scored a stunner but 10-man Arsenal snatched a point. High drama and incredibly high quality play.

Nick: Leicester 2-2 West Ham, April 17, 2016; Vardy scores then sees red. Leicester holds the lead with 10 men for almost an hour, only to see West Ham score twice in two minutes — the first a wild penalty — and Leonardo Ulloa nets a penalty of his own in stoppage to seal a point in the midst of all eyes being on Leicester.

Kyle: Bournemouth 4-3 Liverpool, Dec 4., 2016

Matt: Liverpool beats Norwich, 5-4, in Premier League (January 2016)


Best coach:

Joe: Claudio Ranieri. What he achieved, and how he achieved it, was career-defining.

Nick: Mauricio Pochettino

Kyle: Has to be Claudio Ranieri. Despite Leicester City’s dropoff, he not only led them to a title last season, but has them performing at top level in a historic Champions League campaign.

Matt: Claudio Ranieri

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 16:  (L-R) Claudio Ranieri Manager of Leicester City and captain Wes Morgan of Leicester City show the trophy to the fans during the Leicester City Barclays Premier League winners bus parade on May 16, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Best player in Premier League:

Joe: I’m going with Alexis Sanchez. Over the course of the past 12 months he has been unstoppable at times. If he had a better striker to combine with in the final third and in the box, they’d both get 20-25 goals per season. A monster for Arsenal.

Nick: N’Golo Kante

Kyle: Like the coach category, this is incredibly difficult because almost all the players who are playing well this season were poor in the second half of last season, and visa versa. Alexis Sanchez would be a good shout, but he struggled down the stretch last year. I’m going to go with Diego Costa, who not only leads the Premier League in goals so far this season, but had a quietly great 2nd half of last year while the rest of his team struggled.

Matt: Sergio Aguero


Best Premier League team:

Joe: Leicester City. I know they’re struggling now but if we talk about being a total team, then they dominated the first half of 2016. Recent wobbles to be expected after so many highs.

Nick: Chelsea

Kyle: I would put Arsenal here, but they seem to be slightly off the pace this season and faltered in early 2016, so Leicester City wins this by default.

Matt: Leicester City


Best prospect in Premier League:

Joe: I think Dele Alli is now a little old to class as a prospect but over the past 12 months he’s elevated himself to a new level. In terms of emerging talent, I’ve been impressed with Mason Holgate at Everton whenever I’ve seen him. Under Ronald Koeman he could flourish.

Nick: Leroy Sane of Manchester City

Kyle: There are a host of good young players in the Premier League. Dele Alli is just 20, Romelu Lukaku is 22, and so is Eric Dier. But with those guys already having established themselves, and this question focuses on prospects, I will go with Nathan Ake, who is having an amazing season with Bournemouth and established his identity at Watford last year.

Matt: Dele Alli

Tottenham’s Dele Alli celebrates after the English Premier League soccer match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park in London, Saturday Jan. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
(AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

Best goal in Premier League:

Joe: Henrikh Mkhitaryan‘s amazing back heel scorpion kick against Sunderland on Boxing Day 2016. Yes, he was a yard offside. Still, it was a mind-blowing moment.

Nick: Dele Alli vs. Crystal Palace, Jan. 23

Kyle: Dele Alli vs. Crystal Palace, Jan. 23

Matt: Dele Alli vs. Crystal Palace, Jan. 23


Top PL Storylines: Merseyside Derby, relegation special

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The international break is over and the Premier League is back.

[ MORE: What’s left for each PL club? ]

This stretch run begins now, as teams have around eight more matches left in league play with which to move up or down. Who will climb the table, and who will lose spots? The best picks are below:


Merseyside clubs clinging to European places

Liverpool vs. Everton — 7:30 a.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

Everton and Liverpool doesn’t need any sideshows to hype up the heated rivalry, but a little added spice won’t hurt anything. Spice is what we have as the two teams clash at Anfield Saturday as both teams are battling for European places.

