Three festive gifts for each Premier League team this holiday season

2 Comments

Don’t supporters deserve to be loved especially well on the holidays?

While new players are the easiest answer to questions that plague Premier League clubs, they aren’t the only option to fix what ails sides across England.

[ MORE: PL managers react to Mourinho firing ]

Let’s hand out some gifts to the fine people of our PL world, from most to least needy.

Aston Villa

  1. Fluid attackers – While the sale of Christian Benteke hurt the side, even the big Belgian would’ve struggled given the lack of service and danger from the Villans.
  2. Better defenders – Yup. This, too. Allowing nearly two goals a game.
  3. Maturity for Jack Grealish – If his discipline closes the gap on his talent, things will look up at Villa Park.

Sunderland

  1. Breathing room – Sunderland has led for a mere 115 minutes this season, second-worst in the PL. Seventy-one of those minutes came against Newcastle.
  2. More home games – The Black Cats have picked up two-thirds of their points at the Stadium of Light.
  3. Lamine Kone – The Lorient defender is being linked with Sam Allardyce‘s side, and the Black Cats need better at the back.

Norwich City

  1. Better starts – The Canaries have only led in two of 16 Premier League matches, and have won both.
  2. Another clean sheet – Norwich is the only team in the PL with just one shutout this season.
  3. A penalty – Norwich is one of only four teams (Newcastle, Chelsea, Everton) to not have been awarded a PK this season.

Swansea City

  1. Better early play – Swans have allowed the first goal in 12 of 16 matches.
  2. Goals, period – They’ve also scored two or fewer goals in all 16 matches.
  3. Marcelo Bielsa – Rumors are that Roma might leap into the fray for Swans’ desired manager, and we’d like to see Bielsa in charge at the Liberty Stadium.

Chelsea

  1. Player heart – You can say what you want about pride and effort and blah blah blah, but there’s no way Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and company have been operating at full-bore.
  2. A center back – Kurt Zouma is nice and Gary Cahill is a great third option, but John Terry‘s been miserable and the Blues need someone better to pair with Zouma.
  3. A relentless striker – He’s not coming, but a high-pressure player like Jamie Vardy would work wonders for the Blues.
Jamie Vardy, Leicester City FC
Hopefully Leicester doesn’t sell, but Chelsea could use a player of his tenacity.

Newcastle United

  1. A prolonged FA Cup run – It would start with a win against Watford, and the Magpies’ fans deserve better than their recent Cup misery. And perhaps a tournament win could help change the overall mindset of the club.
  2. Mettle – The Magpies are brilliant when inspired, but rarely look inspired.
  3. Derby success – Losing to Sunderland consistently is bad enough. That the Black Cats have been terrible for close to the duration of the streak is even worse.

Bournemouth

  1. Miraculous recoveries – The Cherries are picking up points despite the lengthy absences of Callum Wilson, Max Gradel and Tyrone Mings amongst others.
  2. Stability in net – Artur Boruc isn’t a bad keeper, but he’s also not the type you’d like to count on for points.
  3. Organization and focus – Thirty of 31 goals conceded by Bournemputh have come inside their 18.

West Bromwich Albion

  1. An attacking mindset – Tony Pulis is a fine and disciplined manager, but watching the Baggies each week is a chore.
  2. The ball – West Brom’s possession stats are absolutely horrid. A counter-attacking mindset is fine, but not all the time. Woof.
  3. Precision – The Baggies have just one goal from outside the 18.

Southampton

  1. Hitting the target – Southampton have attempted the fourth-most shots in the Premier League, but carry the second-worst accuracy (40 percent).
  2. Jay Rodriguez – He’s so fun to watch, but so often hurt. Give the man some health.
  3. Goalkeeper health – With Fraser Forster out, Saints are now dealing with a toe injury to Maarten Stekelenburg.

Stoke City

  1. A breakout scoring match – The Potters haven’t posted a three-goal game.
  2. Halftime heroes – Stoke has been outscore 3-0 in between the 41st and 50th minutes this season.
  3. Excitement – Potters’ matches have featured a league-low 19 percent of matches with 3 or more total goals.

Everton

  1. Set piece goals – The Toffees have struck just twice off dead balls, tied with Newcastle for the worst in the league.
  2. Those shoes that help you jump higher – Everton’s allowed a league-worst eight headed goals.
  3. Close the store – Be nice for Everton fans to know they’ll be allowed to see out a season with John Stones, Romelu Lukaku and Seamus Coleman in the fold.

[ MORE: Diskerud responds to Wambach’s “foreigner” comments ]

Liverpool

  1. Focus – The Reds have committed the most defensive errors in the Premier League by far. Their 17 count for three more than No. 2 Arsenal.
  2. Help at the back — Jurgen Klopp could use a more commanding goalkeeper than Simon Mignolet.
  3. Marquinhos – The PSG center back could pair with Martin Skrtel to give the Reds an absolute wall at the back.

