Wilfried

Brendan Rodgers has Leicester City whirring

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Leicester City is a top Premier League club.

Say it again with me. We’re doing this Good Will Hunting style, until you truly believe the words you are repeating.

Leicester City is a top Premier League club.

Four years after winning the title against astronomical odds in one of the most historic seasons in sports history, Brendan Rodgers has cemented Leicester City as anything but a fluke. This club is for real.

[ MORE: Leicester City tops Aston Villa ]

After three mid-table finished that allowed the club to institute a sustainable model of player acquisition, talent development, and asset maximization, the Foxes are back near the top of the table and look a club that has the ability to secure itself as a leading force in the English top flight.

This summer, the club put the finishing touches on two critical components of the plan, two moments that may prove defining decisions in the club’s history. The first was selling Harry Maguire and replacing him with young Caglar Soyuncu, a move which not only netted the club a massive sum of money, but also cemented Leicester City as a talent development hub capable of producing talent, offloading for a huge profit, and not losing a step on the pitch.

The second was replacing Claude Puel with Brendan Rodgers. Puel, in charge of Leicester City for two years, was caught in between instituting his preferred possessional style of play and changing the culture of the squad, a hesitation which cost the Frenchman his job. Last season, Leicester City was seventh in the league in passes per game but fifth in accurate long-balls per game, a testament to his inability to decide the squad’s identity. This season, Leicester City is fourth in passes per game behind Manchester City, Chelsea, and Liverpool, and fourth in total shots per game, all while sitting ninth in accurate long-balls (for what it’s worth, Liverpool is 1st in that category while Man City is third, largely down to their exorbitant possessional advantages). This team has completed the transformation Puel wanted but never achieved – they are a dominant Premier League side that wants to dominate its opponents.

Even deeper, the numbers agree. Jamie Vardy is scoring at otherworldly levels, especially for a player at 32 years old. His 16 goals lead the league by six, and even with his outrageous finishing ability (he has a +5.47 differential between actual goals scored and expected goals scored, nearly double anyone else – Harry Kane and Teemu Pukki are second at +2.92), he is still second in the league in total xG behind Marcus Rashford.

James Maddison, Ricardo Pereira, and Wilfried Ndidi are all among the top 5 in WhoScored player rating this season, while Vardy sits seventh. Soyuncu ranks sixth by in the league by WhoScored among central defenders in his first full Premier League season at just 23 years old, while his center-back partner Jonny Evans is eighth in his 13th campaign in the English top flight. Pereira is a tackling machine who gets far less screen time than new Manchester United signing Aaron Wan-Bissaka, owner of a reputation for that exact skill which earned him a big-money move. Ndidi, meanwhile, continues to rise in prominence as he leads the Premier League in tackles and ranks third in interceptions.

Sure, Rodgers inherited a fantastic squad, but the list of players falls well short of screaming “second in the table” and the former Liverpool manager has metamorphosed them from budding talents to world-class players. He has mixed young talent with veteran experience flawlessly, making sure to keep title veterans Wes Morgan, Cristian Fuchs, and Marc Albrighton involved despite their declining roles.

The club has also found itself the beneficiary of a few unique circumstances. Most notably, they have avoided significant injury to this point in the season. A large part of that has been Vardy’s international retirement which (at least, for the time being) has kept him fresher than most, whereas double duty has weighed down other top goalscorers in the league. Only Matthew James is currently sidelined for the Foxes who remain one of the healthiest teams in the league. They also don’t have European play to worry about, a proven ingredient for domestic success.

Still, Rodgers is the source of much of their continued improvement. The Foxes have conceded just nine total goals all year, the least of any English top flight side, and are the only team in the league not to have conceded from a set-piece this Premier League season, a testament to their rigid and well-drilled discipline. And they have scored gobs of late goals under the current boss – they scored 10 goals inside the final 15 minutes of his first eight games in charge of the club, and this season they lead the league with five goals inside the final five minutes (even with Manchester City). Against Aston Villa he managed to pair Vardy with Kelechi Iheanacho up front, a prospect that left Puel utterly baffled.

It’s a shame this team isn’t among those competing in Europe this campaign, as they could surely challenge the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich for a spot in the Champions League quarterfinals, but they will almost certainly get the chance next season. They get a chance to play with the Premier League big boys soon during the holiday season, with back-to-back matches against Liverpool and Man City just after Christmas Day.

Claude Puel just couldn’t get it right. Vardy said earlier this season that Puel’s training sessions were “too slow” to the point where it was consequently “difficult for us to be fast and aggressive in matches.” That’s not a problem any longer. Brendan Rodgers has this team absolutely soaring at breakneck speeds towards a long-term place among the Premier League’s elite. The Foxes’ transformation from one-hit wonder to sustainable elite-level success should be a case study for other clubs looking to is still in progress, but has reached the final phase.

