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An under-the-radar Premier League XI

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The Premier League’s international break invites reflection on both what we’ve seen so far and what’s to come.

For example, what if we left out the superstars?

For whatever reason, this one is recalling the state of mind of 2015-16, when we were digesting that Leicester City very much looked the part of Premier League champions.

[ MORE: Herrera on “intense” Zlatan ]

For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.

He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).

For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).

Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.

— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.

  • Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
  • Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
  • Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.

— The following players have risen well above most of their teammates but fall short of the league Top 50 on either site: Ben Gibson (Boro), Michael Keane and Ben Mee (Burnley), Christian Fuchs (Leicester City), Joe Allen (Stoke City), Jose Holebas and Troy Deeney (Watford), Gareth McAuley (West Brom).

— Watford, as a side, is seemingly the choose to a sort of MVP. On WhoScored, not a single player rises above 7, but there are a host in the very high sixes.

— In very different systems, John Stones (91.8) and Adam Forshaw (89.2) are thriving in pass percentage.

Oriol Romeu of Southampton and Victor Wanyama of Tottenham Hotspur (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

— Southampton’s Oriel Romeu and Stoke’s Erik Pieters rank fourth and fifth respectively in tackles per game.

— In a team that has to intervene a ton, Hull City’s Curtis Davies the league with 3.8 interceptions per game.


Honorable mention

Goalkeeper: Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City)

Defenders: Aleksandar Kolarov (Manchester City), Marcos Alonso (Chelsea), Calum Chambers (Boro), Papy Djilobodji (Sunderland), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

Midfielders: Ake, Victor Wanyama (Spurs), Willian (Chelsea), Juan Mata (Manchester United), Harry Winks (Spurs), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham United), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Jack Wilshere (Bournemouth).

Forwards: Joshua King (Bournemouth), Fernando Llorente (Swansea City), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace)


Goalkeeper

Ben Foster (West Brom) — With the highest performance score in the position on WhoScored, Foster has claimed all 95 balls he’s went up for and has a league-best 76 saves.

Defenders

Nicolas Otamendi (Man City, 7.49, 29.18) — One of few defenders to rate high in interceptions despite being on a team that doesn’t concede loads of chances or possession.

George Friend (Middlesbrough) — Just out of the upper echelon on the advanced stats site, he is in rarefield air in traditional stats interceptions and tackles.

Steve Cook (Bournemouth, 7.16, 22.76) — Jumps out of the advanced stats on a Cherries team which has faced plenty of attacking pressure.

Antonio Valencia (Manchester United, 7.28, 27.45) — There’s a reason Jose Mourinho rewarded him with an extension not long into the manager’s tenure at Old Trafford.

Midfielders

Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.

Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.

Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.

Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.

 

Forwards

Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.

Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.

Jose Mourinho to take charge of Juventus?

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Do we really think Jose Mourinho is ready for a return?

Multiple reports in Italy claims Juventus’ star forward Cristiano Ronaldo wants Mourinho to become their new manager after it was announced that Max Allegri is stepping down this summer after winning five-straight Serie A titles with the Turin club.

Mourinho, 56, has been out of a job since Manchester United fired him in December, but his status as a serial trophy winner remains intact.

Speaking recently on beIN Sport, where he has been popping up as a pundit on multiple occasions,

“One of the players that I have a great relation with, he plays for a team and he told me, ‘You should come here next season’, and I told him, ‘They don’t love me.’ He told me, ‘You win three matches and they will start loving you.'”

Hmm. Who could he be talking about?

Mourinho didn’t endear himself to Juve’s fans during his time at their rivals Inter Milan where he won the treble, including the UEFA Champions League in 2010. He then added further fuel to the fire as United won late on at Juve in the group stage of the Champions League earlier this season, which then saw Mourinho run out onto the field at full time and goad the home supporters who had mocked him the entire game due to his successful spell at Inter.

Would that stop Juve from hiring him? Probably not. Juve’s CEO Andrea Agnelli is a man who wants success and he wants it now.

Mourinho has also said he plans to be back in a job by this summer, just six months after being fired by United.

He has some time out to reflect on where things went wrong at United and how he can better understand the media demands which surround the game and now it seems like he is ready to dive back in at the deep end.

Juve are one of the biggest clubs in Europe, and everything is in place for them to make another deep run in the Champions League next season, and something drastic would have to happen for them to not win the Italian league in 2019-20.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if Mourinho landed at Juve this summer as his defensive tactics suit Serie A and the Italian champs are desperate for success in Europe after bringing in Ronaldo, 34, on a huge salary to win the Champions League. Ronaldo will have a huge say on who the next Juve boss will be, and he is said to not be keen on either Antonio Conte or Maurizio Sarri taking over from Allegri.

