Roundtable: Premier League season review

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It’s time to wrap a lovely bow on the 2017/18 Premier League season as our writers sit down to discuss all that has happened over the past nine months.

[ MORE: PST’s 2017/18 season reviews ]

From Manchester City’s remarkable season to Mohamed Salah‘s brilliance, memorable games, goals and more, let’s take stock of a memorable campaign.

Here it goes…


What is your overriding memory from the 2017/18 season? 

Joe Prince-Wright: I’m actually going to go back to the opening day of the season. I was at Brighton v. Manchester City and City ran out comfortable winners in the end, but you could just tell how much better they were in every, single aspect. They started the season as they meant to go on and from the very first whistle to the very last they were totally obsessed with scoring as many goals as they could as fast as they could and being utterly ruthless. Record number of points (100), goals (106), wins in a season (32), biggest title-winning margin (19 points) and largest goal differential (+79) says it all. A joy to watch all season long.

Nicholas Mendola: Ultimately, it’s Man City’s season, primarily in September/October when they were seemingly hanging five, six, and seven goals on everyone, but my “Blink” Gladwellian answer is Paul Pogba‘s pair of goals in leading the Manchester Derby comeback.

Kyle Bonn: Manchester City’s dominance is easily the biggest story of the season, and for that reason the one thing that sticks out in my mind. They were fallible yet beautiful. It’s tough to start anywhere else but here.

Matt Reed: It was one of the few seasons where you could get a good idea of who the champion would be within the first few weeks of the season. Man City was simply that dominant, and it was so much fun to watch them go out on a week to week basis.

Dan Karell: That I correctly predicted Man City would win it…duh! Kidding. I think though it’s a tie for Man City’s utter dominance as well as Mohamed Salah’s constant goal-scoring, both in the Champions League and the Premier League.


Okay, so, let’s get right into it: is this Man City team the best in PL history? Or do they need to win the Champions League as well as the PL to prove that?

JPW: I struggle to see anyone replicating this season again. Maybe City next season… They need to deliver the Champions League trophy in the next few seasons to truly hammer home how great this team is. I’m not sure if this is nostalgia getting in the way, but some of the Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United teams from the past would run this City team pretty close, albeit with totally different playing styles.

NM: Yes. It occurred to me when I heard a podcast mention their not only dropping 14 points this season. With the TV money going up-and-down the table, it’s difficult to imagine anyone gathering 100 points ever again… and to do it with such dominance! But it’s absolutely the best performance any team has put up in the league’s history. Better than the Invincibles. The records they’ve broken cover the gamut.

KB: This is the best performance in Premier League history. It is debatable whether it’s the best assembled Premier League team in history but it’s absolutely the best season-wide, cover-to-cover execution any team has put up in the league’s history. Better than the Invincibles. The records they’ve broken cover the gamut.

MR: Just looking at the roster that Guardiola managed to build, you’d have to say at the very least this is a top two or three team in PL history. But then you really have to dive deep into how he did it, especially the dominating nature in which he and Man City completed the task. They’re the first team to reach 100 points, which is simply astonishing in itself, and then finishing 19 points clear (over six wins) of second place is equally impressive. In short, yes, I think this is probably the best team in PL history when you consider how deep and skilled the squad is. There are at least three to four players that could be in the running for Player of the Year, and that isn’t even including goalkeeper Ederson, who proved to be one of the most underrated signings of the summer.

DK: I actually think they are. To get 100 points in the most competitive league in the world is so impressive, and even though they didn’t go unbeaten or win the treble, I still think winning 34 of 38 games is a more impressive accomplishment, as well as scoring 100 goals over a 38-game season. Just utter dominance.


Is this Pep Guardiola’s biggest achievement to date? Everyone said he couldn’t obliterate the Premier League and, er, this is awkward… he did.

JPW: I still think his treble-winning season with Barcelona in his debut campaign as a manager was his finest achievement, but this is a close second. He forced English soccer to eat its own words and, like Wenger before him, he will help redefine what the Premier League becomes.

NM: Yes, if only because when he was looking even more resplendent with Barcelona, no one was prepared for what he was concocting on the pitch. And while he’s had a chance to refine his dynamic, geniuses like Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte (and Jurgen Klopp) have sorted out new ways to test it. And when you consider that Liverpool eliminated Man City from the Champions League despite being wildly out-chanced? That’s just bad fortune, not poor performance.

KB: I think a debate on Guardiola’s achievements would be a heated one, but this has to be up there, especially considering how mediocre and porous the team looked just last season. The turnaround is staggering, and that’s down to the coach. I think it certainly has a shout to be one of his greatest achievements.

