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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It’s never too early for this. Trust me.

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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.


Wolfsburg’s Mbabu out of Europa League after virus positive

Mbabu
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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) Wolfsburg defender Kevin Mbabu will miss his team’s Europa League last-16 game against Shakhtar Donetsk after he tested positive for the coronavirus last month, the club said Monday.

[ MORE: Predictions, Odds for Europa ]

Wolfsburg coach Oliver Glasner said the Switzerland defender would “definitely” not travel with the team to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv to play Shakhtar on Wednesday. He has not been training with the team, Glasner added.

Wolfsburg said July 25 that Mbabu had tested positive and was in isolation at home. He was not displaying symptoms, the club said at the time.

The right back played 20 games for Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga this season, including 90 minutes in all nine games after the league resumed in May amid the pandemic.

The Europa League restarts Wednesday after a break of nearly five months. The second legs of last-16 matchups will be played at the original venues.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores  ]

Two fixtures where the first leg wasn’t played before the season was suspended – Inter Milan against Getafe and Roma against Sevilla – will be played as single-leg contests in Germany.

From the quarterfinals onward all games will be played in a tournament format in Germany.

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

Transfer news: Thiago to Liverpool; Gabriel to Man United

Thiago Alcantara to Liverpool
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In transfer news there’s an update on Thiago Alcantara to Liverpool, while Gabriel to Manchester United seems to be moving to the next stage.

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Starting in Liverpool, talk of Thiago Alcantara to Liverpool has been gathering steam over the last few weeks and a new report states that Jurgen Klopp’s men are now the favorites to sign him.

Bayern Munich expect the 29-year-old Spanish international to leave this summer and according to Mundo Deportivo Liverpool have jumped ahead of Paris Saint-Germain and are ‘very likely’ to sign the former Barcelona star.

Bayern want $35 million for Thiago who has one year left on his current contract.

The deep-lying playmaker is a totally different central midfielder to what Liverpool currently have as Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum are all hard-working more defensive minded players. And then there’s Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who provide a bit more attacking intent with forward runs from central midfield.

Thiago Alcantara would help Liverpool control games better when opponents sit back and don’t allow them space to operate in-behind. He is a silky pass-master who is wanted by PSG, Liverpool, Manchester United and others, but it appears he will be heading to Anfield to give Liverpool a totally new dimension to their play. If this happens, it will make an already strong Liverpool side stronger.

Gabriel to Manchester United
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Switching to Manchester, a report in France states that Gabriel Magalhaes could be heading to Manchester United.

The Brazilian defender, 22, has been a star for Lille over the past few seasons but has been linked with Arsenal, Chelsea, Napoli, Everton and Man United consistently in recent months.

A report from French outlet RMC states that Man United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has met with Gabriel’s agents about his availability.

Lille want $35 million for Gabriel and although the report says that Man United haven’t made an offer directly to the Ligue 1 club, it is believed talks are ongoing.

Man United are said to be in the market for a winger, center back and central midfielder this summer and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is likely to be given cash to spend after securing Champions League qualification for next season.

It is believed Solskjaer wants a left-footed center back, which Gabriel is, as Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire are often too similar at center back. Those two have developed a decent enough partnership but it appears that Solskjaer wants to replace Lindelof and adding Gabriel will also give him an option to switch to a 3-4-3 system which he likes to do to match up against  more attack-minded opponents.

Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly and Phil Jones are very much on the outside looking in at Man United in terms of their other center back options.

With Jadon Sancho reportedly on his way to Old Trafford, Solskjaer needs to bolster his center back and holding midfield options and then he is good to go for next season.

Gabriel is a young, talented center back and seems ready to make the next step and this is a good price for a player who can develop over the next few seasons.

How long of a break will Premier League clubs get?

Premier League break
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How long of a break will Premier League clubs get? That is the big question during the significantly shortened offseason between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 season.

In short: not long.

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When Premier League clubs all agreed that the 2020-21 season would kick off on September 12, there was an understanding that clubs in European action will be handed extra time off and could start the season late.

Manchester City and Chelsea are in Champions League action and if they reach the quarterfinal stage (Man City are looking a lot more likely to do that than Chelsea) it is expected they will start next season one week late and if they reach the semifinals and final they will start two weeks late.

The same rule is in place for Manchester United and Wolves who are in Europa League and are both in Round of 16 action this week.

If Chelsea lose to Bayern Munich on Saturday, their season will be over and they will have a 35-day break before the 2020-21 season. That is longer than the 30-day limit but Frank Lampard wants longer.

As for the other 16 Premier League teams for the 2020-21 season, the clubs who finished on the final day of the  2019-20 Premier League season on July 26 will have had 47 days off until the new season begins.

So, there you have it.

A staggered start to the 2020-21 season seems likely as the domestic campaign begins in a few weeks with the Community Shield final at Wembley between Liverpool and Arsenal on Aug. 29.

Premier League teams will have shorter, more intense preseason campaigns and are unlikely to travel for friendly games, so it will be interesting to see how much rest players actually get over the summer and if teams who get a 2-3 week longer break benefit compared to those clubs in European action.

Christian Pulisic issues injury update

Pulisic injury news
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‘Pulisic injury news’ is probably trending worldwide at this point, and Chelsea and USMNT star Christian Pulisic has an injury update after he damaged his right hamstring in the FA Cup final against Arsenal on Saturday.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Pulisic, 21, scored a superb goal early on and was arguably the man of the match even though he pulled up abruptly in the 46th minute when sprinting free (once again) of the Arsenal attack and then hitting a shot wide.

After being helped off the pitch while clearly in pain, Pulisic was seen hanging around the tunnel area after the FA Cup final and was at least walking on his own.

Posting a message on Instagram following the final, here’s what Pulisic had to say:

“Gave it everything we had. Wasn’t our day. Thank you guys for your support I’ll be back in no time,” Pulisic said.

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The fact Pulisic went off injured early in the second half of the FA Cup final severely hampered Chelsea and gave Arsenal the impetus to go on and win the final at Wembley. He has become that important to Chelsea.

Chelsea boss Frank Lampard previously confirmed that Pulisic would not be fit enough to play at Bayern Munich on Saturday in their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg (Chelsea trail 3-0 from the first leg) and would have a scan to assess the damage.

Pulisic’s 2019-20 season is now done and both Chelsea and USMNT fans will be waiting with bated breath for the next injury update as hamstring injuries can be a nasty thing and reoccur easily.

The USMNT star had a few of them at Borussia Dortmund and given his incredible pace it is clear he will be more susceptible to hamstring and upper leg injuries.

Previously Lampard revealed that Pulisic had been working hard with Chelsea’s strength and conditioning coaches in recent months to build up his strength in order to adapt to the Premier League. We’ve certainly seen the results of that work in recent week as he took the Premier League by storm during the restart.

This latest update from Pulisic seems to be very good news as many had feared a lengthy injury layoff for the USMNT star but it seems like he may be ready for the start of the 2020-21 season for Chelsea.