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Grading all 20 Premier League managers

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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.

Benfica loanee Parks readies for playoffs with NYCFC

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Keaton Parks plays the kind of hard-to-quantify midfield role that sends both stat nerds and eye test takers to a very good place.

Barely 22, the New York City FC midfielder doesn’t stand out in any one particular area. Since arriving on loan from Benfica, the American shuttler (of sorts) ranks near the top of the club rankings in pass percentage and aerials won while chipping in tackles and successful dribbles.

[ MORE: PST talks public pitches, youth development with NYCFC director Reyna ]

He’s averaging near one key pass per game but has just a goal and an assist, due more to his responsibility in Dome Torrent’s system than a particular skill set (He has eight goals and seven assists across two-plus seasons between Varzim and Benfica B).

“In the midfield it really helps to play both sides of the ball,” Parks told ProSoccerTalk. “I take pride in doing that, and I love to make a tackle as much as getting in the attack and assisting or scoring goals. It doesn’t bother me that I’m not scoring or making all of the assists. I like to be the solid player who keeps the balance on the team.”

(Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images)

Parks has been an enigma to American soccer fans for some time in that he’s been in a celebrated club in Benfica but playing in a developmental role that’s near impossible to track without single-minded dedication to Portuguese football (Dramatic? Sure, but you try to catch every Liga Pro game).

But in moving to New York City FC to play under Dome Torrent, he’s had an easier transition than most due to his upbringing with Benfica, which annually ranks amongst the top possession teams in Portugal. Torrent, of course, left his last managerial gig at Girona in Spain to spent a decade-plus on Pep Guardiola‘s staff at Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City.

“Dome likes to play a possession style, a confident style,” Parks said. “I still have to fight for my spot on the team but the playing style I was used to right away.

“You can see the experience Dome has, and he mirrors a little bit of what Pep does, so it’s been amazing to be able to learn from him and see the experiences of the players he’s been able to coach in his career.”

NYCFC begins its playoff run on Wednesday against Toronto FC at Citi Field in Queens, and Parks says he’s feeling better after missing three matches with injury.

And while he’s focused on the playoffs — “We want to win the Cup and be at the top” — there is a question of what’s next for him, still on the books at a perennial UEFA Champions League club but very important with a CONCACAF Champions League club.

[ MORE: MLS Playoffs preview/predictions ]

“I’m just going to be looking forward to whatever club I’m at next, whether here or back at Benfica or wherever I am and also with the U-23s going into Tokyo next summer.”

He’ll, in theory, be an imperative part to Jason Kreis, ironically a former NYCFC man himself, and the Yanks bid for a first Olympic run in three cycles. The team should be powerful, and Parks is happy.

“I’m definitely excited,” he said. “We have so much talent on the team with guys playing first division all over the world. I believe we can make a run all the way to these Olympics.”
NYCFC and Toronto FC kick off 7 p.m. ET Wednesday at Citi Field.

MLS conference semifinal preview and predictions

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We’re not sure we should be allowed to make Major League Soccer playoff predictions after getting two upset bids wrong in the first round, but we go again anyway.

No, DC United did not outlast Toronto FC at BMO Field nor were the Portland Timbers able to get a win over Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto but… we got the other four right?

[ MORE: Dest choosing side this week ]

It gets trickier at midweek for the conference semifinals, as two of those six victors from the weekend face well-rested one seeds (We suppose they could be rusty, not just well-rested).

NYCFC v. Toronto FC — 7 p.m. ET Wednesday

Regular season:
TFC 4-0 NYCFC (April 29)
NYCFC 1-1 TFC (Sept. 11)

Toronto hasn’t lost since Aug. 3 (5W-6D) and is well-equipped to deal NYCFC’s possession system on a postage stamp pitch. NYC’s only loss in its last 11 was a throwaway loss to a desperate Revolution side in New England. TFC has a lot of experience in spots like this, but Dome Torrent’s done an incredible job with City. It’s a coin toss, but ultimately it feels like that coin lands TFC side up. 2-1 aet.

Seattle v. Real Salt Lake  — 10 p.m. ET Wednesday

Regular season:
Seattle 1-0 RSL (April 6)
RSL 3-0 Seattle (Aug. 14)

This one’s also close, as RSL has a number of players who won’t be bothered by the pressure but man is this home field advantage a real one. The Sounders only lost two home matches this season, and haven’t lost a home playoff match under Brian Schmetzer. Call it 2-0 for Seattle.