Eight games in a row they have won now, the most in team history. Brendan Rodgers called Sunday’s win “a historic day for the club,” but the picture is much bigger than that.

“Leicester City is a top Premier League club.” Say it again until you believe the words you are reciting. Know that they are true.

Newcastle win dampened by Saint-Maximin injury

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Steve Bruce has seen Newcastle up to 10th in the table after topping Southampton 2-1, but the news wasn’t all good at St. James Park after the victory.

The Magpies boss confirmed that Allan Saint-Maximin  could be out “for weeks” after pulling up deep into stoppage time, coming off in the 96th minute after all three Newcastle substitutes had been used.

Bruce partly blamed himself for the injury, claiming he nearly rested the Frenchman for the match. “I nearly left him out today,” Bruce said after the game, “and, now, I wish I had done because he could be out for weeks. I’m disappointed with myself. We don’t know how serious it is. I kick myself if he is out for a long time. The way he pulled up – let’s hope it’s not too serious.”

The manager claims Saint-Maximin was “fatigued” but risked him anyways. He could have brought the 22-year-old off at some point during the second half, but with the game level until Federico Fernandez’s 87th minute winner, he chose to risk it further looking for a winner. Bruce used his third and final substitute in the 85th minute to haul off Miguel Almiron still two minutes before the eventual winning goal was scored. And it wasn’t just Steve Bruce who thought he could miss significant time.

Saint-Maximin struggled with a muscle injuries earlier in the season, missing games against Norwich City, Watford, and Liverpool while getting treatment. Since returning in full in early October, Saint-Maximin has played in every Premier League game for Newcastle, completing at least 80 minutes in eight of those nine games and finishing 90 minutes four times.

The injury is poorly timed with Newcastle set to begin a heavy set of fixtures. They take on Burnley next weekend before games against Crystal Palace, Manchester United, Everton, and Leicester City all in an eleven-day span through the holiday season. Saint-Maximin is a critical player to have go down, with a 7.07 WhoScored rating, ranking third on the team in that metric. He has completed 4.5 dribbles a game this season, which ranks second in the Premier League behind Wilfried Zaha‘s 4.6 despite having played five fewer games and 550 fewer minutes.

Ciaran Clark also went down during the game, with the Newcastle defender hauled off at halftime after suffering a calf injury.

Watford, Crystal Palace play to feisty draw

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Watford and Crystal Palace played out a 0-0 draw a Vicarage Road on Saturday as the hosts squandered several chances to pick up their first home win of the season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Wilfried Zaha was involved in plenty of hefty of challenges, for and against, as Palace huffed and puffed but didn’t really get going in attack. Gerard Deulofeu and Ismaila Sarr both went close for Watford, who had new manager Nigel Pearson watching on from the stands.

With the point Watford remain bottom of the team and have nine points for the season, while Palace are in seventh place on 22 points.

3 things we learned

1. Pearson already having an impact: This was so much better from Watford. Similar to their narrow defeat at Leicester in midweek,  they looked compact and solid defensively and Deulofeu was a menace underneath Deeney. Pearson watched on from the directors box tentatively throughout, as caretaker Hayden Mullins oversaw a solid display which should have yielded three points.

2. Rattled Zaha targeted: Wilfried Zaha and Watford mean one thing: Fouls. Zaha was clearly targeted by the Hornets and he went down on several occasions all game long, but was booked for a foul of his own and to his disbelief his calls for fouls were often overlooked. There is previous here as Zaha was the target for the home fans and players, and Roy Hodgson did his best to calm the Ivorian winger down. Eventually he did calm down, but he was rattled. After his fine displays in recent wins, Zaha was far from his best.

3. Sarr adds cutting edge: Palace had to bring in Jairo Reidewald for Jeffrey Schlupp at half time at left back to try and stop Sarr’s driving runs down the right flank. He came close to scoring to add to his goal at Southampton last weekend, and his power and pace perfectly complimented Delofeu’s trickery. If Watford can stay solid defensively, Deulofeu, Deeney and Sarr will give plenty of defenses problems.

Man of the Match:


Both teams went close early as Troy Deeney‘s scuffed effort was cleared by James Tomkins, James McArthur sent a volley wide of the far post and then Ismaila Sarr’s shot was deflected wide at the other end.

Watford took the game to Palace early on as Pearson’s arrival as their new manager on Friday, even if he wasn’t in the dugout, had an impact. Gerard Deulofeu was popping up time and time again and his deliveries from set pieces caused Palace problems.

