Premier League club grades: The story so far

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We are nearly a third of the way into the 2019-20 Premier League season and the table is finally starting to take shape.

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The surprise packages seem here to stay, there are a bunch of teams battling for European qualification, plenty of giants are struggling and it seems like both the title and relegation battles have already started.

Taking all of that into consideration, we feel like 12 games into the season is a very good time to dish out some grades on each PL club based on their performances so far.

Here it goes…


Arsenal: D
Unai Emery is under pressure, big time, as the defensive problems weren’t properly fixed. Add to the mix that Granit Xhaka was handed the captaincy via a player vote, then stripped of it after his outburst following fans celebrating his substitution and things are a bit of a mess. The only reason Arsenal didn’t get an F is because somehow they are still in the top six and well-placed in the Europa League. That said, they are eight points off the top four and Emery needs some big wins fast. His team don’t seem to know what is being asked of them tactically, and he’s almost 18 months into the job. Scary.


Aston Villa: C
This is just about what we expected from Villa on their return to the PL. Dean Smith‘s side are fun to watch and take risks in the final third, but they are naive defensively. They’ve pushed Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal all the way and they’ve picked up some big wins when things click in attack. Villa look set to hover just about the relegation zone this season and look to have enough quality in midfield and attack to stay out of trouble.


Bournemouth: B-
It’s a case of one step forward, one step back for the Cherries. The last few weeks summed that up well as they beat Man United then lost to Newcastle. Defensively they’ve improved massively but Eddie Howe‘s side are now suffering with a lack of clinical finishing in attack. Bournemouth will be well clear of relegation trouble, but a European push still seems a step too far for this young side.


Brighton: B+
Graham Potter‘s arrival has seen the Seagulls play some wonderful stuff, especially at home. Brighton have picked up some big wins and they have a gem in Leandro Trossard and youngster Aaron Connolly has emerged as a regular. Brighton still have a strong defensive core but they are much more adventurous going forward and Potter has got his ideas across to the players very quickly. A great start for a team many tipped as relegation favorites.


Burnley: B
Some very strong displays from the Clarets, as they’ve hammered the likes of Southampton, Norwich and West Ham, plus beat Everton and drew against Villa and Wolves. They are back to their best with a strong defensive unit and Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes are a handful up top. A top 10 finish seems very likely.


Chelsea: A+
It couldn’t have gone any better than this. Frank Lampard‘s first few months as a top-flight manager got off to a slow start but the Blues have won six PL games on the spin and are sitting pretty in the UEFA Champions League. Christian Pulisic has been on fire in the last month and the likes of Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori have taken their chances in the first team, not to mention Jorginho and Willian shinning in their new roles as leaders. Chelsea may not be genuine title contenders, but they look certain to finish in the top four. In a season where they were supposed to be hit hard by a transfer ban, that’s very good going. Super Frank, indeed.


Crystal Palace: C+
The Eagles have had their ups and downs and after a fast start they’ve been on a gruelling stretch of games. Wilfried Zaha doesn’t seem fully focused and has looked frustrated, while Roy Hodgson has had to rely on Jordan Ayew for goals. How long will that last? Defensively Gary Cahill appears to be one of the bargains of the season after his free transfer from Chelsea, with the Eagles tough to beat but lacking a little in attack. Palace will be battling for a top 10 finish. Nothing less, nothing more.


Everton: C-
The last few results have improved this grade significantly, as Marco Silva still has so many issues to sort out at Everton. It appears the owners will give him plenty of time and drawing against Spurs and beating Southampton bought him some more of that. But what is Everton’s identity? They now seem to be slipping into a counter-attacking style which suits their players best, and they have to nail down that identity. Everton have the players to push for the top six (the horrible injury to Andre Gomes will make that tougher) but they have underperformed and Silva has been under pressure. Maybe now the pressure has eased (slightly) they can rise up the table.


