AP Photo/Frank Augstein

Premier League season reviews: Clubs 9-5

Leave a comment

With the 2017-18 Premier League season now done and dusted, it’s time to review the campaigns of all 20 clubs.

[ MORE: Grades for all 20 PL clubs ]

Below we continue our season reviews by analyzing the key moments, the star men and how the managers performed for the teams who finished 9th to 5th in the PL table.

[ MORE REVIEWS: Clubs 20-15 | Clubs 14-10 ]

Let’s get to it…


Leicester City

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Final place: 9th with 47 points
Defining moment: The 2-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in November which ultimately signaled the end of the Foxes’ poor start to the season and saw them start a four-game winning run and leave the relegation battle in the rearview mirror.
Biggest victory: Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and Kelechi Iheanacho — the three Leicester attackers expected to turn in star performances the entire season — all scored in the Foxes’ 3-1 victory over 10-man Arsenal.
Low point: The dismissal of manager Craig Shakespeare feels like it occurred years ago now, but he was quickly shown the door after Leicester won just one of their first eight games this season. They would go on to win six of their next nine games (two draws, one loss).
Star man: For the second time in three seasons, Mahrez amassed double-digit goals and assists for Leicester (12 and 10 this season; 17 and 11 in the title-winning season of 2015-16), all while trying to force a move away from the club and missing a handful of games as part of the plan.
Manager(s) marks out of 10: Craig Shakespeare (2/10), Claude Puel (5.5/10)
Grade for the season: C


Everton

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Final place: 8th with 49 points
Defining moment: When Sam Allardyce took over for the departed Ronald Koeman (and interim boss David Unsworth) on November 30, Everton sat 13th in the PL table, just five points clear of 18th and two points clear of 16th. The season could have gone either way quite easily, but Big Sam guided the Toffees to a record of 9W-7D-8L in his 24 games in charge.
Biggest victory: Seeing how Everton didn’t beat a single side that finished ahead of them this season, we’ll go with the 4-0 thrashing of West Ham United the day before Allardyce took over; it was the start of a seven-game unbeaten run and the period of the season which ended relegation fears.
Low point: Koeman lasted just nine games in the managerial hot seat after a free-spending spree in the summer transfer window, fired with just two wins and eight points to show for his efforts.
Star man: Wayne Rooney led the way in the goals column (10, all of which we scored before Christmas), but just about every statistical metric available pegged him as one of Everton’s worst-rated players this season. That feels like a fitting way to describe their season.
Manager(s) marks out of 10: Ronald Koeman (2/10), Sam Allardyce (6/10)
Grade for the season: D+


Burnley

(Dave Thompson/PA via AP)

Final place: 7th with 54 points
Defining moment: When Everton fired Koeman, Sean Dyche was strongly linked with the vacancy, but Burnley managed to keep hold of their longtime manager and achieve their best top-flight finish since 1974.
Biggest victory: Gary Cahill got himself sent off after 14 minutes, Burnley scored three times in 20 minutes, Cesc Fabregas was also sent off, then Chelsea so nearly clawed their way back, but Burnley won 3-2 on opening day. In many ways, it was the perfect preview of what was to come the following 37 games.
Low point: Losing to Swansea City, who would eventually go on to be relegated, in early February dropped the Clarets to 10 games without a win (the skid would reach 11 before breaking it with a five-game winning streak).
Star man: James Tarkowski embodied everything that Dyche’s men stood for: disciplined defensive solidity in spectacularly backs-to-the-wall fashion. He’s likely to be chosen for the PL Team of the Season, as the unexpected outsider to Manchester City’s monopoly.
Manager(s) marks out of 10: Sean Dyche (8/10)
Grade for the season: A


Arsenal

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Final place: 6th with 63 points
Defining moment: Arsene Wenger announced on April 20 that he would leave Arsenal at the end of the 2017-18 season, a move that fans of the club had been calling for in truly toxic fashion for years now. Mission, finally, accomplished. Now, the post-Wenger reality finally sets in.
Biggest victory: The Gunners beat Tottenham 2-0 back in November for their only victory of the season against a top-six side.
Low point: The final day of the season. When Tottenham clinched a third-place finish on Sunday, they achieved third-, second- and third place finishes in successive seasons. Arsenal haven’t finished that high in three straight seasons since 2005.
Star man: Alexis Sanchez was sold to Manchester United in January, paving the way for the arrivals of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who combined to tally 12 goals and 8 assists in essentially one-third of the season at the club.
Manager(s) marks out of 10Arsene Wenger (5/10)
Grade for the season: C-


