PL grades: Ranking each team at halfway

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The halfway point has arrived and it is time to dish out the grades for the 2017-18 Premier League so far.

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Below we rate how well each team has performed so far with 19 games on the board and 19 to go.

Manchester City: A+
Pep Guardioa’s men have a 13-point lead atop the PL table, the largest margin at this point of the season in history. They’re on a record-breaking 17-game winning run and have scored 60 goals in 19 games. Do I need to say any more? A near perfect season so far with 18 wins from 19 games and zero defeats, plus they’re the favorites to win the UCL. A plethora of attacking talents are orchestrated by the sublime duo of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne.

Burnley: A-
Sean Dyche has overachieved massively at Burnley, especially after selling two key players in the summer in Andre Gray and Michael Keane. The Clarets have wobbled of late but still sit in seventh place after a record-breaking start to the season. Simply stunning as Burnley fight for European qualification.

Huddersfield Town: A-
22 points from their first 19 PL games is a fine return and David Wagner‘s side started the season well, had a bit of a dip, but have recovered well in recent weeks. The Terriers will easily secure their top-flight status at this rate and their fans have added an incredible atmosphere to the league in their debut season in the PL.

Liverpool: B+
Same old problems for Liverpool at the back but going forward they have been sensational with only Man City scoring more goals than them in the PL. Mohamed Salah has been the star of the show but they have so many fine attacking talents. In the top four and the last 16 of the UCL, which equals a real success so far.

Chelsea: B-
A decent season so far for the Blues who are nestled in the chasing pack behind City and sit in third in the table. Antonio Conte‘s reigning champs have already said goodbye to their title with Man City running away with things but a second-place finish, plus success in domestic cups and Europe will still be a great season.

Tottenham: B
Harry Kane keeps scoring goals and the England international has scored 36 in the PL in the calendar year to equal Alan Shearer’s record. Dele Alli has struggled but Spurs have adapted to life at Wembley well after early struggles and were the best team in the group stages of the Champions League. Mauricio Pochettino will be happy enough, but not elated.

Arsenal: B
The Gunners are hanging in there when it comes to the top four, plus their ‘B team’ are flying in the League Cup and Europa League. Some fine attacking displays have been ruined by poor defensive mistakes. Lacazette, Ozil and Sanchez can rip anyone apart and Wenger is showing more tactically flexibility, at times.

Manchester United: B
Yes, they are second in the PL and in the UCL last 16, but the cracks are starting to show for Jose Mourinho. Being knocked out of the League Cup by second-tier Bristol City and letting in goals due to defensive errors have irked the Portuguese coach. Is a second half of the season slump coming up for United? It sure seems like it as plenty of expensive signings fail to live up to the hype.

Leicester City: B
A tale of two halves for the Foxes. Just one win in their first eight games of the season cost Craig Shakespeare his job but Claude Puel has come in and reinvigorated Mahrez and Vardy and Leicester are back to their best. They will fight for a European spot and have some talented youngsters breaking through.

Watford: B
Marco Silva got off to a flying start at Watford with the Hornets in the top four early on but four-straight defeats in December has seen them slip into midtable. Yet another second half of the season slump coming up? Richarlison has been their main man in attack.

Brighton: B
It has been tough at times for the Seagulls to score goals but defensively they are solid and Chris Hughton has them in 12th place with 21 points so far. Bang on track to survive in their first-ever PL season. So far, so good.

Everton: C
What a bizarre season so far for the Toffees. Ronald Koeman was sacked after a truly shocking start saw them at the wrong end of the table but now the squad he assembled expensively is thriving under Sam Allardyce with no defeats in their last six games. Europe beckons once again and a reborn Wayne Rooney is leading the charge.

Crystal Palace: C
After four games Frank De Boer was fired and Roy Hodgson has, slowly, turned things around at Palace after they lost their opening seven games of the season. The Eagles are unbeaten in eight games and Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend are their best hope of staying up. Positive vibes as Palace head into 2018.

Newcastle United: C
The Magpies picked up a big win before Christmas but that somewhat papers over the cracks. Rafael Benitez’s side have been struggling along and the squad badly needs reinforcements in January. A cloud is hanging over the club with Mike Ashley delaying his sale and that means new signings in January could be few and far between. Newcastle’s battling squad just keeping their heads above water.

West Ham: D
Another club who have seen an upturn in results due to their manager being fired. Slaven Bilic‘s time was up at West Ham and David Moyes‘ appointment has surprisingly seen a big upsurge in performance. But with the individual quality they have, still a very poor season so far for the Hammers.

Stoke City: D
Mark Hughes has kept onto his job for now and Stoke have shown in glimpses what they are capable of. They have the worst defensive record in the PL, which is very unlike them, but the Potters will be hoping to kick on in the second half of the season. Must do better.

Southampton: D-
Perhaps the most under-performing team in the PL based on their talent, Mauricio Pellegrino‘s job will be under severe pressure very soon. If it wasn’t for Charlie Austin‘s goals recently then Saints would be in real trouble. They’re just three points above the relegation zone which is a huge shock given the squad of players they have. Underachieving.

Bournemouth: D-
Another club who have plenty of talent but aren’t delivering, Bournemouth’s decision to bring in added experience isn’t really working. Asmir Begovic and Jermain Defoe haven’t delivered so far and Eddie Howe‘s side are set for a real relegation scrap.

West Brom: F
A woeful season for the Baggies who won their opening two games of the campaign but haven’t won since. That’s a club record 17-game winless run. Tony Pulis was fired and Alan Pardew hired but there’s been no change for West Brom. They’re embroiled in a relegation battle.

