Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Grading all 20 Premier League managers

Leave a comment

Which Premier League managers were most responsible for their team’s overachievement — or, underachievement — during the 2018-19 season?

[ SEASON REVIEW: Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal ]

[ SEASON REVIEW: Man United, Wolves, Everton, Leicester, West Ham ]

Benitez, Rafael (Newcastle United) — B-

High marks for: Keeping Newcastle in the PL and finishing 13th, with one of the league’s smaller wage bills, by beating the teams they needed to beat (eight of 12 victories came against teams that finished below them) | Low marks for: Going winless in the first 10 games of the season

Final thoughts: Newcastle could be a perennial top-half side, if only owner Mike Ashley would either 1) back his manager, or 2) sell the club. Benitez is far and away the brightest manager Newcastle could hope to attract and he continues to deliver above realistic expectations.


Dyche, Sean (Burnley) — C-

High marks for: Finding three teams to be worse than Burnley; going eight games unbeaten to start 2019 | Low marks for: Six losing skids of three games or more (two that lasted four games)

Final thoughts: This is Burnley’s level — scraping and clawing a few points clear of relegation — rather than last season’s 7th-place finish.


Emery, Unai (Arsenal) — C+

High marks for: Going 14 games unbeaten after losing twice to start the season | Low marks for: Failing to finish in the top-four, despite Tottenham and Chelsea falling apart down the stretch

Final thoughts: Emery’s first season following in the footsteps of Arsene Wenger could have gone better, but it could have gone worse. The more distance Emery puts between Wenger and present day, the easier the job will get. He sorely needs to win the Europa League to build a squad capable of returning to the top-four.

(Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Espirito Santo, Nuno (Wolverhampton Wanderers) — A

High marks for: Leading a newly promoted team to a 7th-place finish, while playing an entertaining style of soccer | Low marks for: N/A

Final thoughts: If this is as good as it ever gets for Wolves, let’s all choose to remember Espirito Santo’s time at the club for what he did this season, not for how it might all come crashing down around him in future seasons. Sure, Wolves spent on par with the PL’s biggest clubs. Then again, Fulham outspent Wolves by $42 million last summer and finished 19th.


Gracia, Javi (Watford) — B-

High marks for: Taking Watford another step forward, up to 11th, in his first full season in charge after they narrowly avoided relegation two seasons ago and progressed to 14th last season | Low marks for: Once Watford were mathematically safe, their form fell off a cliff and they took a bit of a tumble down the table

Final thoughts: There was a time this season when Watford looked like they might be the surprise 7th-place finishers, then they lost six of their last nine games but still only finished seven points back of Wolves.


Guardiola, Pep (Manchester City) — A+

High marks for: Winning the title, for a second straight season, by winning 14 straight games to finish the season; needing 98 points to win the title, and getting 98 points; winning the title with Kevin De Bruyne, his best player last season, playing just 19 games | Low marks for: N/A

Final thoughts: If there were any remaining questions about Guadiola’s suitability to the PL, they have been answered by winning 198 points over two seasons. Whatever he chooses to do next, he will do it well.


Hasenhuttl, Ralph (Southampton) — B

High marks for: Taking over a bottom-three team right before Christmas and keeping them in the PL | Low marks for: N/A

Final thoughts: Saints had won just once in 15 games before Hasenhuttl was appointed, which means they won eight times in their final 23 games — a massive improvement, though it would have been very difficult to replicate Mark Hughes‘ record. A 3W-3D-3L run to finish the season was 1) enough to keep them in the PL, but more importantly 2) provided the only period of consistency all season.

(Adam Davy/PA via AP)

Hodgson, Roy (Crystal Palace) — C

High marks for: Overcoming a truly horrific start to the season (just three wins from Palace’s first 16 games) to finish 15 points clear of relegation| Low marks for: Overseeing the truly horrific start to the season

Final thoughts: Hodgson deserves tons of credit for keeping the team onside when things were looking terribly bleak (16th place, one point clear of relegation after 16 games), but he deserves just as much blame for being in that position in the first place. In the end, he’ll have a job for life if he can deliver 12th-place finishes to Palace year after year.


