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Season Review: Burnley, Bournemouth, Newcastle, Crystal Palace, Watford

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After looking over the bottom five finishers in the Premier League this season, we look through the next five teams, a smattering of clubs both happy to avoid the relegation scrap and looking to use this finish as a launching pad for the coming campaign.

[ REVIEW: Huddersfield, Fulham, Cardiff, Brighton, Saints ]

Managers in this group also could find themselves candidates for jobs down the road, and teams like Burnley, Bournemouth, and Watford may end up in a battle to keep one of their most prized possessions. How did these five teams perform this year?

Burnley

Finishing position/points total: 15 / 40pts
High point
: Eight straight unbeaten through January.
Low point
: Sitting 19th in early December with just 2 league wins

Our opinion: Burnley had a roller coaster ride this year, but Sean Dyche managed to pick the club up from 19th in early December to finish without worry over the last few months. Nailing the magic 40-point total on the nose, it’s hard to argue with where they finished given the rough first half.  
Star player
: Chris Wood
Most memorable goal
: Ashley Barnes‘ finish off an exquisite Johan Berg Gudmudsson delivery capped off an eight-match unbeaten run that defined Burnley’s season. They’d go on to lose their next four, but that stretch combined with a solid finish to the campaign gave them life and avoided a relegation battle.


Manager grade: Sean Dyche: B
Hopes for next season
: Keeping Burnley up will be the consistent goal until the club can build a financial base to challenge for a top half finish. Sean Dyche managed to meet the goal relatively comfortably this season after a rough start to the campaign, but how much longer can they keep hold of him?

Bournemouth

Finishing position/points total: 14 / 45pts
High point
: Sitting 6th in mid-October with 6 wins in the first 10 games
Low point
: A 7-game stretch through the holidays conceding 20 goals and earning just 4 points

Our opinion: It was a solid season for Bournemouth, although without the fabulous start to the season, things may have ended quite differently. After the first 11 games where lost just twice, the club picked up 25 points over a 27-match span, a relegation-type pace. Eddie Howe is a good manager who may end up at a bigger club sooner rather than later, but Bournemouth’s consistent inability to defend despite good back-line talent will give a potential suitor pause.
Star player
: Ryan Fraser
Most memorable goal
: This strike by David Brooks from outside the box helped Bournemouth to a big 2-0 win over Brighton when the Cherries were beginning to nosedive down the table.


Manager grade: Eddie Howe: C
Hopes for next season
: Bournemouth is about where they’re going to be, and survival is the perennial goal. They may be a candidate for the drop once again, but with as much firepower as they have, it shouldn’t be on the cards for them. An improvement at the back would be helpful over the summer.

Newcastle United

Finishing position/points total:
High point
: A 2-1 win over eventual champions Man City in late January, Pep Guardiola‘s final loss of the season.
Low point
: No wins in the first 10 matches of the season.

Our opinion: Rafa Benitez stumbled early after another summer of penny pinching from Mike Ashley, but he recovered enough to lift Newcastle out of the relegation battle, and convinced Ashley to splash the cash for Miguel Almiron in the winter, a move that proved positive until Almiron got hurt. Benitez is arguably the most valuable asset at the club and he did well to keep this squad out of the bottom three.
Star player
: Ayoze Perez is the team’s star goalscorer but Matt Ritchie is the man who makes the team tick.
Most memorable goal
: Matt Ritchie’s late penalty to beat Man City gave Newcastle its most famous win of the season, but Fabian Schar’s absolute howitzer to take the lead over Burnley in February is easily the stunner of the year for Newcastle. That win capped off a 6-match stretch that included four wins and just three goals conceded.


Manager grade: Rafa Benitez: A-
Hopes for next season
: If Benitez is to be believed, Newcastle has European potential, but it will take a few years to realize that potential. Should they keep Benitez around, Newcastle should be a top half contender if Ashley can be convinced to open the wallet this summer.

