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Premier League season reviews: Clubs 20-15

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With the 2017/18 Premier League season now done and dusted, it’s time to review the campaign for all 20 clubs.

[ MORE: Grades for all 20 PL clubs ]

Below we kick off our season reviews by analyzing the key moments, the star men and how the managers performed for the teams who finished 20th to 15th in the PL table.

[ MORE: Clubs 14-10 | Clubs 9-5 ]

Here we go…


West Bromwich Albion

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Final place: 20th with 31 points (relegated to Championship)
Defining moment: Hiring Alan Pardew and then winning just one of their next 21 PL games.
Biggest victory: Away at Manchester United 1-0 to not only keep their survival hopes alive for a few more games but also hand the PL title to Man City.
Low point: A stretch of eight-straight defeats from February to March when all but ended any hope of survival.
Star man: Venezuelan striker Salomon Rondon was a beast up top, scored 10 goals in all competitions and has a $25 million release clause in his contract so we will likely see him in the Premier League next season.
Manager(s) marks out of 10: Tony Pulis (4/10), Alan Pardew (1/10), Darren Moore (7/10)
Grade for the season: F


Stoke City

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Final place: 19th with 33 points (relegated to Championship)
Defining moment: The worst defensive record in the league, a 7-2 hammering at Man City underlined just how bad this Stoke defense was. Yes, they were playing City, but the way they were dismantled unearthed all of their issues.
Biggest victory: Not many to choose from but it was probably the early season 1-0 win at home against Arsenal as Jese scored the winner. Man, that seems like a long time ago.
Low point: They got ahead several times in games late in the campaign but couldn’t hold onto leads. Specifically the way they crumbled to lose at home to Palace, after leading, stands out. Jack Butland‘s tears will be the enduring image of a sad, sad season.
Star man: There is no way Xherdan Shaqiri will still be at Stoke next season and a big World Cup for the Swiss winger should seal a move elsewhere in the PL or to a top club overseas. He had eight goals and seven assists but couldn’t drag the Potters to safety.
Manager(s) marks out of 10: Mark Hughes (3/10), Paul Lambert (2/10)
Grade for the season: F


Swansea City

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Final place: 18th with 33 points (relegated to the Championship)
Defining moment: Following their 4-1 win against West Ham, it seemed as though everyone at Swansea relaxed after their shocking start to the season. The Swans rose to 13th and everything was looking rosy.
Biggest victory: Beating Liverpool at home in January was a huge boost and the Swans were in full flow at that point after Carvalhal’s arrival in late December. They beat Arsenal in the next home game and had a run of four wins in six as they looked almost safe from relegation…
Low point: Losing at home to Southampton in the final week of the season. A draw would’ve probably done the trick but the Swans didn’t show up and all but sealed their fate by losing 1-0.
Star man: Lukasz Fabianski was a machine in goal all season long as the Polish international was in tears on the final day once relegated had been confirmed.
Manager(s) marks out of 10: Paul Clement (3/10), Carlos Carvalhal (5/10)
Grade for the season: F


Southampton

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Final place: 17th with 36 points
Defining moment: Beating Bournemouth at home with four games to go reignited hope they could save themselves from relegation. Mark Hughes had liftoff after being put in charge for the final eight games of the season as nobody really gave Saints a chance.
Biggest victory: The win away at Swansea during the final week of the season in what had basically become a relegation playoff. Saints held their nerve and Manolo Gabbiadini‘s late strike all-but secured their safety. The relief on the face of Hughes and his players at the final whistle said it all.
Low point: A run of just one win in 21 games under Mauricio Pellegrino as the club stuck with the Argentine coach as long as they could but the players just never responded to his defensive tactics.
Star man: Alex McCarthy came in midway through the season to replace Fraser Forster in goal and didn’t put a foot wrong as he was crowned Southampton’s player of the season. Dusan Tadic was also big down the stretch with his two goals against Bournemouth crucial.
Manager(s) marks out of 10: Mauricio Pellegrino (2/10), Mark Hughes (8/10)
Grade for the season: D


Huddersfield Town

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Final place: 16th with 37 points
Defining moment: Digging deep to draw 0-0 at both Manchester City and Chelsea in the final week of the season to secure their status in the Premier League. Remarkable resolve.
Biggest victory: Beating Manchester United at home early in the season gave David Wagner‘s men plenty of belief that they belonged in the top-flight.
Low point: A run of five-straight defeats in January and early February which saw them slump from midtable into the relegation zone.
Star man: Jonas Lossl must get a shout out for his performances in goal, especially late in the season, but throughout the campaign Aaron Mooy was the man who made the Terriers tick. They missed him badly when he was out injured.
Manager marks out of 10: David Wagner (9/10)
Grade for the season: A


