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Season Review: Man United, Wolves, Everton, Leicester, West Ham

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We’re into the top half of the Premier League now, as we continue to review all 20 teams’ campaigns after the 2018-19 season came to a close on Sunday.

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

The group of clubs that finished between 10th and sixth spans a massive gulf in preseason predictions: from supposed title challengers Manchester United, to newly promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers.

[ REVIEW: Burnley, Bournemouth, Newcastle, Crystal Palace, Watford ]

West Ham United

Finishing position/points total: 10th / 52 points
High point: Handing London rivals Tottenham Hotspur their first defeat at their brand new stadium.
Low point
: Losing four straight to start the season, after spending big in the summer transfer window and hiring Manuel Pellegrini.

Our opinion: Given what West Ham have actually achieved this decade, they finished right where they should. Given what they spent last summer, they underachieved. That is almost certainly a product of the constant turnover taking place in east London.
Star player
: Felipe Anderson
Most memorable goal
: Declan Rice‘s first goal for West Ham was a big one: the winner against Arsenal.

Manager grade: Manuel Pellegrini: C
Hopes for next season
: As ever, West Ham fans will be dreaming of cracking the top-six, as unrealistic and difficult as that is. More realistically, they should be battling Everton and Wolves for the title of “best of the rest.”


Leicester City

Finishing position/points total: 9th / 52 points
High point: Winning five of their first six games after Brendan Rodgers was named new manager in late February.
Low point
: Six games without a win (five losses) to begin 2019. Claude Puel didn’t survive the skid.

Our opinion: Right around mid-table is where Leicester should aim to be season after season. Only to nitpick, to do so without the gigantic swings between highs and lows (15 wins and 16 losses, with just 7 draws) should be the attainable target moving forward.
Star player
: Youri Tielemans
Most memorable goal
: Demarai Gray scored perhaps the most emotional game of the PL season: Leicester’s first, and the winner against Cardiff City, following the tragic death of chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.

Manager grade: Brendan Rodgers: Incomplete
Hopes for next season
: If Rodgers views Leicester as a long-term project for himself, he should look to continue the youth movement currently taking place at the King Power Stadium and build a squad that could push for top-six on their best day a year or two down the road.


Everton

Finishing position/points total: 8th / 54 points
High point: Beating Chelsea, West Ham and Arsenal in successive games, without conceding a single goal in the process (March 17 to April 7).
Low point
: Losing to Liverpool, on that goal.

Our opinion: Marco Silva is clearly the most talented and ambitious manager Everton have had in a long time, and that’ll show through even more so after a second summer of transfers to build a squad that better fits his style (e.g., younger, more mobile defenders).
Star player
: Gylfi Sigurdsson
Most memorable goal
: Sigurdsson’s long-range was the pick of the litter in the Toffees’ 4-0 rout of Man United.

Manager grade: Marco Silva: B-
Hopes for next season
: Of all the sides in the top-10, Everton are probably best positioned to mount a challenge on the top-six, given not only the talent up and down their squad, but also the experience at very high levels in the game. Most likely, though, they’ll be seventh or eighth again.


Wolverhampton Wanderers

Finishing position/points total: 7th / 57 points
High point: Other than being back in the PL? How about wins over Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal, all in your first season back in the PL? No wonder Wolves landed seventh.
Low point
: Huddersfield Town finished bottom of the league — with just 16 points, 10 adrift of 19th place. Six of those 16 points (37.5 percent) came against Wolves, as they did the double over Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side.

Our opinion: Wolves were one of the PL’s most active and aggressive clubs during last summer’s transfer window; they also happened to be some of the best buyers, as Raul Jimenez, Diogo Jota, Joao Moutinho and Jonny were rock-solid figures in the first team. That’s a very strong foundation upon which to build.
Star player
: Raul Jimenez
Most memorable goal
: Jimenez’s outside-the-foot cross to Jota, and Jota’s ball back to Jimenez for the finish, was the clincher against Cardiff and delightful to watch.

Manager grade: Nuno Espirito Santo: A
Hopes for next season
: Should they wind up in the Europa League next season (Manchester City would have to beat Watford in the FA Cup final), Wolves will have multiple rounds of qualify to wade through before even reaching the group stage. They would be best suited not having to deal with such a fixture list.


Manchester United

Finishing position/points total: 6th / 66 points
High point
: The lengthy honeymoon period (12 games unbeaten, including 10 wins) for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s interim appointment after Jose Mourinho was fired.
Low point
: The remainder of the season cratering (just two wins from their final eight games, including four defeats) after Solskjaer was named permanent manager on March 28.

Our opinion: This is a club in desperate need of a massive overhaul, from top to bottom: perhaps beginning with the owners, to the club executives, to the technical decision makers, perhaps the manager as well, and the first-team squad.
Star player
: Marcus Rashford
Most memorable goal
: Another goal conceded by Cardiff. Anthony Martial and Co., kicked off the Solskjaer era in dazzling fashion.

Manager grade: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: C
Hopes for next season
: Let’s say Man United hit on every one of their signings this summer — we’re guessing $200 million’s worth of them — which includes a new backline, a deep-lying midfielder, an attacking midfielder and at least one winger. They could finish in the top-four.

USMNT’s Arriola likely will miss MLS season, six World Cup qualifiers

Paul Arriola
AP Photo/LM Otero
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WASHINGTON (AP) D.C. United midfielder Paul Arriola had major knee surgery Monday and likely will miss the entire Major League Soccer season and the United States’ first six qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup

The operation was to reconstruct his right anterior cruciate ligament. The team said there was no additional cartilage damage.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The 25-year-old midfielder injured his knee Feb. 15 during D.C. United’s preseason match against Orlando in Tampa, Florida.

Arriola has been a regular starter for the U.S. national team under coach Gregg Berhalter. Arriola has five goals in 33 international appearances.

After failing to reach the 2018 World Cup, the U.S. starts qualifying for the 2022 tournament this year. The Americans have two matches each in September, October and November, then complete qualifying with two games apiece in March and September 2021.

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

State of play in CONCACAF Champions League

CONCACAF Champions League
AP Photo/Carlos Gonzalez
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Four of five Major League Soccer clubs alive in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 are in fine shape to reach the quarterfinals after one leg.

The fifth has a tall hill to climb.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

LAFC trails Club Leon by two and did not collect an away goal in Mexico during first leg play last week.

“It’s 2-0, but we’re going to work hard,” said LAFC attacker Latif Blessing. “We’re going to prepare ourselves to win the next game. … We did good, but we want to win. It couldn’t happen that way but we’re going to prepare next game to win this game. We need to win.”

The second leg in L.A. is one of the last two matches of the round, kicking off at 10 p.m. ET Thursday just as Seattle Sounders square off with Olimpia.

The Honduran side managed a controversial comeback in the 2-2 draw with Jordan Morris-fueled Seattle last week, but the Sounders will be happy to have those two away goals and home field.

Montreal Impact has the same situation for Deportivo Saprissa’s visit at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, while Atlanta United scored an away goal in a draw with Motagua and hosts the visitors from Honduras’ capital at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday.

That leaves us with NYCFC, who got a Heber hat trick amongst five away goals at Costa Rican side San Carlos in a 5-3 win. The second leg begins at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday at Red Bull Arena (yes, you read that correctly).

Elsewhere, Liga MX sides don’t have it much better. Cruz Azul leads Portmore 2-1 heading back to Mexico, while Club America scored an away goal in a draw with Comunicaciones.

Finally, Tigres UANL trails 2-1 after one leg with Alianza in El Salvador.

CCL second leg schedule
all times ET

Atlanta United v. Motagua (1-1) — 8 p.m. Tuesday
Cruz Azul v. Portmore United (2-1) — 10 p.m. Tuesday
NYCFC v. San Carlos (5-3) — 6 p.m. Wednesday
Montreal Impact v. Deportivo Saprissa (2-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tigres UANL v. Alianza (1-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Club America v. Comunicaciones (1-1) — 10 p.m. Wednesday
Seattle Sounders v. Olimpia (2-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday
LAFC v Leon (0-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday

Eleven to go: Ranking obstacles on Liverpool’s unbeaten path

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Liverpool has won all five of its matches since the last time we evaluated its path to an unbeaten Premier League season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Those matches were ranked 14th, 12th, 11th, 10th, and 4th on our first rankings of obstacles to immortality, so very little of the heavy lifting has been conducted.

Let’s get something out of the way: If Liverpool is unable to overturn their first leg deficit against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, you can probably etch that zero in the league loss column into stone.

That said, many expect the Reds to overcome that 1-0 disadvantage from Madrid, so here’s where we slot the difficulties moving forward.

