PST Roundtable: 2018 in Review

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ProSoccerTalk continues its Best of 2018 by taking our staff on a trip down (around) memory lane with the final Roundtable of the calendar year (unless Pele unretires between now and Midnight ET).

[ MORE: Best of 2018 ]


1) You can only save one Premier League memory from 2018. What do you choose?

Joe Prince-Wright: I am going with Liverpool’s 4-3 win against Man City at Anfield in January 2018. What a game between two teams going at it and playing very different ways to the highest possible level. It was a precursor for some epic Champions League battles between Liverpool and Man City.

Nicholas Mendola: At the risk of cloying this space, Arsene Wenger‘s “send off series” was special, especially when Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho came together to salute the long time Arsenal boss at Old Trafford. The final matches in charge of the Gunners was an emotional and refreshing storyline for both Arsenal and those who like to see an under-fire legend get his just desserts.

Kyle Bonn: Has to be Manchester City’s dominance and Pep Guardiola’s juggernaut. I absolutely loved watching that team, especially given how much of a mess it was when Pep first got there. He turned around so many players, namely John Stones and Raheem Sterling, and that’s always something special.

Dan Karell: It was from last January but it’s got to be Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City. Man City wrapped up the title early and recorded a record amount of goals and points, but this was arguably the game of the season. Terrific action for all 90 minutes.

(AP Photo/Dave Thompson)

2) Remember the World Cup? That was just this summer! What was your favorite part of the tournament? How about the USMNT’s efforts in it?

Joe Prince-Wright: I obviously enjoyed England’s run to the World Cup semi-finals and I honestly believe they would have matched up very well against France and would have had a great chance of winning it all. The way Gareth Southgate’s young side made an entire nation believe again and changed the mood around the Three Lions completely was truly remarkable to see. Also, LOL about the USMNT. What a debacle that should never be repeated. Simple.

Nicholas Mendola: Not the Lionel Messi sub plot, as even his fine performances couldn’t overcome the hype about whether it was enough for his legacy. Also, not Serbia getting the short end of the officiating stick on multiple occasions.

There were some great matches! The final was special, as was France 4-3 Argentina in the Round of 16. But Belgium and Japan turning a 0-0 halftime into a 2-0 Japanese lead en route to a 3-2 Belgium win, with Nacer Chadli scoring in stoppage? Holy smoke what a game.

Kyle Bonn: I think my favorite part of the tournament was appreciating the parity that came along with it. Germany bombed out in the group stages, Argentina looked pedestrian, and Spain looked fallible, all while Croatia built a juggernaut, Peru looked competitive, and Sweden won a group. This was the world’s World Cup and that was fascinating.

Also, the USMNT didn’t lose a single game all tournament, so I’ll give them an A-

Dan Karell: Ugh, stop! I think England’s run to the semifinals was a lot of fun, along with Croatia’s constant wins in penalty kick shootouts and them overcoming the odds again and again. Ultimately, France was too talented to be stopped, and Didier Deschamps did a masterful job keeping them tight defensively and letting his side’s speed and counter-attacking ability steal the show.

(Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

3) Which player do you hold in higher esteem than you did entering 2018? Who’s much lower?

Joe Prince-Wright: David Silva. I always knew he was good. But I didn’t quite appreciate how good. He is essential to Pep Guardiola’s style and will probably go down as one of City’s best-ever players, if not the best.

Lower… I am going with Daniel Sturridge. Perhaps a little harsh, but I thought he would be able to work his way into this Liverpool attack as the first back-up. He hasn’t achieved that at all.

Nicholas Mendola: I knew Christian Pulisic was good before Jan. 1, 2018, but how much of a factor he’s become in every match is beyond compare on an American level. There’s Clint Dempsey in 2011-12 at Fulham for the gold standard of Americans Abroad, and the question of whether he matches it, improves on it, or does it again and again.

As for lower, and I know this is heavy territory, but pretty much the way everyone associated with Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus dealt with the rape accusations against him. Allegations are allegations until proven true, but showing a modicum of class to the victim (and all victims) would’ve been nice.

Kyle Bonn: If this is possible…Mohamed Salah. I always love seeing players go from one-hit wonder to actually good player, and while only the ultimate of cynics believe the Liverpool star would ultimately fade as just a flash in the pan, I enjoyed seeing it proven on the field.

Less, I have to go with Alvaro Morata. I thought he would be a slam dunk at Chelsea, and his disastrous tenure has led to rumors of a quick exit. I am quite disappointed in his performances there and his inability to find the scoresheet despite a wealth of talent around him. It’s a shame, because he showed so much promise at Real Madrid, and I hope he finds success either with a second chance at Chelsea or someone else who gives him an opportunity after Stamford Bridge.

