New fan’s guide to finding favorite Premier League club

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Must read preface: For several years on my own site and then on a Western New York soccer blog, I gave prospective fans of the Premier League a guide to choose a team. In no way do I claim to give anything other than an opinionated overview that I believe to be a fair representation of clubs whose history far outlives even my fandom of the beautiful game. And as time goes on, this is less and less a necessity. We are talking about the biggest league in the world, after all.

[ MORE: 2018-19 PL season preview hub ]  

I received continued requests for an updated version of this guide during last season’s wild Manchester City ride, and the fact remains that people need to know what they are getting into, as I know personally of a fan or two now attached to insufferable clubs. ‘They’ had no idea that their love for a brown ale or clever nickname would lead to a lifetime of supporter misery. And now ‘they’ have got to twice watch their beloved club, massive as it is, flub its way to the second tier. Again, just what I’ve heard from ‘them’.

I almost always advocate choosing a club that isn’t already a giant because that’s my background as a proud Buffalonian, but do what feels right. Maybe you’re a Lakers or Patriots fan who enjoys feeding off the hate of others. By all means, continue onward!

So without further ado, I submit to you my 2018-19 beginners guide to selecting a Premier League team. For each team, we’ll let you know which Americans are on their team — if any — who their fans tend to hate, and give a very loose comparison to American professional teams.

1. Arsenal
Last championship: 2003-04
Years in Premier League: 27/27
Nickname: Gunners
Location: London
American players: Gedion Zelalem
Biggest rivals: Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Manchester United
Comparison: New York Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers

The good news, if you choose Arsenal, is that you’ll have so much company. Arsenal is the most-supported team in these here United States of America, and their passionate fan base is almost impossible to miss. They have a massive celebrity supporter base, too, from Idris Elba to Prince Harry, Steve Earle to Jay-Z, there’s a bountiful group of fancy fans.

There’s some magic to the club, for sure, and it’s been some time since the Gunners were a genuine contender for the crown. With a new coach for the first time in ages, plenty of high-flying attackers, and status as second-best to their long-time rival Tottenham, there’s intrigue at Arsenal and a new fan wouldn’t be a bandwagon jumper.

2. Bournemouth
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 4/27 (Return: 2015-16)
Nickname: Cherries
Location: Bournemouth, Dorset
American players: Emerson Hyndman (on loan to Hibernian)
Biggest rivals: Southampton
Comparisons: Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Lightning

Eddie Howe has done with this club to get them to the Premier League and keep them there is amazing. Chairman Jeff Mostyn kept the team from administration with his own money, and engineered one of the biggest rises in English soccer history. They’ve legitimately invested in players, and are yet to succumb to expectations of eventual relegation.

Plus, the South Coast seems like a lovely place to visit, and heir crest is a man heading the ball incorrectly, unless of course the Cherries player is clearing the ball backwards from danger. Which, good on him. Safety first.

3. Brighton and Hove Albion
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 6/27 (Return: 2017-18)
Nickname: Gulls
Location: Falmer, East Sussex
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Crystal Palace
Comparisons: Winnipeg Jets, Los Angeles Rams

Decades of irrelevance nearly saw the club dip into the fourth-tier and, perhaps, serious trouble of disappearing into the abyss. Their rise back to the Premier League is nothing short of inspiring, and manager Chris Hughton‘s steady hand has been key in building a base for something special. Now with strong goalkeeper Mathew Ryan, fearsome attacker Pascal Gross, and one of the most intriguing young talents in the world (Alireza Jahanbakhsh), the Gulls are a sneaky good pick to become a PL mainstay.

Pascal Gross (Getty Images)

4. Burnley
Last championship: 1959-60
Years in Premier League: 5/27 (Return: 2016-17)
Nickname: Clarets
Location: Burnley, Lancashire
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Blackburn Rovers, Preston North End
Comparisons: Pittsburgh Pirates, Calgary Flames

Manager Sean Dyche is legitimately terrifying, and the Clarets are in the midst of perhaps their greatest adventure after punching way about their weight in order to qualify for the Europa League.

Burnley is still not a favorite to stick around the Premier League for long, but those odds become shorter and shorter with every passing year (especially with the UEL run). That’s lovely stuff. Joe Posnanski wrote a story on Burnley the last time they were promoted. It was called “David and Goliath and Burnley”. Read it here.

5. Cardiff City
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 2/27 (Return: 2018-19)
Nickname: Bluebirds
Location: Cardiff, Wales
American players: Backup goalkeeper Chris Konopka
Biggest rivals: Swansea City, Bristol City
Comparisons: Ottawa Senators, Miami Marlins

The Premier League was deprived of one of the best rivalries in sports when Swansea City was relegated in the same season that Cardiff climbed into the top flight. The only Welsh club in the league, Cardiff is owned by eccentric owner Vincent Tan (who once found it wise to change the team’s primary colors to red because he felt it contained more power. That didn’t pay off). Manager Neil Warnock has promoted loads of clubs to the top flight, but it will be a minor miracle if the Bluebirds survive in their second bid for PL safety.

6. Chelsea
Last championship: 2016-17
Years in Premier League: 27/27
Nickname: Blues
Location: London
American players: Matt Miazga (on loan to Nantes), Kyle Scott (on loan to Telstar)
Biggest rivals: Arsenal, Tottenham, West Ham, Fulham, Millwall
Comparison: Los Angeles Lakers, Washington Redskins

A simply massive club with loads of accolades and glory — not to mention a combustible, deep-pocketed owner in a big, big city — Chelsea’s players again failed a title-winning manager when they slipped out of the Top Four under Antonio Conte last season.

New boss Maurizio Sarri has a treasure trove of talent at Stamford Bridge, and the Londoners have as good a chance as anyone to compete for titles and cups on a year-in, year-out basis.

7. Crystal Palace
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 10/27
Nickname: Eagles, Glaziers
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Brighton & Hove Albion, Charlton Athletic, Millwall, Wimbledon
Comparisons: Toronto Raptors, New Orleans Saints

Palace is a truly intriguing option due to incredible fans and their status as a real working-class London club. Plus, the Eagles have flair and work rate in their club. Exceptional talent Wilfried Zaha has stuck around for another season, and manager Roy Hodgson is a respected statesman of the game. It only takes one broadcast of a home match, and a pregame chorus of “Glad All Over” complete with a freaking eagle flying onto the pitch to inspire you to think Palace could be the club for you.

8. Everton
Last championship: 1986-87
Years in Premier League: 27/27
Nickname: Toffees, The School of Science
Location: Liverpool
American players: Antonee Robinson (on loan to Wigan Athletic)
Biggest rivals: Liverpool
Comparison: Boston Bruins, Denver Broncos

Everton gives you the ability to back a team with proud history, and a team involved in one of the best rivalries in sports (The Merseyside Derby with Liverpool). The team has not been afraid to spend to bring exciting talent like Gylfi Sigurdsson and Richarlison, and also possesses one of the heroes of England’s World Cup run in goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. The additions of Yerry Mina from Barcelona and loanee Kurt Zouma from Chelsea mean the Toffees may be primed to surge high up the table, and the club is one that prides itself on its status in the community, too. A lot to like here.

9. Fulham
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 14/27 (Return: 2018-19)
Nickname: Cottagers
Location: West London
American players: Tim Ream, Luca De La Torre
Biggest rivals: Chelsea, QPR, Brentford, Crystal Palace
Comparisons: Chicago Bears, Nashville Predators

This one’s easy: Fulham is located in London, and counts two of its best all-time players as American in the forms of Clint Dempsey and Brian McBride. It currently has two American players, is owned by NFL owner Shahid Khan, and was once dubbed Fulhamerica for its many U.S. talents (including Carlos Bocanegra, Eddie Lewis, Kasey Keller, and Eddie Johnson). Plus, stadium quirk alert:

(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

10. Huddersfield Town
Last championship: 1923-24
Years in Premier League: 2/27 (Return: 2017-18)
Nickname: The Terriers
Location: Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
American players: Danny Williams
Biggest rivals: Leeds United, Bradford City
Comparisons: Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Bucks

At the ripe old age of 109, the Terriers are in their second year back in the top flight. Well, that’s a little misleading because Town was not even nicknamed the Terriers when it was winning titles in the early part of the 20th century. The blue-and-white striped Town is an underdog story, and is still considered a strong candidate to dip back into the second tier. But what good is life without an underdog story? And, oh yeah, their manager David Wagner was capped by the United States men’s national team.

