Premier League 2019 Roundtable

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It was a positive year for two clubs and two managers, and a mixed bag for the others.

In fact, until Man City’s early season run of injuries this season, you could say that Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp waltzed on gilded stages.

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There were feet just about everywhere when it came to pretty much everywhere else.

We deal in both camps when it comes to cueing up the latest ProSoccerTalk round table.

1. So it turns out Liverpool had a really good year, a success that’s very difficult to challenge. What’s impressed you the most about their year?

Joe Prince-WrightThat they have now become a winning machine and totally ruthless. They were probably better and more exciting to watch in 2017 and 2018 but Jurgen Klopp has developed a gritty determination about this team and psychologically they’ve already beaten most of their opponents before they step on the pitch. Winning the Champions League was the final step in the evolution of this team and that is what will allow them to waltz to the Premier League title this season.

Nick Mendola: The foot being on the pedal from moment No. 1. It would’ve been understandable if winning the Champions League was a fine enough salve to their incredible 2018/19 league season coming up short. Instead, they’ve used a mixture of fire and guile — and plenty of the latter — to run away with the Premier League despite rarely being at their very best.

Kyle Bonn: Their absolute iron-clad ability to gut out results when they don’t have their best. I challenge you to find more than 3 games all year where Salah, Mane, and the chosen midfield all played their best in the same game. And yet, they find ways to win. Manchester City’s run was Impressive because the team was powerful and bulldozing. Liverpool has been rock solid and impenetrable.

2. What was the biggest surprise of 2019 in the Premier League?

Joe Prince-Wright: Probably how bad Arsenal have been. On paper their team should not be struggling this much, especially with their attacking talent, and the Gunners are in serious danger of finishing in the bottom half of the table. Arsene Wenger’s reign is getting better and better by the day.

Nick Mendola: What Joe said about Arsenal is on point, so I’ll take a second angle and stay in North London. Spurs’ start to the season was a remarkable disappointment, and shows a stunning combination of errors between people in high places. That ego is reserved for Real Madrid, but Daniel Levy and Mauricio Pochettino were sure to do their best to bring it to England.

Kyle Bonn:  The parity in the league. Watching the newly promoted sides find ways to beat teams like Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester United on a relatively consistent basis is a fascinating display of talent distribution and club growth – and also a decline in dominance for some of the top sides.

3. Give us a Best XI for the calendar year in the Premier League.

Joe Prince-Wright: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Laporte, Robertson; Kante, Bernardo; Mane, Kane, Sterling; Vardy.

Nick Mendola: Ederson, Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Tarkowski, Robertson, Fabinho, De Bruyne, Sterling, Aubameyang, Raul Jimenez, Vardy.

Full of center forwards and I don’t care.

Kyle Bonn: Alisson; Robertson, van Dijk, Maguire, Alexander-Arnold; Fernandinho, de Bruyne, Maddison; Mane, Aguero, Sterling.

4. There are few managers as respected as Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, and yes, they’ve spent as much anyone, too. If you were starting a team from scratch, who would you choose?

Joe Prince-Wright: Jurgen Klopp. Pep Guardiola is probably the greatest manager in history and watching City is like poetry in motion but he already had a lot of the players he relies on when he arrived. But with Klopp you get all of the intangibles of building a successful club on and off the pitch and his personality and the way his team plays is infectious. That is priceless.

Nick Mendola: Love this question. It comes down to team versus club. If I’m building a first team to compete in a league, it’s Klopp, but I want Pep as the man sending technical and tactical vibes up and down my set-up from youth to the top.

Kyle Bonn: Pep Guardiola has show the ability to take a team and turn the from great to world class. But if I was starting a team from scratch, Klopp is unquestionably the man to take a club and rebuild from the ground up.

5. Some big names took over clubs in the past few months. Who will have the most success at their new club: Mourinho, Lampard, Arteta, or Ancelotti?

Joe Prince-Wright:  I actually think Ancelotti will do really well at Everton and I think Mourinho will win a trophy at Tottenham in the next 18 months. Lampard and Arteta are two talented coaches but I’m not sure I trust their respective clubs to give them the time to succeed if they go through a rough patch.

Nick Mendola: Mou and Ancelotti are short-term, but I’d bet on both having success (especially in the case of the former). I like Arteta as a long-term project builder more than Lampard, but there’s likely to be more patience and spending at Stamford Bridge.

