PL Playback: Opening Power Rankings

Leave a comment

Now seems like the perfect time for the first set of Premier League Power Rankings for the 2017-18 season, right?

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

With seven games gone and the two week international break upon us, it is time to focus on who has impressed and who has struggled in the opening months of the campaign.

So much has happened in August and September and now it is time to take stock.

[ MORE: PL standings | schedule

Here it goes.


#1 Manchester City: Imperious. Kevin De Bruyne is running the show. Even with Aguero, Mendy and Kompany out injured Pep’s men have found a way to blow opponents away with 22 goals scored. Marquee wins over Chelsea and Liverpool showcase the current mood of invincibility around them and they’ve also won both games in the Champions League. Guardiola has so many attacking options and Ederson has finally solved his problem in goal. The title favorites have delivered early on, once again. Now, can they keep it up?

#2 Manchester United: Jose Mourinho is building this thing his way. It’s working. Romelu Lukaku has seven goals in seven games and although Paul Pogba has gone down injured so many others are stepping up. Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata and even Marouane Fellaini are chipping in with goals and in true Mourinho fashion they look as solid as a rock at the back with Nemanja Matic shielding the defense. United have won both of their Champions League games too and Mourinho is exuding confidence with 21 goals in seven games.

#3 Burnley: What. A. Start. Sean Dyche’s men are unbeaten away from home and have won at Chelsea and Everton and drawn at Liverpool and Tottenham. Not bad, especially after selling two stars over the summer. The Clarets are establishing themselves as a true contender to finish in the top 10 and have flown under the radar all summer. No surprise there but with captain and star goalkeeper Tom Heaton out long-term, their positive away results are even more impressive.

#4 Watford: Marco Silva’s side are dynamic going forward and have a solid base to build from. Their counters catch out opponents and in Richarlison they’ve found a gem. Losing Nathaniel Chalobah is a blow but they have a deeper squad than in recent years. Silva’s reputation as one of the best young managers in the game is undoubted and the Portuguese coach has Watford’s fans dreaming of challenging for a Europa League spot. Why not?

#5 Tottenham Hotspur: Mauricio Pochettino’s side have put aside their Wembley woes (they still haven’t won at home in the PL) to win four times on the spin on the road to start the season. The last time that happened they won the league and cup double in 160-61. Just saying. Harry Kane scored 13 goals in eight games for club and country in September and is on fire. Spurs will challenge for the title again and they’ve also won their opening two Champions League games. Wembley aside, a fine start.

#6 Newcastle United: Rafael Benitez is working his magic at Newcastle. The Magpies are hard to beat and at home they can take on anyone. Joselu could be the man to score the goals they need to not only survive in the Premier League after promotion but also push for a top 10 finish. Some fans are dreaming of a challenge for Europe but that seems a little far-fetched. Still, the newly-promoted Magpies will be satisfied with their start.

#7 Arsenal: After a tough start with defeats at Stoke and Liverpool, Arsene Wenger has steadied the ship with four-straight clean sheets in the Premier League. Suddenly Arsenal look a much better defensive unit and Alexandre Lacazette is looking like a great buy up top. Alexis Sanchez is also starting to return to his best form which suggests the Gunners will be challenging for a top four spot, even though they have the rigors of the Europa League to overcome. We’ve been here before with Arsenal but they seem to be more robust than in recent campaigns.

#8 Chelsea: A real topsy-turvy start for the reigning champs. After a tumultuous summer due to the Diego Costa situation and Antonio Conte seemingly unhappy with a lack of transfers, they lost to Arsenal in the Community Shield and to Burnley in their PL opener. They followed that up by beating Tottenham away and put in impressive displays against Everton, Leicester and Stoke. Alvaro Morata has hit the ground running in the PL and Eden Hazard is back to his best but the defeat to Man City was a reality check. Still, two wins from two in Europe and a great win at Atletico Madrid shows what they’re truly capable of. Back-to-back titles seems like a big ask and there are still question marks over Conte’s long-term future.

#9 Huddersfield Town: Opening up the season with two wins was perfection for David Wagner and his side, and their fans, have captured the minds of the Premier League. A 4-0 hammering at home against Tottenham in their first real test showed them how ruthless the league can be but if they can press midtable teams throughout the season as they have in the early weeks then they will be just fine. The Terriers have kept four clean sheets in seven and will be tough to beat and if Steve Mounie and Laurent Depoitre can strike up a partnership then maybe they can push for more than just staying up in their debut PL campaign.

#10 Stoke City: The Potters have had a really solid, albeit slightly bizarre, start to the season. A win against Arsenal and draw against Manchester United at home proved they can mix it with the big boys but defeats at Everton and Newcastle in tight games proved they can still improve defensively although having Jack Butland back fit is a huge bonus. Defensive injuries have been hard to deal with for Mark Hughes’ men but new signings Jese Rodriguez and Eric Choupo-Moting have added something extra in attack.