Leicester City: A+
Brendan Rodgers is working miracles at the King Power Stadium. This young Leicester side have been a revelation so far, with Jamie Vardy leading the PL in goals and finishing off most of the copious chances created by James Maddison, Youri Tielemans and Co. At the other end of the pitch Caglar Soyuncu has replaced Harry Maguire expertly and Wilfred Ndidi is ripping it up as N’Golo Kante’s replacement. The Foxes are perfectly balanced and sit second in the table for a reason. They deserve to be there, but the only worry is who will replace Vardy if he’s injured? If he stays fit, Leicester will finish in the top four. Simple.


Liverpool: A
Unbeaten with 11 wins from their opening 12 games. Not bad, Jurgen, not bad at all. Klopp’s Liverpool are hungry and although they haven’t been at their best for most of this season they are ruthless in attack and dogged in defense. Sadio Mane has taken his game to a new level and Fabinho is shielding the back four superbly. They are eight points clear but know how quickly those leads can evaporate. Still, pretty much the perfect start for Liverpool as the reigning European champs are the red-hot favorites to secure their first league title for over 30 years. If injuries are kind to them, there is no way they will let this lead slip this time.


Man City: B
Pep Guardiola‘s side have been hit hard by defensive injuries early in the season and the defending champs will rue not signing a new center back in the summer. With Aymeric Laporte going down, they’ve had to put Fernandinho at center back with Otamendi and Stones all over the place. Ederson‘s recent injury was also a blow as going forward they’ve been sublime but defensively there have been huge issues, as the defeats against Norwich and Liverpool proved. Nine points off the top early on, can Man City claw this back? It is going to take a superhuman effort, plus a Liverpool collapse, to do that. Guardiola’s side may soon go ‘all-in’ on chasing that Champions League trophy.


Man United: C+
What a weird start to the season for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s young side. They’ve beaten Chelsea and Leicester and drawn against Liverpool and Arsenal, but they’ve also lost to Newcastle, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and West Ham. A real mixed bag, which is what you can expect with such a young team out there week in, week out, and because of injuries. When Rashford, Martial and James are fit, they look so dangerous in attack and at least there is a plan in place and a style of play. Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have shored things up at the back and United now need a midfield playmaker to step forward to dictate games. Expect them to make a move in the January window for a Bruno Fernandes type, while a top four finish isn’t out of the question but is looking unlikely after a topsy-turvy start.


Newcastle United: B-
Things have gone surprisingly well for Steve Bruce‘s side so far. Anarchy was in the air among the Toon Army in the summer but wins against Spurs and Man United calmed things down, and they’ve just beat West Ham and Bournemouth back-to-back. Relegation could still be on the cards, but for now the Magpies are looking solid defensively and are tough to beat. Joelinton and Miguel Almiron are struggling to produce in attack and long-term that seems to be their biggest problem.


Norwich City: C
It all started so well as Teemu Pukki couldn’t stop scoring and they beat Man City to spark wild scenes at Carrow Road. That was in September and Norwich haven’t won since. There’s no doubt defensive injuries have hit Daniel Farke‘s side hard and the players they have are adventurous but seem to be taking too many chances in possession. Pukki has been an isolated figure in recent weeks but if they can get him the ball in dangerous areas, he will finish. There’s a long way to go but Norwich sit bottom and look destined for relegation. But maybe Pukki is ready to fire up another #PukkiParty…


Sheffield United: A
The newly-promoted Blades have been one of the stories of the season so far as they sit in fifth place. We’ve all heard about their overlapping center backs and Chris Wilder being adamant they won’t change their style of play, but one of the biggest plus points from their opening few months back in the PL has been their work rate. Every play on this Sheffield United team knows their job and works their socks off. They play as a unit and have given some of the big boys big wake-up calls (they’ve beat Arsenal, drawn against Chelsea and Tottenham and only lost late on against Liverpool). The way they commit players forward is refreshing and they have brought something totally different to the PL. They should easily stay up.


