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.

FIFA says deal close to resolve transfer system complaint

Harold Cunningham/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ZURICH (AP) A complaint to the European Commission challenging soccer’s transfer market is set to be withdrawn by the global group of players’ unions, according to FIFA.

A formal complaint that the trading system is “anti-competitive, unjustified and illegal” was filed in Brussels two years ago by FIFPro.

[ MORE: Dusan Tadic tells the story of how he arrived at Southampton ]

After a meeting Thursday of the FIFA stakeholders committee, soccer’s world governing body said a tentative agreement relating to unpaid player wages and transfer fees reached with FIFPro, European clubs and a global leagues’ group can help end the dispute next year.

“It was an issue that was stewing for a long, long, long time,” FIFA vice president Victor Montagliani told reporters after chairing the meeting. “Because of our impetus they came to an agreement.”

FIFPro, which has campaigned to let players terminate contracts after going unpaid for several weeks, cautiously welcomed its “constructive talks with FIFA.”

“(It’s) premature to discuss what might happen next regarding our legal complaint against the transfer system, or any prospective deal until we are satisfied with the proposals put forth,” the Netherlands-based union said.

FIFA has been open to reviewing a transfer system which has seemed weighted in favor of wealthy clubs and was widely criticized in the European summer trading window. Salary caps, limits on squad sizes and restricting loan deals have been suggested.

Representing 65,000 players, FIFPro had suggested its September 2015 filing threatened the biggest upheaval in transfer rules since the Bosman case in 1995.

Then, a European Court of Justice ruling gave players more freedom to move within the European Union and drove up salaries by letting clubs sign out-of-contract players without paying a transfer fee.

The tentative accord FIFA announced Thursday seeks to amend complex transfer regulations and better protect players and clubs from unpaid salaries and transfer fees.

Another shared goal is enforcing cases more efficiently with a clearer path to applying sanctions. Players can wait many months – and even years – pursuing claims for unpaid wages in FIFA judicial bodies.

FIFA’s ruling council must approve the accord next week at a meeting in India. A new draft of transfer regulations could then be put to the Council next March in Zurich, clearing FIFPro to drop its complaint case.

[ MORE: Northern Ireland boss O’Neill banned over DUI plea ]

Delegates at FIFA headquarters Thursday included English Premier League CEO Richard Scudamore and two-time Champions League winner Edwin van der Sar, now CEO at Ajax.

The session also discussed changing rules that govern players’ eligibility for national teams and switching allegiance, FIFA said.

However, talking points such as club salary caps, allowing an extra Copa America tournament in 2020 on the international match calendar, and issues around the 2022 World Cup in Qatar were not raised.

Report: USMNT interim manager to be named this weekend

Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images
Leave a comment

What’s next for the U.S. Men’s National Team?

[ MORE: Landon Donovan considering running for U.S. Soccer presidency ]

The first of many dominos may fall this weekend, according to ESPN FC.

The report states that the USMNT is likely to name its interim manager “some time this weekend,” however, U.S. Under-20 manager Tab Ramos likely won’t be the one named.

Ramos is reportedly seeking a full-time position as the USMNT boss, and the interim tag could be a turn off for the 51-year-old former national team midfielder.

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati had stated following former U.S. manager Bruce Arena’s departure that he expected to make a decision in “seven to 10 days.” A decision this weekend would stick with Gulati’s original intentions.

The Americans will reconvene next month when they take on Portugal on Nov. 14 in an international friendly in Leiria.

[ MORE: PST speaks with Atlanta United’s Julian Gressel ]

The match was originally scheduled to be played in Faro, but due to recent devastation in the are the fixture will be played in Leiria and all proceeds will go to the victims of wildfire damage. Portugal will also play a friendly four days prior to taking on the U.S. against Saudi Arabia at the same stadium.

Top 5 Premier League storylines in Week 9

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester City continues to dominate its opposition at the top of the Premier League, but there are plenty of other details to watch for this weekend around England’s top flight.

The 2017/18 PL campaign has seen several of the league’s top sides struggle through eight matches, while surprises Watford and Burnley attempt to stake their claim as legitimate title contenders.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Below, PST takes a look at the top 5 storylines around Week 9 of PL action.

Blues hope to end recent woes against surprise Hornets

Chelsea vs. Watford — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

What’s going on with Chelsea? The Blues nearly gave away all three points against Roma in Wednesday’s Champions League clash. That was after Antonio Conte‘s suffered back-to-back league defeats against Manchester City and bottom side Crystal Palace.

