It was a positive year for two clubs and two managers, and a mixed bag for the others.
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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-Wright: That 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.
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?