Midseason grades for each PL club

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Boxing Day in the Premier League marks the halfway point of the season.

19 games down, 19 to go.

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With that in mind, now seems like the perfect time to grace each PL club on their displays so far in the 2018-19 campaign.

Some will be spitting their Christmas dinners out reading this, others will not be able to wipe that smug grin off their faces for the rest of the day.

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Below we grade each team. Let us know if you agree in the comments below…


(AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

Arsenal: B+
Unai Emery has transformed the DNA of this Arsenal team and a 22-game unbeaten run in all competitions proved he has them heading in the right direction. Defensive injuries have decimated their backline in recent weeks, but shoring up their defense remains the long-term goal. Going forward the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (the PL’s leading scorer) and Alexandre Lacazette continue to deliver, while Lucas Torreira and Mateo Guendouzi have been stars in midfield. The big issue: can Mesut Ozil fit into Emery’s 3-4-3 system? A really good start for the Spaniard in north London.


Bournemouth: B+
The Cherries have been hovering around the top six for most of the season and Eddie Howe has successfully taken them to the next level. Jefferson Lerma and David Brooks have been inspired signings, with the latter complementing the pace and power of Josh King, Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser perfectly. They are in the hunt for Europe.


Brighton & Hove Albion: C
A weird season so far for Chris Hughton‘s Seagulls. Big home wins against Man United, West Ham and Wolves have them in midtable, but they continue to struggle on the road and that must change if they’re going to stay clear of being sucked into the relegation zone. Glenn Murray is their main man, again, but after his injury Pascal Gross is struggling to regain his form from last season.


Burnley: D
Awful start to the season for Burnley and Sean Dyche‘s men are deservedly in the bottom three. Yes, their run in the UEFA Europa League qualifying rounds didn’t help their small squad at the start of the season but that was a long, long time ago. After finishing seventh last season, the expectation levels at Turf Moor have changed. The only thing we can expect from Burnley in the second half of the season is an almighty scrap against being relegated. Their main issue has been a leaky defense, which is so unlike them.


Cardiff City: C+
Better than we all expected would sum things up nicely for the Bluebirds and Neil Warnock after their promotion. They are hard to beat, especially at home, and they can hit teams on the counter and cause problems from set pieces. Picking up big wins at home against teams around them has kept them out of the relegation zone, but they must start winning games on the road. A relegation dogfight coming up, and this squad will relish that challenge.


(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Chelsea: B
A bizarre season so far. At times, Maurizio Sarri‘s men have been unstoppable, but like Eden Hazard‘s form they flitted in and out of games and shock defeats to Wolves and Leicester underline just how far they have to go to be called genuine title contenders. A top four finish is on, which was the goal before the season, but Sarri-ball has yet to take the PL by storm. Wins against Arsenal and Man City at home proved they can outplay the best, but getting the best out of Hazard and N'Golo Kante will be key to kicking on in the second half of the season. Also, their defensive line needs to step up in games against the so-called smaller teams.


Crystal Palace: C
Average start to the season, but that big win away at Man City boosts their grade a little. Roy Hodgson‘s side dig deep in each game and are hard to beat. Wilfried Zaha‘s pace on the breaks causes big problems but having him out injured for a few spells has hit Palace hard. Scoring goals remains an issue, but maybe the shackles will come off if they can sign a new striker in January.


Everton: C+
Signs of promise for Marco Silva, but perhaps this grade is a little harsh considering the hammering they took at the hands of Tottenham. Everton are at least going for it in games and new signings Richarlison, Lucas Digne and Andre Gomes have all been very good so far. The Toffees are still well placed to finish seventh, but Silva must sort out their defensive issues (not helped by injuries) which have hampered their progress. In fairness, defending has never been a strong point for the teams he has managed.


Fulham: F
Bottom of the table after spending over $150 million on new players in the summer, the Cottagers are a bit of a  mess. Claudio Ranieri arrived to take over from Slavisa Jokanovic, and with him came a complete 180 in terms of their playing philosophy. Fulham were lovely to watch in the early weeks of the season but were opened up easier than a tin of beans by opposition attacks. Ranieri has brought some solidity to their play, but there’s a long way to go. Relegation favorites, as things stand, and that will remain unless this squad is freshened up in January.


