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.

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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.

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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.


Hyndman, Hamid seal permanent MLS deals

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Two players who have featured for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the past signed permanent MLS deals on Monday, after spending the all or parts of the 2019 MLS season on loan in the league.

The question is, should we be disappointed? It’s two USMNT-eligible players in their prime who are leaving Europe for regular playing time? Will that playing time get them back in the USMNT picture? Or were their old club teams simply the problem before?

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It was a return for Bill Hamid, who was a D.C. United homegrown player and arguably the first player on the team sheet between 2009-2017. Hamid actually returned from Europe in 2018 and spent all of the last year and a half on loan from FC Midtjylland in Denmark.

Hyndman on the other hand signed a permanent deal with Atlanta United, after the former MLS Cup champions signed the 23-year-old midfielder on a loan deal from Bournemouth in the Premier League. It was Hyndman’s fourth club in four years – including three loan moves – and perhaps Atlanta is a place he can put down roots and stay for the long term.

Per both D.C. United and Atlanta United, both players signed multi-year deals. D.C. United reportedly even paid a transfer fee for Hamid.

Both players are solid to good players in MLS, and as Americans, they add quality and don’t cost a team an international spot. But for the U.S. Men’s National Team, it’s unclear how this could affect the pair.

On one hand, USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter has shown a preference to certain players he had in the 2019 January camp, including guys like Nick Lima, Paul Arriola and Christian Roldan, even if performances don’t necessarily merit them playing each match. On the other hand, as someone who has played in Germany, and England, Berhalter surely understands the benefits of challenging yourself every few years to play and train at a higher level. It doesn’t have to be Jurgen Klinsmann levels, where every single year they have to step it up, but finding a new way to freshen things up in a tough environment can have positive benefits for everyone, assuming there is playing time.

For Hyndman, who moved to Fulham’s academy in 2011 at the age of 15, it marks the end of seven years in Europe trying to break in. He had decent half-season spells with Hibernian and Rangers in the Scottish Premier Division, but one can argue that Atlanta United is itself on a higher level of play. That being said, Hyndman has clearly decided that regular gametime is best for his development as a player than relocating to the Netherlands, Italy or Germany to play. He wasn’t likely to get any at Bournemouth, even with their current Premier League struggles.

In Hamid’s case, he took a chance on Europe with FC Midtjylland. However, pretty quickly he realized that it wasn’t the right situation for him and within six months, he was back on D.C. United on loan for the next year and a half.

In both cases, there may have been options to continue their European adventures. Whether it was in the Championship or another “mid-major” European league, in the past, two players entering their primes might have tried to stay in Europe a little longer. But the lure of MLS, with a decent salary, less competition for places and the opportunity to play at home in front of family is a strong one, and the national team will have to adjust with it.

 

Would Saul make sense at Man United?

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As Manchester United prepares its roster construction for the future, one player that’s reportedly on the shortlist is Atletico Madrid central midfielder Saul Niguez.

Although originally from Elche, in southeast Spain, Saul has been on the books of Atletico Madrid since 2008 (other than a season on loan with Rayo Vallecano), making his first team debut in 2012 and growing from a scrawny midfielder into an international-calibre box-to-box star for both club and country. Per Diario AS, Man United has been interested in signing Saul before, and now it’s been revived. The report states, “The interest from Manchester is very real, and strong.”

[READ: Arsenal comes back to beat West Ham]

So, what kind of a player is Saul?

As mentioned before, he’s a sturdy, powerful box-to-box midfielder who can win headers defensively and knows how to play well in a Diego “Cholo” Simeone system. At the same time, he’s certainly not afraid to make a late run into the box. Last season he tied a career high with four goals in La Liga and also scored in the UEFA Champions League.

At 25-years old, he’s a hardened veteran player. But is he what Man United needs?

If you look at the current squad at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s disposal, he’s got quite a few No. 8’s, right? There’s Paul Pogba, Andreas Pereira, and Fred. You can argue Scott McTominay has at times played like an 8, as has Jesse Lingard on occasion. One might argue that what Man United really needs is a better No. 6, someone who can be a destroyer and cover a lot of ground, freeing up that side of the game so Pogba could feel more comfortable attacking.

