Daniel Farke

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.

Premier League Preview: Norwich City v. Watford

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Two teams more than a result away from safety hope to get a season-changing win at Carrow Road on Friday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET, online at NBCSports.com).

Hosts Norwich City enter the match with seven points, the second worst total in the league to its visitors: basement-dwelling, winless Watford.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

“This will be like a big, big final for both teams,” said Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores.

Watford’s performances have improved dramatically, but the Hornets are six points back of 17th. Norwich has two more points, but their performances have been a far cry from the team that beat Man City and took Chelsea to the limit.


Injuries/suspensions

Norwich City: OUT — Timm Klose, Christoph Zimmermann, Grant Hanley. QUESTIONABLE — Mario Vrancic.

Watford: OUT — Domingos Quina, Danny Welbeck. QUESTIONABLE — Craig Cathcart.


Probable lineups

Norwich City: Krul, Aarons, Tettey, Godfrey, Lewis, Cantwell, McLean, Buendia, Stiepermann, Hernandez, Pukki.

Watford: Foster, Masina, Kabasele, Dawson, Janmaat, Doucoure, Chalobah, Hughes, Pereyra, Deulofeu, Gray.


What they’re saying

Norwich boss Daniel Farke on the mood: “I think it’s important as a coach to face reality, you can’t make jokes and have fun, you’ve got to address the elephant in the room to help them regain confidence. I don’t punish my players, it’s about helping them improve and believe in themselves.”

The Hornets’ Flores on why this match matters: “It is not the end of the season but it is a big final for both of us and the way the game and result can change the future for both teams will be massive.”


Prediction

Troy Deeney comes off the bench to make a difference in his return from injury, and Watford wins 2-1.

Bournemouth and Norwich in stalemate

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Bournemouth and Norwich City played out a tense 0-0 draw at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday, as the Canaries dug deep for a point on the road as both teams secured their first clean sheet of the season.

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The Cherries and Canaries both had decent chances in the game but neither were clinical and both Aaron Ramsdale and Tim Krul had some decent outings in goal.

Bournemouth sit in ninth on 12 points, while Norwich are 19th on seven points.


3 things we learned

1. Teemu Pukki is struggling for support: He scored twice for Finland over the international break, but he hasn’t scored for Norwich since that big win agains Man City on Sept. 14. Pukki didn’t get much support and Norwich have scored just once in their last four PL games. He smashed one on goal in the second half which was saved and he was feeding off scraps.

2. Norwich much happier with the point: Daniel Farke has been plagued with injuries all season long, especially defensively, so he will be delighted his side kept a clean sheet on the road against a very dangerous Bournemouth side. At times Norwich rode their luck, but they looked solid enough and Todd Cantwell kept things ticking over in midfield. Tim Krul stood tall too, as the Canaries head home happy.

3. Bournemouth improving defensively: Every could has a silver lining, and for Eddie Howe that will be another decent day defensively for the Cherries. Going forward they disappointed but at the back they’ve only conceded five times in their last five PL outings. That is very good for Bournemouth. Ake and Cook have a strong partnership and Ramsdale is finding his feet. Yes, Bournemouth will have hoped to score three or four against this Norwich defense, but at least they’ve improved at the back and have their first clean sheet of the season.

Man of the Match: Tim Krul – Tough to pick a player of the game but Krul was solid when called upon and organized this banged up Norwich defense well. Used all of his experience.


Bournemouth pressed Norwich back early on and Tim Krul then denied Dominic Solanke.

Norwich had a half chance as Teemu Pukki delayed his effort and Steve Cook cleared, with neither side taking the game by the scruff of the neck.

In a tight, tense game both cancelled one another out in an uneventful first half.

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At the start of the second half Norwich lost yet another defensive player to injury as Ben Godfrey, just back from a hernia operation, was replaced by Tom Trybull.

Pukki’s shot was deflected by Cook as it looped up close to the goal, while at the other end Bournemouth went close as Wilson and Adam Smith combined but the ball was just off target.

Aaron Ramsdale then denied Pukki’s low shot from distance.

Both teams tried to push for the win late on but held back a little as Norwich in particular were happy with the shutout and point on the road given all of their defensive issues.