MR: A Champions League title would’ve validated Guardiola’s success a bit more, but this season was dominant all throughout. It took a very talented Liverpool side, who had the benefit of familiarity over their opponent, to knock them out of the UCL, otherwise City probably would’ve gone on to win the competition.

DK: No. I still think his Champions League titles are bigger because once you get to the knockout stage, you have 8 games and it takes a bit of luck along with talent and great tactical decisions to win, and he was able to do that twice. The margins for error in the Champions League are much smaller than in the Premier League, when there’s 38 games.


Who are Man City’s biggest challengers for the title next season?

JPW: Liverpool. They’ve been so much better defensively with Virgil Van Dijk and if Firmino, Salah and Mane can stay fit next season they will push Man City all the way. I truly believe that. Plus, they have something of a hold over City given their big win at Anfield and in the both legs of the UEFA Champions League. If Jurgen Klopp an add a star goalkeeper and another central defender this summer (along with Naby Keita’s arrival) then the Reds are set for a heck of a campaign.

NM: That’s conditional: If Manchester United finds the right center back pairing, it’s them. If Naby Keita quickly adjusts to life in Liverpool, it’s both of them. This all assumes that Spurs don’t start spending big…

KB: A lot of this will depend on who Arsenal gets as a coach. Given the talent on that team, if they can get someone to actually get that squad to play together, I think the Gunners can give it a go. Chelsea is in this boat as well, and they have maybe less pressure to get the hire spot on given the great shape the squad is in. However, right now, it would have to be Liverpool. I think Manchester United might have a chance, but not if Jose Mourinho insists on playing this style. Too many draws to combat the high-flying Manchester City machine.

MR: With a new manager coming in, I’d expect Chelsea to make some pretty big moves this offseason. Spurs is going to be contender for a long time as well, so I’d lump them in. I like Man United’s squad, but I still think they are lacking pieces both in the attack and defensively, so they’ll be there too.

DK: It’s a bit too early to say, since we don’t know who Chelsea, Spurs and Man United will sign. I guess I’ll say Liverpool, should they sign another centerback and if Naby Keita is a massive upgrade in CM.


Which of the “big six” clubs were you most disappointed with and why?

JPW: Obviously, Chelsea. But I was also a little let down by Tottenham. Yes, they were playing their entire season away from home with the move to Wembley but I felt like they were so close to launching a serious title bid, but kept stumbling at the pivotal moment. There was progress from Spurs but a big trophy win (PL or UCL) still seems a long way off. As for Chelsea, what a mess. Antonio Conte had been disinterested all season long and he’s demeanor spread to the team who only turned up when they wanted to. A big let-down considering the incredible title win in 2016/17.

NM: Chelsea. For those players, many of whom saw their heart question when Jose Mourinho was fired, to be so mercurial again? Ugh.

KB: Chelsea, without question. A year removed from a relatively comprehensive title run, they flopped bigtime. Antonio Conte, after all the praise he received this past summer, was out-coached far too many times for comfort.

MR: Chelsea. Losing Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic proved to be all the difference in the world for this squad. Antonio Conte struggled to find continuity in his attack with Alvaro Morata struggling over long stretches of the campaign and the back line had its share of inconsistencies as well. Additionally, the addition of Tiemoue Bakayoko backfired, and the team’s midfield looked far less competent with the former Monaco player in there instead of Matic.

DK: Is Arsenal still part of the big six? Cause it’s Arsenal. Just one win on the road in 2018 was a new low for a club that’s been progressively sinking in the table for the last 12 years. The lack of mental fortitude was yet another microcosm of everything that’s been wrong with Arsene Wenger‘s management since the 2006 Champions League final.


What next for Arsenal? And fill in the blank: Arsene Wenger’s legacy at Arsenal is _____

JPW: It seems like they will go with Mikel Arteta and the jury is really out on him. I think Arsenal are what they are for the foreseeable future. When their on they can beat anyone. When they’re not, they can be beaten by anyone. Unless the new manager seriously remodels their defense, they will finish no better than fifth in the table. Simple. As for Arsene Wenger, his legacy at Arsenal is: intact as he left at the right time. A proper legend of the game who soccer purists should salute for bringing neutrals decades of joy.

NM: Arsenal can turn things around quickly with an upgrade at destroyer and center back, though I’m not sleeping on some of their players stepping up during a second Premier League season. The Aubameyang-Ozil-Mkhitaryan-Lacazette quartet could be lethal.

KB: The Invincibles. The rest is kind of a jumbled mess. He will always have the FA Cup runs to look back on as well, but I’m not so sure Arsenal fans are as enamored by those trophies.

MR: The club needs to find itself an established manager for the interim. That should be their number one priority at this point. Laurent Blanc and Luis Enrique should be among those considered until Arsenal feels it is ready to bring in someone familiar with the club like Patrick Vieira or Mikel Arteta. Arsene Wenger’s legacy at Arsenal is under-appreciated.