11. Leicester City
Last championship: 2015-16
Years in Premier League: 13/27
Nickname: Foxes
Location: Leicester
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Coventry City
Comparison: Seattle Seahawks, New Jersey Devils

You could hate sports, and you’d have heard of Leicester City’s title season. The most unlikely championship story in history, with castaway players and a forgotten manager rising up to claim the Premier League crown from the richest of the rich. I can’t tell you not to root for the Foxes, though I also wouldn’t bet on them repeating the glory. It’s a little tricky to slide into the fan base of a team which has almost certainly had its most memorable moment it could possibly achieve, but such is life. Foxes is a great nickname, blue is a solid color, and Kasper Schmeichel is a wonderful goalkeeper.

12. Liverpool

Last championship: 1989-90
Years in Premier League: 27/27
Nickname: Reds
Location: Liverpool
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Everton, Manchester United
Comparison: Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Flyers

Superstar players? Check. Intense, fascinating manager? Check. Title-winning history you can brag (and brag and brag) about? Check. Still plenty of misery to feel like you’re somehow an underdog? Check. No wonder American fans have seemingly flocked to the Anfield set, which is a legitimate threat to win the Premier League. With Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane (amongst others), you’re guaranteed excitement even if the defense doesn’t hold up (and it seems like it might do that, anyway).

13. Manchester City
Last championship: 2017-18
Years in Premier League: 22/27
Nickname: Citizens
Location: Manchester
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Manchester United
Comparison: Dallas Mavericks, L.A. Angels, Golden State Warriors

Some folks will tell you that you can’t support Man City because they’re a club that’s done all their recent winning on the backs of incredible investment from deep-pocketed owners, but as time goes on we’re learning they were an early adopter of emptying banks in pursuit of shiny things.

Still, City has spent crazy money, and is now doing so under the title-winning reign of managerial mastermind Pep Guardiola. Plus, you’ll love the same team as Noel and Liam Gallagher, and their banter game is, generally speaking, top notch.

Noel Gallagher speaks to Pep Guardiola (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

14. Manchester United
Last championship: 2012-13
Years in Premier League: 27/27
Nickname: Red Devils
Location: Manchester
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Liverpool, Leeds United, Manchester City
Comparison: New York Yankees, Montreal Canadiens, New England Patriots

A little shine came off United when it struggled to keep up legendary manager Alex Ferguson’s lofty standards once the Scottish coach left the team. But United has spent almost as much money as any club on Earth and should never, ever be considered anything but a favorite with the biggest financial influence in the game. Now with vilified but brilliant manager Jose Mourinho and status as a power with hunger to reclaim its throne, Manchester United can get back to seriously contending for any trophy in the world. And you can sort of feel like you aren’t jumping on any sort of bandwagon.

15. Newcastle United
Last championship: 1926-27
Years in Premier League: 24/27 (Return: 2017-18)
Nickname: The Magpies
Location: Newcastle upon Tyne
American players: DeAndre Yedlin
Biggest rivals: Sunderland, Middlesbrough
Comparisons: Buffalo Bills, New York Knicks (if they weren’t in NYC)

A blue-collar fan base which has supported its club through thick and thin, but hasn’t hesitated to protest when it’s being run into the ground? There’s something very American sports about Newcastle United, which has achieved glory in its time but has been waiting on more silverware for better than a half century. Its penny-pinching owner has been less than honest about his intent to spend money, and hasn’t broken his transfer record in 15 years while every other club in the top flight is doing so with relatively frequency. Its current boss is one of the most celebrated in modern football, Rafa Benitez, and its players are hoping to again punch above their weight. You could do worse.

16. Southampton
Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 20/27
Nickname: Saints
Location: Southampton
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Portsmouth, Brighton & Hove Albion, Bournemouth
Comparison: St. Louis Blues, Oakland Athletics

Saints have a whole lot of “Moneyball” to their program, and chairman Ralph Krueger literally wrote books on leadership. The ex-NHL coach is an incredibly impressive man, and the way Southampton has replaced assets with cheaper assets is admirable. With one of the best young programs in the world, pound-for-pound, and a certain bit of magic around St Mary’s (their home ground) you could, like Newcastle, do worse than Southampton.

17. Tottenham Hotspur
Last championship: 1960-61
Years in Premier League: 27/27
Nickname: Spurs
Location: London
American players: Cameron Carter-Vickers
Biggest rivals: Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham
Comparison: Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Cowboys

Spurs are a good team to pick. They have an awesome name, an inventive manager and a cool-albeit-goofy logo. They also play in London, which is nice for tourism reasons. The Tottenham-Arsenal rivalry is also excellent, so it’s a good bet for vitriol as well.

Spurs also have a ton of extremely likable and/or exciting players, and have surged into the UEFA Champions League. The players are strong and deep, with superstar striker Harry Kane and Danish wizard Christian Eriksen. There’s also terrific French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. There’s really a terrific tradition at the North London club and perhaps they’ve moved from being “so close” to being truly elite again.

(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

18. Watford
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 6/27 (Return: 2015-16)
Nickname: Hornets
Location: Hertfordshire
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Luton Town
Comparisons: Colorado Avalanche, Cincinnati Reds

Sir Elton John’s favorite club, this is a side that once gave USMNT star Jay DeMerit a shot… and he ended up their captain. Watford is neither swimming in expectation nor consistency, but have avoided relegation for three-consecutive seasons.

19. West Ham United
Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 23/27
Nickname: Hammers, the Irons
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Millwall, Leyton Orient
Comparison: Brooklyn Nets, Oakland Raiders

West Ham United has a lot of money, a new stadium, and an incredibly deep team given its relative lack of big stage success in recent years. There is every reason to believe West Ham is primed to surge into annual contention for UEFA Champions League places and, given their city and backing, you could be getting on board with a next level club while they’re still an underdog story (of sorts). That said, the Irons have underachieved in recent seasons and dealt with eye-popping fan protests last seasons, which is not nice.

20. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Last championship: 1958-59
Years in Premier League: 5/27 (Return: 2018-19)
Nickname: Wolves
Location: Wolverhampton, West Midlands
American players: None
Biggest rivals: West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa, Birmingham City
Comparison: Houston Astros, Buffalo Sabres

There’s a real upward trend here, as Wolves have spent big in recent seasons and that didn’t end with their promotion to the Premier League. A super Portuguese bent to the team sees stars Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho, and Rui Patricio joining promising manager Nuno Espirito Santo in a bid to not just survive in the Premier League, but become a power.

PST’s Premier League 2018-19 preseason roundtable

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It’s the start of a major tournament, the Premier League’s 2018/19 season, and that means it’s time to rally the ProSoccerTalk staff to answer the key questions ahead of Friday’s opener between Leicester City and Manchester United.

[ MORE: 2018-19 PL season preview hub ]  

1) The PL season is upon us. What’s the first storyline that pops into your head?

Joe Prince-Wright: How crazy the battle against relegation will be this season. 10-12 teams very similar and likely to be in the battle.

Nick Mendola: Liverpool. There are no more reasons to believe this team shouldn’t contend for the Premier League title, outside of Manchester City’s brilliance. Finishing anywhere short of second is an outright failure, and it’s sad that at times Jurgen Klopp has stopped short of declaring his squad a favorite.

Kyle Bonn: Can Manchester City dominate like they did last year? Has to be the surrounding aura for the entire season, at least at this point.

Andy Edwards: The battle for second place should be very fun and extremely fluid this season — any one of Man United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal could realistically finish one spot (and 15 points) behind Man City.

Matt Reed: Honestly it should be the race between Liverpool and City at the top, but I’m more interested in the newcomers this season. We’ve never seen promotion sides this active in the transfer market, and both Wolves and Fulham are spending at record rates to bolster their squads.Meanwhile, Cardiff has completed some underrated moves as well, so I want to see what sort of product the three newcomers put out on opening weekend.

Dan Karell: Can Manchester City defend its title after a record-setting season? A close second is the same for Mo Salah…can he repeat?

2) Man City’s chances to repeat, 1 being no chance and 10 being a virtual certainty.

JPW: 9. They’re so much stronger than anyone else in terms of their squad and Pep’s methods are now embedded into these players.

NM: 8. One more year in the system for most of the key pieces, Riyad Mahrez is an upgrade, and Ederson, Laporte, Stones, Mendy, Sane, Sterling, Bernardo Silva, and Gabriel Jesus are all 24 or younger.

KB: 6. They’re absolutely the favorites, but Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal all got better.

AE: 9/10. There are two scenarios in which it doesn’t happen: 1) injuries decimate the squad; 2) Guardiola goes all-in on winning the Champions League and rests the entire starting 11 for PL games. Even then, they’ll likely win it.

MR: 8. I’m still very high on this team, but Liverpool is no joke and this season will be a lot different from how City breezed through matches a season ago. The depth is there. Guardiola is there. However, teams will show more of a willingness to pack numbers in defensively and go for a point against the Citizens. That opens the door for a team like Liverpool to not only close the gap but contend for the Premier League.

