Premier League Playback: Ranking the superstars, so far

6 Comments

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

Five Premier League teams listed among most valuable sports franchises

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The rich are getting richer. Literally.

Forbes has released its latest list of the top 50 most valuable sports teams on the planet, with eight soccer teams in the top 50 as 52 teams are worth at least $2 billion.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

Five Premier League teams make it, with Manchester United in sixth with a value of $3.81 billion, Man City in 25th at $2.69 billion, Chelsea 32nd at $2.58 billion, Arsenal in 42nd at $2.27 billion and Liverpool in 45th at $2.18 billion.

Real Madrid and Barcelona lead the charge of most valuable soccer teams, sitting in third and fourth respectively with values of just over $4 billion, while Bayern Munich are in 17th with a valuation of $3.02 billion.

In previous years Man United topped Forbes’ list and they were the only team in the world to be worth over $2 billion back in 2012.

Real Madrid were the last soccer team atop Forbes’ list but the Dallas Cowboys have now been in top spot since 2016 with the NFL dominating this list.

26 of the top 50 most valuable teams are from the NFL, with eight soccer clubs, nine MLB franchises and seven NBA teams making up the rest.

Below is the list of the value of the top 10 sports franchises on the planet.


1. Dallas Cowboys – $5 billion
2. New York Yankees – $4.6 billion
3. Real Madrid – $4.2 billion
4. Barcelona – $4.02 billion
5. New York Knicks – $4 billion
6. Manchester United – $3.81 billion
7. New England Patriots – $3.8 billion
8. Los Angeles Lakers – $3.7 billion
9. Golden State Warriors – $3.5 billion
10=. New York Giants – $3.3 billion
10=. Los Angeles Dodgers – $3.3 billion

Newcastle close to $50 million Joelinton signing

Leave a comment

Newcastle United’s fans are about to have a new hero.

Brazilian forward Joelinton is on Tyneside and is undergoing a medical ahead of a club-record $50 million transfer from Bundesliga side Hoffenheim.

According to our partners Sky Sports, Joelinton, 22, is finalizing his move to St James’ Park and will become Steve Bruce‘s first signings as Magpies boss.

Much-maligned owner Mike Ashley has promised to reinvest the money Newcastle bring in via transfer fees back into the playing squad, and this move would not only prove that but also suggests he could stick around as a potential sale of the club continues to drag on.

Newcastle’s need for a new striker is clear for all to see as they’ve lost top goalscorer from last season, Salomon Rondon, who returned to parent club West Brom after his loan and has since joined former Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez at Dalian Yifang in China.

With Ayoze Perez sold to Leicester City for $40 million, Bruce badly needed attacking reinforcements and Joelinton’s impending arrival is a huge deal, as the previous club-record transfer was the $27 million they paid for Miguel Almiron in January.

Maybe this will lift some of the gloom which has hung over Newcastle this offseason…

Does Joelinton fit the bill? He scored 11 goals in 33 outings for Hoffenheim last season and is a Brazilian youth international. The last Brazilian striker to leave Hoffenheim for the Premier League has had a pretty good impact (sarcasm alert) as Roberto Firmino arrived for $40 million in the summer of 2015.

But Joelinton is a much different striker to Firmino. In many ways he is the perfect replacement for Rondon, as he is strong in the air, a powerful runner on the break and has a calmness in front of goal to finish off mazy runs or speedy counters.

That will be music to the ears of Newcastle’s fans, as the likes of Almiron and Matt Ritchie will whip in plenty of crosses for him to attack next season. His figures in Germany haven’t been prolific but Joelinton is still young and all of his attributes align with the direct style of play Newcastle had under Benitez and that’s how they will likely play under Bruce.

Take a look at the video above to see Joelinton in all his glory for Hoffenheim last season.

We’re not saying he’s going to be the next Alan Shearer, but he has the potential to be exactly what Newcastle need as they aim to cement their place in the Premier League.

Man United next? Deals for Fernandes, Pepe developing

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester United could be looking a lot different by the time the summer transfer window closes on Aug. 8.

After already signing pacy youngsters Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka for a combined $83 million, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be enthused to hear about the latest developments regarding two of his other targets.

With Man United on their preseason tour of Australia and the Far East, Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has remained in England to sort out transfer deals and there have been updates on their pursuit of winger Nicolas Pepe and attacking midfielder Bruno Fernandes, with both players consistently linked with a move to Old Trafford this summer.

Pepe, 24, lit up Ligue 1 last season as Lille finished second in the table and qualified for the UEFA Champions League. The Ivory Coast winger has just returned from the Africa Cup of Nations and here’s  what Lille club president Gerard Lopez had to say about his future at the club.

