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PST Roundtable: PL at the 3/4 mark

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The Premier League season is paused at just more than the three-quarter mark — 76.05 percent, to be a bit more formal — and we’ve got a good handle on who’s good and who isn’t.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

That said, the number also gives an idea of why there’s plenty of possibilities remaining for the table and award winners once the season presumably resumes for the stretch run.

It would be natural to speculate on the front-runners and Championship-bound sides if there were matches this weekend, so why not do it now?

We’ve quizzed our PST staff on a handful of questions in roundtable form, though there was no table and my desk is decidedly rectangular.


Liverpool players have won Player of the Year for the past two seasons despite not winning the league. Are the tables flipped this year? Who is on track for PL Player of the Year?

Joe Prince-WrightKevin De Bruyne should probably win it but I expect Jordan Henderson or Sadio Mane to win it. Liverpool will win the league by a mile and both have been influential. When they’ve been out injured Liverpool have missed them and I’d probably say Mane should win it.

Andy Edwards: This is a weird one, because Liverpool have been so thoroughly outstanding in every way, on every level, that it would be difficult to pick just one of them for Player of the Year. Is Sadio Mane deserving? Sure is. What about Mohamed Salah? Also yes. Virgil Van Dijk? Yet again, yes. Trent Alexander-Arnold? You can make a strong case that he’s perhaps done the most to lift Liverpool another level higher from a “non-traditional” award-winning position. All of that is to say, simply deliver the award to Melwood Training Ground and let the players decide amongst themselves.

Daniel Karell: Remember when the U.S. women’s national team won the 1999 SI Sportsperson of the Year award? I think we’re going to have to do that for Liverpool. While Virgil Van Dijk, Mo Salah, and Sadio Mane would all be worthy of the trophy individually, it’s truly been a team effort this season and the culmination of 5 years of growth, smart transfer dealings, and hard work. Trent Alexander-Arnold has been immense at times, as has Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, and Allison Becker. Ultimately, it’s a bit of a cop-out answer but I think it’s just hard this year to pick just one who has been better. Jamie Vardy currently leads the Premier League in goals, and while he’s been terrific, he hasn’t also been playing in the Champions League like Salah, Mane, and Van Dijk have, for example. 

Kyle Bonn: It has to be Kevin de Bruyne, right? Yea, it does.

Nick Mendola: Kevin De Bruyne and it’s not particularly close. He has a fine chance of setting the league assist record, and he’s two away becoming the only player in the Top Five twice. There are words to be said for Trent Alexander-Arnold, Sadio Mane, Wilfred Ndidi, and Raul Jimenez, but no true decent arguments outside of “it should come from the champion,” which we covered in the question.


Who’s on track for your Best XI?

Joe Prince-Wright: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Maguire, Saka; J. Henderson, Ndidi, De Bruyne; Mane, Firmino, Vardy

Andy Edwards: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Soyuncu, Robertson; Ndidi, Moutinho, De Bruyne; Salah, Jimenez, Mane

Daniel Karell: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Soyuncu, Robertson; De Bruyne, Maddison, Jorginho; Vardy, Aubameyang, Salah

Kyle Bonn: D. Henderson; TAA, Van Dijk, Maguire, Robertson; Ndidi, De Bruyne, J. Henderson, Grealish; Mane, Vardy.

Nick Mendola: Leno; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Soyuncu, Robertson; Ndidi, Rodri, De Bruyne; Salah, Jimenez, Mane.


What’s the best goal you’ve seen this season?

Joe Prince-Wright: I think that has to be Heung-Min Son’s incredible solo goal. Clear winner for Goal of the Season.

Andy Edwards: Heung-min Son’s solo goal versus Burnley

Daniel Karell:  I mean…it’s got to be Heung-min Son against Burnley. Honorable mention though to Kevin de Bruyne vs. Newcastle and Moussa Djenepo vs. Sheffield United.

Kyle Bonn: Three goals so far stand out in my mind: Heung-Min Son’s dizzying run vs. Burnley, Jahanbakhsh’s bike against Chelsea, and Jordan Ayew’s little zig-zag against West Ham. The Spurs’ man’s goal wins for the sheer distance he covered.

Nick Mendola: Son. Solo. Next.


What are your Top 3 moments of the season so far?

Joe Prince-Wright: Woah. What a question. In no particular order: Christian Pulisic’s hat trick for Chelsea v Burnley. Leicester winning 9-0 at Southampton. Liverpool destroying everyone but I particularly enjoyed their 4-0 win at Leicester.

Daniel Karell: The season being postponed for the Coronavirus: Only a global pandemic could upstage the season Liverpool was having. Then Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Man City, which proved that the Reds have fully passed Man City in the pecking order. Finally, I’m biased, but for me it’s the malaise and slide that Arsenal is in. How the mighty have fallen.

Kyle Bonn: Lot to potentially go into the pot here, but the ones that stick out most in my mind are Leicester City demolishing Southampton 9-0, Newcastle ridiculous late 2-2 draw with Everton on Lejeune’s double, and Southampton exacting revenge on Leicester City for the aforementioned demolition with a 2-1 road win. I think Liverpool could potentially have three on here as well, one for the Sadio Mane header against Aston Villa, one for the late Lallana goal against Manchester United to draw, and one for the loss to Watford that ended the unbeaten league season.

Nick Mendola: Two of my three involve the soon-to-be champs, and the first took 24 seconds to reshape the season. It was the time that passed between Trent Alexander-Arnold’s would-be handball penalty for Man City and Fabinho’s rocket to beat Claudio Bravo. ‘Member? Insane. Maybe we should’ve called “Game: Blouses” on the whole season there, citing a season of fate.

The second is Watford’s beatdown of Liverpool to end the Reds’ unbeaten season is here because of its complete nature. The worn-down Reds capitulated to Ismaila Sarr in a way that lives very large.

Third could be anything: Liverpool coming back to beat West Ham. Leicester City hanging nine on Southampton. Hometown kid Matty Longstaff using all five-foot-nothing of his teenage body to piledrive Newcastle past Manchester United on his Premier League debut with his brother next to him in the midfield.

It’s been a season, team.


