Victor Valdes was one of the best goalkeepers of his generation, proven in part by his three UEFA Champions League winner’s medals, and has reportedly called full-time on his footballing career at the age of 35.
Valdes, who joined Barcelona at the age of 10 and went on to win six La Liga titles and two Copas del Rey to go with the three Champions League triumphs during his time at the club, will launch his own television production company, as well as his own show. Valdes made more than 500 appearances for Barca, beginning his first-team career in 2002 before moving to Manchester United in 2014.
If not for his career running perfectly parallel to that of Iker Casillas, Valdes would have won far more than his 20 caps for Spain during any other era, though he does have 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship winner’s medals. Valdes spent the 2016-17 Premier League season with Middlesbrough, starting 28 of 38 games during the club’s relegation season.
The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).
The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.
Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.
Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.
Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.
As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.
Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?
Plus, click on the link above to follow all of ProSoccerTalk’s reviews of the 2016-17 season.
Let’s get to it.
Final position: 6th (Europa League group stage) Star man: Paul Pogba — It’s clear that he’ll never justify his price tag to some critics, but once he found his footing in late Fall there was no turning back for one of the most complete players in the world. Only David De Gea played more minutes for the Red Devils. The Gaffer: Jose Mourinho — There were typical odd Mourinho moments, and his fixture congestion talk was tiresome, but all-in-all he navigated the Europa League all the way to the final despite an absurd rash of injuries to defenders and long absences for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Juan Mata, and Paul Pogba amongst others. Mark out of 10: 6/10 – Sixth is no prize for Manchester United, but a win on Wednesday against Ajax may bump this mark up to 7 (perhaps 8 given the injuries). Season summed up in a word: Patience.
Final position: 19th (Relegated) Star man: Ben Gibson — The 24-year-old defender played all 3420 Premier League minutes for Boro, and was the most consistent performer on a team that defended like a top half side. The Gaffer: Aitor Karanka / Steve Agnew — Karanka has a right to feel a bit hard done-by after leading Boro to the Premier League, but he couldn’t orchestrate goals and that is what doomed the Smoggies down to the Championship. Mark out of 10: 4/10 – Even with relegation, Boro didn’t embarrass itself like their Northeast neighbors Sunderland. Season summed up in a word: Inoffensive.
Final position: 8th Star man: Oriol Romeu — The hard-nosed tackler with an eye for the smart pass showed us what Barcelona and Chelsea saw in the center midfielder. The Gaffer: Claude Puel — Not back in Europe, and that’s a disappointment, and seems destined to start next season somewhere else. Is that fair for a League Cup final campaign, one that probably deserved better than a loss? Mark out of 10: 6/10 – An injury to stellar center back Virgil Van Dijk is likely what kept them from contending with Everton for seventh place. Their Europa League return was decent, and Puel (or whoever) will need to boost the club back into the Top Seven discussion early if he wants to stick around St. Mary’s. Season summed up in a word: Acceptable.
Final position: 13th Star man: Bruno Martins Indi — The Dutchman was a beast in the back for Stoke, but heads back to Porto this summer unless Mark Hughes can work a sale. The Gaffer: Mark Hughes — An injury to Geoff Cameron hampered their season, but the Potters stumbled too much given their talent. Mark out of 10: 3/10 – There’s a difference between leveling off and dropping off, and Stoke massively underachieved when it comes to taking any sort of step forward. Season summed up in a word: Underwhelming
Final position: 20th (Relegated) Star man: Jordan Pickford — The young backstop won’t be long for the Stadium of Light. The Gaffer: David Moyes — From word one the Scottish boss said his club wasn’t good enough for the league, which sure didn’t help them en route to relegation. Oddly enough, he could’ve been the right man to lead an undermanned rebound to the Championship. Instead, he’s resigned. Mark out of 10: 1/10 – There was nothing to like from the Northeast, but Jermain Defoe, Didier N’Dong, and Pickford were bright spots. Season summed up in a word: Moribund.
