Premier League Playback: Ranking the superstars, so far

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WHICH STARS HAVE BEEN TOP-CLASS, SO FAR?

This season the Premier League is littered with glittering superstars. Wherever you look, star players are lining up for the top teams but have all of them lived up to the hype?

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Below is a look at how the so-called “world class” players have performed so far this season, with a mark out of 10 for each of them.

There are two players from each of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham with the main attacking talents deemed to be the “world class” by most, although plenty of other players can certainly be classed in and around this upper echelon.

It’s time to grade the stars…


Alexis Sanchez – 10/10 – They don’t call him “El Nino Maravilla” for nothing. Sanchez has been on another planet this season and his sensational hat trick against West Ham this weekend (see video above) summed up how dangerous he is. He can beat players with pace and power, plus has stunning technique and can finish. His best role is probably out wide but he’s being used as a central striker and is ripping teams apart. Easily the best player in the Premier League this season. Easily. His new contract value must be going up by the day as Arsenal try and lock him down long-term.

Diego Costa – 10/10 – Okay, so Diego Costa isn’t far behind Sanchez and the Spanish international has been a huge part of Chelsea’s incredible eight-game winning streak. With 11 goals and five assists, he has been the focal point of Antonio Conte‘s attack and Costa looks more controlled this season. He is focused and fired up to prove the doubters wrong. Boy, is he doing that. An absolute beast of a striker when he’s fit and focused.

Mesut Ozil – 9/10 – The Gunners playmaker has flown under the radar this season but his numbers, especially in terms of goals scored, are impressive. The big arguement about Ozil is his end product but clearly the German international is getting it right in the final third. He’s already scored eight goals this season which matches his tally from the whole of the 2015-16 campaign. Like Sanchez, he is currently in talks about signing a new deal and in this form he has Arsenal fans dreaming of another league title.

Philippe Coutinho – 9/10 – Such a shame that he’s gone down with an ankle injury and will miss five to six weeks in a busy stretch of the season. The Brazilian playmaker has been the creative heart of Liverpool’s high-pressing unit and delivers quality, goals and assists by the bucket full. Along with Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane (more on him shortly) and Roberto Firmino, that quartet has delivered hope to the Kop that Jurgen Klopp‘s project can yield trophies. Coutinho makes Liverpool tick.

Harry Kane – 8/10 – He is back fit after a lay off and Kane is on fire. After signing his new long-term deal at Spurs last week, he has now scored six goals in his last five Premier League games. Kane’s importance to Tottenham is undoubted and at the age of 23 he’s only just getting started.

Eden Hazard – 8/10 – Talking of getting started, Hazard has got going again and is on the way back to his best. You still feel like the Belgian wizard is playing in fourth gear but he can crank it up to fifth whenever he wants. In the 3-4-3 system at Chelsea he has more freedom and more cover from Marcos Alonso on the left flank. That is allowing Hazard to flourish.

Sadio Mane – 8/10 – The Senegalese flyer has been a revelation since arriving at Anfield in a big $45 million transfer from Southampton in the summer. Mane has scored seven goals and added three assists in 13 Premier League games, but it is his searing pace which terrifies opponents and is a perfect blend for the trickery of Coutinho and Lallana. A fine start to the season and Mane is becoming a bonafide star in the PL after two-and-a-half stellar campaigns.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – 7/10 – We know Zlatan can talk the talk but he has also proved he can walk the walk. Despite a lean spell when he failed to score in six games, he has scored 12 goals in 21 games in all competitions for United. Ibrahimovic is United’s main attacking threat and their top goalscorer. At the age of 35, he still has star power and he’s being managed perfectly by Jose Mourinho… as things stand.

Kevin De Bruyne – 7/10 – It has been a stop, start season or KDB so far but that’s mostly been down to injury. 7 out of 10 may be a little harsh, especially after his dominant displays at Manchester United in the PL and against Barcelona in the Champions League, but De Bruyne has gone missing in some games which is unlike him. He’s been played centrally by Guardiola and he still seems to be figuring out the best way to be dangerous in that role.