DK: Hopefully for Arsenal, a new manager comes in with new, fresh ideas. I think fans will be okay with some struggles in the seasons to come as long as things are different, just because it’s been on a downward slope for so long with no signs of change. Wenger’s legacy at Arsenal is….complicated. Of course he deserves plaudits for all he accomplished in his first 10 years. But the final 12 were far short of the first ten. Today’s Arsenal team would lose 3-0 to the late 90s’/early 2000’s teams.


Do you believe that Man United have progressed sufficiently under Jose Mourinho? 19 points behind City is a humongous gap 

JPW: For me, they haven’t progress enough. I’m with Matt Reed on this. The squad of players they have suggests the gap to Man City should be a lot closer and although United finished second comfortably, their lack of success in Europe was shocking. Jose Mourinho has to mount a serious title challenge next season and reach the semifinals of the UCL. That’s what a club the size of United should be doing, minimum, year in, year out. Given the money Mourinho has had to spend he can no longer hide and I’d expect a major clear-out this summer. Being so far behind City, and particularly Guardiola, will have Mourinho’s skin crawling.

NM: Yes, I do. The gap is massive, but City also happened to get more than a few breaks along the way. City went 8-2, no draws, against the rest of the Top Six. That’s seemingly impossible to repeat.

KB: I think they have made tangible progress from what they were when he took over, yes. However, given the time he’s had to mend the squad, their agonizing style of play and downward trend as the season progressed are seriously worrying. I think Mourinho has a lot to prove next season, and he could be coaching for his job.

MR: No, I do not. I think United has a strong base with players like Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and David De Gea but there are certainly chemistry issues within the squad. I personally felt the Alexis Sanchez move was a bit of a desperate one from the club to keep him away from Man City. He produced on some occasions, but at times looked lost and frustrated under Mourinho’s style.

DK: It’s hard to tell. While Man United finished a comfortable second, the club hasn’t been in the title race since October, when Man City took a massive lead and never looked back. Mourinho is going to have to bring in more people who like to play for him, or he’s going to have to depart for Man United to truly progress.


If you’re Chelsea, who do you bring in to replace Antonio Conte?  

JPW: I’d actually go with the best coach they can find rather than just a flashy name. Look, Conte has made it clear: he is “only the coach” at Chelsea. They have a recruitment team and so many other people pulling the strings, so bring in a manager who actually improves players, especially the plethora of talented youngsters they have on their books out on loan all over the place. They could do a lot worse than bringing in a young, hungry manager like Eddie Howe or even Julian Nagelsmann. Look, that probably won’t happen and it will probably be Luis Enrique, but I’d do something totally different. What is the worse that can happen?

NM: Luis Enrique or Zinedine Zidane.

KB: I would get Carlo Ancelotti, if Arsenal doesn’t snag him first. He has both the pedigree and the knowledge to take a supremely talented squad and run with it immediately.

MR: Luis Enrique seems to be the logical choice now that Thomas Tuchel has gone to PSG. By all accounts, he defied the odds at Barcelona even though he wasn’t a fan favorite when he was first hired. I think he could be a steadying force at Stamford Bridge as the club looks to re-tool ahead of 2018/19.

DK: Keep it Italian and bring back Carlo Ancelotti? Go young with Julian Nagelsman or Domenico Tedesco? There’s many directions they could go…Unai Emery is available too…


Can Mohamed Salah replicate his stunning season? And which player will burst onto the scene next season and have a similar (if possible) impact?

JPW: Nah, there’s no way he can score that many goals again. It’s a bit of a fluke season but one which has been remarkable to watch and he truly deserves all of the plaudits he is getting. I still think Salah scores over 20 goals next season, for the record. As for someone else who can have a similar impact… I’m going to go with Gabriel Jesus. I think next season is truly the year he takes over from Sergio Aguero and he will get plenty of confidence from being the main man for Brazil at the World Cup next summer.

NM: Hooooo, that first one is a loaded question. I think yes, especially if Naby Keita fills a needed hole in the middle of the park to further reward the high press. I’ll cheat and say whichever of Neymar or Edinson Cavani leaves PSG for Man United.

KB: The simple answer is no. Almost no record-setting performance is repeatable. However, that is not to say he won’t have another stunning year. Salah can be just as effective without scoring 38 goals in the season. I predict he will be just as good next year. As far as a new name to consider for next campaign, how about this: Paulo Dybala. It will be supremely difficult for anyone to pry him away from Juventus, but the Argentinian was poor to finish the season, and if he flops in the World Cup or doesn’t see much time, you can bet the Italians will get plenty of calls hoping they have changed their stance on the young striker. And if he has a great World Cup, that could light up the phone lines as well, forcing a big club to make Juventus an offer they can’t refuse. A change of scenery to the bright lights in England could be just what he needs to take his career sky-high.