Kyle Bonn: Lampard is the early frontrunner here because of his quick success, and I think it will last. However, I want to give credit to Everton because I think Ancelotti will be a far better hire than many are giving credit.

6. What team or player is the biggest disappointment of 2019?

Joe Prince-Wright: Alexis Sanchez is the biggest disappointment of 2019 in terms of a player. I also think West Ham have been hugely disappointing given all the money they’ve spent and all of the potential their team has.

Nick Mendola: Arsenal. With that attack, the fact that they haven’t been able to put together a semblance of a legitimate defense is an abject embarrassment.

Kyle Bonn: I would say Tottenham, because they are the biggest disappointment of this season, but this is a 2019 calendar year award, and they made the Champions League final, so it can’t be them. I will have to go with Bournemouth. Ever since the calendar turned to 2019, they have struggled to compete. I really thought Eddie Howe was set to take this club to the next level with the talent available to him, but they have instead taken steps backward.

7. Who is the biggest positive surprise?

Joe Prince-Wright: Leicester City’s general play and results in 2019 has been a great surprise and so too has the return to form of Jamie Vardy. Didn’t see the latter coming, at all.

Nick Mendola: Sheffield United. Just to be different from my peers, as both the Foxes and Wolves were incredible over the duration of 2019. But Blades boss Chris Wilder has deployed the Sean Dyche/Eddie Howe playbook, and it’s been closer to the latter in terms of easiness on the eyes.

Kyle Bonn: Watching Wolves ascend to a bang-on top-half side has been amazing, but I think the rise of Leicester City as a Champions League club has been the most fun surprise of the year.

8. Is Pep Guardiola at Man City this time next year?

Joe Prince-Wright: Great question. I think so. Probably 80 percent sure. I think this dip in form and results in recent months will actually fuel him to stay longer than originally planned. But if Guardiola wins the Champions League with Man City this season, I could see him walking away in the summer. He is so intense and he would have achieved everything he set out to achieve when he arrived at Man City.

Nick Mendola: Depends on how their Champions League season goes and they’re a legit threat to win it if Aymeric Laporte is back for the knockout rounds. His winning another UCL crown would be the only way I see an exit before the end of next season.

Kyle Bonn: I don’t know, but I do know they’d be stupid to do anything that would result in him leaving, so I’ll go with yes.

 9. Who will have the best Champions League run of Premier League teams?

Joe Prince-Wright: Given their draw in the last 16, I’m actually going to go with Tottenham. RB Leipzig are good but I think Kane, Alli and Son will have a field day. Liverpool will get past Atletico Madrid but their away form in Europe concerns me, while I think Chelsea and Man City will be knocked out in the last 16. So, I’m going for Mourinho’s vast experience in Europe to get Spurs to at least the semifinals as I think he will be able to bring in a few defensive reinforcements in January which will make a big difference to their team.

Nick Mendola: I like Spurs in the next round, although Nagelsmann versus Mourinho could be a beauty. That said, overall I’m going to believe in the Pep Guardiola skill set.

Kyle Bonn: Liverpool. Idiocy to bet on anyone else. Absolute juggernaut.

10. Grade the 2019 of Christian Pulisic.

Joe Prince-Wright: I’m going to go with a B. It was a tough end to life at Borussia Dortmund, then a really good summer at the Gold Cup and then of course it took him a while to get going at Chelsea. But Pulisic’s purple patch in October and November in the PL and UCL was sublime and he’s become a regular for Chelsea much sooner than we all expected. He is still just 21 years old and there are going to be ups and downs in his performances, as recent weeks have shown, but I think overall it has been a better than expected 2019 for Pulisic.

Nick Mendola: B+. It’s neither his fault that Lucien Favre opted not to play him regularly the second half of last season, but his acclimation to the Premier League has been dynamite. It took some time for him to get a proper look, but he seized it. Many, many have clattered into the same hurdle.

Kyle Bonn: A-. Pulisic moved to Chelsea and became a legitimate contributing starter. What else can you really ask for?

PL Sunday preview: Wolves, Man United, Everton, Arsenal in action

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures promise to have a wide-range of action, as Wolves, Manchester United and Arsenal all take the field.

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Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Norwich City  — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBC Gold and

Wolverhampton Wanderers are heading into Sunday’s match against bottom dwellers Norwich City with fresh, positive inertia.