Grade VAR on a scale of 1-10 (1 being poor and 10 being perfect). What can be changed to make the VAR system more efficient and consistent?

Joe Prince-Wright: I’d give it a 6/10. People forget the small errors which still pop up but a lot of decisions which would have previously been wrong are now correct. I think letting referees use the pitch side monitors will improve the system and the respect for on-field officials. Too much of the control is sent to Stockley Park.

Andy Edwards: 5, dead center of the spectrum. My biggest gripe: it’s been used to micromanage and legislate the smallest of margins far too frequently. We all understand the Laws of the Game are the rules by which the game must be officiated, but what of the Spirit of the Laws of the Game? There must exist a gray area of sorts, as there is with everything in life, where intent and advantage are considered and weighed en route to the final decision. If a player is offside by 2 millimeters, is that an advantage which has a decisive impact in favor of the attacker? In most cases, it’s probably not.

Daniel Karell: 5. It’s decent, but the fact that refs refuse to use the monitors means that they’re just constantly second guessing themselves and it’s affecting how they call games in general. Make a call, and if the VAR says, hey, you might want to look at this, take a look at it to be sure. You can’t go wrong.

Kyle Bonn: VAR so far gets a 4 out of 10 for me. It gets a 3/5 on intent and ability, as the system for the most part has demonstrated the ability to serve as intended when used properly, with a few tweaks necessary such as pitchside monitors and rules like the handball rule needing amending. It gets a 1/5 on execution, with the Premier League struggling mightily to grasp the spirit of the technology. The offside line has done its job, despite the bad publicity, but the “clear & obvious error” has been grossly misinterpreted and calls have been changed or even investigated when not needed.

Nick Mendola: I’m going with five, and it’d be much higher if the PL learned from the NHL’s biggest mistake with replay: offside(s). At least in hockey there’s a blue line to help. The “moment the ball is struck” is such a poor reference point. Let the linespeople live here.


 

BONUS: Who is the best referee in the Premier League and why?

Joe Prince-Wright: Mike Dean because he is not only a pretty fair referee, overall, but he jokes with the players and seems to have their respect. Don’t @ me.

Daniel Karell: I don’t know who the best is, but Mike Dean is towards the bottom.

Kyle Bonn: Mike Dean, because he has supreme control of the pitch and makes the fewest amount of obvious errors.

Nick Mendola: I find Michael Oliver the most consistent.

Special PST roundtable: Premier League suspended season

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It’s been a head-spinning period for the world, and the soccer world has been shuffled to the back of the pack as we concern ourselves with the vulnerable population in the face of the coronavirus.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

How will this season play out? Seemingly, Europe is going to do everything in its power to complete all fixtures. Whether it does or not, we’ve got ideas.

The pausing of the Premier League season, like many things, shows the gravity of the COVID-19 situation. Is there one story in the soccer world that stood out to you the most this past week?

Joe Prince-WrightSoccer is secondary in this horrendous time for the world. From a Premier League perspective I think the quick announcements one after the other that Mikel Arteta and then Callum Hudson-Odoi had tested positive were moments when this all became very real, very quickly for people in the UK, the Premier League and PL fans in general.

Nick Mendola: The steady stream of young footballers at the peak of their physical lives carrying this virus, whether Daniele Rugani or Ezequiel Garay, really put in perspective the danger of the asymptomatic carriers. Then to see a focal point of the season like Mikel Arteta affected, let alone the Spanish youth coach passing away, has reinforced my will to self-sacrifice and stay home.

Kyle Bonn: The financial impact of this public health crisis is catastrophic, and the soccer world isn’t immune to that effect. The knowledge that smaller soccer clubs could be severely impacted is devastating to read, and really brings to the forefront the effect this pandemic has on all facets of society.


Obviously the situation is dire for so many people, and soccer not so much. Still, we’ve got more than a few big items to resolve. Which club is hurt more by an extended break in terms of table Fortune? Which club could see the biggest boost by a prolonged reset?

Joe Prince-Wright: I’m sure teams who were getting into a good rhythm like Chelsea and Man United may be impacted but then again so many teams will use this time to get players back to full fitness and they could both benefit from that. If and when the PL season resumes, it seems like Spurs have the most to gain with Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son both expected to play in the majority of their remaining games. If we get to that point.

Nick Mendola: Let’s start with the second question. The delay may move Jose Mourinho’s Spurs from injury-addled and hoping for a Europa League to a top four probability once Harry Kane, Heung-min Son, and back fit and firing. Not to mention Mourinho and clubs with good tactical managers having all this time to reassess best practices. Let’s not forget Pep Guardiola may get to roll out healthy Leroy Sane and Aymeric Laporte. This could sting Arsenal and Manchester United, who had been going really well and now may have a super-congested fixture list after some serious time off the pitch.

Kyle Bonn: Obviously Liverpool’s title chase is severely impacted, and given their long drought and hard work to rise under Jurgen Klopp, an argument could be made that the Reds are the most negatively affected club of the lot. However, their form seemed to be dipping of late, and while the pandemic didn’t come quickly enough to save their Champions League fortunes, their domestic form could see a reversal as they avoid limping to the finish line in league play. Similarly, Tottenham could benefit greatly from this break. Spurs’ play on the field had been abysmal and their attack was stifled by injuries to key players who could now return before the end of the season. Conversely, Chelsea had put a small difficult stretch behind them and had turned a new leaf, and while their significant injury list could be alleviated with the time off, the Blues will rue the break from the aspect that they had only recently topped Liverpool in Cup action plus the win over Tottenham in late February and the clobbering of Everton just before the stoppage.


Let’s delve into the theoretical: If the season was not allowed to conclude, how would you favor solving the relegation picture? With three teams on the same amount of points between 16th and 18th and zillions of dollars at stake, this one’s big.

Joe Prince-Wright: I think it would be incredibly unfair to relegate the three teams in the bottom three right now. All three have a real chance of getting out of the relegation zone. I’d be in favour of relegating nobody and then promoting West Brom and Leeds, if that’s the route they go down.