Chelsea

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Final place: 5th with 70 points
Defining moment: Bournemouth hammered Chelsea to the tune of 3-0 in mid-January, sending Antonio Conte‘s side into a tailspin from which they would never fully recover en route to finishing fifth, a full 30 points behind the champions.
Biggest victory: Olivier Giroud scored the only goal in Chelsea’s 1-0 home win over Liverpool earlier this month, a result which gave the Blues the faintest hope of still qualifying for next season’s Champions League — which they ultimately failed to do.
Low point: When the Blues lost 3-1 to Tottenham on April 1, not only was it the first time they’d done so at Stamford Bridge since 1990, but it left them highly likely to finish outside the top-four for the second time in three seasons. It was also their fifth loss in seven PL games.
Star man: Eden Hazard (12 goals, 4 assists) and Alvaro Morata (11 and 6) put up similar numbers over the course of the full season, though the latter scored just one PL goal between Boxing Day and the end of the season. Hazard, meanwhile, scored just once in the PL since Valentines’ Day.
Manager(s) marks out of 10: Antonio Conte (6/10)
Grade for the season: D

Miami FC makes surprise move to United Soccer League

Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The United Soccer League scored an eyebrow raiser on Wednesday when it announced the addition of Miami FC.

Miami purchased the franchise rights of the disbanded Ottawa Fury, and joins the USL Championship for the 2020 season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Miami FC owner Riccardo Silva had been an outspoken proponent of promotion and relegation, reportedly offering a $4 billion TV deal to MLS to become an open system. He’s also one of the men who filed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in a bid to force U.S. Soccer to adopt the system.

USL president Jake Edwards has spoken about bringing pro/rel into the league, between the Championship and League One. Adding the club owned by Silva, a powerful voice, begs the idea that there are some big things in the oven.

With the move, Miami FC will have to compete with a Major League Soccer team down the street in Inter Miami. They’ll play in the FIU stadium named after Silva.

Here’s what Miami FC president Paul Dalglish said via a team release:

“The decision to join USL gives us two key things.  First, it gives us a stable platform to further expand our academy program and community work, meaning accessible, inclusive and fun family events that bring all of Miami’s soccer communities together.

“Second, it means we’ll be playing 17 home games at Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, providing a fantastic experience for the army of loyal fans that have stood by us. We can’t wait to get started and begin the campaign to our add to our trophy haul.”

It’s a far cry from its roots in the NASL as a buccaneer of professional soccer, but provides stability for a team which has finished first in its last five campaigns spread across three leagues: the NASL, NPSL, and the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA).

Some see pro/rel as an inevitability given FIFA’s rules and a MLS landscape which is now producing an uneven schedule and a number of markets which seek top-tier teams and have the money and audience to support higher tiers.

And at some point, it must be acknowledged that the USL has a number of markets blocked in their pathway to MLS and could emerge as a righteous competitor or fold into a gigantic tiered system. The addition of Miami in a year Major League Soccer is launching Inter Miami is unlikely to be welcomed by MLS commissioner Don Garber.

Meanwhile, Miami FC’s departure means U.S. soccer landscape will certainly turn an eye toward NISA. The nascent league features Atlanta SC, California United, Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC, Los Angeles Force, Michigan Stars, Oakland Roots, San Diego 1904 FC, Stumptown Athletic, the New York Cosmos, and unnamed teams in Connecticut and Providence.

NISA announced that U.S. Soccer’s Board of Directors formally approved Detroit City, Chattanooga, Oakland and Michigan on Wednesday. Detroit and Chattanooga are the two highest-profile grass roots clubs outside the USL and MLS, and widely viewed as bellwethers for independent clubs.

Report: Salzburg star Haland meets with Borussia Dortmund

Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images
1 Comment

Erling Braut Haland is one of the most promising young names in European football, his career trajectory shooting up, up, up after several dynamite performances in the UEFA Champions League.

The Red Bull Salzburg striker, 19, wasn’t in full fitness when his side was bounced from the UCL by Liverpool on Tuesday, but he’d made his presence felt earlier in the competition.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Haland bagged eight of his 28 season goals in the UCL, including three against Napoli and one against the reigning champion Reds.

Now the Leeds-born Norwegian is eyeing up his next step. Having been linked with Manchester United and his dad’s club Leeds, Haland reportedly flew into Dortmund for a Wednesday meeting with Borussia Dortmund.

Dad, Alf-Inge Haland, played 22 years between Bryne, Nottingham Forest, Leeds United, Manchester City, and Rosseland.

Now should Haland find a new home, it seems awfully likely it would work similar to Christian Pulisic‘s move to Chelsea from Dortmund last season; The twice-capped Norway international could sign for BVB (or another club) and head back to Salzburg to star in the Europa League (he’s cup-tied in the UCL).

Plus, Salzburg would love to give coach Jesse Marsch a full year with the star. They’re unbeaten in league play.

Europa League preview: Injured Arsenal still seeking knockout round berth

Photo by Bradley Collyer/PA Images via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Europa League got a lot trickier on Wednesday, as it tends to do when UEFA Champions League outcasts transfer to the competition.

Inter Milan, Benfica, Ajax, Club Brugge, Olympiacos, Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, and Red Bull Salzburg will join the competition for knockout stage.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Two of three Premier League sides have already laid claim to places in the next round, Wolves and Manchester United handling their business while Arsenal left its fate in the balance for Thursday’s final group stage match day.