Brighton & Hove Albion

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Final place: 15th with 40 points
Defining moment: Three home wins on the spin in February and March which culminated by beating Arsenal. Chris Hughton‘s side were almost safe from that point on.
Biggest victory: Beating Manchester United at home in the final week of the season to finally secure PL safety.
Low point: Four defeats in five around November/December time which saw the Seagulls drop back into the relegation discussion. That was pretty much it.
Star man: Pascal Gross had a fine season with the German playmaker scoring seven goals and added eight assists, while you have to applaud the defensive duo of Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk at the heart of the Seagulls defense.
Manager marks out of 10: Chris Hughton (8/10)
Grade for the season: B+

Hyndman, Hamid seal permanent MLS deals

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Two players who have featured for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the past signed permanent MLS deals on Monday, after spending the all or parts of the 2019 MLS season on loan in the league.

The question is, should we be disappointed? It’s two USMNT-eligible players in their prime who are leaving Europe for regular playing time? Will that playing time get them back in the USMNT picture? Or were their old club teams simply the problem before?

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

It was a return for Bill Hamid, who was a D.C. United homegrown player and arguably the first player on the team sheet between 2009-2017. Hamid actually returned from Europe in 2018 and spent all of the last year and a half on loan from FC Midtjylland in Denmark.

Hyndman on the other hand signed a permanent deal with Atlanta United, after the former MLS Cup champions signed the 23-year-old midfielder on a loan deal from Bournemouth in the Premier League. It was Hyndman’s fourth club in four years – including three loan moves – and perhaps Atlanta is a place he can put down roots and stay for the long term.

Per both D.C. United and Atlanta United, both players signed multi-year deals. D.C. United reportedly even paid a transfer fee for Hamid.

Both players are solid to good players in MLS, and as Americans, they add quality and don’t cost a team an international spot. But for the U.S. Men’s National Team, it’s unclear how this could affect the pair.

On one hand, USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter has shown a preference to certain players he had in the 2019 January camp, including guys like Nick Lima, Paul Arriola and Christian Roldan, even if performances don’t necessarily merit them playing each match. On the other hand, as someone who has played in Germany, and England, Berhalter surely understands the benefits of challenging yourself every few years to play and train at a higher level. It doesn’t have to be Jurgen Klinsmann levels, where every single year they have to step it up, but finding a new way to freshen things up in a tough environment can have positive benefits for everyone, assuming there is playing time.

For Hyndman, who moved to Fulham’s academy in 2011 at the age of 15, it marks the end of seven years in Europe trying to break in. He had decent half-season spells with Hibernian and Rangers in the Scottish Premier Division, but one can argue that Atlanta United is itself on a higher level of play. That being said, Hyndman has clearly decided that regular gametime is best for his development as a player than relocating to the Netherlands, Italy or Germany to play. He wasn’t likely to get any at Bournemouth, even with their current Premier League struggles.

In Hamid’s case, he took a chance on Europe with FC Midtjylland. However, pretty quickly he realized that it wasn’t the right situation for him and within six months, he was back on D.C. United on loan for the next year and a half.

In both cases, there may have been options to continue their European adventures. Whether it was in the Championship or another “mid-major” European league, in the past, two players entering their primes might have tried to stay in Europe a little longer. But the lure of MLS, with a decent salary, less competition for places and the opportunity to play at home in front of family is a strong one, and the national team will have to adjust with it.

 

Would Saul make sense at Man United?

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As Manchester United prepares its roster construction for the future, one player that’s reportedly on the shortlist is Atletico Madrid central midfielder Saul Niguez.

Although originally from Elche, in southeast Spain, Saul has been on the books of Atletico Madrid since 2008 (other than a season on loan with Rayo Vallecano), making his first team debut in 2012 and growing from a scrawny midfielder into an international-calibre box-to-box star for both club and country. Per Diario AS, Man United has been interested in signing Saul before, and now it’s been revived. The report states, “The interest from Manchester is very real, and strong.”

[READ: Arsenal comes back to beat West Ham]

So, what kind of a player is Saul?

As mentioned before, he’s a sturdy, powerful box-to-box midfielder who can win headers defensively and knows how to play well in a Diego “Cholo” Simeone system. At the same time, he’s certainly not afraid to make a late run into the box. Last season he tied a career high with four goals in La Liga and also scored in the UEFA Champions League.

