Craig Shakespeare

Getty Images

Roundtable: Discussing the best of 2017

Leave a comment

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.

Sam Allardyce named new Everton manager

Getty Images
1 Comment

Big Sam is back in the game.

Sam Allardyce, 63, has signed an 18-month contract to take charge of Everton who had been without a permanent boss since Ronald Koeman was sacked last month.

David Unsworth (who will step back into his role as academy director and U-23 coach) had been leading the Toffees on an interim boss but following their 4-0 win against West Ham on Wednesday, Allardyce has taken over permanently and he was in the stands to watch that win.

It is believed that Sammy Lee and Craig Shakespeare will arrive as Allardyce’s assistant coaches at Goodison Park, with Everton currently in 13th place in the Premier League table with just four wins from their opening 14 games of the season.

“Everton is a unique club and I feel really enthused and energized to come in as manager. Obviously the club has gone through a difficult spell and hopefully I can put that behind us as quickly as possible,” Allardyce said.

Following his departure as England boss in September 2016 after just one game in charge due to being embroiled in a undercover newspaper scandal, Allardyce took over Crystal Palace last December and kept them up before leaving them at the end of last season, pointing towards a decision to slow down and step away from the game.

It didn’t last long.

His proud record of keeping teams in the Premier League and not being relegated during spells with Bolton Wanderers, Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers, West Ham United, Sunderland and then Palace meant that Everton and other PL strugglers were keen to get Big Sam on board.

The Toffees have turned to an experienced head to keep them away from the bottom three and Allardyce’s appointment on an 18-month deal suggests that he is not the man to lead Everton in the long run, but his job will be to steady the ship and try and finish in the top 10 this season.

With Roy Hodgson landing at Crystal Palace and Alan Pardew taking over at West Brom, the same old faces keep getting jobs in the PL.

Allardyce has certainly done alright after his decision to step away from Palace and rebuilding this Everton squad may be a little easier than most people think. Getting them solid defensively will be his main challenge in the short-term but they certainly have an array of attacking talents to hurt opponents.

PL preview: Leicester City vs. Man City

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Man City unbeaten in the PL (10W-1D-0L)
  • 38 goals scored in 11 games; 16 in their last 4
  • Leicester unbeaten in last 5 games (2W-3D-0L)

It took an early-season managerial change, but Leicester City have managed to turn around another spiraling-out-of-control campaign in recent weeks, only to return from the international break as Pep Guardiola‘s irresistible Manchester City side makes its yearly visit to the King Power Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

After winning just one of their first eight Premier League games this season, Leicester made the bold decision to fire Craig Shakespeare four months into his tenure as the club’s full-time manager. In came former Southampton boss Claude Puel, who has a win and a draw in his first two games in charge (on the back of a win in Michael Appleton’s lone game as interim manager). With seven points from three games following Shakespeare’s dismissal, the Foxes sit on 13 points and are suddenly up to 12th in the PL table.

A little further up the table — say, the very top by a wide(ning) margin — you’ll find Man City, winners of 15 straight in all competitions (nine in the PL), scorers of 15 more goals than the next closest side, and runaway title favorites just past the quarter mark of the 2017-18 season. This is what Guardiola was hired to do at City, and he’s delivering a year or two ahead of schedule.

The only thing likely to stop City from running away with the title would be a series of injuries and/or health scares felling key figures — the first of which nearly occurred this week, as star striker Sergio Aguero fainted during halftime of Argentina’s friendly against Nigeria. Aguero has since returned to Manchester and been given a “perfect” bill of healthy by the club’s medical staff (see below). City’s new all-time leading goalscorer, Aguero has eight in eight PL games and leads a side currently on pace to score 131 goals this season.

What they’re saying

Claude Puel, on Guardiola and his new job: “He is a great manager, a fantastic manager. His teams keep possession and they counter attack well. They are the best team in Europe in this moment. … It is amazing. I am enjoying it because the feeling of the players is very good. They work with attention and a good focus.”

Pep Guardiola, on Aguero and other injuries: “The doctor says he’s perfect. He was conscious all the time in Argentina and he’s okay. Nothing to be worried about. … I have something in mind to replace (Nicolas) Otamendi. We have (Eliaquim) Mangala, maybe Kompany can come back. Kyle (Walker) can play there. … I don’t know if (Fabian) Delph will able to play because in four sessions this week, he trained two. Hopefully we can recover him, because he is so important.”

INJURIES: Leicester — OUT: Robert Huth (foot); QUESTIONABLE: Vicente Iborra (ankle) | Man City — OUT: Benjamin Mendy (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Raheem Sterling (back), Vincent Kompany (calf), Fabian Delph (calf)

Prediction

While Leicester have seen an uptick in results of late, their defensive record remains spotty, at best, against sides induce far less terror than Man City. The game should set up in Leicester’s favor, though: City will have 70 or so percent of possession, which means more than a few chances to hit them on the counter. There’s a 10 percent chance Leicester get something from this one, and a 90 percent chance City turn them into just another statistic.

Slaven Bilic fired as West Ham United manager

Leave a comment

Slaven Bilic is the fourth manager fired this Premier League season, joining Craig Shakespeare, Frank De Boer, and Ronald Koeman.