Kyle Bonn: I think, for this reason alone, the Premier League (and many others) will do everything in their power to finish the season. However, if that’s not possible, there are a few solutions. One is to just go off the table as-is, and while that’s difficult from a competitive balance perspective because the teams have played an unbalanced schedule, it would be more fair than other, less desirable options such as leaving the leagues the way they are for next season which is no fun. Here are a few more fun, but less likely options:

  1. A full-on promotion/relegation tournament – basically an expanded version of what Germany has…take, say, the bottom 6 teams in the PL and the top 6 teams in the Championship and let them duke it out.
  2. A 23-team Premier League next season with four relegation places – send up the two Championship teams in automatic qualifying positions, hold the Championship playoff as planned (if time), but don’t relegate anyone. Then slowly taper it back to 20 teams over the next 3 seasons by relegating one more team than promoting.

Nick Mendola: The most proper way to go would be to bring up Leeds and West Brom and keep a 22-team division with five sides to get relegated next season. The Championship’s playoff sides would feel aggrieved, but pulling the big money from the PL sides seems more egregious than denying someone a spot in the mix (especially since there really aren’t any clearly terrible sides stinking up the table this season).


How about the top four?

Joe Prince-Wright: This is a little different to the relegation situation but equally as tricky. I would suggest a playoff, if possible, between the teams who are within reach of fourth spot but that would include almost half the league. Maybe an agreement could be made to keep the top four as it is.

Kyle Bonn: I think, unfortunately, the best way to resolve this is to leave it the way it is. Teams in the current top four (five? Man City?) get the Champions League bids. There’s really no other fair way to do this

Nick Mendola: I’d like to see a playoff here, too, because fifth is likely involved due to Man City’s UCL ban. Allow the top three their places, and maybe Chelsea if you want to limit teams. Then fifth plays eighth, sixth versus seventh. Winners go for fifth, the other go to UEL. It only adds three matches. This, of course, assumes that the UCL and UEL qualifying rounds are also adjusted.


Lots of interesting ideas have been proffered to solve calendar issues (A mini-tournament or single leg ties to decide the Champions League; Starting the league calendar later until the winter World Cup in 2022). Are there any you think could prove to be better than the current system?

Joe Prince-Wright: I think the 2019-20 season should be finished, whatever that means. If it has to resume again in September and be played until October, that is fine by me. We can then start the 2020-21 campaign early and play through one or two international breaks to catch up. If the league doesn’t start again until September, players will have had a lengthy break off and will be ready to play.

Nick Mendola: I’ll be laughed out of the room, and that’s fine, but I’d love to see the season start and finish a bit later. Wayne Rooney‘s proposal was just to get to the winter World Cup of 2022, but a dramatic rearrangement of the FIFA international calendar would be nice. Maybe a couple 3-week international breaks instead of five 2-week hits.

Kyle Bonn: Simple answer: no. Current format is really fun.


Did you find yourself trying to feast on any soccer that was televised, hypercritical of anyone who kept playing, or both?

Joe Prince-Wright: I watched games on TV from Liga MX and listened to some lower-tier English leagues on the radio but I think the soccer world has come to the correct conclusion to at least ban all fans from stadiums. In different parts of the world the situation is different but it seems that now the universal plan is to stop playing all games until things improve. That is the correct call. I love soccer but I obviously love humanity, life and this world we live in a billion times more.

Nick Mendola: It was a fun idea to tune into the Istanbul derby, especially with American winger Tyler Boyd playing, but realizing most of the players would’ve rather been with their families, well, that took a lot of joy out of watching that or the Liga MX matches. Stay home, and let’s celebrate together when we can.

Kyle Bonn: I honestly found myself hyper-critical of teams still playing, especially seeing the reaction from players, going so far as to protest their forced employment.

More coronavirus connections to soccer:

PST’s big Premier League preview roundtable

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We’ve got six anxious writers and 16 burning questions ahead of the start of this Premier League season.

Let’s get after it.


The PL season is upon us. What’s the first storyline that pops into your head?

Joe Prince-Wright: So many right away! But the main one: Christian Pulisic is about to become a genuine American superstar.

Nick Mendola: As an American, I can’t help my mind jumping to Pulisic but really it’s all about whether Man City can become the fifth club to win three-straight top flight English titles. And if it does, City will have done it in the most difficult era to do so.

Andy Edwards: What kind of backwards world are we living in that just about everyone enters the PL season with “Spurs are clearly the third-best team and should finish third with no problem” in their mind?

Kyle Bonn: Liverpool vs Man City for the title. Starts there and finishes there.

Dan Karell: Can Man City do a three-peat and win the league yet again?

Joel Soria: A Champions League winner, Aston Villa, are back in the PL and have made some ambitious signings.


How many clubs have legitimate shot of winning the Premier League?

JPW: Three. Liverpool, Man City and Tottenham.

NM: Spurs, Liverpool, and Man City.

AE: Spurs might very well be the third-best team, but it’s a distant third.

KB: Two. Spurs is still changing its makeup enough that the club won’t last the full season.

DK: In reality – two. Manchester City and Liverpool. However, if Arsenal’s defense somehow comes together and the attack is as good as expected, perhaps they could be a dark horse. Also, if Harry Kane can stay healthy for the whole season, they can certainly challenge. But as of today, it’s Man City and Liverpool which are head and shoulders above everyone.

JS: Only three: Man City, Liverpool and Tottenham.

(Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

Which of the Top Six is at biggest risk for dropping out of the Top Six?

JPW: Arsenal, because of their failure to strengthen their defense.

NM: Manchester United. Granted they lost the most man games to injury last season, but the reliance on Marcus Rashford at center forward is a question, as is the midfield and the ability of Paul Pogba to produce on a week-in, week-out basis.

AE: It seems like no one is considering just how big of an impact losing Eden Hazard will be for Chelsea. They haven’t been functional, let alone good, without him at his best for years now.

KB: Arsenal. The Gunners have a do or die season financially, and didn’t do squat to improve the defense. Really worried about them.

DK: Manchester United. Harry Maguire is an important signing to shore up the defense, but they still needed upgrades and changes in other positions. Plus Paul Pogba is still there and if true that he’s unhappy, that won’t help the locker room come together.

