Grading every PL club’s festive season

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And exhale.

The Premier League’s festive season concluded Thursday with a sizzling second half draw between West Ham and Tottenham, 13 days after Arsenal and Liverpool got us started on our 40-match run with a 3-3 thriller at the Emirates Staidum.

[ WATCH: Twin stunners at Wembley ]

Forty matches!

We are not grading on a curve, but we are grading relative to seasonal needs.

Arsenal
Dec. 22 – vs. Liverpool, D 3-3
Dec. 28 – at Crystal Palace, W 3-2
Dec. 31 – at West Brom, D 1-1
Jan. 3 – vs. Chelsea, D 2-2

Unbeaten! But only one win! Arsenal can feel aggrieved at West Brom’s late penalty on New Year’s Eve, and those two points are the reason Arsene Wenger‘s men aren’t level on points with fifth place Spurs. All-in-all, though, these are respectable results. Grade: B.

Bournemouth
Dec. 23 – at Man City, L 0-4
Dec. 26 – vs. West Ham United, D 3-3
Dec. 30 – vs. Everton, W 2-1
Jan. 1 – at Brighton, D 2-2

There’s a reason Eddie Howe‘s name is tossed about as a prime prospect for bigger clubs, and a reason Jeff Mostyn and the Bournemouth administration don’t want him going anywhere. The performances are coming around for the Cherries. Grade B-.

Brighton and Hove Albion
Dec. 23 – vs. Watford, W 1-0
Dec. 26 – at Chelsea, L 0-2
Dec. 30 – at Newcastle United, D 0-0
Jan. 1 – vs. Bournemouth, D 2-2

Chris Hughton‘s doing a very good job at the Amex Stadium, and the fortnight went alright for him. Three points above the drop and a goal scorer from feeling safe. Grade B.

Burnley
Dec. 23 – vs. Spurs, L 0-3
Dec. 26 – at Manchester United, D 2-2
Dec. 30 – at Huddersfield Town, D 0-0
Jan. 1 – vs. Liverpool, L 1-2

A brutal run of opponents is hard, and shows that the Clarets were a bit of a mirage. Still a fantastic season, but only a Top Seven contender if Everton and Leicester City drop the ball. Grade C.

Chelsea
Dec. 22 – at Everton, D 0-0
Dec. 26 – vs. Brighton, W 2-0
Dec. 30 – vs. Stoke City, W 5-0
Jan. 3 – at Arsenal, D 2-2

The Blues will take the draw at Arsenal given that Thibaut Courtois‘ many saves offset Alvaro Morata’s several misses. The Everton one, however, stings and stops the Blues from taking advantage of Manchester United’s draw-heavy December. Grade: B

Crystal Palace
Dec. 22 – at Swansea City, D 1-1
Dec. 28 – vs. Arsenal, L 2-3
Dec. 31 – vs. Man City, D 0-0
Jan. 2 – at Southampton, W 2-1

There’s a lot to like here, especially considering the Eagles probably deserved a point against the Gunners. The draw at Swans is poor considering how well Roy Hodgson‘s had the Eagles playing, but is worth overlooking at this point considering Palace ended City’s 18-match win streak (and were a saved Luka Milivojevic penalty away from ending the prospect of an unbeaten season). Grade A-.

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Everton
Dec. 23 – vs. Chelsea, D 0-0
Dec. 26 – at West Brom, D 0-0
Dec. 30 – at Bournemouth, L 1-2
Jan. 1 – vs. Man Utd, L 0-2

The Chelsea draw is great, and Sam Allardyce is right that he’s operating without a good striker, but this was not a good period. The loss at Bournemouth could be a blip, but the Toffees were second best at a very poor West Brom side. Grade D+.

Huddersfield Town
Dec. 23 – at Southampton, D 1-1
Dec. 26 – vs. Stoke City, D 1-1
Dec. 30 – vs. Burnley, D 0-0
Jan. 1 – at Leicester City, L 0-3

Depends on how you view David Wagner‘s men, really. Are they overachievers who still should be fearing the drop, or are they a quality side who should be competing for a top half spot? We think the latter, and that makes the home draw vs. Stoke extra disappointing. Grade C.

