Premier League Playback: Ranking early season expectancy for each team

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RANKING EARLY SEASON OPTIMISM LEVELS

Slow your roll.

With just two games gone for each team in the 2016-17 Premier League season, hasty conclusions are already being made about how each will fare this season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Many fans are despairing, some are over the moon and others are just sitting back with their arms folded still waiting to be impressed enough to comment.

Below is a look at the general set of emotions being felt at each club right now as expectation levels are being set after the opening two weeks of the season.

[ STREAM: Every PL game via NBC Sports ] 

First up, it’s time to say “yo, curb your enthusiasm” to these guys…

The clubs feeling… Sky-high

Manchester UnitedWith Pogba shining on his debut, two wins under their belt and Zlatan scoring three times, it is all looking good for Mourinho’s men. The fans are loving it but they’ve only played Bournemouth and Southampton so far. So, steady on, United fans.
Hull City – Well, who can blame fans of the Tigers? Two wins from two after beating Swansea and they have just 13 fit senior players to pick from. Remarkable start from caretaker manager Mike Phelan. Now, all they need to do is sign a few more players.
Middlesbrough – Another newly promoted team who has had a great start to life in the PL. ‘Boro beat north east rivals Sunderland away from home and Aitor Karanka‘s side have four points on the board and look very tough to break down.
Burnley – Oh yeah, another one of the new boys has a grin like a Cheshire cat. After beating Liverpool at home on Saturday, Sean Dyche‘s side showed they can dig in and defend and with Vokes and Gray up top they have players who can finish the limited chances they created. Strong start for the Clarets.

Quietly optimistic 

Chelsea Antonio Conte is basically using the same squad as last season with N'Golo Kante replacing Cesc Fabregas and Michy Batshuayi coming off the bench for late heroics. They’ve won both games 2-1 with Diego Costa scoring late on to increase the feel-good factor but Conte knows there’s serious work to be done. Chelsea look much more solid than last season, which isn’t difficult…
Manchester City – Pep Guardiola has won two from two as City’s boss and you get the sense his side has yet to get out of second gear. Their 4-1 win at Stoke showed things are coming together and once they get Claudio Bravo in, plus Ilkay Gundogan and Vincent Kompany back fit, this will be a fine team. City’s fans are trying not to get ahead of themselves but already have this song for Pep.
Liverpool – Ah, the life of a Liverpool fan. Last week they beat Arsenal and everyone was tipping them to be a dark horse for the PL title. This week they lose to Burnley. Klopp’s side have to improve defensively but as we expected they are very good going forward. They’ll bounce back.
Everton Ronald Koeman has gone about his business very quietly this summer and although they lost John Stones, the Toffees have made some savvy buys. Yannick Bolasie, Idrissa Gueye, Ashley Williams and Maarten Stekelenburg have improved their team, plus Romelu Lukaku is staying for now and they have four points on the board. Not bad at all RoKo.

Feeling “meh”

Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs snatched a 1-1 draw away at Everton late on and a late win at home against Crystal Palace 1-0. Mauricio Pochettino‘s men are grinding out results. Harry Kane and Dele Alli have yet to get going but remember, Mousa Dembele will return from his ban soon and the UEFA Champions League group stage is approaching fast. That said, Spurs fans have yet to reach the intense optimism levels of last season. Let’s give it a few weeks and check back.
Watford – A decent draw away at Southampton on the opening day was followed by a late collapse at home to Chelsea. Not disastrous for the Hornets but you get the sense fans were hoping to see a little more from new manager Walter Mazzarri. Very much a case of the jury still being out.
Leicester City – One point on the board and they looked good value for it against Arsenal at home. Claudio Ranieri‘s side did not look solid at Hull in their shock opening day defeat but that improved against Arsenal. There’s still a nagging sense around the KP that the Foxes may finish midtable at best given their upcoming UCL exploits.
West Ham – Giving up a late winner to Chelsea hurt in their opener but a late win against Bournemouth at their new London Stadium home sort of made up for that. They’ve missed Dimitri Payet, Andre Aywe, Manuel Lanzini and Andy Carroll which has put a dampener on things. Hammers fans are focused mostly on their new stadium and getting into the Europa League right now.
Swansea City – An away win at Burnley on the opening day was deserved and they huffed and puffed at home against Hull but lost to two late strikes. Not an awful start to the season for Francesco Guidolin but interesting to see how they cope with the loss of Ayew and Williams throughout the season.