Huddersfield Town: D
Another favorite for the drop, as the Terriers just can’t score goals. David Wagner‘s men have had some great performances and have lost so many games narrowly, but the euphoria over promotion seems to have evaporated this season. Losing the likes of Aaron Mooy and Danny Williams through injury were big blows, and if Huddersfield are serious about staying up this season they have to bring in an experienced striker in January. Simple.


Leicester City: D
Another team who have been a real Jekyll and Hyde so far, as Claude Puel had been under intense pressure to be fired. That was before Leicester won away at Chelsea over the weekend. With the tragic situation off the pitch at Leicester, many would forgive the Foxes for letting their season peter out, but a strong second half of the campaign should see them battle for seventh and Europa League qualification. Puel’s system doesn’t really suit this Leicester squad though, and it is probably best for everyone if he moves on in the summer.


(Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

Liverpool: A+
Pretty much perfect. Liverpool have got better in almost every department and especially in defense, where Alisson and Virgil Van Dijk have kept things together and they’ve let in just seven goals in their first 18 games of the season. Up top the usual suspects are firing with Mohamed Salah almost back to his best and Xherdan Shaqiri helping Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino with their workload. Fabinho has been key in recent weeks and this squad is strong and dealing with injuries well. Jurgen Klopp‘s men remain the only PL team unbeaten, and their huge clash at Man City on Jan. 3 will likely determine if the PL trophy is finally heading to Anfield. Lot of pressure for the second half of the season.


Manchester City: B+
Some funny displays mixed among sheer brilliance for Pep Guardiola, as City have now dropped further behind Liverpool in the title race after that shock defeat against Palace. Kevin De Bruyne, Benjamin Mendy and Sergio Aguero missing for large chunks of this season has hurt, but the form of Raheem Sterling and reemergence of Leroy Sane has been a plus. Keeping David Silva and Fernandinho fit is key to them getting back on top as the reigning champs are feeling the heat.


(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Manchester United: D
Should probably be lower than a D, but given all of their issues and Jose Mourinho being fired, the fact United still remain in sixth and are eight points off the top four points towards the quality players they possess. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s arrival as caretaker boss will help rebuild the confidence of Pogba, Rashford, Lukaku and others, as this team has woefully underperformed in the rigid defensive style Mourinho wanted them to execute. United should be challenging for the title with the squad they have, but a top four finish would be a wonderful achievement and could just land Solskjaer the job on a full-time basis.


Newcastle United: C
They are where they should be after spending little cash and Rafael Benitez working wonders. The Spaniard has said it will be a “miracle” if they stay up again, and the only way they will do that is by staying solid in defense and getting crosses into the box for Salomon Rondon to finish. Newcastle could easily get sucked into a relegation scrap if, as expected, they don’t reinforce in key areas in January. Mike Ashley’s long-awaited sale of the club still hasn’t happened and it needs to happen if the Magpies are to realize their true potential.


Southampton: D-
The only reason this isn’t a big fat F is because of the last few weeks under new manager Ralph Hasenhuttl. The Austrian took over from Mark Hughes as Saints had won just once all season and were devoid of any confidence going forward and were leaking goals galore. That is not a great combo. Hasenhuttl has galvanized this young side and given them a high-pressing style which already has the fans back on board after a few years of drifting along. Hiring the former RB Leipzig manager was a massive coup for Saints and the equation for him is quite simple: keep Danny Ings fit and Saints will pull well clear of the relegation zone.


(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Tottenham Hotspur: A-
Spurs have been superb in recent weeks and despite so many struggles off the pitch, Mauricio Pochettino has kept his squad focused. Six points off the top of the table, in the last 16 of the Champions League after recovering from an awful start and in the last four of the League Cup suggests this team is moving forward. All of that was done without signing a single player in the summer and having the move to their new stadium delayed several times as they’re still at Wembley. With Harry Kane getting better, Son firing on all cylinders and Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen back to their best and several squad players stepping up admirably, Pochettino’s well-oiled machine shows no signs of slowing down. Spurs are genuine title contenders, while their manager is wanted by both Man United and Real Madrid this summer. If Tottenham win a big trophy, that seems like the only way Pochettino would stay.


Watford: A
Javi Gracia and Watford have proved everyone wrong in the opening half of the season and I for one hold my hand up and say I didn’t see this coming. At all. They’ve beaten Tottenham at home and pushed plenty of other big clubs all of the way as they sit in seventh and have dreams of qualifying for Europe. Gracia was handed a new long-term deal and that suggests the Hornets may buck their trend of getting rid of managers each and every season. Gerard Deulofeu and Roberto Pereyra have been sublime on the wings and the duo of Abdoulaye Doucoure and Etienne Capoue dominant in midfield, with Ben Foster rolling back the years in goal. Overall, a wonderful season so far.


West Ham United: C+
Manuel Pellegrini has definitely turned things around at West Ham, but it will still take a bit more time for the Hammers to push up the table. Four wins on the spin had them flying into the festive period, and that was based mainly on their new defensive reinforcement settling in. Fabianski, Diop and Balbuena have made a big difference and without Arnautovic, Lanzini and Yarmolenko at the other end of the pitch (the former with a small injury, the latter out for the season) Felipe Anderson, Robert Snodgrass and Javier Hernandez have stepped up. West Ham will aim to finish in the top 10 and that should easily be attainable in the second half of the season.


Wolverhampton Wanderers: B+
Right in the hunt for seventh place, Wolves have been one of the stories of the season so far. Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side have played without fear and recovered from a bit of a wobble after their stunning start to the season. Raul Jimenez, Ruben Neves, Matt Doherty and Rui Patricio have all been superb, while the fluid 3-4-3 formation has worked wonders in opening up opponents on the counter. This team has a clear identity and when they decide to take their chances they can beat anyone in the league. European qualification is possible if they can kick on in 2019.

Americans Abroad: Chandler, Gooch score; Reyna, Vassilev debut

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The bar for the best weekend for Americans abroad in 2020 has been set.

After months with the under-19 side, 18-year-old Giovanni Reyna made his debut with Borussia Dortmund on Saturday. In England, Indiana Vassilev, 18, did exactly the same for Aston Villa, becoming the second youngest American to play in the Premier League.

Established Americans abroad like Timothy Chandler scored Eintracht Frankfurt’s match winner, while Lynden Gooch struck from distance for Sunderland in England’s League One.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

Premier League

Christian Pulisic, Chelsea — The USMNT star continues to recover from an abductor injury.

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — Yedlin is also recovering from an injury, and did not dress for Newcastle on Saturday.

Indiana Vassilev, Aston Villa – The 18-year-old came off the bench and played 23 minutes in his Premier League debut for Aston Villa. Villa drew 1-1 with Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday.

EFL Championship

Duane Holmes, Derby County — Holmes played 90 minutes in Derby’s 1-0 win over Hull City on Saturday.

Antonee Robinson, Wigan Athletic — Robinson started and played 90 minutes in Wigan’s 2-1 loss to Swansea City on Saturday.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — The 24-year-old dressed but didn’t feature in Reading’s 2-0 loss to Millwall.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers’ defender started and played for Hull.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — The 34-year-old defender played 90 minutes in QPR’s 1-0 victory ver Leeds United on Saturday.

Tim Ream, Fulham — Ream started and played 90 minutes in Fulham’s 1-0 win over Middlesbrough.

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — Weah and Lille were inactive this weekend.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — Jordon-Siebatcheu and Rennes were inactive this weekend. 

Eredivisie

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — Wright came off the bench and played five minutes in Venlo’s 1-1 draw with PSV.

Sergino Dest, Ajax — Dest dressed but didn’t feature for Ajax over the weekend. It’s been an on-and-off cycle for the fullback in Holland’s top-flight.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback is injured and didn’t feature for FC Emmen.