Unranked — Crystal Palace at home (March 21) and Brighton away (April 18) — Both of these dates are very easy on the eyes, but will be moved if Liverpool is alive in the FA Cup.

9. Newcastle away, time TBD May 17 — We’re now calling this the easiest date left. Klopp’s men aren’t going to lose an unbeaten season at the altar just because Steve Bruce bunkers down. St. James’ Park is a hassle, but

8. Watford away, 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday Klopp probably feels like he’s already playing with house money in the FA Cup, so there’s no reason to think he’ll hand any priority at all to the following FA Cup meeting with Chelsea.

7. Bournemouth home, 7:30 a.m. ET March 7 Situated between Chelsea in the FA Cup and the home UCL second leg versus Atleti, it’s not easy…  but the Cherries have given us less reason to believe they’ll threaten the Reds than any other team besides Newcastle.

6. Aston Villa home, 11:30 a.m. ET April 12Dean Smith‘s desperate Villans will have Villa Park rocking before Liverpool’s possible UCL quarterfinals 2nd leg days later.

5. Burnley home, 7:30 a.m. ET April 25 — Taking place just before a possible UCL quarterfinal first leg, Burnley will try to trouble the Reds in a similar manner to West Ham.

4. Chelsea home, time TBD May 9 — Both the Blues and Reds could be coming off UCL semifinal second legs. Don’t forget that Chelsea took the Reds to the wire in the UEFA Super Cup despite it being very early in Frank Lampard‘s tenure.

3. Arsenal away, time TBD May 2 — Both sides may be days away from needing a result to qualify for the UCL or UEL final.

2. Everton away, 4 p.m. ET March 16 — This may as well be the only match left on the Toffees’ docket that matters more than another, as Carlo Ancelotti and his men know the message they could send regarding the building up of Everton.

Not only that, but Everton has nothing else left to circle, no other competitions, nothing.

1. Man City away, 11:30 a.m. ET April 5 — Taking place 3-4 days before the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals and on the heels of an international break, it’s the lone date on the calendar that Liverpool won’t be heavy favorites to win.

Champions League: Chelsea, Napoli aim to slow Lewandowski, Messi

UEFA Champions League preview
Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images
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Four of the most dangerous attacks in Europe begin their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

For Chelsea that means trying to find a way to limit the damage of away goals when Bayern Munich visits Stamford Bridge.

Of course, that means trying to slow lethal Robert Lewandowski. The 31-year-old Polish striker has scored 38 times in 32 appearances this season.

Here’s Frank Lampard, via Football.London:

Form of his life means something special with Lewandowski because of how well he’s been consistently in Europe for the last, how many years, I don’t know,” Lampard said. “Everything about him, from a distance, from afar, is just top class. Having the opportunity to watch a lot of Bayern in build-up to this game, that shines through. Of course, he’s going to be a huge threat. He’s not the only threat but he is a spearhead.”

Lampard points to the Blues work without the ball and away from it that will determine whether they can limit Lewandowski and Bayern.

“We traveled to Ajax and had a fantastic game off the ball,” he said. “We’ve had games like that this year in the league as well. But the levels have to go up.”

The Blues won’t have Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and N’Golo Kante, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek is finally available after a long injury absence. Pedro may play.

[ MORE: JPW’s score predictions ]

Tuesday’s other first leg sees Napoli hosting Barcelona, which means Gennaro Gattuso trying to find a way to cool down Lionel Messi.

The world’s top player scored four goals at the weekend and had six assists in his three previous La Liga outings.

Another player who’s helped Barcelona reclaim the league lead will be critical to controlling the midfield against Napoli, and that’s Frenkie de Jong.

The 22-year-old has had fits and starts at Barca, especially this month. He admits that he’s had an odd time adjusting to Messi, the teammate, though it hasn’t been part of the problem. From FCBarcelona.com:

“When I began training with him it was strange, because when I was 12, still in secondary school, I used to watch a lot of football. He was already the best in the world. He won the Ballon d’Or back then, so I was a fan, or whatever you want to call it.”

Napoli boss Gattuso was a bit more effusive when addressing Messi, via Football.Espana:

“I have read whether to make a cage or not, but we need the collective game to combat someone like him, and it is not just him,” Gattuso said. “He is the best in the world, for how he has lived his entire career. He is always perfect, never a misplaced word, he is an example for everyone. He does things that I only see on the PlayStation. He has an incredible quality and for years he has been the best of all-time.”

Both matches kick off at 3 p.m. ET Tuesday.