Grades, key takeaways on each PL club so far

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With four games done and dusted as we head into the first international break of the 2018-19 Premier League season, now seems like a good time to focus on how each team team has looked so far.

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Below we give each PL club a grade based on their early season performances (I can hear you screaming ‘it’s a marathon not a sprint’) and what the key takeaway has been for each so far.


Arsenal

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Grade: C+
Key takeaway: Plenty of work to do defensively and the possession style from the back is going to cost Petr Cech his role as a starter. Slick going forward but where does Mesut Ozil slot into Unai Emery‘s plans? Still a lot of questions unanswered with the Gunners looking likely to finish outside the top four after some early season struggles. That said, if Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette get going, they could easily finish in the top four.


Bournemouth

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Grade: B+
Key takeaway: Eddie Howe continues to work wonders on the South Coast as the Cherries’ only defeat came at Chelsea, and they pressed the Blues pretty hard and missed some big chances. Bournemouth look like they can push for the top 10 and Callum Wilson is fired up this season. A better start than they’ve had in recent years since gaining promotion to the Premier League in 2015.


Brighton & Hove Albion

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Grade: B
Key takeaway: Glenn Murray continues to defy father time with three goals already. Two defeats have come against Watford and Liverpool, while the win over Man United showed their improved attacking prowess. Any injuries to key defenders and they could struggle but much more adventurous this season, especially at home where their form remains fantastic. Solid and steady start for the Seagulls under Chris Hughton.


Burnley

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Grade: F
Key takeaway: We see it season after season. Qualifying for the Europa League will impact the fortunes of the so-called smaller PL teams and Burnley not only failed to make the Europa group stages, but they’re also without a win in the PL. Sean Dyche has had injuries to key players to contend with but their lack of defensive solidity, and goals, show how remarkable their seventh-place finish was last season. Relegation battle coming up for the Clarets.


Cardiff City

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Grade: C
Key takeaway: Just two points on the board for the Bluebirds but this is pretty much exactly what we expected from Neil Warnock‘s side. Hard to break down and they gave Arsenal a heck of a scare in the Welsh capital on Sunday. They will rue not beating Newcastle and Huddersfield when having a man advantage for large spells of the game, especially with a tough run of games coming up. Scoring goals will be the main issue for Cardiff with Bobby Reid and Kenneth Zohore off target through the first four weeks.


Chelsea

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Grade: A-
Key takeaway: They should really get an A given the way the players have already adapted to Maurizio Sarri‘s tactics, but the only real test was against Arsenal and they showed plenty of weaknesses in that game. Chelsea’s players look rejuvenated going forward, with Jorginho pulling the strings, N'Golo Kante leading the high-press in a new advanced position and Eden Hazard their main man. Defensively the duo of Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz in a 4-3-3 formation have been caught out at times and that will be a concern for Sarri against  tougher opposition. Four wins from four is a great start for the new Italian coach. But he knows his pressing game will take months for his Chelsea side to perfect. Off the pitch, Roman Abramovich’s situation is slightly worrying but it doesn’t seem like the club will be sold anytime soon.


Crystal Palace

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Grade: C
Key takeaway: The Eagles had a great win at Fulham on the opening day and although they lost to Liverpool and Watford, they impressed in both games. Without Wilfried Zaha they had no answer in their third-straight defeat, which came at the hands of Southampton. We’ve learned that Palace are more reliant on Zaha this season than they were last season. Any long-term injury to Wilf and it’s tough to see where the goals will come from for Roy Hodgson‘s men.


Everton

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Grade: B
Key takeaway: Still unbeaten under Marco Silva, Everton have flattered to deceive a little but they’ve been superb on the counter attack which is the style the Portuguese coach loves. Richarlison was flying before his silly red card at Bournemouth and Silva’s inability to arrange his teams effectively at defensive set piece situations continues. Sloppy draws against Bournemouth and Huddersfield show their defense needs work, but in fairness they’ve had injuries galore at that position. Top seven still a real possibility for the Toffees.


Fulham

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Grade: B
Key takeaway: Silly defensive mistakes have riddled Fulham’s first four games. They’ve got four points on the board as they smashed Burnley and drew at Brighton, but they led the latter 2-0 before coughing up two needless goals. Slavisa Jokanovic‘s side are lovely on the eye and Mitrovic, Seri and Schurrle have impressed. More composure in both boxes needed.


