12 games to go: Taking stock of all 20 Premier League teams

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With just under a third of the 2015-16 Premier League season to go, things are beginning to take shape in the table.

[ MORE: PL schedule

The title contenders look settled, the relegation battlers have been decided and plenty of teams ensconced in midtable are pushing for a top 10 finish.

[ MORE: Latest PL standings ]

Below we take a look at each PL team and the story of their season so far, plus also look ahead to the final months of the season.


Arsenal

Best win: 3-0 win vs. Manchester United – Could be the big Leicester win but in terms of showcasing everything good about Arsenal, it was the opening 30 minutes of this game. Sublime.
Worst loss: 4-0 defeat at Southampton – Abysmal display for the Gunners and even though Wenger complained about no-calls it could’ve been more.
Star man: Mesut Ozil – Grabbing assists all over the place and is finally delivering consistently.
Toughest games remaining: Feb. 14 vs. Leicester City, Mar. 5 vs. Tottenham, May 7 at Man City
Preseason hopes: Another top four finish expected, but title hopes were in the air.
Reality: The Gunners now have momentum and are the favorites to win the title. If they don’t, huge disappointment.


Aston Villa

Best win: 2-0 vs. Norwich – Well, there’s only been three so far and the latest gave them a smidgen of hope they could survive.
Worst loss: 6-0 vs. Liverpool – Just a week after beating Norwich they were stuffed. They gave up in the second half. A new low.
Star man: Idrissa Gueye has been the best of a bad bunch.
Toughest games remaining: Mar. 5 at Man City, Mar. 12 vs. Tottenham, May 15 at Arsenal
Preseason hopes: With Tim Sherwood in charge there was talks of a midtable finish or top 10 even.
Reality: Remi Garde has a huge job on his hands to keep Villa up. Eight points off safety with 12 games to go, Villa very likely to drop out of PL for first-ever time.


Bournemouth

Best win: 2-1 win vs. Man United – The Cherries dominated and it was a real David vs. Goliath moment.
Worst loss: 5-1 vs. Tottenham – Back-to-back 5-1 defeats at Man City and then against Spurs showed their defensive frailties.
Star man: Charlie Daniels – Flying left back has been a rock all season and whips in a mean cross.
Toughest games remaining: Mar. 19 at Tottenham, Apr. 2 vs. Man City, May 15 at Man United
Preseason hopes: Everyone thought Eddie Howe‘s side would just avoid relegation and play some lovely stuff.
Reality: They have been fun to watch but big injuries to key players has hurt. Cherries hovering just above the bottom three. Relegation scrap is on.


Chelsea

Best win: 5-1 vs. Newcastle – Total demolition job of a poor Magpies side proved their resurgence is in full flow.
Worst loss: 3-0 at Man City – This was early in the season but it was when you realized Chelsea was way off the pace.
Star man: Diego Costa – A few lean spells this season but Costa has rebounded and found form to dig Chelsea out of trouble. Willian superb, but Costa key down the stretch.
Toughest games remaining: Mar. 13 at Liverpool, Apr. 16 vs. Man City, Apr. 30 vs. Tottenham
Preseason hopes: Well, everyone thought they’d win back-to-back titles but it has been a horrendous season.
Reality: Instead of title hopes, Jose Mourinho was fired and they were struggling above the drop zone. Guus Hiddink has steadied the ship. Top six isn’t out of the question.


Crystal Palace

Best win: 5-1 vs. Newcastle – A game where everything went right and the attacking talents clicked.
Worst loss: 2-1 vs. Bournemouth – Not the biggest defeat but it marked five losses on the spin. Rock bottom.
Star man: Scott Dann – The center back has chipped in with goals and looked as solid as ever.
Toughest games remaining: Mar. 12 at Man United, Mar. 19 vs. Leicester, Apr. 16 at Arsenal,
Preseason hopes: Hope was high that Alan Pardew‘s would qualify for the Europa League.
Reality: They have faded badly with only one point gained in 2016 so far but qualifying for Europe isn’t out of the question.


Everton

Best win: 3-1 vs. Chelsea – A Steven Naismith hat trick stunned the Blues and got Everton’s season going.
Worst loss: 3-0 vs. Man UnitedLouis Van Gaal‘s side dominated and the Toffees were in a sticky patch. There’s still concerns over their defense.
Star man: Romelu Lukaku – The big Belgian is banging in goals for fun this season.
Toughest games remaining: Mar. 19 vs. Arsenal, Apr. 2 at Man United, May 7 at Leicester
Preseason hopes: The Toffees were expected to push for the top six this season after Roberto Martinez’s men stumbled in 2014-15.
Reality: A top six finish is well and truly on despite some struggles at the back.