West Ham United

  1. Dmitri Payet – The French wizard is the key to Slaven Bilic‘s attack, but is set for a couple more months on the mend. We’d gift him back early Better yet, an end to the attackers’ injury plague – Diafra Sakho and Victor Moses are key to West Ham’s danger, but also out for a while.
  2. Discipline – The Hammers have four red cards, more than anyone else.
  3. Better luck – West Ham have been credited with 10 defensive errors, and a PL-worst 8 have gone into their goal.

Watford

  1. Better second-half starts – The Hornets have been outscored 9-4 from the 51st to 80th minute.
  2. Soap – Wash out Watford’s mouths: The Hornets have picked up the league’s most cards for chatter (tied with Everton and West Ham).
  3. Juan Iturbe – Rumors says the Roma winger could see a loan move to Watford, and that seems the sort of move that could make financial and football sense.

Crystal Palace

  1. Striker goals – Connor Wickham‘s hold-up play has been nice, but Palace could use goals from players other than Yannick Bolasie, Yohan Cabaye and their talented midfield.
  2. Ibuprofen – Palace has blocked more shots (82) than anyone in the league.
  3. A striker – See No. 1: Could Alan Pardew get a reunion with Loic Remy?
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - AUGUST 31: Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew signals as Loic Remy prepares to come on during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Fulham at St James' Park on August 31, 2013 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Tottenham Hotspur

  1. Discipline – Spurs are tied with four other clubs for the most cards in the Premier League (35).
  2. Saido Berahino – This isn’t just a gift for Spurs fans, it’s a gift for soccer. Let’s see this kid freed from the grasp of Pulis.
  3. Michy Batshuayi – The attacked is being linked with loads of teams, but we’d love to see him join Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son in attack.

Manchester United

  1. Better road defense – United has allowed 92 percent of its goals this season away from Old Trafford.
  2. Guts – United is winning a joint-worst 45 percent of its duels, and has blocked fewer shots than anyone in the PL (although they aren’t conceding a ton, either)
  3. Cristiano Ronaldo – Merry Christmas, here’s one of the best players in the world and he loves your club. It’s an expensive gift, but you’ll probably sell that many CR7 jerseys anyway. Anthony Martial, Memphis Depay and company are electric, but aren’t putting the ball across the line.

[ MORE: Premier League Power Rankings ]

Manchester City

  1. Forward depth – A healthy Wilfried Bony and Sergio Aguero will do the trick in the PL, but another dynamite finisher would serve City well as it surges forward in the UEFA Champions League.
  2. A home clean sheet – Doesn’t Joe Hart deserve better than seven-straight home matches without a ‘zero’ on his side.
  3. Keyed-in Yaya – When Toure wants to play, Toure dominates.

Arsenal

  1. Healing – From Danny Welbeck to Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin to Jack Wilshere, Arsene Wenger could use some sort of magic potion.
  2. Science – These injury issues are an annual winter occurrence for Wenger, so perhaps better planning would work, too.
  3. Striker depth – Too much, too often is requested of Olivier Giroud.

Leicester City

  1. More fuel – Leicester has yet to be blanked this season. Whatever the Foxes have been eating, more of that please.
  2. Pass accuracy – The Foxes’ 72 percent rate is the worst in PL.
  3. More good fortune – Like many, I love the Leicester story and am hoping they keep it up. The numbers say they’ve been plenty lucky — the Foxes are the worst PL team in the air — and have arguably the toughest remaining schedule of a team not competing in the UCL or Europa League.

Alex Morgan out for season with knee injury

Getty Images
Leave a comment

We knew Alex Morgan was hurt. You could see it, I could see it, we all could see it. Yet she insisted all throughout the 2019 Women’s World Cup, “I’m ok.”

Now we confirmation that she wasn’t ok.

Morgan announced she will miss the rest of the 2019 NWSL season for the Orlando Pride with a knee injury, confirming she’s been dealing with the problem since the World Cup. “I’m disappointed I won’t be able to compete with the Pride for the remainder of 2019 due to a knee injury I’ve been managing since the World Cup,” Morgan wrote on Instagram, “and that I can’t be there to help my teammates and my club have more success.”

The Pride are bottom of the NWSL table, with just four wins in 21 matches this season. Morgan has played in just six of those, four before the World Cup and two after, without scoring or assisting a single goal. Orlando won just one of the six games Morgan appeared in, the most recent one on August 21 against second-placed Chicago. Meanwhile, they were shut out in four of the six games she appeared in, with Morgan registering just one lone shot among the six appearances.

“I have already started physical therapy in LA and am eager to get back on the field doing what I love,” Morgan said without offering any other details on her injury.

