Premier League Playback: Grades for season, so far…

Leave a comment

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

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

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.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

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

DC United acquires Julian Gressel from Atlanta

Atlanta United trades for Julian Gressel
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

How much is Major League Soccer’s best assist man worth?

About $750,000.

DC United paid Atlanta United that fee in allocation money for the rights to Julian Gressel, who had been at a contract impasse with the club who drafted him in 2017.

That fee could hit $1.1 million in incentives, and even so could be a bargain.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Gressel was due to make around $133,000 this season and wanted an improved deal from Atlanta given his massive production since becoming the eighth overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.

That salary is less than hundreds of players, most of them nowhere near Gressel’s impact. Nineteen Atlanta United players made more than him last season, so it’s understandable that the 26-year-old wanted to get paid.

We don’t know what he was asking, or why Atlanta wouldn’t get there. From MLSSoccer.com:

“If we really wanted to, we could have had him play on $130,000 this season, extend him a bona fide offer at the end of the season and (we’d still own his MLS rights),” said Atlanta United vice president Carlos Bocanegra. “We’re also trying to do the right thing for a guy who has given so much to the club and is really just a good kid all around.”

It’s a weird one, given what the club’s been paying others.

Gressel arrived at Providence College from Eintracht Bamberg and immediately started delivering for the Big East side. He finished his four years with 30 goals and 26 assists and All-American status.

There was some adapting to MLS, but he’s gotten better with every season. He scored 10 goals with 13 assists in all competitions last season.

Spurs chairman reportedly met with Real Madrid about Gareth Bale

AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
Leave a comment

As a neutral, the idea of Gareth Bale rejoining Tottenham Hotspur would be a delight to our Premier League matchday viewing.

Obviously this applies to Spurs fans to the nth degree, especially after a dull 0-0 with Watford at the weekend.

In the short-term, Bale would be a terrific stopgap as Spurs struggle to find themselves without Harry Kane in both the PL and Champions League.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

In the long-term, Bale and Heung-Min Son on the wings of Harry Kane would be enough to make any PL power trio blush (unless Liverpool really does add Timo Werner).

A report out of Spain says Real Madrid president Florentino Perez met with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy about several things including the availability of Bale.

The Welsh star has been long admired by Jose Mourinho, and of course knows Spurs well having become a superstar after arriving from Southampton.

Bale is 30 and his wages would easily top Spurs’ pay list. His 21 goals and nine assists in the 2012/13 Premier League season join his 19 and 11 in 2015 La Liga as his top league seasons.

Spurs host Norwich City on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

Guardiola praises Laporte, “the best left central defender in the world”

Pep Guardiola praises Aymeric Laporte
Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester City kept its first clean sheet of 2020 on Tuesday, posting a 1-0 win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

It took the two-time reigning Premier League champions six tries to get there, the previous zero coming against this same Blades side at the Etihad Stadium.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

City manager Pep Guardiola was quick to give credit to a returning hero, as center back Aymeric Laporte returned to the fold for the first time since Aug. 31.

The club was 3W-1D at that point. They went 12W-2D-5L without him.

Here’s Guardiola, from the Manchester Evening News:

“It’s incredible,” Guardola said. “We have missed him a lot, he’s the best left central defender in the world. Imagine the best teams in the world lose their best central defender. We miss him a lot because he’s a specialist left foot where our buildup. He is fast, strong in the air.”

“He has something that we don’t have in the squad. His left foot and many actions to build up to make it quicker and better – we don’t have it, not because the other ones are not good but he has the only left foot as a central defender and for the way we want to play that is so important. His character and mentality and winning, he has all the attributes. For me, when he is fit he is the best left central defender in the world.”

If you read that as a little bit of an explanation for City being 13 points off Liverpool, you’ve similar eyes to us.

Pep is asking how Liverpool would look without Virgil Van Dijk, how Real Madrid appears when Sergio Ramos is out.

It’s not the be-all, end-all, but as I wrote when Laporte went down, this is the key piece to their defending efforts as well as where they begin possession.

We’re also grateful that Guardiola didn’t drop some sort of, “He’s like a January transfer addition,” statement (at least as far as we’ve read.

Chelsea admit they miss USMNT’s Pulisic

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON — Since USMNT star Christian Pulisic was injured in training in the first week of January, Chelsea have lost against Newcastle, drawn with Arsenal and blown away Burnley.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

In the two games where they’ve dropped points they’ve missed Pulisic’s genius in the final third with both Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi easily shackled by Arsenal in their London derby. Chelsea admitted as much when speaking after the 2-2 draw against Arsenal on Tuesday, an Arsenal side who played with 10 men for over 60 minutes of the game.

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk about Pulisic’s adductor injury and if they missed him during the draw against Arsenal, downbeat Chelsea boss Frank Lampard noted that Pulisic, 21, was “playing really well” before his injury.

“Yeah, a game like today could have been a good where he would have been helpful for us because he was playing well for a patch. But other people have to stand up in those situations,” Lampard said.

When will Pulisic be back?

Lampard confirmed he is making good progress but will not be fit until after the mid-season player break in February, which means he will miss their FA Cup trip to Hull City this Saturday and their clash at Leicester City on Feb. 1. He may not be back until Feb. 17 when they host Manchester United in the Premier League, which means in total he will have been out for a period of six weeks.

“In terms of when he’s back, it is not going to be a week, it is probably be the other end of the early February break but he is getting better and he isn’t far away,” Lampard said.

Speaking to Pro Soccer Talk pitch-side at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta, who scored their late second goal which looked like being the winner, lavished praise on Pulisic when asked about his absence over the last week.

“Christian is a magnificent player. Since he joined us in the summer he has shown us his potential and we know that he can make the difference at any time. Whenever a player is injured it is not good for a team because we lose potential and I hope to have him back soon,” Azpilicueta said.

Chelsea’s skipper is expecting big things from Pulisic when he does return to fitness, as the fourth-place Blues now have just a six-point cushion to those outside of the top four and have played a game more.

It seems like everyone at Chelsea hopes the USMNT star can rejuvenate their attack in the final months of the season.

“After coming to Europe as a young boy to Germany, he came to Chelsea and it is one step forward, playing for Chelsea every game, fighting to win and fighting for trophies,” Azpilicueta said. “In my role I’ve tried to help in settle into the city and the club. He has a brilliant attitude. Always trying to improve. I am sure he will become bigger and bigger.”