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+.

The USMNT player pool in Europe is as promising as ever

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It would be a challenge to put together a Best XI from Americans performing in Europe this Saturday.

That’s for two reasons, not one of them because there aren’t 11 players worthy of the honor.

One is goalkeepers: Zack Steffen is hurt and Ethan Horvath backing up Simon Mignolet.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

The other is pretty great: There are many more than 11 players thriving in Europe even with Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Zack Steffen, and Timothy Weah not available for selection.

It’s a weekly thing now. Gregg Berhalter trains a strong and mostly-MLS squad for January friendlies, The Americans Abroad round-ups on our site have shown plenty of progress for those eligible for the USMNT.

There was a time when Haji Wright coming off the bench for VVV-Venlo in the Netherlands had a shot at being the highlight of the weekend.

Now it’s a footnote. The 21-year-old is a regular for the relegation-threatened side after a transfer from Schalke. If anything, the discussion is about two in-a-row off the bench after a run of 10-straight league starts.

Consider this list of players, now that Aston Villa’s Indiana Vassilev and Borussia Dortmund’s Giovanni Reyna made league debuts in the same weekend.

First team players in top tier leagues

Zack Steffen (Man City, on loan to Dusseldorf)
Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge)
DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United)
Sergino Dest (Ajax)
John Brooks (Wolfsburg)
Alfredo Morales (Fortuna Dusseldorf)
Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig)
Weston McKennie (Schalke)
Christian Pulisic (Chelsea)
Tyler Boyd (Besiktas)
Indiana Vassilev (Aston Villa)
Haji Wright (VVV Venlo)
Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund)
Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen)
Tim Weah (Lille)

Dig deeper and there’s more: Matt Miazga (Reading), Tim Ream (Fulham), Geoff Cameron (QPR), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur), Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic), and Duane Holmes (Derby County) have been regulars in the English Championship. Same for Julian Green (Greuther Furth) in 2.Bundesliga and in-form Lynden Gooch at League One’s Sunderland. Niko Hamalainen (Kilmarnock) is a regular starter in the Scottish Premiership.

Then there are heralded U-20 and U-17 prospects Chris Gloster (Jong PSV), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich II), Richie Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven), Alex Mendez (Ajax), Sebastian Soto (Hannover 96), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional), Ulysses Lainez (Wolfsburg II). Some have taken first team bows while others have made the bench or ar eon the verge.

And we’re just talking Europe here, as the U.S. still has a bevy of reliable international players playing domestically like Jordan Morris, Miles Robinson, and Jozy Altidore amongst others. That’s leaving alone the caliber of Homegrown players being produced by Major League Soccer academies, Paxton Pomykal and Djordje Mihailovic among them (Reyna and Richards, too).

In terms of potential, American soccer is at a golden age. This makes Brian McBride’s new role as USMNT general manager even more important, as he teams up with Gregg Berhalter to put the best possible American team together for qualifying.

One thing’s for sure, the player pool is deep and no longer an excuse. Game on.

Watch Live: Burnley v. Leicester City

Watch Live: Burnley v. Leicester City (Lineups and stream link)
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Leicester City looks to build a nine-point cushion on fourth-place Chelsea with a win over Burnley at Turf . Moor on Sunday (Watch live at 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Brendan Rodgers‘ Foxes can go level on points with second-place Manchester City by beating the hosts.

[ STREAM: Burnley v. Leicester City ]

Fifteenth-place Burnley opens the day two points clear of the Bottom Three, losers of four-straight matches.

Jay Rodriguez and Chris Wood start up top for the Clarets against the second-stingiest back line in the Premier League.

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Burnley

Leicester City

PL Sunday Preview: Leicester travel to Burnley; Liverpool put perfect record on the line against Man Utd

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With eight Premier League fixtures on Saturday, two more remain in Matchweek 23.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Burnley v. Leicester City  — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Burnley are free falling and there doesn’t seem to be a safety net in sight.

The Clarets, who are two points removed from the relegation zone, head into a tough three-match window without striker Ashley Barnes. Recuperating from a hernia surgery, the 30-year-old is set to miss bouts against Leicester, Manchester United and Arsenal – to name some.

But quite possibly more alarming than that is the team’s recent form. Losing seven out of their last nine, just two points divide Burnley from the drop zone. Sean Dyche‘s team are clueless in the box, scoring one goal in four league bouts. Trouble looms over Turf Moor.