Injuries have certainly played a role in some of the club’s shortcomings recently, but there is still plenty of positive squad talent for Chelsea to pick up its performances. N'Golo Kante‘s absence in the midfield is notable because of his high work rate, but the Blues will have to make due in the mean time without the Frenchman.

Eden Hazard‘s brace against Roma is a good sign though for Chelsea, who will need their most dangerous player to influence the attack in addition to Alvaro Morata’s strong early return since joining from Real Madrid.

Clarets look to spoil City’s perfect start

Manchester City vs. Burnley — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN

The Clarets proved last season that they could be one of the most dangerous home sides in the PL, but 2017 has shown that Sean Dyche‘s men could present a real threat in England’s top flight.

Burnley is unbeaten in seven of its first eight matches, with its lone defeat coming to West Brom. Although that match proved to be a bit of an anomaly given the team’s win over Chelsea on opening day and subsequent results against Tottenham and Liverpool on the road.

The Citizens will present a different threat given the club’s highly-potent attack, but Burnley’s back line has been a revelation thus far by allowing just six goals. That ranks fourth in the PL behind only Man City, Man United and Spurs.

[ MORE: PST ranks the top 20 players in the latest PL power rankings ]

Kane presents challenge for Reds’ defensive unit

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool — Sunday, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Prior to Wednesday’s 7-0 thrashing of Maribor in the UCL, Liverpool had drawn three straight matches in all competitions. It doesn’t really have to be stated, but Tottenham is not Maribor… they’re a lot better.

In fact, Harry Kane is budding into one of — if not the best — strikers in the world at the moment. The Englishman has already scored 11 goals in as many matches across all competitions, which poses a massive threat to a Reds defense that has struggled mightily.

Liverpool has conceded 12 goals in eight PL matches, which is only one fewer than Watford for the most allowed out of the top 14 sides in England’s top flight. Jurgen Klopp‘s group has surely built something special up front with the likes of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah threatening opposing back lines, but that is all for not if they cannot establish a solid unit defensively.

Can the Toffees stop the bleeding at the Emirates?

Arsenal vs. Everton — Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Two wins in their first eight is far from the expectations that anyone around Everton would have hoped for this season. The departure of Romelu Lukaku was an undoubted blow, but the Toffees have looked in shambles on both sides of the ball through the first eight weeks of play.

Everton is tied for the fourth-most goals conceded thus far in the PL (13), while only managing five finishes up front. Ronald Koeman has a lot of work to do with his side, who sit just two points above the relegation zone. That’s nowhere near the top 6/7, where the club has been accustomed to finishing in recent years.

[ MORE: The biggest surprises, disappointments in UCL so far ]

New-look Hammers head to Old Trafford

Swansea City vs. Leicester City — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET online

It’s still hard to pinpoint Leicester’s problems, but another manager has gone by the wayside and the club is running out of excuses for the team’s poor play. We saw a similar struggle from the Foxes last season, after having had won the PL in 2015/16, but the team just looks less desirable at the moment.

The Foxes currently sit in 18th place through eight matches, this despite still having Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and Kasper Schmeichel — each of whom are widely-regarded as some of the best players at their position in the PL

For the Swans, goals have been hard to come by through the first weeks of the season. The loss of Gylfi Sigurdsson prior to the new campaign beginning was a massive blow, but the club has still managed eight points thus far.

TFC’s Giovinco says Toronto FC would “avoid relegation” in Serie A

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

Toronto FC won’t be leaving Major League Soccer for Serie A any time soon — or probably ever — but wouldn’t it be fun if they had the chance to?

[ MORE: Landon Donovan considering U.S. Soccer presidency run ]

Star striker Sebastian Giovinco brought up the hypothetical in a recent interview, and the former Italian international believes that his current TFC side is good enough to avoid relegation in Italy’s top flight.

“There’s no doubt that [MLS] has improved,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “It’s still not on the same level as the elite European leagues, but it all depends on the desire and the effort you put out there. Big names keep arriving and there are a lot of top quality South Americans.

“[If Toronto were in Serie A] we would avoid relegation easily, maybe finishing in mid-table.”

The comments were prompted by the Atomic Ant after Italy manager manager Gian Piero Ventura openly expressed concerns with Giovinco playing in MLS instead of one of Europe’s top leagues. The same could be said about Ventura’s predecessor and current Chelsea boss Antonio Conte.

It’s difficult to equate MLS directly to Serie A, or any other league for that matter, but one thing has been clear throughout Giovinco’s tenure in Toronto. He’s really good.

Giovinco has scored 54 regular season goals for TFC since joining the Canadian side in 2015, while adding 37 assists. Additionally, during last season’s playoff run — which saw Toronto advanced all the way to MLS Cup — Giovinco had four goals and as many assists.