Alexander Lacazette

What did we learn from the Premier League? (video)

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What a day in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Saturday saw eight games take place with two seven-goal thrillers, narrow wins for Manchester United and Liverpool, plus 27 goals in what proved to be a seismic day in the relegation battle and top four race.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Below is a look at the key takeaways from an intense, enthralling day across the league.


Arsenal’s hunger breaths new life into their season
Unai Emery‘s Arsenal showed incredible desire from the first whistle to beat a lackluster Chelsea side and the way Alexander Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang set the tone in attack was superb. The duo hunted down Chelsea’s defense and stopped Jorginho getting on the ball to set up attacks. Even when Chelsea did penetrate the Arsenal midfield, their defense stood tall with Laurent Koscielny and Sokratis solid in the shutout victory. With Arsenal now just four points behind Chelsea, you have to say that Emery has shown more progression with his Arsenal side than Maurizio Sarri has with Chelsea over the past few months. It has been a big call from Emery to leave Mesut Ozil out, but the way his players have defended as a group suggest that he got it spot on and Arsenal’s philosophy as a team is now clear. Between now and the end of the season, if Arsenal’s defenders stay fit then you’d expect them to overtake Chelsea and be right in the top four race alongside Manchester United and Tottenham. Arsenal simply had to beat Chelsea, and after a few disappointing defeats they showed the hunger and desire required to win a massive London derby.


Sarri under pressure at Chelsea already as false nine falters again
“It would appear that this group of players is extremely difficult to motivate.” Those were the words of Maurizio Sarri after Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat at Arsenal which left them in fourth place but just four points ahead of Arsenal and Manchester United. The Italian coach only arrived in the summer but he is already under pressure at Chelsea and stayed in the locker room for a long time talking to his players after the game, then used a translator (something he doesn’t always do) to answer questions from the media as he wanted to get his message across loud and clear. He certainly did that. Sarri’s persistence to play Eden Hazard as a false nine just isn’t working and Chelsea didn’t have a focal point in attack and were way too easy to defend against for Arsenal. That has become a running theme in recent weeks and with Olivier Giroud on the bench, Alvaro Morata on his way out and Gonzalo Higuain said to be arriving soon, Sarri is pinning all his hopes on Higuain and Hazard to rescue this season. Jorginho has ever ran out of steam or other teams have worked out how to get at the deep-lying playmaker (probably a combo of both) and right now there is no Plan B to Sarri-ball. Maybe Christian Pulisic will have a different manager by the time he arrives at Chelsea in the summer…


Cracks appearing in Liverpool’s makeshift defense
There is no two ways about it, Jurgen Klopp was a relieved man after Liverpool’s thrilling 4-3 victory against Crystal Palace at Anfield. In the end Liverpool came away with the victory to extend their lead atop the Premier League table to seven points, but they rode their luck and fell behind in the first half against Palace. Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend pulled their full backs all over the place and Liverpool’s makeshift defense were pushed to its limits. Before Saturday they had conceded just three PL goals at home all season long. Palace scored three and could have had more with James Milner — playing out of position at right back due to injuries — sent off after a difficult time trying to lock down Zaha in particular. Mohamed Salah dragged Liverpool over the line again, but there’s no doubt that with Joe Gomez, Dejan Lovren and Trent Alexander-Arnold out injured Klopp will have to get creative with his defensive lineups in the coming weeks. The saving grace for Liverpool is that they are out of both of the domestic cup competitions and that could be key in the title race with Man City.


Solskjaer can do no more as United edge towards top four
Seven wins from seven games in all competitions, what more can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer do as Manchester United’s caretaker boss? They’re back in the top four race and now face Burnley, Leicester and Fulham before a crunch clash with Liverpool next month. United sit just three points off the UEFA Champions League places and if Solskjaer can get them in the top four and go deep in the UCL and FA Cup this season, his chances of getting this job on a permanent basis will increase significantly. The two players who have shone brightest since he replaced Jose Mourinho are two who became the biggest enigmas under the Portuguese coach: Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford. The former has scored five goals and has four assists in the PL since Solskjaer arrived, while Rashford has now scored in five of his six PL games in charge. The latter looks sharp, confident and Solskjaer revealed how he is helping him calm his finishing down in front of goal. At 21 years of age Rashford has the world at his feet and right now he, and Solskjaer, can do no wrong.