Crystal Palace beat battling Norwich

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Crystal Palace beat a spirited Norwich City side 2-0 at Selhurst Park on Saturday, as goals in each half from Luka Milivojevic and Andros Townsend did the damage.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Without several injured played Norwich made it tough for Palace, but Roy Hodgson‘s side had a little more quality when it mattered most.

With the win Palace move on to 11 points for the season, while Norwich have six.


3 things we learned 

1. Eagles fly out of the traps: Roy Hodgson’s men came flying out of the traps and set the tone for this win. They are up to ninth in the PL table and have won three of their first seven games. That is a very good return for a team many thought would struggle after losing Aaron Wan-Bissaka and almost seeing Zaha follow him out of the door. Palace are solid and if they can stay lucky with injuries they will be pushing for a top 10 finish.

2. Injuries hitting Norwich hard: When Michael McGovern, third-choice goalkeeper, is coming on early in the second half you know Norwich have problems. Daniel Farke‘s men have been hit hard by injuries and this is holding them back. They were brave and both Pukki and Cantwell went close to scoring in the first half, but couldn’t

3. Zaha back to his best: Wilfried Zaha had a tough summer and didn’t end up leaving Palace, but he finally looks ready to step up and lead the Eagles up the table. Zaha was a constant threat against Norwich and set up Townsend for the second goal with his tireless running. Zaha was our  Man of the Match and when he plays this well, Palace can match anyone in the PL.


Wilfried Zaha was causing all kinds of problems out on the right flank as Norwich struggled to cope with his trickery and pace.

Ralf Fahrmann then saved from Jordan Ayew as the Eagles came flying out of the traps.

A real moment of controversy then arrived as VAR checked a penalty decision from Jon Moss.

James McArthur turned in the box and was brought down by a sliding challenge from Ibrahim Amadou, as a VAR check confirmed Moss’ decision.

Milivojevic, so reliable from the spot, slammed home the penalty kick into the top corner to put Palace ahead.

Moments after the penalty was scored Fahrmann had to come off and Norwich were down to third-choice goalkeeper, Northern Ireland international Michael McGovern.

Teemu Pukki broke free after a long ball forward and his powerful shot from a tight angle was tipped over by Vicente Guaita. Norwich were almost level just before the break as Todd Cantwell was found in the box but Martin Kelly slid in and blocked his goalbound shot on the line. Marco Stiepermann almost picked out Pukki as the Canaries improved drastically following a shaky start.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

In the second half Norwich had a few chances on the break and hung into the game until late on.

Zaha’s runs down the left were causing big problems and he weaved past several defenders before setting up Townsend for the clincher in stoppage time.

2-0 win at home. Zaha dazzling.

Textbook Palace.

Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 5

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A weekend of tumult in all parts of our table, as Norwich City’s shocking win over Man City and Chelsea’s win at Wolves make us reassess previous results this season.

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]

Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low


20. Watford — Absolutely dominant against Arsenal despite the early Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang-inspired deficit. Still, two points from five matches and a lot of work remains for Quique Sanchez Flores.
Last week: 20
Season high: 19
Season low: 20
Last match: Drew 2-2 v. Arsenal
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Man City

19. Newcastle United — Credit to Steve Bruce for a disciplined system against Liverpool. The Magpies get a must-win home visit from Brighton ahead of matches with Leicester City, Manchester United, and Chelsea.
Last week: 19
Season high: 19
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 3-1 at Liverpool
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. Brighton

18. Brighton — The late concession against Burnley is an eyebrow raiser and ranking lowerer. Brighton deserved better and would’ve been counting the three points as relegation insurance. At least Neal Maupay‘s goal was a beauty.
Last week: 16
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Drew 1-1 v. Burnley
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Newcastle United

Brighton and Hove Albion’s Neal Maupay (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)

17. Wolves — Excuses are running low, even with a Europa League match on Thursday leading into a Sunday match. At some point, Wolves will have to rise above congestion.
Last week: 10
Season high: 7
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 5-2 v. Chelsea
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Palace

16. Crystal Palace — A lot of teams get waxed by Tottenham in North London.
Last week: 14
Season high: 14
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 4-0 at Spurs
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Wolves