Once again in a game between Palace and Watford it was Wilfried Zaha who was at the center of things as the players piled in after he was caught by several defenders as he was on the floor, then he was booked moments later before Craig Cathcart also received a yellow for fouling Luka Milivojevic.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Watford pinned Palace back in the second half as they peppered the goal and Deulofeu raced clear before smashing just wide.

The Spaniard then crossed for Sarr but his effort was saved by Vicente Guaita as the game opened up in the closing stages with Ayew firing just over on the counter and then Gary Cahill twice denying Sarr with brilliant blocks.

Andre Gray shanked a shot goalwards after more good work from Sarr, while Deeney went down in the box in stoppage time and wanted a penalty kick, as tempers flared late on with Zaha involved again.

In the end the two teams canceled each other out with Palace lackluster in attack and Watford disappointed not to take three points to lift themselves closer to safety.

Chelsea transfer ban reduced after appeal

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Chelsea will be able to sign new players in January after their transfer ban from FIFA was reduced to one transfer window after their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was successful.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

The Blues had previously been banned for two transfer windows, summer 2019 and winter 2020, for 150 rule breaches involving 69 academy players over a period of several years, but they will now be able to sign new players from Jan. 1 when the next transfer window opens.

Despite having the ban reduced, Chelsea are far from happy with world soccer’s governing body as they released a scathing statement slamming FIFA’s handling of the situation.

“The approach taken by FIFA to this case has been deeply unsatisfactory, not least as FIFA chose to treat Chelsea entirely differently to Manchester City for reasons that make absolutely no sense to Chelsea. We respect the importance of the work undertaken by FIFA in relation to the protection of minors and has fully cooperated with FIFA throughout its investigation. However, if FIFA continues to impose inconsistent and unequal sanctions on clubs then it will not only undermine the very purpose of the regulations, but it will also bring into doubt the game’s confidence in FIFA being able to appropriately regulate this important area.”

They went on to add a bit more detail about why they were so angry at being banned from signing new players for one window.

“FIFA accused Chelsea of having breached Article 19 of the FIFA regulations in relation to 27 players, covering the period from 2009 onwards. Of those, 16 players were registered by Chelsea in exactly the same way as other Premier League clubs registered players at the time. Furthermore, Chelsea sought clarification from the Premier League in 2009 about whether it needed to apply for permission to register players in this category. The FA subsequently liaised with FIFA and it was confirmed to Chelsea that players in this category were entitled to register and that no special application was required (and in fact no special application process existed). Accordingly, the fact that FIFA brought charges against Chelsea for this category of player was perverse. We are grateful that this appears to have been corrected by the CAS.”

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard was obviously delighted with the outcome, as he can now reinforce his young squad and has plenty of cash in the bank after a no-spend summer (the deal for Christian Pulisic was sealed last January and Mateo Kovacic arrived permanently after his loan move saw a clause triggered which made it a permanent move).

“It’s a positive outcome for us,” Lampard said. “It allows us the potential to look at the market going forward. So I’m pleased from a footballing level. It was never my business to get involved in the reasons why or the legal side of it.”

Which areas should Chelsea strengthen in now they can buy again? And which players will be their top targets?

It is clear that left back is an area where Lampard will want to add a new starter as both Marcos Alonso and Emerson Palmeri are fine as back ups neither have made the position their own this season. Up top is another key location where Lampard will look to strengthen as Olivier Giroud seems to be on his way out of Stamford Bridge and that would leave just Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi as the options at center forward.

Elsewhere, Chelsea look pretty set, although a new center back could be handy but isn’t necessary given the fact that Kurt Zouma and Fikayo Tomori have both been superb for most of this season and Andreas Christensen is also around with Cesar Azpilicueta also able to slot in at center back with Reece James developing well at right back.

After 12 months without spending and having transfer fees from the sale of Eden Hazard, David Luiz and Tomas Kalas and many other fringe players which brought in an incredible $180 million, Lampard will have money to spend.

Chelsea have been linked with moves for Jadon Sancho, Wilfried Zaha, Nathan Ake and Ben Chilwell, among many others, as plenty of star players will fancy a move to Stamford Bridge given Lampard’s promising start to life as their manager.

The big question now is: Given Chelsea’s great start to the season as they sit in the top four with their young team progressing together as a group, do they risk bringing in new additions to potential upset the team spirit? Is it better to wait until the summer when the likes of Pedro and Giroud, and maybe Willian, could all leave Stamford Bridge?

PL Club Power Rankings: Week 15

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The congested schedule means we’ve had two match days since we last took stock of the Premier League.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

We’ve got a brand new Top Five (well, in terms of the four behind eventual champions Liverpool) and two teams dipping to season lows on our ol’ litmus test.

Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]


20. Watford — As many losses as goals (9), and that figure is one more than the Hornets’ total points. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise to see them on the verge of full-time manager No. 3, as full-time manager of Watford is a bit more like seasonal help.
Last week: 18
Season high: 17
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-0 at Leicester City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Crystal Palace

19. Everton — A top half team in terms of talent seeks the manager who can organize its way out of the drop zone. Might it be this guy? Better than the alternatives.
Last week: 17
Season high: 5
Season low: 19
Last match: Lost 5-2 at Liverpool
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Chelsea

18. Norwich City — The first team to 10 losses is four points shy of 17th.
Last week: 16
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Southampton
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Sheffield United

17. West Ham United — A gigantic ball of “blah.” Should thank Everton for existing so people aren’t more focused on this particular collection of currently squandered talent.
Last week: 20
Season high: 5
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-0 at Wolves
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Monday v. Arsenal

16. Bournemouth — It’s just not good enough, is it? To have held onto Callum Wilson and get another step up in class from Philip Billing and still be so wildly inconsistent.
Last week: 11
Season high: 6
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 1-0 at Crystal Palace
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Liverpool

15. Southampton — It really feels like the Danny Ings revival show could rival any story for the best individual one in the league this season. Happy to see Ralph Hasenhuttl get some good performances, as he was being scapegoated in a hurry.
Last week: 19
Season high: 13
Season low: 20
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Norwich City
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Newcastle United

14. Aston Villa — Allowing a league-worst 18.8 shots per game, but staying in the mix thanks to Tom Heaton and Tyrone Mings.
Last week: 13
Season high: 8
Season low: 15
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Chelsea
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Leicester City

13. Arsenal — The Gunners back line gets a lot of heat, and rightly so, but maybe a little help from the midfield would be nice considering Sokratis Papastathopoulos and David Luiz have combined for 39 blocks. Sokratis is third in the PL and Luiz fourth.
Last week: 12
Season high: 4
Season low: 12
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Brighton and Hove Albion
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Monday at West Ham United


12. Brighton and Hove Albion — First win ever away to Arsenal is another feather in the cap of Graham Potter, especially nice considering they had lost four on the bounce.
Last week: 14
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Won 2-1 at Arsenal
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Wolves

11. Newcastle United — No one is punching above its weight more than Steve Bruce‘s Magpies, and they’ve been aided in a big way by Martin Dubravka. The Slovakian goalkeeper has a league-best 44 saves from shots inside the 18.

Also, according to Understat’s xG numbers, they should’ve lost to the Blades. In fat, the xG table says they should be dead last. Life’s funny like that. It’s Steve Bruce’s world and we’re living in it.
Last week: 15
Season high: 11
Season low: 20
Last match: Won 2-0 at Sheffield United
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Southampton

https://understat.com/match/11786

10. Sheffield United — Just lost for the first time since September. That’s amazing.
Last week: 6
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 2-0 v. Newcastle United
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Norwich City

9. Burnley — Striker Chris Wood has been credited with 12 “big chances missed” by Sofascore, more than any player in the league.
Last week: 7
Season high: 5
Season low: 15
Last match: Lost 4-1 v. Man City
Up next: 10 a.m. Saturday at Spurs

8. Spurs — Jose Mourinho learned Wednesday that Moussa Sissoko is nice for the squad, but not to be leaned on.

Last week: 9
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Manchester United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Burnley

7. Crystal Palace — Wilfried Zaha‘s 68 dribbles are 13 more than anyone else in the league.
Last week: 10
Season high: 5
Season low: 18
Last match: Won 1-0 v. Bournemouth
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Watford

6. Manchester United — Ole had himself a moment in outfoxing Mourinho without Pogba or Martial.
Last week: 8
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Spurs
Up next: 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Man City

5. Chelsea — We told you, Frank. WE TOLD YOU.
Last week: 4
Season high: 2
Season low: 12
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Aston Villa
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Everton

4. Manchester City — Aymeric Laporte is still two months away and that’s two months too long.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 4-1 at Burnley
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. Manchester United

3. Wolves — This is going to sound nuts, but there are days I’d rather see Liverpool on my schedule than Wolves. The Reds are obviously better weaponized, but Wolves come at you in waves, man, and Nuno Espirito Santo is doing it without his best center back.
Last week: 5
Season high: 3
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-0 v. West Ham United
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Brighton and Hove Albion

2. Leicester City — How’s this for an unsustainable stat? Wilfred Ndidi and Ricardo Pereira rank first and second in the league in tackles, with 67 and 62.
Last week: 3
Season high: 2
Season low: 10
Last match: Won 2-0 v. Watford
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Aston Villa
1. Liverpool — Big Virgil Van Dijk is on track to become the first Premier League player to complete 1000 passes this season, currently at 953.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 5-2 v. Everton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Bournemouth