On Thursday, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men thumped Espanyol 4-0 in the knockout stages of the Europa League, giving Wolves a much-needed boost of confidence. The club, who has yet to win in Premier League play since January 18, ended a two-game streak without generating a goal against the Spanish side.

Wolves are the clear favorites heading into Molineux Stadium on Sunday. But on the other side stands a well-rested and hungry Norwich, who before going to winter break, showcased class and discipline against Liverpool in their last league showing.

Daniel Farke‘s side are eight points out of the safe zone but time is running out. The sense of urgency is at an all-season high for the Canaries, believers of their under-appreciated strengths.

“They (Wolves) are playing in Europe, they have kept three clean sheets, they have individual quality and it is a huge task,” Farke said. “But I don’t see any easy fixtures at this stage. It is about us. We always have a chance if we are good at our topics.

“People can write us off and say we have no chance to close the gap. But I don’t agree. It is possible.”

INJURIES: Wolves — OUT: Ruben Vinagre (hamstring) | Norwich — OUT: Timm Klose (knee), Sam Byram (hamstring)

Manchester United vs. Watford — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and

History and data say Watford, who have never won a league game at Old Trafford, stand no chance against Manchester United on Sunday.

But if one victory inspired a mostly-lethargic Hornets this season under Nigel Pearson it was the 2-0 win over United at Vicarage Road. The second-to-last side went on a six-match unbeaten streak following the said victory. It brought the club back to life, lifting them out of the bottom three.

Watford have since faltered and dropped back below the red line, but Pearson promises to stick to his philosophical guns.

“We approach every game in a very similar way and that is to try and be as positive as we can,” he said. “We’ll go out there and we’ll do what we can to win the game, we’ve not changed our approach, it’s just that results sometimes change how people perceive things.”

United will certainly look different, as Odion Ighalo is expected to make his home debut against his former club following his arrival in earlier this month.

United, who stand in the seventh spot with 38 points, have a clear window of opportunity to surpass fifth-place Tottenham with a victory. Prior to Sunday’s match, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer addressed questions regarding consistency.

“It is team selection – you’ve got to maybe rotate in Europe like we’ve done, then maybe go back to what we were at Chelsea this week,” Gunnar Solskjaer said. “I feel that Bruno [Fernandes] and Odion [Ighalo] coming in will get more goals in the team. That’s been lacking. The games we’ve lost – West Ham, Burnley, Palace, Bournemouth – we’ve had chances but we haven’t scored goals.”

Perhaps Ighalo could finally contribute towards a win at Old Trafford with Watford jerseys on the field.

INJURIES: Manchester United — Paul Pogba (ankle), Axel Tuanzebe (thigh), Marcus Rashford (back) | Watford — OUT: Daryl Janmaat (knee), Tom Cleverley (match fitness)

Arsenal vs. Everton — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and

Subplots reign supreme ahead of Everton’s visit to the Emirates.

Mesut Ozil, who missed the Gunners’ 1-0 Europa League victory, and Andres Gomes, 16 weeks after an ankle dislocation and fracture, are both expected to return to action. Meanwhile, Mikel Arteta and Carlo Ancelotti will meet for the first time after being linked to each other’s position before the start of the new year.

Perhaps the most significant one, however – at least to Everton – is that it’s been 24 years since the Toffees won at Arsenal. If they can pull it off this time around, the Liverpool-based side will be one step closer to the European dream.

“We have to be focused on Arsenal,” Ancelotti said. “Then there are very important games after. There’s [Manchester] United, Chelsea, Liverpool. After these four games, we can see what is going on for Europe.”

“This is a really important game against a strong team, away, but we have to have confidence to do our best and try to win. We’ve got 13 games to go and have got ourselves in a decent position,” he said. “It gives us the platform to have a decent season. I think we’ve done okay. We’ve had huge problems over six weeks and fair play to the squad for showing that resilience.”

Everton have picked up 17 points out the 24 possible under the Italian, while Arsenal have only experienced two wins under the Spaniard.

INJURIES: Arsenal — Cedric Soares (knee), Kieren Tierney (shoulder), Callum Chambers (knee), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (knee) | Everton — OUT: Jean-Phillipe Gbamin (thigh)

La Liga roundup: Messi puts four goals past Eibar in one-sided Barcelona victory

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Lionel Messi’s masterclass against Eibar highlights La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Eibar 0-5 Barcelona 

It seemed as if nothing was going to wake up Barcelona from their nightmare, but then Lionel Messi went on to put on one if his traditional magic shows.

