PST Roundtable: 2019 in Preview

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Big predictions, transfer locations, USMNT expectations, and the Women’s World Cup.

[ MORE: Best of 2018 ]

ProSoccerTalk moves on from its Best of 2018 by asking our staff to grab their Gray’s Sports Almanacs and trying to create classier empires than Biff Tannen.


1) At this time next year, who will have been the reigning Premier League champions? And if you’re fancy, who leads it heading into 2020?

Joe Prince-Wright: Manchester City. And Manchester City.

Nick Mendola: I have to say Liverpool, but I’m so tempted to type M-a-n C-i-t-y. I do think Spurs have a shout if City can win Thursday and both the Reds and Citizens make deeper UEFA Champions League runs. This assumes an addition or two for Spurs in January.

As for next season: Man City with a long-term replacement for Fernandinho (and Zack Steffen, obvz).

Kyle Bonn: It would be ridiculous to bet against Liverpool at this juncture, but also I think Manchester City gives them a ride for 2018. I like Liverpool this year, and Man City long-term as well.

Dan Karell: Great question. I think that Liverpool will hold on this year. Something is different this time around for Jurgen Klopp and the Reds and I think they’ll hold off a late challenge from Manchester City in a title race that goes down to the wire. However, with a long, stressful season, I can see Man City jumping out to a 10-point lead of their own by this time next year.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

2) What will have been a success for the USMNT in Gregg Berhalter’s first trip around the Sun as national team boss?

Joe Prince-Wright: I think it will be solid yet unspectacular. Berhalter’s tactical plan is clear, which is good, but I’m not sure the player pool is at a stage where we can be too excited. The 2019 Gold Cup will be intriguing to watch, and the USMNT should put out their strongest possible squad, including Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Tim Weah et al.

Nick Mendola: A Gold Cup Final, 4-6 points from the first two matches of the fourth round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, and an established 14-16 man group for the fifth round of World Cup qualifying. Also a clearly-defined role for Christian Pulisic aside from, “Save our butts.”

Kyle Bonn: I think Berhalter will do a great job at giving lots of players a chance to prove their worth. We might not have a set two-deep in a year’s time, which might be frustrating for some fans, but also will be healthy for the program. I hope Berhalter comes into the job with an open mind about player selection, and I am optimistic on the possibility there.

Dan Karell: At a minimum, it’s seeing his team adjust to his playing style, developing a cohesive unit, and in terms of on-the-field success, wins against one or more European or South American opponents and making at least the 2019 Gold Cup final. Anything less than that is a step to the side, not a step forward.

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

3) Where will the following people be employed come Dec. 31, 2019: Christian Pulisic, Eden Hazard, Neymar, Jose Mourinho, Paul Pogba, Arsene Wenger, Gareth Bale, and Mauricio Pochettino?

Joe Prince-Wright

Christian Pulisic – Chelsea
Eden Hazard – Real Madrid
Neymar – Paris Saint-Germain
Jose Mourinho – Paris Saint-Germain
Paul Pogba – Manchester United
Arsene Wenger – AC Milan
Gareth Bale – Real Madrid
Mauricio Pochettino – Manchester United

Nick Mendola

Christian Pulisic – Chelsea
Eden Hazard – Chelsea
Neymar – Manchester United
Jose Mourinho – Inter Milan
Paul Pogba – Paris Saint-Germain
Arsene Wenger – Monaco (executive role)
Gareth Bale – Real Madrid
Mauricio Pochettino – Tottenham Hotspur

Kyle Bonn

Christian Pulisic – Chelsea
Eden Hazard – Real Madrid
Neymar – Paris Saint-Germain
Jose Mourinho – Unemployed (not hired? fired again? Who knows?!?)
Paul Pogba – Manchester United
Arsene Wenger – Monaco
Gareth Bale – Real Madrid
Mauricio Pochettino – Real Madrid

Dan Karell

Christian Pulisic – Chelsea
Eden Hazard – Chelsea
Neymar – Paris Saint-Germain
Jose Mourinho – LA Galaxy
Paul Pogba – Manchester United
Arsene Wenger – RAC Sport (French TV)
Gareth Bale – Manchester United
Mauricio Pochettino – Manchester United
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

4) What’s success for the USWNT at this summer’s World Cup?

