PST Roundtable: 2018 in Review

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ProSoccerTalk continues its Best of 2018 by taking our staff on a trip down (around) memory lane with the final Roundtable of the calendar year (unless Pele unretires between now and Midnight ET).

[ MORE: Best of 2018 ]


1) You can only save one Premier League memory from 2018. What do you choose?

Joe Prince-Wright: I am going with Liverpool’s 4-3 win against Man City at Anfield in January 2018. What a game between two teams going at it and playing very different ways to the highest possible level. It was a precursor for some epic Champions League battles between Liverpool and Man City.

Nicholas Mendola: At the risk of cloying this space, Arsene Wenger‘s “send off series” was special, especially when Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho came together to salute the long time Arsenal boss at Old Trafford. The final matches in charge of the Gunners was an emotional and refreshing storyline for both Arsenal and those who like to see an under-fire legend get his just desserts.

Kyle Bonn: Has to be Manchester City’s dominance and Pep Guardiola’s juggernaut. I absolutely loved watching that team, especially given how much of a mess it was when Pep first got there. He turned around so many players, namely John Stones and Raheem Sterling, and that’s always something special.

Dan Karell: It was from last January but it’s got to be Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City. Man City wrapped up the title early and recorded a record amount of goals and points, but this was arguably the game of the season. Terrific action for all 90 minutes.

(AP Photo/Dave Thompson)

2) Remember the World Cup? That was just this summer! What was your favorite part of the tournament? How about the USMNT’s efforts in it?

Joe Prince-Wright: I obviously enjoyed England’s run to the World Cup semi-finals and I honestly believe they would have matched up very well against France and would have had a great chance of winning it all. The way Gareth Southgate’s young side made an entire nation believe again and changed the mood around the Three Lions completely was truly remarkable to see. Also, LOL about the USMNT. What a debacle that should never be repeated. Simple.

Nicholas Mendola: Not the Lionel Messi sub plot, as even his fine performances couldn’t overcome the hype about whether it was enough for his legacy. Also, not Serbia getting the short end of the officiating stick on multiple occasions.

There were some great matches! The final was special, as was France 4-3 Argentina in the Round of 16. But Belgium and Japan turning a 0-0 halftime into a 2-0 Japanese lead en route to a 3-2 Belgium win, with Nacer Chadli scoring in stoppage? Holy smoke what a game.

Kyle Bonn: I think my favorite part of the tournament was appreciating the parity that came along with it. Germany bombed out in the group stages, Argentina looked pedestrian, and Spain looked fallible, all while Croatia built a juggernaut, Peru looked competitive, and Sweden won a group. This was the world’s World Cup and that was fascinating.

Also, the USMNT didn’t lose a single game all tournament, so I’ll give them an A-

Dan Karell: Ugh, stop! I think England’s run to the semifinals was a lot of fun, along with Croatia’s constant wins in penalty kick shootouts and them overcoming the odds again and again. Ultimately, France was too talented to be stopped, and Didier Deschamps did a masterful job keeping them tight defensively and letting his side’s speed and counter-attacking ability steal the show.

(Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

3) Which player do you hold in higher esteem than you did entering 2018? Who’s much lower?

Joe Prince-Wright: David Silva. I always knew he was good. But I didn’t quite appreciate how good. He is essential to Pep Guardiola’s style and will probably go down as one of City’s best-ever players, if not the best.

Lower… I am going with Daniel Sturridge. Perhaps a little harsh, but I thought he would be able to work his way into this Liverpool attack as the first back-up. He hasn’t achieved that at all.

Nicholas Mendola: I knew Christian Pulisic was good before Jan. 1, 2018, but how much of a factor he’s become in every match is beyond compare on an American level. There’s Clint Dempsey in 2011-12 at Fulham for the gold standard of Americans Abroad, and the question of whether he matches it, improves on it, or does it again and again.

As for lower, and I know this is heavy territory, but pretty much the way everyone associated with Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus dealt with the rape accusations against him. Allegations are allegations until proven true, but showing a modicum of class to the victim (and all victims) would’ve been nice.