JS: Chelsea – there will be a lot on Lampard’s plate.


Wolves, Everton, West Ham, Watford, and Leicester City will like their odds of clipping a “down” Top Six challenger. Who finishes highest, and how high?

JPW: Wolves will finish in the top six, and Leicester will finish seventh.

NM: It’s between Wolves and Everton. Since our crew is heavy on Wolves praise, I’ll choose the latter. Richarlison‘s third season in the PL met by a relentless midfield and plenty of attacking assets.

AE: This is the year West Ham get all their ducks in a row from the start of the season and mount a truly impressive season. Of course, many have said this before and rued the day.

KB: Wolves at 6 again, the other 3 right behind. Wolves have the least flaws of the 4, but they’re all strong.

DK: As of today, I think Wolves habr the best chance, with a handful of Portugal national team players and lots of fun, young talent. However, if Everton can sign Wilfried Zaha and a couple of other late signings, they can certainly move into the top six.

JS: Wolves will finish fifth or higher, while Everton can crack within the Top 7.

(Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

How many goals and assists will Christian Pulisic collect for Chelsea in PL play?

JPW: 11 goals, 15 assists

NM: 7 goals and 12 assists

AE: 9 and 8.

KB: 12 goals 9 assists. Really high on CP this year.

DK: I think Pulisic can score 10 and create 10 assists. He looks very sharp early on and he’ll get plenty of playing time early in the season, if not all the way through. His speed is something that can’t be taught and he’s a stud in front of goal.

JS: Pulisic will wrap up his first season at Chelsea with 7 goals and 9 assists.


Predict your 2019-20 Premier League Best XI:

JPW: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Van Dijk, Robertson; Kante, Bernardo Silva, De Bruyne; Salah, Kane, Sterling

NM: Ederson; Van Dijk, Laporte, Keane; Rodri, De Bruyne, Pogba, Bernardo Silva; Salah, Kane, Sterling

AE: Alisson; Van Dijk, Laporte, Alexander-Arnold; Keita, Kante, Torreira, De Bruyne; Sterling, Aubameyang, Son

KB: Alisson; Walker, Van Dijk, Laporte, Robertson; De Bruyne, Kante, B. Silva; Mane, Aubameyang, Sterling

DK: Alisson; Wan-Bissaka, Laporte, Van Dijk, Robertson; B. Silva, Ndombele, De Bruyne; Aguero, Kane, Aubameyang

JS: De Gea; Digne, Van Dijk, Stones, Alexander-Arnold; Jorginho, Kante, De Bruyne; Salah, Kane, Sterling


Who will win the Golden Boot?

JPW: Harry Kane

NM: Harry Kane

AE: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

KB: Harry Kane if he can stay healthy all year. If not, Sadio Mane.

DK: I think with all the attention paid to his teammates Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can be the sole Golden Boot winner this coming season.

JS: Harry Kane

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

How many managers will be fired this season, and who will be the first to go?

JPW: 5. There seems to be fewer managers being sacked these days. Steve Bruce is already on the hot seat, so he will go first.

NM: Six, and Daniel Farke.

AE: Seven, and Steve Bruce.

KB: We’ll go with 6, and the first will be Chris Wilder. Steve Bruce right behind.

DK: As many as 7. Unfortunately, I think the first to go will be either Chris Wilder of Sheffield United, or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of Manchester United.

JS: 4. If West Ham finds itself struggling mid-table again, I don’t see how Manuel Pellegrini makes it past Christmas.


Who gets relegated?

JPW: Norwich City, Sheffield United, Brighton

NM: Burnley, Sheffield United, Brighton

AE: Burnley, Bournemouth and Newcastle United

KB: Sheffield United, Newcastle United, Norwich City

DK: Sheffield United, Brighton and Hove Albion, Crystal Palace

JS: Sheffield United, Brighton, Norwich.


Who will go furthest in the UEFA Champions League?

JPW: Manchester City

NM: Manchester City

AE: Man City, winners

KB: Man City. This is their year, they can’t keep disappointing forever.

DK: Liverpool. With all the experience they have, why can’t they go to the final for a third-straight season?

JS: Liverpool

(Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)

How many trophies will Manchester City win?

JPW: Three. Including the Champions League.

NM: Three.

AE: Two – Premier League and Champions League. Going out of the FA Cup and League Cup early will get them over the line.

KB: Two

DK: At least 2. I expect them to win the League Cup again as well as the Premier League. Could they add the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League as well?

JS: Two


How many trophies will Liverpool win?

JPW: One, but they‘ll have to settle for the FA Cup or League Cup.

NM: One of the ones that isn’t the league.

AE: One, FA Cup

KB: One.

DK: One. Liverpool will defend its Champions League title.

JS: Two, including the Premier League


Please rate Man City’s chances to “threepeat,” 1 being no chance and 10 being a virtual certainty.

JPW: 8.

NM: 8.

AE: 5.4. Slight favorites over Liverpool, but only slight.

KB: 7

DK: 7. Man City upgraded its squad this summer and should be just as incredible as in the past under Pep Guardiola. It’s up to Liverpool and the rest of the Premier League to keep up with them.

JS: 7

(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Who wins the league?

JPW: Man City.

NM: Manch3ster City

AE: Man City, by two or three points.

KB: Man City.

DK: I think Manchester City holds on for an incredible third-straight Premier League title.

JS: Liverpool


Make one crazy prediction for the 2019-20 season.

JPW: Wolves will be in the top 4 mix heading into the final week of the season.

NM: Nicolas Pepe and Alexandre Lacazette both have more combined goals and assists than Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but Newcastle’s Joelinton has the highest total in the league (Shoulder shrug emoji).

AE: Mike Ashley will still own Newcastle at the end of the season. Wait, did you say crazy?

KB: Newcastle’s top scorer will be a defender

DK: By outscoring everyone, 4-3, in every game, Arsenal finishes in second place in the Premier League.

JS: Aston Villa qualifies for Europa League, one way or another.


Bonus: Who gets promoted from the Championship?

JPW: Leeds United, Derby County, Cardiff City

NM: Fulham, Stoke City, Leeds United

AE: Middlesbrough, Bristol City, West Brom

KB: Leeds United, Stoke City, Swansea City

DK: Derby County. Leeds United. Reading.

