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Roundtable: Discussing the best of 2017

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As 2017 comes to a close, it is time to reflect on what has happened in the Premier League and elsewhere in the soccer world over the past 12 months.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Below we take a look back at 2017, as our writers select their top moments.


Top Premier League moment

Joe Prince-Wright: Being at West Brom to see Chelsea win the Premier League title in May was pretty special. It was a game which summed up why they won the title last season. They ground out victories time and time again and Michy Batshuayi‘s late winner sparked an unexpected party as it seemed like they’d have to wait a few more days to win the trophy. From Antonio Conte‘s press conference after the game being gatecrashed by Diego Costa, John Terry and David Luiz to the celebrations with the fans at the end of the game, it was a moment which really stood out and epitomized the incredible turnaround Conte led after the shambles of 12 months before.

Nick Mendola: Honestly, given the way Chelsea’s players bailed on Jose Mourinho, to see that same bunch enabling fiery Antonio Conte to don an inflatable crown as PL champion might be it for me.

Matt Reed: The Clarets stunning Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on opening day. Burnley has since proven that its a worthy top-10 side, but losing Gary Cahill in the early minutes to a red card and then the subsequent effects were just unimaginable in London.


Top Premier League player

JPW: I have to go with Harry Kane. Yes, Kevin De Bruyne and David De Gea have also been superb, but Kane’s goalscoring record of 39 PL goals in 2017 to set a new record says it all. Consistently he has delivered on a historic level.

NM: It’s been Harry Kane, David De Gea, and Eden Hazard, and I’m *just* tabbing Hazard based on his resurgent last season and success with a wider variety of attackers (though I’m certainly not holding squad stability against Kane).

MR: Kevin De Bruyne has been a marvel to watch evolve, and now he’s really becoming not just one of the best Premier League players, but one of the top talents in the world. The Belgian has been deadly in front of goal, but what’s been even more impressive is his ability to create for his teammates.


Most memorable Premier League goal

JPW: Emre Can‘s incredible flying volley takes some beating, as does Olivier Giroud’s scorpion kick way back on New Year’s Day 2017, but I’m going with Sofiane Boufal‘s solo goal for Southampton against West Brom. I was at St Mary’s that day and the crescendo of noise as he got closer and closer to goal, leaving a trail of defenders in his wake, will always stay with me. Utter bedlam when the ball hit the back of the net.

NM: Honorable mention to Wayne Rooney‘s half-field goal and Emre Can’s overhead kick, but Eden Hazard’s half-field dribble against Arsenal — capped by fooling Laurent Koscielny and Petr Cech — was out of this world.

MR: It’s arguable that other goals were better, but Wayne Rooney’s half-field scorcher against West Ham was certainly the most memorable. Great technique. Brilliant first-time effort. Nothing else to really say.


Most surprising Premier League moment

JPW: It’s probably how ordinary Manchester United have been in the Premier League in 2017. Yes, they focused on the Europa League and cup competitions last season, but there’s be little progress in their style of play or the way Jose Mourinho is setting them up. I thought they’d be much further along than they are right now.

NM: Claudio Ranieri being fired by Leicester City less than a year after engineering perhaps the most memorable championship season in soccer history. Given the players went on to fail Craig Shakespeare, proving it wasn’t about the manager, they should remain ashamed.

MR: Less than 12 months removed from winning the title, Claudio Ranieri’s firing in February wasn’t as much a shock as Leicester’s poor form. Ultimately the Foxes survived relegation, but nobody could have expected that the team would be forced into such sweeping changes after completing their historic feat a season prior.


Top three players on the planet

JPW: Wow. This is tough. I have to go with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo but the third place is so tough. Harry Kane probably deserves to be there because he has more goals than anyone else at the top level in 2017, but how do you leave out Neymar or Kevin De Bruyne? I’m going to give Kane the nod. 1) Messi, 2) Ronaldo, 3) Kane.

NM: 1. Lionel Messi – When you’re the greatest ever, you’re the greatest of the year. 2. Neymar – His Brazil work shows that it’s not just about being a part of two great tridents. 3. Harry Kane – Can’t deny what he’s done for Spurs, and England.