DK: 8. I’m preeeettttty positive Man City will be champions again, they’re just so good and they play at a level most teams cannot even get close to. But, their backline is aging, with Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi both 30 and over as well as Fernandinho. If they show their age, it could be a different Man City this season.

3) Liverpool has spent big and kept almost everyone who contributed to their CL run. What’s the bare minimum success needed from Jurgen Klopp this season?

JPW: Finish second and win some silverware, even if it’s the League Cup.

NM: Second in the Premier League and a trophy somewhere. Champions League is a bit more dicey, as the Reds really bucked their performances in going as far as they did, so I’d say winning a knockout round would be enough there.

KB: For Liverpool, anything below finishing second in the table and reaching the Champions League quarterfinals would be a disappointment given the money spent and the positive chatter around the club this summer.

AE:  It’s still about continued progression. As long as there are signs of moving forward — closing the gap between themselves and the Manchester clubs, or maybe even passing United, while integrating the new pieces and setting themselves up for a legitimate title challenge next season — Klopp will be happy. They’re still a season away, probably.

MR: This squad is too talented to not win anything. I think the move for Alisson, in particular, changes a lot of things for the club because Loris Karius was a massive scapegoat after the UCL final. Obviously losing Mohamed Salah in that match was massive, but Liverpool had every chance to beat Real Madrid, and now I think they should be firmly in the mix again both domestically and in Europe.

DK: Second place and a trophy, whether it’s League Cup or FA Cup. I think Liverpool is a legit contender for the Champions League again too. You never know what luck has in store for them, such as drawing Roma after Roma beat Barcelona.

4) Spurs haven’t spent like the other title contenders. You worried for them?

JPW: A little, but they always prove us wrong. Moving into a new stadium, no new signings and a bit of a World Cup hangover for a lot of their stars could be detrimental to their progression once again. Pochettino is pound-for-pound the best manager around, so I’m sure he will figure out a way to get the best out of what he has until January.

NM: Yeah, but Harry Kane. The question not being asked enough is whether Dele Alli is the superstar of 2016-17, or simply the pretty good talent of the surrounding campaigns.

KB: I am not. Spurs’ depth is already quite strong, and they have some young players that will contribute as well.

AE: Yes and no. There’s something to be said for continuity and the momentum generated by three straight seasons finishing in the top-three. It’s still an incredibly young squad, and theoretically, there’s another level (or two or three) that a number of established stars can still reach. That said, further development isn’t a guarantee, and it was a thin squad last season. To not address any of the above concerns feels like criminal negligence.

MR: I actually am. It’s not even the fact that they didn’t spend, but more the fact that some of their best players didn’t look themselves in Russia and I’m concerned that so many matches over the course of the last 12 months catches up to them.

DK: Not really. They will likely have a slow start, with so many stars just coming back from their post-World Cup break. But with continuity, I expect they’ll be just fine come the end of the season.

5) Better bet to land in the Top Four: Chelsea or Arsenal?

JPW: Probably Arsenal. I expect Aubameyang to have a wonderful season and if Emery’s side can shore things up at the back they have a decent chance. Who knows how quickly Chelsea will gel under Sarri. Whenever they do it will be great to watch, but it could take a long time.

NM: Chelsea, if only because many of their players have largely done this turnaround thing once during their time at Stamford Bridge. Jorginho and N'Golo Kante should be a no-pass zone in the midfield. Arsenal will also be prolific, but it could take time for its back line to gel. The Gunners need bounce back seasons from Hector Bellerin and Laurent Koscielny.

KB: Good question. Very good question. I think Chelsea has the better squad and the manager with the higher floor, so I give them the edge at this point. Arsenal could absolutely surprise under Emery and I like where they’re headed, but Chelsea looks much more improved this summer.

AE: Arsenal, ever so slightly.

MR: The turmoil surrounding Chelsea has been an obvious distraction, but for whatever reason they seem to thrive under new managers. It happened with Mourinho. It happened Conte. This team is still very, very talented and the additions of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic makes this one of the top midfields in the PL when considering N’Golo Kante’s presence. It’s easy to forget this team is just one season removed from winning the title.

DK: Arsenal. By appointing Unai Emery and bringing in new signings early, Arsenal has a leg up over Chelsea, which is now replacing its starting goalkeeper days before the start of the season. That type of chemistry will take months to form between Kepa and the backline, and aside from Jorginho, Chelsea didn’t do much of note.

[ MORE: Full list of Thursday’s deals ]

6) More goals in league play: Kane, Salah, Lukaku, Aubameyang, other?

JPW: Kane

NM: Aubameyang is going to be the best in terms of goals-per-minute, but will be spelled more often by Lacazette. Same could happen for Salah. It’s between Lukaku and Kane, and Lukaku’s success depends on too many variables from his playmaking corps, though his and Alexis Sanchez’s combined goals and assists total could be higher than any other club tandem. Kane, but only just.

KB: Kane based on prior performance, but I really like Aubameyang this year. Salah will inevitably regress but that doesn’t mean he will be bad, Liverpool will be right there in the mix.

AE: Kane

MR: Simply considering his value to the team, Harry Kane has to be at the top of this list.

DK: Aubameyang. He’s fresh off a World Cup-free summer and should be raring to go for Arsenal, especially on the counter attack.

7)  Everton, Leicester City, and Crystal Palace have reasons to hope to build on 2017-18. Who will finish higher?

JPW: Everton. So many good additions over the summer and Silva’s tactics will excite the fans.

NM: Everton for sure, though Palace will tempt the Top Seven. The Toffees have a chance to slide in front one of the Top Six times still adjusting to a new boss (though Everton is, too!).

KB: Everton did some very solid business this summer and I like them to have a finish somewhere between 8-10 with a good view towards the future as well.

AE: Everton might finish 7th, they might also finish 15th. The former is probably the more likely scenario, so I’ll go with them, but it’ll be truly fascinating to watch how that squad comes together — or doesn’t — over the first couple months of the season.

MR: Late moves for Yerry Mina and Bernard only complete the strong transfer window that Everton had. I expect them to be firmly the seventh-best team once again in the PL, and potentially have the opportunity to contend for top 6.

DK: Everton. After deadline-day signings of Mina, Bernard and Andre Gomes, the club is poised for another jump back into the top 10. Crystal Palace should struggle again, while Leicester City has a Riyad Mahrez-sized hole to fill.

8) Burnley is contending with Europa League in addition to the PL. More likely: A repeat top half performance, or relegation?

JPW: More likely a relegation battle. Burnley haven’t strengthened that much this summer and it would be a miracle to replicate last season.

NM: Relegation. I promised not to bet against Sean Dyche after last season saw my relegation prediction with a laughably low total proven very, very wrong, but I wouldn’t bet on them to be top half.

KB: Relegation, unquestionably. This squad needed help this summer and got nothing. Burnley is incredibly well-coached, but they will be run to the ground. Losing Nick Pope is a huge blow, and one or two more poorly placed injuries will destroy that squad given how paper thin it is.

AE: Relegation, but only because finishing in the UEL places last season was totally absurd (in a good way).

MR: I just don’t see where the goals come from within this team. Everyone knows that Sean Dyche has instilled a tremendously effective defensive style that stifles opponents, but when it comes to playing the big clubs in a European competition I’m not sure they’ll have enough attacking firepower.

DK: Relegation. It’s always tough for a team the first time (or first time in a while) in the Europa League, and it’s difficult to expend so much energy early in the season. Look at Everton, crashing out of the Europa League last year and slumping basically into the relegation zone.

9) Which promoted team will finish highest, and how high?

JPW: Wolves. 8th or 9th. Tremendous squad assembled and plenty of momentum.

NM: After today, I find it hard not to say Fulham. If Aleksandar Mitrovic stays in his shoes and Jean Michael Seri quickly adjusts to England, they may finish 9th. If Andre Schurrle is Andre Schurrle, they may be in the Top Six discussion.

KB: Fulham will finish 10-12, and Wolves may be right there with them. Those two teams have done some fabulous business this summer, more than their fanbases could have possibly dreamed. They’re here for the long haul.

AE: Wolves will finish in the top-12; Fulham a place or two behind them; Cardiff will likely be in the Championship this time next year.

MR: I like Wolves and Fulham to both finish top 10 this season, and I think it’s very doable when you consider what other mid-table clubs did (or didn’t do) this summer. Both teams were ambitious, and I think that pays off in a big way with Wolves finishing ninth and Fulham rounding out the top 10.

DK: Wolves. They’ve basically signed current and former members of the Portuguese National Team this summer, which adds to Ruben Neves and the core of the squad that was promoted. I could easily see a mid-table finish.

