Frank De Boer

Leicester City fire manager Craig Shakespeare

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Leicester City have pulled the trigger much early than many expected.

Official confirmation arrived on Tuesday that Craig Shakespeare, who only took charge permanently of the Foxes over the summer, had been fired after just eight games of the 2017-18 Premier League season.

He becomes the second PL boss to lose his job this season after Crystal Palace fired Frank De Boer after just four PL games in charge.

To many it will come as no surprise that Shakespeare, Claudio Ranieri‘s former assistant coach, has been fired by the ruthless Leicester owners with the Foxes winning just one of their opening eight Premier League games of the season.

In an official statement on the club website, here’s what Leicester had to say as Michael Appleton has been placed in caretaker charge for their trip to Swansea this Saturday.

Leicester City Vice Chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha said: “Craig has been a great servant to Leicester City – during his spells as an Assistant Manager and since taking over as Manager in challenging circumstances in February. His dedication to the Club and to his work has been absolute and the contribution he made to the most successful period in Leicester City history is considerable.

“However, our early promise under Craig’s management has not been consistently evident in the months since and the Board feels that, regrettably, a change is necessary to keep the Club moving forward – consistent with the long-term expectations of our supporters, Board and owners.

“Craig is and will remain a very popular, respected figure at Leicester City and will be welcome back at King Power Stadium in future, both professionally and as a friend of the Club.”

The Foxes sit third from bottom and on six points and on each of the last three occasions Leicester have gained six points or less in their opening eight games of a PL season they have been relegated.

Stats like that would have surely alarmed their Thai owners.

The last time Leicester went six PL games without a win Ranieri was fired but this is still a shock considering  Shakespeare, 53, had been in charge for only four months.

Shakespeare was in interim charge at the end of last season after Ranieri was fired in February and led Leicester to seven wins from their final 13 games which saved the then reigning champs from relegation.

However, he never seemed like the long-term man to lead the shock 2015-16 PL champions back to the upper echelons of the Premier League and he is now on his way out of the King Power Stadium.

New signings have failed to deliver early in the season and Shakespeare’s inability to make the Foxes tough to break down is what ultimately cost him his job.

Three Premier League teams (and maybe one more) we got wrong

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Two months and five days ago, our six writers went about trying to predict a new Premier League table, conceived in the notion of hearing your opinions.

[ MORE: Koeman in a bad, bad way ]

While there will come a time for mulligans, and perhaps a predictive reboot, I’m here this Sunday to admit my wrongs (and maybe wrongs).

Course correction is to be expected in some manner with at least three of these sides, but not to the extent expected before the PL season.

I was wrong!

— Burnley —
Current position: 7th place; My prediction: 20th; Staff average: 19th

With respect to the Clarets’ fan podcast, they would’ve been right to scream “No Nay Never” at my thought that Sean Dyche‘s men were too challenged in talent to again defy Premier League relegation. Michael Keane was gone to Everton, and Andre Gray was preparing to leave Turf Moor. The Clarets had added Jonathan Walters and Jack Cork, but had yet to sign Chris Wood.

Well, the Kiwi striker has been impressive and Dyche has rallied the troops (especially James Tarkowski in Keane’s stead, as well as Ben Mee and ). In what looks absolutely comical now, I expected the wealth of money spent by almost everyone else to doom Burnley to under 20 (!!!) points. Had you told me Tom Heaton would go down and Nick Pope, who’s been great, would take over, I might’ve bet even lower.

Clearly I underestimated the consistency of Dyche at the helm and the way he explains his system to players. I don’t expect the Clarets to maintain their top half pace, but clearly trusting me is an error when it comes to Burnley. Sean, I’m sorry. I should’ve known better. Call me.

— Everton —
Current position: 16th place; My prediction: 6th; Staff average: 7th

Another disappointing Sunday for Everton is one thing, but the Toffees’ big expenditures have largely failed to move the meter in the Europa League as well.

