Jamie Vardy

Local hero Danny Ings leading Saints with goals, smiles

Leave a comment

SOUTHAMPTON — Danny Ings is on fire and has led his hometown club up the Premier League table and away from relegation trouble in recent months.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Southampton have won six of their last nine Premier League games and in that period only Liverpool have won more points than them, as Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side have totally transformed their season. Ings scoring over 50 percent of their goals has, obviously, played a huge part in that as he’s scored winners against Tottenham and Leicester in shock back-to-back victories.

The red-hot Saints host Wolverhampton Wanderers this Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) hoping to make it six wins in seven in all competitions as their amazing run of form has coincided with Ings being in the form of his life. With that in mind we went along to Southampton’s training ground in England’s New Forest National Park to speak to the man who sits second in the Premier League’s goalscoring charts.

Full disclosure, this is not the first time I’ve met or spoken to Danny Ings. Back in 2015 I was working on a longform story detailing his rise to Liverpool, via Burnley and Bournemouth, as he’d just made his England debut after breaking into Liverpool’s first team as a regular. I visited his dad Shayne and his partner Sue, and spoke to his family and others close to him as he was set to be the next big thing in English soccer at the age of 23.

Ings then ruptured his ACL in Jurgen Klopp‘s first training session as Liverpool boss. And then did it again two years later. He moved to his hometown club Southampton on an initial loan in 2018 and the $26 million deal became permanent last summer. It is the best deal Southampton have made in some time.

With 16 goals to his name in all competitions this season, and 10 in his last 11 appearances in the Premier League, he’s in the form of his life in front of his family and friends. He is dubbed “King of the Scummers” by Saints fans who revel in his two goals in a 4-0 win away at League One Portsmouth, their bitter rivals, in the League Cup earlier this season and he admitted that game, and becoming even more of a local hero, kickstarted his season.

As he smiles widely while rubbing his heavily tattooed hand across his chin, Ings is thriving on the pressure placed on him at St Mary’s, Saints’ home stadium which is only a couple of miles away from where he grew up. The pressure to deliver match tickets each week for friends is one thing, but scoring goals as the No. 9 is on another level altogether.

“I think when I knew when I was coming here, I was inviting a lot of pressure on myself,” Ings said. “To wear the number nine shirt in front of your hometown, there is a lot or pressure in that alone. But for me, because I was playing at Liverpool before that among lots of world class players who I’ve looked up to and tried to learn from, those were the guys who had more questions than I did after back-to-back knee operations. The craving of having that pressure on myself is something that I wanted for so long and coming here excites me to have that pressure because I know if I come off the pitch and I have scored a goal, it means a lot more to me.”

Not content with just scoring goals for his hometown, Ings is also one of very few players who is working hard in the classroom too. He is currently completing an economics degree and is learning to play the guitar when he switches off from being the man of the moment. Add into that his tireless work in the community with the “Danny Ings Disability Sports Project” charity he set up to help children with disabilities, and he’s doing all he can off the pitch.

On the pitch, Hasenhuttl, his boss at Saints, has labelled Ings ‘outrageous’ among other superlatives and recently said that the form of Ings is “due to him working his ass off” every day. Even on his off days. Ings spent his time off in the summer doing one thing: working his ass off.

He was in Portugal and Los Angeles and Miami training with nutritionists and performance coaches, Alex Parsons and  Nicky Holender, who worked on building up his core strength ahead of what was a hugely important season.

After three serious knee injuries spread across his time at Burnley and Liverpool, is he making up for lost time?

“For me, I’m just having fun now, my mindset in my career right now is that if I put the work in Monday to Friday, and I know I’ve done everything I’ve done to prepare for the game ahead, I know I can go out and have fun at the weekend,” Ings smiled. “I feel like people are really seeing that in my performances now, I am playing the game, I am smiling, I am happy. When I’m getting the chance I am trying to be as clinical as I can be. I’m not going to score every week, that’s normal. But if I give myself the best chance of getting into those positions, I know that I can score more goals and there are plenty more games still to come in the season.”

His return to form and fitness has led to calls for him to be called up by Gareth Southgate for the English national team in March. Ings is playing it cool when asked about a call up, but his former managers, current teammates and pundits are rallying behind the widely-loved striker who has been through tough times but has shown incredible mental strength to come out of it a better player.

With Jamie Vardy‘s retirement and Harry Kane‘s injury, a spot has opened up. Tammy Abraham, Callum Wilson and Marcus Rashford have been the other strikers in recent squads, but does Ings offer something slightly different?

“I would say we are all kind of different players in the way we play for our clubs and the way we have been over the course of our careers, really. Gareth will want a certain striker playing a certain way for him and it is all about what he wants,” Ings said. “The way I am in the system here at the club, it is all about pressing, running behind, not having too many touches on the ball. If that is something that is different to the other lads and how Gareth wants to set his team up, then yeah, I’d say it is definitely a different way for me.”

Playing for Eddie Howe at Bournemouth, Sean Dyche at Burnley, Brendan Rodgers and Klopp at Liverpool and now Hasenhuttl at Saints, the managers Ings have played for are very different and he thanks them all for developing his understanding of the game and all asking him to do different things. But the thing he has always done well is score goals. By the boatload.

Can he explain this glut of goals which has already culminated in his best-ever goalscoring season with 16 games of the season still to go? He has scored plenty of goals this season by sniffing around defenders, pouncing on mistakes and leading Saints’ now famed press under Hasenhuttl.

“It is hard to put my finger on that. Every game I want to try and create as many chances as I can and be in the right positions when the lads are providing. I go back to the momentum, momentum is key,” Ings said. “Any striker will tell you that when you are on a goal run you find yourself ending up in better positions to score goals, your focus is a lot stronger because you have the bug for scoring goals and trying to do the best you can for the team. That is the mindset I’ve been in this season. I am finding myself in great positions because the momentum is there and it is a hunger that we all have as goalscorers.”

Ings is in lethal form at the moment and you will not find one person across the Premier League who is unhappy about it. From his high-pressing to his finishing, plenty of the PL’s big boys will keep sniffing around Ings but he is keen to point out he is very happy at Southampton and isn’t thinking about anything else.

What is achievable for the rest of the season with Saints, a team who had just two wins on the board heading into late November but are now just three points off possible European qualification?

“For every club you want to achieve the maximum you can. We’ve put ourselves in a position now where we have gone further away from where we were and we are edging closer to the teams in and around those [European] places. For us, I feel like it is important we maintain our momentum,” Ings said. “Every game is so tough in the Premier League, you never know what’s going to happen. If we start thinking too far ahead, we might lose a little bit of the focus in the game that is coming at the weekend. You can see how hard the lads are working now to be the best team we can be. You can see how it is clicking and that is the way moving forward. If you look too far ahead you might lose a bit of focus and it is important we don’t do that.”

With Southampton’s fans signing his name loud and proud and hailing him as “one of our own” Ings is a happy man. Back at home, everybody wants to speak with him, everyone wants photos and everyone in the biggest city on England’s South Coast wants tickets to watch him play.

His goals and smiles have been one of the stories of the Premier League season so far as he pushes for the Golden Boot in the final months of the campaign. After his injuries and heartache in recent years, seeing Danny Ings back smiling, and scoring, is a beautiful sight for anybody who loves the beautiful game.

The fact he can now celebrate with his family by jumping on a boat and going fishing in Southampton Water hours after being the hero on the banks of the River Itchen is an added bonus. And one he clearly loves.

Redemption: Saints stun Leicester

Leave a comment

Southampton beat Leicester City 2-1 in a wild clash at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.

The victory tasted even sweeter for Saints after their 9-0 humiliation at home against Leicester earlier this season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Dennis Praet gave Leicester the lead but Stuart Armstrong made it 1-1 and Danny Ings went close on several occasions before he sealed the win late on.

Saints had a penalty kick chalked off by VAR and Kelechi Iheanacho and Johnny Evans were both denied goals by the technology as Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s warm embrace with Brendan Rodgers at the final whistle showed a man who has come back from the brink.

With the win, their sixth in their last nine games, Saints remain in 12th but are on 28 points and just three points off seventh. Leicester sit in second but could slip down to third by the end of the weekend.


3 things we learned

1. Redemption for Southampton: This victory will be sweet for every single person connected with Saints. They were humiliated 9-0 by Leicester earlier this season and Hasenhuttl’s side dominated this game throughout. They should have won easily but dug in and showed amazing character, just like they have done since that mauling, to keep their amazing recent run going.

2. Leicester running out of steam: The Foxes have now lost three of their last five games and the wheels are starting to come off a little. They missed the injured Wilfried Ndidi badly and Vardy and Maddison only showed flashes of their quality. The Foxes would have to have a dramatic collapse to finish outside the top four, but it looks like a top two finish could be out of the question.

3 Unlucky Ings strikes again: He hit the bar twice in the first half within 30 seconds and was denied brilliantly twice by Kasper Schmeichel and it looked like it wouldn’t be his day. But he delivered late on to take his amazing run to 10 goals in his last 11 games. Ings is on fire and so are Southampton and he will be called up by England in March. A gutsy display by Ings who could barely run in the final moments.

Man of the Match: Danny Ings – Scotsman Stuart Armstrong put in an amazing shift in midfield and probably deserved this award, but the work Ings put in and the way he kept going summed up his, and Southampton’s, superb return to form in recent months. What a story.


Saints should have taken the lead early on as Harvey Barnes gave the ball away and Ings was clean through on goal but Kasper Schmeichel denied him twice.

Leicester made the most of that reprieve as Ayoze Perez’s quick free kick found Jamie Vardy who crossed for Praet to finish at the back post.

But Southampton, much to their credit, kept plugging away and hit back in the first half as Armstrong’s shot took a big deflection off James Maddison and snuck in to make it 1-1.

Ings then came so close to scoring twice for Saints as he first hit the crossbar with a flicked effort at the near post, then moments later smashed the bar from distance as Leicester were pinned back.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Caglar Soyuncu then cleared off the line from Jack Stephens as Saints continued to look the more dangerous side.

Armstrong smashed over the bar and then a big movement of controversy arrived. Long was played in and was clean through but Caglar Soyuncu brought him down.

However, VAR intervened as Long was slightly offside when he was played in so the penalty was not given.

Che Adams came on and set up Ings to make it 2-1 as he nutmegged Kasper Schmeichel amid wild celebrations from the away fans.

The in-form striker should have wrapped it up again as Nathan Redmond played him in but Ings had a good effort which was brilliantly tipped wide by Schmeichel.

Demarai Gray was then denied by Alex McCarthy and Leicester thought they had grabbed a point when Johnny Evans nodded home in the 90th minute but VAR was used, again, and the goal was chalked not given as he was offside.

Best players of decade for each Premier League club

Getty Images
1 Comment

It has been an incredible decade in the Premier League with plenty of stars on show from 2010-20.

But which players have been the best from the last decade for each current PL team?

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

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.


Getty Images

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.


Getty Images

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.


Getty Images

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.


Getty Images

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.


Getty Images

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.


Getty Images

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.


Getty Images

Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha – 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.


AP

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.


Getty Images

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.


Getty Images

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.


Getty Images

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.


AP

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.


Getty Images

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.


Getty Images

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.


Getty Images

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.


Getty Images

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.


Getty Images

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.


Getty Images

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.


Getty Images

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.


Getty Images

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.

PST writers pick their Premier League Team of the Decade

Leave a comment

With the 2010’s nearly behind us, the last 10 years of Premier League action have been euphoric.

Stunning goals, great players, jaw-dropping moments, trophies lifted, and millions spent. It’s nearly impossible to recap all the action appropriately, but it is necessary to recognize the absolute best of the best. So, the ProSoccerTalk writers have selected their favorite moments, players, and managers to mark the end of the decade and usher in a new 10 years sure to be filled with new memories to be made.

Without further ado, our Of The Decade awards.


TEAM OF THE DECADE:

Joe Prince-Wright: De Gea; Zabaleta, Van Dijk, Kompany, Azpilicueta; Kante, David Silva, Hazard; Aguero, Kane, Mane

“De Gea has been the best goalkeeper over the decade, while Zabaleta and Azpilicueta are as reliable and dependable as they come. Kompany is a Man City legend, and Van Dijk will be one at Liverpool. In midfield I’m going with Kante, Hazard and David Silva for a little bit of balance, and in attack I have Mane (he just beat out Sterling and Salah) with Kane and Aguero. Don’t @ me.”

Kyle Bonn: De Gea; Walker, Van Dijk, Kompany, Azpilicueta; Kante, Yaya Toure; de Bruyne, Hazard, David Silva; Aguero.

David De Gea has slipped over the last two years, but the incredibly high bar he set has partly contributed to why many have a somewhat negative opinion of his recent play, and he deserves to be the top goalkeeper for the consistency he showed for nearly half the decade. Yaya Toure was a pioneer at his position and won three Premier League titles, displaying excellent tenacity and discipline. Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, and Sergio Aguero represent Manchester City’s true stranglehold on this decade, while Eden Hazard leaves a legacy behind after leaving for La Liga. Leaving Harry Kane off was difficult, but his impact on the league was trumped by Aguero, and having two pure strikers on the squad seemed unfair to other more influential players at other positions.”

(Photo by Kieran Galvin/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Nicholas Mendola: Cech; Kompany, Van Dijk, Azpilicueta; Toure, Kante, Silva, Bruyne; Hazard, Aguero, Kane.

Petr Cech won with two teams while drumming on the side and preparing to be a semi-pro ice hockey goalie. Kompany, Toure, and Silva were the lynch pins of the decade’s best teams, while Kane spurred Spurs to relatively new heights. N’Golo Kante won titles in back-to-back years with different teams, and Cesar Azpilicueta somehow feels like he creeps into this list while also totally deserving his place.”

Daniel Karell: de Gea; Azpilicueta, van Dijk, Kompany, Robertson; Kante, D. Silva; de Bruyne, Hazard, Salah; Aguero.

“Imagine this team in action? My goodness. I know Salah’s impact has only been felt recently, but he has just been so good, and in some ways he’s getting better. Virgil Van Dijk is the standout though, just in how he’s single-handedly taken Liverpool to the next level.”

Joel Soria: Cech; Evra, Terry, Kompany, Walker; Kante, Gerrard, D Silva, Yaya Toure; Rooney; Aguero.

Andy Edwards: De Gea; Zabaleta, Kompany, Van Dijk, Azpilicueta; Yaya Toure, Kante, Silva, Hazard; Kane, Aguero.


PLAYER OF THE DECADE:

(Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)

JPW: Eden Hazard – “One of the greatest players in Premier League history and won two league titles with Chelsea in the last decade and he was influential in both. When he ticked so did Chelsea and no other top six team relied so heavily on just one player. Hazard was untouchable when he was at his best.”

Bonn: Sergio Aguero – “Nobody in the league over the past decade has been at Aguero’s level for the same length of time. Full stop. The Argentine has logged at least 2,000 minutes in five of his eight full seasons in the league, falling less than 100 minutes short of the mark in another two. He has reached the 20-goal mark in six of his eight seasons and looks well on his way to that total this campaign despite dealing with injuries and heavy competition from Gabriel Jesus. With 174 goals since joining Manchester City, nobody comes close to his impact on the league.”

Mendola: David Silva – “Just twice in the PFA Team of the Year, I’ll make amends by giving this overlooked wonder his decade’s due. Arriving in 2010, he has 74 goals and 136 assists in 415 matches for Man City. For the decade, he’s posted 102 league assists and 57 goals. The gentleman’s only been carded 40 times in almost 32,000 minutes in Man City blue, and his trophy case for decade includes four PL titles, four League Cups, two FA Cups, a World Cup and a EURO.”

Karell: Virgil Van Dijk – “The signing of Van Dijk has been worth every penny for Liverpool. He’s one of the main reasons the club has improved so much – remember, just a few years ago Liverpool kept finishing in 7th and having to play in the Europa League – and Liverpool is on pace to set records this season and win the club’s first Premier League title.”

Soria: Sergio Aguero

Edwards: Sergio Aguero


MANAGER OF THE DECADE

(Photo by Matt McNulty – Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images)

JPW: Pep Guardiola – “Back-to-back Premier League titles with 100 points and 98 points on the board, and all the time his Man City are probably the best we’ve ever seen in terms of entertainment in PL and Football League history. They said he could never bring his style of play to England and dominate. Pep proved everyone wrong and to date has won five trophies domestically in three-and-a-half seasons.”

Bonn: Pep Guardiola – “Others have won as much as Pep Guardiola this decade, but nobody has had the influence on the game he has. His transformation of that squad into a perennially dominating side is nothing short of legendary. Jurgen Klopp has reached these heights, but his influence comes towards the end of the time period, leaving the German a cruel second in this category.”

Mendola: Pep Guardiola – “The Spaniard authored the best season in Premier League history and has won two titles in three tries, and the age of managerial tumult means it’s hard to put anyone ahead of him. Alex Ferguson also won two PL crowns and is a close second, while third and fourth would be a toss-up. Jurgen Klopp has done well, for sure, but hasn’t claimed a crown (and won’t inside this decade). Jose Mourinho’s in the discussion but he’s only won one PL and the Europa League. Claudio Ranieri deserves a shout, as does Mauricio Pochettino to round out our Top Six. Steve Bruce finishes just ahead of Arsene Wenger to round out our Top Eight (There’s a joke there somewhere, and it’s on me).”

Karell: Pep Guardiola – “Guardiola may be struggling a bit this season but what he’s done for both Man City and the Premier League is nothing short of sensational. It now feels like a disappointment when Man City “only” wins, 1-0 or 2-0, as Guardiola has created a juggernaut that usually scores for fun and runs up the score on a regular basis.”

Soria: Pep Guardiola

Edwards: Pep Guardiola


TRANSFER OF THE DECADE

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

JPW: N’Golo Kante (Caen to Leicester City, $9 million; Aug 3, 2015) – “Has become one of the best central midfielders in the world and only cost Leicester $9 million back in the summer of 2015 and was instrumental in their amazing title win. Kante has since moved to Chelsea and won the title there and the World Cup with France in 2018. Hard to see past this deal for value and how important he was in one of the greatest stories sports has ever seen.”

Bonn: Virgil van Dijk (Southampton to Liverpool, $95 million; Jan 1, 2018) – “Nobody has singlehandedly transformed a team from good to great like Virgil van Dijk has done with Liverpool. The Dutchman has been a model of consistency, durability, and rock-solid perseverance than van Dijk. Liverpool may be on the verge of a level of domination not yet seen in the English top flight, and none of it would be possible without the defender. The price tag was high, but he was worth every penny.”

Mendola: N’Golo Kante (Caen to Leicester City, $9 million; Aug 3, 2015) – Transfermarkt says the now World Cup and 2x Premier League winner is worth 10 times that, as he won the league with Leicester and was instantly snared by Chelsea. Honorable mention to Sergio Aguero, Man City from Atletico Madrid, 7/28/11 – The Argentine carried a price tag of $46 million, huge at the time, but 244 goals and 71 assists later… yeah. Also a nod to Jamie Vardy, but Leicester City wasn’t in the Premier League when he was purchased from Fleetwood Town.”

Soria: Luis Suarez (Ajax to Liverpool, $30 million; Jan 31, 2011)

Edwards: N’Golo Kante (Caen to Leicester City, $9 million; Aug 3, 2015)


GOAL OF THE DECADE

JPW: Olivier Giroud v. Crystal Palace; Jan 1, 2017 – “If we are just talking about one goal and the difficulty and outrageous nature of it, leaving out factors like importance for trophies etc., then I’m going with Olivier Giroud’s scorpion kick for Arsenal against Crystal Palace. It defied belief and nobody has ever tried to recreate it. Emre Can’s bike was pretty special too.”

Bonn: Wayne Rooney v. Man City; Feb 12, 2011 – “The most spectacular goal scored this decade was none other than Wayne Rooney’s unbelievable bicycle kick in a derby atmosphere. The skill it took to not only meet the cross perpendicularly but also find the top corner from that far out…unmatched by any other moment.”

Mendola: Wayne Rooney v. West Ham; Dec 3, 2017 and Cheick Tiote vs. Arsenal; May 2, 2011 – “I’ve got two, including one from Wayne Rooney that didn’t come via overhead kick in Manchester United red. It came on his return to Everton, when he finished off a hat trick against West Ham United by smoking an absolute missile from inside his own half, one time. An emotional nod, and my 1B goal of the 10s is when the late Cheick Tiote scored the only goal of his 156-match career with Newcastle. It was a beauty. Of course Sergio Aguero and Wayne Rooney have authored better, but his 87th minute goal to lead Newcastle back from a 4-0 deficit in a 4-4 draw versus Arsenal was the stuff that makes football worth the down times.”

Karell: Jack Wilshere v. Norwich; Oct 19, 2013 – “If you grew up watching Arsenal under Wenger, but had seen the team really struggle to live up to the Invincibles from a decade earlier, this absolute flash of brilliance would bring tears to your eyes. Wilshere combines with Santi Cazorla before a wonderful one-touch sequence Olivier Giroud, with both players using the outside of their boots to perfection. Norwich was hoodwinked and Wilshere scored arguably the most Arsene Wenger goal you could draw up. Deft passing in a tight area and a perfect one-touch finish.”

Soria: Papiss Cisse v. Chelsea; May 2, 2012

Premier League midseason grades

Leave a comment

We are at the halfway point of the Premier League season, so now seems like a good time to dish out grades to each team.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

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.


Burnley: C+
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.


Chelsea: B+
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 Wilfried Zaha 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.


Liverpool: A+
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.


Southampton: C
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.


Watford: D-
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?