Joe Prince-Wright: Winning it. The reigning champs are stacked but with the likes of France, England and Germany on home soil in Europe, it will be tough. That said, the USWNT have so many attacking weapons I think Jill Ellis will lead them to back-to-back World Cup titles.

Nick Mendola: Getting back to the final to defend their title. The modern women’s game has caught up to the U.S. in terms of international desire, and their tactical acumen/hunger is at worst level with the USWNT. As the first to the women’s development part, there was a time when it was an utter embarrassment for the USWNT not to win it all and do it in style. I think we’re past that, especially when the measure comes out of one game (not the group stage).

Kyle Bonn: Winning the dang thing. Anything less for this group at this stage is a failure. That might be closed-minded and elitist, but the United States has built itself into a juggernaut, and while other teams are catching up, the US still holds itself to a high enough esteem – and should do as much – that anything less than World Cup victory is a disappointment.

Dan Karell: With the quality of women’s soccer growing around the world, and the U.S. struggling to keep up at youth level, I think that a semifinals appearance at a World Cup is a successful run. Hopefully they can defend their title and win it.

(AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

5) Assuming no one breaks the Neymar mark, will anyone be bought for more than Paul Pogba’s $120m transfer mark? And who?

Joe Prince-Wright: Eden Hazard would if he had longer on his contract, but I think it will be intriguing to keep an eye on Harry Kane. If Pochettino leaves for United, does Kane go with him? Or maybe Real Madrid or Barcelona come calling?

Nick Mendola: There’s a chance that numerous clubs try to get a desperate new Manchester United technical director, manager, and/or Ed Woodward to break it, but I only see it happening at Real Madrid or United if Kylian Mbappe wants out of Paris Saint-Germain.

Kyle Bonn: Eden Hazard should break the mark. He’s valuable enough to be, and his situation is set up to be expensive. 27 years old and in extended prime form of his world-class career. The only thing that could bring it down is the fact his contract has just one year left after this season is over, and that could dent his price, but otherwise his inevitable sale to Real Madrid will likely top Pogba.

Dan Karell: Josh Sargent… but in 2022.

(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

6) Free skate: What’s also on your mind for 2019 in soccer?

Joe Prince-Wright: I am looking forward to seeing players get a rest in the summer, for the most part, and I think that will enhance the PL for the 2019-20 campaign. We have seen so many injuries over the past six months due to the long World Cup and a quick turnaround for the domestic seasons has seen some star names (Kevin De Bruyne, Mesut Ozil etc.) suffer several smaller injuries.

I am most intrigued to see the title race between Liverpool and Man City and see if the former can hold their nerve in the coming months. If they do, there will be a Jurgen Klopp statue outside of Anfield this time next year…

Nick Mendola: Aside from which USMNT players seize their chance to become fixtures and whether Michael Bradley has a true return to form, I’m focused on how Premier League clubs fare in the UEFA Champions League, and how it affects the title race. The latter could lose a little bit of its luster should Liverpool beat Man City at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday, as the Reds will move from favorites to win the PL title to likely winner. Also, as much as Major League Soccer has increased in style and substance, it feels like it is stagnant in terms of the American sports consciousness. Can it regain legitimate upward growth aside from celebrating international names and big attendance at new clubs and stadia?

Kyle Bonn: I’m dialed in on the USMNT this coming year. I am fascinated to see how Gregg Berhalter does in his first year – an absolutely critical year for the growth, development, and recovery of the national team. There is talent growing in the pool, as evident by the young stars making headway in Europe, and the switch in mindset of Major League Soccer from attracting talent abroad to developing and selling its own. The Premier League is building juggernauts, and has a great shot at welcoming a Champions League title back to England in 2019 as well. This coming year of soccer should be a really fun one.

Dan Karell: I’m excited to see what Berhalter can do with the USMNT in 2019. I don’t mind if he leaves certain players out, as long as he picks a system that can bring wins and then picks the players that best fit that system.

In terms of the Premier League, I can’t wait to see Liverpool and Manchester City fight to the end to see who wins the league title.
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

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At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.

Players to watch at the U-20 World Cup

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The U-20 World Cup begins this week in Poland, and there are a bevy of future stars to watch, as well as several who will make their names during the tournament.

We’ll focus on the former. While England’s failure to qualify somewhat limits the Premier League starlets on show, there are still plenty from the English top flight.


