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How will Chelsea line up under Maurizio Sarri?

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For the 11th time in as many years, Chelsea has a new manager.

It seems like a large number for a club that has had as much success as it has; because it is.

[ MORE: Hazard hints at Chelsea exit, has “preferred destination” in mind ]

Maurizio Sarri has officially taken over with the Blues following Antonio Conte‘s sacking, and the new Italian manager has already helped the club ensure it will have one of the best (if not the best) midfields in the Premier League thanks to his first signing.

Former Napoli central midfielder Jorginho has joined the Stamford Bridge side to form a formidable partnership in the middle of the park alongside French superstar N'Golo Kante.

It’s that relationship amongst the two ball winners that could really propel the Blues into another gear, after the club had its moments of struggle last season after Nemanja Matic‘s departure for Manchester United.

[ MORE: Belgium tops England for best finish in team’s WC history ]

Now, several names in the attack have been rumored to be nearing moves away from Chelsea, including Eden Hazard and Willian, which would clearly be a devastating blow to Sarri’s plans in his first season in charge.

Both Hazard and Willian are sure-fire starters under any manager, but that is of course assuming that they remain with the club ahead of next month.

As the squad is currently constructed, the Blues are missing a traditional number 10 attacker that sits behind the striker, although Hazard has the freedom to roam throughout the pitch as necessary.

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That will likely leave a third slot open in the midfield if Sarri aims to use a traditional 4-3-3, and it could very well go to Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who comes back from a loan spell at Crystal Palace last season.

Loftus-Cheek is a bit more of a creative player than a Kante or Jorginho, however, he possesses the size and physicality necessary to track back defensively when needed, which gives Sarri flexibility in his tactical makeup.

Meanwhile, striker Alvaro Morata’s future with the club remains unknown as well, with recent reports suggesting that Sarri could aim to bring in Argentina international Gonzalo Higuain in a straight swap of players.

Behind Morata sits Olivier Giroud, who struggled in much of his time with the Blues over the latter half of the 2017/18 campaign, while Tammy Abraham has become an intriguing prospect for the Blues as well.

It remains to be seen, though, if Abraham will get a crack with the first team this season or be sent out on loan once again.

With less than a month until the start of the PL season, Sarri has his work cut out for himself, after bringing in a positive player to bolster the club’s midfield with Jorginho.

Defensively, there are still some questions, particularly in regards to how the back line will align itself.

Conte’s three-back system will likely dissolve following his exit, as Sarri employs a traditional four-back setup similar to what he used in Serie A.

Cezar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso are almost certainties at the two outside back positions, while centrally the club boasts a solid amount of depth.

Gary Cahill remains in the fold, along with David Luiz, however, the Brazilian will likely have to battle with Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger for a starting role.

Christensen was sturdy for the majority of 2017/18, and given his budding stardom, it’s likely that Sarri will put his confidence in the young defender early on.

Below, Pro Soccer Talk takes a look at who will likely start for Chelsea under Sarri’s new regime.


PST’s World Cup roundtable: Pre-Final edition

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What an intoxicating tournament.

It’s hard to say anything else as France and Croatia prepare for the 2018 World Cup Final.

[ MORE: Premier League TV schedule released ]

From Russia’s blowout opener and the Spain-Portugal thriller right down to Wednesday’s semifinal tussle between Croatia and England, this tournament has been as close to unforgettable as we’ve seen in some time.

The ProSoccerTalk staff is answering questions ahead of Sunday’s final.

Forget their age, Who would you rather have in your midfield for a one-game winner-take-all final: N'Golo Kante or Luka Modric?

Joe Prince-Wright: Luka Modric on current form. But only just. Does all the simple things well and forces opponents to totally change their defensive shape.

Nicholas Mendola: Kante is amazing, but there are a few players of his ilk/style that can come close to replicating what he does so well. Modric types are more difficult to find, and given the insane year he’s had — much of it his doing — I’m amazed he’s been able to stay so laser-focused.