MR: In terms of form, you could very easily argue that Mo Salah and Kevin De Bruyne belong on this list, but when it comes to sustainability, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar are still the best of the best. We’ve all been waiting for Messi and Ronaldo to drop off in form for some time now, but it just doesn’t seem to happen. Even this season, when Real isn’t at its best, Ronaldo has scored 16 goals in all competitions.


Most memorable soccer moment, globally

JPW: The Barcelona vs. Paris Saint-Germain Champions League Round of 16 second leg was bonkers. The way Barca somehow came back from the dead to win 6-1 on the night with two goals in stoppage time sealing their passage to the last eight was remarkable. It didn’t seem possible.

NM: The United States and its overly confident head coach Bruce Arena getting overrun by Trinidad and Tobago’s B Team and eliminated from World Cup qualification. Yep. Still angry.

MR: 6-1. In one of the most high-profile matches in last season’s Champions League, Barcelona stormed back from dead and advanced to the quarterfinals after its six-goal effort against PSG. The fact that Neymar went on to join PSG later in the year only added fuel to fire for any potential future meetings between the two clubs.


Top moments in U.S. Soccer/Major League Soccer

JPW: Obviously the most memorable moment of 2017 for the USMNT was not making the World Cup after that horrendous display against Trinidad & Tobago’s reserve squad. It will take us all a very, very long time to forget that. On the positive side of things, seeing the rise of Christian Pulisic has been superb and he is exceeding what we all expected him to achieve at such a young age. In MLS, there’s no doubting that Toronto FC winning MLS Cup was a huge moment. Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco have delivered what was expected and they did it in style with a record breaking season. We are seeing the start of another MLS dynasty, I’m sure of it.

NM: I have a lot of admiration for the way Toronto FC made good on the promise of 2016 by winning every competition it entered in 2017 (especially with oft-criticized USMNT stars Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore doing plenty along the way) and essentially anything Christian Pulisic did was wonderful this season (One of the few players who looked good even when the USMNT was throwing up all over itself). The continued development of other U.S. youngsters (Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams) is also encouraging but not quite to the level of top moment.

MR: It certainly wasn’t the best moment by any stretch, but we’ll remember the USMNT missing out on the 2018 World Cup for a very, very long time. Not just because of the magnitude of our nation being left out of the tournament, but the way in which everything fell apart at the most critical points in the World Cup qualifying cycle.

In MLS, Toronto FC’s treble was the first of its kind. While some will argue that having the Canadian Championship count is a bit of a stretch, TFC was the best team from start to finish this MLS season, and they’ve built a squad that could contend for various titles in the future.


Pick your ultimate Best XI from World Soccer in 2017

Joe Prince-Wright
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
Defenders: Cezar Azpilicueta, Sergio Ramos, Jan Vertonghen
Midfielders: Toni Kroos, N'Golo Kante, Kevin De Bruyne, Mohamed Salah
Forwards: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Harry Kane

Nick Mendola
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
Defenders: Sergio Ramos, Jan Vertonghen, Mats Hummels
Midfielders: N’Golo Kante, Toni Kroos, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard
Forwards: Lionel Messi, Harry Kane, Neymar

Matt Reed
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
Defenders: Cezar Azpilicueta, Sergio Ramos, Giorgio Chiellini, David Alaba
Midfielders: Andres Iniesta, Kevin De Bruyne, Mohamed Salah
Forwards: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar


Your main hope/wish for the soccer world in 2018

JPW: That the 2018 World Cup becomes a true celebration of everything that is great about the Beautiful Game rather than turning into a VAR nightmare. The biggest stars will be on show and there are at least six legitimate contenders to win the trophy. I cannot wait for the World Cup.

NM: That U.S. Soccer’s new president sees his job as an honor and not keys to a palace, and that he finds the manager — or finds the people to find the manager — who believes in choosing the best players with the best mentalities, not beholden to or singularly opposed to a league.

MR: Teams like Man City and Barcelona are well-deserved leaders of their respective leagues, but I’d like to see the title races in the five major European divisions tighten a bit just for competition’s sake. Outside of Serie A, England, Spain, Germany and France already appear decided, which makes for a somewhat unexciting second half of the season.

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.