Tim Weah, United States (PSG) — After a loan at Celtic and time with the full USMNT, how much can he dominate back in his age group?

Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina) — At age 20, he’s already the starter between the sticks for his Serie A mainstays.

Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis) — Eighteen with 12 league appearances for Real Betis, Lainez is a massive part of El Tri‘s future and carries four caps to his name.

Ruben Vinagre, Portugal (Wolves) — Wolves were promoted, and Vinagre actually made eight more appearances (17) than he made in the Championship.

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina (Atlanta United) — His sophomore season for the Five Stripes has been better than his debut campaign, though that’s not saying a ton given the hype.

Evan N’Dicka, France (Eintracht Frankfurt) — Plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga at the age of 19 for this towering center back.

Paxton Pomykal, United States (FC Dallas) — Looking good in MLS. How much should that translate on this stage?

Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid) — Won’t be wearing the white of Madrid in meaningful action any time soon, but made four appearances on loan for Leganes as a 20-year-old.

Sebastian Soto, United States (Hannover 96) — Not the American-born Bundesliga starlet we expected had we created this list months ago, but Soto has made his Bundesliga debut, so there’s a lot to like while Josh Sargent works with the full USMNT.

Dan Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund) — The left- and center back has 25 first team appearances for BVB at 19.

Diogo Dalot, Portugal (Manchester United) — Red Devils supporters know about this fella, who was purchased under the watch of Jose Mourinho last summer.

Mickael Cuisance, France (Borussia Monchengladbach) — Took a step back after his blockbuster ‘Gladbach breakthrough in 2017-18, but will be a key piece for the favorites.

Moussa Sylla, France (Monaco) — The winger is already a factor for AS Monaco, even if they struggled this season.

Bonus: Erling Håland, Denmark (Red Bull Salzburg); Ronald Araujo, Uruguay (Barcelona); Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nigeira (Manchester City).

De Ligt reportedly chooses Barcelona; Klopp set at CB

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Liverpool, Manchester United, and pretty much everyone but Barcelona looks set to miss out on Matthijs de Ligt.

De Ligt, 19, has paired with Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk while in the Netherlands national team set-up, but reportedly is opting to join Ajax teammate Frenkie de Jong at Barcelona.

[ MORE: Brighton hires new boss ]

In the case of Liverpool, Sky Sports says that Reds boss Jurgen Klopp thinks he doesn’t need another center back.

Injuries hit Liverpool’s center backs this season outside of Van Dijk. Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren were rated highly and combined for just over 2500 minutes, while young Joe Gomez suffered a long-term injury midway through the season.

If all are healthy, Liverpool has decent depth. Yet even Gomez doesn’t have the upside to shake a stick at De Ligt if the 19-year-old was truly interested in coming to Anfield.

I mean, “Are you interested in this 19-year-old captain of a Champions League semifinalist? He’s interested in coming there” usually doesn’t yield a firm, “No.”

As for Barcelona, it will reinforce its back line a year after allowing 36 goals. That’s pretty decent, but the Blaugranas‘ third-highest total of the last decade.

Mkhitaryan assured of safety by Azerbaijan ambassador

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The Europa League Final in Azerbaijan has not been getting a lot of positive press due to fans unwillingness to travel for the event and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s fears of stepping foot in the country.

That’s because Mkhitaryan is the captain of Armenia’s national team, and that nation’s long dispute with Azerbaijan.

[ MORE: Brighton hires new boss ]

Arsenal, of course, plays Chelsea in the May 29 final, and Mkhitaryan already missed an earlier UEL match against Azerbaijan powers Qarabag. He’s played plenty for the Gunners this season apart from a broken foot, and his absence would not be welcome news for this London Derby of a European Final.

Azerbaijan’s UK ambassador Tahir Taghizadeh has guaranteed safety for Mkhitaryan, and said he’d be happy to personally offer assurances to the Armenian. On the other hand, this doesn’t sound like the most positive messaging, via Sky Sports:

“My message to Mkhitaryan would be: you’re a footballer, you want to play football? Go to Baku you are safe there, if you want to play the issue then that’s a different story. What I can guarantee is that the Azerbaijan government will do everything what needs to be done and provide safety and security for every fan, player and staff member coming to this game.”

By using the phrase “play the issue,” it does launch the discussion firmly into political waters. One thing’s for sure: The issue may be debatable, but whether a player feels safe deserves to be his call and his call alone.