FA Cup Action leads the English Action this weekend – while
Tons of FA Cup play on ESPN+ this weekend – Sat starts at 7:30 with recently relegated Fulham and American defenders Robinson and Tim Ream take on Crystal Palace and former NYCFC coach Veira. Pulisic and Chelsea host Chesterfield at 12:30 pm. Dortmund may well have Claudio Reyna back at 12:30 pm as they host Frankfort and Timmy Chandler. Real Madrid will host Valencia at 3 pm on ESPN+. FA Cup play has Norwich and Stewart traveling to Charlton Athletic at 9 am right before Nottenham Forest hosts Arsenal at 12:30. Somebody will upset somebody here – its what happens in the FA Cup but the question is who is it – you have to watch to see. Sunday – Roma hosts Juventus and Weston Mckennie on Paramount plus, while Inter will host Lazio at 2:45 on Para+. Monday Man United host Villa at 3 pm on Monday followed by Liverpool vs Arsenal on Thursday. (not sure what they will do about the cancelled first round game last week?).
African Cup Starts this Week on beIN Sport
The first Africa Cup of Nations to be played in Cameroon since 1972 begins Sunday when the hosts begin Group A play against Burkina Faso at 11am ET.A tournament ripe with Premier League players and prospects holds sway over an entire continent for nearly a month until the final is staged Feb. 6, and we’ve got your schedule and standings here. There has not been a repeat winner or finalist at AFCON since Egypt won at home in 2006 before claiming the 2008 tournament title in Ghana and the 2010 edition in Angola, with Algeria and Senegal holding hopes of bucking that trend in February. Kickoff dates: Jan. 9 – Feb. 6 with select games on beIN Sport.
US Women Set to Host Weakest She Believes Cup Ever in Feb
The US announced the line-up for the She Believes Cup this Feb and it’s the weakest grouping of teams ever compiled for this tourney. The highest ranked team is #16 Iceland, along with #22 New Zealand and the #24 Czechs. According to The18 it appears that England has countered the US and invited the best teams in the world to play at the same time in Europe as #8 England, #3 Germany, #9 Spain and #6 Canada will face off in England. Not sure what the heck the US brass are doing but lining up 2nd rate European Competition doesn’t do much for anyone – especially a revamping US team. Heck our first game is not even on TV as it is being played at 11 pm ET? Come on US Soccer WTH?? Speaking of US Soccer You may recognize former U.S. Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro as the man who, in March 2020, amid the USWNT’s equal pay lawsuit, released a sexist open letter claiming that a men’s player “carries more responsibility” than a women’s player. Well, less than two years after he was forced to resign amid backlash to his blatant misogyny, Cordeiro is now expected to run to reclaim his old job. Can’t make this sh!t up. I certainly hope that electorates of US Soccer are not stupid enough to elect this idiot again. Interesting story on how having a Men’s World Cup every 2 years – would do serious damage to the Woman’s World Cup – valid points.
2022 SheBelieves Cup schedule
Feb. 17 in Carson, Calif.
#16 Iceland vs #22 New Zealand, 8pm ET – ESPN
#1 USWNT vs #24 Czech Republic, 11pm ET
Feb. 20 in Carson, Calif.
USWNT vs New Zealand, 3pm ET – ABC
Czech Republic vs Iceland, 6pm ET
Feb. 23 in Frisco, Texas
New Zealand vs Czech Republic, 6pm ET
USWNT vs Iceland, 9pm ET – ESPN
MLS LAFC Hires former USMNT Steve Cherundelo as head coach after Bob Bradley left for Toronto. The US Men have opened the MLS Camp – for preparation for the late January WCQ Window with matches vs El Salvador, Canada and Honduras. Again this is just the MLS guys keeping in shape to join the normal European contingent of players who will come in late in January.
