Midseason Reports: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Cardiff, Chelsea, Crystal Palace

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Every day this week at ProSoccerTalk we will be assessing how all 20 Premier League teams have fared so far, as we issue our midseason reports.

The second half of the season is already upon us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t reflect on what’s been a sensational start to the 2013-14 PL campaign. Here we go…

ARSENAL

Best moment: A dominant 2-0 win over Liverpool showcased exactly why the Gunners are top of the table. Giroud was the focal point and a plethora of attacking options destroyed the opponents defense.

Worst moment: A 6-3 hammering by Manchester City at the Etihad. Arsenal didn’t play that poorly and created plenty of chances, but incidents involving Mesut Ozil not applauding Arsenal’s fans and Jack Wilshere flipping the bird at City’s supporters left a sour taste in the mouth.

Top player: Aaron Ramsey. Has perhaps been the player of the season so far in the PL. 13 goals across all competitions in the opening half of the season from the flourishing Welshman has driven Arsenal to the top of the league. Hopefully he isn’t out for too long with a recent injury.

Manager: Wenger has done what he needed to do, buy a big name player that complemented his squad. Ozil has done that. Arsenal’s defense has also improved drastically.

GRADE: A-

Almost top marks for the Gunners who led the way by eight points in November. That lead at the top is down to just one point now but players returning from injury is good news.

ASTON VILLA

source: AP
Villa need to stick together, as a tough second half of the season beckons.

Best moment: One of two massive wins at the start of the season, as Villa beat Arsenal 3-1 away on the opening day and Man city at home a few weeks later.

Worst moment: A 1-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace on Boxing Day saw the Villans drop perilously close to the drop zone. A last-gasp defeat made the natives restless.

Top player: Gabriel Agbonlahor. The Villa veteran is still young and his electric pace has caused plenty of problems. Plenty of goals from him this season too.

Manager: Paul Lambert still has his hands tied behind his back, with a young squad and no money to spend. That said, there’s been no real progress.

GRADE: C

Still plenty of work to do at Villa, but some massive wins here and there have shown promise. But there’s been plenty of dismal displays, especially going forward. Given all that, their league position isn’t bad.

CARDIFF

Best moment:  Beating Man City 3-2 at home on a hot August day in South Wales definitely the highlight. Frazier Campbell scored twice late on to give the Bluebirds a famous PL win.

source: Getty Images
New boss Ole Gunnar Solksjaer must splash the cash in January if the Bluebirds are to stay up.

Worst moment: Losing 3-0 at home to Southampton on Boxing Day spelled the end for Malky Mackay, as the entire saga between Cardiff’s manager and controversial owner Vincent Tan came to a head.

Top player: Jordon Mutch. The young attacker has taken to the PL like a duck to water, four goals and three assists easily make him Cardiff’s most productive player.

Manager: Mackay was doing a good job but Tan’s involvement made it untenable. Now the Bluebirds’ hopes live with Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, as the former Manchester United boss manages in the PL for the first time.

GRADE: D+

Cardiff were so strong and solid for most of the opening weeks but as the season wore on Mackay’s personal feud with Tan took over. A decent squad who can dazzle on their day, new boss Solksjaer must buy big in January.

CHELSEA

Best moment: The 2-1 home win over Liverpool on Dec. 28 showed how Jose Mourinho’s side can defend well, are resolute and full of creative nous when needed.

source: Getty Images
Chelsea’s young attacking stars have to take center stage from here on out.

Worst moment: A 1-0 away defeat at Everton early in the season proved there was plenty of work to do, as the offense looked weak and devoid of ideas. A wake up call.

Top player: Eden Hazard. The young Belgian winger has flourished under the Special One and has scored plenty of important goals, plus he looks hungry to succeed.

Manager: Mourinho repeatedly states he’s starting a project at Chelsea, and with the exciting young attackers he has you can see that. But Chelsea look at their best with staunch defense and lightning-quick counters. So far, so good.

GRADE: B+

Chelsea have plodded along nicely, beaten the sides they should have and frustrated the top teams with tight defensive displays. The Blues are perfectly poised for a title push in the second half of the season.

CRYSTAL PALACE

Best moment: A 2-0 win against Cardiff City at home completed a great run for Palace as their fans began to believe they could survive in the PL.

source: AP
Tony Pulis has brought belief to Palace. But the Eagles are still fighting for their PL lives.

Worst moment: A 4-1 hammering by struggling Fulham, as Ian Holloway knew his time was up at Selhurst Park and left soon after.

Top player: Mile Jedinak. Doesn’t grab many goals but captain Jedinak has been superb in the midfield engine room. The Aussie is powerful, keeps the ball and thwarts the opposition.

Manager: Holloway stepped aside as he thought someone else could save Palace… turns out he could be right. Tony Pulis has arrived and the Eagles have been soaring.

GRADE: C

Nobody expected great things from Palace but they’ve given themselves a fighting chance of staying up with four wins since November. Some shrewd signings in the transfer window could see them just beat the drop.  