Final position: 15th Star man: Gylfi Sigurdsson — The Icelandic star is simply the reason Swans stayed alive long enough to see their season rescued by Clement and Co. The Gaffer: Francesco Guidolin / Bob Bradley / Paul Clement — Not one of these men were given enough talent to keep the team in the Premier League, so credit to Clement for getting it done. Mark out of 10: 3/10 – Selling Ashley Williams and not adequately replacing him as a leader or center back could go down as the worst move in a long time. Season summed up in a word: Fortunate.
Final position: 2nd (Champions League group stage) Star man: Harry Kane — Two Golden Boots before he’s turned 24, and the latest Englishman to have a deserved comparison to Alan Shearer. The Gaffer: Mauricio Pochettino — He’s one of the best managers in the world, and Spurs are fortunate to have him. Mark out of 10: 10/10 – From the development of Dele Alli to the steadiness of their back line, Spurs could be the next dynastic club in the Premier League. Season summed up in a word: Precipice.
Final position: 17th Star man: Etienne Capoue — Impressed in possession and finishing touch. In some ways he may be like Gylfi Sigurdsson as a player best suited to stand out on a lesser squad than contribute on a well-oiled machine. The Gaffer: Walter Mazzarri — Like Quique Flores, another Watford manager sent packing by an impatient brand. Mark out of 10: 6/10 – Avoided the other end of the yo-yo worry. Season summed up in a word: Alive.
West Bromwich Albion
Final position: 10th Star man: Ben Foster — Saved points for the Baggies on so many occasions. The Gaffer: Tony Pulis — Yes he was in the running to be Premier League Manager of the Year, but that feels a bit hollow, like honoring a domestic mainstay for talking down his club’s chances and then keeping them from the drop. At some point, like with Stoke, stagnation makes staying alive less impressive. Mark out of 10: 6/10 – Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans, and Foster helped defend to the death, but the club dropped off a cliff. Season summed up in a word: Sated.
West Ham United
Final position: 11th Star man: Winston Reid — The New Zealand captain was a steady presence in a tumultuous season. The Gaffer: Slaven Bilic — Given the club’s massive aims, this season will be combed through in a fine manner. But the Dimitri Payet saga clobbered the team after the Frenchman welched on his commitment to the club. Bilic deserves another chance. Mark out of 10: 5/10 – The chairman will want more than this, and he has to get it early this Fall. Season summed up in a word: Wobbly.
This year’s Premier League table sees just eight points between eighth place and 17th , and just four more before the relegation races. The latter gap will max at 15 and could be as small as nine.
It was 23 last season, and 21 the previous season. This year will end a three-season run of 20-plus points between 8th and 18th, and seems likely to be a harbinger of what’s to come.
With the big TV money increasing roster investment even more, it will become more difficult to stay in the league for all sides. Perhaps we’ll be talking a gap from 9th to the drop on occasion, especially if West Ham or Southampton ups its investments.
But look at tiny Burnley smashing its spending records this year, and how many clubs have shattered their transfer records. Part of that is a function of the market, but consider how much big boys Newcastle United and Aston Villa spent in an effort to return to the PL. The days of idle windows working are long gone. At best, they will be outliers.
Additionally, expect to see more activity in the transfer market itself (if not in January, then August).
When you see that Sunderland whiffed on several half-hearted Moyes-Everton reunions and Middlesbrough got little from its four window buys, all four of which sit outside their Top 11 in per-match performance, it’s fairly clear that men make the difference.
There’s always danger in evaluating an entire league based on one season, but it feels prescient to me. What do you think?
Brad Guzan denied Shane Long‘s back post pass attempt when he dove to gather it, as Saints were in better form but unable to finish.
Rodriguez put the visitors up in the 42nd minute, as Long met his mark this time around. The Irish striker raced onto a Jordy Clasie ball down the right to send a ball toward the penalty spot, and Rodriguez had little trouble beating Guzan. 1-0.