Liverpool comes into the game in fourth, four points ahead of Manchester United for the final Champions League spot. A return to Europe’s top competition is overdue for Jurgen Klopp and the Reds, having made the tournament just once since 2010. It’s been a dogfight all year at the top of the table (aside from Chelsea, of course), and Liverpool is right in the mix. A misstep here would give Manchester United the chance to climb just one point back, really putting on the pressure. For Everton, they sit in seventh, level with Arsenal on points and just two behind Manchester United. They still have a good shot at Europa League play, and any spot in a European competition is a welcome moment for an Everton team that has appeared just once since 2010.

Both teams have to contend with injuries suffered over the international break. Everton’s Seamus Coleman is out at least for the rest of the season after his nasty leg break, while Liverpool will miss Adam Lallana who aggravated a muscle injury while on duty with England and will likely be out a month.

Will Arsenal or City turn their season around?

Arsenal vs. Manchester City — 11:00 a.m. EDT Sunday online via NBCSports.com

Arsene Wenger continues to find himself under more and more pressure. It seems Pep Guardiola takes one step back for every one step forward. As the two managers meet at the Emirates on Sunday, will either man manage to get a high-profile win to boost its season’s fortunes?

The Gunners are in serious peril. Wenger has never missed the Champions League in his 20 seasons in charge, but that could all change this year as Arsenal sits in 6th on 50 points, six back of fourth position. There is little to no room for error the rest of the way, and even against a strong opponent, the Gunners cannot afford to drop more points. For Pep Guardiola, City still sits in an envious position in third place and five points clear of dropping off the top four, but it’s not been without bumps and bruises. City is without a win in its last three matches, having dumped out of the Champions League and drawn a pair in league play over that time. Both managers are struggling. Will either turn things around?

A relegation special

Swansea City vs. Middlesbrough — 8:30 a.m. EDT Sunday online via NBCSports.com

Middlesbrough is in the relegation zone. Swansea City isn’t out of the weeds yet. Premier League status could be on the line.

As the two teams meet at the Liberty Stadium, Middlesbrough can go a long way towards climbing out of the bottom 3, while Swansea City can build space from it. Boro sits in 19th place, on 22 points, five back of safety. In that final safe spot is Swansea, on 27 points, and depending on the results of this match, things could get hairy for the loser. A draw helps nobody, so expect both sides to go all out.

Spurs with a tough road test

Burnley vs. Tottenham — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

Spurs sit in second, 10 points off the top but in control of the tight Champions League battle. Yet, they face a difficult challenge on Sunday. Burnley has lost just twice all season long at home, the latest coming January 2nd. Their away form has been miserable, but at home, they’re a completely different team.

Enter Tottenham, who has won three Premier League games in a row, but it’s not all rosy for the title contenders. They’re still without Harry Kane, who has returned to light training but still remains sidelined with his ankle injury. Sean Dyche can coach with the best of them in the English top flight, and it remains to be seen if Mauricio Pochettino can break down a strong Clarets defense. Spurs managed a 2-1 home win over Burnley, but a similar performance won’t get it done at the fortress of Turf Moor.

Former DC United keeper sues club plus Espindola, Olsen

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Former DC United goalkeeper Charlie Horton has filed a lawsuit naming D.C. United and Major League Soccer defendants along with Fabian Espindola and manager Ben Olsen.

The lawsuit alleges assault by Espindola which left Horton with career-ending concussion symptoms which he claims still haunt him today. Horton, born in London, was on D.C. United’s roster in 2016, but never saw the field as he failed to crack the pecking order which boasted Bill Hamid, Tally Hall, and Andrew Worra. Eventually, Horton was sent on loan to the Richmond Kickers to gain playing time.

According to the lawsuit, Espindola attacked Horton at the team training facility in late March of 2016 after an argument involving an incident in training weeks earlier. Horton did indeed officially miss seven weeks with a concussion that season, the first of two injuries he suffered that year (a broken hand ended his season).

However, the lawsuit states that Horton was not entered into MLS concussion protocol immediately, instead allowed to practice that day and only entering protocol and missing time when he reported his symptoms the following day. Horton was cleared to play in May, and was then sent on loan to Richmond.

The lawsuit states that the lingering concussion symptoms caused the end of Horton’s career. “Due to the severity of his ongoing post-concussive neurological symptoms, which directly inhibited his ability to perform at a level necessary to continue his professional career, Mr. Horton was forced to officially retire from professional soccer.”