At 25-years old, he’s a hardened veteran player. But is he what Man United needs?

If you look at the current squad at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s disposal, he’s got quite a few No. 8’s, right? There’s Paul Pogba, Andreas Pereira, and Fred. You can argue Scott McTominay has at times played like an 8, as has Jesse Lingard on occasion. One might argue that what Man United really needs is a better No. 6, someone who can be a destroyer and cover a lot of ground, freeing up that side of the game so Pogba could feel more comfortable attacking.

If Man United were to sign Saul in January – or next summer – we could potentially see him line up in a midfield three, though he’d be center right with Pogba to his left. Behind the pair would be McTominay to clean up the messes.

On paper, it’s a decent midfield for sure, but it’s just one step on Man United’s path towards becoming a team that can challenge for the Premier League and Champions League.

Of course, this is all theoretical. Saul carries a $166 million transfer release clause, and for the player he is, considering he doesn’t score many goals and affects the game in little ways, it’s a lot to spend for a guy who isn’t a guarantee to improve his team enough to make it back to the Champions League.

But if Man United was able to negotiate a better transfer fee for Niguez, they could do worse than a talented midfielder from Atletico Madrid. The question then will be – is Saul a system player (only successful under Simeone), or can he find success in the Premier League too?

USWNT’s Rapinoe named SI Sportswoman of the Year

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In 2019, Megan Rapinoe won a World Cup title, Golden Ball, Golden Boot, FIFA World Cup MVP, and the Ballon d’Or. Now, she can add her name to another distinguished list.

Sports Illustrated on Monday revealed that Rapinoe had been named SI’s 2019 Sportsperson of the Year. She’s the first individual soccer player from any gender to win the award, and she follows the 1999 U.S. Women’s National Team as the second USWNT-related athlete to garner the award.

[READ: Rapinoe wins 2019 Ballon d’Or]

Other notable winners of this award are Serena Williams, LeBron James, the Golden State Warriors, Michael Jordan, and Muhammad Ali.

“Even in a year with many great candidates, choosing Megan as the Sportsperson of the Year was an easy decision,” Steve Cannella, co-editor-in-chief of Sports Illustrated said in a statement released by the magazine. “She is a force of nature on and off the field, a trailblazing soccer player who also proves every day how large and loud a voice a socially conscious athlete can have in 2019.”

Rapinoe has had about as good of a year as a player can have, and she did it under enormous pressure. She withstood verbal and online taunts from the U.S. president for her noted opposition against his political decisions, as well as dealt with injuries during the tournament. Even if she wasn’t always at her best on the field, she found a way to score key goals at important moments.

Every Women’s World Cup seems to raise the profile of the USWNT and soccer in this country, but beyond her work on the field, Rapinoe’s hair, media savvy and ultimately, her performance won over any critic she could have. What she’s done for soccer in this country is immeasurable, and hopefully there are people that have a desire to keep watching the beautiful game after the World Cup, thanks in some part to Rapinoe.

Rapinoe will grace the cover of Sports Illustrated for the Dec. 16 issue.

Ljungberg on Pepe: He ‘showed his quality’

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Arsene Wenger used to say that players needed around six months once they came to the Premier League to get adjusted to both living in England and getting acclimated to the pace and physicality of the league.

For Nicolas Pepe, it was advice well heeded.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Offensively, Pepe was outstanding as he scored a goal and an assist in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over West Ham. At the same time, Pepe worked hard on the defensive end, making life difficult for West Ham left back Aaron Cresswell and anyone down West Ham’s right flank.

On Monday, Pepe showed that he was worth his $87 million transfer fee, and he only needs a yard of space to create something magical.

“People always ask me about Nico and I try to explain,” Ljungberg after the game. “He comes from the French league, he comes to the Premier League – in my opinion the best league in the world – and it’s a lot faster and a lot harder. He needs to adapt. People put pressure on him but that’s not so easy, and I thought what he did today was he worked really hard offensively and defensively and showed his quality.

“I’m so pleased for him because at the same time he was a big, big buy for the club and then comes pressure with that as well. He will fall asleep with a smile tonight.”

In the 66th minute, Pepe found himself isolated on the wing with just Cresswell to beat. After cutting inside, Pepe curled home a beauty which ended up being the game-winning-goal. It was just his second Premier League goal of the season and his first from open play. Perhaps now after five months of bedding in at Arsenal, Pepe is ready to shine.

There’s no doubt that with Arsenal’s defensive issues, they need their attacking stars to score in bunches from here on out. If Pepe can finish the season with ten goals and ten assists, it will be a wild success, and set him up well for the next season.