Leicester City
Dec. 23 – vs. Manchester United, D 2-2
Dec. 26 – at Watford, L 1-2
Dec. 30 – at Liverpool, L 1-2
Jan. 1 – vs. Huddersfield Town, W 3-0

That Watford loss is just sitting there, looking out of place. Beating the Terriers and starting United’s rough patch is a good combination. Grade B-.

Liverpool
Dec. 22 – at Arsenal, D 3-3
Dec. 26 – vs. Swans, W 5-0
Dec. 30 – vs. Leicester City, W 2-1
Jan. 1 – at Burnley, W 2-1

Still humming, beat two decent teams without hemorrhaging goals, and played one of the thrillers of the season. Help coming in Virgil Van Dijk, but Jurgen Klopp improved his defense before the Dutchman signed at Anfield. Grade: A.

Manchester City
Dec. 22 – vs. Bournemouth, W 4-0
Dec. 27 – at Newcastle United, W 1-0
Dec. 31 – at Crystal Palace, D 0-0
Jan. 2 – vs. Watford, W 3-1

Taking 10 of 12 points is pretty good, though Pep Guardiola will feel stung to have seen his 18-match win streak come one short of the mark he set while at Bayern Munich. Grade: A-

Manchester United
Dec. 23 – at Leicester City, D 2-2
Dec. 26 – vs. Burnley, D 2-2
Dec. 30 – vs. Southampton, D 0-0
Jan. 1 – at Everton, W 2-0

Just not acceptable. Yes the fixtures came fast, but they also continued a run in which United didn’t really seem to have a plan other than possession. Grade: C-

Newcastle United
Dec. 23 – at West Ham United, W 3-2
Dec. 26 – vs. Manchester City, L 0-1
Dec. 30 – vs. Brighton, D 0-0
Jan. 1 – at Stoke City, W 1-0

Seven points, and a Dwight Gayle missed header away from going through the festive season unbeaten? Not bad, though the Brighton draw was less than exceptional. Grade: B-

(Owen Humphreys/PA via AP)

Southampton
Dec. 23 – vs. Huddersfield Town, D 1-1
Dec. 26 – at Spurs, L 2-5
Dec. 30 – at Man Utd, D 0-0
Jan. 2 – vs. Crystal Palace, L 1-2

Giving points to, at best, a pair of mid-table rivals and, at worst, a pair of relegation scrappers, is not good. The Red Devils draw boosts Mauricio Pellegrino‘s grade just a tad. Grade: D

Stoke City
Dec. 23 – vs. West Bromwich Albion, W 3-1
Dec. 26 – at Huddersfield Town, D 1-1
Dec. 30 – at Chelsea, L 0-5
Jan. 1 – vs. Newcastle, L 0-1

Funny how one match can swing the whole tenor of a quartet, as the loss to fellow scrapper Newcastle colors it in a big way. Grade: C.

Swansea City
Dec. 23 – vs. Crystal Palace, D 1-1
Dec. 26 – at Liverpool, L 0-5
Dec. 30 – at Watford, W 2-1
Jan. 2 – vs. Spurs, L 0-2

Still dead last in the Premier League, but three of Swans’ four opponents were very much in form. Throw in a managerial change, and the grade should probably be a bit higher. Grade B-.

Tottenham Hotspur
Dec. 23 – at Burnley, W 3-0
Dec. 26 – vs. Southampton, W 5-2
Jan. 2 – at Swans, W 2-0
Jan. 4 – vs. West Ham, D 1-1

The draw coming how it did — outshooting a rival 31-3 — makes the fact that Spurs are the only club who could’ve bettered Man City’s festive season even more bitter. Still, a great run. Grade: A- 

Watford
Dec. 23 – at Brighton and Hove Albion, L 0-1
Dec. 26 – vs. Leicester City, W 2-1
Dec. 30 – vs. Swans, L 1-2
Jan. 2 – at Man City, L 1-3

Marco Silva‘s star doesn’t seem as shiny as it did when Watford was turning down Everton interest, and two of these losses were pretty bothersome. Five points above the drop zone now. Not great given the parity in the league. Grade C-.