Horton claims that Espindola’s attack was a blindsided attack, an elbow to the temple after Horton had turned to walk away from the altercation.

Manuel Neuer injured, will miss two games

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A long streak will come to an end on Saturday when Bayern Munich hosts Augsburg at Allianz Arena.

Manuel Neuer, who has started 65 straight Bundesliga matches for Bayern, will be forced to the bench after injuring his foot in training on Wednesday. That means a streak of 5,850 straight minutes played will be snapped.

The injury required minor surgery, which was performed by club doctor Markus Walther, and a club release said it “went optimally.”

The injury will see Neuer miss at least the Augsburg match plus the midweek visit to Hoffenheim. That leaves the two big matches up in the air, with Bayern set to travel to Westfalenstadion to take on Borussia Dortmund on April 8th, followed closely by the first leg against Real Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinals the following Tuesday. There was no mention of either game in the club release.

The last time Neuer missed minutes in a Bundesliga game was a home game against Eintract Frankfurt on April 11, 2015. The last time the 31-year-old missed more than three league games in a season was 2008/09 when he played for Schalke and missed the first six games of the year with a broken foot.

With the club 13 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga table, the injury is likely to have little effect on the final league standings, but should Neuer end up out for either the Dortmund game or, more importantly, the match against Real Madrid, it could affect the club’s position in the Champions League.

World Cup expansion will destroy regional qualifying

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On Thursday, FIFA announced a preliminary plan to expand the World Cup to a whopping 48 teams, starting in 2026 if the approval process goes as planned.

Every continental region is gaining slots, with CONCACAF nearly doubling its allotment, Africa adding four teams, and Europe gaining three. 46 teams would make the tournament outright, while another two would come from a six-team playoff.

The early outlook was met with cautious optimism across the soccer community, and there’s no doubt that the World Cup itself would benefit from expansion, with not only a significantly increased revenue stream for the FIFA brass to gawk at, but also viewers will gain from added entertainment, a la March Madness as smaller countries gain access to opportunities to shock larger nations in front of a grander audience.

[ MORE: FIFA announces World Cup expansion details ]

Despite the obvious gains, what gets completely and utterly dismantled is the qualification stage. In exchange for a month of tournament-style wackiness, not only does making the World Cup completely lose any remaining pedigree, but the qualification stage becomes an afterthought for continental powerhouses.

This particularly applies to CONCACAF, where currently the final round of qualification features a six-team round-robin. The way it stands currently, the usual bunch can often overcome minor slips to qualify on a regular basis, but as we’re seeing with the United States, at least things are interesting for the opening few rounds and questions often remain throughout the entire process. Just last cycle, we saw Mexico qualify thanks to the United States’ generosity with a last-second goal against Panama to send their southern neighbors through. Bottom line: it’s not always easy.

Now, with the new system, a massive total of six teams will make the finals, leaving almost no doubt about the fates of those at the top. Mexico and the United States will be shoo-ins, leaving the qualification process a near-afterthought. Sure, countries that don’t always see the final rounds will now have an increased shot, and that’s a great development for the growth of the game worldwide, but it comes at a great price. Now, instead of the ability to lure casual World Cup-only fans with meaningful games between tournaments, national teams will be left with a shell of the old qualification process to slog through.

Looking to Europe, already teams like France, Spain, and Germany are running away with their groups in the current format. Add three more slots to the mix, and even the next tier of countries like England, Poland, and Italy will be given near-automatic spots. Group G currently sees Spain and Italy battling for the automatic berth, with the runner-up left with a chance at disappointment in a one-game playoff. Now, with the new system, the life is sucked from the process, and teams are left with glorified friendlies.

In South America, four (usually five) teams make the tournament. That often leaves a top team sweating it out near the end of the cycle, with Argentina currently tugging at its collar having slipped in recent qualifiers. Add two more automatic slots, and you can kiss the drama goodbye. As it stands, Argentina – despite three losses in its last five matches – would still be four points clear of danger.

tl;dr version: It’s no fun anymore.

Nobody is surprised by FIFA’s pursuit of yet another way to increase revenue; we’ve seen it countless times before. Unfortunately, the price is high, as the 3-1/2 years between would entirely fall apart.