In the doldrums

Arsenal – Arsenal have failed to win any of their opening games as they have just one point on the board. Arsene Wenger continues to come under criticism for not buying a new center back or striker this summer. That said, Ozil, Giroud and Koscielny have now returned and things should improve from here. Should being the main word.
SouthamptonClaude Puel‘s side also have just one point on the board and the diamond in midfield isn’t working. Saints look like they lack firepower after selling Mane and Pelle this summer. They should probably revert to a 4-2-3-1 formation, and quickly.
Bournemouth – The Cherries have looked toothless in attack and spending big on promising youngsters like Jordon Ibe and Lewis Cook was a bold move from Eddie Howe. You wonder if losing senior players in Elphick and Ritchie has hit Bournemouth hard this summer. Tough start.
SunderlandDavid Moyes is already talking about a relegation battle, which is not good. A plethora of young Manchester United players have arrived so far but with Lamine Kone on the way out, all of a sudden the Black Cats look very weak at the back. Transfers are badly need in the next week.
Stoke City – The Potters have one point from their opening two games and they looked out of their depth against Man City. That is no disgrace but once again the problem seems to be scoring goals for Stoke. Mark Hughes will be looking to sign a striker in the final days of the window as fans are feeling like a top 10 finish could be out of the question.
Crystal PalaceChristian Benteke arrived for a club-record fee which has most fans elated but after losing their opening two games of the season 1-0, Alan Pardew‘s side must improve drastically. Remember, they’ve won just two PL games in 2016 after a horrendous run at the back end of last season.
West Brom – They won at Palace on the opening day but gave up a 1-0 lead at home against Everton which will annoy Tony Pulis massively. He is trying hard to bring in new players but Baggies fans know what to expect by now. Strap in for a relegation battle and hope for the best.


Premier League Schedule – Week 2

Result Recap & Highlights
Burnley 2-0 Liverpool Recap, watch here
Leicester 0-0 Arsenal Recap, watch here
Man United 2-0 Saints Recap, watch here
Stoke 1-4 Man City Recap, watch here
Swansea 0-2 Hull Recap, watch here
S’land 1-2 M’boro Recap, watch here
Tottenham 1-0 C. Palace Recap, watch here
Watford 1-2 Chelsea Recap, watch here
West Brom 1-2 Everton Recap, watch here
West Ham 1-0 B’mouth Recap, watch here

REFS CRACKING DOWN

Players and managers were warned before the season that things would change so they can have no complaints. To be fair to them, they haven’t complained much.

The Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) visited each PL club to go over new rules which specifically looked to crack down on tussles between players in the penalty box, players crowding officials and any act of dissent towards match officials among other things.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

This weekend we saw a whole host of incidents involving the new, more stringent, laws. In Manchester City’s win at Stoke we had two penalty kicks awarded by Mike Dean, one against Ryan Shawcross for holding Nicolas Otamendi in the box and then Shawcross won a PK as Raheem Sterling made no attempt to play the ball and shoved Shawcross in the box.

In Chelsea’s win at Watford forward Diego Costa was shown a yellow card for hurling abuse at referee Jonathan Moss after Watford’s goal, with the new dissent rules being taken seriously by refs as Craig Pawson also yellow carded Harry Arter in Bournemouth’s defeat at West Ham as the Cherries midfielder also picked up another yellow late on to get a red.

There were still plenty of contentious calls, though, as Costa should have received a second yellow just moments after he was booked. The Chelsea striker, who, of course, went on to score the game-winner, took a terrible dive on the edge of the box and for the second game running he was very lucky to stay on the pitch.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

In Leicester’s 0-0 draw with Arsenal Mark Clattenburg got two big calls wrong (even though he correctly failed to award a PK when Danny Drinkwater went down in the box in the first half, as replays later showed Laurent Koscielny had timed his tackle to perfection) in the second half. First Francis Coquelin should’ve been sent off for a second yellow as he clattered into Riyad Mahrez in the second half when he was already booked, then late on Hector Bellerin clearly tripped Leicester’s Ahmed Musa as he surged into the box but Clattenburg, who had a clear view, waved played on. Leicester should’ve had a penalty kick to win the game.

There will always be big decisions refs get wrong but at least we are now starting to see levels of consistency when it comes to holding in the box and bookings for dissent. Usually when these new directives are given to officials at the start of the season we see a flurry of cards and then after a few months things go back to usual. I for one hope the refs stick with it as getting rid of grappling in the box and dissent towards officials will benefit the PL greatly.


FEEL-GOOD FACTOR BACK AT OLD TRAFFORD

Once again, it was fun to go to a Manchester United game. On Friday as I went behind-the-scenes in the city to get a flavor of what the new era of “Friday Night Football” in the PL is all about.