Dan Karell: Anthony Martial. His second half of 2018 has been tremendous compared to his previous 18 months in Manchester, which all led to him missing out on the World Cup. A player who’s stock has dropped for me is his teammate, Alexis Sanchez. After joining Man United in January. Sanchez has been invisible this season and it’s unclear if Man United will ever recoup its investment in Sanchez.

(Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

4) Who is the soccer world’s person of 2018?

Joe Prince-Wright: Luka Modric. What he managed to achieve with both Real Madrid and Croatia, plus win multiple top awards as the best player on the planet, was exceptional. The Croatian midfielder was a total team player and made his teammates better due to his hard work, vision and delivering in clutch moments. His role to lead Croatia to the World Cup final was reminiscent of Diego Maradona and Pele leading their respective nations to glory in the past. Modric was Croatia’s talisman as they just came up short by losing to France in the final.

Nicholas Mendola: Kylian Mbappe. At the age of 20, with club turmoil caused by Neymar and Edinson Cavani and the pressure of an entire country, Mbappe led France to a World Cup title and Paris Saint-Germain to plenty of wins. But even better than that is the example he sets at such a young age, donating his World Cup winnings to charity and admitting that footballers are paid an “indecent” wage.

Kyle Bonn: Great – and tough – question. So many good options. Jurgen Klopp has to be my choice though, as he’s finally seeing his Liverpool project come to fruition. The Reds made the 2018 Champions League final and have shaken their inability to perform against bottom sides in Premier League play. It’s always fun to see a years-long project not only committed to, but completed. The Reds are a scary team to play for anyone in the world, and that’s down to the revolutionary tactics and recruitment of Jurgen Klopp.

Dan Karell: If it’s a manager, it’s got to be a tie between Didier Deschamps and Pep Guardiola for everything they succeeded. Perhaps it’s even Zinedine Zidane, who took the bold move to resign as Real Madrid manager after a third-successive Champions League title.

(Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

5) What topic are you extremely happy to leave in 2018: the USMNT coaching search, Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, or a third option?

Joe Prince-Wright: USMNT coaching search definitely. Quite why that took so long was outrageous. Berhalter could have been appointed months sooner than he was to start building the identity of the team. That would have been a smarter move. Southampton’s 2018 was also woeful, so I am happy to leave that there as the squad they have should be pushing for a top 10 finish, not battling against relegation for a second-straight season. I actually think that history will be kind to Jose Mourinho’s reign at Manchester United, but it just became so boring and predictable towards the end and we have already seen the gloom has lifted at Old Trafford. It worked out well for everyone, even Mourinho.

Nicholas Mendola: The USMNT coaching search. At some point we were speculating on David Moyes taking the job because he was on the train to a friendly. Cool. Real cool.

Kyle Bonn: I was happy to see the USMNT coaching search finally come to an end, but disappointed in the result. I was glad to see Jose Mourinho leave Manchester United for the health of the club, but not for those of us covering the team (what a ride!). Honestly, I’m happiest to see the World Cup cycle leave, because the USMNT gets to start from scratch looking forward to 2022. While many have predictions and reservations about the US National Team at this juncture, it will be for the team to prove on the field, and Gregg Berhalter has a chance to lead an emotional redemption for the group.

Dan Karell: Jose Mourinho for sure. The constant moaning to the media, throwing players under the bus, and holding his players back got really old, really fast. Yes, the opposition in the last couple of games isn’t as good, but you can see that the Man United players have the shackles removed and are starting to look as if they enjoy their profession again.

(AP Photo/Dave Thompson)

6) Free skate: Any other thoughts about 2018?

Joe Prince-Wright: Watching Man City’s record breaking season up close was amazing. They made history and have set the bar incredibly high for the rest of the Premier League.

It was a reflective year for many Premier League teams who took steps towards long-term progression. Liverpool finally bought world-class defensive players, Man United sacked their manager, Arsene Wenger left Arsenal and Chelsea moved on with an exciting tactical project. Man City have leveled off a little but are still incredible to watch, while Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham are still defying the odds and will actually move into their new stadium soon. The top six have been fascinating to watch in 2018, and given four of them are in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, it seems like English soccer has had a real resurgence on the European stage too.

Nicholas Mendola: I don’t want to be a downer and I know Leicester City happened just a few years ago, but it seems like it’s the end of non-giants making charges toward the Top Four. It’s not Liverpool’s fault for joining Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, and Man City in spending ungodly amounts of dough. It’s not just about the money, because those arguments are also annoying and look at Everton and West Ham, but it is frustrating.

Kyle Bonn: 2018 was a great year of soccer, but the failures of the USMNT certainly bring it down from our perspective. There needs to be growth there moving forward, or it will be tough to build on the growing fanbase in this country.

Dan Karell: Regarding the U.S. men’s national team, it was an empty year that should have had a World Cup appearance to go with it. We saw a lot of new players make their debuts and other youngsters receive more minutes, but the team felt like the Israelites wandering for 40 years searching for the Land of Israel, with no direction. Hopefully now, with Gregg Berhalter (Moses?) in charge, the USMNT can find the promised land.

