Best of 2018

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Top 5 Premier League games of 2018

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As we continue our Best Of series on the final day of 2018, we look back on what was a wild ride in the English top flight. Between Manchester City’s dominance, Liverpool’s rise, Manchester United’s roller coaster ride, Tottenham’s slow evolution, and the rest of the league’s parity, we were gifted with some fabulous and entertaining results. Here are the ones that gave us the most enjoyment in what was a fantastic pool to choose from.

5) Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United

In just a few days, one of these teams would secure one of the most dominant Premier League title runs in the history of the league. One of these teams would sack its manager before the calendar year was out. And yet, that is not how this game unfolded.

[ MORE: Best of 2018 series ]

Needing a win to secure the Premier League title – a win they would get a few days later – City opened the game 2-0 in front by the half-hour mark. Vincent Kompany scored a thumping header – his first league goal since the final day of the previous season – and Ilkay Gundogan doubled the lead in the 30th minute on a fabulous spin. From there, City would completely lose its shooting boots, allowing their rivals to come back into the game. Gundogan hit the bar minutes after his goal, and Paul Pogba scored after the break to bring United within one. Pogba would find another moments later with a perfect header, and that would lead to Chris Smalling‘s winner in the 69th minute. David De Gea had to make a stunning save on Sergio Aguero’s header, and again on Raheem Sterling who had a tap-in but barely made contact. This Manchester derby was the stuff of legends, although the losers in this battle ultimately won the war.

4) Liverpool 2-2 Tottenham

Liverpool gave us goals upon goals upon goals in the 2017/18 season – and are continuing to do so in this campaign – so they rightly appear multiple times on this list. For this wonderful game from last season, three goals were scored in the final 10 minutes of regulation plus stoppage time as the teams split the points. Mohamed Salah scored just three minutes into the match thanks to a terrible mistake by Eric Dier, and 1-0 was the score all the way through until the final 10 minutes when game elevated to bonkers status.

In the 80th minute, Victory Wanyama scored an absolute missile into the top corner after Karius punched an earlier effort, a goal worthy to be the trigger to the wild portion of this game. With three minutes to go in regulation, Karius sliced down Harry Kane in the penalty area, but the ensuing spot-kick by Kane was right down the middle and Karius stood firm to keep it out. In the first minute of stoppage time, Salah grabbed his second weaving through traffic to send Jurgen Klopp flying down the sidelines, but with the absolute last kick of the game, Virgil Van Dijk hacked at Erik Lamela‘s leg and Kane could atone from the penalty spot, scoring to level the match.

3) Arsenal 4-2 Tottenham

What would this list be without a pulsating North London derby? With the chance to jump Spurs in the table, Arsenal won a back-and-forth game that saw the winning goal scored with 15 minutes remaining. While the Gunners jumped out to a 1-0 lead, Spurs went 2-1 up before halftime on a Harry Kane penalty after Rob Holding fouled Heung-Min Son in the area. After halftime, it was all Gunners as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leveled the score and Alexandre Lacazette came off the bench to put the hosts up for good. Lucas Torreira bagged his first Arsenal goal with 13 minutes remaining for the icing on the cake.

The game wasn’t without the usual vitriol, as Eric Dier equalized at 1-1 before celebrating in front of Arsenal fans, causing a small melee that saw Gunners substitutes get involved, as well as Spurs head coach Mauricio Pochettino who came running in to help break things up. Pochettino after the match blamed recent European play for Spurs’ second-half meltdown, and while Arsenal temporarily had control of the table for a short time, Spurs would eventually jump back ahead of them and remain in front by Christmas.

2) Manchester City 2-3 Crystal Palace

It’s absolutely incredible that Manchester City has proven so dominant of late, and yet they appear on this list three times – all losses. When you’re at the top, there’s a target on your back, and that has proven the case with City this season. Crystal Palace became the second team to take down the defending champions this campaign, and did so in come-from-behind fashion.

Ilkay Gundoguan put Man City ahead just before the half-hour mark, but the visitors at the Etihad would score the next three, including THAT goal from Andros Townsend, a strike that will be tough to beat for Goal of the Season. After the match, Roy Hodgson said Townsend had “one of those bonanza days,” and he couldn’t have picked a better stage to perform at such a level.

1) Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City

Last season’s match of the year has yet to be beaten, a thrilling January match between two heavyweights that set the stage for the coming calendar year. It was the first loss of the entire league season for Man City, coming in Liverpool’s first game without Philippe Coutinho (remember him?). It provided the blueprint for beating Manchester City, as Pep Guardiola lost just five Premier League matches the entire 2018 calendar year, and three of them appear on this list.

With the teams even at 1-1 at the break thanks to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Leroy Sane, the Reds pounced on either side of the hour mark. Roberto Firmino bagged the first, and Sadio Mane scored the goal of the game with a blast into the top corner on a break. Ederson made a rare mistake to gift Liverpool a fourth, which proved to be decisive as City scored two goals in the final six minutes to give the Reds a scare. It was a scintillating match, and one that we’ll remember as the best of the year.

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).

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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)

Three things we learned in the Premier League in 2018

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In theory, every experience in life — whether good or bad — is meant to be lived and reflected upon as a lesson learned with an eye toward improving for the future.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup: January window opens Tuesday ]

Thus, three of the most important lessons we learned in the Premier League in 2018…

Records are meant to be broken

Manchester City smashed just about every conceivable record from the PL era en route to winning the league title in runaway fashion. The list includes, but is not limited to:

  • Man City won 32 matches, the most in a single PL season
  • Man City became the first team to win 100 points in a season
  • Man City broke the record for most consecutive wins, winning 18 in a row
  • Manchester City scored 106 goals in the PL
  • Man City won the title with five games remaining, equalling the record

It is unlikely we will again see a team dominate a single season in the same manner in our lifetimes.