Maybe it was because it was the first Friday night football of the new season. Maybe it was because Paul Pogba made his return. Maybe it was because it was Jose Mourinho’s first PL home game in charge.

[ MORE: How did new era of Friday night football begin? ]

It was probably a combination of all three and more as Mourinho’s side beat Southampton 2-0 in a fairly comfortable display to keep their perfect start going. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in each half to kill off Saints and United did what they had to do to get another win.

It wasn’t the most exciting game to watch but there was a real buzz and sense of excitement around Old Trafford. That hasn’t been there since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. Under David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal it was so often doom and gloom. Even when the team won it often wasn’t pretty but with the razzmatazz of the world’s most-expensive player on show, plus Zlatan doing the business and Mourinho on the sidelines, it all slotted together nicely at the Theatre of Dreams. Optimism is in the air.

[ MORE: Why Pogba can be United’s savior ]

Pogba, 23, showed glimpses of how integral he can be to this team, while Mourinho singled out many others for praise and seemed almost annoyed that he has such a large and talented squad to choose from as he rattled off the names of international players who were in “smart Paul Smith” suits rather than dressed in their kit and in the 18-man squad for the win over Southampton.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Speaking in his press conference after the game, Mourinho also reserved special praise for Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian midfielder was thought to be on his way out of Old Trafford this summer after three stagnant and mostly regressive seasons since his move from Everton.

Mourinho has found a way to get the best out of the snarling central midfielder as he swept up expertly alongside Pogba and did all of the dirty work. Apparently Mourinho’s phone call to Fellaini did the trick:

“Maybe a simple phone call can make a difference,” Mourinho said. “A player that was feeling not loved. A player that the season and when the market opened, everybody was saying he was leaving and was not a player for me. Maybe a simple phone call the day after my presentation as Manchester United manager changed a lot because I told him, forget everything you read. For me you don’t leave for sure. Then I think the more organised the team play, the easier for the players to feel confident. He is playing well, with Carrick, with Herrera, with Paul. I think he is full of confidence but I have so many good players.”


STATS OF THE WEEKEND

From our good friends at Opta, here are some intriguing stats from this weekend in the Premier League:

  • Ryan Shawcross is the first PL player to concede and win a penalty in the same game since Theo Walcott in August 2011.
  • Liverpool posted the highest possession figure for a losing side in the PL since 2003/04 (80.6%).
  • Hull are only the second promoted side in Premier League history to win their opening two matches of a season (Bolton in 2001/02 the other).
  • Crystal Palace have won just two of their 21 Premier League games in 2016 (W2 D5 L14).
  • Antonio Conte has lost just one of his last 32 league games as a club manager (W29 D2).
  • New signing Yannick Bolasie is the first player since Gaston Ramirez in 2014/15 to play the same opposition in his first two appearances of the season.
  • Leicester are on a 20-game winless run against Arsenal in the Premier League (D6 L14).
  • Sunderland’s Patrick Van Aanholt (4) has scored more Premier League goals in 2016 than any other defender.
  • The London Stadium became the 55th different venue to host a Premier League match.

TRANSFER WINDOW

The transfer window slams shut next Wednesday Aug. 31 and here at ProSoccerTalk we will keep you up to date on all the latest news, gossip and more.

On Aug. 31 there will be a Facebook live video around 4 p.m. ET to recap all the deals going on, while during the day our staff will keep you up to date with last-minute deals.

With plenty of teams desperate to do business, plus players going away on international duty after the games on Aug. 27-28, we may even see a flurry of deals before this weekend.

To keep up to date with the latest gossip and deals from the PL, bookmark the links below:

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

It’s hard to be humbled. Anything less could cost Berhalter his job

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Wild nights, positive or negative, deserve reflection one day later. Here’s our bid to put the USMNT’s 2-0 loss to Canada in context less than 24 hours later…

The humbling of Gregg Berhalter is one of two distinct hopes for his survival as United States men’s national team coach.

The other is an unreliable route, one filled with long-term health for his best players on some pie-in-the-sky road where he utilizes the same 12-14 players per game for the rest of his tenure.

So, yeah, the first one is pretty key.

Coaches are by nature arrogant, and Berhalter earned his confidence by nurturing a suboptimal Columbus Crew roster into an over-performing playoff mainstay despite owner and former showgirl Rachel Phelps trying to move the club to Miami (Movie reference No.1, achieved).

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings ]

When Berhalter beat out the field of two to lay claim to the USMNT position, he won over the media with Powerpoint slides about Pep Guardiola-inspired possession, which assumed to the delight of the American fan base that the nation had the immediate tools to out-class most of CONCACAF simply by being organized. He even had people handing him cute nicknames and defending the idea of using a Bundesliga regular defensive midfielder as a right back because he was generous with his time. Who needs La Masia when you’ve got the DA?

