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.

VIDEO: The 2019-20 Premier League season in review

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From Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool claiming their first Premier League title, to Manchester United’s resurrection and return to the UEFA Champions League, to Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal firing Mauricio Pochettino and Unai Emery and hiring Jose Mourinho and Mikel Arteta, to the suspension of the entire operation for three months, the 2019-20 Premier League season was, in a word, unforgettable.

[ MORE: Should Messi leave Barcelona? Will he? | How does Barca rebuild? ]

The NBC Sports video production team put together the above video review of the 2019-20 Premier League season, so grab some popcorn, carve 39 minutes out of your day and relive the historic, unprecedented 2019-20 Premier League season before it all starts again in less than a month.

[ MORE: Three things learned as Bayern Munich hammer Barcelona 8-2 ]

The best part of one season ending is the next one is only ever right around the corner. The 2020-21 Premier League season is set to kick off on Saturday, Sept. 21.

Will Liverpool repeat? Will Man City reign again? Will Man United challenge for the title? Can any of the London clubs catch up to them? Only time will tell.

Barcelona must rebuild, but where (and when) do they begin?

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Barcelona – Bayern Munich fallout: The world at large is clamoring downright demanding a full-on blowup and rebuild of the Barcelona squad following Friday’s 8-2 embarrassment at the hands of Bayern.

[ PART 1: Should Lionel Messi leave Barcelona? Will he? ]

It’s a fair request, not only for the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal defeat, but also for the last handful of years in which Barca became a shell of its former self and relinquished its claim to the title of best club in the world.

The Barcelona rubble is strewn everywhere, from the Estadio de Luz in Lisbon, the site of Friday’s demolition job, to the shores of Catalonia. The process of picking it all up and piecing it back together — or, perhaps, clearing out and building anew — will be a long and arduous one, but one that must be undertaken.

[ MORE: Three things learned as Bayern Munich hammer Barcelona 8-2 ]

In part 1 of our in-depth look at Barcelona’s path forward, we tackled the tricky question of whether or not Lionel Messi should — and will — leave the club for the betterment of his final few years in the game. Read part 1 first, because the entire discussion begins — and maybe even ends — with Messi.

Which players do they keep?

We’ll start with “who to keep” because the list will be much shorter than what comes next.

In no particular order: Lionel Messi (if he wants to stay), Ansu Fati, Frenkie de Jong, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Clement Lenglet, Sergi Roberto, Miralem Pjanic (because he’s not even arrived at the club yet)

Everyone else currently at the club — whether due to their age, subpar performances or cumbersome contracts — is potentially on the chopping block.

De Jong has been something of a disappointment in his first season at the club, but there is more than enough reasonable doubt to believe the rest of the squad’s failures have given him no platform upon which to build his own Barca career. It stands to reason that, should they put a functional team around him, De Jong could still live up to the expectations with which he arrived from Ajax.

Fati has the look of a future best-player-in-the-world, though he’s only 17 so there’s still a long way to go before realizing that destiny. It would be a terrible crime against football for Barca to waste his talent and potential by failing to put a proper team around him.

Ter Stegen (28), Lenglet (25) and Roberto (28) are all young enough to bridge the gap between the current team and whatever the Blaugrana look like 24 or 36 months down the road. You can’t just get rid of everyone, after all. Even that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of those players, is it?

Difficult decisions need to be made

For age concerns: Luis Suarez, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets

For financial reasons: Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele

The question Barca must answer with regard to the likes of Griezmann and Dembele is this: how much of a loss are they willing to take? That means not only on the exorbitant transfer fees they paid to sign them, but also the money still left on their contracts that they’re willing to eat just to get rid of them and move on. Between the two of them, Barca owe $1.3 million per week for the next two years, at which point Dembele’s deal expires and they will only be on the hook for Griezmann’s $1.05 million-per-week wages for another two years. Are you beginning to understand why this rebuild will be anything but easy or fast?

As for the aging veterans of the squad, they’ve all been fantastic and productive servants for varying periods of time, but they are 33, 33, 31 and 32, respectively, but their collective wages add up to more than $1 million per week. That’s a massive burden for a club that was already facing financial troubles prior to the effects of COVID-19. By the time Barcelona can reasonably be expected to compete for Champions League trophies again, none of these players will be under the age of 35.

Of the six individuals listed above, at least three — if not four — of them need to leave as soon as possible. Take your pick of which four it is.

Who needs to go?

Everyone else. Otherwise, a Barcelona – Bayern Munich repeat is inevitable.

That includes Arthur, who’s already leaving for Juventus this summer but they should get rid of him again just for good measure. Nelson Semedo can also go, if for no other reason than he will never be the same after Alphonso Davies danced around him on Friday.

Arturo Vidal and Ivan Rakitic are 33 and 32 years old, respectively, and have no business being part of the next team Barca trot out in September. Samuel Umtiti could probably stay for another year or two and hold down a starting center back spot at a La Liga-average level, but what’s the point of simply delaying the inevitable?

There’s no two ways about it: Barcelona’s recruitment over the last five or six years has been criminally bad.

Given the club’s global popularity and the allure they still have to many players around the world — rightly or wrongly at this point — a Barcelona rebuild certainly sounds like a fun video-game challenge, but rest assured it will be anything but fun for those tasked with the challenge in real life.

Manchester City – Lyon: How to watch, start time, prediction, odds

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Manchester City – Lyon: The stakes are a bit higher when Lyon begins its latest quest to fluster Manchester City.

Lyon meets Man City in the Champions League quarterfinals less than 22 months after taking four of six points off City in the 2018-19 UCL group stage.