10) How many managers will be fired this season, and which manager will be fired first?

JPW: Eight. And I’m going with Javi Gracia.

NM: Less than we think. The ones who have the least hold on their gigs entering the year are Cardiff’s Neil Warnock, Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe, Leicester’s Claude Puel, Watford’s Javi Gracia, Saints’ Mark Hughes, and Man Utd’s Jose Mourinho. Rafa Benitez of Newcastle could also resign, but I’ll go with five.

KB: We’ll go with 6 managers fired, and the first will be Jose Mourinho.

AE: Given the massive financial investments made in virtually every squad in the PL, owners will expect immediate return on investment. Since there’s only so many points to go around, the number of managers fired will be high. It could be half of the league, based upon the ebbs and flows of a 38-game season. Neil Warnock’s return to the PL (with Cardiff) could be a brief one.

MR: I think as many as five coaches could be sacked midseason because of the fact that so many mid-table clubs were almost stagnant this summer in the transfer market. Southampton manager Mark Hughes immediately comes to mind because of the team’s struggles last season in survival, and I’m not sold that the team improved significantly.

DK: I’ll put the odds at 7.5 and take the over. I think Jose Mourinho is likely to be fired this season but he won’t be the first. That may go to Neil Warnock or Claude Puel.

11) Which team goes deepest in the CL: Man City, Man Utd, Spurs, Liverpool?

JPW: Man City. They’re the real deal this season.

NM: Of course it depends on the draw, but Man City is ready for prime time.

KB: Manchester City is built for a league season as we saw last year, but they’ll do better in the knockout environment this year as well. I like Pep to make the semifinals. If they don’t, it’s a huge disappointment even if they win the Premier League.

AE: Man City are one of two or three sides with a strong chance of winning it.

MR: The Citizens simply have so much depth, and in a competition like UCL you need a full compliment of players to make up for fixture accumulation. Guardiola will learn from his mistakes in last season’s UCL, and be one of the heavy favorites to hoist their first title in the competition.

DK: Manchester City. I think this year they have a legit chance for a title. Real Madrid is weaker, Barcelona didn’t improve in a major way. PSG may be better, but who knows where Neymar’s head is. Bayern appears in flux. Now is Man City’s chance.

12) Which American has a better season: DeAndre Yedlin, Tim Ream, or Danny Williams?

JPW: Probably Yedlin. He will play every single game for Newcastle, while the other two may not be guaranteed starters. Despite Ream’s heroics, Fulham have bought plenty of new center backs and Williams had a lot of competition at Huddersfield.

NM: Yedlin. Believe it or not, I’ve seen buzz in Newcastle fan circles worrying he’ll be sold to a contender.

KB: Tim Ream is suddenly surrounded by competition for minutes with the additions of Alfie Mawson, Calum Chambers, and Maxim Le Marchand. DeAndre Yedlin has no competition and has flourished under Rafa Benitez, and I like him to be one of the few bright spots at Newcastle.

AE: Yedlin.

MR: Ream should be the choice, but with some of the moves that Fulham has made this summer, the American likely won’t see regular minutes for the club as he did a season ago in their promotion run. That said, DeAndre Yedlin had a very strong season for the Magpies in 2017-18, and I think he’s key for them on a defensive unit that conceded the seventh-fewest goals last year.

DK: DeAndre Yedlin. He’s the only of the trio that is a regular

13) Make one outlandish — like crazy — prediction for the season.

JPW: Leicester City will be in the top four for much of the first half of the season.

NM: Here are three: N’Golo Kante wins the Ballon d’Or, Paul Pogba is named Premier League Player of the Year, and Newcastle’s Jonjo Shelvey misses a game after getting lost in an aquarium.

KB: Jose Mourinho will never get another top job after being fired at Manchester United.

AE: Jose Mourinho doesn’t finish the season at Old Trafford.

MR: The massive spending from Wolves and Fulham pays off… and they both qualify for Europa League, knocking Manchester United and Spurs out of Europe next season.

DK: Everton makes the top 4.

14) Who gets promoted from the Championship for the 2019-20 season?

JPW: Leeds. Swansea. Aston Villa.

NM: Brentford, Nottingham Forest, Hull City (Stoke just misses out).

KB:  Middlesbrough, Derby County, and Brentford

AE: Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Brentford.

MR: Middlesbrough, Leeds and West Brom

DK: Aston Villa

2018 World Cup should bring hope for USA

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Watching the 2018 World Cup in the United States of America this summer promised to be a torturous thing.

It has been anything but.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]  

With the U.S. not qualifying for a World Cup for the first time since 1986, many wondered if the general public, or even general sports fans, would take much notice. Would bars even open early? How exactly would a soccer lover get their fix?

How wrong they could have been.

Over the past few weeks I’ve traveled across the USA and the Caribbean, watching games in bars in New York City, sports books in huge casinos and airport lounges as small taverns in rural America opened early to air the games at the behest of gangs of middle-aged men and their kids and despite the initial reluctance of an ageing barman.

“Hey, are you showing the game?” was heard time and time again in cities all over the USA.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Good news for the sport in the USA: the excitement and passion for the World Cup is still there, even if reports state that Fox’s viewing figures are down compared to 2014. With the time zone in Russia compared to Brazil far from favorable with early morning kick offs and, of course, the U.S. not being in the tournament, the numbers aren’t that bad. Plus, our Spanish language partners at Telemundo have had roaring success when it comes to viewers of their broadcasts and streams as it became the “biggest livestream sports event in Spanish-language history.”

But back to the actual scene on the ground in the USA and what it felt like to watch games with ordinary Americans who had no real affiliation to a particular nation, despite constant car commercials telling them to root for Germany because of the “frankfurter” or for Iceland to “help with the clap” or Switzerland because of a Swiss army knife.

Actually, scratch that, we all know that U.S. citizens have some loose affiliation to their ancestry roots because that’s just how it is. Germany. Mexico. England. Colombia. Peru. But it was about more than that. Plenty of those nations had huge numbers of fans cheering them on in watch parties such as the one organized by New York City FC of Major League Soccer at the Rockefeller Center in NYC. Not to mention at home or at the office.

Bars were often packed in plenty of the major U.S. cities come lunchtime as fans gathered to watch Mexico stun Germany, England squeeze past Colombia on penalty kicks or Belgium’s stunning comeback over Japan.

The 2018 World Cup delivered dramatic moments which were aired on local news and the fact it only had to contend with the relatively young MLB season meant plenty of the focus was on it. Drinks specials in bars ranged from a pint of Carling for England, Carlsberg for Denmark, Bitburger for Germany or a Kronenbourg for France, while flags were out, jerseys of teams were visible and in places like NYC, as expected, you could watch the games with fans of any nation playing to enhance your experience.

Whole U.S. cities didn’t come to a standstill this summer and they didn’t in 2014 either. But the World Cup was a huge part of summer life for millions of Americans. There’s no getting around that.

There’s also no getting around the fact that not having the U.S. at this World Cup was a missed opportunity to bring in new fans to the sport. That’s something the United States of America still desperately needs despite MLS expanding and TV audiences for European leagues growing year-on-year. Building a bigger fanbase off the back of extreme patriotism is something which has no doubt helped the stature of the game in the U.S. on a four-yearly basis in the past.

The “soccer growth” aspect has been the dark cloud swirling around the USMNT’s failure to qualify for this World Cup. I’ve spoken to the likes of USMNT stars Christian Pulisic and Danny Williams and others about what it meant that the U.S. wouldn’t be at the big dance.

“When I was just a kid watching the U.S. at the World Cup, that gave me so much inspiration, seeing my country and seeing people playing with the U.S. crest,” Pulisic said. “Seeing them compete at a World Cup inspired me so much. Missing out on that is going to be a big thing but that doesn’t mean it’s over for U.S. Soccer. We are still growing a lot and we will do everything we can to be at the next one.”

And even if they don’t qualify for the World Cup in Qatar in 2022, kids are still being inspired. The average American still screamed in wonderment when Nacer Chadli score Belgium’s last-gasp winner against Japan or Cristiano Ronaldo spanked home that free kick against Spain or Harry Kane headed home a stoppage time winner against Tunisia.

The soccer culture in the U.S. has got to a place where you can walk into sports bars and fans will have taken the morning off work to go and watch a meaningless England v Belgium group game and tell you about the club team they play on or their son will talk through his college season while wearing a Chivas jersey and a pair of Manchester United shorts. The soccer IQ of American fans can no longer be questioned.

People cared deeply about the World Cup this summer on American soil despite the U.S. not being there. I saw it with my own eyes. Day after day. In several different cities.