Howe, Eddie (Bournemouth) — C+

High marks for: Winning six of their first 10 games and propelling Bournemouth into the conversation for a top-half finish | Low marks for: Losing 17 of the next 28 games and sinking to a 14th-place finish

Final thoughts: If not for a strong start to the season (20 points from their first 10 games, where might the Cherries have wound up? In the end, though, expecting too terribly much more out of a club with the budget of Bournemouth would be wildly unrealistic.


Hughton, Chris (Brighton & Hove Albion) — C-

High marks for: Doing enough — just enough — to keep Brighton in the PL | Low marks for: Finishing 17th, two points clear of relegation, and getting fired

Final thoughts: Hughton’s four-and-a-half-year tenure at Brighton will forever be remembered fondly, as he was the one who took them to the PL, kept them their for a second season, and secured a third season as well. That said, he might have taken the club as far as he could, making this summer the right time for a change.


Klopp, Jurgen (Liverpool) — A+

High marks for: Improving Liverpool by 22 points from one season to the next (they were 24 points better in relation to Man City); setting up a young Liverpool side for what should be a decade of title challenges | Low marks for: Liverpool had a seven-point lead on Jan. 13, but Man City took the lead for good on March 3 and never looked back

Final thoughts: What more could Klopp and Co., have done? 97 points would have won the title in all but two seasons in PL history: last season and this season, because of 198-point Man City.


Parker, Scott (Fulham) — Incomplete

High marks for: Snapping Fulham’s nine-game losing streak (five of which he was in charge of) by winning three straight | Low marks for: Losing those five games by a combined score of 13-4

Final thoughts: Fulham were already all but gone (10 points back of 17th, with just 10 games left to play) when Parker was appointed. Fulham lost his first five games in charge, then won three, then lost their last two. Let’s wait and see what the first-time boss can do in the EFL Championship.

(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Pellegrini, Manuel (West Ham United) — C

High marks for: The run of just three defeats in 13 games from mid-September to mid-December | Low marks for: The four games — four losses — with preceded the aforementioned 13-game run and had some wondering whether Pellegrini would survive his first season month in charge

Final thoughts: On paper, Pellegrini had a very strong squad with which to work. In practice, it was heavily skewed toward the attacking half of the field, and nothing could be a worse fit for his preferred style. Part of that is on him as he needs to adapt, and part of that is on the executives who hired him and assembled his squad.


Pochettino, Mauricio (Tottenham Hotspur) — A-

High marks for: Overcoming all of the self-imposed obstacles to limp across the finish line in fourth; reaching the Champions League final | Low marks for: Not walking into chairman Daniel Levy’s office and demanding he sign a player

Final thoughts: Name a manager who did more with less this season. Pochettino finished last season with an already-thin, injury-plagued squad. In the summer, Spurs signed not a single player. In January, Spurs signed not a single player. In January, Spurs, a team with hardly a central midfielder on the roster, sold one of their most influential players and midfielders, Mousa Dembele, in the name of recouping a whole $14 million. Yet, Pochettino pieced together lineups and gameplans nearly every time out that gave Spurs a chance to pick up points, and they did so more often than not until the final few weeks.


Rodgers, Brendan (Leicester City) — Incomplete

High marks for: Winning four of his first five games in charge while conceding multiple goals just once (the Foxes had conceded 11 goals in the five games pre-Rodgers) | Low marks for: N/A

Final thoughts: Much like Newcastle, Rodgers might be the height of who Leicester could realistically attract. If he’s committed to sticking around for the long haul, rather than using Leicester as a stepping stone, it seems like a match made in heaven and a long tenure, with plenty more top-half finishes, could very well be on the cards.


Sarri, Maurizio (Chelsea) — B-

High marks for: Getting Chelsea back in the Champions League next season and finishing 3rd despite significant struggles in his first season in the PL | Low marks for: His downright refusal to adapt his tactics for such a long period when it was all beginning to unravel and the fans were turning against him

Final thoughts: Eden Hazard papered over a lot of cracks for Sarri this season. If he’s not around to do the same next season, it probably won’t be Sarri we’re grading this time next year.