My expectation that down years for Liverpool and Arsenal would allow Everton join them in the Top Seven was only two-third possible. Ronald Koeman has been indecisive in his use of Wayne Rooney and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and several players like Gylfi Sigurdsson and Morgan Schneiderlin are not adapting to playing non-starring roles (though surely the Toffees would be fine putting the focus on Sigurdsson were he producing, and he should’ve claimed a penalty on Sunday).

How to fix it? Well, keeping Ashley Williams on the bench is a bit of a bother, so why not a back three with Keane and Phil Jagielka? I don’t know, but Davy Klaassen remains on the bench, too, and I’m not sure Everton’s players know what to expect heading into a weekend.

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

— Watford —
Current position: 4th place; My prediction: 17th; Staff average: 16th

Joe Prince-Wright said Watford would finish 12th, which was outlandish considering the rest of us had the Hornets escaping relegation by one or two spaces at best. The highlight reel video of Richarlison almost had me boost the Hornets higher when predicting the table, but that would’ve been offset had I known Nathaniel Chalobah would be hurt.

But betting against Marco Silva has been a mistake so far, and the Hornets boasts a win home to Arsenal and away to Southampton plus a home draw versus Liverpool. The 6-0 home loss to Man City, sadly, is more common than we thought, and JPW’s 12th place feels correct right about now.

I was wrong?

— Crystal Palace —
Current position: 20th place; My prediction: 12th; Staff average: 15th

Roy Hodgson’s men looked a lot like Frank De Boer‘s men until Wilfried Zaha returned from injury, and that probably shouldn’t surprise us. The Eagles just suffered through the worst goalless start in Premier League history, but beat Chelsea with their first extended look of Zaha this season (Andros Townsend also looked great). I had Palace at 48 points, and that feels a bit laughable when they have three through eight matches, but I’m not so sure they won’t rebound over time.

 

Glowing Zaha reacts to star turn, Palace win over Chelsea

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Right about now, Frank De Boer is saying, “But I planned on having that guy.”

Wilfried Zaha returned from injury and was easily the Man of the Match as Crystal Palace scored its first goals and managed its first win of the season on Saturday.

[ RECAP: Palace 2-1 Chelsea ]

That the win was over reigning champions Chelsea was even better, and Zaha figures this is where Palace’s season will really begin its table climb.

From the BBC:

“Me and Andros Townsend aren’t strikers so we run all over the gaff, but the boss told us that if one had the ball the other needs to get himself into the box.

“It’s a dream, managing to beat Chelsea at home. Deffo this is the start of a fightback – now we’ve got more confidence we can start to climb up the table.”

Good direction from manager Roy Hodgson who will be thrilled to see the twin goose eggs leave their places next to Palace’s name on the table.

PL Playback: Opening Power Rankings

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Now seems like the perfect time for the first set of Premier League Power Rankings for the 2017-18 season, right?

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

With seven games gone and the two week international break upon us, it is time to focus on who has impressed and who has struggled in the opening months of the campaign.

So much has happened in August and September and now it is time to take stock.

[ MORE: PL standings | schedule

Here it goes.


#1 Manchester City: Imperious. Kevin De Bruyne is running the show. Even with Aguero, Mendy and Kompany out injured Pep’s men have found a way to blow opponents away with 22 goals scored. Marquee wins over Chelsea and Liverpool showcase the current mood of invincibility around them and they’ve also won both games in the Champions League. Guardiola has so many attacking options and Ederson has finally solved his problem in goal. The title favorites have delivered early on, once again. Now, can they keep it up?

#2 Manchester United: Jose Mourinho is building this thing his way. It’s working. Romelu Lukaku has seven goals in seven games and although Paul Pogba has gone down injured so many others are stepping up. Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata and even Marouane Fellaini are chipping in with goals and in true Mourinho fashion they look as solid as a rock at the back with Nemanja Matic shielding the defense. United have won both of their Champions League games too and Mourinho is exuding confidence with 21 goals in seven games.

