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An under-the-radar Premier League XI

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The Premier League’s international break invites reflection on both what we’ve seen so far and what’s to come.

For example, what if we left out the superstars?

For whatever reason, this one is recalling the state of mind of 2015-16, when we were digesting that Leicester City very much looked the part of Premier League champions.

[ MORE: Herrera on “intense” Zlatan ]

For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.

He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).

For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).

Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.

— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.

  • Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
  • Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
  • Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.

— The following players have risen well above most of their teammates but fall short of the league Top 50 on either site: Ben Gibson (Boro), Michael Keane and Ben Mee (Burnley), Christian Fuchs (Leicester City), Joe Allen (Stoke City), Jose Holebas and Troy Deeney (Watford), Gareth McAuley (West Brom).

— Watford, as a side, is seemingly the choose to a sort of MVP. On WhoScored, not a single player rises above 7, but there are a host in the very high sixes.

— In very different systems, John Stones (91.8) and Adam Forshaw (89.2) are thriving in pass percentage.

Oriol Romeu of Southampton and Victor Wanyama of Tottenham Hotspur (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

— Southampton’s Oriel Romeu and Stoke’s Erik Pieters rank fourth and fifth respectively in tackles per game.

— In a team that has to intervene a ton, Hull City’s Curtis Davies the league with 3.8 interceptions per game.


Honorable mention

Goalkeeper: Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City)

Defenders: Aleksandar Kolarov (Manchester City), Marcos Alonso (Chelsea), Calum Chambers (Boro), Papy Djilobodji (Sunderland), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

Midfielders: Ake, Victor Wanyama (Spurs), Willian (Chelsea), Juan Mata (Manchester United), Harry Winks (Spurs), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham United), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Jack Wilshere (Bournemouth).

Forwards: Joshua King (Bournemouth), Fernando Llorente (Swansea City), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace)


Goalkeeper

Ben Foster (West Brom) — With the highest performance score in the position on WhoScored, Foster has claimed all 95 balls he’s went up for and has a league-best 76 saves.

Defenders

Nicolas Otamendi (Man City, 7.49, 29.18) — One of few defenders to rate high in interceptions despite being on a team that doesn’t concede loads of chances or possession.

George Friend (Middlesbrough) — Just out of the upper echelon on the advanced stats site, he is in rarefield air in traditional stats interceptions and tackles.

Steve Cook (Bournemouth, 7.16, 22.76) — Jumps out of the advanced stats on a Cherries team which has faced plenty of attacking pressure.

Antonio Valencia (Manchester United, 7.28, 27.45) — There’s a reason Jose Mourinho rewarded him with an extension not long into the manager’s tenure at Old Trafford.

Midfielders

Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.

Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.

Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.

Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.

 

Forwards

Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.

Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.

Germany, England to test depth; Canada off to Scotland

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International week gets kicked off bright and early Wednesday, as Papua New Guinea and Tahiti tangle to stay alive for Oceania’s berth in the 2018 World Cup at 2 a.m. EDT.

[ MORE: Cameron pumped for USMNT return ]

There’s also a nine-spot of friendlies on tap.

Germany vs. England — 3:45 p.m. EDT Wednesday

It’ll be called a glamour friendly, but England’s trip to Germany is more of a depth test than anything else thanks to injuries on both sides.

There’s no Manuel Neuer, Julian Draxler, Mario Gomez, and Mesut Ozil for Germany, while Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane, and Daniel Sturridge are out for England and Raheem Sterling is a question.

Lukas Podolski takes the arm band for his final cap, No. 130, as Germany looks to keep up its fine international form. It’ll be interesting to see whether Joachim Loew hands uncapped striker Timo Werner of RB Leipzig a start.