Sergio Aguero – 6/10 – Like KDB, this ranking may be a little harsh, especially when you consider Aguero has 10 goals thus far. However, he also has a bit of an issue with lashing out and he was lucky to get away with a vicious elbow on Winston Reid earlier this season and has since been banned four games for his horrendous lunging tackle on David Luiz last weekend. All of that has soured Aguero’s fine finishes a little.

Dele Alli – 5/10 – Tottenham’s playmaker just hasn’t got going so far. Again, he’s had a few injuries but he’s also been involved in plenty of controversy with a few dives for penalty kicks in the box. Alli had such an incredible first season in the Premier League that there was bound to be a drop off but just three goals and one assist thus far prove he’s well below the standard he set for himself last season.

Paul Pogba – 5/10 – Well, when you become the most expensive player on the planet plenty is expected of your right away. Just ask Gareth Bale… Pogba has scored a stunning goal against Swansea and a header against Leicester and apart from that he’s been in and out of games with Mourinho struggling to find his best position on the pitch early in the season. As the campaign has worn on, Pogba has looked more comfortable in an attacking midfield role in the center yet he still has plenty of work to do to prove he’s one of the best midfielders on the planet.


CHELSEA WIN BATTLE OF BACK THREE

It was one of the most eagerly-anticipated tactical battles of the season between two new managers who had excelled at top teams across Europe.

Antonio Conte beat Pep Guardiola in the tactical battle as both deployed three central defenders and wing backs.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

In truth, the 3-1 scoreline in Chelsea’s favor doesn’t tell the whole story of a game which had everything. Guardiola’s City looked uneasy early on but found their feet and deservedly led at half time through Gary Cahill‘s shocking own goal. But as Chelsea has shown in recent games, they’re now capable of handling a blow and striking back.

Diego Costa took the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half as he scored the equalizer and set up Willian for the go-ahead goal and Eden Hazard clinched the win late on to put some extra gloss on the scoreline.

[ MORE: Recap as Chelsea win ] 

From an attacking standpoint there wasn’t much in this and if anything City had better chances but failed to take them via a combination of bad misses (Kevin de Bruyne hit the bar, somehow, from four yards out) good goalkeeping from Thibaut Courtois and goal line clearances. Big calls also went Chelsea’s way, especially in the first half when Aguero and Luiz tangled, but overall Chelsea proved that their defensive solidity will help them grind through games and get wins.

City’s defense looked shaky for most of the game as their two wings backs were basically wingers in Leroy Sane and Jesus Navas in a 3-1-4-2 formation. Neither could defend and as the game wore on Chelsea’s wing backs in a more conventional 3-4-3 formation dominated with Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso providing plenty of width and attacking intent. Without Vincent Kompany in central defense, City struggled and the decision to not play the likes of Pablo Zabelta in a wing back role really backfired for Guardiola. Defensively his side must improve if they’re going to challenge Chelsea, and others, for the Premier League title this season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Conte won the battle of the three-man defenses and his Chelsea team also put down a huge marker of how good they are with an eighth-straight Premier League win which in turn hands Guardiola plenty of food for thought.

BONUS: The fact that Pep will be without leading scorer Aguero for four games and influential midfielder Fernandinho for the next three will also be concerning for City, as a mass melee at the end of the game ensued. Aguero’s horrendous tackle on David Luiz started it all off and Fernandinho‘s pushing and grabbing of Cesc Fabregas’ throat meant he joined Aguero in getting sent off as City finished the game with nine men.

On top of that, both teams have been charged with failing to control their players by the FA which should result in hefty fines. That said, this incident highlighted just how much this game meant to both sets of players as the title gauntlet has been thrown down earlier by Chelsea. Now, can City find a way to respond and kick on Guardiola’s project quickly?


BIG SCRAP AT THE BOTTOM

The race against relegation is quickly getting ugly and frenetic.