MR: Salah has proven to be such a dangerous player in a lot of facets of the game, which makes him such a difficult player to stop. Obviously his goalscoring is first and foremost, but he also recorded the second-most assists in the PL of the top 10 goalscorers in the league this season, which makes him more than just a finisher. I think Liverpool has somebody they can rely on for a long time, especially considering the team’s other attacking threats in Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino. It’s hard to say who could be the next Salah before transfers are made, but I think someone like Wilfried Zaha could have a big impact on a top side if he moved to a bigger club. He’s proven to be very dynamic on the wing and a very capable goalscorer for lesser PL sides.

DK: I doubt he’ll score 32 goals again but I can easily see him scoring 20-25, even as teams figure out how to defend him. He’s just so tricky on the ball and is so fast, so it’s really hard to keep him in front of you as a defender. Which player will next have a similar season? Let’s say Raheem Sterling. If he could finish better, he’d have scored 30 as well.


The relegation situation saw three established PL clubs fall. Are the second tier teams getting better or are PL clubs getting complacent? 

JPW: I think PL clubs have grown complacent and very lazy with player recruitment and the Championship clubs are smarter in selecting the players they bring in. Look at Stoke, West Brom and Swansea who went down and Southampton who almost joined them. All four have been solid midtable teams but tried to become something they’re not with expensive signings and they’ve paid the price. You can’t fault teams for having ambition but you have to have a clear vision of what you are and where you want to go. Huddersfield, Newcastle and Brighton had that this season and keeping things simple and having everyone on the same page is often the hardest thing to do in a club. Wolves, Cardiff and either Fulham or Aston Villa (playoff final next weekend at Wembley) must not try to walk before they can run next season.

NM: Neither? In Newcastle, you had a sleeping giant suddenly gifted with a competent (well, way above that) manager. Brighton bought a sneaky world class player in Pascal Gross and had two PL quality center backs. Huddersfield Town was lucky to stay up and needs to spend. Next season, you’ll have a Wolves unit whose ownership will invest further in players, Cardiff who will also spend, and either Fulham or Villa with the name quality to add notable names. Could see all 2 or 3 stay up again.

KB: Both, but I think it’s mostly the former. The gap in talent from the Championship to the Premier League is lessening with each passing year. Players from promoted sides are now more likely than ever to have a strong impact over the course of a long season. Look at guys like James Tarkowski, who was playing in the Championship 2 seasons ago and is now one of the best CB’s in the Premier League. Many Championship sides have Premier League-quality academies and facilities, and it shows when they make the move up. The increased cash-flow throughout the league also helps promoted sides strengthen the squad immediately instead of surviving for a few years before seeing the profits.

MR: There’s a clear difference between the top seven or eight clubs in the PL in comparison to the rest of the field. I think it’s becoming more of a situation where teams have to have the right bit of luck in not picking up injuries and gambling on smaller-level signings in order to manage survival. It’s difficult for the bottom half clubs to spend like the Man City’s and Chelsea’s, but that will ultimately decide survival going forward for a lot of these teams.

DK: I think the 2nd-tier teams are just happy to be there, so they’re willing to play ugly, defensive soccer just to survive. The established teams fan bases meanwhile are tired of the years of defensive soccer and want more expansive play. When the managers swing and miss on key attackers and defenders, then it goes south real fast.


As plenty of PL clubs struggled along with managers they didn’t really want (ahem, Everton and West Ham), what is your one hope for the next batch of managerial appointments? 

JPW: I want to say we have finally seen the end of “experienced firefighters” taking charge but that won’t be the case. Desperate times call for desperate measures and there will always be a need for experienced in relegation battles a la Allardyce at Everton and Moyes at West Ham. Yet, I’d love to see talented coaches from the lower leagues of English soccer given a chance to build something sustainable. That’s a little pie in the sky but I really believe that it’s worth giving someone three to five years to build something special. Maybe fans need to stop putting so much pressure on the ownership groups so this happens.

NM: The end of uninspired retreads. For every Roy Hodgson, who’s probably under-appreciated anyway, we’ve seen so many grifters get by on aged reputation. Sam Allardyce hasn’t had an answer outside of “work harder” in multiple popes. Alan Pardew and Tony Pulis need to earn their way back. “Knows how to stay up” is code for “Has had a lot of chances to coach bad teams.”

KB: I’m stunned that West Ham decided to part ways with David Moyes, given the tangible improvement they saw under him. I’d love to see Sean Dyche or Eddie Howe get bigger jobs, but they should only leave for the right job, and that’s not always the first one that comes their way. Those guys have done well to wait on.