It’s been widely speculated that West Ham United will hire David Moyes to take the reins of the Premier League outfit, and the Irons have cut ties with Bilic’s entire staff aside from longtime Moyes assistant Chris Woods.

[ MORE: Houston knocks Portland out ]

Bilic responded to the move:

“There are no hard feelings. I can be very proud of my work here,” Bilic said. “We didn’t start this crucial season well. As in many clubs across Europe, the manager is the one who pays the price. It’s a very logical move.”

West Ham lost 4-1 to Liverpool on Saturday, and ended the weekend in the relegation zone when Everton came back to beat Watford.

Bilic led West Ham to the Europa League in his first season in charge, but the Irons dipped to 11th last season. He finished with a record of 42W-30D-37L

Premier League roundup: Managers under fire

Leave a comment

Before Saturday’s Premier League action, we had already seen Ronald Koeman, Frank De Boer, and Craig Shakespeare fired from managerial posts claimed before the season’s start.

[ MORE: Pulisic pulls nasty move in Der Klassiker loss ]

Several others will be feeling serious heat following home losses on Saturday, as Slaven Bilic‘s West Ham was smoked by Liverpool, Paul Clement and Swansea lost to Brighton, and Southampton’s Mauricio Pellegrino slumped a shutout loss versus Burnley.

West Brom’s Tony Pulis limped through a loss at Huddersfield Town, but the location won’t likely soothe the fury of Baggies’ fans, who already prefer their club play free-flowing almost regardless of results.

West Ham United 1-4 LiverpoolRECAP

In a match which, sadly for Slaven Bilic, had a similar feel to Koeman’s last match in charge of Everton, Liverpool ran rampant over the hosts at the London Stadium.

Mohamed Salah scored twice and Joel Matip scored, but the nail in the coffin may have been Liverpool’s third goal, which came within moments of Manuel Lanzini‘s lone marker for West Ham.

Just look at Joe Hart:

Huddersfield Town 1-0 West Bromwich Albion — RECAP

Rajiv Van la Parra‘s remarkable goal from outside the box propelled Huddersfield Town to a long-sought win, and sank Tony Pulis deep into the bad graces of West Brom fans. The Baggies are officially in a relegation scrap.

Newcastle United 0-1 BournemouthRECAP

Rafa Benitez warned that Newcastle would have to deal with a slump at some point this season, though perhaps he didn’t mean, “Hey, boys, lose to Burnley and Bournemouth immediately.” The Magpies wilted after Dwight Gayle‘s seemingly onside goal was ruled off, and the Cherries used a strong second half to pick up a huge win which boosts them outside the drop zone.

Swansea City 0-1 Brighton and Hove AlbionRECAP

Glenn Murray is red hot, as the Seagulls veteran striker scored for the third-straight match to give Chris Hughton‘s men a deserved win on the road and put Paul Clement’s Swans in a bind.

Let’s put it this way:

Southampton 0-1 BurnleyRECAP

Sean Dyche‘s remarkable Burnley tenure may be coming to a close should keep up performances like this (cough, Everton, cough). Sam Vokes scored a goal in what was admittedly a bit of smash-and-grab at St. Mary’s. Is Mauricio Pellegrino in trouble already?

Stoke City 2-2 Leicester CityRECAP

This one snapped to life late in the first half, as Xherdan Shaqiri equalizer after Vicente Iborra nabbed his first Leicester goal. Riyad Mahrez put Leicester back ahead in the second half, but super duper sub Peter Crouch did what Peter Crouch does to earn Mark Hughes‘ men a share of the points.

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Manchester City 10 9 1 0 35 6 29 4-1-0 5-0-0 28
 Manchester United 10 7 2 1 23 4 19 5-0-0 2-2-1 23
 Tottenham Hotspur 10 6 2 2 19 7 12 2-2-1 4-0-1 20
 Chelsea 10 6 1 3 18 10 8 2-1-2 4-0-1 19
 Arsenal 10 6 1 3 19 13 6 5-0-0 1-1-3 19
 Liverpool 11 5 4 2 21 17 4 3-2-0 2-2-2 19
 Burnley 11 5 4 2 10 9 1 2-2-1 3-2-1 19
 Brighton & Hove Albion 11 4 3 4 11 11 0 2-2-1 2-1-3 15
 Watford 10 4 3 3 15 18 -3 1-2-2 3-1-1 15
 Huddersfield Town 11 4 3 4 8 13 -5 3-2-1 1-1-3 15
 Newcastle United 11 4 2 5 10 10 0 3-1-2 1-1-3 14
 Leicester City 11 3 4 4 16 16 0 2-1-2 1-3-2 13
 Southampton 11 3 4 4 9 11 -2 2-2-3 1-2-1 13
 Stoke City 11 3 3 5 13 22 -9 2-2-2 1-1-3 12
 West Bromwich Albion 11 2 4 5 9 14 -5 1-3-1 1-1-4 10
 Bournemouth 11 3 1 7 7 14 -7 1-1-3 2-0-4 10
 West Ham United 11 2 3 6 11 23 -12 2-0-3 0-3-3 9

 Swansea City 11 2 2 7 7 13 -6 1-0-5 1-2-2 8
 Everton 10 2 2 6 7 20 -13 2-0-3 0-2-3 8
 Crystal Palace 10 1 1 8 4 21 -17 1-1-3 0-0-5 4