#3 Burnley: What. A. Start. Sean Dyche’s men are unbeaten away from home and have won at Chelsea and Everton and drawn at Liverpool and Tottenham. Not bad, especially after selling two stars over the summer. The Clarets are establishing themselves as a true contender to finish in the top 10 and have flown under the radar all summer. No surprise there but with captain and star goalkeeper Tom Heaton out long-term, their positive away results are even more impressive.

#4 Watford: Marco Silva’s side are dynamic going forward and have a solid base to build from. Their counters catch out opponents and in Richarlison they’ve found a gem. Losing Nathaniel Chalobah is a blow but they have a deeper squad than in recent years. Silva’s reputation as one of the best young managers in the game is undoubted and the Portuguese coach has Watford’s fans dreaming of challenging for a Europa League spot. Why not?

#5 Tottenham Hotspur: Mauricio Pochettino’s side have put aside their Wembley woes (they still haven’t won at home in the PL) to win four times on the spin on the road to start the season. The last time that happened they won the league and cup double in 160-61. Just saying. Harry Kane scored 13 goals in eight games for club and country in September and is on fire. Spurs will challenge for the title again and they’ve also won their opening two Champions League games. Wembley aside, a fine start.

#6 Newcastle United: Rafael Benitez is working his magic at Newcastle. The Magpies are hard to beat and at home they can take on anyone. Joselu could be the man to score the goals they need to not only survive in the Premier League after promotion but also push for a top 10 finish. Some fans are dreaming of a challenge for Europe but that seems a little far-fetched. Still, the newly-promoted Magpies will be satisfied with their start.

#7 Arsenal: After a tough start with defeats at Stoke and Liverpool, Arsene Wenger has steadied the ship with four-straight clean sheets in the Premier League. Suddenly Arsenal look a much better defensive unit and Alexandre Lacazette is looking like a great buy up top. Alexis Sanchez is also starting to return to his best form which suggests the Gunners will be challenging for a top four spot, even though they have the rigors of the Europa League to overcome. We’ve been here before with Arsenal but they seem to be more robust than in recent campaigns.

#8 Chelsea: A real topsy-turvy start for the reigning champs. After a tumultuous summer due to the Diego Costa situation and Antonio Conte seemingly unhappy with a lack of transfers, they lost to Arsenal in the Community Shield and to Burnley in their PL opener. They followed that up by beating Tottenham away and put in impressive displays against Everton, Leicester and Stoke. Alvaro Morata has hit the ground running in the PL and Eden Hazard is back to his best but the defeat to Man City was a reality check. Still, two wins from two in Europe and a great win at Atletico Madrid shows what they’re truly capable of. Back-to-back titles seems like a big ask and there are still question marks over Conte’s long-term future.

#9 Huddersfield Town: Opening up the season with two wins was perfection for David Wagner and his side, and their fans, have captured the minds of the Premier League. A 4-0 hammering at home against Tottenham in their first real test showed them how ruthless the league can be but if they can press midtable teams throughout the season as they have in the early weeks then they will be just fine. The Terriers have kept four clean sheets in seven and will be tough to beat and if Steve Mounie and Laurent Depoitre can strike up a partnership then maybe they can push for more than just staying up in their debut PL campaign.

#10 Stoke City: The Potters have had a really solid, albeit slightly bizarre, start to the season. A win against Arsenal and draw against Manchester United at home proved they can mix it with the big boys but defeats at Everton and Newcastle in tight games proved they can still improve defensively although having Jack Butland back fit is a huge bonus. Defensive injuries have been hard to deal with for Mark Hughes’ men but new signings Jese Rodriguez and Eric Choupo-Moting have added something extra in attack.

