Premier League Playback: Winners, losers from festive period

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WHO EXCELLED IN FESTIVE SPELL?

Winners

Tottenham Hotspur – Yep. They’re back. Dele Alli is on fire (seven goals in four games over the festive period) and Kane looks sharp. They scored 12 goals and conceded twice. Spurs now look like Chelsea’s biggest challengers for the title.
Manchester United – Six wins on the spin in the PL, plus Zlatan and Pogba on fire. What more could United ask for? Mourinho’s defense looks mean and the game against Liverpool on Jan. 15 will be a huge test of where they’re at.
Liverpool – It could’ve been so much better for Jurgen Klopp had they not conceded two penalties at Sunderland. Still, 10 points from 12 is a great return. Liverpool firmly in the title race.
BurnleySean Dyche is working wonders at Burnley and has turned Turf Moor into a fortress. All seven PL wins have come at home and they had narrow away defeat at Spurs and Man City.

Losers

Arsenal – Okay, so they lost at Man City and their comeback 3-3 draw at Bournemouth felt like a defeat. Sandwiched in-between were two laboring wins against West Brom and Palace. Stuttering.
Southampton – Oh dear. Claude Puel‘s side beat Bournemouth on Dec. 19 but he gave the team time off. Then they crumbled with three-straight defeats and two red cards. Sucked into a relegation battle?
Hull CityMike Phelan was fired after the defeat at West Brom on Jan. 2 and Marco Silva is in. Hull needs new players but doesn’t have much money to spend. Should’ve beaten Everton but same mistakes costing them points. The struggled is real at the KCOM as ownership issues continue.
Crystal PalaceSam Allardyce is already getting booed as he drew at Watford, lost at Arsenal and lost at home to Swansea. Not ideal after Alan Pardew‘s firing as Palace sit one point above the drop zone.
Watford – Six defeats in eight PL games has Walter Mazzarri‘s side hurtling towards a relegation battle in the second half of the season. Just like last season. Buckle up, Hornets fans.


MIDSEASON AWARDS

All this week at Pro Soccer Talk we’ve been rolling out our midseason awards.

[ MORE: PST’s full midseason awards

Here’s a full list of the categories below, plus we had some fun with our revised PL standings at the halfway point. 

Enjoy scrolling through the story of the season so far…


NORMALITY RESUMING

When you look at the PL table as we enter the second half of the season everything looks about right.

After the madness of last season, normality is slowly but surely resuming.

[ MORE: 3 things learned from Spurs’ win vs. Chelsea

The perennial top six are back where they belong, while the likes of Leicester, West Ham and Southampton are back in midtable or worse rather than the top seven where they all finished last season.Of course, Leicester cruised to the PL title last season, finishing 10 points clear of Arsenal in one of the greatest upsets in sporting history.

Things are back to normal this season, though, as Chelsea boss Antonio Conte confirmed following the end of his teams 13-game winning streak as they lost 2-0 at Tottenham on Jan. 4 to breathe new life into the title race.

“I think the situation is very clear. There are six teams that can fight for the title or for a place in the Champions League,” Conte said. “I am sure one of these six teams will be champions.”

That’s not to say this normality is boring. Far from it.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings  | schedule

The top six have separated themselves from the pack with sixth-place Manchester United now nine points ahead of Everton who are in seventh.

Yet, there’s a real sense that even though United is 10 points off leaders Chelsea, the surging Red Devils (Mourinho’s men have won six-straight in the PL) are part of this six-way struggle for the title and there isn’t much between each team. Star players and managers clicked through the gears and proved their worth over the festive period.


3-MAN DEFENSE ALL THE RAGE

In the whole of the 2015-16 Premier League season teams started with a three-man central defense 22 times.

After 20 games for each side in the 2016-17 campaign, three at the back has been deployed 61 times from the start.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

That’s a big difference and that tactical trend owes a lot to the success of Chelsea using a 3-4-3 to dominant in recent months.

As we saw in their 2-0 defeat at White Hart Lane on Wednesday, Chelsea’s wing backs had competition as Spurs switched to a similar 3-4-2-1 formation and matched them like for like.

This system is getting the best out of attacking full backs in the PL, of which there are many, and it also allows attacking midfielders who don’t want to defend, of which there are also many, to express themselves in the final third and support a central lone striker. There are of course downsides to using this system and we saw that for Chelsea against Spurs as their midfield was overrun and the holding players of N'Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic lost the midfield battle as they were pushed out wide to deal with Spurs’ galloping wing backs.