Bundesliga

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — The fullback played 90 minutes and scored Frankfurt’s match-winning goal on Saturday against Hoffenheim. 

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams started and played 86 minutes in Leipzig’s 3-1 win over Union Berlin. The midfielder completed 84 percent of his passes.

Weston McKennie, Schalke — McKennie is still having some setbacks from his shoulder injury. The midfielder didn’t dress for Schalke due to fitness issues over the weekend.

Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Steffen is inactive with an injury.

Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf Morales started and played 71 minutes in Fortuna’s 1-0 loss to Werder Bremen.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  The 19-year-old started and played 86 minutes on Saturday. It’s refreshing to see Sargent back on the field, getting regular playing time after the injury.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach Johnson was on Mönchengladbach’s bench but didn’t play.

Honorable Mentions

Lynden Gooch, Sunderland — Gooch has been superlative for Sunderland lately, and on Saturday, he was rewarded with this match-deciding goal:

Ian Harkes, Dundee United — Harkes continues to grind it out in Scotland. On Sunday, he registered an assist in Dundee United’s 2-2 draw with Hibernian. 

Mexicans Abroad: Jimenez makes Wolves history; Guardado assists in Betis win

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On what was perhaps Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s last weekend in Europe, Raul Jimenez made it clear that he is ready to carry on the mantle as Mexico’s marquee striker in the old continent.

The 28-year-old’s double made him Wolverhampton Wanderer’s Premier League all-time leading goalscorer, surpassing Steven Fletcher‘s record of 22 goals in just 61 appearances.

Meanwhile in Spain, Andres Guardado continues to add remarkable chapters to his never-ending European photo book, recording an assist in Real Betis’ 3-0 thumping of Real Sociedad.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.


Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers —  Not only did Jimenez boost his league goalscoring tally to the double digits on Saturday, but he also became Wolves’ Premier League all-time goalscorer. The Mexican is indispensable for the Midlands side – well worth the club-record $33-million investment.

La Liga

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Sevilla — Chicharito did not make the trip with Sevilla to the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday. On Friday, Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl reported that Los Angeles Galaxy have signed the 31-year-old. An official announcement from the MLS side is expected in the coming days.

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — Herrera started and played 43 minutes in Los Colchoneros’ rare, 2-0 loss to Eibar on Saturday. Atletico are now eight points behind leaders Barcelona and second-best Real Madrid.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  Guardado played all 90 minutes and recorded an assist in Betis’ trashing of Real Sociedad. The midfielder also earned a yellow card in the 23rd minute.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old dressed but remained on the bench for Betis. 

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo started and played 90 minutes in Celta’s 1-1 draw with Athletic Bilbao. The defender recorded 11 clearances, two interceptions, and earned a yellow card.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli —  As Napoli’s continues to suffer under Gennaro Gattuso, so does Chucky. The frenetic winger saw just 26 minutes of playing time in Napoli’s 2-0 loss to Fiorentina on Saturday. Gattuso, however, may be on his was out as reports indicated that he’s considering resigning after just 35 days at the helm.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Tecatito started and played all 90 minutes in Porto’s 2-1 loss to Braga on Saturday. The Dragons trail league leaders Benfica by seven points.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven —  Gutierrez dressed but remained on the bench for PSV on Saturday.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Alvarez dressed but remained on the bench for Ajax on Sunday.

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea started and played 90 minutes in Zulte’s 3-0 loss to KRC Genk.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Pedro Arce, Panionios –  Panionios were inactive over the weekend.

Gerardo Ramirez Alonso, Roda JC – Ramirez Alonso and Roda JC take on Jong FC Utrecht on Monday.

Unhappy reunion for Klinsmann as Bayern beats Hertha 4-0

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BERLIN (AP) Jurgen Klinsmann endured an unhappy reunion with Bayern Munich as his former protege Thomas Muller started a 4-0 Bundesliga rout of his Hertha Berlin team.

“It was nice to see him again but of course even nicer to win,” Muller said after Sunday’s victory lifted Bayern to second place, four points behind Leipzig.