“For Nico, it is almost done and he could have left last summer,” Lopez said. “It is true that there are big offers and big clubs in for him, so I think [he will leave].”

As for Fernandes, he has spoken to the media ahead of Sporting Lisbon’s trip to New York City to play a friendly against Liverpool on Wednesday and admitted he wants to move to the Premier League.

“I don’t care about the market, I’ve talked about this many times. The only thing I can do now is that I need to catch the plane so I don’t miss it,” Fernandes said. “‘Will this be the last match for Sporting?’ I don’t know, it’s the coach who decides. I told you I’d like to play in England, but that’s not what interests me. It may be when the club decides.”

Sporting’s president Frederico Varandas has said earlier this week that Fernandes will not leave for anything less than $65 million, even though Fernandes has a much smaller release clause in his contract.

There is a clause which Sporting have in his contract which says they can pay Fernandes $6 million direct if they reject any offer over his release clause. So, yeah, that deal is a little more complicated.

As for Pepe, it is believed Lille want around $75 million for the clinical winger and although both Bayern Munich and Liverpool have been linked with a move for him, Man United are now the new favorites to sign him.

Even though United should spend more money on their defensive unit, both of these players bring one main thing: Goals. And plenty of them.

Pepe scored 22 in France’s top-flight last season, while Fernandes, 24, scored 31 times for Sporting Lisbon in all competitions as the Portuguese midfielder had a breakout year.

With a $100 million move for Leicester’s Harry Maguire lined up, plus Newcastle’s Sean Longstaff still courted, Solskjaer is focusing on bringing in players 26 years old or younger.

That is the correct approach as United want to match the intensity of the way Liverpool and Man City play to push themselves back into the top four and return to being perennial title challengers.

As for the rest of their squad, Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku, for now, are still around, while David De Gea is set to sign a new contract with the Red Devils in the coming days. If Lukaku leaves, which looks likely, then Mason Greenwood seems ready to step in and give Solskjaer yet another attacking option.

Taking into account these possible moves and the signings United have already made, here’s what their matchday squad could look like this season.

Not bad, eh?

Possible Man United matchday squad, 2019-20

—– De Gea —–

— Wan-Bissaka — Lindelof — Maguire — Shaw —

—– Matic —– 

— Pepe — Pogba — Fernandes — Martial —

—– Rashford —- 

Bench
Romero (GK)
Bailly
Young
Longstaff
James
Lingard
Greenwood

Pulisic dazzles as Chelsea beat Barcelona

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Christian Pulisic‘s first start for Chelsea saw him put on a show as the Premier League side beat Barcelona 2-1 in Saitama, Japan on Tuesday.

The USMNT star made his first start of preseason for the Blues and his pace off the left flank tore Barca apart on numerous occasions.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

His early shot was parried by Marc Andre ter Stegen and Tammy Abraham should have finished off the rebound but blazed over the bar. Abraham did grab the winner though, as Jorginho intercepted the ball in a key area which led to Abraham showing quick feet to finish in the first half. Ross Barkley then came on in the second and scored a beauty for Chelsea’s second, and although Ivan Rakitic pulled one back in stoppage time, Frank Lampard grabbed his second preseason win as Chelsea’s new boss.

As for Pulisic, he played the first 60 minutes and again wore the No.24 shirt for the Blues. His squad number for this season is yet to be confirmed (USMNT fans everywhere are still waiting with bated breath to buy their Chelsea shirts) but the Pennsylvania native is unlikely to get Eden Hazard‘s No.10 jersey as Willian has confirmed to Brazilian media he will wear that next season.

The 20-year-old impressed Lampard by cutting short his summer break after playing for the U.S. at the Gold Cup. Pulisic is quite fresh after being in and out of the Borussia Dortmund team last season due to injuries and the emergence of Jadon Sancho, but the fact he wanted to hit the ground running with Chelsea as soon as possible certainly starts his Blues career off in the correct manner.

Putting in an impressive display against Barcelona in a preseason friendly will no doubt help his chances of being a key player for Lampard as he battles with Pedro, Willian and other to start in one of the wide positions early in the season.

A fairly strong Barcelona side (missing Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez as they rest after the Copa America) did see Antoine Griezmann play his first game for Blaugrana as they will Vissel Kobe, Arsenal and Napoli in Japan, Spain and the USA as their mammoth preseason tour continues.

Chelsea will now return to England to play against Reading, then travel to Red Bull Salzburg in Austria and Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany before their opening game of the Premier League season against Manchester United on Aug. 11 (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Pulisic is certainly pushing to be in the Blues’ starting lineup at Old Trafford on the opening day.