Midseason Reports: Man United, Newcastle, Norwich, Southampton, Stoke

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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…

MANCHESTER UNITED

Best moment: There haven’t been too many to choose from, but the 1-0 home win over league-leaders Arsenal proved David Moyes’ side can still beat the best.

Worst moment: So many low points so far, but the humiliating 4-1 hammering by Man City at the Etihad in September back in September has to take the biscuit. It could’ve easily been more too.

Top player: Wayne Rooney. Despite rumors he was leaving all summer, Wazza has stuck around and orchestrated United’s attack superbly. Must sign a new deal if Moyes is to succeed.

Manager: Moyes has the impossible job, and after a pretty wretched start it’s got harder. Countless defeats at home and a worrying hangover from the Ferguson era has hampered his first season in charge. Is it too early to judge him?

GRADE: C-

United’s aging team has been exposed terribly and without Rooney and RVP (who’ve both been out injured) it’s been a torrid start for Moyes. In seventh and 11 points off the pace, United need a massive second half of the season to just get into the top four.

NEWCASTLE UNITED

Best moment: A 1-0 win away at Old Trafford shows how far the Magpies have come, their first win at Man United’s home since 1972, brought joy to the Geordies as they ruthlessly shut out United and snatched a win. Also, a 2-0 home win over Chelsea is worthy of an honorable mention.

source: AP
Newcastle are in the top eight after a sublime first half of the season.

Worst moment: Doesn’t get much worse than losing the local derby. A 2-1 defeat to Sunderland right at the death was a bitter pill to swallow for Alan Pardew.

Top player: Loic Remy. The French striker, on loan from QPR, has been sublime up front. Remy has scored 10 goals and is coolness personified in front of goal. The Magpies must sign him permanently at the end of this season.

Manager: Pardew has a fully fit squad at his disposal this season and his shrewd signings last January have come to fruition. That 8-year contract he signed was looking dodgy last year. Not anymore.

GRADE: B+

Newcastle have exceeded many people’s expectations this season, as they sit in the top eight and are firing on all cylinders. Last season’s relegation battle was a blip. Can they finish in the top six?

NORWICH

Best moment: A 1-0 win away at Stoke City showed everything that’s good about Norwich. Solid defensive play and opportunistic finishing. Sadly, there haven’t been a plethora of highlights thus far.

source: Getty Images
Gary Hooper has been the major plus point for the Canaries thus far,

Worst moment: That 7-0 drubbing at Man City is the stuff nightmares are made of. Horrendous defending was ruthlessly punished, as the Canaries were torn apart.

Top player: Gary Hooper. Despite being injured for long spells of the season so far, whenever he starts Hooper looks sharp and alive in the box. Absolute poacher.

Manager: A few people thought Chris Hughton would be on the chopping block around Christmas, but the Canaries have turned things around with some big home wins.

GRADE: C

Norwich need to step it up in the second half, as some massive defeats have shown their weaknesses. Scoring goals has again been a problem, will that led to Norwich being sucked into another relegation scrap?

SOUTHAMPTON

Best moment: A 1-0 win away at Liverpool in September showed us just what the Saints are capable of, as their young team stopped the Reds and bagged a memorable win.

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Saints’ talented crop of youngsters are impressing at St. Mary’s

Worst moment: A demoralizing 3-0 home defeat to Chelsea. Despite several injuries to key players, the Saints just folded in the second half.

Top player: Adam Lallana. In his second season in the Premier League, Saints’ captain has taken the league by storm. He impressed after his England call up and has added goals and assists to his silky skills.

Manager: Massively impressive start for Mauricio Pochettino in his first full season in charge. His teams form has dropped slightly, but injuries and tough schedule account for that. Great high-pressing style and his philosophy is to use young English talent.

GRADE: B+

The Saints have been the surprise package for much of this season and have a talented crop of teenagers who are impressing. Despite a recent dip in form, the future is bright on England’s South Coast.

STOKE CITY

Best moment: A 3-2 win over Chelsea has been the marquee moment for Mark Hughes’ side. Stoke are tough to beat at home and a late screamer from Ossama Assaidi sealed the deal.

source: Getty Images
Stoke’s substance has remained… but Mark Hughes has added style to their play.

Worst moment: The Potters were battered 4-0 by Everton just before Christmas as their defense folded. Enough said.

Top player: Asmir Begovic. The big Bosnian ‘keeper has been in stunning form this season, making top class saves and has a bunch of top clubs looking at him.

Manager: Hughes has changed the philosophy at Stoke, and you can clearly see a fluid passing style reigning supreme at the Britannia. It will take time, but he’s slowly moving them in the right direction.

GRADE: C+

A good passing grade, as improvements are there for all to see. Goals are still a problem so if they can stay solid and forward starts to fire, Stoke will soar up the standings.

Everton’s Silva: ‘It is concerning about the goals we didn’t score’

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Like in the two games leading into Friday night, Everton have done their part in creating clear-cut chances.

They haven’t done their part in finishing, however. A major point of concern for manager Marco Silva following his side’s 2-0 loss against Aston Villa. From the BBC:

“It is really difficult to see how we can lose this game when we create so many chances to score. It is a tough place to play football.”

The Toffees have now outshot all three opponents they’ve faced this season (34-21), but have only a goal to speak for their attacking dominance. Against Villa, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Theo Walcott squandered ideal chances in the first and second halves, respectively. In the minutes following his Everton debut, Alex Iwobi was the closest to converting for the visitors, hitting the post in the closing minutes of the match.

Silva, as critical as ever before, acknowledges that despite his team succeeding when it comes to creating chances, they desperately need to move the ball past the white line.

