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?

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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

Mourinho bemoans ‘very bad’ preseason for Man United

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MANCHESTER, England — Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has described the team’s preseason as “very bad” because of the disruption caused by the World Cup and the absence of Alexis Sanchez for the tour of the United States.

Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, Marouane Fellaini and Phil Jones will not return to training with United until close to the start of the new season because their countries got to the semifinals of the World Cup in Russia.

Sanchez wasn’t among the United squad heading across the Atlantic because there was an issue with his visa after the Chile forward accepted a 16-month suspended sentence in Spain over a tax issue.

Mourinho said “preseason is very bad, I have to say that,” adding that “I am worried because I am not training with all my players.”

On Sanchez, Mourinho said “he’s very sad, it’s not good for him or me, not good for anyone. There is no one to blame — the club is making an effort. I have to respect the U.S. authorities in their process of selection of visas. I hope he will come to join us.”

Mourinho said he is set to start the season with Sanchez, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial as his strike force.

United flew to Los Angeles on Sunday and will play five games, including three International Champions Cup matches against Real Madrid, AC Milan and Liverpool, during its stay.

United plays its first English Premier League game of the season on Aug. 10 against Leicester at Old Trafford.

WATCH LIVE: U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals Wed. night

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The 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open is back, with all four quarterfinal matchups set for Wednesday night.

[ MORE: USWNT names veteran team for Tournament of Nations ]

It’s a mixed bag of haves and have-nots from the 2018 MLS regular season still alive in the competition. Current holders Sporting Kansas City are still alive and have been drawn away to the Houston Dynamo (8:30 p.m. ET), in something of a grudge match for Houston after coughing up a 2-0 lead and losing to Sporting KC 3-2 last month.

Los Angeles FC host Portland Timbers (10:30 p.m. ET) in a rematch of Sunday’s league clash at Banc of California Stadium (a 0-0 draw). Philadelphia Union and Orlando City SC open the night’s action at Talen Energy Stadium (7 p.m. ET), followed by Chicago Fire taking on the only remaining lower-division team still in the competition, Louisville City (7:30 p.m. ET).

All games will be streamed live on ussoccer.com, direct links below.

STREAMS

Philadelphia Union vs. Orlando City SC — WATCH
Chicago Fire vs. Louisville City — WATCH
Houston Dynamo vs. Sporting Kansas City — WATCH
Los Angeles FC vs. Portland Timbers — WATCH

Miami City Commission sends Beckham stadium to Nov. ballot

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David Beckham and his business partners, the Mas brothers, are one top closer to securing the stadium deal required to bring an MLS expansion franchise to the city of Miami — maybe, but also maybe not.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup: Pogba wants Juve move, Grealish to Spurs? ]

The Miami City Commission voted on Wednesday to place a referendum on the November ballot, paving the way for Beckham and Co.’s privately-funded complex on city land currently occupied by a golf course. The final vote tally was 3-2 in favor of sending the issue to ballot. A previous Commission session was conducted, and ended, last week without a final vote taking place as the fifth and final member had yet to make up his mind.

Beckham and partners used the last week, between Commission meetings, to put a full-court press on Miami’s general public, local media and the last remaining member of the Commission.

[ MORE: PHOTOS: 2018-19 Premier League jerseys ]

The key, and most contentious, part of the proposal is (at least) $35 million worth of toxic waste which must be removed from the site. That number could very easily double or triple once clean-up begins, and Beckham’s group would be on the hook for the total cost.

The proposed stadium would seat roughly 25,000 fans and would be just one part of the 58-acre park which will also include retail, restaurants and hotels.

Sarri hopes to convince Hazard, Courtois in face-to-face meeting

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The coming days and weeks will be immensely tense times for players, coaches, directors and fans of Chelsea alike — but, for no one more so than new Blues boss Maurizio Sarri, who faces the very real prospect of losing arguably his two best players before managing his first game at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup: Pogba wants Juve move, Grealish to Spurs? ]

Forward Eden Hazard has made it pretty clear he’d prefer a move to his yet-unnamed “preferred destination,” and goalkeeper Thibut Courtois has said he’d like to continue playing with Hazard, either in west London or elsewhere. Sarri hopes he’ll have a chance to persuade the Belgian duo to stay another year, or longer, but he doesn’t plan on doing so until they return from their offseason breaks, at which point he can meet with them face to face — quotes from the Guardian:

“Clearly the players you are referring to are very high-level players and I would like to keep them. But a telephone call without looking them in the eye will not give me any certainty.

“I would like to meet these players face to face and talk to them and understand what the best thing is for everyone to do. Before that I would also like a player to come on the pitch for four or five days with me to have a clear idea of what the plan is.”

Given that the Premier League’s transfer window will close before the upcoming season’s opening weekend (Aug. 9), the period of time during which Hazard and Courtois will be available to meet with Sarri, and the amount of time to reinvest and replenish the squad should they leave, will be an extremely narrow window. After finishing third-place at the 2018 World Cup, they could very easily be away until the final 48 or 72 hours of the window.