Another note: Atlanta United’s incredible success can’t go unnoted. To create a title-winning team in two years is incredible difficult, and the organization has raised the bar for MLS even higher. 2018 was a huge step for the league. Let’s see what 2019 brings.
(AP Photo/Todd Kirkland)

Report: Henry set to take Monaco job as Jardim shown door

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One of the most gifted talents in world soccer history could be taking the reins of a club known for developing such players.

Thierry Henry is about to get the keys to AS Monaco, the club that raised him, as the floundering French club is set to fire Leonardo Jardim according to ESPN.

[ PL ROUNDTABLE: The story so far ]

Monaco has just one win in nine matches to start the Ligue 1 season, and sits in 18th place. It’s also lost its first two Champions League matches of the group stage ahead of two must-win contests with Club Brugge.

Henry, 41, saw his star rise this summer as an assistant to Roberto Martinez in Belgium’s impressive World Cup run.

Monaco has sold an almost overwhelming amount of talent in the past few seasons, sending Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Lemar, Fabinho, Terence Kongolo, Joao Moutinho, Benjamin Mendy, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Bernardo Silva, and oh my goodness I’m still typing.

Henry was reportedly offered the Bordeaux job earlier this season, but patience has paid off for the former Arsenal, Barcelona, and New York Red Bulls star.

Going the Zinedine Zidane route is intriguing for Monaco and Henry, who will not be expected to push the squad from a relegation fight to the title, and will have plenty of patience and the opportunity to either rescue the Champions League campaign or run the club into a Europa League experience.

With new pieces Aleksandr Golovin and Nacer Chadli joining Danijel Subasic, Kamil Glik, Youri Tielemans, and Radamel Falcao, the club will be fine in Ligue 1. And if Henry can develop youngsters like Moussa Sylla, Willem Geubbels, and Pietro Pellegri (when healthy), he’ll only grow his star in Europe. If he fails, so what? The club won’t be relegated and a native son will likely be viewed as a man in a bare cupboard situation.

Nacer Chadli signs for Monaco from West Brom

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Nacer Chadli has made quite the leap, returning to a Champions League club from the English second tier.

The 29-year-old winger has moved to French club AS Monaco from Championship club West Bromwich Albion just before the European transfer deadline. According to Belgian journalist Kristof Terreur, Chadli commanded a fee of around $13 million.

Chadli had not appeared for West Brom yet this season, hoping to force a move away as he was not prepared to drop his level of competition to the Championship.

Chadli spent three seasons at Tottenham after moving from FC Twente in 2013, but after slowly losing playing time, he left for West Brom in the summer of 2016. He made just 38 total appearances for West Brom and scored six goals, never able to capture the form he had at Spurs on a consistent basis.

However, Chadli maintained his place in the Belgian squad, and was a key figure in the team’s World Cup run to third place this summer in Russia. Chadli scored a goal and assisted another as he made six total appearances including four starts at the World Cup.

West Brom had been preparing for Chadli’s exit for some time, but still must scramble to replace him with England’s loan deadline on Friday.

Belgium tops England to finish third at World Cup

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Belgium topped England, 2-0, in Saturday’s third-place match in Saint Petersburg behind goals from Thomas Meunier and Eden Hazard.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The finish for Belgium marks their best-ever performance at a World Cup, after having previously finished fourth in 1986.

It took just four minutes for the Red Devils to go out in front, and a quick attack led by Romelu Lukaku guided Roberto Martinez’s side into the lead.

The Manchester United striker picked out a brilliant through ball to Nacer Chadli down the wing, before playing in a timely cross to Meunier, who slid in for the finish past England keeper Jordan Pickford.

Eden Hazard capped off the victory for the Belgians with a near-post strike in the 83rd minute to ensure his side’s third-place finish.

The early finish brought a bit of life out of the Three Lions, who began to create a number of quality chances of their own.

Harry Kane nearly equalized in the 23rd minute when Raheem Sterling picked out the Tottenham striker, however, his shot missed just wide of the goal.

The Three Lions had their best chance of the match with 20 minutes remaining in the match as Eric Dier found himself in on goal, but his chip past Thibaut Courtois was cleared off the line by Spurs teammate Toby Alderweireld.

Video: Meunier gets Belgium off and running early

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A sliding finish from the Paris Saint-Germain man has given the Red Devils the lead over England after just four minutes.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Belgium conducted a attacker to perfection when Romelu Lukaku found Nacer Chadli down the left wing following an England turnover.

Chadli’s cross into the run of Thomas Meunier was also timely, with the Paris Saint-Germain player sliding in to push the ball past goalkeeper Jordan Pickford for the 1-0 lead.