“The most difficult thing is to create and when you do you have to put the ball in the net,” the 42-year-old added. “It is concerning about the goals we didn’t score and of course we should score more. Against Palace we created lots of chances to score and didn’t and again today.”

With a challenging bout against Wolves at Goodison Park next on the schedule, the Portuguese will certainly look to tinker his attack to improve the team’s poor conversion rate. Despite falling to score 10 yards in, Iwobi contributed positively for Everton at Villa Park. Moise Kean, still adjusting to the rigors of the league, can be another prudent option to consider.

Luckily, Everton have time – and a match against Lincoln City midweek – to weigh their options. Silva, as he clearly explained at Villa Park, would want the goals to come in sooner rather than later.

Villa’s Wesley hopes to ‘continue like this’ after scoring first goal

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Anwar El Ghazi was the x-factor Friday night, giving every Aston Villa supporter in attendance at Villa Park the excuse to roar at the top of their lungs following his composed finish in the dying seconds of stoppage time.

But about an hour earlier, Villa’s $28-million striker, Wesley, gave the same supporters a reason to believe that they had a chance against Everton, and, most importantly, that Villa made the right decision in securing his signature just months ago.

[ MORE: Recap | Highlights ]

With a timely run and a well-paced strike, the Brazilian opened his Premier League and Aston Villa account. Something manager Dean Smith knew was bound to happen. From the BBC:

“Wesley is not rewarding me but this performance was very good tonight. I believe in him, I have watched him for a while at Club Bruges, playing in the Champions League so I know the calibre of player we were bringing in. You can’t judge someone after two games.”

Prior to Friday, Wesley was less effective than expected in the claret and blue, recording only two shots on target in his first 164 minutes in the league. Smith was swarmed with questions about the striker’s ineffectiveness as the pressure continued to pile on.

Against Everton, however, with the Villa struggling to keep possession and most playing through frenetic counter attacks, the 22-year-old made the most out of the small number of chances he saw. 21 minutes in, he scored. A couple of minutes later – if it wasn’t for a superb last-second tackle from Everton’s Yerry Mina – the Brazilian would have had a brace.

When he wasn’t aiming for goal, the striker was effectively displacing Everton’s back four with his clever runs and brawny hold-up play. One could tell that the Brazilian was playing the game to his strengths, in peace.

“I am very happy tonight, what a performance from the team,” Wesley said after the match. “We worked hard, played very well and we hope to continue like this week by week then we will see what happens.

“The manager knows me, he sees me everyday working hard and the supporters know me too. I keep calm, I know my qualities and today you saw that I can do.

“I hope to continue like this, the last two games were very difficult but now I have to help my team with goals.”

Time will tell if Wesley will continue on the same path, but after a slow start, its quite crystal clear that everyone at Aston Villa is behind the Brazilian striker.

Late El Ghazi goal seals Aston Villa victory over Everton

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With three points under their belt and Villa Park rocking like never before, it now feels like Aston Villa are finally back in the Premier League.

Pinned back the majority of the second half, trying to conserve a 1-0 lead, Anwar El Ghazi‘s last-gasp goal sealed the deal for Villa, edging Everton 2-0 on Friday.

Wesley‘s cathartic welcome to the Premier League 21 minutes in gave Dean Smith‘s side the room to breathe, despite being behind the ball the majority of the match.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]


Four things we learned

1. Certainly not the case last time they featured in the Premier League, Villa now have the luxury of boasting game-changing choices off the bench like El Ghazi, who can come in and finish things off.

2. Three matches in, and the Toffees’ glaring void is a clinical finisher up top. They’ll need to find a solution, sooner rather than later.

3.  In the 30-minute cameo, Alex Iwobi displayed that he can turn out to be a difference-maker for Everton this season, if utilized properly.

4. On a good night, there aren’t many stadiums that roar louder than Villa Park.

Man of the Match


Jota, positive for 77 minutes on the right side of the midfield, combined time and time again with Villa right back Frederic Guilbert for the greater good of creating energetic counters. The Spaniard’s first assist of the season came in similar fashion, when Wesley finished off his precise through ball.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Everton, like in the first half, imposed themselves on the home side, dominating control of the ball. A lack of fishing and creativity in the final third, however, complicated things for Marco Silva‘s side. As the clocked ticked, the ingenuity was nowhere to be found.

Shortly after coming on, Iwobi put forward the clearest chance Everton had experienced all night. The substitute’s shot, though, struck post, denying any chances of a brilliant debut by the former Arsenal man.

Villa continued to sit back with its four-man backline and Douglas Luiz right above as the No. 6, while remaining attentive on when to spring forward and take advantage of an unbalanced Everton.

El Ghazi surprised many, riffling a shot from 25 yards out. Pickford, vigilant as ever before, calmly blocked it out of danger.

Right before stoppage time, the Toffees were a couple of feet from walking away from Villa Park with a vital point. Theo Wolcott, however, failed to keep his strike leveled, skying the ball well over the bar.

Just minutes later, substitute El-Ghazi showed those watching how to finish, leading Villa to their first Premier League win since 2016.

AT HALF: Wesley scores first goal for Aston Villa

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With pressure certainly on, Wesley scored his first Premier League goal, which has Aston Villa 45 minutes out of their first points since their return to the big stage.

Following a sublime through ball from Jota, the Brazilian didn’t shy away from slotting the ball past Jordan Pickford and into the back of the net.

[ STREAM: Aston Villa – Everton ]

Such timely run and clinical finish showcased by the 22-year-old put into perspective why Villa were willing to shell out $28 million for the striker this summer.

Welcome to the Premier League, Wesley.