Bars were packed in Pittsburgh for Croatia v England. Airports in the Caribbean were full of Americans applauding when Mexico went 2-0 up vs. South Korea. People went to the sports book and put money on teams like Serbia and Senegal just to get in on the fun. Germany and Colombia fans packed bars every time they played.

To me, this summer brought great hope for the future of the game in this country. It is still not even close to reaching its potential. We all know that hosting the 2026 World Cup will be the true benchmark as to whether or not soccer is going to surge past mainstream American sports league such as the NHL, MLB and NFL.

There is a lot of work to do in the next eight years to even get close to that happening but it’s a possibility as 80 games will be played across the U.S., Mexico and Canada with 60 in the United States as the biggest World Cup tournament in history comes to American soil.

For me, this small tale from my summer spent in the U.S. sums up one of the many reasons why watching the World Cup Stateside filled me with great hope.

I was sat at lunch with over 25 members of my extended family just outside of Rochester, New York last week. A 10-year-old cousin shouted excitedly as the World Cup was casually discussed: “I can’t wait for the 2026 World Cup when the games come here and I can see it!” He will be 17 when that happens with games to be played nearby in New York City and Toronto. He is already inspired after watching the games this summer. He is already looking forward to the next two World Cups.

This World Cup wasn’t a complete failure for the sport in the USA. If anything it underlined just how much the game is growing. Seeing it up close, there is still plenty of momentum behind the game despite the scaremongering about the harm a World Cup without the U.S. would cause.

Even better news for U.S. fans: the World Cup is almost over. Let the road to 2022, and more importantly 2026, begin.

Venting and lamenting the USMNT’s World Cup absence

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Maybe it’s the fact that the night’s already surreal, with the American and North Korean leaders holding a historic meeting and the common bond being a 57-year-old nicknamed “The Worm” who is known for being an excellent rebounder and starring in a movie with Jean-Claude Van Damme, but the dawn of this summer’s World Cup feels exceptionally dreamlike.

Let’s get some things out of the way: Even with the United States men’s national team failing to make the tournament, I’m still very excited about the World Cup. I’m leaning toward hitching my wagon to Serbia’s dark horse status, but also want to be four years’ worth of correct when it comes to Germany.

I’ve also learned you can navigate the sports version of the grieving process — acceptance is tough, but the hope part is easier — and still ride pretty high on the anger and frustration part of it all.

[ MORE: Sporting Lisbon drama increases ]

Anything can happen in a World Cup. We saw that with the USMNT escaping its Group of Death in 2014 and Costa Rica doing the same, but I can’t help look at this tournament as a chance lost for both CONCACAF and the U.S.

This is subjective, and please feel free to disagree, but the domestic buzz feels minimal compared to a tournament with the United States in the field. In terms of the average sports fan, you can scream Messi or Ronaldo all you want, but the tournament is being sold here like an El Clasico with flags.

We’ve reached the point in the World Cup cycle where I worry how many kids, both fans and players, in that pivotal age bracket of 8-12 are going to potentially miss out on their formative Dos A Cero in Jeonju, or Landon Donovan versus Algeria moment.

The beauty of being a sports fan is the images and characters created by your team or nation on the biggest stages.

For Americans of my generation, we’ve seen our country in every World Cup since we were in grade school. Even tournaments where the USMNT didn’t really ring a bell, like 1994, the World Cup drew us into side stories. I remember sitting in my Uncle Jim’s living room, hoping against hope that Italy would top Brazil, and being fairly bummed when Roberto Baggio sent his effort over the bar

I also often feel compelled to point out that Baggio was the third Italian to miss, and that Italy goes out in the Round of 16 if he doesn’t equalize in the 88th minute and complete his brace against Nigeria in extra time, then scoring the winner against Spain in the quarters, and both goals against Bulgaria in the semis.

And here’s the thing: I barely cared about soccer in 1994. I didn’t start playing until high school, and didn’t fall in love with the USMNT program until qualifying for the 2002 tournament.

There’s a vivid American memory from every World Cup after ’94 for me, often in the form of a question.

1998: “Did we really just lose to Iran?”

2002: “How did the ref miss that %^&%^& handball on Frings?”

2006: “Brian McBride is really bloody”

2010: “AND DONOVAN’S SCORED, OH CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?”

2014:

2018 is gonna be anger and disbelief, a generation deprived of its World Cup from perhaps the easiest qualification format by a defiant coach, his haughty replacement, and a group of players who showed enough effort to get the job done on average once every other game.

Frankly, this probably sounds absurd to some European and South American nations considering some of the World Cup droughts, some still active. Ryan Giggs never played in one. Alfredo Di Stefano, George Weah, and Ian Rush were shut out. Even in the expanded format, current big names like Darren Fletcher, Arda Turan, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Christian Pulisic missed his first World Cup? Boo-hoo, say Austria and Wales. David Alaba will be 28 the next time he gets to attempt qualification for his first. Gareth Bale will be 31 and Aaron Ramsey 30.

Robbie Keane got one World Cup. Marcus Hahnemann went to two.

So, yeah, American soccer fans have had it pretty good. I don’t want this to read like, “my tap water in Western New York could be better” when in reality I’d welcome a full-time job of delivering fresh water to the half-globe or more where it is needed by real, true human beings (including Michigan). Rooting for Serbia because the U.S. or Wakanda didn’t qualify is an acceptable enough outcome.

The 2026 World Cup could be coming back to the United States for the second time in 32 years despite this country still just figuring out the sport’s allure. We’re fortunate in so many ways. And, frankly, there’s a very good argument to be made that the country’s federation could use the second swift kick that would come from failing to make a World Cup then blowing a World Cup hosting bid despite overwhelming stores of influence and money.

But for now, all I can think about is what we won’t have this weekend. Very few, if any, city blocks shut down for outdoor viewing party. A similar amount of beer-soaked phone videos of bar celebrations. No John Brooks canceling out Andre Ayew’s late equalizer. No Jermaine Jones rocket against Portugal. Not even a hope-giving moment from substitute Julian Green versus Belgium (Silly dual nationals).

Don’t forget: Some said dual nationals like John Brooks didn’t “care” enough (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images).

No first World Cup for Pulisic. Maybe no World Cup ever for Eric Lichaj, Bobby Wood, Tim Ream, Danny Williams, and Darlington Nagbe.

I mean, shoot, at least when the USWNT took its step back it was just a missed medal at the Olympics, not an entire month of sadness.

The whys are myriad: A national program that got high on its own FIFA rankings supply. A divide between proponents of players playing at the highest level and those who refused to push players there because of the money it made them or their domestic clubs. No one knows if Matt Besler would’ve become the best defender in USMNT history with a move to West Ham — and we do love him for his one-club heart — but there sure is some “What if?” there.

But it’s not about the whys here. It’s about the “What ifs?”

What if the U.S. was drawn in Panama’s place, needing to get past Belgium or England, let alone Tunisia, to make another knockout round? I’m genuinely happy for Panama, even with their ghost goal being the difference, but CONCACAF would likely rather see the Yanks’ buttressing their World Cup host bid with Pulisic as poster boy.

What if the U.S. was drawn in Mexico’s place, a veritable Group of Death for Arena and his proponents to measure himself against Klinsmann and his?

Or what about Costa Rica’s spot, with Neymar’s Brazil joining underachieving Switzerland and dark horse Serbia on the docket?

What if that kid who’s choosing whether to dedicate himself to high school football, basketball, lacrosse, or soccer, doesn’t bother to get misty-eyed for the red, white, and blue because he’s going to opt to go to the Orioles because Croatia-Argentina doesn’t have any significance to him?

$%^$.

Roundtable: Premier League season review

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It’s time to wrap a lovely bow on the 2017/18 Premier League season as our writers sit down to discuss all that has happened over the past nine months.

[ MORE: PST’s 2017/18 season reviews ]

From Manchester City’s remarkable season to Mohamed Salah‘s brilliance, memorable games, goals and more, let’s take stock of a memorable campaign.

Here it goes…


What is your overriding memory from the 2017/18 season? 

Joe Prince-Wright: I’m actually going to go back to the opening day of the season. I was at Brighton v. Manchester City and City ran out comfortable winners in the end, but you could just tell how much better they were in every, single aspect. They started the season as they meant to go on and from the very first whistle to the very last they were totally obsessed with scoring as many goals as they could as fast as they could and being utterly ruthless. Record number of points (100), goals (106), wins in a season (32), biggest title-winning margin (19 points) and largest goal differential (+79) says it all. A joy to watch all season long.

Nicholas Mendola: Ultimately, it’s Man City’s season, primarily in September/October when they were seemingly hanging five, six, and seven goals on everyone, but my “Blink” Gladwellian answer is Paul Pogba‘s pair of goals in leading the Manchester Derby comeback.