The 30-year-old USWNT star scored five goals in their opening match of the 2019 Women’s World Cup against Thailand, assisting three more as the U.S. won 13-0. However, she was a consistent target for physical play in the ensuing match against Sweden and was seemingly injured in the 33rd minute, leading Jill Ellis to withdraw the striker at halftime. Morgan did not appear herself over the rest of the tournament, scoring just one more goal the rest of the way and at times looking unusually off the pace. Opposing teams copied Sweden’s strategy, targeting Morgan throughout the tournament with repeated kicks, fouls, and physical play.

“his year has had the highest of highs but along with that comes challenges and sometimes even falling short of my goals I set for myself in 2019,” Morgan wrote in her announcement.

UCL preview: Messi back for Barcelona v. Dortmund, Liverpool visits Napoli

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Champions League group stage is back. So is Lionel Messi.

Tuesday kicks off the 2019/20 Champions League in earnest, with a litany of powerhouse matchups dotting the landscape. Most notably, Barcelona’s five-time Ballon d’Or winner is in the squad for the trip to the Rhur valley to take on Borussia Dortmund, potentially set for his first appearance of the season after missing Barcelona’s first four matches of the season with a calf injury.

[ PST writers predict the CL group stage ]

Those two teams are both roaring back from disappointing league losses, and come into this match in good attacking form. Barcelona fell to Athletic Bilbao on the opening weekend of the La Liga season, but is unbeaten in their last three with 12 goals in those three games. Dortmund, meanwhile, fell to Union Berlin at the end of August but crushed third-tier Ergenie Cottbus in cup action before blowing out fellow Champions League participants Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 this past weekend. 19-year-old Jadon Sancho provided two assists in that most recent game and will get his first crack at the La Liga giants.

Defending champions Liverpool are on the road at Napoli, with the Italians having integrated Hirving “Chucky” Lozano into the squad. The Mexican international got his first start against Sampdoria over the weekend in a 2-0 win, playing 65 minutes. The Reds fell in this same fixture last season en route to the title, losing 1-0 at San Paolo Stadium in one of their worst performances of the season. This time around they are top of the Premier League through five matches – all wins – but will be without Divock Origi, Alisson, and Naby Keita through injury while Andy Robertson is a game-time decision.

[ Villa, West Ham meet in scoreless draw ]

Chelsea hosts Spanish side Valencia in an absolutely wide-open and loaded Group H that features four quality sides, meaning every game will be a significant challenge. The Blues’ defense has been quite poor so far this season, and will again be without Antonio Rudiger thanks to a groin problem picked up after just making his return over the weekend from knee surgery. Chelsea has never lost to Valencia in six European meetings, their joint-most games without losing against any European opponent.

On the other end of that brutal Group H, new-look Ajax hosts French side Lille. The visitors finished second in Ligue 1 last season and have three wins in their first five this campaign, proceeding without Nicolas Pepe after his sale to Arsenal this summer. Ajax has also lost highly valued young talent, with Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt having left for greener pastures, although they have thus maintained an unbeaten record this season, earning a berth in the group stage while proceeding through two qualifying stages.

Benfica hosts RB Leipzig in another brutal group, Group G that also features Zenit St. Petersburg and Lyon who match up in France. Leipzig leads the Bundesliga with an unbeaten first four matches, including a draw against defending champions Bayern Munich. Striker Timo Werner has a fabulous five goal haul through RB Leipzig’s first four league matches including a hat-trick against Borussia Monchengladbach. Benfica has also started its league campaign well with four wins in five, a solid sign after the loss of young star Joao Felix to Atletico Madrid.


Tuesday Champions League matches:

Inter v. Slavia Prague (12:55pm ET)
Lyon v. Zenit St. Petersburg

Ajax v. Lille (3:00pm ET)
Benfica v. RB Leipzig
Borussia Dortmund v. Barcelona
Chelsea v. Valencia
FC Salzburg v. Racing Genk
Napoli v. Liverpool

Pellegrini chastises Masuaku for red card against Villa

Leave a comment

Manuel Pellegrini said he was “very happy for the performance of the team” despite the 0-0 draw with Aston Villa that saw West Ham record just one single shot on target.

Still, he noted that he was less than pleased with the sending off of Arthur Masuaku, for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, the West Ham manager said the referee can be easily goaded into soft decisions against the away side by raucous fans. “It’s a typical sending off when you play away,” Pellegrini said in his post-match television interview. “With the pressure of the fans in every foul, of our players that had a yellow card – in this case Arthur Masuaku, Mark Noble, and another player in the first half, I don’t think this was a yellow card, but playing away it is very easy for the referee to send him off.”

Later, he noted that a discussion at halftime with Masuaku about his earlier booking was unsuccessful. “They [the home fans] try to do it with the pressure of the fans,” Pellegrini said in the post-match press conference. “They tried to do it with Mark Noble in the first-half, they try to get a second yellow. We [Masuaku] talked about it at half-time. We told him he must be careful.”

