Premier League Playback: Grades for season, so far…

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With 11 games of the 2016-17 Premier League season gone, we are now over a quarter of the way into the season.

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The top dogs have started to separate themselves from the chasing pack, a few strugglers are getting cut adrift at the bottom and the rest is, well, a bit of a mess.

There are plenty of teams who’ve started slow and finally got going, plenty who came flying out of the traps and are now struggling and others who are up and down like a yo-yo.

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Taking all that into account for the first time this season we dish out grades. 11 games in, we now have a pretty good ideas what lies in store for all 20 Premier League teams.


Liverpool
Grade: A-
How is the story unfolding? Top of the table, Liverpool have smashed in 30 goals in 11 games. Defensive issues still a problem but Mane, Coutinho, Lallana and Firmino are ripping teams apart. They are legit title contenders, with wins against Arsenal and Chelsea, plus draw against Spurs and Man United, proving that. Jurgen Klopp is are from “the normal one” and everyone knows that now.
Quote which sums it up…

Jurgen Klopp after their 6-1 win against Watford – “I know in the past a lot of things happened here and the story two, three years ago when it was really close, but this is not the team two or three years ago. This is not the team 25 years ago. We’re completely new. We stay cool. It’s the best position I can imagine but nothing else has happened.”


Chelsea

Grade: B+
How is the story unfolding? It started very well, then there was a big dip with defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal, and now Antonio Conte‘s side are flying again. The switch to 3-4-3 after the defeat at Arsenal could be crucial. Since then, Chelsea has won five-straight and kept five-straight clean sheets. Diego Costa and Eden Hazard are back and the Blues are looking ruthless.
Quote which sums it up…

Antonio Conte to following a 3-0 defeat at Arsenal – “I have to solve the situation. That is the most important thing. The situation is that every game we concede two goals, at a minimum. For this reason, three back or two back or four back, I don’t care. It is important to solve the situations. I must find the right solution for this team because in every game we are conceding two goals. I work a lot to find the right solution.”


Arsenal
Grade: B+
How is the story unfolding? The Gunners struggled early in the season but as soon as their international players returned, they looked more solid in the back with Koscielny and Mustafi bonding. Going forward Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez have been the go-to men. Still, some doubts creeping in once again about their ability to deal with injuries to key players.
Quote which sums it up…

Arsene Wenger after the win at Hull in September – “We are a bit more mature, which I have said many times, but it is early in the season and it is very tight everywhere. At the moment Man City is in front but let’s just continue to improve and continue to win our games and see where we go. We are ambitious, we have a good attitude and good spirit and we’ve gained a bit of confidence now we’ve won a few games.”


Manchester City
Grade: B
How is the story unfolding? Pep Guardiola‘s men looked like they’d sweep all before them early on. Yeah, not so much. After six wins on the spin in the PL to open up, City has won just one of their last five with multiple defensive mistakes the issue. Still, they sit two points off top spot and beat Barcelona in the Champions League. The project is ongoing and there is clear progress despite it still being early days.
Quote which sums it up…

Pep Guardiola after the disappointing 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough – “The balance is what we want to see but in the boxes we are not good enough. But do you think it is a problem that we concede two chances a game and create 10? I have no regrets about that.”


Tottenham Hotspur
Grade: B
How is the story unfolding? Spurs remain the only PL team unbeaten but they’ve drawn six of their 11 games. Without Harry Kane for almost two months, Pochettino’s side have coped with his absence rather well. UCL struggles haven’t carried over into the league but with Kane now back, they’ll be expected to kick on.
Quote which sums it up…

Mauricio Pochettino after Spurs’ 2-0 win against Man City in September – “It is too early in the season to talk about aims but it is important to be consistent If we can play like this, how we played today, why can we not be consistent throughout the season? That is a big effort but that is the way that we work and we want to play. I think today was a good example that we want to follow and to build our pressure.”


Burnley 

Grade: B
How is the story unfolding? What a start for the Clarets. Sean Dyche‘s side have had some huge wins at home against Everton, Liverpool, Watford and Crystal Palace and their form at Turf Moor will keep them up. Looks like they’ve learned from previous PL campaigns and they have 14 points already.
Quote which sums it up…

Sean Dyche after the thrilling win over Crystal Palace – “It’s fantastic to be ninth in the table for a club like Burnley. There are questions asked of us in the Premier League but we’re enjoying the ride.”