Swansea City: F
Firing Paul Clement just before Christmas was a mind-boggling move and the Swans are in freefall. Bottom of the PL table with 13 points after selling Llorente and Sigurdsson in the summer, the South Wales side looked doomed. After being successful in relegation battles in recent seasons, it appears their luck is finally running out.

Vancouver adds versatile Juarez, formerly of Monterrey, Celtic

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Efrain Juarez is bringing his game to Major League Soccer.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 39-times capped Mexico veteran has inked a deal with the Vancouver Whitecaps, joining a strengthened unit which came within a point of winning the West last season.

Juarez, 29, was unveiled as a midfielder by the ‘Caps, though he’s primarily played right back in his club career. He’s played at Celtic, Real Zaragoza, Club America, Monterrey, and Pumas.

Last capped by El Tri in 2012, Juarez has played every position except goal, center attacking mid, and center forward in his career (picture a ‘U’ on the pitch).

“I’m so happy and excited for this new stage in my career,” Juarez said. “It’s an opportunity for me to keep growing in a new league and to be a part of an amazing club in Vancouver. From the moment they showed interest me, Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps staff have made me feel very important. I promise to put all my effort into this club and do my best to help us achieve our goals.”

VIDEO: Asensio goal ends Real Madrid’s winless run

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Marco Asensio’s eighth goal of the season and second of this Copa del Rey put an end to an unlikely Real Madrid winless run in a 1-0 victory at Leganes.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 21-year-old darted in front of a defender to volley home from in-tight, giving Real Madrid a first leg lead in the tournament quarterfinals.

More importantly, perhaps, it gives struggling Real a boost in morale after draws with Celta Vigo and Numancia, and a loss to Villarreal.

Real is home to Deportivo de la Coruna in La Liga before hosting Leganes in the second leg.

Hopeful Newcastle buyer Staveley: Offer still on the table

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is probably happy that his for-sale club is away this weekend, even though his side’s up against Manchester City.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 24  ]

That’s because hopeful buyer Amanda Staveley has responded to claims that her hopeful takeover of the team won’t be happening any time soon.

Talks had stalled, said Tuesday reports, much to the chagrin of an #AshleyOut brigade that at times can make Arsenal’s #WengerOut brigade look like a yard full of happy puppies.

A “source” had said, “Attempts to reach a deal have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time,” but Staveley shot back on Thursday to reignite the fire. From the BBC, taken from The Times:

“Our bid remains on the table. This is an investment, but it has to be a long-term investment. Newcastle would be run as a business, but we want it to be a successful, thriving business that is an absolutely integral part of the city.”

She also said that popular manager Rafa Benitez is integral to her interest in the team, and that fact combined with her insistence that an offer remains on the table will have many Newcastle fans seething with current ownership (and there have been protests for years). It’s Ashley’s move now.

2018 MLS Mock Draft: LAFC, Galaxy hold the keys

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Major League Soccer’s latest batch of hopeful rookies learn the next steps of their professional careers beginning Friday with the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft.

There are several intriguing prospects, including accomplished Stanford center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce and dangerous Michigan winger Francis Atuahene.

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An MLS mock draft is always tricky given the wildly varying opinions on players from the college game. This year, it’s even trickier as clubs without picks and some with multiple first round picks may be looking to move up and down even more than the norm.

Here’s how we think the draft could play out:

  1. LAFC – Tomas Hilliard-Arce, CB, Stanford
  2. LA Galaxy – Jon Bakero, FW, Wake Forest
  3. DC United – Francis Atuahene, FW, Michigan
  4. Montreal – Joao Moutinho, LB, Akron
  5. Minnesota – Wyatt Omsberg, CB, Dartmouth
  6. Orlando City – Ema Twumasi, FW, Wake Forest
  7. Montreal – Chris Mueller, FW, Wisconsin
  8. New England – Mo Adams, MF, Syracuse
  9. New England – Chris Lema, MF, Georgetown
  10. Real Salt Lake – Justin Fiddes, LB, Washington
  11. FC Dallas – Marcelo Acuna, FW, Virginia Tech
  12. San Jose – Brandon Bye, RB, Western Michigan
  13. Sporting KC – Ed Opoku, FW, Virginia
  14. Atlanta – Alex Roldan, MF, Seattle
  15. Chicago – Mason Toye, FW, Indiana
  16. New York Red Bulls – Alan Winn, MF, North Carolina
  17. Vancouver – Tristan Blackmon, RB, Pacific
  18. Sporting KC – Jon Gallagher, FW, Notre Dame
  19. New York City FC – Daniel Musovski, FW, UNLV
  20. Houston – Mo Thiaw, FW, Louisville
  21. Columbus – Brian White, FW, Duke
  22. Seattle – Tim Kubel, MF, Louisville
  23. Toronto FC – Oliver Shannon, MF, Clemson

There are a few players to keep an eye on for the later rounds that I won’t project for the first round due almost exclusively to first person bias (Some I’ve seen play in college, others at other levels). Afonso Pinheiro from Albany produced like crazy until this season, and Bowling Green defender Alexis Souahy has a skill set that could really transmit to the MLS level.

Mac Steeves (Providence) is a prototypical big body scorer, while Evansville’s heady Ian McGrath has a flair for the absurd and can play almost every position up the center of the pitch. Charleston’s Thomas Vancaeyezeele was a D-2 monster and is probably worth a shot earlier than people suspect.