PL grades: Ranking each team at halfway

Leave a comment

The halfway point has arrived and it is time to dish out the grades for the 2017-18 Premier League so far.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Below we rate how well each team has performed so far with 19 games on the board and 19 to go.

Manchester City: A+
Pep Guardioa’s men have a 13-point lead atop the PL table, the largest margin at this point of the season in history. They’re on a record-breaking 17-game winning run and have scored 60 goals in 19 games. Do I need to say any more? A near perfect season so far with 18 wins from 19 games and zero defeats, plus they’re the favorites to win the UCL. A plethora of attacking talents are orchestrated by the sublime duo of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne.

Burnley: A-
Sean Dyche has overachieved massively at Burnley, especially after selling two key players in the summer in Andre Gray and Michael Keane. The Clarets have wobbled of late but still sit in seventh place after a record-breaking start to the season. Simply stunning as Burnley fight for European qualification.

Huddersfield Town: A-
22 points from their first 19 PL games is a fine return and David Wagner‘s side started the season well, had a bit of a dip, but have recovered well in recent weeks. The Terriers will easily secure their top-flight status at this rate and their fans have added an incredible atmosphere to the league in their debut season in the PL.

Liverpool: B+
Same old problems for Liverpool at the back but going forward they have been sensational with only Man City scoring more goals than them in the PL. Mohamed Salah has been the star of the show but they have so many fine attacking talents. In the top four and the last 16 of the UCL, which equals a real success so far.

Chelsea: B-
A decent season so far for the Blues who are nestled in the chasing pack behind City and sit in third in the table. Antonio Conte‘s reigning champs have already said goodbye to their title with Man City running away with things but a second-place finish, plus success in domestic cups and Europe will still be a great season.

Tottenham: B
Harry Kane keeps scoring goals and the England international has scored 36 in the PL in the calendar year to equal Alan Shearer’s record. Dele Alli has struggled but Spurs have adapted to life at Wembley well after early struggles and were the best team in the group stages of the Champions League. Mauricio Pochettino will be happy enough, but not elated.

Arsenal: B
The Gunners are hanging in there when it comes to the top four, plus their ‘B team’ are flying in the League Cup and Europa League. Some fine attacking displays have been ruined by poor defensive mistakes. Lacazette, Ozil and Sanchez can rip anyone apart and Wenger is showing more tactically flexibility, at times.

Manchester United: B
Yes, they are second in the PL and in the UCL last 16, but the cracks are starting to show for Jose Mourinho. Being knocked out of the League Cup by second-tier Bristol City and letting in goals due to defensive errors have irked the Portuguese coach. Is a second half of the season slump coming up for United? It sure seems like it as plenty of expensive signings fail to live up to the hype.

Leicester City: B
A tale of two halves for the Foxes. Just one win in their first eight games of the season cost Craig Shakespeare his job but Claude Puel has come in and reinvigorated Mahrez and Vardy and Leicester are back to their best. They will fight for a European spot and have some talented youngsters breaking through.

Watford: B
Marco Silva got off to a flying start at Watford with the Hornets in the top four early on but four-straight defeats in December has seen them slip into midtable. Yet another second half of the season slump coming up? Richarlison has been their main man in attack.

Brighton: B
It has been tough at times for the Seagulls to score goals but defensively they are solid and Chris Hughton has them in 12th place with 21 points so far. Bang on track to survive in their first-ever PL season. So far, so good.

Everton: C
What a bizarre season so far for the Toffees. Ronald Koeman was sacked after a truly shocking start saw them at the wrong end of the table but now the squad he assembled expensively is thriving under Sam Allardyce with no defeats in their last six games. Europe beckons once again and a reborn Wayne Rooney is leading the charge.

Crystal Palace: C
After four games Frank De Boer was fired and Roy Hodgson has, slowly, turned things around at Palace after they lost their opening seven games of the season. The Eagles are unbeaten in eight games and Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend are their best hope of staying up. Positive vibes as Palace head into 2018.

Newcastle United: C
The Magpies picked up a big win before Christmas but that somewhat papers over the cracks. Rafael Benitez’s side have been struggling along and the squad badly needs reinforcements in January. A cloud is hanging over the club with Mike Ashley delaying his sale and that means new signings in January could be few and far between. Newcastle’s battling squad just keeping their heads above water.

West Ham: D
Another club who have seen an upturn in results due to their manager being fired. Slaven Bilic‘s time was up at West Ham and David Moyes‘ appointment has surprisingly seen a big upsurge in performance. But with the individual quality they have, still a very poor season so far for the Hammers.

Stoke City: D
Mark Hughes has kept onto his job for now and Stoke have shown in glimpses what they are capable of. They have the worst defensive record in the PL, which is very unlike them, but the Potters will be hoping to kick on in the second half of the season. Must do better.