Kyle Bonn: Manchester City’s dominance is easily the biggest story of the season, and for that reason the one thing that sticks out in my mind. They were fallible yet beautiful. It’s tough to start anywhere else but here.

Matt Reed: It was one of the few seasons where you could get a good idea of who the champion would be within the first few weeks of the season. Man City was simply that dominant, and it was so much fun to watch them go out on a week to week basis.

Dan Karell: That I correctly predicted Man City would win it…duh! Kidding. I think though it’s a tie for Man City’s utter dominance as well as Mohamed Salah’s constant goal-scoring, both in the Champions League and the Premier League.


Okay, so, let’s get right into it: is this Man City team the best in PL history? Or do they need to win the Champions League as well as the PL to prove that?

JPW: I struggle to see anyone replicating this season again. Maybe City next season… They need to deliver the Champions League trophy in the next few seasons to truly hammer home how great this team is. I’m not sure if this is nostalgia getting in the way, but some of the Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United teams from the past would run this City team pretty close, albeit with totally different playing styles.

NM: Yes. It occurred to me when I heard a podcast mention their not only dropping 14 points this season. With the TV money going up-and-down the table, it’s difficult to imagine anyone gathering 100 points ever again… and to do it with such dominance! But it’s absolutely the best performance any team has put up in the league’s history. Better than the Invincibles. The records they’ve broken cover the gamut.

KB: This is the best performance in Premier League history. It is debatable whether it’s the best assembled Premier League team in history but it’s absolutely the best season-wide, cover-to-cover execution any team has put up in the league’s history. Better than the Invincibles. The records they’ve broken cover the gamut.

MR: Just looking at the roster that Guardiola managed to build, you’d have to say at the very least this is a top two or three team in PL history. But then you really have to dive deep into how he did it, especially the dominating nature in which he and Man City completed the task. They’re the first team to reach 100 points, which is simply astonishing in itself, and then finishing 19 points clear (over six wins) of second place is equally impressive. In short, yes, I think this is probably the best team in PL history when you consider how deep and skilled the squad is. There are at least three to four players that could be in the running for Player of the Year, and that isn’t even including goalkeeper Ederson, who proved to be one of the most underrated signings of the summer.

DK: I actually think they are. To get 100 points in the most competitive league in the world is so impressive, and even though they didn’t go unbeaten or win the treble, I still think winning 34 of 38 games is a more impressive accomplishment, as well as scoring 100 goals over a 38-game season. Just utter dominance.


Is this Pep Guardiola’s biggest achievement to date? Everyone said he couldn’t obliterate the Premier League and, er, this is awkward… he did.

JPW: I still think his treble-winning season with Barcelona in his debut campaign as a manager was his finest achievement, but this is a close second. He forced English soccer to eat its own words and, like Wenger before him, he will help redefine what the Premier League becomes.

NM: Yes, if only because when he was looking even more resplendent with Barcelona, no one was prepared for what he was concocting on the pitch. And while he’s had a chance to refine his dynamic, geniuses like Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte (and Jurgen Klopp) have sorted out new ways to test it. And when you consider that Liverpool eliminated Man City from the Champions League despite being wildly out-chanced? That’s just bad fortune, not poor performance.

KB: I think a debate on Guardiola’s achievements would be a heated one, but this has to be up there, especially considering how mediocre and porous the team looked just last season. The turnaround is staggering, and that’s down to the coach. I think it certainly has a shout to be one of his greatest achievements.

MR: A Champions League title would’ve validated Guardiola’s success a bit more, but this season was dominant all throughout. It took a very talented Liverpool side, who had the benefit of familiarity over their opponent, to knock them out of the UCL, otherwise City probably would’ve gone on to win the competition.

DK: No. I still think his Champions League titles are bigger because once you get to the knockout stage, you have 8 games and it takes a bit of luck along with talent and great tactical decisions to win, and he was able to do that twice. The margins for error in the Champions League are much smaller than in the Premier League, when there’s 38 games.


Who are Man City’s biggest challengers for the title next season?

JPW: Liverpool. They’ve been so much better defensively with Virgil Van Dijk and if Firmino, Salah and Mane can stay fit next season they will push Man City all the way. I truly believe that. Plus, they have something of a hold over City given their big win at Anfield and in the both legs of the UEFA Champions League. If Jurgen Klopp an add a star goalkeeper and another central defender this summer (along with Naby Keita’s arrival) then the Reds are set for a heck of a campaign.

NM: That’s conditional: If Manchester United finds the right center back pairing, it’s them. If Naby Keita quickly adjusts to life in Liverpool, it’s both of them. This all assumes that Spurs don’t start spending big…

KB: A lot of this will depend on who Arsenal gets as a coach. Given the talent on that team, if they can get someone to actually get that squad to play together, I think the Gunners can give it a go. Chelsea is in this boat as well, and they have maybe less pressure to get the hire spot on given the great shape the squad is in. However, right now, it would have to be Liverpool. I think Manchester United might have a chance, but not if Jose Mourinho insists on playing this style. Too many draws to combat the high-flying Manchester City machine.

MR: With a new manager coming in, I’d expect Chelsea to make some pretty big moves this offseason. Spurs is going to be contender for a long time as well, so I’d lump them in. I like Man United’s squad, but I still think they are lacking pieces both in the attack and defensively, so they’ll be there too.

DK: It’s a bit too early to say, since we don’t know who Chelsea, Spurs and Man United will sign. I guess I’ll say Liverpool, should they sign another centerback and if Naby Keita is a massive upgrade in CM.


Which of the “big six” clubs were you most disappointed with and why?

JPW: Obviously, Chelsea. But I was also a little let down by Tottenham. Yes, they were playing their entire season away from home with the move to Wembley but I felt like they were so close to launching a serious title bid, but kept stumbling at the pivotal moment. There was progress from Spurs but a big trophy win (PL or UCL) still seems a long way off. As for Chelsea, what a mess. Antonio Conte had been disinterested all season long and he’s demeanor spread to the team who only turned up when they wanted to. A big let-down considering the incredible title win in 2016/17.

NM: Chelsea. For those players, many of whom saw their heart question when Jose Mourinho was fired, to be so mercurial again? Ugh.

KB: Chelsea, without question. A year removed from a relatively comprehensive title run, they flopped bigtime. Antonio Conte, after all the praise he received this past summer, was out-coached far too many times for comfort.

MR: Chelsea. Losing Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic proved to be all the difference in the world for this squad. Antonio Conte struggled to find continuity in his attack with Alvaro Morata struggling over long stretches of the campaign and the back line had its share of inconsistencies as well. Additionally, the addition of Tiemoue Bakayoko backfired, and the team’s midfield looked far less competent with the former Monaco player in there instead of Matic.

DK: Is Arsenal still part of the big six? Cause it’s Arsenal. Just one win on the road in 2018 was a new low for a club that’s been progressively sinking in the table for the last 12 years. The lack of mental fortitude was yet another microcosm of everything that’s been wrong with Arsene Wenger‘s management since the 2006 Champions League final.


What next for Arsenal? And fill in the blank: Arsene Wenger’s legacy at Arsenal is _____

JPW: It seems like they will go with Mikel Arteta and the jury is really out on him. I think Arsenal are what they are for the foreseeable future. When their on they can beat anyone. When they’re not, they can be beaten by anyone. Unless the new manager seriously remodels their defense, they will finish no better than fifth in the table. Simple. As for Arsene Wenger, his legacy at Arsenal is: intact as he left at the right time. A proper legend of the game who soccer purists should salute for bringing neutrals decades of joy.

NM: Arsenal can turn things around quickly with an upgrade at destroyer and center back, though I’m not sleeping on some of their players stepping up during a second Premier League season. The Aubameyang-Ozil-Mkhitaryan-Lacazette quartet could be lethal.

KB: The Invincibles. The rest is kind of a jumbled mess. He will always have the FA Cup runs to look back on as well, but I’m not so sure Arsenal fans are as enamored by those trophies.

MR: The club needs to find itself an established manager for the interim. That should be their number one priority at this point. Laurent Blanc and Luis Enrique should be among those considered until Arsenal feels it is ready to bring in someone familiar with the club like Patrick Vieira or Mikel Arteta. Arsene Wenger’s legacy at Arsenal is under-appreciated.

DK: Hopefully for Arsenal, a new manager comes in with new, fresh ideas. I think fans will be okay with some struggles in the seasons to come as long as things are different, just because it’s been on a downward slope for so long with no signs of change. Wenger’s legacy at Arsenal is….complicated. Of course he deserves plaudits for all he accomplished in his first 10 years. But the final 12 were far short of the first ten. Today’s Arsenal team would lose 3-0 to the late 90s’/early 2000’s teams.


