Midseason Reports: Everton, Fulham, Hull, Liverpool and Manchester City

Leave a comment

Every day this week we at ProSoccerTalk are assessing how Premier League clubs have fared through the first half of the 2013-14 campaign.

Yesterday Joe Prince-Wright issued midseason reports on Arsenal, Aston Villa, Cardiff City, Chelsea and Crystal Palace. Today it’s time to relay our verdict on Everton, Fulham, Hull City, Liverpool and Manchester City.

Let’s get stuck in. 

EVERTON

Best moment: While Evertonians were delighted to end the 21-year curse of not having won at Old Trafford with a 1-0 win over Manchester United (and former manager David Moyes), the best moment was Gerard Deulofeu’s stunning 84th minute strike to draw 1-1 away at Arsenal. Arguably the best pure footballing display of the season, Everton’s resilience was proven when just four minutes after Mesut Ozil handed Arsenal the lead, the Spanish starlet shimmied Kieran Gibbs before unleashing a fierce knuckler over the head of  Wojciech Szczesny.

Worst moment: Tim Howard’s unnecessary sprawl-out on Ki Sung-Yeung that resulted in the American goalkeeper being sent off and Sunderland scoring the decisive penalty in a 0-1 win at Goodison Park. That loss ended a home unbeaten streak that stretched back 361 days to the 1-2 loss against Chelsea.

Top player: Seamus Coleman. Since being signed from Sligo Rovers for the paltry fee of £60,000 in January 2009, Coleman has gone from average, to decent, to quality, to sensational. This season the buccaneering right-back has five goals in 20 league appearances, making him the most dangerous full-back in the Premier League.

Manager: Diffcult to argue against Roberto Martinez being manager of the year. Everton’s style has gone from conservative/lacking imagination to attacking/full of art. Tough to figure who’s happier – the players or the fans.

Grade: A

If Everton are to capture a spot in the Top 4 they’ll need to improve their depth by adding a player or two in the January transfer window (and not selling anyone) avoiding slip-ups against clubs they should defeat (e.g. Sunderland).

source:  FULHAM

– Best moment: Seven days after sacking the brazen Martin Jol, Fulham put on a fantastic display by dismantling Aston Villa 2-0 at the Cottage.

– Worst moment: The 0-6 defeat at Hull City was disgusting. After a dull, goalless first half Hull administered a merciless beating that saw Fulham collapse as David Stockdale conceded six goals in 35 minutes.

– Top player: Pajtim Kasami. In what has been a season with very few highs, Kasami provided the goal-of-the-season candidate with his incredible chest volley against Crystal Palace and is the Cottagers most dangerous player going forward.

– Manager: Rene Meulensteen. Since coming on board on December 1st, Meulensteen has managed to achieve some continuity at the club although the 0-6 defeat at Hull City was a moment to forget.

– Grade: D

Too much wasted talent in this side, they should be nowhere near the relegation zone. Leadership needs to step forward in the wake of Brede Hangeland’s injuries.

source: Getty ImagesHULL CITY

– Best moment: Just weeks after their horrible defeat to Crystal Palace, Hull City put on an inspiring performance at the KC, defeating Liverpool 3-1 behind goals from Jake Livermore and David Meyler.

– Worst moment: The 0-1 home loss to Crystal Palace was shameful.

– Top player: Tom Huddlestone. After years of failing to fit in at Tottenham, Huddlestone took a leap of faith by accepting a transfer to Hull City where he has led the Tigers to an impressive place in the top half of the table. Always excellent on the ball and a threat from distance, Huddlestone has emerged as the club’s leader and has an outside chance at playing himself into the England fold.

– Manager: Steve Bruce. His best managerial work to date, Bruce is a pleasure to listen to and watch on the sideline. A real player’s manager, Bruce loves his squad and his passion for the club is unrivaled.

– Grade: A-

No one expected this output from Hull City. They play the game the right way and, as Liverpool found out, will punish anyone who’s looking for a walk in the park. Would be a huge boost if they could find the money for a striker in January.

source: Getty ImagesLIVERPOOL

– Best moment: The 5-0 drubbing they handed Tottenham on December 15th, putting an end Andre-Villas Boas’ managerial reign at Spurs. The Reds were sublime on the day and the score didn’t flatter – what was five could have been six or seven.

– Worst moment: The 1-3 loss to Hull City.

– Top player: Luis Suarez. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Suarez is the Michael Jordan of the Premier League. When the season is over and he’s annihilated the scoring record by 10 goals only then will people truly understand the Uruguayan’s impact in the league and world football as a whole.

– Manager: Brendan Rodgers. Two years into his time at Anfield and the consensus is that Rodgers has a great footballing mind, the club is headed in the right direction and all the players have bought into his system.