Crystal Palace

Finishing position/points total: 12 / 49pts
High point
: Five wins in seven to end the season, including a 3-2 win over Arsenal
Low point
: Eight games without a win through October and November

Our opinion: Aside from the brutal start to the year which saw Palace gain just nine points from their first 13 games, Crystal Palace had a very good campaign – it would have likely featured a top-half finish with a better start to the year. Ugly losses still dot the season occasionally (this is the Premier League, after all, nothing is guaranteed), but Hodgson has built this side into a consistent performer week in and week out.
Star player
: Wilfried Zaha
Most memorable goal
: Andros Townsend scored a ripper against Burnley (who seem to have been victimized plenty by great goals this season) but there is no question that his volley against Manchester City is Crystal Palace’s best of the campaign and maybe the entire Premier League this season.


Manager grade: Rod Hodgson: B-
Hopes for next season
: Crystal Palace always has the potential to end up sucked into the relegation scrap with a bad run of form, as the start to this season showed, so staying up should always be priority #1. However, with that in hand, the club should be challenging for top-half finishes if they would like to continue growing. 53 goals conceded is less than all but one club below them in the table, meaning the defense performed well, and if they can attack like they did during the run-in this season (11 goals scored against Arsenal, Cardiff, and Bournemouth) they’ll be poised to make that happen.

Watford

Finishing position/points total: 11 / 50pts
High point
: Beating Tottenham for its fourth straight win to start the season.
Low point
: Losing six of nine to finish the season.

Our opinion: At its best, Watford is a fantastic group that absorbs pressure and counters with vicious intent. At its worst, it gives up four goals to Bournemouth or West Ham. Overall, Watford did quite well this season, and while the four straight to start the season set lofty expectations that were unsustainable, finishing 11th in the Premier League is a laudable accomplishment even with the disappointing finish to the campaign.
Star player
: While Troy Deeney, Andre Gray, and Gerard Deulofeu shared the goalscoring this season, defender Craig Cathcart logged more minutes than anyone on the squad this season and bagged the winner against Tottenham early in the season.
Most memorable goal
: Watford bagged a host of good goals this season, but this brilliant solo run from Roberto Pereyra is the best of the bunch.


Manager grade: Javi Gracia: B+
Hopes for next season
: Somehow, Watford made finishing 11th appear disappointing, proof that they were strong for most of the long season. Watford even challenged for a spot in Europe before being outlasted by Wolves, so fans will hope that next season they can finish the deal and earn a top-7 spot.

Chairman Mubarak: Other clubs are ‘jealous’ of Man City’s success

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Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak believes that other clubs — namely those who have fallen miles back of the back-to-back Premier League champions — are “jealous” of the club’s success.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante to miss Europa League final with new injury ]

The root of the perceived jealousy is, of course, Man City’s seemingly unlimited spending power which dwarves that of just about — if not — every other club in the PL. There’s a growing sense around the league — and around the world — that clubs like City, just to name one, are doing the game a disservice by distorting the transfer market and building an infallible super-team with the aid of unprecedented financial resources.

Mubarak believes that these feelings also stem from other clubs’ failed dealings in the transfer market: spending comparable — if not more — money on players who don’t justify that price tag the same way some of City’s big-money buys have done — quotes from the BBC:

“With success, there is a certain level of jealousy, envy, whatever you call it. That’s part of the game.

“It’s not easy for our competition, we know that. But the reality is, we didn’t buy the most expensive player in the Premier League [Paul Pogba], we didn’t buy the most expensive goalkeeper [Kepa Arrizabalaga], we didn’t buy the most expensive midfielder, we didn’t buy the most expensive striker [Romelu Lukaku].

“People make decisions, they’ve got to live by them. This is a well-run club.”

City’s financial dealings have regularly been in the headlines of late, as they are believed to have circumvented FFP rules by lying about sponsorship deals so as to balance a larger expenditure on transfer fees and player wages with revenue generated by the club.

Valverde under pressure after dismal end to Barcelona’s season

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MADRID (AP) A couple of weeks ago, few questioned Ernesto Valverde as Barcelona coach.

The team had just won a second straight Spanish league title under his command and was close to making it to the Champions League final after beating Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of the semifinals.

The team was also through to the Copa del Rey final, where it would try to win an unprecedented fifth straight title in the competition.

Valverde seemed to be comfortably in control as the club moved closer to winning the treble.

Things quickly took a turn for the worse, though, and Valverde woke up on Sunday under added pressure and facing increased criticism.

Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday, a result that followed the disastrous elimination against Liverpool in the Champions League and added to the team’s woeful end to what had been a great season.

“A month ago we were celebrating the league title. Fifteen days ago we were thinking we had a chance at a treble,” Valverde said. “And we came up short in the decisive moments in both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.”

The disappointing ending brought out a wave of criticism of Valverde, who last year also finished the season under a cloud after another humiliating Champions League elimination – that time it squandered a big first-leg lead against Roma in the tournament’s quarterfinals.

The criticism seems more pronounced this time, with some fans and local media calling for a change at the helm.

It didn’t take long after Barcelona’s loss to Valencia in Seville for club President Josep Bartomeu to come out and defend the coach.

“Ernesto has a contract and he remains the team’s coach,” Bartomeu said. “This loss was not the coach’s fault. The team created a lot of scoring chances but the ball didn’t go in, and what counts is how many times you score.”

Bartomeu had already defended Valverde after the demoralizing 4-0 loss to Liverpool in the Champions League, saying the club was not considering a change in command for next season.

Valverde said he was not worried and felt supported by the club despite the disappointing ending.

“It’s a bad feeling, we won’t deny it, but we have to stay strong,” he said. “What we want as coaches is to have a chance to come back. It’s tough to lose, it means something went wrong. We have to take the responsibility for it.”

Even if Valverde stays as expected, it doesn’t mean there won’t be changes for Barcelona.

Several players played below expectations this season, especially former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, who was regularly jeered by fans and whose place with the club remains uncertain.

Bartomeu will likely have to go shopping in the offseason to try to improve the supporting cast for Lionel Messi, who had a fantastic year but wasn’t able to save the season by himself. When Messi looked ordinary, no one was able to take over his role as protagonist, and it proved costly in the decisive moments.

Young midfielder Frenkie de Jong is joining from Ajax and he should significantly boost the midfield, but Barcelona will definitely need to add to its attack, as Luis Suarez was the only true striker who performed consistently well. He couldn’t play in the Copa final after undergoing knee surgery and his absence was felt as the team struggled to capitalize on its scoring chances.

Veteran Gerard Pique is set to return for another season in defense, but there are still doubts about the fitness of Samuel Umtiti, who missed several matches this season because of injuries.

“We’ve been thinking about next season for a while, but it’s not the time to discuss the future,” Bartomeu said. “We ended with the Spanish league title, it was important. We couldn’t win the Copa, but we’ll just move on.”

Suarez defends surgery decision after Barca lose Copa del Rey final

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Luis Suarez has defended himself from criticism for undergoing knee surgery that prevented him from playing for Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final.

The Uruguayan released a statement Sunday saying he had no option despite the timing of the final, which Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia on Saturday.

Suarez said he had to undergo surgery “against my will” after rupturing his meniscus against Liverpool in the Champions League semifinals.

He said the surgery earlier this month had nothing to do with a cartilage issue that he had been nursing since the beginning of the season.

Barcelona won the Spanish league but finished the season on a low after being eliminated by Liverpool in the Champions League and losing the Copa final to Valencia.

Suarez scored 25 goals in 49 matches this season, second only to Lionel Messi on the scoring charts for Barcelona.

U-20 WC roundup: Mexico hammered by Japan; Italy top Ecuador

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action at the U-20 World Cup in Poland…

[ MORE: USWNT wins final match before World Cup (video) ]

Mexico 0-3 Japan

Mexico’s heavy defeat at the hands of Japan means El Tri‘s stars of tomorrow, who have zero points from their first two games, cannot finish top-two in Group B and can only advance to the knockout rounds as one of four third-place teams.

Taisei Miyashiro (21st and 77th minutes) and Kyosuke Tagawa (52nd) bagged the goals on Sunday, as Japan picked up its first victory and set up an all-important finale with Italy to decide who finishes top of the group on Wednesday.

Ecuador 0-1 Italy

Andrea Pinamonti scored the only goal in Italy’s 1-0 victory over 10-man Ecuador to reach the six-point mark and guarantee themselves a top-two finish and a place in the round of 16.

Elsewhere in the U-20 World Cup

Senegal 2-0 Colombia [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
Poland 5-0 Tahiti [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Monday’s U-20 World Cup schedule

Honduras v. Uruguay — 12 p.m. ET
Qatar v. Ukraine — 12 p.m. ET
USA v. Nigeria — 2:30 p.m. ET
Norway v. New Zealand — 2:30 p.m. ET