Do you believe that Man United have progressed sufficiently under Jose Mourinho? 19 points behind City is a humongous gap 

JPW: For me, they haven’t progress enough. I’m with Matt Reed on this. The squad of players they have suggests the gap to Man City should be a lot closer and although United finished second comfortably, their lack of success in Europe was shocking. Jose Mourinho has to mount a serious title challenge next season and reach the semifinals of the UCL. That’s what a club the size of United should be doing, minimum, year in, year out. Given the money Mourinho has had to spend he can no longer hide and I’d expect a major clear-out this summer. Being so far behind City, and particularly Guardiola, will have Mourinho’s skin crawling.

NM: Yes, I do. The gap is massive, but City also happened to get more than a few breaks along the way. City went 8-2, no draws, against the rest of the Top Six. That’s seemingly impossible to repeat.

KB: I think they have made tangible progress from what they were when he took over, yes. However, given the time he’s had to mend the squad, their agonizing style of play and downward trend as the season progressed are seriously worrying. I think Mourinho has a lot to prove next season, and he could be coaching for his job.

MR: No, I do not. I think United has a strong base with players like Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and David De Gea but there are certainly chemistry issues within the squad. I personally felt the Alexis Sanchez move was a bit of a desperate one from the club to keep him away from Man City. He produced on some occasions, but at times looked lost and frustrated under Mourinho’s style.

DK: It’s hard to tell. While Man United finished a comfortable second, the club hasn’t been in the title race since October, when Man City took a massive lead and never looked back. Mourinho is going to have to bring in more people who like to play for him, or he’s going to have to depart for Man United to truly progress.


If you’re Chelsea, who do you bring in to replace Antonio Conte?  

JPW: I’d actually go with the best coach they can find rather than just a flashy name. Look, Conte has made it clear: he is “only the coach” at Chelsea. They have a recruitment team and so many other people pulling the strings, so bring in a manager who actually improves players, especially the plethora of talented youngsters they have on their books out on loan all over the place. They could do a lot worse than bringing in a young, hungry manager like Eddie Howe or even Julian Nagelsmann. Look, that probably won’t happen and it will probably be Luis Enrique, but I’d do something totally different. What is the worse that can happen?

NM: Luis Enrique or Zinedine Zidane.

KB: I would get Carlo Ancelotti, if Arsenal doesn’t snag him first. He has both the pedigree and the knowledge to take a supremely talented squad and run with it immediately.

MR: Luis Enrique seems to be the logical choice now that Thomas Tuchel has gone to PSG. By all accounts, he defied the odds at Barcelona even though he wasn’t a fan favorite when he was first hired. I think he could be a steadying force at Stamford Bridge as the club looks to re-tool ahead of 2018/19.

DK: Keep it Italian and bring back Carlo Ancelotti? Go young with Julian Nagelsman or Domenico Tedesco? There’s many directions they could go…Unai Emery is available too…


Can Mohamed Salah replicate his stunning season? And which player will burst onto the scene next season and have a similar (if possible) impact?

JPW: Nah, there’s no way he can score that many goals again. It’s a bit of a fluke season but one which has been remarkable to watch and he truly deserves all of the plaudits he is getting. I still think Salah scores over 20 goals next season, for the record. As for someone else who can have a similar impact… I’m going to go with Gabriel Jesus. I think next season is truly the year he takes over from Sergio Aguero and he will get plenty of confidence from being the main man for Brazil at the World Cup next summer.

NM: Hooooo, that first one is a loaded question. I think yes, especially if Naby Keita fills a needed hole in the middle of the park to further reward the high press. I’ll cheat and say whichever of Neymar or Edinson Cavani leaves PSG for Man United.

KB: The simple answer is no. Almost no record-setting performance is repeatable. However, that is not to say he won’t have another stunning year. Salah can be just as effective without scoring 38 goals in the season. I predict he will be just as good next year. As far as a new name to consider for next campaign, how about this: Paulo Dybala. It will be supremely difficult for anyone to pry him away from Juventus, but the Argentinian was poor to finish the season, and if he flops in the World Cup or doesn’t see much time, you can bet the Italians will get plenty of calls hoping they have changed their stance on the young striker. And if he has a great World Cup, that could light up the phone lines as well, forcing a big club to make Juventus an offer they can’t refuse. A change of scenery to the bright lights in England could be just what he needs to take his career sky-high.

MR: Salah has proven to be such a dangerous player in a lot of facets of the game, which makes him such a difficult player to stop. Obviously his goalscoring is first and foremost, but he also recorded the second-most assists in the PL of the top 10 goalscorers in the league this season, which makes him more than just a finisher. I think Liverpool has somebody they can rely on for a long time, especially considering the team’s other attacking threats in Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino. It’s hard to say who could be the next Salah before transfers are made, but I think someone like Wilfried Zaha could have a big impact on a top side if he moved to a bigger club. He’s proven to be very dynamic on the wing and a very capable goalscorer for lesser PL sides.

DK: I doubt he’ll score 32 goals again but I can easily see him scoring 20-25, even as teams figure out how to defend him. He’s just so tricky on the ball and is so fast, so it’s really hard to keep him in front of you as a defender. Which player will next have a similar season? Let’s say Raheem Sterling. If he could finish better, he’d have scored 30 as well.


The relegation situation saw three established PL clubs fall. Are the second tier teams getting better or are PL clubs getting complacent? 

JPW: I think PL clubs have grown complacent and very lazy with player recruitment and the Championship clubs are smarter in selecting the players they bring in. Look at Stoke, West Brom and Swansea who went down and Southampton who almost joined them. All four have been solid midtable teams but tried to become something they’re not with expensive signings and they’ve paid the price. You can’t fault teams for having ambition but you have to have a clear vision of what you are and where you want to go. Huddersfield, Newcastle and Brighton had that this season and keeping things simple and having everyone on the same page is often the hardest thing to do in a club. Wolves, Cardiff and either Fulham or Aston Villa (playoff final next weekend at Wembley) must not try to walk before they can run next season.

NM: Neither? In Newcastle, you had a sleeping giant suddenly gifted with a competent (well, way above that) manager. Brighton bought a sneaky world class player in Pascal Gross and had two PL quality center backs. Huddersfield Town was lucky to stay up and needs to spend. Next season, you’ll have a Wolves unit whose ownership will invest further in players, Cardiff who will also spend, and either Fulham or Villa with the name quality to add notable names. Could see all 2 or 3 stay up again.

KB: Both, but I think it’s mostly the former. The gap in talent from the Championship to the Premier League is lessening with each passing year. Players from promoted sides are now more likely than ever to have a strong impact over the course of a long season. Look at guys like James Tarkowski, who was playing in the Championship 2 seasons ago and is now one of the best CB’s in the Premier League. Many Championship sides have Premier League-quality academies and facilities, and it shows when they make the move up. The increased cash-flow throughout the league also helps promoted sides strengthen the squad immediately instead of surviving for a few years before seeing the profits.

MR: There’s a clear difference between the top seven or eight clubs in the PL in comparison to the rest of the field. I think it’s becoming more of a situation where teams have to have the right bit of luck in not picking up injuries and gambling on smaller-level signings in order to manage survival. It’s difficult for the bottom half clubs to spend like the Man City’s and Chelsea’s, but that will ultimately decide survival going forward for a lot of these teams.

DK: I think the 2nd-tier teams are just happy to be there, so they’re willing to play ugly, defensive soccer just to survive. The established teams fan bases meanwhile are tired of the years of defensive soccer and want more expansive play. When the managers swing and miss on key attackers and defenders, then it goes south real fast.


As plenty of PL clubs struggled along with managers they didn’t really want (ahem, Everton and West Ham), what is your one hope for the next batch of managerial appointments? 

JPW: I want to say we have finally seen the end of “experienced firefighters” taking charge but that won’t be the case. Desperate times call for desperate measures and there will always be a need for experienced in relegation battles a la Allardyce at Everton and Moyes at West Ham. Yet, I’d love to see talented coaches from the lower leagues of English soccer given a chance to build something sustainable. That’s a little pie in the sky but I really believe that it’s worth giving someone three to five years to build something special. Maybe fans need to stop putting so much pressure on the ownership groups so this happens.

NM: The end of uninspired retreads. For every Roy Hodgson, who’s probably under-appreciated anyway, we’ve seen so many grifters get by on aged reputation. Sam Allardyce hasn’t had an answer outside of “work harder” in multiple popes. Alan Pardew and Tony Pulis need to earn their way back. “Knows how to stay up” is code for “Has had a lot of chances to coach bad teams.”