Leicester City

Best win: 3-1 at Man City – So many stunning wins this season for Claudio Ranieri‘s men but this truly rubber-stamped their surprising title credentials.
Worst loss: 2-1 at Arsenal – Only three to pick from but the last-gasp loss at Arsenal seemed to be a pivotal moment. Can they recover.
Star man: Jamie Vardy – He leads the PL in goals and scored in 11-straight games to set a new record. Fairytale stuff. Riyad Mahrez a close second.
Toughest games remaining: Feb. 14 at Arsenal, Apr. 30 at Man United, May 15 at Chelsea
Preseason hopes: Well, everyone thought they’d be relegated when Nigel Pearson left and Ranieri arrived.
Reality: They are two points clear at the top and are title contenders. Can they see it through? Even if they finish in the top four it will be a monumental achievement.


Liverpool

Best win: 4-1 at Man CityJurgen Klopp‘s side ripped apart Man City away from home and provided plenty of promise.
Worst loss: 3-0 at Watford – Totally outplayed and outfought by the Hornets, Klopp saw how much work he had to do to rebuild things.
Star man: Roberto Firmino – He has really come into his own in recent weeks and is adding goals to his lively runs.
Toughest games remaining: Mar. 2 vs. Man City, Mar. 19 at Southampton, Apr. 2 vs. Tottenham
Preseason hopes: Everyone through Brendan Rodgers‘ side could challenge for the top four. He was sacked a few months into the season.
Reality: Now that Klopp has everyone fit, a fifth-place finish will be the aim plus winning the League Cup and going far in the Europa League.


Manchester City

Best win: 3-0 win vs. Chelsea – They were flying at the start of the season and won five on the spin without conceding.
Worst loss: 4-1 at Tottenham – Awful defensive display as the absence of Vincent Kompany was crucial. A main theme of the season.
Star man: Sergio Aguero – Whenever City need him he pops up with vital goals. De Bruyne has been influential too before his injury.
Toughest games remaining: Mar. 2 at Liverpool, Mar. 20 vs. Man United, May 7 vs. Arsenal
Preseason hopes: Manuel Pellegrini was expected to lead City to the title after a big summer of spending, but now he will leave and Pep Guardiola arrives this summer.
Reality: They are six points off the top with 12 games to go and fading after two defeat to Spurs and Leicester. History shows they can make a late charge, plus they can still four trophies.


Manchester United

Best win: 3-1 vs. Liverpool – Even in a season of struggled, beating your bitter rivals is key. A huge win for the Red Devils.
Worst loss: 2-0 at Stoke – On Boxing Day all of United’s flaws were exposed as they were totally dominated. Rumors around Louis van Gaal’s future began.
Star manDavid De Gea – Despite starting the season on the bench due to a contract dispute he’s been sensational. Honorable mention for Anthony Martial too.
Toughest games remaining: Feb. 28 vs. Arsenal, Mar. 20 at Man City, Apr. 9 at Tottenham
Preseason hopes: Van Gaal was expected to lead United towards a top two finish after spending plenty of cash. Yeah, about that.
Reality: Six points off the top four with 12 games left, it looks like LVG will leave this summer and be replaced by Mourinho. Another poor season. 


Newcastle United

Best win: 2-0 vs. Liverpool – A solid display from Steve McClaren‘s side saw everything go to plan.
Worst loss: 5-1 at Chelsea – 3-0 down after 17 minutes, a shocking display from the Magpies which saw them drop into the bottom three.
Star man: Georginio Wijnaldum – Popped up with plenty of goals early in the season and remains Newcastle best hope of creating and scoring goals.
Toughest games remaining: Mar. 5 vs. Bournemouth, Mar. 20 vs. Sunderland, Apr. 2 at Norwich
Preseason hopes: Everyone thought Newcastle would be in a relegation battle and they are.
Reality: Well, they are in the bottom three and despite plenty of money being spent they still seem woeful at the back. Expect a straight-battle with Sunderland for survival.


Norwich City

Best win: 2-1 at Man United – Historic victory for the Canaries away at United and everyone thought they’d be after this.
Worst loss: 5-4 vs. Liverpool – Okay, so they put up a heck of a fight but the fact they lost it with the last kick of the game was a sucker punch.
Star man: Dieumerci Mbokani – A real handful up front. Hasn’t scored that many goals but always an outlet.
Toughest games remaining:
Preseason hopes: Alex Neil‘s side were expecting a relegation battle and they are right in the thick of one.
Reality: So, in and out of the bottom three all season, five defeats on the spin recently has seen them drop like a stone.