Atlanta United v. Philadelphia Union — 8 p.m. ET Thursday

Regular season:
ATL 1-1 Philly (March 17)
Philly 3-1 ATL (Aug. 31)

The Union are resilient, and Jim Curtin seeing success is an absolute joy. So deserved, but Frank De Boer is showing his mettle in making the tough decisions and Ezequiel Barco looks a terror. A side that is able to bring Tito Villalba and Pity Martinez off the bench is unfair. Atlanta, 3-1.

LAFC v. LA Galaxy — 10:30 p.m. ET Thursday

Regular season:
Galaxy 3-2 LAFC (July 19)
LAFC 3-3 Galaxy (Aug. 25)

Can hardly wait for this one. Bob Bradley and Carlos Vela look to send Zlatan Ibrahimovic packing after a riotous summer competition. LAFC is so, so good, and the lack of rest for the Galaxy is a problem. Still, betting against Zlatan seems borderline insane, and Jonathan dos Santos has big game mettle of his own. We’ll call it 2-2 and a place in penalty kicks, where David Bingham’s the difference for the Galaxy in a history-writing upset that takes El Trafico to the next level. Yes, we are predicting for storylines now.

Champions League preview: Chelsea, Liverpool hit the road

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Frank Lampard has a selection headache amongst his wingers as he tries to figure out Chelsea’s best avenue to break down Ajax on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League.

Youngsters Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic starred in the Blues’ weekend win, and Lampard also has Pedro and Willian available at Johan Cruyff Arena before a weekend visit to Burnley.

[ MORE: Dest choosing side this week ]

From ChelseaFC.com:

“Callum gave me that in his display from the start and Christian gave me that in his display coming on, and in terms of the wingers I have, Willian gave me that, Pedro gives me that so I have good selection problems when people come on and make a difference. That is what we are all about.

“The extra level that is the Champions League, the detail, the focus, concentration for 90 minutes, making the most of tiny moments, will be a test for all the young players, not just Callum.”

The good news for Pulisic in his bid to match wits with fellow USMNT (for now) player Sergino Dest is that he’s had experience on the UCL stage with Borussia Dortmund.

The other PL side in action is Liverpool, and the Reds will be expecting to get all three points in Belgium against Genk.

But Genk drew Napoli 0-0 at home on the second match day and the Reds will be wary of a slip-up.

“It’s a really good football-playing team,” said Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp. “They are organized and brave in their positioning. They don’t play with the pressing line too much but go for second balls, have speed and good midfielders and very active full-backs.”

Klopp will not have Trent Alexander-Arnold (illness) and Joel Matip (knee).

Other highlights…

— American manager Jesse Marsch hopes to lead Red Bull Salzburg to a home win over Napoli when he matches wits with Carlo Ancelotti.

Antonio Conte‘s Inter Milan could really use a result against tricky Borussia Dortmund in Italy.

UEFA Champions League Wednesday schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Ajax v. Chelsea
RB Leipzig v. Zenit Saint-Petersburg

3 p.m. ET
Slavia Prague v. Barcelona
Red Bull Salzburg v. Napoli
Genk v. Liverpool
Inter Milan v. Borussia Dortmund
Lille v. Valencia
Benfica v. Lyon

Man City’s Guardiola issues Rodri update; Zinchenko also injured

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Man City boss Pep Guardiola expects to be without Rodri for at least a couple of matches after his heavily relied-on midfielder hurt his hamstring on Tuesday.

Rodri was removed from the match after 40 minutes, having partnered with Fernandinho at center back for the second-straight match.

[ MORE: Man City 5-1 Atalanta ]

A center mid and a fine one by trade, Rodri’s absence coupled with the still-hurt Aymeric Laporte leaves City significantly weaker in its heart.

“I think tomorrow we will know and hopefully it will be between 10 days if it is not broken,” Guardiola said. “If it is broken, it will be three weeks or one month.”

The club also announced before the match that Oleksandr Zinchenko had suffered a knee injury and will undergo tests.

City visits Aston Villa this weekend and then hosts Southampton in the League Cup and the Premier League before a visit to Atalanta in the Champions League.

That’s when Liverpool at Anfield arrives on the schedule, and the absence of Rodri would take some of the luster off of it for sure.