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

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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.

PL Preview: Manchester City vs. Newcastle

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  • Newcastle has lost 8 PL away matches in a row
  • Man City last lost at home in PL play to Chelsea in Dec 2016
  • Newcastle has picked up 1 of a possible 30 points vs. PL top half this season

Manchester City has a great chance to rebound from its first loss of the season as they host struggling Newcastle at the Etihad on Saturday, live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC or live online at NBCSports.com.

WATCH LIVE, HERE

The Magpies have picked up their terrible mid-season form of late, but still remain just three points above the drop. They are unbeaten in three, with a win and two draws, and have lost just once in their last five.

Through Newcastle’s losing streak, the Magpies struggled to keep the ball out of their own net, with defensive issues all over the place. They suffered through a nine-game winless run where they conceded 19 goals. However, of late, the roles have reversed, and suddenly they can’t score. In their last four games, they have just two goals.

City, meanwhile, have a few injuries to deal with on the defensive side of things, where they cannot afford them. Fabian Delph went down in the last match and could be out for significant time, along with Vincent Kompany who continues to show his age and history of fitness issues.

INJURIES: Manchester City – OUT: Fabian Delph (knee), Benjamin Mendy (knee). QUESTIONABLE: David Silva (illness), Vincent Kompany (fitness). Newcastle – OUT: Jesus Gamez (ankle). QUESTIONABLE: Dwight Gayle (knock).


What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on build-up of injuries: “In these situations, it always depends on the mentality of the players, if they can make a step forward. If they can they play in positions that are not natural positions and the other guys help them, everything is going well.”

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez on not having a full squad: “When you have a short blanket, if you pull it to your face, your feet are cold, if you cover your feet, your top half is cold.”

Prediction

Newcastle has been ok of late, but not nearly enough to keep Manchester City out of the back of the net. This could get ugly, with the Citizens looking to rebound from their season’s first loss. 3-0 Man City with the possibility that it could get much worse if Newcastle gives up.

PL Preview: Burnley vs. Manchester United

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  • Burnley has 1 win vs. Man United in last 23 meetings
  • Manchester United has not conceded a goal in 2018
  • Paul Pogba is joint-top of the league with 9 assists

A critical top of the table battle comes our way from Turf Moor (!!) on Saturday as Manchester United travels to Burnley live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

WATCH LIVE, HERE

Since losing at Chelsea back in early November, Manchester United in unbeaten away from home and has won four of the five road matches. Burnley, meanwhile, has lost three matches in a row to start the new year and has not won in Premier League play since December 12th against Stoke City.

The goalscoring form of each team is also in stark contrast. Manchester United has not allowed a goal in any competition in 2018, and last conceded back on Boxing Day in a 2-2 draw with this Burnley side. The Clarets, meanwhile, have just one goal in their last three Premier League games and just three goals in their last six.

INJURIES: Burnley – OUT: Chris Wood (knee), Stephen Ward (knee), Jonathan Walters (knee). QUESTIONABLE: Chris Taylor (ribs). Manchester United – OUT: Daley Blind (undisclosed), Eric Bailly (ankle), Michael Carrick (heart), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee). QUESTIONABLE: Marouane Fellaini, Antonio Valencia.

What they’re saying

Burnley manager Sean Dyche on the gap in riches between clubs: “I don’t think any of us are surprised by the gap in the Premier League – I think it’s been there a long time and it’s getting harder year on year since the business model of football has changed.”

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho on focusing despite transfer rumors: “In this moment, [Henrikh] Mkhitaryan our player, [Alexis] Sanchez an Arsenal player and with a match tomorrow, I want to switch off and focus on the most important thing, which is the match.”

Prediction

Burnley may be coming back down to Earth, but they are still a formidable team with great organization, and Manchester United will be once again held to a draw, this time 1-1.

Alexis Sanchez in Arsenal squad, could play vs Crystal Palace

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Ahead of his nearly imminent move away from the Emirates, Alexis Sanchez could make an appearance for Arsenal against Crystal Palace this weekend as he was with the squad at the team hotel on Friday night, according to reports in England.

According to the reports, Arsene Wenger has not decided if he will play Sanchez against Palace or not, as any potential injury could seriously jeopardize any outgoing transfer in the works. However, naming him to the bench and allowing Sanchez to make one last appearance in front of the home fans would be a nice touch before he leaves, likely for Manchester United.

It probably doesn’t help Wenger’s selection that oft-injured Danny Welbeck will miss the match after picking up a muscle problem in training.

Sanchez did not travel with the team to Bournemouth last weekend as Arsenal lost 2-1 in stunning fashion. Sanchez has missed four Premier League games this season, and Arsenal has lost three of them.

The reports state Sanchez trained with the Arsenal first team on Friday, but only because the youth team he trained with the day before had left for a road trip.

Reports: LA Galaxy trades Gyasi Zardes to Columbus for Ola Kamara

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According to a reports by the LA Times and by ESPN, the LA Galaxy have traded US international Gyasi Zardes along with allocation money to the Columbus Crew for striker Ola Kamara.

Both reports state that Columbus will receive $400,000 in guaranteed allocation money in the deal, plus another $100,000 should Kamara score 12 goals next season to trigger the incentive.

Zardes was once a force along the wing for Bruce Arena and the Galaxy, but the 26-year-old has declined heavily in the last two seasons as injuries and poor form have held him to just eight goals over the last two seasons, including just two last campaign. Meanwhile, Kamara has been a star for Columbus in his first two years in Major League Soccer, scoring 16 goals in 2016 before netting another 18 last season, leaving him third in the league in goals scored over those two seasons.

The LA Times report states that Kamara will earn a new contract after the trade, giving him a raise over his current $482,500 yearly salary.

Zardes is an interesting case who shouldn’t be given up on just yet. A homegrown player for the Galaxy, he scored 17 goals in the 2014 season, including on in the MLS Cup Finals as the Galaxy won it all. He earned a seemingly permanent place on the USMNT as a result, and has 37 caps to this date. However, his goalscoring form has since evaporated, leaving him with no more than six goals in an MLS season since, and has just six goals in those 37 caps for the national team.

The Galaxy will need to acquire an additional international roster spot in order to activate Kamara for the season opener on March 4th against Portland, as they have filled up their seven spots as of now.