A perfect 4-for-4 in World Cup qualifying, Germany is off to Azerbaijan after the match. Gareth Southgate has England atop Group F with a 3-1 record, and the Three Lions have yet to concede in qualifying. They host Lithuania on Sunday

Scotland vs. Canada — 3:45 p.m. EDT Wednesday

New manager Octavio Zambrano will get his first look at the Canucks since being named Canada boss when they visit Gordon Strachan’s Scottish side.

Canada will be captained by FC Edmonton’s Nik Ledgerwood in his 50th cap, and his leadership will be needed with the new boss and eight of 18 call-ups having five or fewer caps. Two defenders, La’Vere Corbin-Ong (FSV Frankfurt) and Luca Gasparotto (Falkirk) are complete uncapped.

Scotland will boast several in-form players, including Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser and Fulham’s Tom Cairney. Strachan will want to get the squad humming in the absence of Matt Phillips and James McArthur and a huge World Cup qualifier looming Sunday versus Slovenia.

Elsewhere
All times EDT

Vietnam vs. Chinese Taipei — 7 a.m.
Cambodia vs. India — 7:30 a.m.
Philippines va. Malaysia –7:30 a.m.
Cyprus vs. Kazakhstan — Noon
Yemen vs. Palestine — Noon
Curacao vs. El Salvador — 8 p.m.
Bahrain vs. Tajikistan

WC Qualifier – Oceania
Papua New Guinea vs. Tahihi — 2 a.m.

Huge squad overhaul lined up by Arsenal?

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Despite Arsene Wenger‘s future as Arsenal’s manager still unclear, what is clear is that the Gunners are contemplating a big overhaul of their squad this summer.

[ MORE: Bastian to Chicago Fire ]

After losing 3-1 at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, the Gunners have now lost four of their last five Premier League games to slump to sixth place in the table and missing out on the top four for the first time in 20 years is becoming a real possibility.

With both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil still not tied down to long-term contracts and many reports suggesting they’ll both leave this summer, speculation is spreading that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere may also leave this summer too.

A report from the Daily Mirror claims that Wenger is lining up Monaco’s teenage striker Kylian Mappe and Lyon forward Alexandre Lacazette to replace Ozil and Sanchez.

Similarly, the Daily Telegraph believes that Arsenal is lining up a move for Everton’s Ross Barkley to fill the void left by Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilshere and also state the futures of David Ospina, Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs are in doubt with Jack Butland and Celtic’s Kieran Tierney possible targets.

Would Arsenal be stronger after this overhaul? They’d certainly be younger.

Mappe, just 18 years old, is set to become the next big thing in French soccer and has scored 17 goals in 29 appearances this season, while 25-year-old Lacazette is 25 years old and has 28 goals to his name this season. After being linked with moves to the Premier League over the past few summers, Lacazette now appears ready to move on from Lyon.

Still, losing Ozil and Sanchez would be a huge blow. There’s no other way to look at it.

Barkley, 23, would be an intriguing buy and on paper he’d slot into the Arsenal style of play as a creative midfielder but he has a little more power and pace to his game than Ozil or Wilshere.

The one thing Arsenal fans will want to know sooner rather than later is if Wenger is staying or not. These reports seem to suggest that transfer plans to overhaul the current Gunners squad are being made.

Surely that suggests Wenger is ready to commit to another two years at the Emirates…

Premier League Power Rankings: Man Utd up, Arsenal slides

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Leaps for Leicester City, Manchester United, and Bournemouth highlight our Power Rankings heading into this international break.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

TEAM RANKING
source:
20 (20) Sunderland: Jermain Defoe says he needs to play in the Premier League to represent England, which means the Black Cats would be hit extra hard by relegation.
200px-Middlesbrough_crest 19 (19) Middlesbrough: Finally scored a goal against Manchester United… but allowed three.
Hull City logo 18 (18) Hull City: Once Tom Huddlestone was sent off, the Tigers essentially quit against Everton. That’s troubling for manager Marco Silva.
source: 17 (15) Swansea City: A disappointing loss that threatens to halt Swans’ momentum toward safety.
source: 16 (11) Watford: Losers of three in four, and by almost any manner possible. The latest? Troy Deeney‘s pinpoint header into his own goal.
source: 15 (16) Crystal Palace: Another win! But it’s a bit alarming that it took an own goal for Palace to finish the job against Watford.