The Argentine pelted four goals on Eibar on Saturday, sending the Blaugrana to the top of La Liga following Real Madrid’s loss to Levante.




Just how bad was Barcelona’s nightmare, one may ask? So bad that Barcelona supporters waving white handkerchiefs during a part of the game, expressing their frustration towards club’s board and chanting for president Josep Maria Bartomeu to resign.

As it’s been for the past decade or so, Messi was at the right place and at the right time to put the fires away.

Barca’s No. 10 broke the deadlock in the 14th minute, before completing his first-half hat-trick. He added a fourth in stoppage time, stretching his season goal count to 18 – the best in the league.

The goal-heavy performance ended Messi’s four-match goal drought – the longest for the Argentine since the 2013-14 season.

Messi’s masterclass proved to be quintessential potion to Barcelona’s illness. They needed it, especially with Napoli up next in the Champions League, which leaves the Catalans with no options then to win.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Celta Vigo 1-0 Leganes

Real Sociedad 3-0 Valencia 

Levante 1-0 Real Madrid

Championship Focus: West Brom, Leeds improve promotion chances with wins

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By no means is the race for promotion within the Championship sealed and delivered, but West Brom and Leeds United continue to add to their lead on the rest of the pack.

Despite playing the final 13 minutes down a player after Romaine Sawyers saw a straight red card, the Baggies went on to earn a formidable 3-0 win over Bristol City.

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Sheffield United loanee Callum Robinson opened the scoring in the 32nd minute, while Hal Robsun-Kanu sealed his brace with 11 minutes left in regular time. With the victory, Wes Brom extends their league unbeaten streak to five matches, and their total point to 66.

At Elland Road, Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United registered their first back-to-back wins since October, following a minimal-margin victory over Reading. Leeds holds a five-point cushion on third-place Fulham.

Meanwhile, with goals quick fire goals from Paul Gallagher and Alan Browne over a four-minute stretch against an aching Hull City, Preston moved into play-off contention.

Saturday’s results

Brentford 2-2 Blackburn
Bristol City 0-3 West Brom
Swansea City 3-1 Huddersfield
Wigan Athletic 1-0 Millwall
Barnsley 1-0 Middlesbrough
Birmingham 3-3 Sheffield Wednesday
Nottingham Forest 0-0 QPR
Preston 2-1 Hull City
Charlton 3-1 Luton Town
Stoke City 2-0 Cardiff City
Leeds United 1-0 Reading

Ronaldo matches record in 1,000th game as Juve beats Spal

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MILAN (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo shows no sign of slowing down as he marked his 1,000th official match by scoring a record-equaling goal to help Juventus win 2-1 at Spal in Serie A on Saturday.

Ronaldo scored for an 11th straight league game, matching the Serie A record set by Gabriel Batistuta in 1994 and equaled by Fabio Quagliarella last season.

Ronaldo also hit the crossbar with a free kick late on and had an early goal disallowed.

Aaron Ramsey doubled Juve’s lead in the second half before Andrea Petagna got Spal back into the match with a penalty.

Juventus visits Lyon in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 on Wednesday.

Serie A leader Juventus extended its advantage to four points above Lazio, which visits Genoa on Sunday. Third-place Inter Milan is also playing a relegation-threatened team on Sunday as it hosts Sampdoria.

Spal remained firmly bottom of the table, eight points from safety, after a fifth successive defeat.

Ronaldo thought he had given Juventus the lead in the fifth minute but it was ruled offside on video review.

However, the Portugal forward did get on the scoresheet six minutes from the break, rushing in at the far post to volley Juan Cuadrado‘s cross into the roof of the net.

It took Juventus until the hour mark to double its lead when Paulo Dybala sent in a delightful through ball for Ramsey, who lifted it above Spal goalkeeper Etrit Berisha.

Spal reduced the deficit nine minutes later after Juventus defender Daniele Rugani fouled midfielder Simone Missiroli. After a lengthy wait and the use of video review, a penalty was awarded and Petagna fired it into the bottom right corner.

AC Milan was playing at Fiorentina later. Bologna drew 1-1 at home to Udinese earlier.

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