Midseason Reports: Sunderland, Swansea, Spurs, West Brom and West Ham

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

Today it’s time to relay our verdict on the final five clubs: Sunderland, Swansea City, Tottenham, West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United. 

Let’s get stuck in. 

SUNDERLAND

– Best moment: The 1-0 victory over Manchester City on November 10th. The win not only handed the Black Cats their second league victory of the season but it also served to boost their survival hopes and justify the approach of new manager, Gus Poyet.

– Worst moment: The 0-3  loss to West Bromwich Albion prompted some ridiculous sign-language antics by Paulo Di Canio to the Sunderland supporters, who had seen enough of his side’s poor form. Two days later, the Italian manager was sacked.

– Top player: Ki Sung-Yueng. Installed as the center piece in Gus Poyet’s lineup, the Swansea City loanee has regained the strong form he displayed at Celtic, scoring crucial match-winning goals against Chelsea in the League Cup and Everton in the league.

– Manager: Poyet has done an admirable job straightening out the squad following the destruction imparted by Di Canio. The Black Cats are playing an improved form of football but the true test is whether the Uruguayan gaffer can take the league’s last placed team out of the relegation zone.

– Grade: C –

Yes, Sunderland is in last place but they’ve had to undergo a major transformation since Di Canio’s sacking. Poyet and the players have handled it admirably, defeated some quality opponents (City, Everton) and if calls/injuries start going their way, could be the next club to make The Great Escape.

source: Getty ImagesSWANSEA CITY

– Best moment: Humping Newcastle 3-0 on December 3rd.

– Worst moment: Losing to arch-rival Cardiff City 0-1 in the first South Wales derby to be played in the Premier League.

– Top player: Jonathan De Guzman. The Canadian-born, Dutch international is the fulcrum for this Swansea side. Tenacious in defense, with a great motor and the creative skills to open channels for strikers, De Guzman is one of the most underrated center midfielders in the league.

– Manager: Michael Laudrup. One of last season’s best managers, this season has been a poor one for Laudrup. The Europa League is taking a toll but Laudrup’s squad plays with little emotion and enthusiasm, which doesn’t seem to bother the Danish manager.

– Grade: C –

For a squad noted to be one of the best pure footballing sides in the Premier League, Swansea have been vanilla at best this season. The Europe League is leaving its mark so much that, if the Swans remain in that tournament, don’t be surprised if they slip to the bottom of the Premier League table.

source: Getty ImagesTOTTENHAM 

– Best moment: Firing Andre Villas-Boas. On the pitch, however, the best moment was the 2-1 away win over Manchester United.

– Worst moment: The 0-6 away pasting by Manchester City was bad but the 0-5 home loss to Liverpool was downright embarrassing.

– Top player: Jan Vertonghen. The Belgian defender has endured an injury riddled last few weeks but in the 14 matches he did play, he was sensational. Too often deployed as a left-back to cover for other injuries, Vertonghen accepted the assignment without complaint and still made himself a nuisance to opposition. A tough, physical defender on the ball, Vertonghen is one of the best in the world at bombing forward.

– Manager: Tim Sherwood. Seems like a good bloke, although it’s questionable how long Daniel Levy will be content without a big-name manager. Sherwood came to Spurs’ rescue, relieving the club from the over-thinking Villas-Boas and instilling the players with a new found sense of freedom.

– Grade: C+

It’s never easy to lose your best player (Gareth Bale) and bring in a whole litter of superstars. Gelling could take the entire season but Sherwood’s easy going demeanor is the best way to ensure success.

source: Getty ImagesWEST BROMWICH ALBION

– Best moment: The 2-1 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford that announced Saido Berahino to the world.

– Worst moment: The 0-1 loss to Cardiff City and the subsequent sacking of manager Steve Clarke. Never should’ve happened.

– Top player: Stephane Sessegnon. It was a major coup for the Baggies to snag Sessegnon from Sunderland and the Benin international is the creative engine that drives West Brom.

– Manager: Keith Downing. He’s done a decent job since Clarke’s unfortunate axing but he’s simply not a top-tier manager.

– Grade: C

When things are clicking, West Brom can be a very tricky side to play, as Arsenal, Everton and United have all found out. Sacking Clarke was the wrong move and, at just four points above the drop, it’s time for chairman Jeremy Peace to hire a permanent manager.

UPDATE 3:00pm ET: West Brom have hired Pepe Mel as their new head coach (Peace must’ve read the column).

source:  WEST HAM UNITED

– Best moment: The 3-0 drubbing of Tottenham at White Hart Lane.

– Worst moment: The 0-1 loss to Crystal Palace was rather dismal.

– Top player: Ravel Morrison. The former Manchester United man has come into his own at Upton Park, driving the midfield with his barreling runs and ability to finish off the dribble.