#11 Brighton & Hove Albion: Chris Hughton’s men are pragmatic and likeable but you wonder where the goals will come from on a consistent basis. Pascal Gross and Anthony Knockaert are both talented playmakers but if Tomer Hemed goes down injured they are struggling big time. If they can make it to January above the relegation zone then surely owner Tony Bloom will make plenty of funds available for a new striker, or two. A very commendable start to their first-ever Premier League campaign with home wins against West Brom and Newcastle.

#12 Liverpool: Jurgen Klopp’s side are already seven points off the PL leaders and the same old defensive issues are hampering their progress. Philippe Coutinho is back scoring stunners and the pace of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah has been ripping teams apart without much reward. Two draws to open up Champions League play have been frustrating and despite dominating games missed chances have been costly. The standout display was the 4-0 hammering of Arsenal but that seems like a long time ago. Is the Klopp-effect wearing off?

#13 West Bromwich Albion: Tony Pulis’ men won their first two games of the season but haven’t won since. They were unlucky to lose away at Arsenal but threw away a two-goal lead in their most recent game at home against Watford. That’s incredibly unlike a Pulis side and you get the sense another big slump like the one they suffered in the second half of last season isn’t far off.

#14 Southampton: New season, same problem for Southampton. Mauricio Pellegrino’s side have dominated most of the games they’ve played in, even against Manchester United, but have scored just five goals in the first seven games of the season. Two of those were penalty kicks in the same game. Virgil Van Dijk is back on board but Saints feel a little bit like a team who has plenty of talent but are missing a ruthless streak. That’s incredibly dangerous and talk of a relegation battle is being whispered, perhaps incorrectly, by some fans.

#15 West Ham United: Slaven Bilic is under serious pressure despite the Hammers battling back in several games and grinding out two home wins. Javier Hernandez has, as expected, delivered goals, but it doesn’t seem like West Ham’s players are with the manager. Bilic’s contract runs out at the end of this season and he is unlikely to get a new deal. That’s creating all kinds of instability. The Hammers look set for another season in midtable, at best.

#16 Swansea City: The main problem for Paul Clement’s team is scoring goals. That’s what happens when you sell your two leading goalscorers from last season over the summer. Wilfried Bony has yet to get firing and Tammy Abraham is doing his best to chip in when he can. The Swans have ground out plenty of clean sheets on the road and surely their luck in front of goal will eventually change. The big problem for Clement is that they don’t look like scoring in most games.

#17 Bournemouth: Eddie Howe’s side lost five of their opening six games and naivety is creeping into their game once again. They led against Manchester City and Everton but ended up losing both games. The Cherries did seem more free-flowing in the final third against Leicester and should have won easily, so maybe things have finally clicked. A worrying start but whenever people have written them off over the past two seasons in the PL they always seem to have an answer. Now is the time for experienced campaigners Jermain Defoe and Asmir Begovic to step up.

#18 Leicester City: Plenty of people are worried about the Foxes, and rightly so. Craig Shakespeare’s side have had a tough start, schedule wise. They lost to Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool and then drew games at Huddersfield and Bournemouth which they should be winning. One win so far says it all and Shakespeare should perhaps start thinking about well and truly breaking up the title-winning team, apart from Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki. Leicester could be in a relegation battle.

#19 Everton: Awful. Dreadful. Disappointing. The Toffees are in real trouble and all because of one thing: their failure to replace Romelu Lukaku. The pressure is mounting on Ronald Koeman already after he brought in three No.10s in Wayne Rooney, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Davy Klaassen but failed to address his biggest need. Hammerings by Chelsea and Tottenham, plus at Atalanta in the Europa League, were amplified by a worrying home defeat to Burnley in the PL. The surprise package of the season so far. And not in a good way. They would be bottom of our rankings if it wasn’t for the record-breaking exploits of our next team…

#20 Crystal Palace: The worst start in top-flight history says it all. Seven defeats on the spin. Zero goals score. Frank De Boer fired after four games and Roy Hodgson hired to try and steady the ship. Well, the ship is taking on water at an alarming rate and the Eagles could soon be cut adrift. Christian Benteke’s injury hasn’t helped matters and the period between November to December will truly decide if they can save themselves. Terrible times at Selhurst Park but they are only five points from safety.

