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)

Petr Cech earns win with 2 penalty saves in hockey debut

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Former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper joined English fourth-division hockey team Guildford Phoenix four days ago and made his debut on Sunday.

He did not disappoint.

The 37-year-old saved two penalties in the shootout, earning Man of the Match honors.

Cech is reportedly a fan of the Guilford Flames, the first-division side who use the Phoenix as their developmental side. He was signed to be the team’s third-choice goalkeeper, just a chance for him to get in on the action before his body gives way for good, but he was given a chance to play right away. He wore number 39, a nod to famous Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek. His custom helmet was adorned with Arsenal and Chelsea colors. Regulation finished level at 2-2 before Cech’s shootout heroics.

“I wanted to win, that was the main thing, and I’m glad we did,” Cech said after the match. “I was surprised that I wasn’t more nervous. I didn’t know what to expect so it was nice how quickly my body switched into matchday mode.”

Giroud upset with reserve role at Chelsea

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Olivier Giroud does not look back on his transfer to Chelsea and wish he had done things differently, but that doesn’t mean things are all sunshine and roses for the 33-year-old.

Giroud, who moved to Chelsea from Arsenal in the winter of 2018 after six years with the Gunners, has played just 43 times in the Premier League, averaging just 35 minutes per appearance. That has him frustrated, hoping to prove his loyalty to the club and work harder than the other options up front.

“I had competitors in attack – [Alvaro] Morata, [Gonzalo] Higuain, who ended up leaving,” Giroud said. “I won at the end: I played the final of the FA Cup in 2018 and the [Europa League] final in 2019. Once again, I’m starting the year in a difficult situation. But as my brother says, I have always built myself in the face of adversity.”

Girou is trying to be smart about how he approaches the competition for time with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi, but he says it is emotionally taxing.

“You do not have to be fatalistic in certain situations,” Giroud says about keeping a level head. “I have always been respectful and humble. Even if I do not agree with the coach, I do not criticize him. But in myself, I cannot accept it because I know what I’m worth on a pitch.”

The French international has made just three league appearances this season, mostly thanks to Abraham’s scalding form. Abraham, still just 22 years old, has snatched his opportunity for first-team minutes with eight goals in eight games to start the campaign. That has left Giroud on the sidelines for each of the last five league games, missing out on a spot in the matchday squad altogether for the last three.

Despite his struggles at the club level, Giroud has maintained his place in the French national team, missing just five matches of France’s last 64 games, including 37 of the last 39.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

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Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

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Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”