Huddersfield Town

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Grade: D-
Key takeaway: Two points on the board shows that the Terriers are still very capable of battling for points in the Premier League, but there’s a sense of a Sophomore slump. Where will the goals come from? David Wagner isn’t getting too worried after heavy defeats to Man City and Chelsea, but it’s clear for all to see Huddersfield will be in a relegation scrap this season.


Leicester City

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Grade: B+
Key takeaway: Their results may not show it but Leicester have been very good early in the season. They lost 2-1 to Man United and Liverpool but could have easily won both games and deserved a point from both at the very least. Claude Puel has injected youth into the Foxes with James Maddison, Ben Chilwell and Demarai Gray all impressing. A really nice balance about this team now compared to their previous incarnation as a counter-attacking monster.


Liverpool

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Grade: A
Key takeaway: Jurgen Klopp‘s men have found a handy knack of not playing well but still winning games. Four wins from four suggests it’s a great start. They edged by Brighton and Leicester despite not being at their best and that came after blowing past West Ham and Crystal Palace. Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez are developing a strong partnership at center back, while Alisson had a solid start but his huge blunder against Leicester should help him out, in the long run, as he figures out the Premier League. The usual suspects continue to fire in attack and with Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri arriving, plus Daniel Sturridge fit, Klopp’s squad is a lot deeper this season.


Manchester City

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Grade: B+
Key takeaway: The only blot on the copybook was the 1-1 draw at Wolves and without the injured Kevin De Bruyne City have struggled to break down teams as easily as they did last season. That said, big wins against Arsenal and Huddersfield proved their strength in-depth and they look set for a big title charge again this season. Pep Guardiola‘s men will have to deal with teams sitting even deeper against them this season. How is that possible? Still, Sergio Aguero and David Silva are delivering again for the reigning champs but both Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez have struggled early in the season.


Manchester United

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Grade: D
Key takeaway: Jose Mourinho’s men have had a tumultuous start to the season and the main issue has been defensive deficiencies. After a summer of searching for new center backs and not buying any, Mourinho’s current defenders are all over the place. Add in rumors about Paul Pogba not being happy, Mourinho’s post-Tottenham meltdown and two-straight defeats and there was an air of panic around Old Trafford. The win at Burnley settled things down before the international break but Mourinho is still in fighting mode as many believe another third-season syndrome is in full-flow. Six points on the board from four games isn’t great, but United will still be challenging for the top four at the very least.


Newcastle United

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Grade: D
Key takeaway: No wins yet for Rafael Benitez’s men but they were handed a pretty awful start in terms of the fixture list. Narrow defeats to Tottenham, Chelsea and Man City have seen him set up his team differently for each and key injuries haven’t helped. The main takeaway is that Benitez is working miracles with the squad at his disposal and Newcastle’s fans shouldn’t forgot that after many criticized his ultra-defensive tactics against Chelsea, where they almost grabbed a point. A season above the relegation zone would be a huge success.


Southampton

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Grade: C+
Key takeaway: Mark Hughes‘ men have every right to feel a little hard done by with their points tally after four games. But at least they have their first win on the board after beating Crystal Palace. Danny Ings will be their savior this season as he looks sharp and Hughes has finally settled on his best starting lineup in a 4-4-2 formation. Narrow defeats against Everton and Leicester prove they probably aren’t good enough to challenge for Europe this season but they shouldn’t be dragged into another relegation scrap.


Tottenham Hotspur

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Grade: B-
Key takeaway: Heading towards four wins on the spin to open the season, a late implosion at Watford ahead of the international break showcased the reason for Mauricio Pochettino‘s recent pessimism. Even after Spurs’ 3-0 shellacking of Manchester United at Old Trafford, Poch warned his side they weren’t performing well. Given the fact plenty of his starting lineup reached the final two days of the World Cup, there is a healthy hangover among this squad. Throw in their stadium delay and no new signings this summer and three wins from four is very decent. Lucas Moura‘s form has been a huge boost and he’s been like a new signing, plus Harry Kane has actually scored (twice) in August. Spurs will be in the top four mix again.


Watford

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Grade: A+
Key takeaway: The surprise package of the season so far, Watford have four wins from four after their comeback win against Tottenham. Javi Gracia‘s men were one of the relegation favorites before a ball was kicked but they’ve once again started a season on fire. Can they keep it up? They seem to have many contributors this season rather than relying on Richarlison like they did before he left for Everton. Abdoulaye Doucoure has taken his game to another level, plus Andre Gray, Troy Deeney and Roberto Pereyra have all chipped in. It seems like the Hornets could challenge the top six this season. What a huge surprise.