Kyle Bonn: If this is possible…Mohamed Salah. I always love seeing players go from one-hit wonder to actually good player, and while only the ultimate of cynics believe the Liverpool star would ultimately fade as just a flash in the pan, I enjoyed seeing it proven on the field.

Less, I have to go with Alvaro Morata. I thought he would be a slam dunk at Chelsea, and his disastrous tenure has led to rumors of a quick exit. I am quite disappointed in his performances there and his inability to find the scoresheet despite a wealth of talent around him. It’s a shame, because he showed so much promise at Real Madrid, and I hope he finds success either with a second chance at Chelsea or someone else who gives him an opportunity after Stamford Bridge.

Dan Karell: Anthony Martial. His second half of 2018 has been tremendous compared to his previous 18 months in Manchester, which all led to him missing out on the World Cup. A player who’s stock has dropped for me is his teammate, Alexis Sanchez. After joining Man United in January. Sanchez has been invisible this season and it’s unclear if Man United will ever recoup its investment in Sanchez.

(Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

4) Who is the soccer world’s person of 2018?

Joe Prince-Wright: Luka Modric. What he managed to achieve with both Real Madrid and Croatia, plus win multiple top awards as the best player on the planet, was exceptional. The Croatian midfielder was a total team player and made his teammates better due to his hard work, vision and delivering in clutch moments. His role to lead Croatia to the World Cup final was reminiscent of Diego Maradona and Pele leading their respective nations to glory in the past. Modric was Croatia’s talisman as they just came up short by losing to France in the final.

Nicholas Mendola: Kylian Mbappe. At the age of 20, with club turmoil caused by Neymar and Edinson Cavani and the pressure of an entire country, Mbappe led France to a World Cup title and Paris Saint-Germain to plenty of wins. But even better than that is the example he sets at such a young age, donating his World Cup winnings to charity and admitting that footballers are paid an “indecent” wage.

Kyle Bonn: Great – and tough – question. So many good options. Jurgen Klopp has to be my choice though, as he’s finally seeing his Liverpool project come to fruition. The Reds made the 2018 Champions League final and have shaken their inability to perform against bottom sides in Premier League play. It’s always fun to see a years-long project not only committed to, but completed. The Reds are a scary team to play for anyone in the world, and that’s down to the revolutionary tactics and recruitment of Jurgen Klopp.

Dan Karell: If it’s a manager, it’s got to be a tie between Didier Deschamps and Pep Guardiola for everything they succeeded. Perhaps it’s even Zinedine Zidane, who took the bold move to resign as Real Madrid manager after a third-successive Champions League title.

(Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

5) What topic are you extremely happy to leave in 2018: the USMNT coaching search, Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, or a third option?

Joe Prince-Wright: USMNT coaching search definitely. Quite why that took so long was outrageous. Berhalter could have been appointed months sooner than he was to start building the identity of the team. That would have been a smarter move. Southampton’s 2018 was also woeful, so I am happy to leave that there as the squad they have should be pushing for a top 10 finish, not battling against relegation for a second-straight season. I actually think that history will be kind to Jose Mourinho’s reign at Manchester United, but it just became so boring and predictable towards the end and we have already seen the gloom has lifted at Old Trafford. It worked out well for everyone, even Mourinho.

Nicholas Mendola: The USMNT coaching search. At some point we were speculating on David Moyes taking the job because he was on the train to a friendly. Cool. Real cool.

Kyle Bonn: I was happy to see the USMNT coaching search finally come to an end, but disappointed in the result. I was glad to see Jose Mourinho leave Manchester United for the health of the club, but not for those of us covering the team (what a ride!). Honestly, I’m happiest to see the World Cup cycle leave, because the USMNT gets to start from scratch looking forward to 2022. While many have predictions and reservations about the US National Team at this juncture, it will be for the team to prove on the field, and Gregg Berhalter has a chance to lead an emotional redemption for the group.

Dan Karell: Jose Mourinho for sure. The constant moaning to the media, throwing players under the bus, and holding his players back got really old, really fast. Yes, the opposition in the last couple of games isn’t as good, but you can see that the Man United players have the shackles removed and are starting to look as if they enjoy their profession again.