Southampton

Best win: 4-0 vs. Arsenal – Everything clicked for Ronald Koeman‘s side and they were worthy winners.
Worst loss: 3-0 vs. Everton – First home game of the season resulted in a big defeat. The team took so long to gel.
Star man: Virgil Van Dijk – A rock at the heart of Saints’ defense, doesn’t get the plaudits but a big reason they recovered so well.
Toughest games remaining: Feb. 27 vs. Chelsea, Mar. 19 vs. Liverpool, May 7 at Tottenham
Preseason hopes: Saints fans were hoping for another top eight finish and maybe to sneak into the top six.
Reality: They are sixth as things stand and Koeman is even talking about the top four. If they better last season’s seventh-place finish it would an even bigger achievement.


Stoke City

Best win: 2-0 vs. Man City – Total domination from Stoke as they showcased their talent with Bojan, Shaqiri and Arnautovic dominating.
Worst loss: 3-0 vs. Everton – They were outclassed throughout and the defeat was a third on the spin. Dark moment in the season.
Star manJack Butland – The young goalkeeper has been superb in his first full season in the PL. Pushing Joe Hart all the way for England.
Toughest games remaining: Apr. 9 at Liverpool, Apr. 16 vs. Tottenham, Apr. 23 at Man City
Preseason hopes: Mark Hughes‘ men were looking to break into the top seven and do well in the cups.
Reality: Despite a recent wobble and losing on PKs in the League Cup semis, Stoke is on track to challenge for a top six finish.


Sunderland

Best win: 2-1 vs. Man United – A real momentum boost for Big Sam’s boys as they totally deserved the win.
Worst loss: 6-2 at Everton – Okay, so they looked dangerous going forward but the realization that new defenders were needed was painfully evident.
Star man: Jermain Defoe – Despite his age he is still banging in goals and has been a real threat this season.
Toughest games remaining: Mar. 20 at Newcastle, Apr 2. vs. West Brom, Apr. 16 at Norwich
Preseason hopes: With Dick Advocaat in charge the Mackems were hoping to push into midtable. Nope. He lost his job as another relegation battle occurs.
Reality: Allardyce will have to use all his nous to drag the Black Cats out of this mess but they can do this. They look very solid of late.


Swansea City

Best win: 2-1 vs. Man United – A big early season win saw Garry Monk‘s men tipped for big things. We all know how that worked out…
Worst loss: 4-2 vs. Sunderland – A defensive nightmare against a relegation rival showed that the Swans were all over the place.
Star man: Ashley Williams – The captain has had to stand up big, especially in recent weeks, as Swansea’s attackers have faltered.
Toughest games remaining: Mar. 12 at Bournemouth, Mar. 19 vs. Aston Villa, Apr. 16 at Newcastle
Preseason hopes: Everybody thought the Swans would challenge for the top six under Monk but he was fired before Christmas.
Reality: Francesco Guidolin has a relegation battle on his hands. Swansea have shown signs of recovery but are right in the battle against the drop.


Tottenham Hotspur

Best win: 2-1 at Man City – This was a landmark moment for Spurs as they beat a title rival away from home and proved they’re the real deal.
Worst loss: 1-0 vs. Leicester – A game they should have won and lost late on after switching off at a set piece. Could be big down the stretch.
Star man: Dele Alli – The teenager has been a revelation and has knitted midfield and attack together superbly.
Toughest games remaining: Feb. 14 at Man City, Mar. 5 vs. Arsenal, Apr. 9 vs. Chelsea
Preseason hopes: Hopes of a top four finish was high and they looks to have been achieved already.
Reality: They are the real deal and could win the title. Just two points off the top with 12 games to go, Mauricio Pochettino‘s has Spurs’ fans dreaming.


Watford

Best win: 3-0 vs. Liverpool –  A marquee win where Watford got their tactics spot on. So many great victories for the Hornets this season.
Worst loss: 2-0 at Southampton – They just didn’t show up at St Mary’s and put in a dreadful display.
Star man: Odion Ighalo – The Nigerian striker has been a beast this season scoring 15 times. Troy Deeney a close second for the newly-promoted club.
Toughest games remaining: Mar. 12 at West Ham, Apr. 9 vs. Everton, May 7 at Liverpool
Preseason hopes: Everyone would have been expecting a relegation battle but Hornets fans have been pleasantly surprised.
Reality: They are comfortable in midtable and a top 10 finish is easily attainable for Quique Sanchez Flores’ well-drilled outfit.


