Top 10 Defenders of the Premier League season

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Defenders get no love.

Ask any defender and that’s what he’ll say. And if his teammates, manager, owner and, heck, even the fans are being honest, they’ll agree.

Fact is, there’s little glory being a defender. Goal line clearances are clearly just that but are not afforded even near the adulation given to actually scoring a goal. To a slightly lesser extent, the same applies for interceptions and key tackles in the defensive third. Noted but never lauded.

MORE: Latest Premier League reviews

So in this column we give some much-needed love to the big men who hold down the fort while the glamor boys are out poaching goals and dancing at corner flags. But before we do, let’s note a few guys who deserve recognition but didn’t get the nod: Cesar Azpilicueta, Dejan Lovren, Sylvain Distin, Steven Caulker and Laurent Koscielny. All five played key roles for their clubs and, with the exception of Koscielny (who was brilliant in 2012/13), each enjoyed the best season of his career.

But it takes a little bit extra to make ProSoccerTalk’s Top 10 Defenders of the 2013/14 Premier League season. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

source: Reuters10. Per Mertesacker (Arsenal)

With Thomas Vermaelen a shell of his former self, Mertesacker and Koscielny were left to forge a brilliant partnership that resulted in only 41 goals conceded. Mobility was always an issue for the big German but this year he looked lighter on his feet and was rarely left in the dust for pace. Highly intelligent, Mertesacker possesses brilliant organizational skills and leadership qualities that keep Arsenal’s back four in proper shape. Perhaps his best trait, however, is his perfectly timed lunging tackles that denied so many opponents a look on goal and rightfully earned the man who resembles Gandalf the Great a spot on the prestigious German 30-man World Cup squad.

9. Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)

Arguably the best center-back in the world, Kompany struggled at times this season. Maybe it was due to the time needed to adjust to Martin Demichelis or maybe it was the new manager but for much of the season Kompany seemed off. Missed tackles. Slip ups. Errant passes. In the end though, he remains an absolute beast of the back line and when City needed someone to step up, Kompany was there scoring the second goal of their title-clinching 2-0 win over West Ham.

source: AP8. Luke Shaw (Southampton)

Speaking of beasts, Luke Shaw is 6’1″ and 185 lbs of hulking mass with a ridiculous motor and the skills of an attacking midfielder. There’s a reason Manchester United is going to pay upwards of $45 million: Because at 18-years-old he’s a fully developed professional with a long and potentially very successful career ahead of him.

Commiserations, Southampton.

7. Gary Cahill (Chelsea)

A lot of pundits are sky-high on Cahill but press them as to why and they flounder. Cahill is a solid, no frills, dependable, center-back who can get forward and score goals. But he’s not Vincent Kompany. He’s not John Terry. And he’s definitely not, at least yet, world class.

source: Getty Images6. Curtis Davies (Hull City)

Davies flies under the radar when it comes to best center-backs in the Premier League. Without question Hull City’s most important player this season, Davies is the driving force in Steve Bruce’s back line. Strong enough to lead a back three and equally capable of organizing a back four, Davies is dominant in the air, has dialed-in concentration and is an exceptional tackler. At 29-years-old he’s getting up there in age but could be a sneaky good buy for a top club looking to add center-back depth this summer.

5. Leighton Baines (Everton)

Brilliant move by Roberto Martinez to hang onto Baines last summer. The best left-back in England, Baines provides skill, speed and goals down the left flank while remaining a stalwart defensively. Don’t be surprised if next year Bryan Oviedo’s return to health sees Baines move to holding midfielder a la one of the best full-backs in the world, Philip Lahm.

source: Getty Images4. Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea)

No one wants to play against Branislav Ivanovic. Defensively, he’s a nightmare. A brutal tackler, Ivanovic will stop at nothing to thwart his opponent. He’s dangerous going forward and equally strong at center-back as he is at right-back. Easily Chelsea’s most valuable defender, although one of his peers did enjoy a better season…

3. John Terry (Cheslea) 

After barely playing last year, most thought Terry was cooked as a player. But in comes Jose Mourinho and he decides he’s going to revive England’s Brave and boy did he ever. Terry was fantastic in defensive and an animal going forward making him a surefire member of Best XIs all around.

2. Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City)

Skillful, quick, calculating, tough-tackling, agile, fierce, intelligent. Zabaleta has it all and does it all every match for Manchester City. Their unsung hero by a mile.

source: Getty Images1. Seamus Coleman (Everton)

Every year since his $750,000 transfer from Sligo Rovers, Coleman has improved by leaps and bounds. Always eager to use his speed and skill going forward, this year Coleman hit pay dirt six times in the league. But more than that Coleman improved his defense, relentlessly pressuring opponents high up the pitch and refusing to get beat off the dribble. Once overshadowed by Baines, Coleman has provided a much needed balance to Everton’s pitch, making them the best full-back duo in the game.

FA Cup fourth round schedule, how to watch live, predictions

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The FA Cup always delivers shocks and plenty of Premier League clubs have tricky tasks facing them in the fourth round.

After Aston Villa, Newcastle, Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth were all knocked out by lower league opponents in round three, plus Everton, Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Brentford knocked out by fellow Premier League sides, there are only 11 top-flight teams left in the last 32.

[ LIVE: Follow FA Cup scores, updates ]

The fourth-round draw’s already been conducted and Arsenal will tangle with Manchester City in a tantalizing tie, while Brighton against Liverpool has the makings of a classic and Manchester United will be on upset alert against Reading and so too will West Ham as they face a tough trip to third-tier Derby County.

Read on for FA Cup stream info, fixtures, and predictions.


FA Cup live scores, schedule, dates, how to watch

Dates: Fourth round (January 27-30)
Times: Below
Online: Live updates via NBCSports.com
How to watch: ESPN+


FA Cup fourth round schedule

All games 10am ET unless otherwise stated

Friday
Man City vs Arsenal – 3pm ET

Saturday
Accrington Stanley vs Leeds United – 7:30am ET
Walsall vs Leicester City – 7:30am ET
Fulham vs Sunderland
Bristol City vs West Brom
Sheffield Wednesday vs Fleetwood Town
Blackburn Rovers vs Birmingham City
Luton Town vs Grimsby Town
Ipswich Town vs Burnley
Southampton vs Blackpool
Preston North End vs Tottenham Hotspur – 1pm ET
Manchester United vs Reading – 3pm ET

Sunday
Brighton vs Liverpool – 8:30am ET
Stoke City vs Stevenage – 9am ET
Wrexham vs Sheffield United – 11:30am ET

Monday
Derby County vs West Ham – 2:45pm ET


FA Cup fourth round predictions – By Joe Prince-Wright

Friday
Man City 2-1 Arsenal

Saturday
Accrington Stanley 1-3 Leeds United
Walsall 1-2 Leicester City
Fulham 1-2 Sunderland
Bristol City 1-2 West Brom
Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 Fleetwood Town
Blackburn Rovers 1-1 Birmingham City
Luton Town 3-1 Grimsby Town
Ipswich Town 1-3 Burnley
Southampton 2-0 Blackpool
Preston North End 1-4 Tottenham Hotspur
Manchester United 2-1 Reading

Sunday
Brighton 2-2 Liverpool
Stoke City 2-1 Stevenage
Wrexham 1-2 Sheffield United

Monday
Derby County 1-1 West Ham


FA Cup third round replays

Tuesday 

Swansea City 1-2 (AET) Bristol City
Forest Green Rovers 1-2 Birmingham City (original tie postponed due to waterlogged pitch)
Wigan 1-2 Luton
Wolves 0-1 Liverpool
West Brom 4-0 Chesterfield

Wednesday

Leeds United 5-2 Cardiff City

Tuesday, January 24

Accrington Stanley vs Boreham Wood


FA Cup third round results

Friday

Manchester United 3-1 Everton

Saturday

Preston North End 3-1 Huddersfield Town
Reading 2-0 Watford
Tottenham 1-0 Portsmouth
Gillingham 0-1 Leicester City
Forest Green Rovers vs Birmingham City — PPD
Crystal Palace 1-2 Southampton
Hull City 0-2 Fulham
Middlesbrough 1-5 Brighton
Fleetwood Town 2-1 QPR
Ipswich Town 4-1 Rotherham
Bournemouth 2-4 Burnley
Blackpool 4-1 Nottingham Forest
Chesterfield 3-3 West Brom
Millwall 0-2 Sheffield United
Boreham Wood 1-1 Accrington Stanley
Shrewsbury Town 1-2 Sunderland
Brentford 0-1 West Ham
Coventry City 3-4 Wrexham
Luton Town 1-1 Wigan
Grimsby Town 1-0 Burton Albion
Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 Newcastle
Liverpool 2-2 Wolves