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

Top Premier League storylines — Week 7

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Following this weekend’s slate of Premier League fixtures, club soccer won’t take another break for five months, thus the meaty portion of the season is so nearly upon us. First, though, one more round of league games followed by that dreaded weekend off.

[ MORE: JPW’s PL predictions | TV, stream schedule for the weekend ]

Here are five of the biggest PL storylines to follow over the next 72 hours…

First of 6 battles among the “Big 3”

If we’re operating under the wide-spread notion that Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea — as they currently sit 1, 2 and 3 in the league table — are the main contenders for this season’s PL title, Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. ET kickoff at Stamford Bridge (Watch live, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) is of massive importance: 3rd vs. 1st.

Man City (21-2 combined score through six games), like Man United, are yet to lose a game in the PL this season, while Chelsea haven’t lost since opening day (10-2 combined score in the ensuing five games). To say Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola‘s sides are in good form would be quite the understatement.

Conte got the better of Guardiola on both occasions last season, knocking off a nine-man City side at the Etihad Stadium in December before doing the double with a 2-1 win at home in April. Each side was victorious in the UEFA Champions League this week, with City brushing Shakhtar Donetsk aside, and Chelsea snatching all three points from their away trip to Atletico Madrid.


Undefeated vs. only defeated

Five wins, one draw — Man United’s start to the season. Zero wins, zero draws, six losses — Crystal Palace’s start to the season. Unfortunately for Frank de Boer Roy Hodgson, up next for the Eagles is a trip to Old Trafford (followed by a visit from Chelsea, so expect things to get worse before they get better). Will Palace score their first goal this season? Tune in to find out.

Further complicating matters for Hodsgon and Co. is the scintillating form of Romelu Lukaku (nine goals in eight games, all competitions) and the young attacking duo of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial (10 goals between them, all competitions, already this season), even with Paul Pogba still unavailable through injury (hamstring). Jose Mourinho’s men did the double over Palace last season, winning 2-1 away in December and cruising to a 2-0 victory at home in May.


Rafa faces his former club

Rafa Benitez served six seasons as manager at Anfield, and while he’d previously faced his former club as manager of Chelsea, Sunday’s 11:30 a.m. ET kickoff (Watch live, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) will be just the second time he’s done so while at Newcastle United. While it’s still early in the season, the Magpies’ current standing in the league table — 9th, and they trail the Reds by just two points — is undoubtedly one of the biggest surprises thus far.

No side currently in the top-16 of the league table has conceded more goal than Liverpool, which is welcome news for a Newcastle side that has struggled a fair bit in the goal-scoring department (six in six games). On the other hand, nothing they’ve seen thus far will have prepared them for the all-out attacking onslaught Liverpool are set to unleash.


Trouble ahead for Huddersfield?

Huddersfield were the single biggest story in the PL through two games — two wins as a newly-promoted side had them level on points for the league lead — though David Wagner‘s side has come back down to earth in its last four games — three draws and a loss, which slots them into 8th place ahead of Saturday’s visit from Tottenham Hotspur (7:30 a.m. ET, Watch live onNBCSN and NBCSports.com).

It’s the first time the Terriers have faced any of the PL’s “big six,” and signals the start of a run of five-of-eight games against those very sides — Man United, Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal all follow in relatively quick succession.


Battles at the bottom

  • Bournemouth vs. Leicester City — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold
  • West Ham United vs. Swansea City —Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

League-table places 15 through 19 currently read as follows: Swansea, Stoke City, Leicester, West Ham and Bournemouth. While it’s too early to call any game a relegation six-pointer, it’s far from too early to preclude yourself from the relegation dogfight which will be cultivated over the following two months.