That didn’t pan out, as Masuaku was sent off for a second yellow card earned while fouling Ahmed Elmohamady who had just come onto the pitch moments earlier. The foul was deemed somewhat soft, but match commentator Martin Tyler pointed out – as Pellegrini seems to be indicating – that Masuaku’s mistake was giving the referee the opportunity to make the call for an otherwise needless foul.

Despite the one negative moment, Pellegrini was pleased with the team’s overall performance on the road.

“I prefer to talk about our team,” Pellegrini said when asked about the refereeing decisions. “I think we played a very good game. We had the personality to come here and try to win the game from the beginning, and the last action, the last play of the game we had a very clear chance to score. We played with 10 men exactly the same that we did with 11. We tried defending well, we tried to continue scoring a goal, so I am very happy for the performance of the team, for the personality of the team, and when you are playing away if you can’t win the game, don’t lose it.”

UEFA Champions League group stage predictions

Photo by VI Images via Getty Images
Leave a comment

To have our crew predict it, the UEFA Champions League group stage should prove to be fairly straight-forward.

[ MORE: UCL score predictions, Wk 1 ]

Our three consulted staffers at Pro Soccer Talk have predicted 18 teams for the 16 spots in the group stage, including a healthy three seeded spots for Premier League sides.

GROUP A

Joe Prince-Wright: PSG, Real Madrid, Galatasaray, Club Brugge
Nick Mendola: PSG, Real Madrid, Galatasaray, Club Brugge
Kyle Bonn: Real Madrid, PSG, Galatasaray, Club Brugge

Zinedine Zidane to bring the UCL magic touch back to Spain? One of our three think so, while JPW and Nick both figure Mbappe and Neymar will be too much for the group.

GROUP B

Joe Prince-Wright: Bayern Munich, Spurs, Olympiacos, Red Star
Nick Mendola: Bayern Munich, Spurs, Olympiacos, Red Star  
Kyle Bonn: Bayern Munich, Spurs, Red Star, Olympiacos

There’s a gulf in class between the top two and bottom two, but be careful with overlooking Olympiacos; The Greek club was very difficult to break down in qualifying.

GROUP C

Joe Prince-Wright: Man City, Atalanta, Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb
Nick Mendola: Man City, Atalanta, Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb
Kyle Bonn:  Man City, Atalanta, Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb

The only team in the world averaging more shots per game than Manchester City this early season is Atalanta. Colombian attackers Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel have combined for six of the side’s seven Serie A goals this season.

GROUP D

Joe Prince-Wright: Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Bayer Leverkusen, Lokomotiv Moscow
Nick Mendola: Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Lokomotiv Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen
Kyle Bonn: Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Lokomotiv Moscow

While it’s certainly more complex than Joao Felix against the previous Portuguese generation’s Joao Felix, Atletico Madrid will hope its young wizard has the goods to break down Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juve.

GROUP E

Joe Prince-Wright: Liverpool, Napoli, Red Bull Salzburg, Genk
Nick Mendola: Liverpool, Napoli, Red Bull Salzburg, Genk
Kyle Bonn: Liverpool, Napoli, Red Bull Salzburg, Genk

The order of this group isn’t as interesting as the performances, as American eyes will be watching how Salzburg manager Jesse Marsch manages to get on versus two of Europe’s best.

GROUP F

Joe Prince-Wright: Barcelona, Inter Milan, Borussia Dortmund, Slavia Prague
Nick Mendola: Barcelona, Inter Milan, Borussia Dortmund, Slavia Prague
Kyle Bonn: Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, Slavia Prague

Is Inter Milan’s renaissance for real? Nick and JPW thinks so, while Kyle Bonn thinks Lucien Favre’s BVB will keep humming past the Serie A giants.

GROUP G

Joe Prince-Wright: Lyon, RB Leipzig, Benfica, Zenit Saint-Petersburg
Nick Mendola: RB Leipzig, Lyon, Zenit Saint-Petersburg, Benfica
Kyle Bonn: Lyon, RB Leipzig, Benfica, Zenit Saint-Petersburg

Anything could happen here, and only Nick believes Timo Werner and RBL can outlast Memphis Depay, Moussa Dembele, and Lyon to win a seeded place in the knockout rounds.

GROUP H

Joe Prince-Wright: Chelsea, Ajax, Lille, Valencia
Nick Mendola: Chelsea, Valencia, Lille, Ajax
Kyle Bonn: Chelsea, Lille, Ajax, Valencia

Massive names with equal-sized questions. In other years, this would look like a group of death, but Lille earned its place via now-sold Nicolas Pepe and Ajax sold a good part of a golden academy generation to Barcelona, Juventus, and others. Chelsea, oddly enough, may be counting its blessings.