JS: Leeds United, Sheffield Wednesday, Derby County.

Marcelo Bielsa of Leeds United (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

ProSoccerTalk’s Arsene Wenger roundtable

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Let’s talk about Weng, baby.

[ MORE: Arsene’s best Arsenal XI ]

So, it’s (almost) over. What has your reaction been to Wenger’s final weeks, in particular his goodbye to the Emirates on Sunday?

Joe Prince-Wright: It was a fitting farewell tinged with a little sadness to not see him finish on a high by winning the Europa League to make the Champions League again. He is a legend of the game and history will be kind to him. He changed British soccer and his impact will always be remembered. The emotional scenes at the Emirates summed up how fondly he will be remembered by Arsenal fans and neutrals alike.

Nicholas Mendola: There’s a good chance it’s my journey deep into my thirties, but I thought Sunday was wonderful. To see Arsenal’s attack flourish — cheers for the help, normally stingy Burnley — and then hear Wenger’s club-first, me-second speech was pretty great. As for the last few weeks, I’ll echo what Joe said: I was aching for Arsenal to at least make the Europa League Final, and for the French legend to lead his side against Marseille in Lyon as he says goodbye to Gunners. It would’ve been star-studded.

Kyle Bonn: It’s sad, but it’s time. I’m glad to see him so appreciated after years of abuse, because he deserves it. Still, this has been coming and is a necessary change for Arsenal.

Daniel Karell: It’s been a bit muted, up until the final home game which finished in a 5-0 shellacking of Burnley. Arsenal fans are still upset over the team’s failure to win a single road match in 2018 on the club’s way to its worst season in 22 years. The reception for Wenger, Per Mertesacker and some members of the backroom staff were a nice change of the negative atmosphere over the past 5-8 years that has clouded the future for Arsenal fans. That cloud appears to be lifted.

Don’t overthink it: What is the first thing you think of when you think of Arsene Wenger?

JPW: Beautiful football. Whatever you say about the recent years, Wenger has always stuck to his principles and has developed teams who are fantastic to watch going forward. Arsenal are known across the world as a team for purists and that’s because of Wenger. He’s a true teacher of the game. Also: the Invincibles.

NM: This is a bit out of left field, but I’ve heard from so many people who’ve told me that Arsene Wenger treated everyone at Arsenal with the same respect. Those things stick with me, and he could’ve operated with some kind of ego when you consider all he accomplished. Honorable mention: Nagoya Grampus Eight, getting in Jose Mourinho’s grill, and the smile on his face when Thierry Henry embraced him after scoring in the FA Cup off the bench in his Arsenal “redebut.”

KB: The Invincibles. That team should be and will be his legacy.

DK: The style of play. Wenger – for all his faults – fiercly believed in himself and especially in his players. There’s been multiple reports that the team never really prepared for opponents, instead just working on movement on and off the ball and building chemistry with teammates. Wenger preferred for his players to control play and pass their way through opponents, Barcelona style. Of course, while the team was able to do this, they also conceded simple goals. Anyways, it’s the silky smooth, beautiful football.

How long, if at all, will it take Arsenal fans to miss Wenger as their boss?

JPW: Not long. This feels like a very natural time to split and everyone needs a fresh start. Sure, some will miss him, but most Arsenal fans acknowledge now was a great time to move on.

NM: There’s a romance to his tenure that won’t disappear any time soon, but it depends whether they — American football comparisons — replace a Bill Cowher with a Mike Tomlin or if they replace Bill Parcells with Ray Handley (No offense, Ray Handley. I’m mostly talking age).

KB: They won’t – or, they shouldn’t given how much crap they flung in his direction for years. Most of it deservingly so. Wenger was stubborn in his final years in charge, and a change in scenery is good for everyone involved, so if the Gunners continue to decline from here, it’s because they made the wrong hire, not because Wenger left.

DK: I’ll give it at least 12 months. Arsenal fans, at least the Wenger Out faction, will likely be willing to sit through a rough season or two just to see something different, with the hopes that it could lead to greater success.

Look into your crystal ball: What are the next few years like for Wenger? And Arsenal?

JPW: I’d like to see Wenger take the France national team job after this summer. They have a plethora of exciting, young attacking players and it would be fantastic to see him do well at Euro 2020 or the 2022 World Cup with his home nation. For Arsenal, a struggle to finish in the top four on a yearly basis. It will take a long time for them to catch up to Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, Man United and Man City.

NM: For Wenger, I suspect it depends on how big of a challenge he wants next. Is it taking PSG to the Champions League promised land or trying to take an upstart Ligue 1 or other side against a legendary power? Or is it time for international football (see last question). My guess? A reinvigorated Wenger leads a club to overachieve. As for Arsenal, well, if the rumors of what they plan on spending this summer are true, they may well finish sixth again (Sixth is the new fourth?).

KB: I wish I knew. I have my own opinions on where they should go from here, but I do not even pretend to know what this club has in mind. They have done nothing but surprise the last few years ago, and if there’s anything I can predict, it’s that it will continue to do so. What doesn’t help is the plethora of viable options on the table for them to choose from. First things first, the club needs to pick on a direction and philosophy, and then make a hire based on those answers, not the other way around.

DK: For Wenger? I think he’ll stay in management, returning to his native France. He may take a smaller club over, one where he can have more control than he would at a club like PSG or Lyon. For Arsenal? It will likely be up and down. If the Gunners really want to compete with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich (and Man City), they need to replace nearly their entire starting lineup. It takes time to build chemistry, and the new players will need time to settle.

If the season is replayed with a new manager, is Arsenal higher in the table? More bluntly put, how much responsibility does the manager bear for sixth place?

JPW: Nah, they’re about where they deserve to be. Their defense has more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese and that’s been their Achilles heel for several years now.

NM: In 95% of cases, no (unless he magically knows how to stop an injured Aaron Ramsey from missing scoring draws with West Brom, West Ham, Liverpool, and Chelsea). This was down to personnel. And on the manager responsibility point, it’s really hard to say. Was Wenger responsible for not selling Alexis Sanchez and maybe Mesut Ozil in early August and replacing them with new talent? Was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang available in August?