Southampton: F
What a disastrous start for Saints in Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s first full season in charge. They didn’t make the correct offseason additions and were hamstrung by previous poor signings they couldn’t offload. Danny Ings has been the only bright spot so far as he’s scored seven goals in all competitions, but Saints have the worst defense in the league. They were smashed 9-0 at home by Leicester City and they sit second from bottom in the table. It’s true that the fixtures machine wasn’t kind to them for the start of the season, but they now have a very winnable run of games coming up. If they are still in the bottom three in mid-December, they look certain for relegation.


Tottenham Hotspur: D-
A summer of discontent has rumbled on into the fall and now the winter as Mauricio Pochettino‘s mood swings sum up the current situation at Spurs. Eriksen, Vertonghen, Alderweireld and Rose all want to leave but contract situations haven’t been sorted out by Daniel Levy and this has become one heck of a mess. Spurs sit in 14th place in the table, 11 points off the top four, and they look a shell of the hungry, determined side which overachieved season after season since 2015. Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son are trying their best to score goals and lead the team but something isn’t right behind-the-scenes and Pochettino has a huge job on his hands to push for a top four finish.


Watford: D-
It has taken them 12 games to get a win but the recent signs have been good for the Hornets. After sacking Javi Gracia and bringing in former manager Quique Sanchez Flores they have shored things up defensively overall (let’s forget that 8-0 loss at Man City) and they’ve now drawn games against Spurs, Arsenal and Sheffield United. The win against Norwich gave them belief they can pick things up in the second half of the season and with Troy Deeney set to return they will now have more of a threat in the final third alongside Gerard Deulofeu. Goalkeeper Ben Foster has been superb so far and Watford will need to keep improving defensively if they’re going to get out of the bottom three. They certainly have the talent to do so.


West Ham United: D
Worrying times for Manuel Pellegrini as the Hammers enjoyed a good start but haven’t won since September. West Ham spent big again in the summer and they’re in danger of being sucked into the relegation battle. Declan Rice is struggling for form, so too is Sebastien Haller, and the loss of Lukas Fabianski to injury was a hammer blow (pardon the pun) as Roberto has struggled massively since replacing him in goal. West Ham shouldn’t be in a relegation scrap but it looks like a bleak winter is ahead.


Wolverhampton Wanderers: B-
Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side are ticking over very nicely after a slow start with their small squad seeming to get up to pace of the Thursday-Sunday grind with the Europa League. Raul Jimenez is on fire and although they’re making defensive mistakes, Wolves are able to bounce back better this season when they’ve fallen behind. They should be battling for another top seven finish as well as going on a deep run in the Europa League.

Christian Pulisic named USMNT Player of the Year

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Who else could it be? Christian Pulisic has been named the USMNT player of the year for 2019.

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The Chelsea star, 21, excelled for club and country over the past 12 months and after taking a few months to settle into life in England, he’s now taking the Premier League by storm on a weekly basis.

Pulisic has now won this award for a second time after first winning it in 2017 and he becomes the youngest player in U.S. men’s national team history to win the award twice.

His achievements over the last 12 months are numerous, as he dragged a struggling USMNT to the 2019 Gold Cup final and also became the youngest player to reach double figures in goals for the USMNT.

MLS veteran Sacha Kljestan signs with hometown LA Galaxy

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Carson, Calif. (AP) Veteran midfielder Sacha Kljestan has signed with the LA Galaxy as a free agent.

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The 34-year-old U.S. national team contributor officially returned to his native Southern California on Wednesday.

Kljestan has scored 49 goals over 10 MLS seasons in a career that began as the fifth overall pick by defunct Chivas USA, the Galaxy’s former stadium partners. After a successful five-year stint with Belgium’s Anderlecht, he spent the past five seasons with New York Red Bulls and Orlando City.