Watford
Grade: C+
How is the story unfolding? A really decent start for the Hornets under new manager Walter Mazzarri. They sit in the top 10 and look much more solid (the hiding at Liverpool aside) than last season. Deeney and Ighalo yet to really fire, which will be a slight worry.
Quote which sums it up…

Walter Mazzarri after the home win against Hull City – “At the end we are very happy that we got the result, it’s difficult to go 90 minutes the way we played in the first five. They are a team who play tough football, they usually play very well. Today they had five at the back, and it’s a team we did not allow to play, and that is because of us.”


Everton
Grade: C+
How is the story unfolding? Ronald Koeman‘s team sit six points off the top four, which is where you would think they would be at this point in the season. They 5-0 spanking at Chelsea showed some of their limitations though. Tough run of games coming up in December too but Romelu Lukaku is looking hungry for goals.
Quote which sums it up…

Ronald Koeman on the win against West Ham: — “I said to them; ‘Why we are nervous? We are at home. If we press well and play well we get always the support of the fans.’ I saw too many doubts in the first half and I was saying to them, ‘Come on. Go for it. Football needs to be enjoyable. The second half, the start was different, the way we like to play and like to press the opponent and the fast first goal helped.”


West Brom
Grade: C
How is the story unfolding? Tony Pulis‘ side are a funny bunch. They beat Leicester away after a five-game winless run and they manage to grind out draws against the big boys. Steady start for the Baggies and Nacer Chadli has been a revelation.
Quote which sums it up…

Tony Pulis following the win against Leicester – “Obviously the result is fantastic. We played four top teams and we got four points, a point a game. When you think it’s Tottenham, Liverpool, Man City and now we’re at the champions. We get a point a game and for me, it is fantastic.”


Southampton
Grade: C-
How is the story unfolding? Its been an up and down start for Saints. It took them five games to win, then they went five unbeaten and now they’ve lost their last two. Under a new manager in Claude Puel, perhaps inconsistency is to be expected. With Europa League progress on their mind and a tough month coming up, they’ll be a little worried. Charlie Austin and Virgil Van Dijk remain red-hot.
Quote which sums it up…

Claude Puel following the shock defeat at Hull – “When you win after a game like Inter Milan and you come back in the Premier League against a team with good preparation, with one game a week, it’s important to keep the good concentration and the good attitude. It is always difficult and I think we learn for the future. It’s a good lesson for the future.”


Manchester United

Grade: C-
How is the story unfolding? It has been an eventful start to life at Old Trafford for Jose Mourinho. Did we expect anything else? From calling out his own players to being sent to the stands, Mourinho has his work cut out. Still, his side is six points off the top four after a run of just two wins in eight games following three wins from three to start the seaosn. Europa League struggles have added to the intrigue as Pogba, Zlatan and Co. find their feet. Plenty of work to do for Jose.
Quote which sums it up:

Jose Mourinho after a 1-0 EFL Cup win against Man City – “It is real passion that doesn’t depend on results or the moments. It is easy to be a Man United fan when you win the Treble, when you win five titles in seven years. But it is not so easy when you lose 4-0 and this is incredible. The only thing I can say is that I couldn’t be prouder than I am to be Man United manager.”


Middlesbrough
Grade: C-
How is the story unfolding? Aitor Karanka‘s side are getting used to the Premier League. After going unbeaten in the first three games of the season, they went on a bad run and had to wait until Week 10 for their first home win. That came in-between away draws at Arsenal and Man City as Boro are showing a renewed defensive stability.
Quote which sums it up…

Aitor Karanka after the 1-1 draw at Man City – “It was an amazing result. Because in the first half we went on to the pitch with too much respect for them. I told them at half-time we weren’t just there to defend and that we could play like we did in the second half. I was pleased with our performance. Two weeks ago at Arsenal was more difficult than today because Arsenal didn’t score and we were organised. Our reaction was really good and it is a big step to showing how good we are.”


Stoke City
Grade: C-
How is the story unfolding? Mark Hughes‘ side once again started the season slowly but now they’re five games unbeaten, Joe Allen is an offensive machine and Wilfried Bony is scoring goals. Despite a few injuries, this looks like the Stoke of last season now.
Quote which sums it up…

Mark Hughes to ProSoccerTalk after the 1-1 draw at West Ham – “A lot was made of our so-called difficult start. We have come up against decent teams and haven’t quite hit our levels. But we are now fully into our stride and where we want to be.”


Bournemouth
Grade: D+
How is the story unfolding? Some worrying signs starting to creep in for the Cherries following defeats at Boro and then at home against Sunderland. Eddie Howe‘s young side have blown hot and cold and they have a knack of dominating games but not putting the opposition away.
Quote which sums it up…

Eddie Howe after the home defeat against Sunderland – “In the last two games we’ve had some gilt-edged chances. We scored six against Hull, but it’s frustrating when you have a hatful of chances and can’t put them away.”


Crystal Palace
Grade: D+
How is the story unfolding? Crystal Palace may be the streakiest team in the history of the PL. They went on a superb three-game winning run early in the season but are without a win in five now and have lost four on the spin. Alan Pardew must try and get the best out of Christian Benteke. When Palace do, they’re unplayable at times.
Quote which sums it up…

Alan Pardew after the 3-2 defeat Burnley – “This defeat is a big blow for us because we have some tough games coming up. We’re going to have to be strong after the international break and get some results. We dominated and actually played some good football today. We don’t look like a team that has lost four games, it’s been fine margins. We need to cut out these mistakes, and get ourselves to a position where we can see out a game.”


Hull City

Grade: D+
How is the story unfolding? After winning each of their opening two games Hull were in dreamland. They then didn’t win any of their next eight as Mike Phelan‘s got the job on a permanent basis. A big win against Southampton steadied the ship though. They’ll battle hard all season to stay up.
Quote which sums it up…

Mike Phelan after the 2-1 win against Southampton – “We’ve got 10 points from 11 games with a couple of big games coming up after the international break. It’s important that we stay level-headed and composed. We performed well in defeat at Watford last weekend but didn’t get anything from the game. This week we have got something against a very good Southampton team”


Leicester City
Grade: D
How is the story unfolding? Claudio Ranieri‘s side are not replicating their title-winning form of last season… at least in the Premier League. In the UEFA Champions League they’re unbeaten and all but through to the Round of 16, but the Foxes are in real danger of being dragged into a relegation battle. Jamie Vardy is struggling for goals and they miss N'Golo Kante badly.
Quote which sums it up…

Claudio Ranieri after their 1-0 defeat at home to West Brom – “It is a pity because we were unbeaten for 20 matches and I am very sad, sad for the fans but it is okay and we have to react. Now we have to be calm and work together, but of course it is difficult because 80 per cent of my players go off on international duty. I will see my players now just two days before the next match at Watford.”


West Ham 
Grade: D-
How is the story unfolding? Slaven Bilic‘s men had a horrendous start, particularly with troubles in their new stadium, and the Hammers only have 11 points on the board with some very tough games coming up. Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini have shown only flashes of brilliance and it’s all a bit disjointed at the London Stadium.
Quote which sums it up…

Slaven Bilic on the tough schedule ahead – “It is a very tough schedule. But we have seen how we played against top teams last year. We beat Chelsea, one of the top teams, here in the cup. On paper it is very tough. Four games plus one cup game against Manchester United, but we have to get ourselves ready.”


Swansea City
Grade: F
How is the story unfolding? Nightmare start for the Swans who are joint-bottom after their worst-ever opening to a PL season cost Guidolin his job. American coach Bob Bradley has arrived but has no wins in four, yet there is hope on the horizon with a favorable fixture list in December. Still, the Swans always look like conceding right now, which is never good.
Quote which sums it up…

Bob Bradley on fan unrest after the defeat to Man United – “We understand very clearly where we are. There’s no hiding from the situation,” Bradley, the league’s first American coach, said after the game. They (the fans) have every right to be angry at halftime. We have to be honest about the work that needs to be done. There’s only one way to win the support of fans, and that’s to play better and take points… Once we get a result or two I think everyone will say ‘Okay, we have finally turned this thing around.’”


Sunderland

Grade: F
How is the story unfolding? Okay, so there are some signs of improvement, but David Moyes has a heck of a job on his hands. Sunderland’s squad resembles a bunch of misfits, chucked together at the last minute and although they got a big win at Bournemouth, it papers over the cracks. The Black Cats need to become tough to beat and hit teams on the counters and at set pieces. So far, just one win in 11 says it all.
Quote which sums it up…

David Moyes following the win against Bournemouth – “It is only one win, we need two now. All you can do is win the next game and pick up the points as you go along. We don’t get anything for winning one game, that’s for sure. What it will do is show people there is great spirit and commitment among the players and a great desire to do well.”


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

Djenepo stunner downs Brighton after Andone straight red

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It wasn’t that long ago that these two teams faced off in League One…nine years ago, to be exact. Now, they’re both established in the top flight and looking to build.

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One of those building blocks for Southampton is young Mali international Moussa Djenepo who announced himself to the Premier League on Saturday with a thumping second-half goal that put Southampton through against 10-man Brighton 2-0, with Nathan Redmond adding the second late as Brighton was caught forward for an equalizer.

The win gave Southampton its first points of the campaign, while Brighton was dropped for the first time in the new season.

