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+.

Brazil tests Willian up front with Neymar and Jesus

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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

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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

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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

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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.