Southampton’s resurgence continues
Ralph Hasenhuttl has won more Premier League points than Pep Guardiola since he arrived at Southampton on Dec. 8. Think about that. He took over a team which had won just once in 15 games to start the season and they’ve now beaten Arsenal, Huddersfield, Leicester and Everton in his first eight outings in England. The Austrian coach is fired up on the touchlines and that passion has translated to his players in a very Jurgen Klopp-esque way. Saints beat Everton 2-1 on Saturday and they should have won by four or five goals after hitting the post twice and totally dominating the Toffees. In their next three games they have Crystal Palace, Burnley and Cardiff City and a chance to push themselves up into midtable and away from the relegation battle for the first time this season. It is hard not to believe Hasenhuttl when he says “we have built something up here and I hope we can carry on like this.” Right now, Saints have a clear plan on how they want to play, they’re fitter, hungrier and are full of talented youngsters who are being given the chance to shine. Hasenhuttl’s revolution is built on high-pressing and speed in attack. Defensively Saints are improving and right now they are finally, after two years of standing still, reaching their potential.


Classic PL encounter as Wolves, Leicester slug it out

Wolves and Leicester just went at it at Molineux and the 4-3 win for Wolves will go down as a classic Premier League game. Wolves raced into a 2-0 lead, Leicester fought back to 2-2, they traded another goal each and neither team had control throughout. Wolves’ stoppage time win, which saw Diogo Jota complete his hat trick, left Claude Puel clutching his face in despair and Nuno Espirito Santo running onto the pitch to celebrate with his players. The true end-to-end nature of the Premier League was on display in this Midlands derby which was aided by two teams chasing seventh place and with little to lose. The result was an absorbing clash which was summed up perfectly by Man of the Match Jota: “This is the Premier League.”

2017/18 grades for each Premier League club

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With the 2017/18 Premier League season now over after a hectic Championship Sunday, it is time to take stock of how each team did over the course of the gruelling nine-month campaign.

Below we dish out a grade to all 20 teams based on how they performed this season and if they overachieved or underachieved.

It’s safe to say we have a real mixed bag…


Manchester City: A+
Basically perfect. Record points (100), wins (32) and goals (106) in a single PL season says it all. Pep Guardiola‘s side were imperious and with just two defeats throughout the season (at Liverpool and a shocking loss at home to Man United after leading 2-0) they never looked in doubt of securing the title, especially after their 18-game winning run which shattered another PL record. Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva ran the show, while Ederson and Kyle Walker were huge upgrades in defense. Yes, they lost to Liverpool in the Champions League quarterfinals, but Guardiola has built something special and this City team has the stench of a dynasty. Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and and Nicolas Otamendi have all improved drastically too, as Pep’s plan is in full-flow.

Burnley: A
A truly superb season from the Clarets as Sean Dyche led Burnley to a seventh-place finish and a first spot in Europe since 1967. A solid defensive setup with Nick Pope stepping in admirably for the injured Tom Heaton in goal was complimented by Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood up top. Dyche is working miracles on a shoestring budget at Burnley and the fact that several “bigger” clubs are sniffing around him makes perfect sense. The model PL club in just their second season back in the league and now they have a Europa League campaign to look forward to. Thursday nights under the lights at Turf Moor will be a wonderful spectacle for Burnley’s fans.

Huddersfield Town: A
In their first-ever season in the Premier League, the Terriers saw a fast start fade badly but two draws at Man City and Chelsea in the final week of action secured their PL status. David Wagner has the Huddersfield fans, players and staff all pulling in the right direction and despite a lack of quality in some areas they’ve survived with an incredible fighting spirit. Aaron Mooy and Jonas Lossl have been two of the standout players for the Terriers but it has been all about the team first mentality which has seen them survive. It will now be intriguing to see if they can follow in the footsteps of Bournemouth in establishing themselves as a PL club. The fairytale continues in West Yorkshire…