West Bromwich Albion
Dec. 23 – at Stoke City, L 1-3
Dec. 26 – vs. Everton, D 0-0
Dec. 31 – vs. Arsenal, D 1-1
Jan. 2 – at West Ham, L 1-2

Still winless since August. Didn’t deserve to get a point against Arsenal, but deserved three versus Everton. Need attacking help. Grade C-.

West Ham United
Dec. 23 – vs. Newcastle United, L 2-3
Dec. 26  – at Bournemouth, D 3-3
Jan. 2 – vs. West Brom, W 2-1
Jan. 4 – at Spurs, D 1-1

You’d say bang average, but it’s difficult to overlook that the Irons have climbed out of the drop zone. Grade C+.

West Ham hands Watford another home loss as record-signing Haller shines

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West Ham United’s record signing has manager Manuel Pellegrini feeling great and Watford boss Javi Gracia looking over his shoulder.

The Irons took care of Watford 3-1 at Vicarage Road on Saturday, with Sebastien Haller having a role in all three goals during a brace-bagging performance.

[ MORE: How did Pulisic perform v. Norwich?

Watford falls to 0-3, high hopes sincerely grounded having lost to Everton, Brighton and Hove Albion, and now West Ham. Two of those losses came at home, a year after the Hornets remarkable 2018-19 season ended with eight losses at Vicarage Road.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 


Three things we learned

1. Seb’s star show: West Ham United fans will be watching their big center forward closely this season as the club hopes it has its long-sought answer to the center forward position. Haller’s sensational pass helped the Irons earn a third-minute penalty, and he raced to the doorstep to deposit Felipe Anderson‘s second-half cross. After 15 goals and nine assists for Eintracht Frankfurt last season, Haller is every bit the multi-faceted playmaker required for the position. Will he be able to keep it up.

2. Don’t forget Felipe: West Ham’s transfer record holder prior to Haller’s arrival was as electric as ever. The Irons holding onto him this summer may’ve had a little bit of luck involved, but it was also a stroke of genius.

3. Will Hughes the silver blonde lining: The 24-year-old midfielder was very decent in defeat, getting an assist on Andre Gray‘s clinical equalizer before it all went back to poor form for the Hornets.

Man of the match: Haller


Noble’s penalty came after a clearly-fouled Manuel Lanzini launched himself into the air for what was a stonewall foul.

Gerard Deulofeu smashed a shot off the cross bar in the 7th minute after a terrific cross-18 through ball.

West Ham looked wide open in the midfield and allowed Hughes to show a bit of wizardry in cueing up Gray for his well-taken goal.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

The teams continued to battle well for the points in entertaining fashion, and it was West Ham’s all-time transfer buys who delivered the winner.

Anderson‘s cross through traffic met Haller at the back post for a hopeful winner, and Haller later made it two.

Djenepo stunner downs Brighton after Andone straight red

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It wasn’t that long ago that these two teams faced off in League One…nine years ago, to be exact. Now, both Southampton and Brighton & Hove Albion are established top flight sides and looking to build.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

One of those building blocks for Southampton is young Mali international Moussa Djenepo who announced himself to the Premier League on Saturday with a thumping second-half goal that put Southampton through against 10-man Brighton 2-0, with Nathan Redmond adding the second late as Brighton was caught forward for an equalizer.

The win gave Southampton its first points of the campaign, while Brighton was dropped for the first time in the new season.

The Seagulls were the better side until Florin Andone earned a deserved sending-off for a horror challenge on Yan Valery. Dan Burn had the ball in the back of the net but VAR ruled it out for offside, and the halftime break saw Southampton regroup with the advantage and take charge for the final 45 minutes. Brighton, however, did have spells of possession throughout the second half that will worry Southampton supporters moving forward given the man and scoreline advantage.