The Huntington Beach native also has made 51 appearances for the U.S. team, playing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Kljestan will provide veteran leadership for a Galaxy roster in transition after the departures of its top two goal-scorers: Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Uriel Antuna.

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

Liverpool in talks to activate Minamino’s release clause

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On the face of it, this move makes perfect sense for everyone concerned. Especially Liverpool, who get a bargain.

Multiple reports state that the Premier League leaders are in advanced talks to sign Japanese winger Takumi Minamino from RB Salzburg.

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Minamino, 24, has a release clause of just $9.5 million and it has been reported that he will move to Liverpool in January with talks going well over a five-year contract.

RB Salzburg sporting director Christoph Freund confirmed talks are ongoing about the transfer, with Bayern Munich and Marseille also said to be interested in signing the tricky winger.

“I can confirm that there are talks with Liverpool at the moment. It is an honor [for us] to see the caliber of clubs who are interested in our players.”

Minamino’s goals, pace and trickery pushed Salzburg to within one game of reaching the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds and he impressed against Liverpool in both games in the UCL group stage as he scored at Anfield and gave their defense plenty of problems in the return game. His skillset would perfectly suit the way Liverpool play with his direct running, pace and nose for goal seemingly perfect for Jurgen Klopp‘s side.

With Klopp and his RB Salzburg counterpart Jesse Marsch hugging on the sidelines after Liverpool’s win in Austria on Tuesday, plus Klopp’s kind words on the job the American coach is doing at Salzburg, it’s safe to say there’s a strong connection between the two teams and their styles of play are very similar.

That’s an even better reason for Minamino to head to Liverpool as the Japanese star would slot in seamlessly and he would become the third former RB Salzburg player at the Reds alongside Naby Keita and Sadio Mane.

From the style of play of both player and the club, to the small transfer fee, this works out very well for everyone involved. Even Salzburg will be happy to become known as a feeder club to Liverpool and Europe’s other big boys as that will help them with their future recruitment.

Raul Jimenez’s future at Wolves uncertain

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Raul Jimenez has been talking about playing for one of Spain’s big boys.

That sound you can hear is Wolves fans everywhere sobbing.

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The Mexican striker was quoted by Spanish outlet Marca saying that he would one day like to return to Spain and play for one of the La Liga giants.

“I would never rule out returning to Spain. I have good memories, and I would like to go back at some point,” Jimenez said. “I want to try out LaLiga once more, as I didn’t get to play much the previous time. Returning is not off the agenda. I have played at the Nou Camp and the Bernabeu.”

Jimenez, 28, previously played for Atletico Madrid before moving to Benfica who loaned him to Wolves in the summer of 2018, and he has since made the switch to the West Midlands permanent for $40 million.

However, his manager Nuno Espirito Santo has moved to calm down fears the El Tri star will move at the end of this season.

“What he is doing is amazing – every day of his life is dedicated to Wolves so we are delighted with it,” Santo said. “Being ambitious and dreaming is something all of us have. But our present is very good with Raul here.”

The powerful Mexican striker has been superb over the past two seasons and has proved to be a phenomenal target man in the Premier League. He’s scored 32 goals in 71 appearances in all competitions for Wolves, leading them to an FA Cup semifinal appearance and seventh-place PL finish last season and his goals this campaign (15 in 27 appearances in total) have catapulted them into the top six and the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League. Aside from his goals Jimenez’s hold-up play has been vital to Wolves’ success.

It is worth pointing out that Jimenez revealed he is very happy at Wolves but the fact he is so ambitious and fancies moving on to either Real Madrid and Barcelona is a good thing for the club. This means Jimenez is striving to improve and do all he can to take his game to the next level.

Yes, Wolves will be desperate to keep hold of the Mexican star who is a fans favorite at Molineux. But if he continues to score goals and one of Spain’s big boys, or a title-chasing team in the PL, were to come calling, can they stand in his way?