MR: I just want to see a fair process for new managers trying to break into the Premier League. For so long it’s been the same recycled managers (i.e. Allardyce, Hughes, etc.) getting positions with struggling teams. It would be nice to see younger influences come into the league and make their marks.

DK: I hope we see some of the assistants get a longer look in the Premier League. David Unsworth was given five or so games, but let’s see how he does for Everton over the course of a whole season. What about Michael Appleton with Leicester. It’s time for some fresh blood in Premier League management.


What did you make of the USMNT players in the PL this season? 

JPW: DeAndre Yedlin was the standout player as Rafael Benitez improved him defensively and he was a regular for Newcastle, while Geoff Cameron‘s campaign was blighted by injuries and the arrival of Paul Lambert at Stoke City who went down. GC will no doubt be on the move to another PL club this summer. As for Danny Williams, he was very good for Huddersfield but his time was cut short due to injury. Cameron Carter-Vickers was okay out on loan, while Emerson Hyndman struggled to break through at Bournemouth. There really is a lack of Americans in the PL, which is sad to see, as for the fourth season running there wasn’t a single USMNT goalscorer in the PL.

NM: Geoff Cameron was unlucky with his concussion, though it seemingly opened up Mark Hughes to play him at his desired DCM. DeAndre Yedlin has benefited greatly from Rafa Benitez and is a clarion call for young, talented, American players to try their hand in Europe. I also have to admit I forgot Danny Williams was in the league thanks to his season-ending injury. He was very, very good when healthy.

KB: It wasn’t great. Yedlin played well, but otherwise, there was little to show for it. Geoff Cameron was quite poor. Don’t forget Timmy Ream down in the Championship getting set to beat 17-year-old wondered Ryan Sessegnon for Fulham’s Player of the Season though!

MR: I thought DeAndre Yedlin was really strong throughout the season, and just like Newcastle went unnoticed during the campaign I thought he did as well. It’s easy to argue he was one of the best Americans in Europe in 2017/18, which is a good sign for Yedlin going forward because right back continues to be a position without a lot of depth.

DK: Not good? Ironically, as Jurgen Klinsmann basically begged his USMNT players to challenge themselves, the growing purchasing power of MLS drew so many players back to the U.S. and Canada. Of the few left, only DeAndre Yedlin had a solid season, playing 34 times with 31 starts. Geoff Cameron was relegated and Danny Williams was on the fringes for Huddersfield all season. Emerson Hyndman made just one appearance, starting in Bournemouth’s 2-1 win over Burnley in its season finale.


What was your favorite goal of the season? And your favorite match? 

JPW: Favorite goal was easily Sofiane Boufal‘s wondergoal for Southampton against West Brom. I was at St Mary’s for that game and the noise was incredible as he kept running and beating Baggies defenders. Incredible.

Favorite match was Liverpool 4-3 Man City. Again, I was on-site at Anfield and the place went nuts when Salah lobbed Ederson from 40-yards out to make it 4-1 with those rapid-fire goals. Sensational. There were also the memorable Arsenal-Man United clash at the Emirates, Arsenal-Leicester City on the opening day and the Manchester Derby at Man City when United launched that stunning Paul Pogba-led comeback to win 3-2 with City’s fans ready to celebrate their title success.

NM: The Rooney hammer from inside his own half. And selfishly I enjoyed the insane Martin Dubravka heroics when Newcastle stunned Manchester United in a match emblematic of Benitez’s overachievement with a roster bereft of forwards.

KB: Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City has to be the most memorable match of the season for me. Seemed like one of those matches where if you blinked, you missed something crazy. My favorite goal of the season might not be the best goal, but Raheem Sterling’s goal to put Manchester City up 2-0 on Stoke City in October was the perfect encapsulation of what made Manchester City so deadly this season.

MR: Goal definitely goes to Mohamed Salah against Spurs. He literally has five or six Tottenham players surrounding him during the sequence and a legitimate appeal at handball, but continues his run and does so well to get it past Hugo Lloris. Liverpool was involved in so many matches throughout the season, but their 4-3 win over Man City was definitely my favorite. The score wasn’t indicative at all of how well Jurgen Klopp’s side played, and that was the one match in league play where you really saw City look like a normal side.

DK: It’s gotta be Mo Salah vs. Tottenham. The man dribbled through the entire Spurs team before finishing over a flailing Hugo Lloris. Favorite game? Probably the Liverpool 4-3 over Man City. End to end, exciting action. What a game!


Most improved player/manager in 2017/18? 