[ MORE: Matuidi moves to MLS ]

City star Kevin De Bruyne missed both of those matches, and was the difference in the Real Madrid tie after a quiet group stage. He’ll have to make things happen without Sergio Aguero.

Lyon’s Houssem Aouar will be the focus of Guardiola’s attention and perhaps affection, the playmaker potentially leaving the Ligue 1 side after the tournament.

Lisbon is the scene for both clubs’ bids at a second UCL semifinal berth this century.


How to watch, stream Champions League: Barcelona – Bayern Munich

Dates: Saturday August 14, 3pm ET kick off
Location: Lisbon, Portugal
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


What they’re saying

Bernardo Silva on Man City’s readiness: “Everyone is fit and super motivated. We couldn’t be better to be honest. Beating Madrid gives you a boost in terms of confidence. You don’t need motivation for these games; It’s the quarter-final of Champions League. We are fighting for a huge thing. Everyone is focused to do their best and help the team.”

Lyon’s Bruno Guimaraes on the City test: “We have a very high level opponent ahead of us, but we, too are a good team. After all, if we want to progress in this Final 8, we have to beat opponents like Manchester City, even though they are a very strong club and play great football. We can bring ourselves to their level, we have already done so in the past.”


Odds and ends (Full quarterfinal round odds)

Lyon beat City 2-1 at the Etihad on Sept. 19, 2018 before drawing 2-2 at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais two months later. Ivorian international Maxwell Cornet scored three of Lyon’s four goals.

DraftKings has Man City has the favorites to win the whole tournament, so it’s no surprise to see the Premier League giants with minus-305 odds. Lyon are +750 underdogs.


Prediction

Lyon can play at a frantic pace and will hope to keep City’s possession game off-kilter. But if Pep Guardiola’s men falter it seems unlikely to be over these 90 minutes. De Bruyne stars in a 2-0 win.

Key battles for UEFA Champions League quarterfinals

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The UEFA Champions League quarterfinals take center stage this week and we’re going to select one key battle which should determine the outcome of all four games.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

With Manchester City the favorites against Lyon, a massive clash between Barcelona and Bayern Munich, plus an intriguing tie between RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid, the final few games in the 2019-20 Champions League campaign will be so tight to call.

[ MORE: Man City beat Real Madrid ]

In the next few days the Champions League quarterfinals will excite as the mini tournament in Portugal begins.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate to reach the last eight and Pep Guardiola’s boys will be confident but wary after Lyon dumped out Juventus in the Round of 16.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, and there will be one heck of a show over the next few days.

Below is a look at the key battles, as well as how to watch and follow all of the Champions League quarterfinal fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League quarterfinals

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


Team news

Guardiola has gone quite conservative and safe — at least for his typically attacking nature — in the center of midfield; one could also describe the trio of Fernandinho, Rodrigo and Ilkay Gundogan as industrious. Kevin De Bruyne has been pushed out to the wing, opposite Raheem Sterling, with Gabriel Jesus up top. Sergio Aguero (knee) remains out of the team altogether.


Key battles

Manchester City – Lyon: Aymeric Laporte v. Memphis Depay

Everyone is tipping Man City to beat Lyon easily, but that’s what everyone said about Lyon against Juventus. Memphis Depay is a real threat up top and Lyon usually do very well against Man City. Pep Guardiola needs Aymeric Laporte to be at his very best and it is likely he and Fernandinho will again line up together at center back. Laporte will line up on the left and Memphis will start on the right side of Lyon’s central strikers, so this will be a battle to look out for. Laporte has class but his pace is sometimes questioned and if City leave him exposed on the break, Memphis can take advantage of those situations.

Atalanta – PSG: Marten de Roon v. Ander Herrera

Yes, that Marten de Roon from Middlesbrough. The Dutch midfielder has been a sensation at Atalanta and does most of the dirty work for Gomez, Zapata et al. to score boat loads of goals. His battle in the engine room against Ander Herrera will be crucial. Marco Verratti is out injured and that is a big blow, especially with Kylian Mbappe and Angel di Maria out too for PSG. Neymar and Icardi will be looking for the midfield to give them the ball as much as possible and if that happens, PSG could run riot. That said, if De Roon can win that battle with Herrera, Atalanta’s attackers can cause PSG’s defense big problems. Whoever wins the midfield battle will win this game. It should be tight and full of goals. Enjoy.

RB Leipzig – Atletico Madrid: Dayot Upamecano v.Diego Costa

This should be an epic head-to-head. Costa loves the one-on-one scraps and Upamecano is among the finest center backs in Europe right now. The young Frenchman doesn’t get bullied often but Costa will have a good go. Costa has hardly been prolific in his second spell at Atletico but he so often sets the tone for their scrappy displays under Diego Simeone. Leipzig like to play a back three at times and that could leave space for Costa to run at Upamecano. This will be intriguing. Watch out for Costa to put down his marker early on with elbows and everything else flying at Upamecano.

Barcelona – Bayern Munich: Lionel Messi v. David Alaba

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Okay, so, we know how Jerome Boateng v. Lionel Messi went before. Somewhere, somebody is still using that gif of Boateng tangling his own legs like spaghetti as Messi bamboozled him to score at the Nou Camp. So it’s probably best if versatile Austrian star David Alaba goes up against Messi. It’s likely that Alaba will play at the back but he should basically mark Messi, and when (or if, because this is Messi) he gets the ball back he has the quality to start attacks. Bayern and Barcelona both score plenty of goals but defensively they have to improve if they’re going to win the Champions League this season.