(AP Photo/Dave Thompson)

6) Free skate: Any other thoughts about 2018?

Joe Prince-Wright: Watching Man City’s record breaking season up close was amazing. They made history and have set the bar incredibly high for the rest of the Premier League.

It was a reflective year for many Premier League teams who took steps towards long-term progression. Liverpool finally bought world-class defensive players, Man United sacked their manager, Arsene Wenger left Arsenal and Chelsea moved on with an exciting tactical project. Man City have leveled off a little but are still incredible to watch, while Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham are still defying the odds and will actually move into their new stadium soon. The top six have been fascinating to watch in 2018, and given four of them are in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, it seems like English soccer has had a real resurgence on the European stage too.

Nicholas Mendola: I don’t want to be a downer and I know Leicester City happened just a few years ago, but it seems like it’s the end of non-giants making charges toward the Top Four. It’s not Liverpool’s fault for joining Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, and Man City in spending ungodly amounts of dough. It’s not just about the money, because those arguments are also annoying and look at Everton and West Ham, but it is frustrating.

Kyle Bonn: 2018 was a great year of soccer, but the failures of the USMNT certainly bring it down from our perspective. There needs to be growth there moving forward, or it will be tough to build on the growing fanbase in this country.

Dan Karell: Regarding the U.S. men’s national team, it was an empty year that should have had a World Cup appearance to go with it. We saw a lot of new players make their debuts and other youngsters receive more minutes, but the team felt like the Israelites wandering for 40 years searching for the Land of Israel, with no direction. Hopefully now, with Gregg Berhalter (Moses?) in charge, the USMNT can find the promised land.

Another note: Atlanta United’s incredible success can’t go unnoted. To create a title-winning team in two years is incredible difficult, and the organization has raised the bar for MLS even higher. 2018 was a huge step for the league. Let’s see what 2019 brings.
(AP Photo/Todd Kirkland)

Serie A: Leaders Inter Milan open door for Juve by drawing Roma

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MILAN (AP) Italian league leader Inter Milan was held by Roma to 0-0 on Friday, giving second-placed Juventus a chance to return to the top.

[ MORE: Chelsea transfer ban reduced; can sign players in January ]

The home draw left Inter only two points ahead of Juventus, which can regain the lead when it visits third-placed Lazio on Saturday.The result also wasn’t good for Roma, which moved from fifth to fourth place in the standings but remained nine points off the lead after 15 matches.

Inter forward Lautaro Martinez had one of the game’s best chances when he got past a defender and entered the area in the 68th minute, but his shot was blocked at the last minute. He called for a handball by the defender but the referee let play continue.

[ MORE: Brendan Rodgers signs new contract at Leicester ]

Inter was coming off five straight wins in the league, with its last setback in all competitions last month against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. Its last league loss was against Juventus in October, nine matches ago.

Roma was seeking its third straight league win. It had won five of its last six matches since last month.

Inter visits Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Premier League Preview: Man City v. Man United

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  • Man City (3rd) trail Liverpool by 11 points
  • Man United (6th) eight points out of 4th
  • Last meeting: Man United 0-2 Man City

For the first time in recent memory, Manchester City and Manchester United each find themselves failing to meet expectations — by their own respective standards, at least — as they prepare to meet at the Etihad Stadium in the 179th Manchester derby on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Man City, the two-time defending Premier League champions, are looking increasingly unlikely to retain their crown for a third straight season but look a surefire bet to finish in the top-four, which is a place for which Man United would bite your hand off as they currently trail leaders Liverpool by more points (22) than they have points of their own (21).

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

The struggles for United have been all about consistency as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side hasn’t won back-to-back games all season. The Red Devils haven’t won two in a row in the PL since March. On the bright side, United turned in one of their complete performances of the season on Wednesday, spoiling Jose Mourinho’s return to Old Trafford and beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-1. Marcus Rashford scored both goals and Solskjaer couldn’t rave enough about his 22-year-old forward after the game. From start to finish, United were the better team and looked in majority control, which isn’t something they’ve been able to say often in 2019.