KB: The manager bears a lot of responsibility. However, if the season is replayed, not much changes. The wounds of this season were fostered years ago in transfer policy and team makeup, not necessarily tactics.

DK: He bears 100 percent responsibility. Okay, maybe 99 percent. Of course, the players are on the field, but he’s the one who sets the tactics and determines who is signed. He’s failed overall on both aspects, though Aubameyang looks like a hit so far!

How badly has his legacy taken a hit?

JPW: It’s taken a hit but over time I think the damage done over the last few years will be repaired. Wenger is a legend and has achieved so many wonderful things at Arsenal. He should have left about five years ago… but then he added a few more FA Cups to set a new record.

NM: A little, but it will rebound if Arsenal doesn’t begin to spend. And it’s easy to forget how little they did while “paying off the new stadium debt.”

KB: It has taken a slight hit, but that was cemented over the last few years with club stagnation. This season doesn’t have a ton to do with that, only adds to the narrative. Wenger’s decline has been on the cards for a while, and this season doesn’t do much but prove a part to the whole.

DK: I think for all his achievements, you have to also mention that his final 12 years, his teams never reached the heights they climbed in the late 90s, early 2000s. An appearance in the UEFA Champions League final in 2006 was the last time Arsenal threatened to make a European final, or even play at a level close to that of the European giants.

Of all the names you’ve heard or read, who’s the best fit for Arsenal?

JPW: Nobody really stands out to me, which is a big problem. Diego Simeone would be great but I can’t see him leaving Atletico Madrid anytime soon. Honestly, someone like Liverpool’s assistant Zeljko Buvac would be a great fit. Low expectations, just like Wenger when he arrived, but someone who obviously has a fine tactical brain.

NM: Simeone, but it won’t happen (at least not this go-round). As Joe said, the Buvac move seems appropriate because Jurgen Klopp would’ve been the right call three years ago. I’ll shout out Patrick Vieira. Knows the culture, commands respect. Sorry NYCFC.

KB: I think Arsenal needs to make two hires. They need to hire a world-renowned name to follow Wenger up, take over the club for 2-3 years, make the necessary philosophical changes, attract good talent, overhaul the squad, and then depart for a younger, more long-term boss. Hiring the long-term solution now would be a massive mistake, because there are SO many changes that need to be made. It would be too much to bear for a manager in his first big job. Therefore, I think hiring Carlo Ancelotti or Diego Someone right now would be the right move. They would have the experience and the guts to make widespread changes needed, and someone like Sean Dyche or Eddie Howe can take over in 3 years when things have leveled out.

DK: Nobody? Personally, I think Arsenal should sign someone who can impose their style on the club and grow into the job.

Say he’d take the job: Would you like Arsene Wenger as USMNT boss?

JPW: Yes. That would be fantastic but I just can’t see it happening. Unfortunately.

NM: Every day and twice on Sunday. Tim Weah, Josh Sargent, and Christian Pulisic learned how to carve it up together under AW? Yeah, yeah, yeah.

KB: Yes. 100% absolutely. Wenger would be a great fit for the United States. It won’t happen, but I would sign up for that right here right now.

DK: Uh. Probably not. We need some help defensively, over here. I’m not sure if he could bring that.

MLS 2018 Roundtable: Winners, scorers, and the big picture

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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There are a lot of questions ahead of the debut of MLS 2018, subtitled Operation Barco, or Save The Crew, or Toronto Lives Long Enough To Become The Villain.

[ MORE: Predicting the MLS standings ]

Let’s get right to 15 questions with five of our encouraged staffers.