Siewert, Jan (Huddersfield Town) — Incomplete

High marks for: N/A | Low marks for: Losing 12 of the 15 games of which he was in charge

Final thoughts: Like Fulham, Huddersfield were already long gone (10 points off 17th with 15 games left) by the time they made a change, so bringing in Siewert was purely about planning for next season. A few more non-loss results would have been nice, though.


Silva, Marco (Everton) — B-

High marks for: Starting (just two defeats from Everton’s first nine games) and finishing (five wins from their last eight games) the season strongly | Low marks for: Disappearing from December to February (nine losses in 14 games) and (maybe) almost getting fired

Final thoughts: He 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).

(Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)

Solskjaer, Ole Gunnar (Manchester United) — C

High marks for: The lengthy honeymoon period (12 games unbeaten, including 10 wins) after he was appointed; liberating Man United fans from Jose Mourinho | Low marks for: The dismal run-in (just two wins from their final eight games, including four defeats) after he was given the job on a permanent basis

Final thoughts: Did Man United really have to remove the interim tag when they did? Are they sure the guy who got fired by Cardiff, in the only top-level job of his career, is the right guy to take on a complete squad rebuild?


Warnock, Neil (Cardiff City) — D+

High marks for: Giving Cardiff a real shot at avoiding relegation, until the final two or three weeks of the season, despite the emotional hardship they faced when club-record signing Emiliano Sala died before he played a game | Low marks for: Being relegated; winning back-to-back games just once all season

Final thoughts: Warnock is expected to remain in his position next season, which makes all the sense in the world considering Cardiff will be seeking another promotion back to the PL.

Alex Morgan out for season with knee injury

Getty Images
Leave a comment

We knew Alex Morgan was hurt. You could see it, I could see it, we all could see it. Yet she insisted all throughout the 2019 Women’s World Cup, “I’m ok.”

Now we confirmation that she wasn’t ok.

Morgan announced she will miss the rest of the 2019 NWSL season for the Orlando Pride with a knee injury, confirming she’s been dealing with the problem since the World Cup. “I’m disappointed I won’t be able to compete with the Pride for the remainder of 2019 due to a knee injury I’ve been managing since the World Cup,” Morgan wrote on Instagram, “and that I can’t be there to help my teammates and my club have more success.”

The Pride are bottom of the NWSL table, with just four wins in 21 matches this season. Morgan has played in just six of those, four before the World Cup and two after, without scoring or assisting a single goal. Orlando won just one of the six games Morgan appeared in, the most recent one on August 21 against second-placed Chicago. Meanwhile, they were shut out in four of the six games she appeared in, with Morgan registering just one lone shot among the six appearances.

“I have already started physical therapy in LA and am eager to get back on the field doing what I love,” Morgan said without offering any other details on her injury.

The 30-year-old USWNT star scored five goals in their opening match of the 2019 Women’s World Cup against Thailand, assisting three more as the U.S. won 13-0. However, she was a consistent target for physical play in the ensuing match against Sweden and was seemingly injured in the 33rd minute, leading Jill Ellis to withdraw the striker at halftime. Morgan did not appear herself over the rest of the tournament, scoring just one more goal the rest of the way and at times looking unusually off the pace. Opposing teams copied Sweden’s strategy, targeting Morgan throughout the tournament with repeated kicks, fouls, and physical play.

“his year has had the highest of highs but along with that comes challenges and sometimes even falling short of my goals I set for myself in 2019,” Morgan wrote in her announcement.

UCL preview: Messi back for Barcelona v. Dortmund, Liverpool visits Napoli

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Champions League group stage is back. So is Lionel Messi.

Tuesday kicks off the 2019/20 Champions League in earnest, with a litany of powerhouse matchups dotting the landscape. Most notably, Barcelona’s five-time Ballon d’Or winner is in the squad for the trip to the Rhur valley to take on Borussia Dortmund, potentially set for his first appearance of the season after missing Barcelona’s first four matches of the season with a calf injury.