If Man United were to sign Saul in January – or next summer – we could potentially see him line up in a midfield three, though he’d be center right with Pogba to his left. Behind the pair would be McTominay to clean up the messes.

On paper, it’s a decent midfield for sure, but it’s just one step on Man United’s path towards becoming a team that can challenge for the Premier League and Champions League.

Of course, this is all theoretical. Saul carries a $166 million transfer release clause, and for the player he is, considering he doesn’t score many goals and affects the game in little ways, it’s a lot to spend for a guy who isn’t a guarantee to improve his team enough to make it back to the Champions League.

But if Man United was able to negotiate a better transfer fee for Niguez, they could do worse than a talented midfielder from Atletico Madrid. The question then will be – is Saul a system player (only successful under Simeone), or can he find success in the Premier League too?

USWNT’s Rapinoe named SI Sportswoman of the Year

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In 2019, Megan Rapinoe won a World Cup title, Golden Ball, Golden Boot, FIFA World Cup MVP, and the Ballon d’Or. Now, she can add her name to another distinguished list.

Sports Illustrated on Monday revealed that Rapinoe had been named SI’s 2019 Sportsperson of the Year. She’s the first individual soccer player from any gender to win the award, and she follows the 1999 U.S. Women’s National Team as the second USWNT-related athlete to garner the award.

[READ: Rapinoe wins 2019 Ballon d’Or]

Other notable winners of this award are Serena Williams, LeBron James, the Golden State Warriors, Michael Jordan, and Muhammad Ali.

“Even in a year with many great candidates, choosing Megan as the Sportsperson of the Year was an easy decision,” Steve Cannella, co-editor-in-chief of Sports Illustrated said in a statement released by the magazine. “She is a force of nature on and off the field, a trailblazing soccer player who also proves every day how large and loud a voice a socially conscious athlete can have in 2019.”

Rapinoe has had about as good of a year as a player can have, and she did it under enormous pressure. She withstood verbal and online taunts from the U.S. president for her noted opposition against his political decisions, as well as dealt with injuries during the tournament. Even if she wasn’t always at her best on the field, she found a way to score key goals at important moments.

Every Women’s World Cup seems to raise the profile of the USWNT and soccer in this country, but beyond her work on the field, Rapinoe’s hair, media savvy and ultimately, her performance won over any critic she could have. What she’s done for soccer in this country is immeasurable, and hopefully there are people that have a desire to keep watching the beautiful game after the World Cup, thanks in some part to Rapinoe.

Rapinoe will grace the cover of Sports Illustrated for the Dec. 16 issue.

Ljungberg on Pepe: He ‘showed his quality’

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Arsene Wenger used to say that players needed around six months once they came to the Premier League to get adjusted to both living in England and getting acclimated to the pace and physicality of the league.

For Nicolas Pepe, it was advice well heeded.

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Offensively, Pepe was outstanding as he scored a goal and an assist in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over West Ham. At the same time, Pepe worked hard on the defensive end, making life difficult for West Ham left back Aaron Cresswell and anyone down West Ham’s right flank.

On Monday, Pepe showed that he was worth his $87 million transfer fee, and he only needs a yard of space to create something magical.

“People always ask me about Nico and I try to explain,” Ljungberg after the game. “He comes from the French league, he comes to the Premier League – in my opinion the best league in the world – and it’s a lot faster and a lot harder. He needs to adapt. People put pressure on him but that’s not so easy, and I thought what he did today was he worked really hard offensively and defensively and showed his quality.

“I’m so pleased for him because at the same time he was a big, big buy for the club and then comes pressure with that as well. He will fall asleep with a smile tonight.”

In the 66th minute, Pepe found himself isolated on the wing with just Cresswell to beat. After cutting inside, Pepe curled home a beauty which ended up being the game-winning-goal. It was just his second Premier League goal of the season and his first from open play. Perhaps now after five months of bedding in at Arsenal, Pepe is ready to shine.

There’s no doubt that with Arsenal’s defensive issues, they need their attacking stars to score in bunches from here on out. If Pepe can finish the season with ten goals and ten assists, it will be a wild success, and set him up well for the next season.