– Manager: It’s been a horrible season for Big Sam Allardyce and, despite the backing by West Ham’s owners, it feels only a matter of time before he’s sacked.

– Grade: D

But for the injuries, the grade would be an F. West Ham is too big of a club to be playing such poor, leaderless football. Deservedly sit second from bottom, three points adrift from safety. Will take a special effort for this club to stay in the top flight.

Kane scores early and late, England narrowly top Tunisia

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England’s 2018 World Cup debut began brilliantly, then appeared headed for a disappointingly familiar outcome, but was ultimately saved by Harry Kane who scored both goals in the Three Lions’ 2-1 victory over Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday.

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England came sprinting out of the starting blocks — so quickly they nearly took flight — and taking an early lead through Harry Kane in the 11th minute (WATCH HERE). John Stones‘ header was spectacularly saved by Mouez Hassen, but Kane was in the right place at the right time and swept home the rebound for his first World Cup goal (on his World Cup debut).

The opening half-hour was all England, with the likes of Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling cutting through the Tunisian midfield and defense with very little resistance and creating a half-dozen golden scoring chances. Unfortunately for Gareth Southgate‘s side, they couldn’t capitalize, and they were made to pay for it.

Kyle Walker caught Fakhreddine Ben Youssef with a raised arm as an innocuous cross came into the box, prompting referee Wilmar Roldan to blow his whistle and point to the penalty spot immediately. Ferjani Sassi stepped up and converted, just out of reach of Jordan Pickford, who perhaps got a fingertip on the ball (WATCH HERE), to make it 1-1 and negate an otherwise dominant first-half performance by England. It would be Tunisia’s only shot on goal for the game.

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England’s best chance to re-establish a lead came during a six-yard-box scramble just seconds before halftime. Alli’s header hit the crossbar and Stones badly scuffed — nearly whiffed — on the follow-up. Kane was dragged to the ground during the rest of the commotion, to no interest of Roldan.

It took far longer than anyone back home in England would have liked, but Kane grabbed the winner in the 91st minute, heading home from acres of space at the back post. Jordan Henderson got the first crack at heading the corner kick, but it was blocked and bound high into the air. Somehow, some way, Kane was unmarked and snuck his redirect just inside the post.

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Up next for England is a meeting with Panama on Sunday, a day after Tunisia take on Belgium, who thrashed the Panamanians, 3-0, on Monday.

VIDEO: Tunisia equalizes on controversial penalty kick

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England centerback Kyle Walker put his arm up to halt the forward progress of Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. Unfortunately for Walker, Ben Youssef was in the box and Walker’s elbow caught Ben Youssef’s face.

Referee Wilmar Roldan quickly whistled for a penalty kick and despite the protests from a half-dozen of England players and a check from the VAR, the called stood. Ferjani Sassi’stepped up to the spot and found the lower-left corner, just barely beating Jordan Pickford to tie the game in the 35th minute.

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How will England respond?

VIDEO: Captain Kane puts England on the board early

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It may be the easiest goal-scoring opportunity Harry Kane‘s ever had in an international competition, and he finished it as easy as you’d like.

Kane side-footed home after Tunisia goalkeeper Mouez Hassen made a terrific save on John Stone’s header off a corner, but the save was directed right into a wide-open Kane who was standing ready inside the six yard box. The 11th minute goal will surely settle some of the Three Lions’ nerves as they open their World Cup bid in Russia.

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After slow start, Belgium takes care of business against feisty Panama

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All it took was one goal to bring Belgium to life.

Following a frustrating first 45 minutes, in which Belgium put a pair of shots into the side netting and forced saves from Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, Dries Mertens 47th minute goal opened the floodgates, as Belgium went on to defeat Panama, 3-0, Monday afternoon in Sochi.

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But Panama never made it easy for the Belgians. From the opening whistle the CONCACAF nation showed its incredible spirit, chasing down Belgium all across the field and making life incredibly difficult for Belgium attackers Romelu Lukaku, Mertens and Eden Hazard. Hazard was hacked down all over the field, and while he did earn fouls and a few yellow cards were issued to Panamanian players, it was enough to get in Hazard’s head.

Two minutes into the second half, everything changed. A wonderstrike from Mertens opened the game, and forced Panama to attack and try and tie the match, which gave Hazard, de Bruyne and Lukaku more space to operate.

In the heat and humidity of the Sochi summer, Panama’s veteran defense began to tire, allowing de Bruyne the space to deliver a terrific assist to Lukaku in the box, putting Belgium up 2-0 in the 69th minute.

 

Six minutes later, Lukaku was put through on the break, chipping over Penedo to confirm the victory.

With the win, Belgium moves to the top of Group G. Up next for Belgium is Tunisia on Saturday, while Panama takes on England on Sunday.