1. Who wins the Supporters Shield?

  • Andy Edwards: Real Salt Lake — Too much talent from 1-20, arguably the hottest team to finish the 2017 regular season, and I’m all-in on Mike Petke being one of the five best coaches in MLS. If Alfredo Ortuño can get even 10 goals this year, to go with the production of fellow starters Albert Rusnak, Joao Plata, Jefferson Savarino… watch out.
  • Joe Prince-Wright: Toronto FC. Another dominant season coming up as TFC’s dynasty has another chapter.
  • Matt Reed: Toronto FC. Sorry for the lack of creativity, but they’ve still got the best roster in MLS and been to MLS Cup each of the last two years. Hard to pick against them.
  • Dan Karell: The defending champs are back and better than ever, and in the still weak Eastern Conference, they can run away with the league again.
  • Nick Mendola: It’s hard to go against TFC, especially with Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Sebastian Giovinco free of summer international commitments. I think that makes the stresses of the CONCACAF Champions League focus, which could put TFC on the Club World Cup stage, less of a problem.
2. Who wins the US Open Cup (imagine predicting this correctly)?
  • Andy Edwards: Red Bulls
  • Joe Prince-Wright: Chicago Fire. Because, why not?
  • Matt Reed: Sporting KC because even though they aren’t the best team on paper, they always seem to find magic in this competition. Also, they’re one of the few clubs
  • Dan Karell: Chivas USA? Kidding. But let’s just say it’s the Seattle Sounders.
  • Nick Mendola: Sporting KC. Always.
3. Top seeds in the East and West
  • Andy Edwards: Toronto and Real Salt Lake
  • Joe Prince-Wright: Toronto and Seattle
  • Matt Reed: Toronto and Portland
  • Dan Karell: Toronto and FC Dallas
  • Nick Mendola: Toronto and Vancouver
4. First team out in the East and West
  • Andy Edwards: D.C. United and Houston Dynamo — DCU will be the most improved team in the league, and the new-stadium boon will be very real for them, but the East is really good and really deep.
  • Joe Prince-Wright: Philadelphia Union in the East. Colorado Rapids in the West.
  • Matt Reed: New England Revolution and San Jose Earthquakes
  • Dan Karell: New York Red Bulls and LAFC
  • Nick Mendola: Philadelphia and San Jose.
5. Most goals
  • Andy Edwards: Ola Kamara. The service he’s going to get from the like of the Cuatro Santos, Romain Alessandrini and Sebastian Lletget (remember him?) is going to be unfair.
  • Joe Prince-Wright: Sebastian Giovinco will probably rip it up once again this season. If he doesn’t score at least 20 goals I’d be hugely surprised. David Villa will be there and I think Nemanja Nikolic will be right up there too.
  • Matt Reed: Ola Kamara
  • Dan Karell: Ola Kamara
  • Nick Mendola: Hate to make this a 4/5 situation, but Ola should really feast. The only way he misses out is if the LA goals are spread evenly between GDS, Alessandrini, and others.
6. Most assists
  • Andy Edwards: Romain Alessandrini
  • Joe Prince-Wright: Probably Giovinco too, although I expect Sacha Kljestan and Carlos Vela to be high up in terms of assists too.
  • Matt Reed: Miguel Almiron
  • Dan Karell: Sebastian Giovinco
  • Nick Mendola: Victor Vazquez
7. Will a coach be fired in season, and who’s the favorite?
  • Andy Edwards: Carl Robinson — Despite where Vancouver finished last season, it felt like they were massively overachieving all year long, and some of the underlying numbers back that up. I don’t trust Robinson to unleash the likes of Yordy Reyna, Cristian Techera, Kei Kamara and Alphonso Davies and allow them to the freedom they need on the attack.
  • Matt Reed: I think at least one manager will be fired, however, with all the turnover that occurred in 2017 there may be a little more room for managers to work with this season. Adrian Heath would be the leader in the clubhouse though. It’s certainly not fair to put the second-year Loons coach on the hot seat, but after his side gave up 70 goals a season ago and defensive improvements don’t appear on the horizon, there could very well be a repeat of the club’s troubles at the back in 2018.
  • Dan Karell: I don’t think so, but if one would be fired, it’s Adrian Heath at Minnesota.
  • Nick Mendola: Normally I’d suspect FC Dallas’ boss could be in trouble given the tumult there, but Oscar Pareja is well-liked there. Then there’s Adrian Heath, but the club did okay the trade for his son. I love Ben Olsen, but is patience thin if DC doesn’t sort it out at the new building? Fact of the matter is I don’t believe any coach is in imminent danger. Forced to select: Heath.
8. Which “outsider” is the most intriguing hire: Anthony Hudson at Colorado, Brad Friedel at New England, Mikael Stahre at San Jose, Remi Garde at Montreal, Giovanni Savarese at Portland?
(Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
  • Andy Edwards: It’s gotta be Savarese for me, because with all due respect to the other organizations mentioned, none of them offer the same kind of resources — or come with the kind of expectations — as Portland. Anytime that job — or Seattle, or Toronto, or Atlanta — comes open, it’s instantly the most interesting story in the league, for me.
  • Joe Prince-Wright: Brad Friedel at New England is the most intriguing. Having spoken to him during his time in the Premier League, you always felt he was made for management. Years of prep will see him slot in seamlessly.
  • Matt Reed: Definitely Friedel because of his lack of coaching experience. Outside of managing youth USMNT teams there’s really no track record for the former goalkeeper, and with the Revolution coming off of two consecutive seasons without playoff appearances and a tricky Lee Nguyen situation, Friedel has his work cut out for him.
  • Dan Karell: To me it’s Gio Savarese. We have players making the jump from the USL or NASL to MLS, but a manager making that jump is rare. It will be fascinating to see how he does in Portland.
  • Nick Mendola: I could make a case for any of the above besides Freidel, but only because I don’t like to go with the crowd. Savarese is fascinating, I like that word use by Dan. He’s been incredible for the Cosmos, but they spent a ton. On the other hand, I’ve developed a Caleb Porter bias and believe Portland was too unsteady given its talent and has offloaded an enigma in Darlington Nagbe. Anthony Hudson, however, is a terrific story and could really bring something special to Colorado.
9. What is Major League Soccer’s biggest challenge right now?
  • Andy Edwards: Finding minutes for young Americans, given the mass influx of foreign players on TAM deals ($500,000 to $1.5 million). With the majority of teams now a decade into owning and operating their own academies, now should be the time where they reap the rewards of all that time money. But, instead, young Americans are buried on just about every depth chart around the league.
  • Joe Prince-Wright: Being able to give the young American and Canadian players a chance to shine given the influx of higher caliber players due to TAM. That is a huge challenge for MLS moving forward.
  • Matt Reed: For intense fans there’s no doubt that MLS provides an entertaining and quality soccer atmosphere, but it’s keeping the casual supporters intrigued over the course of a 10-month season that has become an issue for the league. One of the biggest challenges for MLS has become scheduling during the latter part of the season. The playoffs are exciting, but the gap that traditionally occurs due to the FIFA international window in November is a killer for any momentum that the league sustains come the postseason. The league needs to find a way to shorten the season slightly so that it doesn’t have to compete with these breaks because the product on the field is actually quite good, and improving on a yearly basis.
  • Dan Karell: On a macro level, it’s continuing to grow television viewership and getting people outside of MLS markets to watch games. On a micro or more short-term level, it’s continuing to raise the level of competition so MLS clubs can actually compete with their Liga MX counterparts.