15. Burnley — Never rule out Sean Dyche, as the Clarets got a point despite being dominated at Brighton, but maybe we were foolish to think they had the quality to sustain another mid-table run.
Last week: 8
Season high: 5
Season low: 15
Last match: Drew 1-1 at Brighton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Norwich City

14. Sheffield United — Chris Wilder‘s men play a furious game, which cost them a late red card in their spirited tussle with Saints.
Last week: 11
Season high: 11
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 1-0 v. Southampton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Everton

13. Southampton — Moussa Djenepo‘s got skills, team, and he may be the latest bargain from a Saints side which endured a bit of a cold streak in the transfer market following their wondrous run earlier this decade.
Last week: 13
Season high: 13
Season low: 19
Last match: Won 1-0 at Sheffield United
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Friday v. Bournemouth

12. Everton — Maddeningly inconsistent, the Toffees defending versus Bournemouth was pathetic. And they are wasting a fixture list which smiled broadly on their hopes of building an early season cushion in the race of seventh or better.
Last week: 5
Season high: 5
Season low: 12
Last match: Lost 3-1 at Bournemouth
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Sheffield United

11. Aston Villa — Solid, but is there another gear here once the pieces gel a bit more?
Last week: 12
Season high: 8
Season low: 15
Last match: Drew 0-0 v. West Ham United
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Arsenal

10. Norwich City — Take a bow, Daniel Farke. Your injured squad had no business doing that to the reigning champs.
Last week: 18
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Won 3-2 v. Man City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Burnley

(Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

9. Bournemouth — Looking comfortably mid-table
Last week: 17
Season high: 9
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 3-1 v. Everton
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Friday at Southampton

8. Manchester United — A nice win to feel a bit better about themselves, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s men will look like a bonafide member of the muddled middle if they fail to perform at West Ham.
Last week: 15
Season high: 2
Season low: 15
Last match: Won 1-0 v. Leicester City
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at West Ham United

7. Arsenal — The Watford draw should’ve been a loss, and maybe by more than one goal. Bernd Leno is the sneaky MVP of Arsenal’s early season, and he may not get the respect he deserves if the Gunners keep hemorrhaging gilt-edged chances to their opponens.
Last week: 4
Season high: 4
Season low: 7
Last match: Drew 2-2 at Watford
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Aston Villa

6. West Ham United — An off day for Sebastien Haller and goofy red card from Arthur Masuaku cost the Irons at Villa. Next week brings a chance to instill some bonafide hope in the supporter base.
Last week: 6
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Drew 0-0 at Aston Villa
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Manchester United

5. Leicester City — Deserved at least a point from Old Trafford, and now heads to North London for a tougher test.
Last week: 3
Season high: 3
Season low: 10
Last match: Lost 1-0 at Manchester United
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Tottenham Hotspur

4. Chelsea — Looking back at their schedule, the draw with Leicester and tough win over Norwich look better than they first appeared. How will Frank Lampard utilize his depth and overcome injuries with midweek UCL and Liverpool this week.
Last week: 9
Season high: 4
Season low: 12
Last match: Won 5-2 at Wolves
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Liverpool

(Photo by Chelsea Football Club/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

3. Man City — At the risk of my Twitter mentions, John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi basically welcomed Fernandinho into competition for first pairing minutes after an insipid display in a game the offense played well enough to win. Turns out losing one of the best center backs in the world isn’t ideal.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Lost 3-2 at Norwich City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Watford

2. Spurs — Beating Palace soundly isn’t a banner-raising moment, but it still shows “re-focus” and Spurs still haven’t gotten full-fledged Harry Kane. A healthy Tanguy Ndombele will help a lot, too.
Last week: 7
Season high: 2 
Season low: 7
Last match: Won 4-0 v. Crystal Palace
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Leicester City

  1. Liverpool — Fine-tuned, and their only competition right now is their nerve. This year, it seems, that might not be the problem it’s been in previous pursuits of a Premier League title. Depth will be tested for the Reds and their Sunday foes after UCL midweek action.
    Last week: 1
    Season high: 1
    Season low: 3
    Last match: Won 3-1 v. Newcastle United
    Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Chelsea