JPW: I’m going to go with Raheem Sterling. Yes, he’s a superb player, but under Guardiola he has taken his game to a whole new level and added end product to his game as well as making better decisions on the ball. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is also another player who has not only benefited from working for a top manager in Klopp, but also being played in his preferred role of central midfield. For a manager, the most improved has to be Sean Dyche. Burnley just scrapped by the season before last but he’s improved several unfancied players (Jack Cork, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Ashley Barnes, Nick Pope) and took the Clarets to Europe. Sensational season from the Ginger Mourinho.

NM: Player is a tough one, but we’ll go two lower half players: James Tarkowski in making us forget how good Michael Keane was for the Clarets a season previous, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek was simply outstanding when healthy for Crystal Palace and should have a seat on England’s plane to Russia. Manager goes to Sean Dyche, who coaxed a Top Six contending season out of one of the smallest clubs in Premier League history. He was good before, but he went beyond stacking up defenders and refusing to substitute. He’s growing, and deserves a chance with a budget.

KB: Most improved player has to be Mohamed Salah, right? That’s what makes his season so spectacular, nobody expected it given his good but not stunning form at Roma. And the most improved manager has to be Pep Guardiola. Given how unspectacular his Manchester City team was last year, the growth of Pep from year 1 in the Premier League to year 2 was fabulous.

MR: Of anybody not named Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son was very easily the best player on Spurs throughout the season. He goes under the radar often, but the South Korea international is so technically gifted and really makes his teammates better for playing with him.

DK: Good question. Let’s go with Harry McGuire. He went from a basically unknown player to making England’s World Cup squad in basically a 12 month span. Most Improved Manager has to be Sean Dyche, for guiding his side to 7th place. Very impressive.


Good question. Let’s go with Harry McGuire. He went from a basically unknown player to making England’s World Cup squad in basically a 12 month span. Most Improved Manager has to be Sean Dyche, for guiding his side to 7th place. Very impressive.

Get on your soapbox: tells us one thing about the PL you think flew under the radar this season… Go!

JPW: Given their move to Wembley, I actually think the focus on Tottenham’s future flew a little under the radar. Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen are coveted by the biggest clubs in Europe and given Mauricio Pochettino‘s stern words at the end of the season about ambition and challenging Daniel Levy to take the club to the next level, at least financially, in their new stadium, I think it has been a little quiet in recent months on what direction Spurs will head this summer. Watch this space. Spurs have amazing potential to become one of the top teams in Europe year in, year out, for the next decade. They have to get the next few months right on and off the pitch.

NM: Burnley’s season is one of them, but I think Chelsea’s loan players thriving while their parent club stumbled was a real eye-opener. Loftus-Cheek was incredible at Palace. Kurt Zouma invaluable despite Stoke’s awful season. Kenedy helped change Newcastle’s season, and Tammy Abraham was productive at Swansea (Let alone what Michy Batshuayi did once unleashed by Borussia Dortmund). Throw in guys who left permanently in recent seasons — Nathan Ake at Bournemouth, Mo Salah, Oriol Romeu — and you have to wonder if some stability would’ve helped them see what they have in house.

KB: Wow this is actually pretty tough. We’ve covered almost everything pretty comprehensively. I think Burnley still doesn’t get enough credit for finishing 7th. They qualified for Europe! What a job Sean Dyche has done this year and over the last few years to get the club where they are. Fabulous story.

MR: The success of the promoted teams. To have all three survive was very impressive, especially with a club like Newcastle that managed to finish inside the top 10. It’s a struggle for any newcomer to find success in the league, and Huddersfield and Brighton, especially, were exciting to watch over the first two-plus months.

DK: I think one thing that wasn’t discussed a lot is how much Southampton has fallen in the last year. They went from challenging to a top 6-spot under Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman to barely surviving relegation. Losing Virgil Van Dijk and other stars haven’t helped but the club’s youth ranks haven’t developed the kind of replacements it needed. Hopefully the club with a fun style of play will rebound this summer.

Report: Galaxy leading way in Zlatan pursuit

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A report out of Italy hints at a win for the LA Galaxy when it comes to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Football-Italia says the best offer sent the way of the big Swede, 38, is from the Galaxy, at about $15 million over two years.

MLS can pop its collar that the report says Ibrahimovic doesn’t believe Bologna is a big enough club to tempt him into a move away from LA, where he was MLS Best XI in consecutive seasons.

[ MORE: Stewart says Berhalter is safe ]

The report also notes that Napoli interest has cooled, while AC Milan (more on them later) and Manchester United have not made serious offers for the man with 456 career club goals and 173 assists between the Galaxy, Ajax, Man United, Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Barcelona, and Paris Saint-Germain.

Knowing the math, and that Zlatan has scored 53 times in 58 matches for United, you wonder whether he’s not hunting 500 club goals. He’s also a known trophy hunter. Both of those paths are markedly easier with the Galaxy than Bologna, and Ibrahimovic is already comfortable and locked in a fierce rivalry with Carlos Vela and LAFC.

