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

Guardiola: I’m staying at Man City and I love this challenge

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This year’s managerial merry-go-round tells us that nothing should surprise us, and there are few high-profile jobs that feel safe from changes at any given time.

Manchester City is one of them, but upheaval at old club Bayern Munich and uncertainty at Barcelona have had many linking Pep Guardiola with an early exit from the Etihad Stadium.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City v. Chelsea ]

But as Chuck D warned us so long ago, don’t believe the hype; Guardiola says he’s very happy at Man City and not quitting on the project or the season.

“We don’t have a joker in our pocket,” he said. “I know, all around the world, people are saying the Premier League is done.”

“But if people think I am going to resign for these results, they don’t know me. I like this challenge. I love to be in this position. If the club wants me next season, I want to be here 100 percent.”

Few would be surprise if Man City went on a wild run of wins, especially once Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane return to the team. The reason folks think the Premier League is over is the idea that Liverpool would lose nine more points than City seems so unlikely (though they do meet again).

Milan hoping to woo “great champion” Zlatan next week

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Serie A mainstays AC Milan are trying to woo Zlatan Ibrahimovic back to the San Siro.

The full-court press makes sense, as it will take some financial sacrifices for Ibrahimovic to join the side given Financial Fair Play problems in Milan.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City v. Chelsea ]

Coach Stefano Pioli called Zlatan “a great champion” while admitting he has to focus on the table and not transfers, while former AC Milan CEO Adriano Galliani issued a glowing call for the Swede to return to town.

From Football-Italia.com:

“It would be romantic if he returned. But I have a rule, I don’t talk about teams I’m not involved with anymore. I’m only a fan of Milan now. Still, his arrival would enrich Italian football, similar to when Cristiano Ronaldo came to Italy.”

Man, they know how to speak this guy’s language, don’t they?

Sky Sports says Ibrahimovic’s agent will meet with Milan again next week in the hopes of convincing him to take a lower wage deal, and the 38-year-old showed he’s willing to take one for the team during his stint with the LA Galaxy.

The move makes too much sense, with Milan’s 11 goals well below its expected goal number. They need a finisher, and Zlatan sure does that. And if lower wages means Zlatan gets to play mercenary for five months while proving he’s got the goods for a big wage for 2020-21, that’s an easy concession for the striker.

U.S. U-17 keeper Odunze learning from Schmeichel at Leicester City

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Leicester City’s huge secret was told to the world at the U-17 World Cup in Brazil, where imposing goalkeeper Chituru Odunze made several big saves in the United States’ quick exit from the group stage.

Odunze, who turned 17 last month, joined the Premier League outfit from the Vancouver Whitecaps last season, and is already getting some first team training time.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City v. Chelsea ]

This is all good news for a USMNT program which has a long history of goalkeepers shining at the top levels in Europe, including Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, Tim Howard, and now Zach Steffen.

Odunze admits to being pleased at the tests provided by Jamie Vardy and the Leicester attackers, but says he’s learning more from the expertise on show from a trio of wise first team goalkeepers: Kasper Schmeichel, Danny Ward, and Eldin Jakupovic.

Schmeichel is a Premier League winner, Jakupovic a former regular PL starter with Hull City, and Ward helped Huddersfield Town to promotion during a loan from Liverpool. From The Leicester Mercury:

“They’re all really good role models at the club, and they sort of take you under their wing. They’ve taught me to calm down and be confident in my abilities,” Odunze said. “Of course, there are little pieces of technical information they give me while we’re training, but a lot of the lasting information I get from them is mental.”

The 17-year-old has a monstrous frame, so learning from Schmeichel and company at such a young age while getting tested by the Foxes’ electric attackers is a great combination. He is 2W-2L at the U18 Premier League level.

Premier League Preview: Manchester City v. Chelsea

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Manchester City and Chelsea both defend their slimmed title hopes when they meet Saturday at the Etihad Stadium (Watch Live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

City is hoping to avoid a second-straight loss after dropping nine points behind prohibitive title favorites Liverpool last match day, while Frank Lampard‘s Blues know a loss could see them drop as many as 11 points behind the Reds.

And, of course, a win will give either side the table advantage over the other.

Ederson and David Silva are available again for Man City. Christian Pulisicis in contention to play” for Chelsea after missing the international break with the United States.

A Champions League match day follows this one, with Man City meeting Shakhtar Donetsk in Manchester on Tuesday and Chelsea in Spain to meet Valencia one day later.


Injuries/suspensions

Manchester City: OUT — Bernardo Silva, Aymeric Laporte, Leroy Sane. QUESTIONABLE — None.

Chelsea: OUT — Ruben Loftus-Cheek. QUESTIONABLE — Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi.


Probable lineups

Manchester City: Ederson; Walker, Stones, Fernandinho, Mendy; Rodri, Gundogan, B.Silva, De Bruyne, Mahrez, Aguero.

Chelsea: Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Tomori, Zouma, Alonso; Kovacic, Kante, Mount, Pulisic, Willian; Abraham.


What they’re saying

City’s Pep Guardiola on Frank Lampard’s young managerial career: “From my experience, experience doesn’t count much. I would say that when you know the club it is a good advantage and Frank Lampard knows Chelsea perfectly and everything behind the scenes – media, fans, players – so that is good. When I arrived (at Barcelona) not many people trusted me, honestly. Few, few people. Maybe the president, sporting director and not many. “Maybe Frank was similar at Derby. It was a big club, he didn’t take results in the beginning and people said he didn’t have experience. Look now.”

Frank Lampard on being above Man City after 12 matches: “For us to be in that position is something I am pleased with, I actually want more as well. I look at ourselves and don’t consider others, only where we could have got more points too, and there are times where we could have done. At the same time it is nice to be up there and around it. It’s a great test tomorrow, head to head to see where we’re at. It won’t be the end story, anyone can go to Manchester City and lose, they are such a strong outfit. That is what Pep Guardiola and the club have built over recent years. So I won’t be making huge judgements win or lose tomorrow without a doubt.”


Prediction

Could go either way, couldn’t it, but it feels more likely we see a vintage, defiant bounce back effort from City that looks a bit too easy given Chelsea’s strengths. This is the first big league test for Chelsea since its narrow loss to Liverpool on Sept. 22. We see the six-match winning streak ending via a 3-1 final score.