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.

[ 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

La Liga: Sevilla held at Osasuna, Getafe maintains UCL fight

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Sevilla was held to a 1-1 draw at 10-man Osasuna on Sunday, giving both Real Madrid and Barcelona space at the top of the La Liga table.

Munir El Haddadi put the visitors 1-0 up just 11 minutes in, but Ezequiel Avila struck just before halftime to share the points. Sevilla was held to just two total shots through the opening 45 minutes, and despite Osasuna defender Oier Olazabal being shown a second yellow card with 29 minutes to go, Sevilla still managed just 11 total efforts through the 90 minutes, with four on target.

Getafe continued its battle for a top four spot as they won 1-0 on the road at Eibar. Angel Rodriguez bagged his eighth goal of the season to secure the win, cropping up in the 67th minute to finally put Getafe through. They had been turning the screw for some time, forcing Marko Dmitrovic into a pair of big saves just before the opener which came from an absurdly tight angle after Angel had rounded the goalkeeper. The win leaves them fourth, level with Real Sociedad on 27 points.

They were allowed to close the gap after Real Sociedad was held scoreless in a 0-0 draw at 14th placed Real Valladolid. The visitors put just two of their 14 shots on net, and dropped to fifth thanks to Getafe holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Athletic Club also fell back in the race for a top four spot, dropping a 3-2 decision on the road at Real Betis. Joaquin scored a first-half hat-trick, with all three goals coming in the opening 20 minutes to give him five in his last three games. Inaki Williams brought Athletic Bilbao one back before halftime from the spot, and Yuri Berchiche made things interesting with a minute to go, but that was all they could muster as the visitors fell to sixth on 26 points, above Atletico Madrid on goal differential with the two yet to play head-to-head.

Celta Vigo made it interesting as Iago Aspas scored a man-down goal, but Leganes held on for a 3-2 win over the 10-man visitors. Oscar Rodriguez had a first-half brace to help the hosts to a 3-0 lead, but Nestor Araujo and Aspas helped Celta Vigo make things interesting. Still, a 71st minute second yellow card for halftime substitute Gabriel Fernandez hampered the visitors in their efforts for a comeback, leaving Celta Vigo in the relegation zone, a point back of safety, with Leganes is four points behind them in 19th.

Gerrard reacts to Rangers’ Old Firm heartbreak in final

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Steven Gerrard lined his Rangers side up for success, but fate was cruel to the Liverpool legend.

Rangers lost the League Cup Final to their Old Firm rivals on Sunday despite out-shooting the Bhoys by a 16-5 margin, winning a penalty, and playing almost a half-hour up a man.

[ RECAP: Rangers 0-1 Celtic ]

“To a man we were very good … by much the better side,” Gerrard said. “But unfortunately that’s not what gets you a trophy.”

But Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster stopped Alfredo Morelos’ penalty, three minutes after goal scorer Christopher Jullien was offside on the lone goal of the game.

Scotland doesn’t yet use VAR, and Gerrard doesn’t love VAR but he likes it more than he likes Scottish officials.

“There were three Celtic players standing in offside positions but unfortunately we play in a country where there is no VAR,” he said, via the BBC. “I’d be a liar if I said I was 100% in favour of it, but the one thing I do know is that officials up here need support.”

Now he has the task of getting his men to rebound ahead of its biggest non-derby in ages, as Rangers need at least a draw against Young Boys at home on Thursday to advance to the Europa League knockout rounds

“It’s a bit raw right now… It’s up to me to pick the players up. One thing I will say is I’ll stay with these players on the evidence of today because they gave me absolutely everything. We might have to suffer a bit short-term. I need to pick them up a bit physically and mentally for Thursday which is huge but our day will come on the evidence of today.”

Gerrard has done a very good job with Rangers, who are two points back of Celtic in a two-horse race for the Scottish top flight title. Celtic has won eight-straight titles to improve their total to 50, four less than the Rangers.

Serie A: AC Milan on winning streak, Fiorentina woes deepen

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AC Milan secured its first winning streak since mid-September as Krzysztof Piatek and Theo Hernandez led the way to a 3-2 road win over Bologna.

Piatek was the first on the scoresheet, opening the scoring from the spot after the Polish striker was bundled over on the break by Mattia Bani. He utilized a heavy stutter in his run-up, but wrong-footed Bologna goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski for the conversion. Hernandez was next up, latching onto a perfect through-ball from Suso that sprung the former at the far post.