Southampton: D-
Perhaps the most under-performing team in the PL based on their talent, Mauricio Pellegrino‘s job will be under severe pressure very soon. If it wasn’t for Charlie Austin‘s goals recently then Saints would be in real trouble. They’re just three points above the relegation zone which is a huge shock given the squad of players they have. Underachieving.

Bournemouth: D-
Another club who have plenty of talent but aren’t delivering, Bournemouth’s decision to bring in added experience isn’t really working. Asmir Begovic and Jermain Defoe haven’t delivered so far and Eddie Howe‘s side are set for a real relegation scrap.

West Brom: F
A woeful season for the Baggies who won their opening two games of the campaign but haven’t won since. That’s a club record 17-game winless run. Tony Pulis was fired and Alan Pardew hired but there’s been no change for West Brom. They’re embroiled in a relegation battle.

Swansea City: F
Firing Paul Clement just before Christmas was a mind-boggling move and the Swans are in freefall. Bottom of the PL table with 13 points after selling Llorente and Sigurdsson in the summer, the South Wales side looked doomed. After being successful in relegation battles in recent seasons, it appears their luck is finally running out.

Brazil tests Willian up front with Neymar and Jesus

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Leave a comment

TERESOPOLIS, Brazil (AP) Brazil’s second pre-World Cup training featured Willian in the attack with Neymar and Gabriel Jesus on Thursday, a hint that coach Tite might change his starting lineup.

Willian played with the two star strikers for about one hour in the first training with footballs at the Granja Comary ground in Teresopolis, outside Rio de Janeiro.

[ MORE: Commisso “hopeful” of $500m USSF deal ]

Tite did not use his starting midfield to play with the trio. He also used defenders Marquinhos and Miranda during the entire hour, suggesting former captain Thiago Silva will be on the bench for the moment.

If Willian is brought on to the team, Tite could remove midfielder Renato Augusto from the starting lineup, put Philippe Coutinho in his place, and open a gap for Willian.

Since last year, Tite has said he needs a “pacemaker,” and considers Coutinho one of his main options for the role.

Beijing Guoan’s Augusto is under pressure after unconvincing performances in Brazil’s midfield.

Augusto’s spot is also eyed by Fred, one of the surprises of Tite’s squad.

The midfielder said he admired Brazil players who began a World Cup on the bench and later became starters, such as Mazinho (1994) and Kleberson (2002).

“We can get inspiration from them, these players worked very hard to get their spot,” Fred said. “But if I have to be out I will keep working hard.”

Fred also said he was torn between a transfer to Manchester United or Manchester City.

Fred said he had an offer from City in January, and both were now talking to his Shakhtar Donetsk club about a transfer.

“Maybe after the World Cup I will make the choice,” the midfielder said. “Now I am only thinking about the World Cup.”

Fred said he believes his future is outside Ukraine, and doing well in the English Premier League like other Brazilians such as Chelsea’s Willian.

Tite is counting on only 18 of the 23 players in his squad at training in Teresopolis.

Winger Douglas Costa and Fagner are still recovering from injury.

Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino and Real Madrid’s Casemiro and Marcelo will only join on Monday after the Champions League final.

Training on Thursday was attended by four-time World Cup winner Mario Zagallo.

Liverpool owner Henry reflects on history, takes shots at Suarez, Coutinho

Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Terrific AP reporter Rob Harris sat down for a chat with Liverpool owner John Henry, and the American businessman didn’t hesitate to unleash some prime quotes.

Liverpool, of course, is preparing for the weekend’s UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid, and feeling its oats a bit.

[ MORE: Ronaldinho marrying 2 women ]

Henry is no exception, saying of departed Reds stars Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho, “They’ll be watching this weekend and could have been playing.”

And his shots didn’t stop with the Barcelona stars. He extended it to all of La Liga. From the AP:

“You don’t want to be in the position where players want to go somewhere else, even if it is a great club like Barcelona,” Henry said. “It’s hard to understand why players would want to go to a league where the competition is so weak. They must play 30 or so meaningless matches per year waiting for Champions League matches.”

Henry also talks about his takeover, selling Fernando Torres, and how Anfield pushes Liverpool past the competition. Read the whole interview here.

Ronaldinho reportedly marrying two women at same time

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ronaldinho always had a knack for making the difficult look simple.

He’d better hope that skill extends to a pretty unique marital arrangement.

The retired 2002 World Cup champion is going to marry two women at the same time, Priscilla Coelho and Beatriz Souza, in August.

[ MORE: Commisso “hopeful” of $500m USSF deal ]

Apparently he’s been living with the pair since December, having dated Coelho since 2013 and Souza beginning in 2016.