As for City, they’ve simply been “not good enough” without ever actually being “bad” this season, given Liverpool’s scintillating form (14W-1D-0L thus far). Realistically, City likely need to pick up all 69 remaining points this season, and even then they might still come up short.

Injuries/suspensions

Man City: OUT – Sergio Aguero (thigh), Aymeric Laporte (knee), Leroy Sane (knee), Oleksandr Zinchenko (knee)

Man United: OUT – Anthony Martial (hamstring), Eric Bailly (knee), Marcos Rojo (undisclosed); QUESTIONABLE: Paul Pogba (ankle), Nemanja Matic (groin), Diogo Dalot (groin)


Projected lineups

Man City: Ederson — Walker, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Angeliño — Rodri, De Bruyne, Silva — Bernardo, Jesus, Sterling

Man United: De Gea — Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Young — Fred, McTominay, James, Mata, Lingard — Rashford


What they’re saying

Pep Guardiola, on the derby: “It’s Man United. I respect what they’ve done for English football, European, and world football. United have huge history and their quality is always there but we must try to beat them. We play against a good team, try to follow the performances we’ve put in and try to win the game. You know my opinion on the title race.”

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, on his derby memories: “It took many years before I played a Manchester derby myself. Of course, Man City are a better team now than when I was playing. … Confidence is a strange thing in football; you can get performances and results like Wednesday night and it boosts it so much. And I know our boys will be up for it. 24 hours less recovery time [than City] shouldn’t matter, you go on adrenaline.”


Prediction

The win over Tottenham was impressive, no doubt about it, but City remain a challenge of an entirely different class, no matter what their points total says. If the title is well and truly gone for Guardiola’s side, then retaining superiority in Manchester will have to suffice. City 3-1 United.

Klinsmann gets first point as Hertha Berlin manager

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) Jurgen Klinsmann claimed his first point since returning to coaching as his Hertha Berlin team let slip a two-goal lead to draw with Frankfurt 2-2 in the Bundesliga on Friday.

[ MORE: Chelsea transfer ban reduced; can sign players in January ]

Hertha was clinging to a 2-1 lead in the 86th minute when Sebastian Rode hammered the ball in from a corner for Frankfurt to deny the Berlin team the win.

Hertha is in the relegation playoff spot in 16th and winless in its last six league games, while Frankfurt is 10th.

Dodi Lukebakio gave Hertha the lead with a shot through Frederik Ronnow’s legs. That goal was assisted by Marko Grujic, who later made it 2-0 with a header from a free kick.

However, Frankfurt almost immediately replied with a header of its own from Martin Hinteregger, the Austrian defender with five Bundesliga goals.

[ MORE: Brendan Rodgers signs new contract at Leicester ]

Frankfurt’s fans expressed their disapproval of the video assistant referee after it ruled out two goals for the hosts. There was a rare disallowed own goal when Hertha goalkeeper Thomas Kraft palmed a cross into his own net but was found to have been pushed while jumping.

Klinsmann took over Hertha last week on a temporary deal until the end of the season, after Ante Covic was fired with the team under threat of relegation. Klinsmann hadn’t coached since being fired in 2016 by the United States, and last worked at a club in 2009 at Bayern Munich.

Nigel Pearson appointed new Watford manager

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Nigel Pearson has been appointed new manager of Watford and been handed a very straightforward — but tall — task for the remainder of the season: avoid relegation from the Premier League.

[ MORE: Chelsea transfer ban reduced; can sign players in January ]

Pearson takes over from Quique Sanchez Flores — who only took over from Javi Gracia in September — who left his post at Vicarage Road with the Hornets sitting 20th out of 20 teams in the PL table, already seven points adrift from safety. Pearson’s contract runs through the end of the season.

The 56-year-old Pearson, who last managed in the PL with Leicester City in 2015, was most recently in charge of Belgian side OH Leuven before he was fired in February.

[ MORE: Brendan Rodgers signs new contract at Leicester ]

Pearson won’t take charge of Saturday’s game against Crystal Palace (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold). Interim manager Hayden Mullins will see out the week’s preparations and manage the team before handing the reins to Pearson on Sunday.