Bologna pulled one back before halftime on a Hernandez own-goal, but Giacomo Bonaventura restored the two-goal lead just seconds after the restart. Nicola Sansone’s late penalty made no difference in the result and Milan sits 10th in the league table, level on points with Torino.

Fiorentina slumped to its fourth straight loss as they fell at Torino 2-1. The visitors were soundly beaten on goals by Simone Zaza and Cristian Ansaldi, only able to grab a consolation strike from Martin Caceres in stoppage time. They put just four of their 17 shots on net and had very few true chances until Caceres’s late goal. With the loss, Fiorentina drops to 13th in the table, just five points above the relegation zone. Vincenze Montella’s job is on the line, having just returned to the club in April for a second stint in charge after the departure of Stefano Pioli.

Cagliari failed to pull away from Roma with a 2-2 draw on the road at 14th placed Sassuolo. A comeback was required after falling down 2-0 before halftime. João Pedro brought the visitors one back just six minutes after the break, and Daniele Ragatzu rescued the point as he snuck one in at the near post a minute into added time. They also survived what could have been the game-winning goal as Domenico Berardi clattered the crossbar from the penalty stop on a chance that would have put the home side 3-1. Instead, Cagliari moves level with Roma on 29 points, clinging to the fourth Champions League spot on goal differential.

Genoa survived the final 13 minutes with just nine men, securing a 2-2 draw with Lecce that keeps them in the hunt for Serie A safety. Goran Pandev and Domenico Criscito had put Genoa 2-0 up before halftime, but they had coughed up the lead by the 70th minute. Still, things could have been worse as Kevin Agudelo was sent off with 20 minutes to go after conceding a penalty, while Pandev was given his marching orders in the 77th minute. The goals in this game were spectacular, with Pandev’s opener coming from nearly 40 yards out as he chipped Lecce goalkeeper Gabriel who was off his line, while Filippo Falco scored a fine curler to mark Lecce’s first on the hour mark.

Brescia topped SPAL 1-0 to leave the latter at the bottom of the Serie A table, with the lone goal coming via Mario Balotelli in the 54th minute as he collected a bobbling ball on the break and fired it in at the far post. The win was critical, moving 19th-placed Brescia to 10 points on the year, two from safety.

Parma defeated Sampdoria 1-0 on a 21st minute goal from Juraj Kucka that left Claudio Ranieri‘s squad just a point off the relegation zone.

Nuno expresses pride in Wolves achievements after Brighton draw

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Nuno Espirito Santo has expressed his pride in what Wolves has achieved so far this season after the 2-2 road draw at Brighton & Hove Albion.

The team reclaimed sixth place in the Premier League table with the point from the Amex, and while Nuno knows there were moments to improve on, he still believes the team is headed forward and looks back fondly on where they’ve come from.

[ RECAP: Wolves, Seagulls draw ]

“We are very proud of what we are achieving day by day but we want to keep on going,” Nuno said after the match. “We need to compete and prepare ourselves for the last game in the Europa League.”

He pointed to mistakes that led to Brighton goals, ones he believes a little tactical instruction should snuff out. “I am proud of how we stayed organized. We did not do well when he had to restart the game after the 1-1, we should not have played a horizontal pass that was intercepted.”

The head man was frustrated by one key thing, as his winger Adama Traore was fouled four times, all coming in the second half. “He’s a strong boy,” Nuno said. “Everybody can see that. No matter how strong you are, if you are being kicked it’s impossible.” He was seen having an animated conversation with the fourth official during the later stages of the game, with two of the four fouls drawn in the final 10 minutes as the visitors pushed for a winner.

The draw against Brighton was no anomaly – Wolves has achieved its impressive table position despite just five wins on the season. The key for them has been avoiding losses, with just two defeats on the year. They have drawn a shocking nine games, with the previous eight all either 0-0 or 1-1 before Sunday’s 2-2 finish. That leaves Wolves with an 11-game unbeaten streak, with the last loss coming in mid-September.

Nevertheless, Nuno knows the toughest part of the season is on the horizon. “The hardest part of the fixtures is going to start now. It will be tough for everybody.” Wolves has a match against Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham next weekend before a festive season that sees the club play Norwich, Man City, Liverpool, and Watford between an eleven-day span.