It should be pointed out that the philosophy’s failure through nine months doesn’t entirely destroy the idea to try it, but Berhalter’s often bizarre player selection and tactical destruction at the hands of Jamaica, Mexico, and now Canada have hastened the end of his honeymoon period almost as effectively as his the federation’s refusal to interview anyone other than Berhalter and Oscar Pareja. I mean, who needs Sergino Dest’s optimism when you can keep trying to jam a Wil Trapp-sized Wil Trapp through an Andrea Pirlo-shaped hole?

So you get what we had last night, a tire fire of a match in which his midfield had no idea what to do with the ball and his forwards might as well have been on a monastic retreat. According to the broadcast, Berhalter thought a miserable first half was due to his men not moving the ball fast enough side-to-side. His answers via subs, even before they were down, were to take off Christian Pulisic and leave creative minds Sebastian Lletget and Tyler Boyd on the bench. After the game, he claimed his players weren’t working hard enough and didn’t match Canada’s desire.

Here’s the problem, though, that’s on Berhalter, too. There were myriad articles out there, including several on this site, detailing Canada’s desperation to get results in the CONCACAF Nations League in order to move into a Top Six CONCACAF spot on the FIFA Rankings and qualify for the Hex.

(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

All it takes is a cursory look at the Canada roster to see that their electric attackers were their hope of winning the match, and that pressing their relatively weak group of defenders — one of whom has only been a defender for a year — was probably a great idea.

But Berhalter again stuck with his idea that the United States men’s national team program, even without several of its best players, could implement his system anywhere, against anyone.

And it failed spectacularly.

The thing is that Berhalter is actually quite a decent coach, as he proved in Columbus, but whether or not he lives to show it to this American audience in this particular job depends on his accepting the shortcomings of his depleted roster.

I want to talk to you about Aaron Long, and not because of his “Stranger Things” lifeguard haircut (TV show reference No. 1, achieved).

Aaron Long is a mauler, the sort of player who’d be beloved by many segments of the USMNT community in several generations. He gets stuck in, has a good work rate, and can factor on set pieces in the attacking third.

What he does not do very well — and I’ve covered this a lot in this space — is pass the ball and aid in possession. Since breaking into MLS in 2017, the now 27-year-old center back has completed 76, 69, and 65 percent of his passes with the New York Red Bulls.

[ JPW: What now for Berhalter, USMNT? ] 

Part of that is a function of the Red Bulls’ system; The team doesn’t really care at all about possession, passing at a terrible 68.6 percent, and not one of their players had a completion rate above 80 percent this year. By comparison, 197 players in Major League Soccer completed 80 percent or more of their passes this season (WhoScored).

This is not an argument that Long shouldn’t be in the U.S. system. While he’s had a rough couple of months in the shirt, he’s in the mix for the toughest American center backs in the game.

Might this possession-based idea look a lot better when healthy? Of course, that’s what we mentioned above. John Brooks is by far the best passing center back in the pool, and has been out of the mix for sometime due to injury. The same is true for the side’s best No. 6 in Adams.

But what the Yanks were for so long was difficult to break down, a hassle to play against. Berhalter needs that right now, and he’s got the horses to do it (Watch Jordan Morris’ legs keep moving for 90 minutes if you need proof). Success could then require admitted in front of a microphone that his team can’t hack his system right now, and that he talked down to an entire room last month when they just spit facts his way. That’s humbling, and it’s not fun. But it’s needed.

Adding to the issue is that it’s easy to see the Yanks still emerging from their group by beating Canada in Orlando next month and then walloping Cuba. But if Berhalter hasn’t been humbled and sees victories against the 53rd and 145th ranked teams in EloRatings as validation, well, I’ve got some truly valuable early 1990s baseball cards to sell you for a premium price.

Arrogance does nothing for you if it’s ill-founded. That confidence has felled countless executives, coaches, and players over the years (and yes, even average writers). Being outfoxed by Tata Martino is one thing, but having no reaction to the plan of John Herdman is another (That’s not a shot at Herdman, who had done well with the New Zealand and Canada women, but let’s be real).

We won’t learn whether Berhalter has learned from his errors via results next month, rather by what he does to try and get those results. When Martino beat him in the Gold Cup Final, the rematch two months later was far worse. He gets a second chance to match wits with Herdman next month, and it really cannot get much worse. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice (Movie reference No. 2, achieved).

Last month, I wrote that Berhalter’s duties including the following bare minimum goals.