Report: Wolves buying Nelson Semedo from Barcelona

Semedo to Wolves
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Wolves are turning much of the Diogo Jota money into Barcelona right back Nelson Semedo, according to several reports.

Semedo, 26, is set to cost around $42 million, some $16 million less than the reported max value of Jota’s sale to Liverpool.

Barca will open up some money to pursue American back Sergino Dest and others with the sale of Portuguese international. Reporter Fabrizio Romano says Bayern Munich still feels it’s in prime position to buy the Ajax back.

[ MORE: Wolves – Man City preview ]

Semedo would help replace Matt Doherty and could again push Adama Traore forward into a wing role.

Semedo has won four league titles between Benfica and Barcelona as well as the UEFA Nations League as part of his 14 caps for Portugal. He has two goals and 11 assists in three seasons at the Camp Nou, where Ronald Koeman is trying hard to clear out salary.

He would join boss Nuno Espirito Santo as well as Ruben Neves, Rui Patricio, Joao Moutinho, Pedro Neto, Daniel Podence, Fabio Silva, Vitinha, Ruben Vinagre, and Roderick as Portuguese members of Wolves.

Next up for the Wolves is a visit from Man City on Monday (Watch live at 3:15 pm ET Monday, online via Peacock).

Brighton cruises past Newcastle through Maupay brace

Newcastle - Brighton
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Newcastle – Brighton: Neal Maupay scored twice in the first seven minutes of Brighton and Hove Albion’s 3-0 win over Newcastle United at St. James’ Park on Sunday.

Aaron Connolly scored late to complete the score line and Yves Bissouma saw a late red card as the Seagulls deserved every bit of the win.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ] 

Newcastle drops to 1-1 on the season following its opening win over West Ham. The Magpies are off to Tottenham next, while Brighton hosts Manchester United.


Three things we learned from Newcastle – Brighton

1. Going two behind Brighton a problem: Graham Potter’s Seagulls could be one of the season’s surprise packages, especially if teams hand them early two-goal leads. The club has an embarrassment of riches at center back and was able to loan Shane Duffy, a very good back in his own right, to Celtic because of Ben White, Lewis Dunk, Adam Webster, Joel Veltman, and Dan Burn. The first three played Sunday and were basically impenetrable

2. More promise from Maupay: Maupay scored 10 times last season, his first in the Premier League after the Frenchman buried 25 chances for Brentford in his last season in the Championship. He finished his penalty and slotted a second on Sunday, and his team looks set to produce plenty of chances for its forwards this year.

3. Turnabout fair play: The Magpies were, perhaps, surprisingly decisive winners at West Ham on opening day while Brighton did well enough and would’ve felt unlucky to fall by two to Chelsea on Monday. Perhaps the early lead was a massive help but Brighton looked better prepared for Newcastle and the Magpies’ lack of a real game-changer in the midfield proved its undoing.

Man of the Match

We might’ve given it to Bissouma for a complete performance but his wild boot to the face of Jamal Lewis was ugly though unintentional. Lamptey was great but left early. Maupay’s next in line, just ahead of an impressive Leandro Trossard.


Newcastle – Brighton recap

Jamaal Lascelles cleared early danger for Newcastle but that was a harbinger of what was to come as Allan Saint-Maximin chopped Tariq Lamptey down in the box to give Brighton a third-minute penalty.

Maupay dispatched a hard low penalty under a diving Karl Darlow to make it 1-0.

The Frenchman had it 2-0 moments later when VAR overruled the assistant referee when Lamptey led a charge down the right of Newcastle’s defense.

Yves Bissouma was lively in the first 22 minutes and blazed over the bar.

The hits kept coming for Newcastle as Saint-Maximin left the match in the 34th minute with an ankle ailment. The French wizard was replaced by Ryan Fraser.

Steven Alzate led a stoppage-time rush that nearly put it out of reach, Leandro Trossard’s ball making its way to Lamptey but the back’s shot smothered by Karl Darlow.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Newcastle boss Steve Bruce lifted Andy Carroll for Miguel Almiron and the Magpies had more of the ball in the second half.

But Brighton twice challenged Darlow while the final ball kept eluding Newcastle.

The Magpies finally got their chance when Callum Wilson butchered a point-blank header off of Almiron’s fine cross.

Aaron Connolly broke through the back line and smashed the post but the AR’s flag was up. Trossard then clobbered the post on a shot that would’ve counted had it been on target.

Newcastle couldn’t make anything from a series of Ryan Fraser corners, Jeff Hendrick’s attempt to recreate a great goal at West Ham instead sailing well over the frame with 11 minutes to play.

Connolly had been knocking on the door and delivered the knockout blow with a terrific curler from inside the 18 in the 84th minute.

Bissouma was shown his red after VAR review of his reckless cleat to the face of Jamal Lewis with a few minutes to play, the Newcastle defender badly bloodied.