West Bromwich Albion

Best win: 2-1 vs. Arsenal – Baggies rallied from behind to beat the Gunners in dramatic fashion. Great grit to dig deep.
Worst loss: 3-0 at Southampton – Failed to turn up and ever really threaten Saints. Pulis almost apologetic afterwards.
Star man: Jonny Evans – After arriving from Man United he’s improved West Brom’s defense markedly.
Toughest games remaining: Mar. 19 vs. Norwich, Apr. 2 at Sunderland, May 7 at Bournemouth
Preseason hopes: After surviving under Pulis last season the hope was to push into the top 10.
Reality: That hasn’t been achieved but the Baggies have picked up just enough wins. Inching towards the magic 40-point marker.


West Ham United

Best win: 3-0 at Liverpool – Early season away form was sensational and Slaven Bilic‘s side battered Liverpool.
Worst loss: 4-1 at Tottenham – Outclassed by their London rivals, that one will have hurt the fans.
Star man: Dimitri Payet – A classy playmaker who the fans adore, he’s at the heart of the Hammers’ top six push.
Toughest games remaining: Mar. 2 vs. Tottenham, Mar. 19 at Chelsea, Apr. 23 vs. Man United
Preseason hopes: With Bilic coming in, a top 10 finish was acceptable despite lots of money being spent.
Reality: A superb season so far for West Ham as they look likely to finish in the top six if they can keep everyone fit.


Valverde under pressure after dismal end to Barcelona’s season

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MADRID (AP) A couple of weeks ago, few questioned Ernesto Valverde as Barcelona coach.

The team had just won a second straight Spanish league title under his command and was close to making it to the Champions League final after beating Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of the semifinals.

The team was also through to the Copa del Rey final, where it would try to win an unprecedented fifth straight title in the competition.

Valverde seemed to be comfortably in control as the club moved closer to winning the treble.

Things quickly took a turn for the worse, though, and Valverde woke up on Sunday under added pressure and facing increased criticism.

Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday, a result that followed the disastrous elimination against Liverpool in the Champions League and added to the team’s woeful end to what had been a great season.

“A month ago we were celebrating the league title. Fifteen days ago we were thinking we had a chance at a treble,” Valverde said. “And we came up short in the decisive moments in both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.”

The disappointing ending brought out a wave of criticism of Valverde, who last year also finished the season under a cloud after another humiliating Champions League elimination – that time it squandered a big first-leg lead against Roma in the tournament’s quarterfinals.

The criticism seems more pronounced this time, with some fans and local media calling for a change at the helm.

It didn’t take long after Barcelona’s loss to Valencia in Seville for club President Josep Bartomeu to come out and defend the coach.

“Ernesto has a contract and he remains the team’s coach,” Bartomeu said. “This loss was not the coach’s fault. The team created a lot of scoring chances but the ball didn’t go in, and what counts is how many times you score.”

Bartomeu had already defended Valverde after the demoralizing 4-0 loss to Liverpool in the Champions League, saying the club was not considering a change in command for next season.

Valverde said he was not worried and felt supported by the club despite the disappointing ending.

“It’s a bad feeling, we won’t deny it, but we have to stay strong,” he said. “What we want as coaches is to have a chance to come back. It’s tough to lose, it means something went wrong. We have to take the responsibility for it.”

Even if Valverde stays as expected, it doesn’t mean there won’t be changes for Barcelona.

Several players played below expectations this season, especially former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, who was regularly jeered by fans and whose place with the club remains uncertain.

Bartomeu will likely have to go shopping in the offseason to try to improve the supporting cast for Lionel Messi, who had a fantastic year but wasn’t able to save the season by himself. When Messi looked ordinary, no one was able to take over his role as protagonist, and it proved costly in the decisive moments.

Young midfielder Frenkie de Jong is joining from Ajax and he should significantly boost the midfield, but Barcelona will definitely need to add to its attack, as Luis Suarez was the only true striker who performed consistently well. He couldn’t play in the Copa final after undergoing knee surgery and his absence was felt as the team struggled to capitalize on its scoring chances.

Veteran Gerard Pique is set to return for another season in defense, but there are still doubts about the fitness of Samuel Umtiti, who missed several matches this season because of injuries.

“We’ve been thinking about next season for a while, but it’s not the time to discuss the future,” Bartomeu said. “We ended with the Spanish league title, it was important. We couldn’t win the Copa, but we’ll just move on.”