  • Nick Mendola: Perception. Worldwide, the league is appreciated for its growth. Domestically, the distance between fan boys and those making money from the league and those who want to eviscerate the league at every turn betrays the many of us very much in the middle. Extremists, man (and woman).
10. What is its biggest success?
  • Andy Edwards: They’ve convinced every prospective expansion city that they need MLS more than MLS needs them, when, in fact, MLS is really just desperately chasing those nine-figure expansion fees.
  • Joe Prince-Wright: Atlanta United were a great addition last season and you get the sense LAFC will have a big impact on the league this season, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. For all of the talk about promotion and relegation, you can’t argue with the fact that MLS has got its expansion teams spot on in recent seasons.
  • Matt Reed: The league’s ability to expand the Designated Player rule to three players per club has become massive. What was once seen as an opportunity for teams to bring in aging and “over the hill” players, DPs are now getting younger and more talented. Clubs have really honed in on foreign talent, particularly in South America, which has improved the overall quality of play drastically.
  • Dan Karell: I think at this point the biggest success is just lasting 23 years and continuing to grow year on year.
  • Nick Mendola: I believe Andy’s answer is worth rereading, agree or disagree, just for the giggles. But perception is huge: MLS has convinced enough people that USMNT prospects can succeed just as well here than accepting challenges at prominent 100-plus year old clubs. That’s mostly insane to me.
11. Are USMNT players still getting booed/rough receptions this summer?
  • Andy Edwards: Probably. Fans gonna be fans.
  • Joe Prince-Wright: Probably to start the season, then a little lull, then around the World Cup I think it builds up again. Unfortunately as senior USMNT players, the likes of Bradley and Altidore will have to deal with the stigma of the 2018 failure for the rest of their careers. Fact.
  • Matt Reed: There will be a few stragglers here and there, but the overall animosity towards the players should subside by then.
  • Dan Karell: I think by June people will be apathetic and over it, but in the first few weeks of the season, I could definitely see some players getting booed. And it’s well deserved. It’s still hard to believe that ever happened.
  • Nick Mendola: Yup. And I wouldn’t be surprised if some fan bases, like USMNT-failure free Portland, come up with some golden chants. It’s a World Cup summer without the U.S., and it’s going to be weird. I don’t dig on the booing but there will be some entertainment in it.
12. Is Atlanta or New York City a bigger threat to Toronto? Or is someone else?
  • Andy Edwards: It’s one of the New York teams. I might actually be leaning toward the Red Bulls.
  • Joe Prince-Wright: I like Orlando’s rebuild a lot but I think Atlanta will make a deep run with Toronto, but injuries have to be kind to Tata Martino’s side this season. New York City FC will always be in the conversation with David Villa’s goals, but they have to shore up defensively and losing Jack Harrison is a blow.
  • Matt Reed: Atlanta was arguably talented enough to win the cup last season, and I could very easily see them taking the next step in 2018. Another team to watch out for is the New York Red Bulls, who will have a loaded attack of their own after adding Marc Rzatkowski and Alejandro “Kaku” Gamarra.
  • Dan Karell: If Ezequiel Barco can quickly adapt to the U.S. culture and the MLS style of play, then yes, Atlanta could be a threat. But don’t count out Orlando City after all the moves made during the offseason. If that team can gel together, watch out.
  • Nick Mendola: Atlanta, if only because if Tata Martino did what he did with no MLS experience, imagine what’s in store for this year.
13. Who’s the most complete Cascadia Cup team?
  • Andy Edwards: Seattle, but that changes with one injury to either Chad Marshall or Roman Torres.
  • Joe Prince-Wright: I am intrigued by the Portland Timbers this season, but I think the Sounders have the edge, even without Jordan Morris.
  • Matt Reed: The loss of Jordan Morris for the season is a big one for the Sounders. They’ll still be in the thick of things for West this season, but I really like what Portland has done with its roster. Bringing in players like Andy Polo, Cristhian Paredes and Samuel Armenteros this offseason has provided Giovanni Savarese’s side with another dimension further up the pitch to go along with Diego Valeri and Co.
  • Dan Karell: That’s a great question. I think I would have said the Seattle Sounders but with Jordan Morris out for the season, I think the Portland Timbers get the nod.
  • Nick Mendola: First, let me note that the margins are extremely thin. I’m choosing Vancouver, but only because there will be some growing pains with Giovani Savarese on a very talented Portland team and Jordan Morris’ absence — while overhyped — will hurt Seattle’s depth.
14. Project 2018 for #SaveTheCrew.
  • Andy Edwards: Hoping for a fairytale ending here: Precourt keeps the team in Columbus, but only because he’s able to acquire a piece of land and a deal to build a stadium in Austin. He then sells the team.
  • Joe Prince-Wright: Try and keep things together as best they can. An awful situation and you feel for the management and players. Whatever happens this season, the Crew get a pass. That could mean a stunning campaign with no pressure on the players, or Columbus just drifting along. I’d bet on the latter.
  • Dan Karell: I think/hope that Anthony Precourt’s stadium search attempts in Austin will be stymied by the city, leading him to either back down from his demands in Columbus or eventually sell the team to a local consortium.
  • Nick Mendola: Ultimately, I think the team’s future is going to make the season a bit too combustible. Anthony Precourt needs to make the future plain and clear ASAP, because expecting players to just “get on with it” and keep running the way they did last season is bonkers. Then again, so is the entire relocation blueprint being followed right now.
15. Will a current MLS executive be the new USMNT GM? Will a current MLS name be the new coach?
  • Andy Edwards: Yes (Carlos Bocanegra), and no.
  • Joe Prince-Wright: I’d say Garth Lagerwey has the credentials for this job. He has been there and done it at Real Salt Lake and now Seattle and has a fine understanding of the inner workings of the American soccer market. Earnie Stewart would be a decent fit too, while Carlos Bocanegra seems to be out of the running and like Claudio Reyna they both have plum jobs with MLS franchises. As for the coach, I don’t think he will come from within MLS and the USMNT will wait until after the World Cup to hire.
  • Matt Reed: It’s been a short sample size down in Atlanta, but there has to be something said about what the club has been able to do in that small window of time. Carlos Bocanegra has quickly become one of the top executives in MLS by bringing in Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez and more, while Gerardo Martino is a manager that players at any level would die to play for. Is it likely that both men will be named to the USMNT? Probably not. However, I’d love to see both named to the respective positions because they check off a lot of boxes.
  • Dan Karell: I actually wouldn’t be surprised if Jay Berhalter got the USMNT GM position. But I think Tab Ramos would be a good choice as well or Garth Lagarway. I would like to see the USMNT GM hire the best available person. So whether that’s Oscar Pareja or Peter Vermes (or Caleb Porter, who is a free agent), or Didier Deschamps, I want the best man or woman hired for the job.
  • Nick Mendola: I thought it’d be inevitable that the executive and manager would come from outside the establishment, but the implementation of new programs in the run-up to the election and the cosmetics being applied to the new GM search lead me to believe very little has changed (yet). I do think there’s the compromise of bringing Carlos Bocanegra on board, and then having Tata Martino as a back-up if nothing decent shakes free following the World Cup.