14 (14) Burnley: The Clarets haven’t won since the tail end of January.
logo_westham 13 (12) West Ham United: Slaven Bilic‘s future has to be in question as the Irons have regressed to below even Sam Allardyce era levels.
source: 12 (17) Bournemouth: Winners of consecutive PL matches for the first time since March 2016, and not a moment too soon for Eddie Howe‘s Cherries.
11 (13) Leicester City: Six points clear of safety and facing Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals.
source: 10 (10) Southampton: Lost to a fine Spurs side after winning two-straight, and probably was good enough to get a point.
source: 9 (8) Stoke City: A gut punch to lose late to Chelsea.
source: 8 (5) Arsenal: Matches-in-hand keep Top Four dreams in play, but the Gunners have been awful.
source: 7 (9) West Bromwich Albion: Beating Arsenal after a pair of losses is the definition of rebounding in style.
source:
6 (3) Liverpool: An Adam Lallana missed sitter away from a much improved feeling, but that’s the Liverpool season in a nutshell.
5 (6) Everton: Given a remaining Merseyside Derby and the inconsistent play of both Liverpool and Arsenal, the Top Five isn’t out of the question.
Logo_Manchester_City 4 (4) Manchester City: Looked very much like a team nursing UCL wounds in the 1-1 draw against Liverpool, but it sure could have been worse.
source: 3 (7) Manchester United: Last Premier League loss? October 23.
source: 2 (2) Tottenham Hotspur: Scrapped a 2-1 win against tricky Southampton. Virtually identical season as Chelsea in terms of goals, goals conceded… just not wins.
source: 1 (1) Chelsea: Have won 10 of 15 on the road in league play after wins at Stoke and West Ham.

Premier League roundup: Chelsea delight, Arsenal misery

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Here’s what you may have missed from a seven-match day across England, including West Brom advertising for its “Behind the Badge” series (Watch Ep3 at 4:30 p.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSN) with a defeat of reeling Arsenal.

West Bromwich Albion 3-1 ArsenalRECAP

Craig Dawson scored a pair of goals and Hal Robson-Kanu added another as West Bromwich Albion heaped misery on Arsenal with a fourth Premier League loss in five outings.

Crystal Palace 1-0 WatfordRECAP

Troy Deeney headed a pinpoint effort… into his own goal as Palace gained some breathing room in the relegation battle.

Stoke City 1-2 ChelseaRECAP

Gary Cahill conceded the penalty that allowed Jon Walters to cancel out Willian‘s opener, and then scored the winner as Chelsea moved closer to coronation.

Everton 4-0 Hull CityRECAP

Hull was down 1-0 when it went down to 10 men, and Romelu Lukaku scored a brace in stoppage time to lead the Toffees sixth.

Sunderland 0-0 BurnleyRECAP

The Black Cats wasted a few chances and now sit seven points back of safety.

Bournemouth 2-0 Swansea CityRECAP

Alfie Mawson has been good of late for Swans, but saw Benik Afobe‘s shot take a turn off of him and defy Lukasz Fabianski to make it 1-0. Afobe added another, and the Cherries scooped up back-to-back wins for the first time since March 2016.

West Ham United 2-3 Leicester CityRECAP

Leicester’s heroes of 2015-16 were on point Saturday, as Riyad Mahrez, Robert Huth (!!), and Jamie Vardy all scored and Kasper Schmeichel made some key saves to make sure Manuel Lanzini and Andre Ayew’s goals were in defeat. It’s four-straight wins for the Foxes.

For more on Saturday’s action, listen to the latest 2 Robbies podcast.