Suarez defends surgery decision after Barca lose Copa del Rey final

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Luis Suarez has defended himself from criticism for undergoing knee surgery that prevented him from playing for Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final.

The Uruguayan released a statement Sunday saying he had no option despite the timing of the final, which Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia on Saturday.

Suarez said he had to undergo surgery “against my will” after rupturing his meniscus against Liverpool in the Champions League semifinals.

He said the surgery earlier this month had nothing to do with a cartilage issue that he had been nursing since the beginning of the season.

Barcelona won the Spanish league but finished the season on a low after being eliminated by Liverpool in the Champions League and losing the Copa final to Valencia.

Suarez scored 25 goals in 49 matches this season, second only to Lionel Messi on the scoring charts for Barcelona.

U-20 WC roundup: Mexico hammered by Japan; Italy top Ecuador

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action at the U-20 World Cup in Poland…

[ MORE: USWNT wins final match before World Cup (video) ]

Mexico 0-3 Japan

Mexico’s heavy defeat at the hands of Japan means El Tri‘s stars of tomorrow, who have zero points from their first two games, cannot finish top-two in Group B and can only advance to the knockout rounds as one of four third-place teams.

Taisei Miyashiro (21st and 77th minutes) and Kyosuke Tagawa (52nd) bagged the goals on Sunday, as Japan picked up its first victory and set up an all-important finale with Italy to decide who finishes top of the group on Wednesday.

Ecuador 0-1 Italy

Andrea Pinamonti scored the only goal in Italy’s 1-0 victory over 10-man Ecuador to reach the six-point mark and guarantee themselves a top-two finish and a place in the round of 16.

Elsewhere in the U-20 World Cup

Senegal 2-0 Colombia [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
Poland 5-0 Tahiti [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Monday’s U-20 World Cup schedule

Honduras v. Uruguay — 12 p.m. ET
Qatar v. Ukraine — 12 p.m. ET
USA v. Nigeria — 2:30 p.m. ET
Norway v. New Zealand — 2:30 p.m. ET

Serie A: Atalanta, Inter snatch UCL places on wild final day

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s final-day action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Chelsea, Real Madrid remain $38 million apart on Eden Hazard deal ]

Sampdoria (9th) 2-0 Juventus (1st)

With their eighth straight scudetto long since clinched, Juve slumped their way to the season’s finish line without a win in their final five games (three draws), including Sunday’s 2-0 loss away to Sampdoria. It was 0-0 for 83 minute, until Gregoire Defrel (84th) and Gianluca Caprari (91st) bagged late goals for the victory.

Atalanta (3rd) 3-1 Sassuolo (11th)

Atalanta completed their fairytale season and finished third in a hugely dramatic, chaotic way befitting their rapid rise to Champions League relevance. They finished 17th and avoided relegation by three points in 2015.

First, they fell behind when Domenico Berardi scored in the 19th minute. They were level by the 35 minute, thanks to Duvan Zapata’s equalizer. Then, things got weird.

Berardi was sent off during a massive skirmish between the two sides while leaving the field for halftime. With the score 1-1, and both Inter Milan and AC Milan ahead after 51 minutes, Atalanta were headed for a fifth-place finish.

Alejandro Gomez put Atalanta ahead three minutes later, though, and Mario Pasalic doubled the advantage in the 65th.

Inter Milan (4th) 2-1 Empoli (18th – relegated)

At that 51-minute mark, Keita Balde’s opening goal put Inter ahead of Empoli, but the visitors equalized in the 76th, briefly dropping them to fifth.

That lasted all of five minutes, as Radja Nainggolan put Luciano Spaletti’s side back in front, where they would finish the season. The top-four finished the day exactly as it began — Atalanta in 3rd and Inter Milan in 4th, each on 69 points.

SPAL (13th) 2-3 AC Milan (5th)

For those five glorious minutes, AC Milan were headed back to the Champions League for the first time since 2014, and were set to do so at the expense of their local rivals.

Finishing fourth, but behind Inter, would have been fine, but finishing fourth and ahead of Inter would have been a dreamland outcome. Alas, it’s a fifth-place finish on 68 points and another season in the Europa League for the Rossoneri.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Bologna (10th) 3-2 Napoli (2nd – Saturday)
Frosinone (19th – relegated) 0-0 Chievo (20th – relegated – Saturday)
Roma (6th) 2-1 Parma (14th)
Torino (7th) 3-1 Lazio (8th)
Cagliari (15th) 1-2 Udinese (12th)
Fiorentina (16th) 0-0 Genoa (17th)