At this point of the season there’s usually one or two teams cut adrift from the rest. That’s not the case this season and it is making plenty of players, managers and owners nervous as we gear up for the busy festive period.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]   

Looking at the table below (before Middlesbrough’s game against Hull City on Monday) you can see Bob Bradley‘s Swansea City are rock bottom as they suffered a 5-0 thumping at Tottenham Hotspur. The Swans have nine points, and a rather favorable schedule coming up, and are just two points off safety.

Overall, there are seven teams separated by just three points from 19th to 13th and there are some big teams down there struggling.

pl-table-dec-5-2016

 

Reigning champions Leicester City continue to falter after losing at Sunderland (see video, below) and Claudio Ranieri‘s side are yet to win away in the Premier League this campaign. Making simple defensive mistakes is costing the Foxes dear and up top Jamie Vardy has just to goals in the Premier League this season, while Riyad Mahrez is struggling to create. Leicester is in real danger of getting dragged into the thick of the relegation battle and so is West Ham after they were smashed 5-1 by Arsenal. Manager Slaven Bilic admitted after that hiding that his team is in a relegation battle but he has already received the dreaded vote of confidence from the owners.

With all three newly promoted teams down at the bottom, plus Swansea, Sunderland, Leicester, West Ham and Crystal Palace in and and around the bottom three, we are all set for plenty of “relegation six-pointers” in the coming weeks.

It seems very soon to be saying that but with so many tights tightly bunched together at the bottom as we approach the halfway point, the relegation battle this season is proving to be yet another tight one.


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

Ighalo nears reported loan extension at Manchester United

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Odion Ighalo may get his wish to continue playing for his favorite club a bit longer.

Shanghai Shenhua is reportedly close to agreeing a loan extension for the Manchester United striker hours before the end of his initial loan to Old Trafford.

[ PREMIER LEAGUE: Remaining schedule | Reaction to return ]

Ighalo turns 31 on June 16 was linked with a Shanghai return earlier this week but has been keen on staying with United. The reported problem is that Shanghai wanted a permanent transfer.

United, understandably, didn’t need that from a striker of his age, especially with Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, and Mason Greenwood in the strike corps.

From The Manchester Evening News:

Sources close to the player have said negotiations are continuing between United and Shanghai Shenhua on Sunday but an extended loan deal until January 30 is now “looking most likely”.

That will allow Ighalo to complete the season with United and while the 2020/21 calendar remains up in the air, he will almost certainly spend the first few months of that campaign with the club as well.

Ighalo has fit the bill as a fill-in striker for the Red Devils, who had lost Rashford to injury. He has four goals in eight appearances for United after 46 goals in three seasons abroad.

Shanghai lost more than a bit of its power once United made it clear that it wouldn’t be held hostage over a veteran striker. United has at least one FA Cup match and three more Europa League legs to contend with on top of its PL slate, so any additional veteran savvy will be useful.

LIVE, Bundesliga: Gladbach, Dortmund face desperate Union, Paderborn

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Top four contenders Borussia Monchengladbach and Borussia Dortmund meet relegation-threatened Union Berlin and Paderborn, respectively, as Weeek 29 in the Bundesliga hits Sunday.

Dortmund needs a win to keep pace with presumed champions Bayern Munich, which has a 10-point lead entering Sunday, while Gladbach can climb into third with a win.

[ Bundesliga: Live scores | Saturday roundup | Bayern blowout  ] 

Union opens the day just four points clear of the drop zone, while bottom-dwelling Paderborn has been playing much better but remains nine points back of safety.

Matchweek 29 in the Bundesliga will again see games played in empty stadiums, which is the plan for the rest of the season and beyond. If you’re new to Germany’s top-flight, here’s a guide to help you pick a club to support.

Schedule

  • Gladbach v. Union Berlin — 9:30 a.m. ET
  • Paderborn v. Borussia Dortmund — Noon ET

How to Watch the Bundesliga

  • When: Friday, May 29 from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET
  • TV Channel: FS2
  • Stream LiveVia Fox Soccer
  • USMNT or eligible players in action: Giovanni Reyna (Dortmund), Julian Ryerson (Union)

You can check out the full schedulestandings and find out how to watch the action, while we will have you covered right here on ProSoccerTalk with analysis, reaction and more.