Like every system, it has its flaws but with full backs more eager to play an attacking role this 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 trend suits many PL teams.

With Spurs, Watford, Everton and obviously Chelsea deploying this system often, expect other teams to try it out in the second half of the season as managers try to snap losing streaks, reinvigorate their players or simply try to copy Chelsea.

Conte has started something here…

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.

Everton completes move for Walcott: “I’m dead excited” (video)

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Everton continues to supply its managers with top-end talent, adding Theo Walcott to its expensive season of boys which includes Gylfi Sigurdsson, Wayne Rooney, Cenk Tosun, Jordan Pickford, and Michael Keane.

[ MORE: Plenty to prove for Big Sam ]

The deal is reported to be near $28 million for Walcott, who’s made only a half-dozen Premier League appearances this season but did nab three goals in five Europa League matches.

Walcott, 28, scored 108 goals in 397 appearances for the Gunners. His 19-goal campaign last season was his second-best — he scored 21 in 2012-13 — but Walcott dipped down Arsene Wenger‘s depth charge and is leaving to pursue regular football.

And his comments will be lapped up by the #WengerOut brigade at his now former club:

“The Club has won trophies but I want them to win trophies now. The manager is very hungry and it’s just what I need. I’ve had a couple of chats with him and straightaway I felt that hunger and that desire that he wanted from me. I need that and I wanted that

The move is another exciting one for Everton, which has underachieved under Ronald Koeman and now Sam Allardyce. And it’s another sale from Arsenal which gives pause: Are the underperforming Gunners going to regret the move?

In the 2005-06 season, Walcott made his Southampton debut in the Football League Championship at the age of 16, and moved to Arsenal the next season.

Walcott has eight goals in 47 caps for England, and won two FA Cups at Arsenal.

[ MORE: Montreal nabs Algerian DP ]

Here is a useful quote from Sam Allardyce:“His physical output is excellent, he would be one of our top players in that area as well, which will hopefully bring us a lot more excitement and more ability to get forward quicker and create.

And here is an utterly useless one: ““If you analyse his goal record, then we are looking at a player who contributes goals on a regular basis.”

You don’t say. To paraphrase: If you look at all his goals, he regularly scores goals. Here’s more from the player on his move.

Montreal to nab Algerian DP Taider from Bologna

Photo by Mario Carlini / Iguana Press/Getty Images
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The loss of Swiss power Blerim Dzemaili is a big one for the Montreal Impact, but another World Cup player may be taking his place in Quebec.

[ MLS: Club-by-club SuperDraft needs ]

Tutto Bologna reports that Algerian playmaker Saphir Taider, 25, is set to sign with the Impact on a contract through 2020.

On loan to Montreal last season, Dzemaili went back to Bologna. Taider is coming back the other way and will reportedly be a Designated Player.

Taider isn’t as consistent a player as Dzemaili, but presents a skill set that should be a massive problem for MLS midfields.

He has 42 caps with five goals for Algeria, and was once property of Juventus. He spent parts of four seasons at Inter Milan, with loan stints back to Bologna, at Sassuolo, and a unremarkable time at Southampton.

2018 MLS SuperDraft club-by-club needs

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Six MLS teams have three picks between Friday’s first and second rounds of the SuperDraft, while two teams — Portland and Philadelphia — aren’t scheduled to select anyone at all.

[ MORE: USL granted second tier status ]

Atlanta United
Picks: 14, 36
Needs: They’ve signed a number of defenders this offseason, but wouldn’t be surprised to see them take someone to do the dirty work — at back or center defensive mid.

Chicago Fire
Picks: 15, 38
Needs: A youngster behind Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty in the center of the park. Maybe Joao Moutinho from Akron, though he shouldn’t drop this far.

Colorado
Picks: 25, 27
Needs: Attacker — The club has a number of good defenders and new coach Anthony Hudson has brought a few in, too. Forward or attack-minded midfielder seems the player here.

Columbus
Picks: 21, 32, 44
Needs: Attacking talent — Justin Meram wants out, Federico Higuain is quite the veteran, and Ola Kamara may be wanted by La Liga clubs. Trading up may be the call.