[ PST writers predict the CL group stage ]

Those two teams are both roaring back from disappointing league losses, and come into this match in good attacking form. Barcelona fell to Athletic Bilbao on the opening weekend of the La Liga season, but is unbeaten in their last three with 12 goals in those three games. Dortmund, meanwhile, fell to Union Berlin at the end of August but crushed third-tier Ergenie Cottbus in cup action before blowing out fellow Champions League participants Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 this past weekend. 19-year-old Jadon Sancho provided two assists in that most recent game and will get his first crack at the La Liga giants.

Defending champions Liverpool are on the road at Napoli, with the Italians having integrated Hirving “Chucky” Lozano into the squad. The Mexican international got his first start against Sampdoria over the weekend in a 2-0 win, playing 65 minutes. The Reds fell in this same fixture last season en route to the title, losing 1-0 at San Paolo Stadium in one of their worst performances of the season. This time around they are top of the Premier League through five matches – all wins – but will be without Divock Origi, Alisson, and Naby Keita through injury while Andy Robertson is a game-time decision.

[ Villa, West Ham meet in scoreless draw ]

Chelsea hosts Spanish side Valencia in an absolutely wide-open and loaded Group H that features four quality sides, meaning every game will be a significant challenge. The Blues’ defense has been quite poor so far this season, and will again be without Antonio Rudiger thanks to a groin problem picked up after just making his return over the weekend from knee surgery. Chelsea has never lost to Valencia in six European meetings, their joint-most games without losing against any European opponent.

On the other end of that brutal Group H, new-look Ajax hosts French side Lille. The visitors finished second in Ligue 1 last season and have three wins in their first five this campaign, proceeding without Nicolas Pepe after his sale to Arsenal this summer. Ajax has also lost highly valued young talent, with Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt having left for greener pastures, although they have thus maintained an unbeaten record this season, earning a berth in the group stage while proceeding through two qualifying stages.

Benfica hosts RB Leipzig in another brutal group, Group G that also features Zenit St. Petersburg and Lyon who match up in France. Leipzig leads the Bundesliga with an unbeaten first four matches, including a draw against defending champions Bayern Munich. Striker Timo Werner has a fabulous five goal haul through RB Leipzig’s first four league matches including a hat-trick against Borussia Monchengladbach. Benfica has also started its league campaign well with four wins in five, a solid sign after the loss of young star Joao Felix to Atletico Madrid.


Tuesday Champions League matches:

Inter v. Slavia Prague (12:55pm ET)
Lyon v. Zenit St. Petersburg

Ajax v. Lille (3:00pm ET)
Benfica v. RB Leipzig
Borussia Dortmund v. Barcelona
Chelsea v. Valencia
FC Salzburg v. Racing Genk
Napoli v. Liverpool

Pellegrini chastises Masuaku for red card against Villa

Leave a comment

Manuel Pellegrini said he was “very happy for the performance of the team” despite the 0-0 draw with Aston Villa that saw West Ham record just one single shot on target.

Still, he noted that he was less than pleased with the sending off of Arthur Masuaku, for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, the West Ham manager said the referee can be easily goaded into soft decisions against the away side by raucous fans. “It’s a typical sending off when you play away,” Pellegrini said in his post-match television interview. “With the pressure of the fans in every foul, of our players that had a yellow card – in this case Arthur Masuaku, Mark Noble, and another player in the first half, I don’t think this was a yellow card, but playing away it is very easy for the referee to send him off.”

Later, he noted that a discussion at halftime with Masuaku about his earlier booking was unsuccessful. “They [the home fans] try to do it with the pressure of the fans,” Pellegrini said in the post-match press conference. “They tried to do it with Mark Noble in the first-half, they try to get a second yellow. We [Masuaku] talked about it at half-time. We told him he must be careful.”

That didn’t pan out, as Masuaku was sent off for a second yellow card earned while fouling Ahmed Elmohamady who had just come onto the pitch moments earlier. The foul was deemed somewhat soft, but match commentator Martin Tyler pointed out – as Pellegrini seems to be indicating – that Masuaku’s mistake was giving the referee the opportunity to make the call for an otherwise needless foul.

Despite the one negative moment, Pellegrini was pleased with the team’s overall performance on the road.