Kyle Bonn: Modric has had a wonderful World Cup and may win the Golden Ball, but in the modern game, N’Golo Kante is potentially the most valuable piece of any top European team, and any teambuilding starts with him.

Matt Reed: It’s such a tough decision because they offer such different aspects, but if you’re looking for a player that does what he’s asked every single match I’m going with N’Golo Kante. His positioning and tactical awareness are always flawless, and Kante’s ability to essentially serve as a fifth defender makes life very difficult for opposing sides to break them down.

Dan Karell: I think Modric. He’s just so good all-around, and playing at Real Madrid has taught him the defensive side of the game. He’s certainly not as good defensively as Kante but I think he’s so much better with the ball than Kante is that it outweighs the defensive skill Kante has.

Nikola Kalinic (L) and Modric (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

Scale of 1-10, 1 being “not a chance” and 10 being “it’s haaaapppening,” what odds does Croatia have of winning on Sunday?

JPW: 4 out of 10. Croatia’s exertion have to catch up with them soon but France will be very wary.

NM: 3. I don’t want to bet against a relentless Croatia, but France has gotten it done without hitting its top gear. That probably comes Sunday, and the tired Bleus will have a trouble matching that over 90.

KB: 5! I truly believe this is a wide open match. Croatia has earned the right to have an equal chance at winning this game. They have tactically been superior to every team they’ve played so far.

MR: It’s easy to argue that Croatia has benefited from being on the “easier” side of the draw, but they’ve done everything necessary to take care of business and reach this point. That said, the Croats have played an extra game… and then some… with three consecutive extra time efforts. I just don’t envision them being able to find complete fitness ahead of the final, so I’ll go with a 4.

DK: 7. Croatia has defied the odds up till this point in the knockout stages and has grown into every game they’ve played. Assuming they’re still drinking some of MJ’s Secret Stuff and have energy on Sunday, they will surely put France on the defensive. If France doesn’t score a couple of quick goals in the first 20 minutes of the game, Croatia has a great chance to lift the title.

Are Croatia’s three trips to extra time going to crush them?

JPW: Not crush but hamper. France also had an extra day of rest and Croatia have wracked up the miles in this tournament.

NM: That and one day’s less rest is going to make a difference. That’s 90 full minutes and two nervy, adrenaline rides through penalty kicks.

KB: I thought they would against England, yet they were the team with the legs at the end. Hard to have seen that and then bet against Croatia on the grounds of tired legs.

MR: They’ve proven us wrong up until this point, so let’s not rule them out completely. Let’s put it this way though. If France plays up to its potential, especially having had an extra day of rest, Les Bleus will be champions once more.

DK: We’d have assumed, but somehow they’ve survived and continue to get stronger. After the tournament, these guys are going to all need a month-long rest in one of those cryo-chambers, but for now their bodies are holding up.

How has this World Cup affected Paul Pogba‘s reputation, if at all?

JPW: Enhanced it slightly. He’s played well so far without setting the tournament alight but you could say that about everyone apart from Mbappe and Kante for France. Deschamps has everyone doing the dirty work and Pogba has been a lot more regimented at doing that than he was in the past with France and Man United.

NM: His rep has been burnished, as he’s played in both advanced and set-back roles. Honestly, his performances may have justified some of what Jose Mourinho has chosen to do with Pogba’s immense talent.

KB: This is hard to say. We’re so used to praising Pogba on his standout performances with Juventus, but the way he plays these days he doesn’t stand out anymore, even when he has a good match. I don’t think his reputation changes much, even if they win the World Cup.

MR: Pogba may be one of the biggest winners of the World Cup regardless of result on Sunday. He’s taken a lot of heat at Manchester United for not being able to adapt and at times being selfish, but this tournament has shown his willingness to put ego aside and take the squad’s needs to heart. The semifinal performance against Belgium really shed some light on his recent change in play by just breaking up balls and clogging the midfield for Les Bleus.

DK: It’s a tough call. I think part of Pogba’s problem is he is so skilled in so many areas – technique on the ball, speed, strength, aerial ability – that he wants to be 4 players in one instead of just being the best Pogba. In the game against Belgium, he completely wore down Fellaini, no small task against his Man United teammate, and showed excellent control on the ball and vision to keep the ball moving and keep it away from Belgium, or find Mbappe in space down the wings. If that’s Pogba at his best, it’s certainly worth the price of admission.

Who deserves the World Cup’s Golden Ball?

JPW: Probably Modric. He’s been sublime. Kante should be in the running too and if Mbappe scores a few in the final, he may well get it.

NM: Modric is the favorite, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Antoine Griezmann pass Modric and Kylian Mbappe with a fine final.

KB: Whoever has a better match, Mbappe or Modric, will win the Golden Ball. They have both been stunning this tournament.

MR: It has to be Kylian Mbappe. He’s playing on the best team in the tournament right now, but more importantly he’s carrying their attack. Antoine Griezmann has been largely disappointing in this World Cup, while Olivier Giroud has been nearly nonexistent. Had it not been for Mbappe’s pace and skill, France wouldn’t be at this point.

DK: Two words. Luka Modric. Yes, Harry Kane has 6 goals and has been brilliant. But he’s failed to score in each of England’s last two games and he’s also failed to make a real impact on the game. Modric meanwhile has been absolutely stellar for the entire tournament. His consistency is unparalleled and he is a joy to watch. 2nd place would be for N’Golo Kante.

Barring a 4-goal night from Griezmann or Mbappe, Harry Kane will have at least a share of the Golden Boot. Where does he rank in the world right now, as an impact player? Top Five? Top Ten?

JPW: Top five. He delivered in most of England’s games and you would have put your mortgage on him scoring at least one of his two big chances vs. Croatia. Wasn’t meant to be.

NM: He’s on the edge of the Top Five, though admittedly he’s sitting there more for club play than the World Cup. That said, he was quite good even when not facing Panama.

KB: If you asked me 2 weeks ago, I would have told you he ranked in the top 5 strikers in the world, without a doubt. But he underwhelmed in the knockout stages, and I still have questions about his ability to carry a team and produce something out of nothing like a world class striker can. He hasn’t played in too many extra-high leverage matches in his career, and that needs to happen before we consider him world class.

MR: You’re talking about two very different Harry Kane-s. The Tottenham Kane is arguably the best striker in the world. He’s probably a top 5 impact player when with Spurs, but this showing with England was honestly a bit disappointing for me. Some of that has to do with the fact that many of the Three Lions’ attackers were less than impressive, but half of Kane’s goals came from the penalty spot and he only scored once after the group stage. This World Cup won’t hurt his overall stock, but it’s very easy to argue that he wasn’t the best striker in Russia.

DK: Against Sweden and Croatia, his stock dropped significantly. But I’d still say he’s one of the 10 best players in the world. Like Luis Suarez and other great poachers, he has a great knack for being in the right place at the right time, and he’s clinical in front of goal, whether from 12 yards out or 18.

England’s Harry Kane, right, goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, centre, and Kieran Trippier (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

It is not coming home, Pt. 1: Where will time see this England side? Are they a nation returning to consistent contender status, or simply the recipients of good performances and a friendly bracket?

JPW: They’ve given their fans hope but you can’t deny this was a golden chance to reach the final. They were on the easier side of the bracket but this is a young team and they’ll be together for EURO 2020. I expect them to do well in that tournament too with Gareth Southgate at the helm.

NM: The Three Lions were inspiring for the entire run, even in the face of a shaken extra time performance. England is probably set to remain a second-tier team, not too bothered in qualifying but not favored to get to a semi-final. Kane’s continued growth along with consistency for Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford can make a difference.