The Seagulls were the better side until Florin Andone earned a deserved sending-off for a horror challenge on Yan Valery. Dan Burn had the ball in the back of the net but VAR ruled it out for offside, and the halftime break saw Southampton regroup with the advantage and take charge for the final 45 minutes. Brighton, however, did have spells of possession throughout the second half that will worry Southampton supporters moving forward given the man and scoreline advantage.


Three things we learned:

  1. Brighton looks more dangerous than last season going forward, a positive sign for those who saw the Seagulls struggle to score last season. Before the red, they were by far the better side, and even after falling a man down they had moments of positivity despite being forced back. Graham Potter refused to bunker in after the red, something supporters will appreciate, and they had chances to get back in the game down the stretch.
  2. VAR continued to correctly apply the laws of the game. Lewis Dunk had a potentially stunning opener after going a man down, but it was disallowed as Dan Burn all alone and very offside backed goalkeeper Angus Gunn to the ground. It could have easily been given as a foul, but instead VAR wiped it off for offside, also a fair call as he interfered with play. While some may not like how intrusive the technology has been, it has done a solid job of applying the laws to the game, albeit in a somewhat clunky manner.
  3. Southampton will take the three points no questions asked, but there is no doubt the Saints need to improve. They were second-best for much of the game, even at times with the advantage, and could have been pegged back with an embarrassing result. They were out-passed in the attacking third and nearly doubled up in chances created despite an hour-long man advantage.

Man of the Match: Youri Tielemans


Brighton was the most dangerous team early on and had a number of chances in the opening 20 minutes. Off a set-piece, Neal Maupay got his head to a seventh minute corner at the back post but he didn’t have the necessary accuracy and goalkeeper Angus Gunn also got a slight touch to keep it out. They had another chance from a 3 v. 1 short corner off the training ground minutes later but Dan Burn whiffed on his open header at the doorstep. Then Martin Montoya put a long-distance header wide left on the 20-minute mark.

With the game calming down past the half-hour mark, out of nothing, the match turned on its head as Brighton’s Andone produced one of the most shocking challenges you will see, with a heavy touch on the ball followed by a studs-up lunge straight into the leg of Valery, who was lucky to come out of the collision unscathed. Referee Kevin Friend showed absolutely no hesitation in sending Andone off.

The opener came on 55 minutes when Djenepo collected the ball in space outside the top of the box and as nobody closed him down, he unleashed a fabulous curler that found the top corner and opened his Premier League account having just come off the bench two minutes earlier. He created the space required thanks to a slight touch inside to his right before

Nathan Redmond came close to putting Saints two-up and burying the game, but he put his low chance just wide right on 64 minutes. Jurgen Locadia had Brighton’s biggest chance to get back level, hammering the post with a volley on 87 minutes on a tight-angle chance he should have deposited in the back of the net. Southampton made them pay, killing off the game in the first minute of stoppage time as a low cross from Sofiane Boufal found a sliding Redmond at the doorstep for a 2-0 lead.

Palace stuns wasteful Manchester United at the death

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Manchester United found a way to throw away a dominant performance through more penalty drama and a poor late concession from its well-paid goalkeeper.

Crystal Palace had not beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford since 1989, and never topped the Red Devils in the Premier League era, but now has a 2-1 Saturday win for its resume.

Daniel James‘ 89th minute goal seemed to have given United a result for its controlling effort, letting Marcus Rashford off the hook for a missed penalty, but De Gea allowed Patrick Van Aanholt to score a near post, stoppage time winner with poor goalkeeping after Paul Pogba was caught in possession and allowed Christian Benteke to spring a rush.

[ MORE: How did Pulisic perform v. Norwich? ] 

Marcus Rashford smashed an effort off the post less than a week after Paul Pogba saw his effort saved at Wolves.

VAR absolved Palace of a possible first half red card and seemingly clear second half penalty, and Jordan Ayew scored on the Eagles’ only true chance of the morning.

James set the game level with a gorgeous strike after quickfire, clinical passing in the 89th minute.

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United has now won just three of 15 matches in all competitions since defeating PSG in the UEFA Champions League.


Three things we learned

1. MORE PENALTY DRAMA: Yes, all caps. Should we bold, too? After Anthony Martial raced to make sure Marcus Rashford would take United’s 70th minute penalty, the English youngster did what Paul Pogba did and missed his chance. Rashford smashed off the post.

2. Everyone can finish a glorious chance (even Palace): Roy Hodgson‘s goal-starved Eagles needed a bit of help to get on the score board, and Ayew’s finish came on Palace’s first touch inside the Manchester United 18. Victor Lindelof underestimated Schlupp in the challenge, and Ghanaian won a Vicente Guaita goal kick onto the path of Ayew. 1v1 with De Gea, he didn’t miss.