Sunday

Bristol City 1-1 Swansea City
Derby County 3-0 Barnsley
Cardiff City 2-2 Leeds
Stockport 1-2 Walsall
Hartlepool 0-3 Stoke City
Norwich 0-1 Blackpool
Aston Villa 1-2 Stevenage
Man City 4-0 Chelsea

Monday

Oxford United 0-3 Arsenal


Premier League midseason grades

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We are at the midway point of the Premier League season, so now seems like a good time to dish out a grade for all 20 clubs based on their play so far.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

Which teams have struggled? Who has overachieved? What have been the biggest stories so far?

[ LATEST: Premier League table in full ]

Below we dish out a grade to every club with analysis on their 2022-23 campaign so far.


The strugglers

Southampton: F
Everton: F
West Ham: D-
Chelsea: D-
Leicester City: D-

Three of these five teams (Saints, Everton and Chelsea) have fired their manager and that says it all. Southampton’s transfer policy was risky but they have a chance of getting out of the relegation zone, while Everton look in a whole world of trouble with Frank Lampard fired and discontent rising among supporters. Chelsea are in a bit of mess and keep chucking money at it, with the top four already seeming out of reach under new boss Graham Potter. As for West Ham and Leicester, well, they’ve both underachieved massively and have shown glimpses of climbing up the table during the season, but there’s just an extra spark missing for both despite their talented squads.


The underachievers

Liverpool: D
Leeds: D
Wolves: D
Crystal Palace: C-
Bournemouth: C

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have massively underachieved this season and they’ve lacked energy and confidence from the very start. Can they rebound and battle for the top four? They’ve done it before but this will take one heck of a turnaround as they look lackluster in midfield and shaky in defense. Leeds and Wolves both have better squads than being in a relegation scrap but that’s what they’re in. Marsch has to make Leeds better at the back, while Julen Lopetegui has Wolves organized but needs goals. As for Crystal Palace, they’ve slightly underachieved but are doing okay in midtable under Patirck Vieira, while Bournemouth have spent most of the season (until recently) out of the relegation zone which is much better than what they expected.


The teams figuring it out

Nottingham Forest: B-
Aston Villa: B-
Tottenham: B
Manchester City: B+
Manchester United: B+

In the case of the two Manchester clubs, Erik ten Hag has got United playing with a structure and confidence and they are right in the top four battle. As for Manchester City, well, they have Erling Haaland which papers over a lot of cracks. Still, Pep Guardiola’s side are ominously sat just behind Arsenal in the title battle as they love to chase teams down. Tottenham have had a crazy season full of ups and downs but are still basically where they should be: battling for a top four finish. Aston Villa have figured it out with Unai Emery coming in and making them a solid unit which loves to counter. As for Forest, Steve Cooper has done a fine job and after making about 327 new signings last summer (the real number is slightly higher) the squad has gelled and they should stay up.


The big winners, so far…

Brentford: A
Fulham: A
Newcastle: A+
Brighton: A+
Arsenal: A+

There are some real surprise packages this season and the positions of Brighton and Fulham (sixth and seventh respectively) is a shock. Roberto De Zerbi replaced Potter and added attacking swagger to the Seagulls who are so much fun to watch, while Marco Silva has turned new boys Fulham into a very efficient team who are horrible to play against. Brentford slot between Brighton and Fulham in terms of style of play and Thomas Frank is once again working miracles with Ivan Toney leading the charge as the Bees have recorded several huge wins, beating Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool already. But the story of the season is down to two teams: Newcastle and Arsenal. The former have gone on a long unbeaten run and may not be in the title race but are in the top four hunt. What a job Eddie Howe has done and Newcastle are tough to play against and are adding key players all the time. As for Arsenal, what can we say about the Gunners? Mikel Arteta has developed an incredible squad full of talented youngsters who are all pulling in the same direction. Arsenal sit top of the table and have answered every big question asked of them so far. They 100 percent look like they can be title winners. Can they kick on in the second half of the season and finish off the job?