#11 Brighton & Hove Albion: Chris Hughton’s men are pragmatic and likeable but you wonder where the goals will come from on a consistent basis. Pascal Gross and Anthony Knockaert are both talented playmakers but if Tomer Hemed goes down injured they are struggling big time. If they can make it to January above the relegation zone then surely owner Tony Bloom will make plenty of funds available for a new striker, or two. A very commendable start to their first-ever Premier League campaign with home wins against West Brom and Newcastle.

#12 Liverpool: Jurgen Klopp’s side are already seven points off the PL leaders and the same old defensive issues are hampering their progress. Philippe Coutinho is back scoring stunners and the pace of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah has been ripping teams apart without much reward. Two draws to open up Champions League play have been frustrating and despite dominating games missed chances have been costly. The standout display was the 4-0 hammering of Arsenal but that seems like a long time ago. Is the Klopp-effect wearing off?

#13 West Bromwich Albion: Tony Pulis’ men won their first two games of the season but haven’t won since. They were unlucky to lose away at Arsenal but threw away a two-goal lead in their most recent game at home against Watford. That’s incredibly unlike a Pulis side and you get the sense another big slump like the one they suffered in the second half of last season isn’t far off.

#14 Southampton: New season, same problem for Southampton. Mauricio Pellegrino’s side have dominated most of the games they’ve played in, even against Manchester United, but have scored just five goals in the first seven games of the season. Two of those were penalty kicks in the same game. Virgil Van Dijk is back on board but Saints feel a little bit like a team who has plenty of talent but are missing a ruthless streak. That’s incredibly dangerous and talk of a relegation battle is being whispered, perhaps incorrectly, by some fans.

#15 West Ham United: Slaven Bilic is under serious pressure despite the Hammers battling back in several games and grinding out two home wins. Javier Hernandez has, as expected, delivered goals, but it doesn’t seem like West Ham’s players are with the manager. Bilic’s contract runs out at the end of this season and he is unlikely to get a new deal. That’s creating all kinds of instability. The Hammers look set for another season in midtable, at best.

#16 Swansea City: The main problem for Paul Clement’s team is scoring goals. That’s what happens when you sell your two leading goalscorers from last season over the summer. Wilfried Bony has yet to get firing and Tammy Abraham is doing his best to chip in when he can. The Swans have ground out plenty of clean sheets on the road and surely their luck in front of goal will eventually change. The big problem for Clement is that they don’t look like scoring in most games.

#17 Bournemouth: Eddie Howe’s side lost five of their opening six games and naivety is creeping into their game once again. They led against Manchester City and Everton but ended up losing both games. The Cherries did seem more free-flowing in the final third against Leicester and should have won easily, so maybe things have finally clicked. A worrying start but whenever people have written them off over the past two seasons in the PL they always seem to have an answer. Now is the time for experienced campaigners Jermain Defoe and Asmir Begovic to step up.

#18 Leicester City: Plenty of people are worried about the Foxes, and rightly so. Craig Shakespeare’s side have had a tough start, schedule wise. They lost to Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool and then drew games at Huddersfield and Bournemouth which they should be winning. One win so far says it all and Shakespeare should perhaps start thinking about well and truly breaking up the title-winning team, apart from Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki. Leicester could be in a relegation battle.

#19 Everton: Awful. Dreadful. Disappointing. The Toffees are in real trouble and all because of one thing: their failure to replace Romelu Lukaku. The pressure is mounting on Ronald Koeman already after he brought in three No.10s in Wayne Rooney, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Davy Klaassen but failed to address his biggest need. Hammerings by Chelsea and Tottenham, plus at Atalanta in the Europa League, were amplified by a worrying home defeat to Burnley in the PL. The surprise package of the season so far. And not in a good way. They would be bottom of our rankings if it wasn’t for the record-breaking exploits of our next team…

#20 Crystal Palace: The worst start in top-flight history says it all. Seven defeats on the spin. Zero goals score. Frank De Boer fired after four games and Roy Hodgson hired to try and steady the ship. Well, the ship is taking on water at an alarming rate and the Eagles could soon be cut adrift. Christian Benteke’s injury hasn’t helped matters and the period between November to December will truly decide if they can save themselves. Terrible times at Selhurst Park but they are only five points from safety.

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

Luis Enrique to return as Spain boss five months after resigning

Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Luis Enrique will be named manager of the Spanish national team on Tuesday, five months to the day after stepping down from the same position to care for his nine-year-old daughter as she battled bone cancer.

[ MORE: Van Dijk leaves Netherlands squad for “personal reasons” ]

Robert Moreno is set to step aside to make way for Enrique. Moreno was previously an assistant on Enrique’s staff and had initially been put in charge of La Roja through the 2020 European Championship.

Enrique’s daughter, Xana, passed away in late August after a five-month battle.

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Season so far ]

Moreno managed the team during Monday’s 5-0 thrashing of Romania to complete an unbeaten EURO 2020 qualifying campaign, but the 42-year-old was seen leaving the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in tears after the game. Neither Moreno nor any of the players spoke to the media.

He previously said that he would step aside should Enrique find himself able to return. Moreno insisted that friendship came first, above all else.