Ronaldinho, 38, co-existed in a three-pronged offense with Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto'o, so maybe?

From Yahoo! Sports:

Bigamy and polygamy are illegal in Brazil, but Ronaldinho’s case is a little different. He’s not planning to marry one woman, and then the other; he’s planning to marry both at the same time. That’s considered a three-person civil union, and they do exist in Brazil. The first one, between two women and a man, was recognized in 2012. Another was recognized in 2015, between three women who intended to raise a child together.

After saving German club, Green hopes to revive USMNT career

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
Leave a comment

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Julian Green has been the Halley’s Comet of the U.S. national team. He appeared out of nowhere for the 2014 World Cup, scored against Belgium and then pretty much disappeared.

After scoring the goal that saved a German club from relegation to the third division, he’s back with a young American group that has no World Cup to prepare for. And he’s still only 22.

[ MORE: Commisso “hopeful” of $500m USSF deal ]

“It made me much stronger. I’m a different person now. I’m a better player now,” he said Thursday ahead of next week’s exhibition against Bolivia.

Born in Tampa, Florida, Green was 2 when he moved to Germany with his older brother Justin and his German-born mother.

A member of Bayern Munich’s youth system, he was not part of the U.S. pool that qualified for the 2014 World Cup. The winger played for Germany in three qualifiers for the 2014 European Under-19 Championship, then switched to the Americans at the behest of U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

He was a surprise pick on the U.S. roster four years ago this week, seemingly to displace Landon Donovan. At 19 the third-youngest player in the World Cup, Green scored in the Americans’ extra-time loss in the round of 16, two minutes after entering. He left Brazil on the list of potential breakout players for the next four-year cycle.

That potential has not yet been fulfilled.

While he played in exhibitions later that year against the Czech Republic and Colombia, his career stalled for club and country. Green was bypassed for the 2015 and 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cups and the 2016 Copa America. His only U.S. appearances were in three friendlies in 2016.

[ MORE: Next USMNT-Mexico date set ]

After Bruce Arena replaced Klinsmann that fall, Green was never brought back. Until now.

“I’m curious just to hear his side of things and see where he’s at,” said interim coach Dave Sarachan, who took over after the U.S. was eliminated with last October’s loss to Trinidad and Tobago.

Green joined Bayern at age 14 and made his first-team debut on Nov. 27, 2013, late in a Champions League match against CSKA Moscow. Bayern coach Pep Guardiola said he expected to keep Green for 2014-15, then reversed course and loaned him to Hamburg. Green made it into just five Bundesliga games that season,

“The coach that wanted me, he gets fired after one week,” Green said. “That was a hard time.”

Green returned to Bayern for 2016-17, and his playing time under coach Carlo Ancelotti was limited to a pair of German Cup matches. He transferred to second-tier Stuttgart in January, had one goal in 10 league games, then was loaned to second-division Greuther Fuerth for 2017-18.

His played regularly, and his career started to revive. On May 13 he scored on a right-footed shot from about 23 yards in a 1-1 draw against Heidenheim, preventing Greuther Fuerth from getting demoted to Germany’s third tier.

“One of the best seasons for me personally,” he said.

He understands why he couldn’t get playing time at Bayern, one of the world’s top clubs.

“At each position there were like three top stars,” he said.

Green started to play a more central role this season, one that could have more of an impact on his team.

“Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola, they always told me my best position is in the middle,” Green said. “The first games at Fuerth I started out wide, and then the last games I started in the middle. And for me personally, I think in the middle is a better position.”

Green’s contract with Stuttgart runs through 2018-19, and he’s not sure which club he’ll be with next season. He knows he can’t afford to disappear from the thoughts of coaches on both sides of the Atlantic.

“To his credit, he’s only 22 years old and he’s back here, and he did it by playing his way back in,” U.S. assistant coach John Hackworth said.

If Green becomes a first-division regular, he could become part of the American nucleus for the 2022 World Cup cycle, a roster led by Christian Pulisic that also could include midfielders Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, and defender Matt Miazga. Among that quartet, Green is the oldest. He has three goals in eight U.S. appearances and is the only player on this week’s roster with World Cup experience.

“I’d like to see his personality sort of emerge,” Sarachan said. “He’s a quiet kid.”

Green had a hard time believing the U.S. failed to qualify for next month’s World Cup. Given the time difference, he didn’t stay up to watch the match in Trinidad. He figured he’d find out happy news in the morning.

“I took a look at my phone: I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I thought it was a joke.”

Notes: The U.S. will play Mexico in an exhibition on Sept. 11 at Nashville, Tennessee, the second of what likely will be two home matches during the international fixture period.