KB: I’m stunned that West Ham decided to part ways with David Moyes, given the tangible improvement they saw under him. I’d love to see Sean Dyche or Eddie Howe get bigger jobs, but they should only leave for the right job, and that’s not always the first one that comes their way. Those guys have done well to wait on.

MR: I just want to see a fair process for new managers trying to break into the Premier League. For so long it’s been the same recycled managers (i.e. Allardyce, Hughes, etc.) getting positions with struggling teams. It would be nice to see younger influences come into the league and make their marks.

DK: I hope we see some of the assistants get a longer look in the Premier League. David Unsworth was given five or so games, but let’s see how he does for Everton over the course of a whole season. What about Michael Appleton with Leicester. It’s time for some fresh blood in Premier League management.


What did you make of the USMNT players in the PL this season? 

JPW: DeAndre Yedlin was the standout player as Rafael Benitez improved him defensively and he was a regular for Newcastle, while Geoff Cameron‘s campaign was blighted by injuries and the arrival of Paul Lambert at Stoke City who went down. GC will no doubt be on the move to another PL club this summer. As for Danny Williams, he was very good for Huddersfield but his time was cut short due to injury. Cameron Carter-Vickers was okay out on loan, while Emerson Hyndman struggled to break through at Bournemouth. There really is a lack of Americans in the PL, which is sad to see, as for the fourth season running there wasn’t a single USMNT goalscorer in the PL.

NM: Geoff Cameron was unlucky with his concussion, though it seemingly opened up Mark Hughes to play him at his desired DCM. DeAndre Yedlin has benefited greatly from Rafa Benitez and is a clarion call for young, talented, American players to try their hand in Europe. I also have to admit I forgot Danny Williams was in the league thanks to his season-ending injury. He was very, very good when healthy.

KB: It wasn’t great. Yedlin played well, but otherwise, there was little to show for it. Geoff Cameron was quite poor. Don’t forget Timmy Ream down in the Championship getting set to beat 17-year-old wondered Ryan Sessegnon for Fulham’s Player of the Season though!

MR: I thought DeAndre Yedlin was really strong throughout the season, and just like Newcastle went unnoticed during the campaign I thought he did as well. It’s easy to argue he was one of the best Americans in Europe in 2017/18, which is a good sign for Yedlin going forward because right back continues to be a position without a lot of depth.

DK: Not good? Ironically, as Jurgen Klinsmann basically begged his USMNT players to challenge themselves, the growing purchasing power of MLS drew so many players back to the U.S. and Canada. Of the few left, only DeAndre Yedlin had a solid season, playing 34 times with 31 starts. Geoff Cameron was relegated and Danny Williams was on the fringes for Huddersfield all season. Emerson Hyndman made just one appearance, starting in Bournemouth’s 2-1 win over Burnley in its season finale.


What was your favorite goal of the season? And your favorite match? 

JPW: Favorite goal was easily Sofiane Boufal‘s wondergoal for Southampton against West Brom. I was at St Mary’s for that game and the noise was incredible as he kept running and beating Baggies defenders. Incredible.

Favorite match was Liverpool 4-3 Man City. Again, I was on-site at Anfield and the place went nuts when Salah lobbed Ederson from 40-yards out to make it 4-1 with those rapid-fire goals. Sensational. There were also the memorable Arsenal-Man United clash at the Emirates, Arsenal-Leicester City on the opening day and the Manchester Derby at Man City when United launched that stunning Paul Pogba-led comeback to win 3-2 with City’s fans ready to celebrate their title success.

NM: The Rooney hammer from inside his own half. And selfishly I enjoyed the insane Martin Dubravka heroics when Newcastle stunned Manchester United in a match emblematic of Benitez’s overachievement with a roster bereft of forwards.

KB: Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City has to be the most memorable match of the season for me. Seemed like one of those matches where if you blinked, you missed something crazy. My favorite goal of the season might not be the best goal, but Raheem Sterling’s goal to put Manchester City up 2-0 on Stoke City in October was the perfect encapsulation of what made Manchester City so deadly this season.

MR: Goal definitely goes to Mohamed Salah against Spurs. He literally has five or six Tottenham players surrounding him during the sequence and a legitimate appeal at handball, but continues his run and does so well to get it past Hugo Lloris. Liverpool was involved in so many matches throughout the season, but their 4-3 win over Man City was definitely my favorite. The score wasn’t indicative at all of how well Jurgen Klopp’s side played, and that was the one match in league play where you really saw City look like a normal side.

DK: It’s gotta be Mo Salah vs. Tottenham. The man dribbled through the entire Spurs team before finishing over a flailing Hugo Lloris. Favorite game? Probably the Liverpool 4-3 over Man City. End to end, exciting action. What a game!


Most improved player/manager in 2017/18? 

JPW: I’m going to go with Raheem Sterling. Yes, he’s a superb player, but under Guardiola he has taken his game to a whole new level and added end product to his game as well as making better decisions on the ball. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is also another player who has not only benefited from working for a top manager in Klopp, but also being played in his preferred role of central midfield. For a manager, the most improved has to be Sean Dyche. Burnley just scrapped by the season before last but he’s improved several unfancied players (Jack Cork, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Ashley Barnes, Nick Pope) and took the Clarets to Europe. Sensational season from the Ginger Mourinho.

NM: Player is a tough one, but we’ll go two lower half players: James Tarkowski in making us forget how good Michael Keane was for the Clarets a season previous, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek was simply outstanding when healthy for Crystal Palace and should have a seat on England’s plane to Russia. Manager goes to Sean Dyche, who coaxed a Top Six contending season out of one of the smallest clubs in Premier League history. He was good before, but he went beyond stacking up defenders and refusing to substitute. He’s growing, and deserves a chance with a budget.

KB: Most improved player has to be Mohamed Salah, right? That’s what makes his season so spectacular, nobody expected it given his good but not stunning form at Roma. And the most improved manager has to be Pep Guardiola. Given how unspectacular his Manchester City team was last year, the growth of Pep from year 1 in the Premier League to year 2 was fabulous.

MR: Of anybody not named Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son was very easily the best player on Spurs throughout the season. He goes under the radar often, but the South Korea international is so technically gifted and really makes his teammates better for playing with him.

DK: Good question. Let’s go with Harry McGuire. He went from a basically unknown player to making England’s World Cup squad in basically a 12 month span. Most Improved Manager has to be Sean Dyche, for guiding his side to 7th place. Very impressive.


Good question. Let’s go with Harry McGuire. He went from a basically unknown player to making England’s World Cup squad in basically a 12 month span. Most Improved Manager has to be Sean Dyche, for guiding his side to 7th place. Very impressive.

Get on your soapbox: tells us one thing about the PL you think flew under the radar this season… Go!

JPW: Given their move to Wembley, I actually think the focus on Tottenham’s future flew a little under the radar. Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen are coveted by the biggest clubs in Europe and given Mauricio Pochettino‘s stern words at the end of the season about ambition and challenging Daniel Levy to take the club to the next level, at least financially, in their new stadium, I think it has been a little quiet in recent months on what direction Spurs will head this summer. Watch this space. Spurs have amazing potential to become one of the top teams in Europe year in, year out, for the next decade. They have to get the next few months right on and off the pitch.

NM: Burnley’s season is one of them, but I think Chelsea’s loan players thriving while their parent club stumbled was a real eye-opener. Loftus-Cheek was incredible at Palace. Kurt Zouma invaluable despite Stoke’s awful season. Kenedy helped change Newcastle’s season, and Tammy Abraham was productive at Swansea (Let alone what Michy Batshuayi did once unleashed by Borussia Dortmund). Throw in guys who left permanently in recent seasons — Nathan Ake at Bournemouth, Mo Salah, Oriol Romeu — and you have to wonder if some stability would’ve helped them see what they have in house.

KB: Wow this is actually pretty tough. We’ve covered almost everything pretty comprehensively. I think Burnley still doesn’t get enough credit for finishing 7th. They qualified for Europe! What a job Sean Dyche has done this year and over the last few years to get the club where they are. Fabulous story.

MR: The success of the promoted teams. To have all three survive was very impressive, especially with a club like Newcastle that managed to finish inside the top 10. It’s a struggle for any newcomer to find success in the league, and Huddersfield and Brighton, especially, were exciting to watch over the first two-plus months.

DK: I think one thing that wasn’t discussed a lot is how much Southampton has fallen in the last year. They went from challenging to a top 6-spot under Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman to barely surviving relegation. Losing Virgil Van Dijk and other stars haven’t helped but the club’s youth ranks haven’t developed the kind of replacements it needed. Hopefully the club with a fun style of play will rebound this summer.