Tottenham Hotspur: B+
Yes, there will be plenty of talk about Spurs not mounting a proper challenge for the Premier League title as they did in the past few seasons but Mauricio Pochettino‘s side navigated a season at Wembley in impressive fashion to finish third. Just two defeats at home (to Chelsea and Man City) and another fine season from Harry Kane (30 goals) led Spurs to a top four finish and they came oh so close to making the UEFA Champions League last eight but came unstuck against Juventus despite dominating over two legs. Having the best record of any club in the UCL group stage means a lot and now moving back into their new stadium at White Hart Lane, Spurs can kick on. Dele Alli had an up and down campaign, while Christian Eriksen kicked on and Pochettino’s biggest problem over the summer will be signing players to new deals to stop Europe’s elite from trying to buy them. Daniel Levy runs a tight ship as chairman and you get the sense this Spurs team will stay together for at least one more season in their new stadium. Next season the talk about them not winning silverware will intensify if they start off slow but the latter rarely happens under Poch.

Newcastle United: B+
Rafael Benitez masterminded Newcastle’s survival with a strong defensive core as the Magpies were tough to break down and had some impressive wins, especially at home. With the cloud of Mike Ashley trying to sell the club hanging over the team for most of the season, Benitez focussed the group expertly in the second half of the campaign as they pulled away from the relegation zone. A top 10 finish has to be aim next season and a new owner could turn the Magpies into a top six club if money is available to spend on new players, especially in attack. Benitez has enhanced his reputation massively with the job he has done at St James’ Park and the big win against Chelsea on the final day underlines how much progress they’ve made.

Liverpool: B+
Could be an A if they win the Champions League final against Real Madrid in a few weeks, but Jurgen Klopp should be applauded for the way he has progressed this Liverpool side. Mohamed Salah is the undoubted star as the Premier League’s top goalscorer (32 goals sets a new record for a 38-game season) and the Egyptian is surely leading the discussion of the best players on the planet not named Messi or Ronaldo. Alongside Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, Salah has ripped PL defenses apart all season long as Klopp’s “heavy metal” soccer has been sensational when it clicks. Salah’s brilliance totalled overshadowed Philippe Coutinho‘s departure to Barcelona in January for almost $200 million. Virgil Van Dijk‘s $100 million arrival strengthened Liverpool’s defense (even if there were still some shocking mistakes along the way), while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Andrew Robertson have been great pick ups in the transfer market. The Reds look the most likely to seriously challenge Man City for the title next season given their defeats of Guardiola’s side in the league and UCL.

Brighton & Hove Albion: B+
Chris Hughton has to be one of the most underrated managers around. Much like Benitez at Newcastle, the newly-promoted Seagulls relied on a solid defensive unit led by Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk and had the likes of Pascal Gross, Jose Izquierdo and Glenn Murray to deliver goals and assists in attack. A wonderfully well-run club who could become a top 10 team in the next few years. Brighton have quietly gone about their business this season and have had big wins at home against Arsenal and Man United in the second half of the campaign to help seal their top-flight status for another season.

Manchester United: B

Solid season for Jose Mourinho as his team progressed from a sixth-place finish last season (remember: they basically binned the league to focus on the Europa League last season, so it’s a little skewed) to second place, but they’re still so far behind neighbors Man City. Plenty of unanswered questions remain for Mourinho to sort out this summer surrounding the futures of Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and others. The fact that David De Gea is their clear Player of the Season (that’s now four POTY awards in his last five seasons) says it all. Romelu Lukaku has delivered 27 goals in all competitions but losing to Sevilla in the Round of 16 in the Champions League was a big blow. That said, Mourinho can still deliver the FA Cup and finish in second place which isn’t a bad season, all things considered. You feel as though plenty of deadwood will be cut this summer and given the new long-term contract he signed in January, Mourinho will get to spend big, especially defensively, to try and close the gap to City.

Crystal Palace: B
The Eagles had the worst start in PL history ever, losing their opening eight games without scoring a goal. Frank De Boer‘s appointment as boss just didn’t work out as Palace tried to change their brand of soccer but without a squad able to possess the ball and dominate the tempo of games. They reverted to type with Roy Hodgson coming in during September and a solid defensive base restored. Wilfried Zaha‘s return to fitness coincided with a huge upturn in results in the second half of the season as Hodgson led a massive turnaround with the Eagles finishing in 11th. They can be a top 10 team next season, easily, as long as Zaha sticks around. With ambitious plans kicking on to improve their stadium, the fanatical supporters at Selhurst should have plenty to be excited about over the summer.