Chelsea – Liverpool: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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Chelsea – Liverpool: This is always one of the biggest games of the Premier League season and on Sunday (Watch live at 11:30am ET, online via Peacock) at Stamford Bridge we can expect all-out attack between these two stacked heavyweights.

CHELSEA – LIVERPOOL STREAM LIVE

Frank Lampard and Chelsea have spent close to $300 million on new players this summer and may spend even more as they look to make the leap from a top four team to title contenders. As for Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp, the reigning champions had a scare in their opening day win against Leeds but will know they will have plenty of chances to score against Chelsea.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Chelsea – Liverpool this Sunday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Chelsea – Liverpool (INJURY REPORT)

Chelsea will be without USMNT star Christian Pulisic as Lampard revealed he suffered a minor injury setback from his hamstring issue. This game has also come too early for new signings Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell, and Thiago Silva to make their debuts as they work their way towards full fitness. Timo Werner is fit after suffering a small injury on his debut.

Frank Lampard issued the following injury update on Pulisic:  “Chilwell is not ready for the game, neither is Christian Pulisic. We hope they will work well during the week.” And had this to say after their win at Brighton on Monday: “Christian was training with us last week but he had a bit of discomfort a couple of days ago when he was trying to be in contention for today. It would have been a big ask for today and he has had to take a few steps back and we will have to see.”

Liverpool has Thiago Alcantara on the bench and Kostas Tsimikas available following a period of self-isolation after he tested positive for COVID-19. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be missing once again after he picked up a knee injury, while Xherdan Shaqiri is battling back from yet another injury. 


What they’re saying

Frank Lampard on the brewing rivalry, sideline clashes with Jurgen Klopp: “How much do you want to make of it? If you’re pushing to be successful… we had it when I was a player. In the Champions League we drew each other a lot. In modern terms it’s slightly different because Liverpool are on top of the league and we’re trying to improve. Both squads, clubs and coaches are very driven to win. It’s what the Premier League is all about. The nature of the world we live in is there’s a lot of airtime for you to fill with rivalries. They can be scrutinised in every way. I have huge respect for him, what he’s done at Liverpool was incredible. There’s nothing in it for me. The competitive nature of the 90 minutes can boil over but the respect for Klopp I have will never change.”

Klopp on Mohamed Salah’s hat trick on the opening day against Leeds: “Of all the good performances Mo had for us obviously, this was for sure one of the better ones. So he should be proud of that because it’s very special to have these kind of numbers. ‘Long may it continue,’ I like to think in these moments, and this time I say it as well.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Chelsea (+215) are the underdogs but Liverpool’s odds are longer (+115) than many would expect. Chelsea have done well against Liverpool in recent seasons and seem to match up with them well, and the draw (+270) would be the smart bet in this one. Both teams would take that early in the season and move on.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction

I’m going for a goalfest here and I think both teams will have plenty of chances and it’s all about who is more clinical. Liverpool will try to shore things up at the back but I think Chelsea know how to get behind them and Werner, if he’s fit, will cause problems. I’m going for 3-3. This will be a classic.


How to watch Chelsea – Liverpool stream and start time

Kickoff: 11:30 am ET Sunday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Mourinho comments after leaving Dele Alli out amidst PSG links

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Tottenham Hotspur scored five times in Sunday’s win over Southampton, but Jose Mourinho’s comments after leaving Dele Alli out of the team will have elicited plenty of buzz.

So will rumors that Paris Saint-Germain is among the clubs seeking the English attacker’s signature.

[ RECAP: Southampton 2-5 Spurs ]

Saying “I want a balanced squad” and that he has too many forwards to dress right now — yes, even before Gareth Bale suits up — Mourinho explained his thoughts on the forward.

From Football.London:

“I’m not responsible for the market. I’m not able to answer your question on that. I can only say I left eight players behind training. They are a big group and Dele was among this group. The same way a squad is a puzzle and in the same way so is the bench. I cannot have three wingers and a number 10 and then no defender. Dele stayed out but probably Tuesday he will play.”

Journalist Fabrizio Romano reported that Spurs have been trying to offload Dele over the past few days and that Real Madrid did not want to take him on loan as part of the Gareth Bale deal.

The 24-year-old was hooked at halftime of Tottenham’s season-opening loss to Everton and has cooled off considerably since an early rejuvenation under Mourinho last season.

Dele has 62 goals and 55 assists in 223 appearances for Spurs, but just 16 and 14 in his last 77 dating back to the start of the 2018-19 season.

The knock on Dele has been that he’s a poor trainer, something the player laughed off when Mourinho pointed it out with a smirk during a meeting caught by cameras during the club’s “All Or Nothing” series.

Dele has three goals and six assists in 37 England caps and would still fetch a decent transfer fee, though he hasn’t appeared for the Three Lions since 2019.

Is it time to sell? Spurs run the risk that Dele’s value may never quite rebound anywhere near its heights and could dip quite a bit lower if he stays out of favor in North London. And Bale’s salary isn’t going to pay itself.