– Grade: B+

The goal of finishing in the Top 4 will come only if Liverpool learn to avoid lapses like the one at Hull City while also knocking off at least one of top clubs in the league.

source: Getty ImagesMANCHESTER CITY

– Best moment: The 6-3 win over leaders Arsenal was emphatic, with Fernandinho and the strike-force of Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo reeking havoc on the previously tough Gunners’ defense.

– Worst moment: Doesn’t get much lower than losing 0-1 to bottom-of-the-barrel Sunderland, who handed City the fourth defeat in six league outings away from the Etihad Stadium.

– Top player: Yaya Toure. An absolute behemoth of a man with silky skills, creative ability and an unbelievable knack for scoring, Toure is a threat like none other. Ten goals and three assists in 19 league matches as a holding midfielder? That’s nuts.

– Manager: Manuel Pellegrini. After some initial rumbles, Pellegrini has his club playing exactly the way he wants with title hopes domestically and in Europe both serious possibilities.

– Grade: A-

The league favorites have settled into a nice shape but there are still questions in defense and in net – Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart are the keys to this club’s success in the second half of the season.

Dest decision to stay with the U.S. significant for future

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the shrill of the referee’s whistle on Friday night, with Sergino Dest expected to be on the field, his decision to play for the U.S. Men’s National Team will be final.

There have been plenty of dual-nationals before him and there will continue to be dual-nationals after him. But Dest’s decision to stay with the U.S. is a significant one for multiple reasons.

First, there’s the whirlwind past six months he’s had. Before the summer began, Dest was a solid member of the Jong Ajax team, which is effectively the reserve side, though it plays in the Dutch Second Division. For the U.S., he started in four of the five games for the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team as it advanced to the FIFA U-20 World Cup quarterfinals this past May and June, beating France U-20s along the way.

After a strong preseason, suddenly Dest found himself promoted to the Ajax first team. Then, suddenly this then-18-year-old kid was starting for Ajax, first in the Eredivisie and then in the UEFA Champions League, and he was impressing. After not noticing him or not bothering to call him in to national team camps in the past, suddenly Ronald Koeman was interested, and Ajax coach Erik ten Hag was pushing the Oranje on Dest.

While the U.S. has recruited players from Germany, England, and Mexico among other countries in recent years, it’s rare that the player hasn’t been coveted as well by the bigger – or local national team compared to the USMNT. So it says something that the USMNT is such a welcoming place that Dest felt comfortable enough when making his decision to stick with what he knew.

Also, while the Tyler Boyd decision to play for the USMNT wasn’t seen as a huge recruiting coup – he had played in friendly matches for New Zealand in the past – Dest’s decision, considering that he plays at Ajax and gets minutes in the Champions League – is on the level of the Jonathan Gonzalez deal. Gonzalez of course decided to go with Mexico, but due to a loss of form and injuries, that decision hasn’t fully panned out over the past 12 months. Dest, meanwhile, has the opportunity to cement himself as the right or left back of the future for the U.S.

A player this young is usually not put in this position where they have to choose, but Dest – with official FIFA matches coming up – basically had to make his decision this month or risk being out of the USMNT and the Netherlands for multiple training camps.

Ultimately, while Dest’s decision is a great sign for the USMNT, it’s only the start. There’s plenty of American-born players that the USMNT is losing out on, especially to Mexico. Players like Efrain Alvarez, and Gonzalez are two players who could make a difference for the U.S. moving forward, but have chosen – Alvarez for now – to play for Mexico. Other current USMNT youngsters such as Richie Ledezma, Sebastian Soto, Alex Mendez, and Julian Araujo could all potentially play for another country as well, leaving the U.S. vulnerable should they leave.

And another caveat. Dest is only 19-years old, and it’s truly impossible to predict whether he’ll be the next Steve Cherundolo for the USMNT – owned the right back slot for more than a decade – or a short-term fix before an injury or loss of form keeps him away from the team.

So U.S. Soccer is on the right track with the commitment from Dest, but it still has an awful lot to do to keep growing the USMNT player pool.

 

Berhalter: No “like-for-like” replacement for Pulisic

Getty Images
Leave a comment

U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter may not be feeling any more pressure after the USMNT’s disappointing 2-0 defeat at Canada last month. But his task to beat Canada in the return match on Friday in Orlando became even more difficult with the loss of Christian Pulisic to injury.

Speaking at a pre-match press conference, Berhalter noted that there’s no one on the current USMNT team that could replace exactly what Pulisic brings – excellent dribbling, high soccer IQ, dynamic runs into the box – but they’ll need to compensate for his absence in other ways.

[READ: How will the USMNT line up v. Canada]

“When you think about his dynamic dribbling, you don’t see players like that around very much anymore.,” Berhalter said. “We’ll have to compensate with other types of skills. But what we do have is speed and physically, and we’ll want to take advantage of that. I think that will be a key component of the game.”