If this happens, it would be a lot of fun. Have your popcorn at the ready…

Alaves seeks new coach after Fernandez resigns

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MADRID (AP) Spanish club Alaves says coach Abelardo Fernandez has resigned.

Alaves says it was Fernandez’s decision to leave after leading the modest Basque Country team to an 11th-place finish in the Spanish league.

[ MORE: La Liga results, stats

Fernandez said in a news conference on Monday the club did everything it could to try to keep him, but he felt he “would not be at 100 percent next season” and decided it was best to resign.

Fernandez joined Alaves at the end of 2017, helping the team finish 14th in the league last season, comfortably escaping relegation.

The club had a surprising start to this season, being as high as second in the standings and remaining in the fight for the final Champions League place until about 10 rounds to go.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Transfer rumor roundup: Felix to Man United; Sane to Bayern

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The Premier League transfer window is officially open again and that means one thing: transfer reports are going to start kicking up a few notches.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Here’s a look at some of the latest gossip from around the PL…


Benfica’s teenage superstar Joao Felix reportedly has a release clause of $130 million, and Manchester United are among the host of clubs ready to trigger it.

A report from the Daily Record says that United and Real Madrid are both ready to seal the deal for the 19-year-old attacking midfielder. Per the report United have opened talks with Benfica and their representatives were in Lisbon to see him play for the final time this season.

Felix has burst onto the scene in Europe this season and has helped Benfica win the Portuguese league title. His 20 goals and 11 assists in all competitions this season prove his pedigree, and United certainly need to rebuild their squad. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has constantly spoken about adding young, hungry, talented players this summer, and Felix is touted as the best young playmaker in Europe right now.

This transfer deal would make Felix the most expensive signing in United and Premier League history, and it does make you wonder if a deal is being lined up to offload Paul Pogba to Real Madrid and replace him with Felix.


Manchester City are struggling to keep hold of one of their stars, as a report from the Daily Mirror says that Bayern Munich are increasingly confident of signing Leroy Sane this summer.

Sane, 23, has failed to agree a new contract at City despite being in talks with the club for 18 months and Pep Guardiola has admitted he could leave this summer in search of more game time. Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva are City’s main starters in the wide attacking midfield roles, which has meant Sane and Riyad Mahrez have had to fight for minutes off the bench and starts here and there during their historic 2018-19 season.

That has often led to Sane looking pretty unhappy on the sidelines, but when he has got the chance to play he has been pretty good with his best-ever season in terms of goals scored with 16 across all competitions. Coming off the back of his shock omission from Germany’s 2018 World Cup squad, Sane has bounced back well and scored a pivotal goal in Man City’s PL win against Liverpool and a stunning free kick late on against his old club Schalke in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.

Sane moving to Bayern would make sense as legendary wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are moving on, with Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman set to take their mantle and any summer move for Callum Hudson-Odoi now in doubt after his serious injury. The German international has delivered in his three seasons at City, but Guardiola often seems enraged by his penchant for drifting inside with his runs and with the ball instead of staying wide on the touchline.

It seems like the stars are aligning for Sane to return to Germany and be a star at Bayern.

Out of contract Premier League Best XI

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With the 2018-19 season in the books, Premier League clubs are already turning their attention to next season.

Players are coming towards the end of their contracts, with the PL’s summer transfer now open which means some players can move on free transfers when their deals expire, usually on July 1.

Which players are available to pick up at the end of their deals on freebies?

There is always a lot of chatter at this time of the year about who will stay, which players have a one-year option to extend their deals, and which clubs also have that option. Olivier Giroud will stay at Chelsea for one more season, but he would have been the top striker available on a freebie this summer, while Ander Herrera is expected to sign for PSG after announcing he will leave Man United when his contract expires.

However, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding several star names at some of the PL’s biggest clubs. If you are a newly promoted club (Norwich, Sheffield United and one of Aston Villa and Derby County) you are no doubt looking at this list of experienced PL players and getting pretty excited.

Take a look at our “Out of Contract Best XI” below, as several players have yet to agree new deals with their current clubs.


Premier League, Out of Contract Best XI – 4-4-2 formation

—– Michel Vorm —–

Danny SimpsonGary CahillPhil JagielkaNacho Monreal — 

Antonio ValenciaMohamed DiameJuan MataAlberto Moreno — 

—- Daniel Sturridge —- Fernando Llorente —- 

On the bench
Willy Caballero
Leighton Baines
Danny Williams
Ander Herrera (expected to join PSG on free transfer)
Samir Nasri
Bakary Sako
Andy Carroll