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.

Norwich City shock struggling Leicester at Carrow Road

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Leicester City clearly missed the injured Jamie Vardy, pummeling the Canaries time and again with shots but none had the killer instinct of the absent striker. That was critical as the Foxes had no response once Jamal Lewis put Norwich City in front as the Canaries worked a crucial 1-0 victory at Carrow Road.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The game was goalless until the 71st minute when Lewis received a cross from Max Aarons that skittered through the area to the opposite side where the left-back ripped an absolute rocket that tucked inside the right post.

Vardy and his 17 goals were missing through a calf problem that may have cost the Foxes points on the road. With Leicester City looking to push Manchester City for second in the Premier League table, this loss saw them slog seven points back of the Citizens. Norwich City, meanwhile, will relish the victory as they draw just three back of the other two relegation-threatened sides.

The closest Leicester City came to a goal was a cancelled strike from Kelechi Iheanacho – Vardy’s replacement – who has a goal cancelled by VAR on a dicey handball call. It was a spotty performance at best for the Foxes who created few solid chances and


Three things we learned

1. How is Norwich City bottom of the table?

Seriously, how? Watching the first half, this Canaries squad is capable of dangerous forward play and solid defending that can only be undone by quality attacking moves. It’s true that as the first half waned on, they conceded heavy possession to the Foxes, but the hosts still threatened Leicester City multiple times and looked up for the match at Carrow Road. They are clearly missing a consistency indicative of an established Premier League side, but they look far from the worst team in the top flight. In fact, even when the game was goalless, Kasper Schmeichel was the busier of the two goalkeepers, with Tim Krul not truly threatened.

The goal was Norwich City’s first goal from open play in nearly 11 hours, an unbelievable total if you only watched this 90 minutes. If the Canaries are going to climb the mountain and stay up, they will need to channel this performance through the rest of the season.

2. Kelechi Iheanachi is no Jamie Vardy

Leicester City ripped off 12 shots in the first half, but only managed three on target. Once halftime had come and gone, Leicester City had just four more shots in the tank, with 16 total but just four on target and none with a mark of over 0.21 xG.

Vardy’s exquisite finishing ability was sorely missed as the Foxes created plenty of chances but couldn’t finish many dangerously. The 23-year-old Nigerian was hardly involved in the game, seeing a goal ruled out but also contributing little else. With Vardy at 33 years of age, the Foxes clearly need a Plan B should he end up missing any more time in the near future or down the road, because they had nothing to aim at with the talisman sidelined.

3. Leicester City is in a rut

Iheanacho was not the only on who struggled against the Premier League’s bottom side. James Maddison had very few touches in the attacking third, creating four chances but two of them came off corners and two were miles from the net. Dennis Praet and Ricardo Pereira were probably the Foxes’ most creative player but even they popped up few and far between, producing just 1.44 xG on a whopping 19 shots. Jonny Evans was constantly screaming at his fellow defenders for their loss of shape. The Foxes challenged for Man City’s second position lasted a few weeks, but they have fallen off the table and now just hope to solidify third before they fall any further in what could be a precarious home stretch.

Man of the Match: Ben Godfrey


The two teams were both bright in an entertaining start with Norwich threatening down the right on the overlap and Leicester City pressing hard. Teemu Pukki had an opportunity from the right edge on 22 minutes but Caglar Soyuncu made an acrobatic last-gasp block. That started a lengthy spell of pressure from the Canaries, but the hosts couldn’t cash in.

Leicester City’s best chance of the first half-hour came on 25 minutes as Dennis Praet found himself in a dangerous area, but he could only clip Ricardo Pereira’s delivery off the outside of the right post. Ayoze Perez also put a shot into a precarious position moments later which cannoned dangerously off the leg of Norwich City defender Grant Hanley, but went wide instead of into the gaping net.

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The Foxes began to assert their dominance past the half-hour mark and Perez found Kelechi Iheanacho right in front of net, but he disappointingly fired over.

Minutes into the second half Iheanacho found the ball in the back of the net but saw it ruled out by VAR thanks to a handball on the buildup. That was Leicester City’s biggest moment as they were toothless up front otherwise. Norwich City capitalized with 19 minutes to go as Lewis pounced on a Max Aarons delivery clean across the box and delivered a cannon blast into the back of the net. Norwich nearly had a second a few minutes from full time but Kasper Schmeichel came up to save a quality effort from substitute Josip Drmic.

Eintracht Frankfurt dumps RB Salzburg from Europa League

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Andre Silva struck twice as Eintracht Frankfurt played to a 2-2 draw at Red Bull Salzburg to become the final team with a berth in the Europa League quarterfinals on a 6-3 aggregate scoreline.

The match had been originally scheduled for yesterday alongside the rest of the Europa League Round of 16 slate but storms in the area forced its postponement.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks ]

Goals for Salzburg’s Andreas Ulmer and Jerome Onguene were not enough to offset the 4-1 first-leg loss plus another two conceded at home. Silva’s second goal was the pick of the lot, finding the top corner from outside the top of the box with a brilliant looping effort.

Frankfurt’s advancement will be a boost for them domestically where they have lost two straight in Bundesliga play but recently dumped RB Leipzig from DFB-Pokal play. USMNT veteran Timmy Chandler came off the bench for the final two minutes.

On the flip side, the match came at a bad time for RB Salzburg, who has only won one of its last five league games in Austria, seeing LASK take over the top spot in the table. That poor form worked its way to European play as well, unable to give themselves a chance at the already improbable comeback. They can take positives from the goals scored up front as Ulmer’s was an absolute rocket from just inside the top of the box and Onguene bagged a header off a corner.

Watch Live: Norwich v. Leicester

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Norwich City host Leicester City on Friday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Canaries and Foxes in very different positions heading into this clash at Carrow Road.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Daniel Farke’s Norwich are scrapping for their lives and although they’ve played some wonderful attacking soccer this season with Teemu Pukki, Emiliano Buendia and Todd Cantwell all starring, they sit bottom of the Premier League table with 11 games to go. The Canaries badly need a win against Leicester if they’re going to avoid relegation back to the Championship at the first attempt. They currently sit seven points from safety.

As for Leicester, their poor form in 2020 has continued but they remain in third place in the Premier League and Brendan Rodgers‘ side are nine points ahead of fifth place. Jamie Vardy‘s goals have dried up as he hasn’t scored in his last nine appearances and only once in his last 12, which has meant a big downturn in results.

Norwich v Leicester should be a real treat on a windy Friday evening in Norfolk as both teams have plenty to play for and both managers urge their teams to play fluid, attacking soccer.

In team news Norwich bring in Buendia for Rupp as the Argentine playmaker is key in their battle against relegation.

Leicester are without Jamie Vardy who isn’t in the squad due to injury as Kelechi Iheanacho replaces him.


LINEUPS

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Here are the latest Prince-Wright‘s Premier League picks ahead of Matchweek 28 in the Premier League, with eight games on the slate due to the League Cup final between Aston Villa and Man City on Sunday.

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If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun with these Premier League games.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

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With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Crystal Palace 3-1 Brighton – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Watford 0-2 Liverpool – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

West Ham 1-1 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Norwich 1-2 Leicester – (Friday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Everton 2-1 Man United – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Newcastle 2-1 Burnley – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Bournemouth 1-0 Chelsea – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Tottenham 1-3 Wolves – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM