Watford begins a run of three matches in five days with a visit from Tottenham Hotspur to Vicarage Road on Saturday (Watch Live at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).
The resurgent Hornets have climbed out of the Bottom Three under new boss Nigel Pearson. The challenge now comes in the form of a postponed FA Cup replay means they face Spurs, Aston Villa, and Tranmere Rovers by Thursday.
And if the Hornets beat Tranmere, they host Manchester United three days later.
“The planning’s done for the week,” Pearson said. “But outside of that we’ve got to also be prepared for variables we don’t know about at the minute and that would be potential injuries and anything else and it makes it even clearer that I’m not going to send the strongest side to play Tranmere.”
Spurs will welcome any advantage, as Jose Mourinho’s side is winless in three league matches and played a replay with Middlesbrough on Tuesday.
Tottenham has dropped nine points back of the Top Four and four back of fifth place Manchester United. The club is waiting on several transfer issues, including wantaway Christian Eriksen and the absence of suitable fill-in for injured Harry Kane.
Mourinho said there’s been no offer yet from Inter Milan for Christian Eriksen, and that Giovani Lo Celso‘s loan will likely be made permanent.
How Mourinho uses new loanee Gedson Fernandes will be interesting, as the Portuguese midfielder may start for his countryman.
Nigel Pearson on the Tranmere postponement: “To get up there and find their kit man hadn’t bothered setting out their kit because he knew it would be off is a bit of a frustration for us because we travelled up and a lot of our fans had got to Northampton by the time that they found out, so it is a frustration and it adds on to what’s already a hectic week next week.”
Jose Mourinho on loan signing Gedson Fernandes: “He’s a kid that can play different positions in midfielder, even wide on the right if we need. We got him for his multi-functionality. He’s what I used to call a special loan. He’s not a three month loan and goodbyes. One-and-a-half year loan when he’ll have time to develop, and who knows if he doesn’t stay here for a number of years.”
Spurs get a bit of relief and Watford a mild reality check in a 1-0 decision.
Tottenham Hotspur would love to be the club to end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season when the two sides meet in North London on Saturday (Watch Live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).
Spurs boss Jose Mourinho on facing Liverpool: “It’s the best team in our competition, just to say that – I could say more than that. We would prefer to play against them with everybody available. … But again that’s the way it is and we worked hard in the week, and the boys that are available, of course they are happy to play and when somebody doesn’t play you open the opportunity for somebody else, and we know the situation. We know how good they are, we can imagine that in this room only two persons think that we can win. Maybe only two, but we believe (puts his arm around Spurs’ press officer). We have to believe. If you don’t believe, get out man.”
Jurgen Klopp on Jose Mourinho: “A world-class manager with a specific mindset. He wants to win. I respect that a lot. Each situation his team is in he tries to use. That is how managers work. The good news is, we don’t play. We send out two teams and we have to make sure it works out. I don’t think anyone wants to play us right now. Spurs are never easy but they are now so let’s see.”
Liverpool’s biggest question mark is in the midfield, but Tottenham’s hit there, too. We imagine this one will be a bit cagier than usual, perhaps even a surprise 1-1.
Sissoko was injured in the 1-0 loss to Southampton last week, although he completed the full 90 minutes as Jose Mourinho only used two substitutes. The club announcement stated he is not expected back in training until early April.
The injuries leave Harry Winks, Eric Dier, Victor Wanyama, Giovani Lo Celso, and Oliver Skipp as the only remaining true central midfielders on the senior squad. Dier and Winks has struggled mightily at times this season, Lo Celso has not locked down a consistent role, while Wanyama and Skipp have made just a combined 10 total appearances across all competitions.
Sissoko’s injury could have a serious effect on Tottenham’s January transfer window. Winks and Wanyama were rumored to be on the move, with Spurs hoping to upgrade in the midfield. Now, they are more likely to stay given the short supply of quality midfielders on the roster. Spurs could even look to buy should they look to upgrade on the currently available midfielders, although the quality of available players in January is often questionable.
Tottenham is scheduled to take on Liverpool this weekend, while an FA Cup replay with Middlesbrough and a Premier League game against Watford come their way next week. Spurs sit sixth in the Premier League table with 30 points, six behind fourth-placed Chelsea for the final Champions League spot.
Yes, this will cause controversy. Yes, you won’t agree with these 20 selections.
There is no right answer here because certain players may not have been the best technical player to play for a certain team over the last decade but they may have been the most important to their success.
Anyway, here it goes.
Arsenal: Alexis Sanchez – Yes, it didn’t end well for him at Arsenal. But for four seasons he led them to the FA Cup, top four finishes and scored superb goals along the way. His hunger to win drove Arsene Wenger‘s teams on and along with Jack Wilshere (when he was fit) and Aaron Ramsey, he was one of the few world-class quality players the Gunners possessed.
Aston Villa: Jack Grealish – A local lad who arrived from the academy with his low socks and slick Peaky Blinders-esque haircut, Grealish is Villa through and through and Villa’s hopes of staying in the Premier League this season revolve around the English playmaker. He stayed with them when they went down and brought them back up as skipper and his mercurial talents mean the big clubs are circling.
Bournemouth: Steve Cook – It is amazing to think he is just 29 years old. Cook has been with Bournemouth throughout their promotion from League One to the Premier League and is now at the heart of their defense. Some great players have been key to Bournemouth’s success but Cook has held it all together.
Brighton and Hove Albion: Lewis Dunk – Another local lad who has com through the ranks to be a star, Dunk is a towering, powerful center back who was with Brighton when they were at the Withdean and has been influential in their promotion and consolidation in the Premier League. He’s also played for England. His decade has been a Slam… Dunk.
Burnley: Ben Mee – A mainstay in Burnley’s defense after joining from Man City in 2011, initially on loan, Mee has been essential to their promotion campaigns and keeping them in the Premier League. A no-nonsense defender, Burnley can totally trust Mee. The unsung hero in a club of unsung heroes.
Chelsea: Eden Hazard – My favorite player of the decade in the Premier League because he could change the game on his own. Hazard led Chelsea to two Premier League titles, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Europa League and when he was at his best he was unstoppable. Ask players around the PL who was the best player they came up against and the vast majority will say Hazard.
Crystal Palace: WilfriedZaha – The academy product was a star in the Championship, left for Manchester United, came back and ripped it up. Zaha is loved by Palace’s fans and is probably the best player outside of the top six in the Premier League. His pace and power is just too much to handle for most teams. And even though he wants to leave for a team challenging for trophies, Zaha will go down as a Palace legend.
Everton: Leighton Baines – Okay, so it was a flip of a coin between Baines and Seamus Coleman, but I’m going for Baines. His quality from set piece situations was incredible and he was just wonderfully reliable. Everton’s two full backs will be etched into Toffees history but Baines’ extra quality in the final third gives him the nod.
Leicester City: Jamie Vardy – Okay, with N’Golo Kante, Wes Morgan, Kasper Schmeichel and Riyad Mahrez around, this wasn’t that easy but Vardy should get the nod. He scored the goals to lead Leicester to an incredible Premier League title win as his pace and clinical finishing capped off his unreal rise from non-league to the Premier League, and his resurgence over the past 12 months has been amazing. Vardy isn’t everybody’s cup of tea but when he’s at his best, nobody can stop him.
Liverpool: Virgil Van Dijk – This could be a controversial pick given the fact that he’s only played for Liverpool for two years, but there’s no doubt that no other player has been as important to the team as VVD. Luis Suarez and Mohamed Salah have been attacking stars for the Reds over the last decade but Van Dijk’s arrival helped lead Liverpool to the Champions League and improved their entire defense which had been their Achilles heel under Jurgen Klopp. Van Dijk is a Rolls Royce and probably the most complete defender the Premier League has ever seen.
Manchester City: Vincent Kompany – A proper Man City legend, Kompany was the captain for all four of Man City’s Premier League title wins over the last decade. Sergio Aguero, Pablo Zabaleta and David Silva have all been key parts of City’s glittering decade but Kompany was the glue who held it all together. Injuries hit him hard in the second half of the decade but he was no doubt one of the greatest center backs in the history of the game. His goal to clinch the 2018-19 title was the perfect way to go out.
Manchester United: David De Gea – He routinely won United’s Player of the Season over the last decade and without him Red Devils fans shudder to think where they would be. He has had a few big errors over the last 12 months but DDG has been the best goalkeeper in the Premier League over the last decade. Amid all of United’s struggles to get back to the top, De Gea has been their one true star.
Newcastle United: Yohan Cabaye – Had the quality on the ball to rip teams apart and led the Magpies to a fifth-place finish under Alan Pardew. Papiss Cisse, Chieck Tiote, Moussa Sissoko and Demba Ba all had exceptional stints at Newcastle, but Cabaye had the extra class required to sew it together. The way he left for PSG wasn’t ideal but when all is said and done the former Lille midfielder was a game-changer at St James’ Park.
Norwich City: Wes Hoolahan – A yo-yo decade for the Canaries who went all the way down to League One and worked their way back to the Premier League via back-to-back promotions. Republic of Ireland midfielder Hoolahan was their main attacking threat throughout the promotion years and he was capable of the sublime.
Sheffield United: Billy Sharp – A local lad who has spent three spells at his beloved Blades and most recently signed for them in 2015 in League One, he scored the goals to take them back to the Premier League. Sharp has spent his entire career scoring boatloads of goals in the lower leagues and his dream was to play for Sheffield United in the Premier League. He’s achieved that, even though he hasn’t played a big role in their incredible season back in the top-flight. Sharp, 33, will forever be a Sheffield United legend.
Southampton: Rickie Lambert – Another star forward who led his team from League One to the Premier League. Lambert signed for Saints from Bristol Rovers for $1.3 million in 2010, just after they had come out of administration, and then led them to back-to-back promotions as they returned to the PL. He then established himself as one of the top strikers in the league, got a call-up to the England team, play at the 2014 World Cup and eventually sealed his dream move to hometown club Liverpool. Known as “Sir Rickie” at St Mary’s, there will be a statue of him at the club one day as he led them back to the top-flight and did it was pure style befitting of the legendary No. 7 shirt he wore. He did Matt Le Tissier proud. Sadio Mane, Morgan Schneiderlin, Van Dijk, Adam Lallana, Jose Fonte and others were stars for Saints in the last decade but Lambert was the reason they were even in the PL in the first place.
Tottenham Hotspur: Harry Kane – Has any other player in the Premier League burst onto the scene more than Kane in 2010? The London lad has come through Spurs’ academy to become a global star and is a goalscoring machine. In 2013-14 he was struggling to break through after several loan spells and now Kane is one of the best center forwards in the world. Kane scores every type of goal imaginable for club and country and is the captain of England and Tottenham’s talisman. The only thing left for him to tick off is winning a trophy. Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Hugo Lloris and Jan Vertonghen have all been mainstays but without Kane’s goals, Spurs would not have turned into genuine title contenders and regulars in the Champions League.
Watford: Troy Deeney – Mr. Watford, Deeney led them to promotion to the PL in 2015 and they’ve been there ever since. Deeney’s goals (126 in 380 games in all competitions) and bulldozing displays have kept Watford in the top-flight and they’ve reached FA Cup semifinals and finals as they continue to punch above their weight. Deeney is Watford’s captain and sets the tone for the entire club.
West Ham United: Dmitri Payet – Yes, West Ham fans will not like to admit this, but Payet was otherworldly at Upton Park and the London Stadium. The way he left for Marseille wasn’t great, at all, and the current owners have pretty much removed him from their history. But his amazing goals, free kicks and general outrageousness turned him into a club legend. Payet was box office as Slaven Bilic‘s side qualified for Europe.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Conor Coady – A mainstay in central defense for Wolves, Coady has led the charge since Fosun bought the club and Nuno Espirito Santo took over. A produce of Liverpool’s academy, he is a true professional who sets the standards day in, day out. Coady joined Wolves when they were struggling in the Championship and they are now in the Europa League knockout rounds and are challenging for the top four four after taking the PL by storm over the last two seasons. All of the recent impressive signings in attack and midfield have been important, so too has Matt Doherty who has been with Wolves since their days in the third tier, but Coady is the heart of Wolves and has been since 2015.
Based on the opening half of the 2019-20 campaign, which teams have impressed? Who should be doing better?
Below we give grades on all 20 teams and evaluate their first half of the season.
Arsenal: F Unai Emery was fired, defensively they are all over the place and Arsenal currently sit closer to the bottom three than the top four. A terrible season so far and former captain Mikel Arteta has a huge job on his hands to make them competitive again. The only saving grace is that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang continues to bang in the goals. Aside from that, shambles.
Aston Villa: D-
A decent enough start as Dean Smith‘s side showed plenty of promise after big spending in the summer but things have unraveled very quickly. Jack Grealish is doing his best but Wesley has struggled and defensively they are weak. A relegation battle beckons for Villa, and that was not expected. Smith is on borrowed time.
Bournemouth: D Eddie Howe‘s side are in their toughest stretch since being promoted in 2015 and aside from their defensive injuries, the biggest concern is that they no longer seem capable of scoring at least two goals every game. The Cherries are slumping and it may be tough for them to turn this around. Losing Brooks to injury was a huge blow, while Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser have gone off the boil.
Brighton and Hove Albion: B+ Graham Potter has had a huge impact. Brighton have gone from being one of the worst teams in the PL to watch to one of the best. Trossard and Maupay have been big attacking additions and the Seagulls should be clear of the relegation scrap. A brave hire in Potter has paid off, as he’s already signed a new deal at the Amex.
Typically Burnley. Tough to play against, grinding out wins at home and they’ve gone back to being solid defensively. Chris Wood, Jay Rodriguez and Ashley Barnes give them extra firepower and the Clarets should be battling for a top 10 finish.
A proper Jekyll and Hyde season for the Blues who have lost at home against some very poor teams but won at Spurs, Arsenal and have pushed the big boys all the way. Frank Lampard has kept faith in the youngsters with Abraham, Mount and Tomori ever present, while Pulisic is coming in to his own. A UCL last 16 berth was a huge bonus and sitting in the top four at midway is much better than many expected. They now have the added bonus of being able to buy new players in January.
Crystal Palace: B+ Roy Hodgson continues to work miracles with a banged up squad and the fact WilfriedZaha is finally refocused (close to the January transfer window…) has pushed them away from the bottom three. Palace need to spend some money in January to help them stay midtable, while Gary Cahill has been the bargain of the season so far as a free agent.
Everton: C- Marco Silva was a disaster and had he stayed, the Toffees were likely going down. Duncan Ferguson galvanized the squad as interim boss and made them hard to beat, while Carlo Ancelotti has arrived to add his experience. Big names players will arrive in January and the summer. Things are looking up for Everton who have too much quality to go down.
Leicester City: A+
Pretty much the perfect season so far as Brendan Rodgers side have a 9-0 win on the board, Jamie Vardy is in the form of his life and the Foxes sit second in the table and are looking good for a top four finish with a young, talented squad also in the League Cup semifinals. Their title hopes are done and dusted but a top four finish would be a superb return, especially after selling Harry Maguire in the summer.
Talking of perfect seasons… Liverpool could legitimately go the entire campaign unbeaten and even though they probably played better last season they are grinding out wins this season. Jurgen Klopp‘s side have that psychological edge over the rest of the PL and even though they have had some injuries to key players, they’ve dealt with it with ease. 17 wins from 18 games is incredible and Sadio Mane has been the star man for the newly-crowned World Club Cup champs. They will soon become the PL champs as their title procession has begun.
Manchester City: B-
Their inability to sign a new center back in the summer has come back to hit them hard. Kompany left and Aymeric Laporte‘s injury means that Fernandinho has had to play as a center back, and Otamendi and Stones just haven’t been good enough. Full back is also an issue and even though Kevin De Bruyne is firing on all cylinders and they look great in attack, City are back to the team they were in Pep Guardiola‘s first season in charge. They will soon go all-in on the Champions League.