KB: This is a team on the rise. Gareth Southgate made tactical mistakes in the loss to Croatia, but he is the right man forward, and hopefully England sticks with him through thick and thin. Only Young, Vardy, Delph, and Rose are at an advanced age and will be unlikely to take part in 2022. There is more young talent coming through (think: Sessegnon and Alexander-Arnold). Southgate is a great talent evaluator (think: discovering Maguire as a true international). They will be contenders in Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup.

MR: Nearly everything went right for England to reach the semifinals in Russia, but make no mistake, this team is young, hungry and only improving over the next several cycles. Of the squad’s current 23 players, only eight of them are older than 28. The likes of Harry Kane, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford are going to be with this Three Lions side for a very long time, while some of England’s elite youths including Phil Foden and Tammy Abraham will surely make a push into the team. The loss to Croatia is a difficult pill to swallow, but Gareth Southgate’s men instilled a belief in the national team once again, one that will surely grow their confidence heading into Qatar and beyond.

DK: I’m sure time will see this England side as the beginning of a great generation, with Kane, Raheem Sterling, Eric Dier, John Stones, Jordan Pickford and many more still very young, with more talent challenging the starters coming from the youth ranks. England were awarded plenty of luck from the draw but that’s part of the fun of a World Cup, sometimes you get that luck and sometimes you have to earn it in harder circumstances, like France has from its side of the bracket. Ultimately, this England team made fans believe again and that’s a feat no one would have expected heading into the tournament.

It is not coming home, Pt. 2: Where is it going, and what score line will it bring with it?

JPW: France will win. 3-1.

NM: France, 3-1. It’s 2-0 for a while before Croatia pulls one back and France quickly answers through a substitute.

KB: France takes it on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

MR: France, 2-1.

DK: I think it’s going to Croatia. 2-1 winners. After extra time. Because of course.

Rotherham gains promotion to Championship

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After one season down in League One, the Millers are returning to the Sky Bet Championship in 2018/19.

[ MORE: Tammy Abraham rescues England in Toulon opener ]

Rotherham United defeated Shrewsbury Town, 2-1, in extra time on Sunday at Wembley Stadium to reach the Championship.

Regulation wasn’t enough to decide the League One playoff final, but Richard Wood brace ensured his side, Rotherham, would reach the English second division ahead of the 2018/19 season.

Wood did superbly to volley home his squad’s second goal in the first half of extra time, after a brilliant Joe Newell set piece curled into the path of the defender.

Shrewsbury equalized around the hour mark when Alex Rodman calmly placed the ball beyond goalkeeper Marek Rodak from close ranger after a perfectly-executed set piece that caught the Millers off guard.

The first half went largely in favor Rotherham though, having taken the lead in the 32nd minute through Wood’s header to the bottom left corner.

The lead should have been larger though heading into halftime, but David Ball’s early penalty kick was saved by Shrews keeper Dean Henderson in the ninth minute to keep the match scoreless at the time.

Tammy Abraham rescues England in Toulon opener

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It took a late finish to nab three points on Sunday, but England’s title defence at the Toulon Tournament is off an running.

[ MORE: Bale brace guides Real Madrid past Liverpool ]

The Three Lions’ Under-21 squad picked up a 2-1 win in their Group A opener against China, after having fallen behind to the Asian nation inside the opening half hour.

England, winners of the last two editions of the competition, conceded in the 20th minute to Yan Dinghao, and went into the halftime break behind 1-0.

Manager Paul Simpson and his side came out strong in the second stanza, though, and found an equalizer five minutes in through Middlesbrough defender Dael Fry‘s header.

It seemed as though England would be destined for a point, however, Tammy Abraham‘s tap-in finish in the 85th minute ensured a crucial victory to open the tournament for the Three Lions.

England will round out Group A with matches against Mexico and Qatar on March 28 and June 1, respectively.

At the Toulon Tournament, the three group winners automatically reach the semifinals, while the best second-place nation also receives a bid into the final four.

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.