Preview: USMNT’s must-win Nations League finale v. Cuba

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The scenario is simple for the U.S. men’s national team ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Cuba (7:30 p.m.ET): Gregg Berhalter’s side will finish top of Group A with a victory, and only a victory. Period. It’s as simple as that.

[ MORE: Brazil beat Mexico to win U-17 World Cup (video) ]

Friday’s victory over Canada righted the wrongs of last month’s defeat north of the border and laid the foundation for the Americans to reach the semifinals in the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League, provided they take care of business in George Town, Cayman Islands, in what is set to be the final game of Berhalter’s first calendar year in charge. Despite trailing Canada (+6 goal differential)  by three points heading into Friday, the Yanks (+8) already have the tiebreaker in their favor.

Jordan Morris, Gyasi Zardes (twice) and Aaron Long scored to give the USMNT its 4-1 triumph over their northern neighbors. More importantly, it was a largely dominant display after going 1-0 up inside two minutes and carrying a 3-0 led into halftime.

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Season so far ]

The USMNT will once again be without Christian Pulisic (hip injury), leaving the attacking options on the roster quite thin. Morris, who got a goal and an assist against Canada, will likely start on the left again, with Sebastian Lletget and Paul Arriola playing centrally and on the right respectively. Zardes is the presumed starter up top, unless Berhalter opts for the youthful inexperience of Josh Sargent in a must-win game.

Berhalter appears to have settled on a pretty consistent backline, with Sergiño Dest and Aaron Long manning the right side and John Brooks and, at least on Friday, Tim Ream on the left. Weston McKennie’s place deep in midfield has been cemented for quite some time, but he’s partnered close to a half-dozen players alongside him this year alone. The 21-year-old Schalke midfielder was stellar against Canada, frequently starting counter-attacks and carrying the ball into the final third.

Projected USMNT lineup

I___________I
Guzan

Dest —— Long —— Brooks —— Ream

McKennie —— Roldan

Arriola —— Lletget —— Morris

Zardes

Man Utd debt climbs to $500m as club spends to halt decline

Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MANCHESTER, England (AP) Manchester United’s attempt to strengthen its underperforming squad has proved costly with debt rising more than 55 percent in a year to $498 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Season so far ]

The cost of signing Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James ahead of the new season in the first quarter of the financial year was around 140 million pounds.

Although United reported record revenue last season of $812 million, the New York Stock Exchange listed business is now expecting the 2019-20 figure to drop to between $725 million and $750 million.

That is due to United missing out on Champions League television and prize money after finishing sixth last season. United could miss out again with the side in seventh place, nine points behind fourth-placed Manchester City after 12 of the 38 games.

[ MORE: Van Dijk leaves Netherlands squad for “personal reasons” ]

“Our ultimate aim is to win trophies, play fast, fluid, attacking football, with a team that uses graduates from our academy along with world-class acquisitions,” United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward said. “We know this will not be achieved overnight, however we have made investments across the club that we believe will set us on the right path.

“We know our academy is a strong competitive advantage and an area we will continue to invest in as it is at the heart of the club.”

EURO 2020: Spain, Sweden finish top; Norway, Romania reach playoffs

Photo by JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADRID — Spain finished its qualifying campaign for the 2020 European Championship with a 5-0 rout of Romania in what could have been the farewell match for coach Robert Moreno on Monday.

Moreno did not show for the post-match interview and there were widespread reports in Spanish media he would not continue at the helm of “La Roja.”

The Spanish soccer federation did not immediately say why the coach did not talk to the media. It said a news conference was scheduled for Tuesday.

Moreno took over the job after Luis Enrique resigned in March to take care of his sick daughter. Moreno had been Luis Enrique’s assistant until then.

Gerard Moreno scored twice for the hosts, who had already secured a spot in the tournament but needed the victory to be among the top-seeded teams in the draw this month.

Spain also got on the scoreboard through Fabian Ruiz, Mikel Oyarzabal, and an own-goal by Romanian defender Adrian Rus.

“It was important to finish with the three points in front of our crowd,” said Ruiz, who scored his first goal with the national team. “We need to keep this same dynamic going into the Euros next year.”

Spain ended as the Group F winner with eight wins and two draws, at Norway and Sweden. “La Roja” finished five points in front of second-placed Sweden.

Romania, which had already been eliminated, ended in fourth place with four victories and two draws in 10 matches.

Spain, coming off routing Malta 7-0 in Cadiz, outscored its opponents 31-5.

It was in control from the start on Monday, with Romania threatening only a few times in front of a crowd of 36,198 at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, including many Romanians.

Ruiz opened the scoring from close range in the eighth minute, and Moreno added his goals with a header in the 33rd and strike from the six-yard line in the 43rd.

Rus found his own net while trying to intercept a cross into the area in first-half stoppage time, and Oyarzabal closed the scoring with a left-footed shot from outside the box in second-half injury time.

It was the second Spain match at Atletico’s Metropolitano stadium, the other a 6-1 rout of Argentina ahead of last year’s World Cup.