Chelsea: C+

What a weird season for Chelsea. The reigning champions have seemed to be in a slump almost since the moment they won the title back in May 2017, as Antonio Conte‘s rhetoric has been constantly negative. The Italian coach calling out the Chelsea hierarchy (especially around Nemanja Matic‘s departure) was never going to go well but they came close to doing well in the Champions League but were edged out by Barcelona and Lionel Messi’s brilliance in the Round of 16. Alvaro Morata’s arrival for big money hasn’t gone as planned and Eden Hazard has had an up and down season with Conte falling out with David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Diego Costa leading to awkward situations. They’ve made the FA Cup final against Man United as Conte could sign-off with a trophy in what is expected to be his final game in charge despite having another year on his deal. Plenty of change on the horizon with a new manager expected and perhaps the likes of Hazard and Thibaut Courtois leaving the Bridge.

Leicester City: C+
Pretty peculiar season for the Foxes but overall, has to be a success given the start they had. Craig Shakespeare lost his job following a run of just one win in their first eight games and Claude Puel not only steadied the ship but has pushed them into the top half of the table with runs to the last eight of both the League Cup and FA Cup. That said, Puel is under pressure and may well lose his job as the Leicester fans are unhappy with the slow, possession-based style he prefers. That cost Puel his job at Southampton too but you can’t argue with two top 10 finishes on his resume in his two seasons as a boss in the PL. Jamie Vardy has had a fine season with another 20 goals scored, while Harry Maguire has proved to be an inspired defensive signing and Riyad Mahrez recovered well from the disappointment of not getting his big move to Man City during the January window.

Arsenal: C+
The big story around Arsenal’s season is Arsene Wenger stepping down after almost 22 years in charge of the Gunners. This moment was coming but after a second-straight season finishing outside of the top four, now is a good time for Arsenal to move on. Wenger is a legend and his three Premier League titles, seven FA Cups and incredible consistency in securing top four finishes will see his legacy remain intact (just about) despite a slight regression in recent years. The Europa League almost handed Wenger a chance for a fairytale ending to win a European trophy and qualify for the Champions League via the back door but Atletico Madrid ousted the Gunners in the semifinals. Whoever takes charge after Wenger will have a hugely talented but top heavy squad to work with as Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Auabmeyang and Alexander Lacazette are capable of scoring plenty of goals but Arsenal’s defensive deficiencies must be eradicated if they’re going to make up ground and finish in the top four. Intriguing times ahead.

Bournemouth: C+
Four-straight seasons in the Premier League should not be scoffed at but the Cherries spent big last summer and although they picked up some big results in the second half of the season to pull away from the relegation zone, Eddie Howe acknowledged they’ve slightly underachieved after a ninth-place finish in 2016-17. Josh King had a down year, so too did Jermaine Defoe after arriving on big money, while Asmir Begovic had some shaky displays in goal. That said, big wins against Arsenal and Chelsea showed what Bournemouth are capable of and the emergence of Nathan Ake and Lewis Cook proves they have a bright future and Howe’s philosophy of playing attractive, attacking soccer is well and truly intact. Howe may feel like next season may be his last at Bournemouth with some big jobs potentially coming up.

Watford: C
The Hornets were flying early on (just one defeat in their opening eight games had them in the top four) but Marco Silva‘s head was turned by an approach from Everton and that cost the Portuguese coach his job following a massive mid-season slump. New boss Javi Gracia did very well to steady the ship but a season that promised so much has petered out. Keeping hold of Richarlison and Abdoulaye Doucoure will be the main aim for Watford over the summer. A string of defeats late in the season suggests that Gracia could be on thin ice if Watford start next season sluggishly.