Three things we learned:

  1. Brighton looks more dangerous than last season going forward, a positive sign for those who saw the Seagulls struggle to score last season. Before the red, they were by far the better side, and even after falling a man down they had moments of positivity despite being forced back. Graham Potter refused to bunker in after the red, something supporters will appreciate, and they had chances to get back in the game down the stretch.
  2. VAR continued to correctly apply the laws of the game. Lewis Dunk had a potentially stunning opener after going a man down, but it was disallowed as Dan Burn all alone and very offside backed goalkeeper Angus Gunn to the ground. It could have easily been given as a foul, but instead VAR wiped it off for offside, also a fair call as he interfered with play. While some may not like how intrusive the technology has been, it has done a solid job of applying the laws to the game, albeit in a somewhat clunky manner.
  3. Southampton will take the three points no questions asked, but there is no doubt the Saints need to improve. They were second-best for much of the game, even at times with the advantage, and could have been pegged back with an embarrassing result. They were out-passed in the attacking third and nearly doubled up in chances created despite an hour-long man advantage.

Man of the Match: Youri Tielemans


Brighton was the most dangerous team early on and had a number of chances in the opening 20 minutes. Off a set-piece, Neal Maupay got his head to a seventh minute corner at the back post but he didn’t have the necessary accuracy and goalkeeper Angus Gunn also got a slight touch to keep it out. They had another chance from a 3 v. 1 short corner off the training ground minutes later but Dan Burn whiffed on his open header at the doorstep. Then Martin Montoya put a long-distance header wide left on the 20-minute mark.

With the game calming down past the half-hour mark, out of nothing, the match turned on its head as Brighton’s Andone produced one of the most shocking challenges you will see, with a heavy touch on the ball followed by a studs-up lunge straight into the leg of Valery, who was lucky to come out of the collision unscathed. Referee Kevin Friend showed absolutely no hesitation in sending Andone off.

The opener came on 55 minutes when Djenepo collected the ball in space outside the top of the box and as nobody closed him down, he unleashed a fabulous curler that found the top corner and opened his Premier League account having just come off the bench two minutes earlier. He created the space required thanks to a slight touch inside to his right before

Nathan Redmond came close to putting Saints two-up and burying the game, but he put his low chance just wide right on 64 minutes. Jurgen Locadia had Brighton’s biggest chance to get back level, hammering the post with a volley on 87 minutes on a tight-angle chance he should have deposited in the back of the net. Southampton made them pay, killing off the game in the first minute of stoppage time as a low cross from Sofiane Boufal found a sliding Redmond at the doorstep for a 2-0 lead.

Palace stuns wasteful Manchester United at the death

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Manchester United found a way to throw away a dominant performance through more penalty drama and a poor late concession from its well-paid goalkeeper.

Crystal Palace had not beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford since 1989, and never topped the Red Devils in the Premier League era, but now has a 2-1 Saturday win for its resume.

Daniel James‘ 89th minute goal seemed to have given United a result for its controlling effort, letting Marcus Rashford off the hook for a missed penalty, but De Gea allowed Patrick Van Aanholt to score a near post, stoppage time winner with poor goalkeeping after Paul Pogba was caught in possession and allowed Christian Benteke to spring a rush.

[ MORE: How did Pulisic perform v. Norwich? ] 

Marcus Rashford smashed an effort off the post less than a week after Paul Pogba saw his effort saved at Wolves.

VAR absolved Palace of a possible first half red card and seemingly clear second half penalty, and Jordan Ayew scored on the Eagles’ only true chance of the morning.

James set the game level with a gorgeous strike after quickfire, clinical passing in the 89th minute.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

United has now won just three of 15 matches in all competitions since defeating PSG in the UEFA Champions League.


Three things we learned

1. MORE PENALTY DRAMA: Yes, all caps. Should we bold, too? After Anthony Martial raced to make sure Marcus Rashford would take United’s 70th minute penalty, the English youngster did what Paul Pogba did and missed his chance. Rashford smashed off the post.

2. Everyone can finish a glorious chance (even Palace): Roy Hodgson‘s goal-starved Eagles needed a bit of help to get on the score board, and Ayew’s finish came on Palace’s first touch inside the Manchester United 18. Victor Lindelof underestimated Schlupp in the challenge, and Ghanaian won a Vicente Guaita goal kick onto the path of Ayew. 1v1 with De Gea, he didn’t miss.