[ MORE: Takeaways from Week 28 of the Bundesliga ]

Transfer news: Werner to Chelsea; Sanchez to Inter

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In the latest transfer news Timo Werner is reportedly being chased by Chelsea, while Alexis Sanchez could be staying at Inter Milan instead of returning to Man United.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

First up, a juicy report from Bild says that Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger is trying to convince his Germany teammate and close friend Timo Werner to join hm at Stamford Bridge.

Werner, 24, has dazzled at RB Leipzig this season (31 goals in 40 games in all competitions) and is widely expected to leave with Liverpool, Man United and many others clubs across Europe chasing his signature. Per the report, Chelsea have Rudiger working hard to convince his friend and former Stuttgart teammate that west London is the place for him.

The release clause on Werner’s current contract is said to be $60 million and Chelsea are one of the few clubs who have a healthy transfer budget as they had a transfer ban for a whole year and Frank Lampard has just spent $44 million on one new signing so far, bringing in Hakim Ziyech who will not arrive until later this summer.

Werner is exactly what Chelsea need. They have created so many golden goalscoring opportunities and although Tammy Abraham was putting them away at the start of the season, his form and fitness was a concern in the last few months before the suspension.

Olivier Giroud is their only other forward option and Werner would be perfect to finish off the chances this attack-minded Chelsea team create. Even better for him, he would actually play at Chelsea which may not be the case at Liverpool and Man United given their stacked attacking lineups.

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Heading to Manchester, it appears Alexis Sanchez may not be going back to his parent club next season.

Sanchez, 31, is on loan at Inter Milan for the 2019-20 season and the Daily Express claim that he could stay at Inter rather than heading back to Old Trafford despite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer previously saying he was open to the idea. Per the report, Man United are keen to loan Sanchez out to Inter once again on a similar arrangement and the Serie A side are willing to see how Sanchez does when the season restarts in a few weeks. With Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and others around at Man United, he may struggle for minutes at Man United.

Would another loan be a good move for Inter?

Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez have been their main strikers this season under Antonio Conte, with Sanchez out injured for large chunks of the campaign and then doing okay when he did play. However, with Martinez chased by Barcelona, if they do sell the Argentine forward for over $115 million, having Sanchez around on loan would soften the blow.

The main problem with Sanchez is that over the last three years he has picked up consistent injury problems. If he can shake those issues off, we all know he is capable of scoring goals and creating havoc. Given this recent track record though, that’s a big if, as he’s scored just one goal and added three assists in 15 outings for Inter this season.

Premier League confirm zero positive COVID-19 test results

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Following the latest batch of tests on players and club staff the Premier League have revealed that zero out of 1130 COVID-19 tests taken on Thursday and Friday have come back positive.

Zero.

The fourth round of testing is the first time that no positive tests have come back, as a total of 3,882 COVID-19 tests have now been carried out with 12 positive results.

All players and staff at Premier League clubs will be tested twice a week during the strict return to training protocols put in place, as full contact training is now up and running and a restart date of June 17 has been set.

Here is the statement from the Premier League in full:


The Premier League can today confirm that on Thursday 28 May and Friday 29 May, 1130 players and club staff were tested for COVID-19. Of these, zero have tested positive.

The Premier League is providing this aggregated information for the purposes of competition integrity and transparency. No specific details as to clubs or individuals will be provided by the League and results will be made public after each round of testing.

Previous test results

Round 1: 17-18 May – 748 tested, with six testing positive from three clubs.
Round 2: 19-22 May – 996 tested, with two testing positive from two clubs.
Round 3: 25-26 May – 1,008 tested, with four testing positive from two clubs.


This is more good news for the Premier League as the UK government gave the green light for elite sport in the UK to return from June 1 in empty stadiums, as the top-flight of English soccer continues to clear each hurdle in its way to finishing the final 92 games of the 2019-20 season.

With just over two weeks to go until the action returns, Premier League clubs will have to keep these test results low for the restart to take place.