3. The kid’s got flair: Daniel James’ second finish in three PL matches for United was a beauty, a quickly snapped side-of-the-foot offering that swam over the gloves of a flailing Vicente Guaita. The 21-year-old’s $20 million transfer tag looks pretty justified early.

Man of the match: Martial


United was far and away the better team in the match, aside from Marcus Rashford’s penalty miss.

The Red Devils had VAR work against them on three separate occasions, and only one really passed the smell test. While we’ll acknowledge that the VAR crew knows what it’s watching far more than us, Gary Cahill getting off the hook for a take down of clearly through Anthony Martial and the same Frenchman being denied a penalty shout after Martin Kelly put off his shot effort with some since groping will be watched again and again.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Before all that, though, Ayew scored with Palace’s first touch in the United 18.

Barnes thumper sees Leicester City past Sheffield United

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Jamie Vardy and Oli McBurnie cancelled each other out, but young Harvey Barnes produced a moment of brilliance to see Leicester City through for their first win of the young season.

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Barnes’ second career Premier League goal was an absolute stunner, coming just six minutes after he entered the fray off the bench. The 21-year-old unleashed a rifling volley that saw the Foxes through, with Kasper Schmeichel and the Leicester City defense preserving the lead over the final half-hour.

Another youngster, Hamza Choudhury, covered himself in glory across the 90 minutes in a defensive midfield position, covering the back four well and keeping Leicester City comfortable in defense as Sheffield United looked for an equalizer down the stretch.


Three things we learned:

  1. Poor touches in midfield can be dangerous. Chris Basham will be kicking himself for a cheap giveaway right on the halfway line that directly lead to Vardy’s opener. It came out of nothing more than slight pressure from behind, and put the Foxes in with Sheffield United’s back line pressing higher on the ball. Midfielders have to be better, especially if Sheffield United has any long-term prospects of staying in the Premier League next season.
  2. Boy can Leicester City run a scything counter-attack. The goal came on a gifted counter, but they ran others that deserve plaudits as well, including one just after halftime that saw Vardy combine well with James Maddison and new boy Ayoze Perez, with the latter ending up with just too tight an angle to finish from. Do not give the Foxes any opportunities to break, because it will not end well for you.
  3. Leicester City continues to be the sum of its parts. Some teams repeatedly struggle to implement quality brought in via the transfer window, but the Foxes have been one of the best and adding talent that truly improves the club as a whole. James Maddison is a brilliant addition, Ayoze Perez is contributing up front, and Harvey Barnes – brought in from West Brom last winter – is making his presence known. 21-year-old Choudhury, a recent youth team promotion, also performed fabulously at the back to preserve the victory.

Man of the Match: Hamza Choudhury.


The first 20 minutes of the match were incredibly sloppy, with Leicester City holding the majority of possession but doing very little with the ball in an attacking sense and unable to put anything together going forward. The first chance of the match fell to Sheffield when George Baldock rifled a one-time volley towards the top corner a half-hour in but it had little movement and Kasper Schmeichel collected easily despite solid pace on the effort.

Leicester City went in front out of relatively nothing seven minutes from halftime as Chris Basham lost the ball in midfield leading to a vicious counter from the Foxes. James Maddison sent through a ridiculous ball forward with the outside of his boot, lofting it over the scrambling defenders to Jamie Vardy, and the England striker made no mistake with a thumping finish at the near post.

The Foxes looked more likely to score a second than Sheffield United did an equalizer, but against the run of play McBurnie bagged his first Premier League strike. Baldock came good from his earlier mistake with a fabulous delivery from extremely deep on the right flank and it found the head of the former Swansea man who buried the chance to level the scoreline.

That wouldn’t last long, however, as Barnes was on hand to collect the ball off the head of Caglar Soyuncu and rifle it one-time before it hit the ground, delivering an absolute howitzer into the top corner for a moment of brilliance that put Leicester City in front for good. Schmeichel was required to preserve the three points with 15 minutes to go, somehow parrying a close-range effort by John Lundstram he should have scored from. Sheffield pressed for an equalizer but Leicester City’s defense was up to the task, locking things down for the win.

Watch Live: Liverpool v. Arsenal

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2-0 to start the season, Liverpool and Arsenal are both bidding for their first marquee three points when they tangle at Anfield on Saturday (Watch live on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Alexandre Lacazette is on the bench for Arsenal as record signing Nicolas Pepe starts for the Gunners, who have beaten Burnley and Newcastle United.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Liverpool’s wins have come against Norwich City and Southampton, and Reds boss Jurgen Klopp is deploying his very best to face the Gunners.

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