Klinsmann gave Muller the first of his so far 336 Bundesliga appearances when he brought on the then 18-year-old for the last 10 minutes of a 2-2 draw with Hamburger SV on the opening day of the 2008-09 season. Klinsmann was fired as Bayern coach in April 2009 as its title hopes faded.

But Muller has only fond memories of his mentor, who later went on to be United States coach.

“I have a special relationship with Jurgen Klinsmann. He made me a professional. I still have the mailbox message from when he called me up for the start of training with the professionals,” Muller said. “He gave me my chance to earn my spurs. He put me straight in. He was my first coach.”

Klinsmann was only cleared to face his former club on Saturday after the German soccer federation and league confirmed they received missing documents for his coaching license.

But Klinsmann, who also played for Bayern between 1995-97 and coached Germany at the 2006 World Cup, could only watch as his team was completely outplayed in the second half.

Hertha showed little initiative going forward and finally paid the price for sitting back when Muller rifled in from close range.

“The first goal opened the game,” said Klinsmann, who had been hoping to extend Hertha’s unbeaten run to five games.

The visitors thought they had another goal minutes later, but Robert Lewandowski’s goal was ruled out through VAR for heading the ball out of Rune Jarstein’s hands.

Lewandowski finally got his goal from the penalty spot in the 72nd after Lukas Klunter tugged Leon Goretzka’s arm.

“The turning point was the penalty,” said Klinsmann, who felt it was a harsh decision.

Thiago Alcantara sealed the result three minutes later with a brilliant strike in off the underside of the bar after Goretzka sent him through, and Ivan Perisic headed in Muller’s cross in the 84th.

Bayern had been missing defenders Niklas Sule, Lucas Hernandez and Javi Martinez through injury, with forward Kingsley Coman also out and midfielder Joshua Kimmich suspended. Canadian teen Alphonso Davies made his 10th consecutive league start.

Santiago Ascacibar started for his Hertha debut after his winter transfer from second-division Stuttgart. The combative Argentine is Hertha’s first signing following financier Lars Windhorst’s investment of $250 million in the club.

Also Sunday, Bayer Leverkusen won 4-1 at bottom side Paderborn to move sixth.

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

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

La Liga roundup: Messi scores, wins game in Setien’s Barcelona debut (video)

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Barcelona’s vintage playing style in their 1-0 win over Granada highlights La Liga’s Sunday action.

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Barcelona 1-0 Granda

With a goal from Lionel Messi against an iron-willed Granada, Barcelona are back at the top of La Liga.

The win is the club’s first under Quique Setien, who debuted as the Catalans manager after replacing Ernesto Valverde.

Barcelona rolled back to the years of Pep Guardiola‘s tiki-taka, as they culminated the game with 83 percent possession and completed 1005 passes. That said, Granda – playing  with 10 men from the 69h minute on – were bulletproof until the 76th minute. Messi gently pushed the ball with his weak foot, finishing what had been a series of fluid, build-up passing.

Setien deployed a nuanced 3-4-3 variation – far from Valverde’s 4-3-3 formation that ended up costing him his job after losing to Atletico Madrid in the Super Copa semifinals.

Players like Sergio Busquets were asked about the distinct styles, but he was candidly opposed to comparing the managers and their philosophies.

“We were a solid team. We had control of the ball. They created little against us,” he told Movistar. “It’s true that we struggled when they dropped deep but, in general terms, the team played a good game.

“It’s not about comparing. Every coach has his style and his way of seeing football. You’ll see what Setien asks us to do. We’re not going to reveal it. We’re delighted with what Ernesto did and we’re delighted with Setien.”

With Real Madrid and Atletico right behind, the defending champions have a long way to go this season. They’ll have to build on the win and, more importantly, further deepen their chemistry under the ex-Real Betis boss. Integrating winter signings into the fold might present itself as a challenge, too.

But one thing is certain: Barcelona can still play like they did back in their glory days. If that sticks, a lot can happen.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Mallorca 4-1 Valencia

Real Betis 3-0 Real Sociedad

Villarreal 1-2 Espanyol

Athletic Bilbao 1-1 Celta Vigo