“I prefer to talk about our team,” Pellegrini said when asked about the refereeing decisions. “I think we played a very good game. We had the personality to come here and try to win the game from the beginning, and the last action, the last play of the game we had a very clear chance to score. We played with 10 men exactly the same that we did with 11. We tried defending well, we tried to continue scoring a goal, so I am very happy for the performance of the team, for the personality of the team, and when you are playing away if you can’t win the game, don’t lose it.”

UEFA Champions League group stage predictions

Photo by VI Images via Getty Images
Leave a comment

To have our crew predict it, the UEFA Champions League group stage should prove to be fairly straight-forward.

[ MORE: UCL score predictions, Wk 1 ]

Our three consulted staffers at Pro Soccer Talk have predicted 18 teams for the 16 spots in the group stage, including a healthy three seeded spots for Premier League sides.

GROUP A

Joe Prince-Wright: PSG, Real Madrid, Galatasaray, Club Brugge
Nick Mendola: PSG, Real Madrid, Galatasaray, Club Brugge
Kyle Bonn: Real Madrid, PSG, Galatasaray, Club Brugge

Zinedine Zidane to bring the UCL magic touch back to Spain? One of our three think so, while JPW and Nick both figure Mbappe and Neymar will be too much for the group.

GROUP B

Joe Prince-Wright: Bayern Munich, Spurs, Olympiacos, Red Star
Nick Mendola: Bayern Munich, Spurs, Olympiacos, Red Star  
Kyle Bonn: Bayern Munich, Spurs, Red Star, Olympiacos

There’s a gulf in class between the top two and bottom two, but be careful with overlooking Olympiacos; The Greek club was very difficult to break down in qualifying.

GROUP C

Joe Prince-Wright: Man City, Atalanta, Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb
Nick Mendola: Man City, Atalanta, Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb
Kyle Bonn:  Man City, Atalanta, Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb

The only team in the world averaging more shots per game than Manchester City this early season is Atalanta. Colombian attackers Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel have combined for six of the side’s seven Serie A goals this season.

GROUP D

Joe Prince-Wright: Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Bayer Leverkusen, Lokomotiv Moscow
Nick Mendola: Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Lokomotiv Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen
Kyle Bonn: Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Lokomotiv Moscow

While it’s certainly more complex than Joao Felix against the previous Portuguese generation’s Joao Felix, Atletico Madrid will hope its young wizard has the goods to break down Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juve.

GROUP E

Joe Prince-Wright: Liverpool, Napoli, Red Bull Salzburg, Genk
Nick Mendola: Liverpool, Napoli, Red Bull Salzburg, Genk
Kyle Bonn: Liverpool, Napoli, Red Bull Salzburg, Genk

The order of this group isn’t as interesting as the performances, as American eyes will be watching how Salzburg manager Jesse Marsch manages to get on versus two of Europe’s best.

GROUP F

Joe Prince-Wright: Barcelona, Inter Milan, Borussia Dortmund, Slavia Prague
Nick Mendola: Barcelona, Inter Milan, Borussia Dortmund, Slavia Prague
Kyle Bonn: Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, Slavia Prague

Is Inter Milan’s renaissance for real? Nick and JPW thinks so, while Kyle Bonn thinks Lucien Favre’s BVB will keep humming past the Serie A giants.

GROUP G

Joe Prince-Wright: Lyon, RB Leipzig, Benfica, Zenit Saint-Petersburg
Nick Mendola: RB Leipzig, Lyon, Zenit Saint-Petersburg, Benfica
Kyle Bonn: Lyon, RB Leipzig, Benfica, Zenit Saint-Petersburg

Anything could happen here, and only Nick believes Timo Werner and RBL can outlast Memphis Depay, Moussa Dembele, and Lyon to win a seeded place in the knockout rounds.

GROUP H

Joe Prince-Wright: Chelsea, Ajax, Lille, Valencia
Nick Mendola: Chelsea, Valencia, Lille, Ajax
Kyle Bonn: Chelsea, Lille, Ajax, Valencia

Massive names with equal-sized questions. In other years, this would look like a group of death, but Lille earned its place via now-sold Nicolas Pepe and Ajax sold a good part of a golden academy generation to Barcelona, Juventus, and others. Chelsea, oddly enough, may be counting its blessings.