Manchester United: B
Very similar to Chelsea as their young side have shown glimpses of brilliance but they’ve lost against Palace, West Ham, Newcastle, Watford and Bournemouth. Defensively they are still coughing up easy goals and David De Gea is having a poor season, by his high standards. That said, Rashford, Martial and James are looking very good as a trio, while Maguire and Wan-Bissaka have slotted in seamlessly. Finding the right balance in central midfield in the second half of the season will be key if they are going to finish in the top four, but wins against Man City, Chelsea, Spurs and Leicester, plus their draw against Liverpool, prove they can mix it with the big boys. Finding consistency has to be their biggest aim for 2020.
Newcastle United: B+
Results wise it has been an amazing first half of the season for the Magpies and much-maligned boss Steve Bruce. They aren’t great to watch, at all, but Newcastle are almost closing in on the magic 40-point marker and are solid defensively. For now the natives at St James’ Park are on their side and Bruce has weathered the early storm. Miguel Almiron, Allan Saint-Maximin and Joelinton need to produce more goals and if they do, Newcastle can push for the top 10.
Norwich City: C
The Canaries are punching above their weight week in, week out. Daniel Farke is a very good coach and he’s getting the best out of his limited squad, while Teemu Pukki is getting the goals to keep them competitive. Todd Cantwell is a gem and Norwich have had to deal with lots of injuries defensively. The only major negative is that they have been playing really well and attacking teams but they are a little naive and have been punished in plenty of games. It will be a huge surprise if they stay up.
Sheffield United: A-
Another newly-promoted team who have been open and attacking but the Blades have the defensive stability to get results. Chris Wilder‘s side are pushing for a top six finish and have only lost once away from home, at Man City, in the opening half of the season. From their overlapping center backs to Mousset, McGoldrick and McBurnie up top, they have been a wonderful addition to the PL. Fleck, Lundstram and Norwood are all so underrated too. Basically you can praise this entire team as Wilder has done a wonderful job keeping their identity intact while adapting to the PL.
Probably where they should be at, just above the relegation zone. Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side have recovered well from the 9-0 hammering at home by Leicester and in Danny Ings they have a Matt Le Tissier-esque savior. Ings scores almost every game and in Moussa Djenepo they have another top attacking talent. Saints need defensive reinforcements in January and if they can add quality at the back they should kick on in the second half of the season and be clear of danger. That said, the ownership need to realize that a relegation scrap will be the outcome each season until they make more funds available to spend.
Tottenham Hotspur: C+
Where do we even start with Spurs? Mauricio Pochettino was fired after a terrible start to the league season as problems brewing with players not signing new deals and Daniel Levy over transfers carried over from the summer months. Step in, the Special One. Jose Mourinho has added a cutting edge to this Spurs side and he’s refocused them. Defensively they are shambolic and they miss captain Hugo Lloris. Mourinho’s main aim is a top four finish and to go on another deep run in the UCL.
The Hornets are on their third manager of the season and they’ve finally got going. Javi Gracia was fired quickly after a poor end to last season and a poor start this time around, then former boss Quique Sanchez Flores didn’t last long before Nigel Pearson arrived. Big wins against Man United and Aston Villa have followed and has them within touching distance of safety but it is still a tough road ahead. Troy Deeney‘s return to fitness is a boost and Watford believe now they can stay up with veteran goalkeeper Ben Foster in fine form.
West Ham United: F
The Hammers have hired David Moyes to replace the man who replaced him, Manuel Pellegrini. This will be very interesting. West Ham had a great start but have wavered badly and that has coincided with Lukasz Fabianski‘s injury. Now he is back and Moyes has returned they will be tougher to beat and Anderson, Haller, Antonio and Fornals have the quality to unlock opposition defenses. Still, a relegation battle is coming up and the Hammers ownership would have wanted a top six finish. They are underachieving massively.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: A-
Could they build on last season? Yep. They are probably better. Raul Jimenez and Adama Traore have improved in attack and Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side will be in the top four hunt this season. They are in the Europa League last 32 after a gruelling run of qualifiers and Thursday-Sunday action but their main focus will be on qualifying for the Champions League. They can take it to the top teams in the PL but how long can they keep going with a relatively small squad?