Joining Man United and Wolves as already through to said Round of 32 are Sevilla, APOEL Nicosia, Basel, Sporting Lisbon, LASK, Celtic, Espanyol, Gent, Wolfsburg, Braga, and AZ Alkmaar.

So what hasn’t been decided? Let’s begin with the Gunners.

Arsenal needs just a point from Standard Liege in Belgium on Thursday to advance, although an unlikely Eintracht Frankfurt home loss to Vitoria SC would send a defeated Gunners onto the Round of 32.

Freddie Ljungberg is missing a lot of firepower. Nicolas Pepe is now dinged up, joining Hector Bellerin, Granit Xhaka, Rob Holding, and Dani Ceballos as unavailable.

“But we’ve brought a lot of firepower here, we have younger players here who have played earlier in the group stages, not just now. They’ve been playing the whole time. So it’s a big game and we’re here to get a result. We have a lot of respect for the opponents.”

While Ljungberg’s status as Arsenal boss feels likely to be short-term, another club whose UEL status is up in the air sees its manager looking long-term.

Rangers boss Steven Gerrard is coming off the disappointment of what would’ve been a deserved silverware triumph off an age-old rival, and now immediately has to get his team to bounce back and earn a spot in the next round.

[ MORE: Five UCL match-ups we’d love to see ]

Celtic saved a penalty and scored an offside goal — no VAR — in lifting the Scottish League Cup this weekend in a 1-0 win over Rangers, but the defeated Glaswegians will be buoyed by the news that Gerrard is making progress on an improved deal.

“(Only being here for a couple of years) wasn’t in my thinking, it has been in the thinking of the majority of everyone else – ‘Oh, Rangers is a stepping stone’ or ‘He’s just going there to rehearse for something else.’ It’s a load of nonsense – I’ve come here as this is a big opportunity for me and I have no plans of going anywhere else.”

Rangers (eight points) simply need a point at home against Swiss powers Young Boys, who enter the game one point back of Glasgow’s blue side. Porto is also a point back of Rangers, and they’ll meet last place Feyenoord (five points).

Full Thursday slate

12:55 p.m. ET
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Vitoria
CFR Cluj v. Celtic
LASK v. Sporting Lisbon
Copenhagen v. Malmo
PSV Eindhoven v. Rosenborg
Qarabag v. Dudelange
Standard Liege v. Arsenal
Basel v. Trabzonspor
Dynamo Kiev v. Lugano
APOEL Nicosia v. Sevilla
Rennes v. Lazio
Getafe v. Krasnodar

3 p.m. ET
Rangers v. Young Boys
Wolves v. Besiktas
Espanyol v. CSKA Moscow
Gent v. Oleksandriya
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Porto v. Feyenoord
Ludogorets Razgrad v. Ferencvaros
Slovan Bratislava v. Braga
Roma v. Wolfsberg
Manchester United v. AZ Alkmaar
Wolfsburg v. Saint-Etienne
Partizan Belgrade v. Astana

Five match-ups we’d love to see in the UCL Round of 16

Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
1 Comment

We know who each UEFA Champions League knockout round contestant can draw in the Round of 16, but some would be juicier than others.

From an American angle, we’ve been deprived of a Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund reunion for now, though we could see a CONCACAF young star duel if Pulisic’s Chelsea draws Alphonso Davies’ Bayern Munich.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

But let’s be honest: That’s simply a subplot for our North American audience. The big intrigue lies elsewhere.

Alas, most of Jose Mourinho’s old employers Chelsea and Real Madrid are unseeded like current club Spurs. Barcelona cannot draw Man City, another beauty.

5. Tottenham Hotspur v. Barcelona — Jose Mourinho and Barcelona have a history, while Spurs are winless in four outings against La Liga’s storied club.

4. Juventus v. Real Madrid — Wouldn’t it be something if Cristiano Ronaldo and his longtime buddies met up in the Round of 16.

3. Manchester City v. Real Madrid — Guardiola v. Zidane, with a heaping helping of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne. Pep might not be able to draw Bayern Munich nor Barcelona, but he sure wouldn’t mind tangling with a side who was involved in a number of incredible Clasicos as a player and manager.

2. Liverpool v. Borussia Dortmund — We got Jurgen Klopp against his old Der Klassiker rivals Bayern Munich last season, and it’s only natural that the Reds could match up against Klopp’s former club and maybe future star in Jadon Sancho. The two sides met in the 2015/16 Europa League quarterfinals, but this stage — with Klopp as a UCL reigning champ — would be extra delightful.

1. Juventus v. ChelseaMaurizio Sarri went to Chelsea for one season, won the Europa League over a crosstown rival and came within penalty kicks of upending Man City for the League Cup. The Blues are doing well under Frank Lampard, but an “our guy versus the guy we didn’t like” would be a cigarette-chewing wonder, wouldn’t it?