But even then, Dyche, who has made Burnley a force to be reckoned with in the past, believes his side are still a threat.

“They are a good side,” Dyche said about Leicester. “We are on a tough run of form, but I don’t think they are naive enough to think it is turn up and get the business done. We are not a million miles away.”

Can Burnley pull a Southampton and stun a top-four bound Leicester?

“We weren’t at our best [against Southampton] and we didn’t have the energy and intensity that we would have liked,” Brendan Rodgers said ahead of Sunday’s early match.

“We work twice as hard and that’s what we’ve done after every setback. We still have a lot to improve on.”

The Foxes had a rare full week to train, so one can bet that Rodgers is serious about his word.

INJURIES: Burnley —  OUT: Barnes (hernia), Gudmundsson (hamstring) | Leicester City — OUT: Ndidi (knee), Amartey (ankle), James (match fitness)

Liverpool v. Manchester United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Manchester United are a part of the exclusive anti-Liverpool club for more than the obvious reason.

Yes, the North West Derby is one of the league’s most heated rivalries, with countless flashbacks in its 203 meetings during its over 100 years of history.

But these two, star-studded squads led by Jurgen Klopp and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, respectively, also have a permeating rivalry of their own. The Reds, who have yet to taste defeat this season, have dropped points to only United.

It can be argued that Sunday’s bout may be Liverpool’s most complicated and least favorable, despite maintaining an immaculate record at home. This is the “big one” that many didn’t particularly circle on the calendar.

“It’s a very, very important football game,” Klopp said. “Very important. We have to learn how to deal with games like this in the right manner. We haven’t done bad in the past but we can still improve.

“Old Trafford [a 1-1 draw in October] was a good example, [we were] not at our best because of their quality. We have to make it more likely we’re at our best.”

Solskjaer had his tactics in place last time around; a small injection of final quality and the team would have crushed Liverpool’s aspirations of matching the Iinvincibles or Manchester City’s points record.

“The last two performances [against Liverpool] at Old Trafford we have drawn twice and been close to winning both games, so we’ve got some games to look back at and that will give us loads of belief… if we perform to our best we have a chance to win,” Solskjaer said.

Sunday presents itself as the final chance for United to pull the upset, and reaffirm why they’re a part of the exclusive club to begin with. But Liverpool are slowing becoming invincible themselves.

INJURIES: Liverpool —  OUT: Lovren (hamstring), Clyne (knee), Keïta (groin), Milner (hamstring) | Manchester United  — OUT: Tuanzebe (hamstring), McTominay (knee), Pogba (ankle)

Serie A roundup: Immobile nets hat-trick, Lazio runs over Sampdoria (video)

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Lazio’s record-extending 11th straight Serie A win highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Lazio 5-1 Sampdoria  

Like Lazio’s season, Ciro Immobile continues to make strides with each passing day.

The 29-year-old’s hat-trick powered Simone Inzaghi’s side past Sampdoria 5-1, extending his goal count to 23, nine more than Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaka.

 

Lazio, who are three points behind top-of-the-table Juventus and one behind second-place Inter Milan, were up three goals by the 20-minute mark. By the 65th minute, Immobile reached the three goal mark, converting from the spot.

“We would need too much time to count his records,” coach Simone Inzaghi said on Immobile’s magnificent run of form. “We are talking about an extraordinary team player. He has shown that so many times. Immobile has been doing extraordinary things for four years, I’m not surprised.”

Full of confidence, Lazio turn one of the most challenging corners of the season, as they take on rivals AS Roma defend the Italian Cup against Napoli.

“We’ll enjoy this 11th win but we have to already be thinking about the next matches,” Inzaghi said. “We know what a derby means but I can’t allow myself to think about Roma.

“We play Napoli on Tuesday, we know what the Italian Cup means for us, what it meant last year, we have it on our shirts and we will fight for it again.”

When it comes to Sampdoria, things are going from bad to ugly, quick.

“Tonight I’ll add salt and pepper and I’ll eat them alive,” Sampdoria coach Claudio Ranieri said of his players.

“Lazio was too good for us, you could clearly see the difference between the two teams, but it was without doubt the worst Samp performance since I’ve been here.”

Elsewhere

Sassuolo 2-1 Torino

Napoli 0-2 Fiorentina