Manchester United vs Reading: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Manchester United looks to stay in the mix for a pair of domestic cups when it hosts old pal Paul Ince and Reading in the fourth round of the 2022 FA Cup on Saturday.

United scored a solid win at midweek to move within 90 minutes of the League Cup Final and of course also harbors hopes of winning the Europa League and, perhaps less so, the Premier League.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ] 

Reading sits 14th in the Championship, five points off the playoff places and fairly clear of the relegation mess.


Manchester United vs Reading, FA Cup fourth round: How to watch live, stream link

Kick off: 3pm ET, Saturday
TV Channel: ESPN+
Online: Updates via NBCSports.com


Key storylines & in-form players to watch 

Tom Ince, Paul’s son, is leading the club both in goals and assists, and sits among the leaders in pretty much everything else from tackles to completed dribbles.  Yakou Meite has also been a busy piece of what Reading has done well.

United’s stars are well-known, as Marcus Rashford continues to thrive at forward. Wout Weghorst picked up his first Man Utd goal at midweek and could be in line for more playing time while Anthony Martial recovers from injury.


Manchester United team news, injuries, lineup options

Manchester United won’t have Anthony Martial, Axel Tuanzebe, Diogo Dalot, Donny van de Beek, and Jadon Sancho, while Luke Shaw is a question mark with an illness.

Reading team news, injuries, lineup options

Paul Ince’s bid to upset United will not include Naby Sarr, Sam Hutchinson, and old foe Andy Carroll.

2024 Copa America to be played in USA

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The United States will host the 2024 Copa America, which will once again feature six guest nations as part of a new “strategic collaboration agreement” announced by CONMEBOL and CONCACAF on Friday.

[ MORE: Report: Christian Pulisic wanted by AC Milan ]

Copa America last came to the U.S., in the summer of 2016 for Copa America Centenario, the 100-year celebration of the South American championship.

Back in 2016, the USMNT and Mexico were not required to qualify for the tournament, but the CONCACAF giants will not be given an automatic bid to Copa America 2024. They will also be forced to qualify as one of six CONCACAF through the 2023-24 Nations League. Previously, the other four bids from CONCACAF were awarded via various regional tournaments and and qualifying playoffs.

[ MORE: USMNT falls to Serbia in 2023 opener ]

The CONMEBOL-CONCACAF partnership also extends to the women’s game, where the Gold Cup is being revamped.

2024 CONCACAF W[omen’s] Gold Cup will include eight CONCACAF women’s national teams and four CONMEBOL guests

For women’s national teams, CONCACAF has invited the top four CONMEBOL national teams to participate in the 2024 CONCACAF W Gold Cup. The inaugural edition of this 12-team tournament, which is a key part of CONCACAF’s new women’s national team ecosystem, will be played in the United States.

The two Concacaf teams that will participate in the 2024 Summer Olympics (United States and Jamaica or Canada) will qualify directly for the 2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup. The remaining six Concacaf teams will be determined through the 2023 Road to Concacaf W Gold Cup.


2024 Copa America: What does it mean for USMNT?

First things first, it means playing more high-level, competitive games between World Cups. The USMNT has faced the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and other South American nations in friendlies over the years, but as things stand their only competitive fixtures come against CONCACAF competition — the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying.

The timing of the tournament is beneficial for all national teams involved as well, at the halfway point to the 2026 World Cup — also set to be hosted in the United States (and Mexico and Canada) — just as EURO 2024 is the halfway marker for European nations. The 2023 Gold Cup is still on the schedule for this summer, with the final to be played at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.

Only time will tell if the combined Copa America will become the new norm in the Americas, but given what we know about the profitability of international soccer, there will certainly be a “cross your fingers and hope all goes well” vibe in 2024.

Follow @AndyEdMLS