Even with Pulisic on the field for around an hour, the U.S. still seemed second-best, but it didn’t help when the USMNT’s best player was taken off. In the current squad, Berhalter will need to look for creativity and darting runs diagonally from players like Tyler Boyd and Jordan Morris on the wings, where they can potentially have an advantage over Canada’s outside backs.

Berhalter noted at the press conference that this week in training they’ve been focusing on bringing the intensity demanded for international soccer, as well as how to better succeed in the attacking third of the field.

“We’ve been working with the wingers, working with the attacking midfielder, having them focused on spaces we need to exploit, and being very aggressive around the penalty box,” Berhalter said. “One thing we weren’t happy with in the game in Canada was our lack of ability to get behind their backline and our lack of ability in the final third to deliver accurate crosses. We got into some good positions and didn’t take advantage of that. So, we focused on that during this week and it’s been looking pretty good.”

In some of the USMNT’s worst games in recent years, including the loss in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago and the loss in Toronto, Canada, it’s been the lack of creativity in the final third, or a lack of even setting up one-v-one opportunities in the final third that’s cost the U.S. That task becomes more difficult without Pulisic, but perhaps the USMNT can take advantage of Morris’ recent fine form, and use his speed down the left to get in behind Canada’s defense.

Sterling backs Gomez after boos were heard at Wembley

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Raheem Sterling came out in support of his teammate Joe Gomez, just a couple of days after Sterling lost his temper in practice and got into a scuffle with the Liverpool defender.

Multiple reporters at England’s 7-0 thrashing of Montenegro heard a smattering of fans boo Joe Gomez when he came on the field as a substitute. While not defensible, the boos were likely as a result of the dust-up and subsequent one-match suspension for Sterling. Unable to speak to the media after the match, Sterling took to Twitter to stand up for his international teammate.

[READ: England smash Montenegro, qualify for Euro 2020]

This is the latest example of Sterling taking the high road to deal with a tough situation. Whether it’s the boos he endures from Liverpool fans over his exit from the club, racism he’s experienced at home or abroad, and the media coverage he’s felt, Sterling has almost always offered a measured, intelligent response.

In this instance, it shows that Gareth Southgate has full control of his team and that there’s an accepting atmosphere in the squad. Sterling was obviously wrong to not let the Man City defeat to Liverpool go and to take it out on Gomez warranted the suspension. To back Gomez after he took some jeers from the crowd says a lot about Sterling’s character.

You can almost bet that the two will be on the field together as England faces Kosovo on the road this Sunday.

Euro 2020 Roundup: Ronaldo scores hat-trick, France, Turkey qualify

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The final two rounds of Euro 2020 qualification got underway on Thursday with plenty of great goals on display. Four nations qualified directly into the tournament as well, as we get closer to the final list of 24 teams.


Portugal rout Lithuania

While the result wasn’t a surprise, it was still an impressive performance from the defending European champions.

Portugal, behind a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick, thrashed Lithuania, 6-0, at the Estadio Algarve. That included this terrific strike into the corner from outside the box, bringing the crowd to their feet.

It was Ronaldo’s ninth hat-trick for Portugal, which takes him to 98 goals overall along with 12 goals for Portugal in this calendar year, an incredible strike rate. Pizzi, Goncalo Paciencia and Bernardo Silva all scored as well. With a win at Luxembourg in three days, Portugal can assure qualification back to the European Championships, where it can defend its crown.


France comes back to beat Moldova

It’s safe to say that Les Bleus fans would gladly have taken a 2-1 result over Moldova in Euro 2020 qualifying, but the journey to get there was definitely out of the ordinary.

Moldova’s Vadim Rata put the visitors up 1-0 in the 9th minute with a goal-mouth scramble after a failed clearance from by Clement Lenglet, putting France under even more pressure. France brought wave and wave of attack towards the Moldova goal, but it was a controversial goal, credited to Raphael Varane, which brought France level.

In the 41st minute, as Olivier Giroud went for a ball, it appeared Giroud motioned to control the ball with his arm, only to move it out of his way at the last second, enabling Varane to head home. Giroud made amends for missing many chances throughout the match with a penalty kick goal in the 79th minute, earned by left back Lucas Digne.

With the win, France qualified for the 2020 Euros. Also qualifying on Thursday was Turkey, England, and the Czech Republic.

Here’s a look at the rest of Thursday’s Euro 2020 qualification results.

Qualification Group A

England 7-0 Montenegro
Czech Republic 2-1 Kosovo

Qualification Group B

Portugal 6-0 Lithuania
Serbia 3-2 Luxembourg

Qualification Group H

Turkey 0-0 Iceland
Albania 2-2 Andorra
France 2-1 Moldova