  1. Qualify for the World Cup
  2. Reach the final of all CONCACAF competitions
  3. Look like an adequate footballing nation in other competitions
  4. Make sure he doesn’t lose any talented dual nationals (also the GM’s job)

No. 1 is still far away, but 2-4… woah. We’re one Alphonso Davies star show away from finishing 2019 without a Gold Cup and no place in the CONCACAF Nations League semifinal. Sergino Dest might’ve skipped town for Ronald Koeman‘s Netherlands set-up either way, but being shoehorned at left back last month probably helped his decision.

Finally, a number of people on Twitter pointed out that Canada is due plenty of respect for out-dueling the USMNT on Tuesday. Absolutely! But if you think a nation with under 1 million registered soccer players should be absolutely clowning a nation with 4 million-plus, a side they hadn’t beaten let alone dominated in 34 years, then you’re not getting the point. There’s room for Canada and the U.S. to both be good, but the Yanks looked like a steaming hot mug of spoiled milk to Canada’s well-chilled bag of the fresh stuff. No good.

Your move, Gregg. Do what you did last night, and last month, and you’ll get the same results. Your only other option is Voodoo dolls of Alphonso Davies and Scott Arfield.

Mbappe in frame for monster contract offers from PSG, Real

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Kylian Mbappe is one of the most dynamic players in the world and doesn’t even turn 21 until late December.

Paris Saint-Germain has locked the youngster up through 2022, but that hasn’t stopped the biggest names in football from being linked with massive bids for his services.

[ MORE: Pogba, De Gea out ]

Dueling reports out of French outlet Le10 Sport claim that Mbappe is set to be offered a monster new $55 million annual contract from Les Parisiens, with Real Madrid ready to offer the big man almost $40 million per year.

The new PSG figure would give Mbappe the richest deal in football, while Real’s offer would sit below only Lionel Messi (at least until the Barcelona legend gets his new deal this winter).

We’ve argued that, given his age and acumen, Mbappe is the one player in world football worth the outlandish numbers it would take to land his services.

At age 20, he’s already a World Cup winner with 13 goals in 33 caps, and his club numbers are eye-popping: 89 goals and 51 assists in 154 matches between Monaco and PSG. Absurd.

Everton’s Gbamin undergoes surgery, out 3 months

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Everton’s lack of scoring prowess has stolen the headlines as Marco Silva‘s men have wasted a wonderful opportunity to start the season off in style.

But it’s been easy to forget that the Toffees have been without the man they bought to help offset the loss of Idrissa Gana Gueye, perhaps their best player two years running, in the form of Jean-Philippe Gbamin.

[ MORE: Pogba, De Gea out ]

The Ivorian cost a reported $30 million this summer when he arrived from Mainz, and Everton won his only start before an injury sent him to the sidelines.

Gbamin has not suitably improved, and is now set for another three months on the sidelines thanks to surgery on his hamstring.

It’s a sock to the gut for a team already wallowing in misfortune. Now sitting 18th, as close to 20th as they are to 10th, it’s difficult to imagine things getting much worse for a team that held so much promise.

Everton hosts West Ham to kickoff the Premier League weekend at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday.

Pogba, De Gea ruled out for Man United v. Liverpool

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According to our partners at Sky Sports, Manchester United’s David De Gea and Paul Pogba will not play against Liverpool this Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

This is far from ideal for a United side already low in confidence after a dreadful start to the season.

De Gea injured his groin while on international duty with Spain on Tuesday as he injured an abductor while kicking a ball against Sweden in a EURO 2020 qualifier. He is expected to have a full assessment in Manchester on Thursday but isn’t expected to be available to play against Liverpool.

As for Pogba, he suffered a reoccurrence of his foot injury before the international break and has been training in Dubai on his own during the past week to try and speed up his recovery.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already been without Pogba, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial and Aaron Wan-Bissaka for large chunks of the season so far, as Man United sit in 12th place in the Premier League table.

“No chance,” Solskjaer said of Pogba’s availability for the weekend. “Paul had an injury, then came back, worked really hard, played a couple of games. Maybe played through the pain barrier. We had a scan after the Arsenal game and he needed a few weeks rest in the boot. Hopefully he won’t be too long but he won’t make this game, no.”

Not having their star goalkeeper and central midfielder available for this clash with bitter rivals Liverpool is another huge setback for Solskjaer, as Sergio Romero and Fred will likely start in their place.

Martial, Shaw and Wan-Bissaka are all expected to miss the game against Liverpool too as Solskjaer will at least have a valid excuse if the Premier League leaders give United a hiding on Sunday.