Getty Images

Midseason awards: Overachievers, most to prove, under the radar

Leave a comment

After reaching the halfway point of the 2016-17 Premier League, Pro Soccer Talk is handing out its awards over the next few days.

[ MORE: PST’s full midseason awards ]

Click on the link above for all of the midseason awards, while below we discuss who has overachieved, who has the most to prove and who has flown under the radar.

[ LISTEN: The 2 Robbies, Rebecca Lowe, midseason review


Team who has overachieved most

Joe Prince-Wright’s pick: Burnley – With the squad they have, the fact that Burnley is within one point of the top 10 is superb. Turf Moor is a fortress.

Nick Mendola’s pick: West Brom – They’ve overachieved the most, but astute Tony Pulis has adapted from his infuriating defensive methods to follow more of a Leicester 2015-16 model.

Matt Reed’s pick: West Brom – It wasn’t impossible believe that this could be a top 10 side but the Baggies have certainly outdone themselves at the halfway stage. While the team is still lacking a signature win, Tony Pulis’ side is in a good spot for the time being.

Eric Scatmacchia’s pick: Chelsea – Chelsea were not among the top echelon of title contenders at the start of the season and now they are the odds-on favorite to win the Premier League. There wasn’t much turnover from last year’s roster that struggled mightily, but a few key additions, most notably N’Golo Kante, and a system change have Chelsea in historic form.

Player who has overachieved most

Joe Prince-Wright’s pick: Adam Lallana – We always knew he had this quality but he has added goals and assists to his game and is arguably Liverpool’s most important player. A machine.

Nick Mendola’s pick: Theo Walcott – All things considered for an English international at Arsenal, has overachieved on the finishing front with his eight goals.

Matt Reed’s pick: David Luiz – Since making his Stamford Bridge return, the Brazilian has played a massive role in Chelsea’s three-back system. Luiz and the backline have allowed just eight Premier League goals since he made the move back to the PL and the club hasn’t lost since September.

Eric Scatamacchia’s pick: Jermain Defoe – This is not about Defoe’s talent as he has been a productive striker in the Premier League for over a decade, but rather what he has around him. The Sunderland striker has been in great form this season, but is part of one of the worst offenses in the Premier League. Defoe has 11 of Sunderland’s 19 goals and is tied for the team lead in assists with two. He is on pace for one of his highest scoring seasons of his career and every goal will be vital as he appears to be Sunderland’s only hope of Premier League survival.

Coach who has overachieved most

Joe Prince-Wright’s pick: Antonio Conte – We know he is top quality but without doubt he has overachieved in his first few months in charge. High expectations from Chelsea’s fans now.

Nick Mendola’s pick: Walter Mazzarri – He has overachieved as a manager, though Watford’s drop-off makes this a risky call.

Matt Reed’s pick: Eddie Howe – The Cherries finished 16th a season ago, and while they likely won’t pull off a Leicester-like upset in 2016/17, Howe has done a tremendous job of putting Bournemouth on the map. Wins over Leicester and Liverpool, as well as a draw against Tottenham, has the Cherries well above anybody’s expectations.

Eric Scatamacchia’s pick: Antonio Conte – So much for needing time to adjust to the Premier League. Conte has 16 wins from his first 19 matches in the Premier League and has frustrated opposing sides with his 3-4-3 system. Conte has had great success in his managerial career, but it would have been unfair to expect this type of success so soon for the Italian.


Team with most to prove 

Joe Prince-Wright’s pick: Manchester United – Mourinho’s men have finally got going in recent weeks but there’s still plenty more to come from them.

Nick Mendola’s pick: Swansea City – They have the most to prove, largely in the transfer market. There’s a lot to prove for a club which fired two managers before you get to a necessary transfer window.

Matt Reed’s pick: Manchester United – Considering the big-time moves at manager and across the pitch, the Red Devils shouldn’t be content with just finishing top six.

Player with most to prove 

Joe Prince-Wright’s pick: Claudio Bravo – Much has been made of his arrival at City and the subsequent departure of Joe Hart. I’ve yet to see why Bravo was brought in.

Nick Mendola: Paul Pogba – He has been absolutely wonderful for United but will remain under the microscope due to his record transfer and non-English status.

Matt Reed’s pick: Jamie Vardy – You could really go with the entire Leicester squad but five goals over the first half of the season surely isn’t where the striker expected to be. It’s beginning to get to the point where the Foxes aren’t just floating above the bottom but seriously in danger of falling into the relegation zone, and Vardy has to improve if his team is to last another season in the PL.

Coach with most to prove

Joe Prince-Wright’s pick: Slaven Bilic – West Ham must now kick on in the second half of the season after a poor opening 20 games. Bilic must prove that last season was a one-off.

Nick Mendola’s pick: Claude Puel – He has a lot to prove at Southampton, as both Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman have raised expectations for what a Saints boss should be able to do almost regardless of tumult.

