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.


Carlos Vela scored a celestial goal. We are blessed to have seen it

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Carlos Vela is making all other spectacular individual MLS seasons look run of the mill.

I mean, look at the gumption on this guy.

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The Cancun-born playmaker left the San Jose Earthquakes back line on the beach with a soft shoe routine to give LAFC its third goal in a 4-0 win on Thursday

Vela, 30, now has 25 goals and 11 assists in 25 league matches for LAFC this season. He added two goals and an assist in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play.

But this one, yeah, this one takes the cake.

First, there’s Vela’s non-chalant dummy before picking up the pass.

Then, there’s Florian Jungwirth’s body language during and after his being cooked with a nutmeg. That’s an entire mood.

Next, Vela dribbles around the keeper and allows a slide tackler so glide past him before finishing with aplomb, the magic touch his going near post as if to say, “Can I beat this guy a second time, or do I have to use the easier route?”

Diego Rossi also had a goal and an assist, while Mark-Anthony Kaye continued his strong season with an assist to ex-Fiorentina prospect Joshua Perez. It’s a first MLS goal for the California-born Perez, now 21.

WATCH: Rooney sees red for forearm shiver, Kamara scores golazo

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Midweek MLS provided plenty to talk about on Wednesday, with two red cards and a golazo in one match alone.

The two main talking points from the New York Red Bulls’ 2-1 win over DC United weren’t really part of what led the victors to three points.

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How? Well, one of the world’s marquee names earned a red card via VAR and a returning star scores an absolute stunner, that’s how.

Here’s Ola Kamara’s debut marker for the Black-and-Red, adding to a record which included 49 goals in 97 matches between Columbus and the LA Galaxy before moving to the Chinese Super League for a wildly disappointing time with Shenzhen FC.

All of that is forgotten.

As for the Rooney incident, the Red Bulls already led 1-0 when DC’s star striker went forearm shiver on Cristian Casseres Jr.

It’s the second red of the season for Rooney, who is set for Derby County in January.

Amro Tarek was later sent off for the Red Bulls, who moved ahead of DC in the standings. Kaku and Daniel Royer had RBNY’s goals.

Newcastle takeover could be back on if in holiday relegation battle

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How much do Newcastle United supporters dislike their owner Mike Ashley right now?

Enough that this report is likely to condemn many to hoping their favorite club in the world is in the Bottom 3 come Christmas.

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The Chronicle’s Mark Douglas speculates that Ashley will lower his asking price for the club if it is in a relegation fight come December — something that looks certain after the Steve Bruce-led Magpies got bossed around by promoted Norwich City.

Nothing But Newcastle transcribed Douglas’ chatter from his podcast, in which he says,

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we hear more in December because there are still people sniffing around that football club and if the team are in the bottom three, there’ll be people thinking they can get a bargain out of Mike Ashley again. … He will probably more open to listening to lower offers in January and December which is what happened last December. He was basically saying ‘take it off my hands, you now have to take the risk’'”

This is notable for two reasons. First: the social experiment of wondering how many fans could see themselves rooting for their team to take a major and perilous back step just to see the back of a man they perceive is at the root of their failures (and that perception is widespread in this case).

But second, we can see if this rumor comes true because it’s difficult to imagine Newcastle as comfortably mid table by Christmas.

Fan protests and anger are nothing new, but here’s an effort to show how wobbly Ashley’s reputation is on Tyneside: Fans have taken to selling a black and white striped shirt with player name and number but no sponsor just so they can have a Newcastle jersey that doesn’t put money into Ashley’s pockets. And this is after he broke the club’s transfer record twice in one year.

If we’ve learned anything from the past few seasons, though, it’s that boycotts and anger will spur Ashley into insisting that he’s willing to sell and just conveniently enough it will be before the January transfer window. He “won’t be able to buy any players” with the takeover in play, and talks will hit a wall come late January, when they’ll loan a couple young players from Top Six sides.

Yes he spent significant money on Joelinton, Allen Saint-Maximin, and others this summer, but one decent window doesn’t make a culture. Count us amongst the skeptical, for now.

Messi back in training, could be fit for Betis

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi was back in full training again on Wednesday and may be fit to face Real Betis in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Messi had been training separately from the squad since injuring his right calf in the preseason.

He missed the team’s 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the league opener on Friday.

Barcelona has not said how long it expects Messi to be sidelined.

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Coach Ernesto Valverde is also dealing with injuries to forwards Luiz Suarez and Ousmane Dembele.

Dembele is certain to miss Sunday’s match at the Camp Nou because of a left thigh injury that should keep him out for about five weeks.

Suarez also isn’t likely to play this weekend because of a muscle injury sustained before halftime of Friday’s game in Bilbao.

Two-time defending champion Barcelona hadn’t loss a league opener in 10 seasons.

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