$100 million isn’t a crazy price for a defender

OK, so maybe it is still a crazy amount to pay for a defender — or any player, for that matter — but Virgil Van Dijk has already, if one could possibly do so, justified in 12 months the price tag for his move from Southampton to Liverpool.

Perhaps the lesson learned here is this: if you have the chance to sign (arguably) the best defender in the world, and you are all but certain that position is the one missing piece standing between your team and PL domination, write the selling club a blank check. While the rest of the world goes crazy over midfielders and forwards — who remain plenty important in the modern game, no doubt — feel free to go left when everyone else is going right, from time to time.

Jose Mourinho and modern-day players do not mix

It’s easy to say that professional footballers should adapt to whatever tactics or management style they’re given by the manager at their employing club, that they’re paid more than enough to be expected to fall in line on command, that they know their place and don’t ruffle any feathers. Jose Mourinho believes this wholeheartedly, of course.

Thus, 2018 taught us that Mourinho’s strict man-management style no longer works with players of the present day. The vast majority of power, much like in the major sports leagues in the United States, now lies with the players.

Think about it this way: the reason a player like, say, Paul Pogba costs a club like, say, Manchester United, a then-record fee of $116 million is not only because he’s a brilliant player who’ll undoubtedly improve the first-team squad. Of course that’s a key part of it, but it’s not just that. It’s Pogba’s loud and lovable personality; his flicks and tricks on the ball; his flair and flashy hair; his name and face recognition; his marketability and brand.

It’s very simple: Mourinho doesn’t work well with — nor has he ever — players who possess too much of the above trait(s). His management style is to slowly drain — or quickly beat — it out of them until they fall in line as another nameless, faceless cog in his plain vanilla machine. Mourinho’s failure to adapt, though, was his only irreversible mistake in 2018. Never mind the fact it’s infinitely easier to replace one manager than an entire squad of players.

Top 5 Premier League managers of 2018

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The big boys occupy the top three spots in our list of the best Premier League managerial performances of the 2018 calendar year.

But you might be surprised at both their order and the men who rivaled each other for fourth and fifth.

And Nuno Espirito Santo, we still almost plugged you into the mix despite a half-year in the league.

5. (tie) Claude Puel, Leicester City (37 matches, 48 points) and Roy Hodgson, Crystal Palace (37 matches, 44 points) — Two men who did very different jobs in 2018.

Hodgson was just above the relegation zone, and led Palace well up the table through the power of Wilfried Zaha. The Eagles, however, have been less inspiring in the first half of this season.

Puel, on the other hand, didn’t do much at all with his Foxes after riding into 2018 in eighth place (They finished in ninth). But the oft-maligned manager has kept Leicester cool despite the departure of Riyad Mahrez and, more saliently, the horrible helicopter crash which claimed the life of Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and four others.

4. Eddie Howe, Bournemouth (37 matches, 50 points) — Put aside the Cherries’ recent and mighty struggles against any decent opponent, Bournemouth entered 2018 in the drop zone and finished 12th. That was 11 points clear of the drop zone. They are 11 points clear of the drop entering 2019, and Howe remains one of the most talked-about, “Would he leave for (Bigger Team X)?” managers in the game.

3. Pep Guardiola, Manchester City (37 matches, 88 points) — City’s second half of the season completed a record-smashing title campaign with all the accompanying pressure.

2. Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool (37 matches, 88 points) — The tiebreaker? Klopp’s Reds went 3W-1D against Guardiola’s Citizens in 2018.

  1. Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham Hotspur (38 matches, 85 points) — City spent about $160m from Jan. 2018 to date; Liverpool spent about $298m; Spurs spent just under $33 million, and their wage bill was sixth in the Premier League.

PST writers’ Premier League Best XI of the year 2018

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The calendar is turning to 2019, so who have been the best players in the Premier League since New Year’s Day?

[ MORE: Liverpool rips Arsenal | Spurs shocked ]

We asked our staff to search their hearts and search their minds a la Bryan Adams to find their PL Best XI from the second half of the 2017-18 season and the top half of 2018-19.

Here are the results.


Joe Prince-Wright (4-3-3)

Goalkeeper: David De Gea

Defenders: Kieran Trippier, Toby Alderweireld, Virgil Van Dijk, Andrew Robertson

Midfielders: Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Christian Eriksen

Forwards: Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling

David Silva (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Nick Mendola (3-4-3)

Goalkeeper: David De Gea

Defenders: Virgil van Dijk, Aymeric Laporte, Marcos Alonso

Midfielders: Fernandinho, N'Golo Kante, David Silva, Christian Eriksen

Forwards: Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

N’Golo Kante (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Kyle Bonn (4-3-3)

Goalkeeper: Ederson

Defenders: Kyle Walker, John Stones, Virgil van Dijk, Andrew Robertson

Midfielders: Fernandinho, Eden Hazard, Raheem Sterling

Forwards: Harry Kane, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mohamed Salah

Kyle Walker, John Stones, and Raheem Sterling(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Dan Karell (4-3-3)

Goalkeeper: David De Gea

Defenders: Kieran Trippier, Virgil Van Dijk, Toby Alderweireld, Ben Chilwell

Midfielders: Kevin De Bruyne, Fernandinho, David Silva

Forwards: Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang  (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)