Zlatan also had 116 caps with 62 goals for Sweden and is one of the biggest names to grace Major League Soccer’s pitches. Of course there’s a chance at his age that he could break down, or his form could drop off a cliff, but for now another run as both villain and hero in a major MLS market would be a win for the league (even if he regularly touts himself as bigger than the league).

While we have not seen Ibrahimovic in a top league since he was injured for Man United, there’s little doubt he could still do a job over there. He’s only 2.5 seasons removed from a 28-goal, 10-assist season in all comps for Man United.

Don’t sleep on the idea that AC Milan could make a call to Ibrahimovic’s people, having scored just three goals in their past four games including high-profile 1-goal losses to Roma, Juventus, and Lazio. Milan has just 11 goals in 12 league outings, and was supposed to be a Serie A threat without the schedule congestion of Europe.

Top teams in good shape as EURO 2020 qualifying reaches climax

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With the Netherlands missing out on Euro 2016 and Italy absent from the World Cup in 2018, some of Europe’s traditional soccer powers have surprisingly failed to advance to recent major international tournaments.

Don’t expect any big shocks when qualification for next year’s European Championship wraps up over the coming days.

Six teams – Belgium, Spain, Italy, Poland, Russia and Ukraine – have already booked their places in the tournament and the remaining 14 automatic qualifiers will be determined after the final group games.

World champion France, European champion Portugal, and heavyweights such as Germany, England and the Netherlands are in good shape to finish in the top two in their respective groups, ensuring spots in the Europe-wide finals taking place in June and July.

There are big opportunities for Europe’s so-called lesser soccer nations, too. Finland, for example, needs only to beat Liechtenstein to qualify for its first major tournament.

France, the World Cup winner last year, is tied on points with Turkey in Group H and will secure a top-two finish by beating Moldova on Thursday. In case of an upset in that game in Paris, the French have another shot at qualification at Albania on Sunday.

Portugal, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, is guaranteed to advance in the defense of its title with wins over Lithuania at home and Luxembourg away – the bottom two teams in Group B.

England needs one win from its final two games – at home to Montenegro on Thursday and away to Kosovo on Sunday – to top Group A.

Editor’s note: Need tickets for the England game? Click here

And in Group C, Germany and the Netherlands are tied on points and need a maximum of four points from their final two qualifiers. Both have to play Northern Ireland, which is three points behind in third place.

The last four qualifying spots for the 24-team Euros will be decided in the playoffs in March.

RONALDO’S CHALLENGE

Could Cristiano Ronaldo fail to qualify for a major tournament?

UEFA would hate to see the Portugal star miss out, but his team has lacked a spark in qualifying and is eight points off Group B leader Ukraine.

Portugal is favored to beat Lithuania on Thursday and Luxembourg on Sunday to secure second place.

Still, there’s little margin for error. Dropped points could allow Serbia to overtake, forcing Portugal into the playoffs.

ENGLAND LANDMARK

England will be playing its 1,000th men’s international in the match against Montenegro and the occasion will be marked in a number of ways, including recognizing the notable contributions of former players and managers. Players will wear individual “legacy numbers” on their jerseys.

England manager Gareth Southgate is hoping a line can be drawn following scenes last month when his players were racially abused by some Bulgaria fans during England’s 6-0 win in Sofia. The game was stopped on two occasions by the referee. England’s match away to Montenegro in March was also marred by racist chanting toward England’s black players, notably Raheem Sterling.

“The players will want to move on, really,” Southgate said. “I think, for all of them, they dealt with it brilliantly and it would be wrong not to discuss it at all but I know that they want to get on with the football.”

Kosovo, which was accepted as a member of UEFA and FIFA only in 2016, is third in the group and could secure automatic qualification with a win at the Czech Republic on Thursday and a draw against England.

FINALLY FINLAND?

Finland is the only Nordic team never to have qualified for a World Cup or a European Championship. That could all change this week.

The Finns are second in Group J, five points clear of both Armenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and will join Italy in advancing to the finals with a win at home against last-placed Liechtenstein on Friday or if Bosnia fails to beat the Italians. Finland’s second chance, if needed, comes against Greece on Monday.

Finland is coached by a primary school teacher, Markku Kanerva, who led the country to a first ever European Under-21 Championship in 2009 and is impressing with the senior team a decade on.

Teemu Pukki has seven goals in qualifying as the team looks to go further than it ever did with past greats such as Sami Hyypia and Jari Litmanen.

CROATIA AT RISK

Croatia is finding European qualifying harder than last year’s World Cup.

The Croatians lead the evenly matched Group E but if they lose to Slovakia on Saturday the World Cup finalists could end up relying on other results to go their way.