West Ham United

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Grade: F
Key takeaway: If we could give them a lower grade, we would. A simply shocking start for the Hammers under new manager Manuel Pellegrini. They spent over $130 million on new players in the summer but there’s no balance to their team, huge holes in central midfield and they’re leaking goals galore. Not a great combo, right? West Ham’s owners will soon see protests and more from the fans if this run continues. That means Pellegrini, quite unbelievably, is the bookmakers favorite to be the next PL manager to get the sack. Defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal were expected but home losses to Bournemouth and Wolves were not. Felipe Anderson has shown bright sparks along with Marko Arnautovic up top, but that’s about it.


Wolverhampton Wanderers

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Grade: B+
Key takeaway: Wolves look the part in the Premier League. Ruben Neves is a wizard alongside Joao Moutinho in midfield, Raul Jimenez is a handful up top and Rui Patricio is a star in goal. New arrivals throughout their spine have helped Nuno Espirito Santo keep the core of his team which won promotion last season but also take to life in the top-flight effortlessly. Wolves could easily have won all four games (they’ve had to settle for five points instead) and they are a team which has a clear identity to press high in a 3-5-2 formation. As the season wears on we should expect to see them in the top 10.


Bulgaria, England both sanctioned by UEFA

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UEFA have dished out sanctions to both Bulgaria and England after their EURO 2020 qualifier on Monday.

The game was halted twice in the first half due to racist chants from the home fans.

UEFA’s anti-racism protocol was put into place as the racist abuse was reported to officials who then stopped the game and an announcement was made over the stadium speakers threatening to abandon the game.

European Soccer’s governing body announce on Tuesday they have sanctioned the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) for racist chanting, Nazi salutes, disrupting the national anthems and throwing objects among other charges.

The English Football Association have been hit with charges which include not having enough travelling stewards and also for disrupting the national anthem.

UEFA are said to be thoroughly investigating the racist abuse of England’s players from Bulgaria’s fans.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov asked for the president of their football association, Borislav Mihaylov, to resign following the racist abuse of England’s players in Sofia’s Vasil Levski stadium on Monday.

And on Tuesday Mihaylov handed in his resignation as Bulgaria, who has previously been charged for racist chants against Kosovo and the Czech Republic, were at the center of the truly disgusting racist abuse.

Bulgaria goalkeeper, coach on racist abuse: “England overreacted”

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Bulgaria’s goalkeeper Plamen Iliev believes their fans ‘behaved well’ in Sofia on Monday, despite the game being halted twice in the first half due to racist chants from the home fans.

UEFA’s anti-racism protocol was put into place as the racist abuse was reported to officials who then stopped the game and an announcement was made over the stadium speakers threatening to abandon the game.

Bulgaria’s prime minister has condemned the incidents of racism and called for the Bulgarian FA president, Borislav Mihaylov, to resign with immediate effect.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Iliev praised Bulgaria’s fans and said that England’s complaints were an overreaction.

“If I am honest, I believe they [the fans] behaved well today,” Iliev said. “There wasn’t any abuse [as far as I could hear] and I think they [the England players] overreacted a bit. The public was on a good level – I didn’t hear any bad language used towards their or our players.”

Despite England’s players, fans and staff all hearing the abuse, plus television microphones picking up monkey chants during the game, the fact Iliev has uttered these words is truly shocking.

His manager echoed the same views, while saying that the reason Bulgaria’s captain Ivelin Popov went over to speak to home fans at half time was probably because they weren’t playing well…

During a press conference with both managers after the game, local journalists shouted “exaggeration” when questions about the racist abuse were asked.

Bulgaria’s manager, Krasimir Balakov, said he heard nothing and he was shown having a heated exchange with Jordan Henderson on the pitch during the second stoppage as he’d shown signs of frustration that the game was paused.

“I personally did not hear the chanting,” Balakov said. “I saw the referee stopped the game but I also have to say the behavior was also not only on behalf of the Bulgarian fans but also the English fans, who were whistling and shouting during the Bulgarian national anthem. During the second half they used words against our fans which I find unacceptable.”