Southampton: D
After an almighty scare the Saints survived but this is a huge wake-up call for the South Coast club who had finished in the top eight in each of the past four seasons. Mauricio Pellegrino just didn’t work as manager as his defensive tactics frustrated fans and players alike and amid Virgil van Dijk’s midseason departure Saints went on a run of just one win in 21 PL games and sunk into the relegation zone. Mark Hughes replaced Pellegrino with eight games to go and saved Saints with a fine end of season run which included wins against Bournemouth and Swansea. The talent level of their squad means this shouldn’t happen again (they drew more games than any other team during the season) but if Hughes is given the job full-time he needs to make quite a few changes to his playing squad, especially in central defense. Reaching the FA Cup semifinal was a bonus but staying up was a massive relief for fans. Saints’ new Chinese owners must spend big and redefine the direction of the club after years of selling their best players and letting managers such as Pochettino and Ronald Koeman leave.

Everton: D
Yes, the Toffees finished in the top 10 but this was a season which started with talk of pushing for the top four but soon turned sour with Koeman sacked in October. After huge sums of money were spent on the likes of Wayne Rooney, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Davy Klaassen, the balance of the squad just wasn’t right. Sam Allardyce came in to steady the ship and Everton were never really in a relegation battle from December onwards. That said, there is plenty of fan unrest as Big Sam’s direct style of play isn’t to the liking of Everton’s fans who have routinely booed him. Allardyce has another season on his contract and wants to stay, while Rooney could be off and there are plenty of question marks around the Toffees despite a top 10 finish. With a new stadium move on the horizon, Everton’s fans are hopeful they can get the right manager in but new owner Farhad Moshiri seems to be slowing down any progress by delaying a long-term plan. A season to forget for Everton.

West Ham United: D-
A season of struggle on and off the pitch for the Hammers has ended with Premier League safety but there are so many issues to resolve. Slaven Bilic was sacked after a poor start to the campaign and with fans protesting against owners David Sullivan, David Gold and Karen Brady (which culminated with the ugly pitch invasions at the London Stadium against Burnley) there is a nasty vibe brewing in East London. The move to their new London Stadium home has never worked for the Hammers faithful and despite David Moyes coming in and doing what was asked to keep them in the PL, there hasn’t been much to get excited about. Marko Arnautovic‘s arrival has been key with the Austrian striker superb in the second half of the season with bags of goals and assists. An uncertain future lies ahead.

Swansea City: F
Relegation from the Premier League has been coming for the Swans and it was confirmed after a seven-year stay. Paul Clement couldn’t build on the great escape he masterminded late in the 2016-17 campaign and selling both Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente last summer was a huge sign of what was to come. The Swans looked dead and buried around the turn of the year when Carlos Carvalhal was surprisingly hired but the Portuguese coach had a great impact, at least initially, as they surged up the table. That impact soon wore off as they dropped back into the bottom three and their fate was all but sealed after a crushing 1-0 defeat at home to Southampton in the final week of the season. With Cardiff promoted back to the top-flight for next season Swansea are no longer the top dogs in Wales.

West Bromwich Albion: F
Well, where on earth do we start here? West Brom won their opening two games of the season, then didn’t win for another 21 games. Tony Pulis was fired amid fan unrest over the playing style and Alan Pardew was hired in a disastrous run which saw the Baggies win lose eight games on the spin amid the now infamous “Taxi Gate” taking center stage. Darren Moore took interim charge late in the season and West Brom almost saved themselves with stunning wins against Man United and Tottenham, but there was too much work to do and they were relegated. A squad of players who were solid under Pulis were asked to do something different and West Brom are a case of a club who tried to push the boundaries of what they were too quickly. They should be the favorites to be promoted back to the PL next season, especially if Salomon Rondon and Jay Rodriguez stick around. Boing, boing indeed.

Stoke City: F
Similar to West Brom, Stoke tried to reinvent their style of play but it was an awful campaign for the Potters who were relegated after a 10-year stay in the Premier League. Mark Hughes was fired in January and although Jack Butland (his tears after relegation was secured will be the enduring image of the season) did his best in goal, Stoke shed goals by the bucket load and had the worst defensive record in the Premier League. Xherdan Shaqiri did his best but Paul Lambert just didn’t inspire any confidence in his team, especially going forward, as they coughed up plenty of leads late on to seal their fate. Stoke’s fans are incredibly unhappy and given the poor recruitment decisions from the club (Saido Berahino, Jese and others) you can understand why. It may well be a long, hard struggle for Stoke to get back into the top-flight over the next few seasons.