Another team in a fight to qualify is Switzerland, which is third in Group D behind Ireland and Denmark, but is a big favorite against Gibraltar.

PLAYOFF SHOOTOUT

The playoffs offer a last chance for unsuccessful teams, but it’s a complex process.

Sixteen teams who didn’t qualify automatically will be ranked according to their divisions from the 2018 Nations League and put into four single-elimination brackets.

At the bottom end, there’s the League D playoff, which is guaranteed to hand one team its debut at a major championship. Georgia and Belarus have secured a place in that playoff mini-tournament and will likely be joined by Kosovo and North Macedonia.

The highest division almost certainly won’t have enough unqualified teams to make a four-team bracket, so will recruit extras from lower tiers. That could hand League A’s Iceland a fortunate draw with League C teams such as Bulgaria and Israel.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

AP Sports Writer James Ellingworth in Dusseldorf, Germany, contributed to this story

USMNT boss Berhalter won’t be fired; USA confident of making World Cup

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USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter is under pressure, but he will not be fired if they lose against Canada or Cuba in the coming days.

Or anytime soon, for that matter.

That is the resounding message of support from USMNT General Manager Earnie Stewart, who spoke to reporters via a conference call on Tuesday and had to answer plenty of questions about the U.S. losing 2-0 at 69th ranked Canada last month.

Stewart batted away speculation about Berhalter’s future, as the USMNT need to win their remaining two CONCACAF Nations League Group A games against Canada in Orlando on Friday and then against Cuba, plus overturn a three-goal deficit on Canada, to reach the finals of the inaugural tournament.

“We’re looking at the future. So when I evaluate Gregg and the staff, what I’ve seen today, I’m a pleased man. An individual result is not going to change that,” Stewart said. “I’ve seen that progress, and when you look at these individual results of the Canada away game, no, we weren’t happy. We weren’t happy at all. We have now a moment to rectify that as well. This Friday is about that. We need to perform.”

Stewart then doubled down in his support of Berhalter and this group of players, led by the likes of Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and now Sergino Dest, saying he is incredibly confident of reaching the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“I have no fear at all that we are not going to qualify for the World Cup. I am very, very confident of that,” Stewart added.

The former USMNT player then revealed he’s felt personally attacked by the USMNT fanbase accusing the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) of nepotism as Jay Berhalter, Gregg’s brother, is high up in USSF and running to becoming the new CEO.

“I am the one making the decisions. All the conspiracy theories out there are very disrespectful to me and to the individuals: to Jay Berhalter, to Gregg Berhalter, myself,” Stewart said. “When people insinuate these things … I’ve worked a little bit too hard to be in the position where I’m in today to actually have people think that.”

Berhalter’s reign has seen mixed results so far, as the USMNT reached the 2019 Gold Cup final but were beaten by Mexico’s B team in the summer.

They were smashed 3-0 by Mexico’s A team in a friendly in September and the lackluster displays have infuriated the USMNT fanbase who have been hurting for over two years since the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Aside from the results, the major issues have been the possession-based style of play not seeming to suit the USMNT player pool, with so many talented youngsters struggling to adapt to what Berhalter wants, plus some player seemingly picked regardless of their performances.

So, Berhalter will stay, for now. But when is the next major flashpoint?

2022 World Cup qualifying starts next summer and if the USMNT get off to a bad start, it will be intriguing to see how Stewart and USSF react.

No matter what Stewart says this is a federation, and coach, under pressure. Let’s see if his team respond.

Premier League player Power Rankings

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Our latest Premier League player Power Rankings see plenty of players remaining in the upper echelons.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Matchweek 12 was wild, with players from Liverpool, Chelsea and Leicester City continuing to dominate our top 20. The likes of Ciaran Clark, John Lundstram and Dwight McNeil were so close to cracking the top 20…

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League. If they didn’t play in the last matchweek, they aren’t getting in this list!

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.


1.  Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) – Up 2
2. Jamie Vardy (Leicester) – Up 2
3. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Down 2
4. Tammy Abraham (Chelsea) – Down 2
5. Wilfried Ndidi (Leicester) – New entry
6. Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester) – Up 1
7.  Fabinho (Liverpool) – New entry
8. Andy Robertson (Liverpool) – Down 2
9. Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool) – Up 6
10. Willian (Chelsea) – Up 6
11. Gerard Deulofeu (Watford) – New entry
12. Raul Jimenez (Wolves) – Down 7
13. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Even
14. Youri Tielemans (Leicester) – Even
15. James Maddison (Leicester) – New entry
16. Marcus Rashford (Man United) – Down 4
17. Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) – Up 2
18. Fernandinho (Man City) – New entry
19. Matteo Kovacic (Chelsea) – New entry
20. Richarlison (Everton) – New entry