With UEFA launching a full investigation into the chants and England making a formal complaint, Bulgaria can expect a hefty punishment for their latest incident of racist abuse of opposition players. A section of the stadium in Sofia was shut on Monday due to racist abuse of players from both Kosovo and the Czech Republic during EURO 2020 qualifying.

We can only hope that Iliev and Balakov apologize for these comments in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Golden Boy shortlist revealed

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The top 20 players under the age of 21 in European soccer have been announced, as the famous Golden Boy award nominees for 2019 will raise a few eyebrows.

An award dished out by Italian outlet Tuttosport, previous stars to be named Golden Boy include Raheem Sterling, Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney and Paul Pogba, as Matthijs de Ligt was the winner in 2018 and is nominated once again.

Nominees must be under the age of 21 and play in one of Europe’s top-flight leagues.

Four of the 20 finalists play in the Premier League with Mason Mount, Phil Foden, Matteo Guendouzi and Moise Kean all named on the shortlist.

Alongside de Ligt, the likes of Joao Felix, Jadon Sancho and Kai Havertz are all expected to be among the favorites for the award. Felix’s rise to stardom at Benfica and Atletico Madrid will likely see him win this award.

Canada’s Alphonso Davies is a finalist as the former Vancouver Whitecaps star continues to develop at Bayern Munich.

Below is the full list of nominees for 2019, with the winner announced on December 16 as media outlets across Europe vote for the winner.


Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich)
Matthijs de Light (Juventus)
Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan)
Ansu Fati (Barcelona)
Phil Foden (Manchester City)
Matteo Guendouzi (Arsenal)
Erling Braut Haland (RB Salzburg)
Kai Havertz (Bayer Leverkusen)
Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid)
Dejan Joveljic (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Moise Kean (Everton)
Kang-in Lee (Valencia)
Andriy Oleksiyovych Lunin (Real Valladolid)
Donyell Malen (PSV)
Mason Mount (Chelsea)
Rodrygo (Real Madrid)
Jadon Sancho (BVB)
Ferran Torres (Valencia)
Vinicius Jr (Real Madrid)
Nicolo Zaniolo (AS Roma)

UEFA wants to “wage war on racists”

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UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has reacted strongly to the racist abuse of England’s players in Bulgaria on Monday.

[ MORE: England’s players react ]

During the EURO 2020 qualifier monkey chants were heard from sections of the home crowds at Sofia’s Vasil Levski stadium, while Nazi salutes were also made and the officials stopped the game twice in the first half and then followed step one of UEFA’s anti-racism protocol as a message was broadcast over the speakers that the game was in danger of being abandoned.

A section of home supporters were seen leaving their seats just before half time, covering their faces with hoods and some had shirts which said “UEFA No Respect” written on them.

UEFA will investigate the incidents in Sofia after England made a formal complaint, and this comes after section of the stadium in Sofia was shut on Monday due to the racist abuse of players from both Kosovo and the Czech Republic during previous EURO 2020 qualifiers.

Ceferin called on governments and other organizations to work with them to “wage war” on racists as incidents continue to crop up across Europe.

“There were times, not long ago, when the football family thought that the scourge of racism was a distant memory. The last couple of years have taught us that such thinking was, at best, complacent. The rise of nationalism across the continent has fuelled some unacceptable behaviour and some have taken it upon themselves to think that a football crowd is the right place to give voice to their appalling views.

“As a governing body, I know we are not going to win any popularity contests. But some of the views expressed about UEFA’s approach to fighting racism have been a long way off the mark. UEFA, in close cooperation with the FARE network (Football Against Racism Europe), instituted the three-stage protocol for identifying and tackling racist behaviour during games.

“UEFA’s sanctions are among the toughest in sport for clubs and associations whose supporters are racist at our matches. The minimum sanction is a partial closure of the stadium – a move which costs the hosts at least hundreds of thousands in lost revenue and attaches a stigma to their supporters.

“UEFA is the only football body to ban a player for ten matches for racist behaviour – the most severe punishment level in the game. Believe me, UEFA is committed to doing everything it can to eliminate this disease from football. We cannot afford to be content with this; we must always strive to strengthen our resolve.

“More broadly, the football family – everyone from administrators to players, coaches and fans – needs to work with governments and NGOs to wage war on the racists and to marginalise their abhorrent views to the fringes of society. Football associations themselves cannot solve this problem. Governments too need to do more in this area. Only by working together in the name of decency and honour will we make progress.”