Matt Reed’s pick: Jose Mourinho – His second stint at Chelsea had its ups and downs but the Portuguese now has great expectations to turn around a United team that has had more struggles than positives since Sir Alex Ferguson‘s exit from Old Trafford. There’s no question that the Red Devils have talent in the squad, so it’s more a matter of seeing what Mourinho can get out of his roster and prove once again that he is in fact the “Special One.”


Under the radar awards

Joe Prince-Wright’s pick: Ander Herrera – Ask any Manchester United fan what they think of Herrera. You’ll hardly ever hear a bad word about him. He does all the leg work for the flashy stars and has been sublime this season.

Nick Mendola’s pick: Matt Phillips – JPW and longtime readers will be rolling their eyes as I’ve loved him going back to his days in the PL with QPR, but Matty Phillips of West Brom has only gotten better and smarter as a crosser of the ball. At $7 million? Not bad, Mr. Pulis.

Matt Reed’s pick: Jermain Defoe – He’s 34 and still banging in goals left and right, and honestly Sunderland would be buried at the bottom right now if it weren’t for the veteran. Defoe has 10 of the team’s 18 finishes this season and barring some major transfer signings in January the Black Cats will need Defoe to survive the rest of the way.

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”

Report: Chelsea planning Hazard, Courtois pay raises

Julian Finney/Getty Images
1 Comment

Eden Hazard has returned to his old self under Antonio Conte this season, and now Chelsea is hoping to lock down their star attacker.

[ MORE: Lukaku says decision has been made on Everton future ]

According to the Mirror, the Premier League leaders are planning on offering up a pay raise to Hazard, who has 11 league goals this season for the Blues.

Hazard signed a nearly $250,000 per week deal two seasons ago, but the Belgium international will likely rake in significantly more under the reported deal as Chelsea hopes to keep the 26-year-old away from Spanish giants Real Madrid and others.

The Mirror is also reporting that goalkeeper and Hazard’s Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois is likely to be handed a raise is salary as well.

The shot-stopper is set be handed a deal roughly in the range of what Hazard is currently making after allowing just 21 goals in 28 PL matches this season.

Ballack acknowledges difficult decision ahead for John Terry

Clive Mason/Getty Images
Leave a comment

For the better part of 19 years John Terry has been a staple of Chelsea’s backline.

[ WATCH: Zaha nets first international goal for Ivory Coast ]

With his future at Stamford Bridge becoming more and more in doubt though, it appears it’s time for the 36-year-old to move on from his longtime club, and that’s a decision that another former Chelsea player doesn’t envy.

[ MORE: Everton’s Coleman breaks leg on Ireland duty ]

Ex-Blues midfielder Michael Ballack knows that Terry has options, whether it be in Major League Soccer, the Chinese Super League or even with another Premier League club, but the German says it’s difficult because of what the centerback has meant to Chelsea.

“He is a player with that history and charisma,” Ballack, who spent four years with Chelsea during his playing days, told Sky Sports. “He’s such a Chelsea boy and they love him there.

“I know what it means if your career comes to an end and you’re getting older. You don’t know whether you extend your contract, play for another club or go abroad to America.

“I’m sure he has some options but if you think long-term, you have to feel comfortable with the decision.

For the first time in years, Terry has failed to establish himself as a first-team regular largely due to Antonio Conte‘s three-back system. The 36-year-old has appeared in just five PL matches this campaign, while making 10 appearances overall for the Blues, who currently sit atop England’s top flight and are in position to go for the double with the FA Cup semifinals lurking.

Terry himself has acknowledged that his career is nearing its end, but knowing the competitive drive that has made the Englishman great throughout his almost 20-year career, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll just give up his playing days without a fight.

Gabriel Jesus confident he’ll return for Man City this season

Stu Forster/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Gabriel Jesus bursted onto the Manchester City scene upon arrival, but an injury back in February has left the talented Brazilian sidelined ever since.

[ MORE: Everton loses Coleman to leg break on Ireland duty ]

The lively attacker suffered a broken metatarsal last month against Bournemouth, which required surgery, but the 19-year-old remains confident that he’ll be able to feature again this season for the Citizens.

“I don’t know, I have no return prediction,” Jesus told SporTV. “But I hope I can still play some games this season.”

Initial thoughts were that Jesus would miss around three months, all but ending his first Premier League season. Now, Jesus is hoping that he’ll be able to pick up where he left off prior to the devastating injury.

“It’s good,” Jesus said on his road to recovery. “Thank God, the effort, not just mine, but from all the physiotherapists in Manchester, doctors and everyone. It was not easy for me.

“It’s my first injury. Not muscle injury, but it’s the first time something happens that leaves me out of games. So it was not easy.

“But I saw that, of course, no one wants this to happen, but it could be worse. So we operated soon, I decided to operate and give it time.”

In just his first four matches with Pep Guardiola‘s side, the young Brazilian netted three goals and even dethroned Sergio Aguero in the starting lineup.