3. The kid’s got flair: Daniel James’ second finish in three PL matches for United was a beauty, a quickly snapped side-of-the-foot offering that swam over the gloves of a flailing Vicente Guaita. The 21-year-old’s $20 million transfer tag looks pretty justified early.

Man of the match: Martial


United was far and away the better team in the match, aside from Marcus Rashford’s penalty miss.

The Red Devils had VAR work against them on three separate occasions, and only one really passed the smell test. While we’ll acknowledge that the VAR crew knows what it’s watching far more than us, Gary Cahill getting off the hook for a take down of clearly through Anthony Martial and the same Frenchman being denied a penalty shout after Martin Kelly put off his shot effort with some since groping will be watched again and again.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Before all that, though, Ayew scored with Palace’s first touch in the United 18.

Barnes thumper sees Leicester City past Sheffield United

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Jamie Vardy and Oli McBurnie cancelled each other out, but young Harvey Barnes produced a moment of brilliance to see Leicester City through for their first win of the young season.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Barnes’ second career Premier League goal was an absolute stunner, coming just six minutes after he entered the fray at Bramall Lane off the bench. The 21-year-old unleashed a rifling volley that saw the Foxes through, with Kasper Schmeichel and the Leicester City defense preserving the lead over the final half-hour.

Another youngster, Hamza Choudhury, covered himself in glory across the 90 minutes in a defensive midfield position, covering the back four well and keeping Leicester City comfortable in defense as Sheffield United looked for an equalizer down the stretch.


Three things we learned:

  1. Poor touches in midfield can be dangerous. Chris Basham will be kicking himself for a cheap giveaway right on the halfway line that directly lead to Vardy’s opener. It came out of nothing more than slight pressure from behind, and put the Foxes in with Sheffield United’s back line pressing higher on the ball. Midfielders have to be better, especially if Sheffield United has any long-term prospects of staying in the Premier League next season.
  2. Boy can Leicester City run a scything counter-attack. The goal came on a gifted counter, but they ran others that deserve plaudits as well, including one just after halftime that saw Vardy combine well with James Maddison and new boy Ayoze Perez, with the latter ending up with just too tight an angle to finish from. Do not give the Foxes any opportunities to break, because it will not end well for you.
  3. Leicester City continues to be the sum of its parts. Some teams repeatedly struggle to implement quality brought in via the transfer window, but the Foxes have been one of the best and adding talent that truly improves the club as a whole. James Maddison is a brilliant addition, Ayoze Perez is contributing up front, and Harvey Barnes – brought in from West Brom last winter – is making his presence known. 21-year-old Choudhury, a recent youth team promotion, also performed fabulously at the back to preserve the victory.

Man of the Match: Hamza Choudhury.


The first 20 minutes of the match were incredibly sloppy, with Leicester City holding the majority of possession but doing very little with the ball in an attacking sense and unable to put anything together going forward. The first chance of the match fell to Sheffield when George Baldock rifled a one-time volley towards the top corner a half-hour in but it had little movement and Kasper Schmeichel collected easily despite solid pace on the effort.

Leicester City went in front out of relatively nothing seven minutes from halftime as Chris Basham lost the ball in midfield leading to a vicious counter from the Foxes. James Maddison sent through a ridiculous ball forward with the outside of his boot, lofting it over the scrambling defenders to Jamie Vardy, and the England striker made no mistake with a thumping finish at the near post.

The Foxes looked more likely to score a second than Sheffield United did an equalizer, but against the run of play McBurnie bagged his first Premier League strike. Baldock came good from his earlier mistake with a fabulous delivery from extremely deep on the right flank and it found the head of the former Swansea man who buried the chance to level the scoreline.

That wouldn’t last long, however, as Barnes was on hand to collect the ball off the head of Caglar Soyuncu and rifle it one-time before it hit the ground, delivering an absolute howitzer into the top corner for a moment of brilliance that put Leicester City in front for good. Schmeichel was required to preserve the three points with 15 minutes to go, somehow parrying a close-range effort by John Lundstram he should have scored from. Sheffield pressed for an equalizer but Leicester City’s defense was up to the task, locking things down for the win.