DC United
Picks: 3
Needs: FW, CAM — An electric attacker is atop DC’s wish list, and there are a few in this draft, but DC will also like the idea of trading down to scoop a couple picks. Thought of them when I saw this Tweet;

FC Dallas
Picks: 11, 29, 34
Needs: Anywhere — FCD’s academy has been so productive that the club can take massive home run swings and be happy just hitting on one.

Houston Dynamo
Picks: 20, 43
Needs: Defender — There’s an outside shot for a midfielder or goalkeeper here, but with Erick Torres, Romell Quioto, and Alberth Elis, it’s fair to assume attacker isn’t the desired outcome.

LAFC
Picks: 1, 24
Needs: Everywhere (It’s their first year, after all). Selecting first overall, LA would do well do deal for more picks, though it’s probably hard for Bob Bradley to overlook center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce of Stanford as a center back for a decade.

LA Galaxy
Picks: 2, 40
Needs: CB, ST –An out-and-out big body center forward is a good idea, especially with no guarantees that Gyasi Zardes comes back from the form wilderness.

Minnesota United
Picks: 5, 28, 41
Needs: Center back, full back, defensive mid — The Loons are pretty set at forward and playmaking midfielder, and have Alex Kapp as a young backup to Bobby Shuttleworth between the sticks. Anywhere else is possible.
Would love to land: Joao Moutinho, Akron

Montreal Impact
Picks: 4, 7, 37
Needs: Expect the Impact to take a swing at an attacker with one of their first two picks, and go best available player with the other.

New England Revolution
Picks: 8, 9
Needs: Center midfield — Whether a box-to-box CDM or an heir to Lee Nguyen, New England needs presence in the middle of the park.

Nguyen (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

New York City FC
Picks: 19, 42
Needs: Defender — Finding functional, U.S. born backs is always a good idea. When your parent club keeps finding you legitimate elite attacking prospects, there’s every reason to choose backs.

New York Red Bulls
Picks: 16, 31, 39
Needs: Forward — RBNY has produced Homegrown talent everywhere, but it’d be interesting to see them find someone to develop behind Bradley Wright-Phillips.

Orlando City
Picks: 6
Needs: Anywhere but midfield — With Sacha Kljestan, Josue Coleman, Yoshimar Yotun, and a number of X-factors, it seems more likely Orlando looks to find a defender or forward.

Philadelphia Union
Picks: None
Needs: Assuming they find some picks, defenders and a developmental center forward could be the play.

Portland Timbers
Picks: None
Needs: Could go anywhere given the shift in manager, but a winger seems possible.

Real Salt Lake
Picks: 10, 33
Needs: Center midfield, goalkeeper — An heir apparent to Kyle Beckerman and Nick RImando seems appropriate here.

San Jose Earthquakes
Picks: 12, 30, 35
Needs: Who knows who Mikael Stahre wants, and really the Quakes seem halfway decent all over the park. A young, shifty forward would be the play if available.

Seattle Sounders
Picks: 22, 45
Needs: Forward — Don’t really need anyone, but Clint Dempsey‘s getting a bit older. Jordan Morris isn’t and Will Bruin’s here, too, so any position is possible.

Sporting KC
Picks: 13, 18
Needs: Like TFC and Vancouver below, KC can take the best players available.

Toronto FC
Picks: 23, 46
Needs: Maybe wingback depth or a Michael Bradley or Jozy Altidore understudy? Best available player is the call here.

Vancouver Whitecaps
Picks: 17, 26
Needs: Another team that can go best available player, though wide midfielders or backs seem a decent shout.

Man City defensive leader Otamendi signs through 2021-22

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Manchester City defender Nicolas Otamendi is a part of the long-term, signing a new deal to keep him with the Etihad Stadium through the 2021-22 season.

[ MORE: Fred to Man City? ]

The 29-year-old Argentine center back has authored four goals this season, and has found a groove in Pep Guardiola‘s system.

Otamendi leads the team in aerials won (3), interceptions (1.7), clearances (3.5), and offsides drawn per game (1.1) while also five times being named Man of the Match for City. He leads the team in yellow cards, too, with seven.

Here’s Otamendi, from ManCity.com:

“My only aim is to help the team and give all I can for this Club. I am learning every day under Pep and enjoying my football and I feel I can still improve as a player. I’m a family man who enjoys being at home and I love living in Manchester, you sort of get hooked by it.”