Forwards: Paul Arriola (D.C.), Jesús Ferreira (Dallas), Jordan Morris (Seattle), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus)
BIG GAMES TO WATCH
(American’s in parenthesis)
Sat, Jan 8
7:30 am ESPN+ Fulham (Robinson, Ream) vs Crystal Palace (FA Cup)
12:30 pm ESPN+ Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Chesterfield
12:30 pmESPN+ Dortmund vs Frankfort (Chandler)
3 pm ESPN+ Real Madrid vs Valencia
Sun, Jan 9
9 am ESPN+ West Ham vs Leeds United FA Cup
9 am ESPN+ Charlton Athletic vs Norwich (Stewart) FA Cup
12:30 ESPN+ Nottenham Forest vs Arsenal
12:30 Para + Roma vs Juventus (McKennie)
2:45 pm Para+ Inter vs Lazio
2:45 pm Para+ Lyonnais vs PGS
3 pm ESPN+ Villareal vs Atletico Madrid
Mon, Jan 10
3 pm ESPN+ Man United vs Aston Villa (League Cup)
Thur, Jan 13
2:45 pm ESPN+ Liverpool vs Arsenal (League Cup)
3 pm ESPNDes , + Atletico Madrid vs Athletic Club (Spain Cup)
Fri, Jan 14
8 am be:IN Sport Senegal vs Guine (African Cup)
2:45 pm USA? Brighton vs Crystal Palace
2:30 pm ESPN+ Dortmund (Reyna) vs Freiberg
Sat, Jan 15
7:30 am USA Man City vs Chelseas (Pulisic)
12:30 pm NBC Aston Villa vs Man United
Fri, Jan 27
7:30 pm ESPN2 USMNT vs El Salvador (Columbus)
Sun, Jan 30
3:30 pm Paramount+ USMNT @ Canada
Tues, Feb 2
7:30 pm FS1 USMNT vs Honduras
Successful World Cup, women’s game grows: Marcotti’s 2022 wishes Gabriele Marcotti
Watch out, Zlatan! Mbappe closing in on Ibra after scoring 200th career goal Chris WrightAfrica Cup of Nations schedule, standings, odds, how to watch, more
Africa Cup of Nations poses massive challenges for host Cameroon
Premier League players at the Africa Cup of Nations
LAFC names Cherundolo as new manager Jeff Carlisle
Sources: Cordeiro eyes U.S. Soccer post again Caitlin Murray and Jeff Carlisle
Gab Marcotti’s 2022 soccer wishes: Successful World Cup, stakeholders work together, women’s game grows
Jan 1, 2022Gabriele Marcotti Senior Writer, ESPN FC
Just as was the case 12 months ago, soccer exists amid mankind’s fight against an enemy few could imagine would ever become real. But there is hope…
Most are a little better off than at this time last year and, if there is some light to have come out of the darkness, it is that maybe we realized how much we have in common and what we can achieve when we band together and trust in each other.It is a lesson that can — hopefully — be transferred to football, which, at the very top of the game, stands divided and uncertain. And that is where my 30 wishes for 2022 begin.
1. That the powers that be — whether FIFA, the confederations, clubs, leagues, players, broadcasters or agents — realize the stakes and find a way forward together. “United we stand, divided we fall” is not just a cliché; it’s the reality of what will happen if no effective deal is found before the international match calendar resets in 2024. Everyone wants to shape football’s future, which is great. Realistically, though, everyone needs to sacrifice something to make it happen.
2. That, speaking of the international match calendar, we’ll be open-minded. For example, keeping the existing number of games, while reducing the number of windows (and therefore both travel for players and disruptions to club football), strikes me as a common-sense solution. Being against it just because the “other side” has promoted it or because it’s “against tradition” is silly and irresponsible.
3. That folks understand FIFA’s mission and don’t just make the usual puerile cracks about money and corruption. The world governing body exists to develop the game, which costs money — money for the men’s and women’s game, as well as federations, pitches, youth development and more. Many member associations receive the bulk of their funding from FIFA, so it should not surprise us if such federations back anything that brings them more money, such as a biennial men’s World Cup.
4. That FIFA continues to be transparent about how money is allocated but also reviews the system to make it fairer. Progress has been made in holding federations to account for what they receive, but more needs to be done regarding where money goes. A portion of FIFA funds is allocated for specific projects, and another goes, in equal parts, to every federation. Regarding that latter part, it’s simply unfair that tiny countries such as, say, Montserrat or Liechtenstein get the same amount as Pakistan or Nigeria. It might be unpopular — because it might cost votes — but it’s the right thing to do.
5. That the Qatar World Cup takes place successfully and runs as smoothly as possible. Every four years, around this time, we hear about problems with host nations, citing unfinished stadiums, infrastructure, crime and more, but this edition is a 32-team tournament essentially taking place in one city of 2.2 million people. Nothing so big has ever been attempted in a place so small.
6. That, if the powers that be realize Qatar 2022 will struggle logistically, they have the courage to find a solution while there is time. Michel Platini back in the day and Gianni Infantino a few years ago floated the idea of Qatar sharing the World Cup with some of its Gulf neighbours. It was rebuffed, mainly because relationships between Qatar and the likes of United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia were terrible to the point that they were blockading the country. That’s over now, so if turning the tournament into a regional event by shifting games to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Jeddah or Manama helps alleviate the logistical pressure — from hotel rooms to training facilities — it should be seriously considered.
7. That whatever improvements to human rights — regarding migrant workers and local residents — have come to Qatar as a result of hosting the World Cup don’t simply disappear once the circus rolls out of town. And, on the contrary, that they become entrenched and accepted, not just there but throughout the entire region.
8. That the game comes up with a coherent solution to the issue of player workload and fixture congestion, one that recognises there is no one-size-fits-all outcome. Elite players play too many games and would like to play fewer. Most of those at lower levels would love to play more. There’s a way to rebalance this, so find it.
9. That those who run clubs realize simply playing more games isn’t the best way to increase revenue. That’s why the Champions League expanded and why clubs don’t want to see the size of their top flight reduced. But you get diminishing marginal gains when simply adding fixtures and, sometimes, sometimes, less is more. At the top end, having fewer matches — but making each a bigger deal — would be beneficial and possibly just as lucrative, if not more so.
10. That when UEFA reintroduces financial fair play rules, they have the right balance, plus teeth and transparency. FFP was suspended due to COVID-19, and that was reasonable, but its return must come with realisation that the landscape isn’t that of 10 years ago. You need a system that looks forward and encourages investment and growth, while at the same time making it sustainable. You need a better enforcement mechanism, and you need buy-in from the public, which means making all the figures transparent and open to all. Money is the main tool for competition, so there is no reason to shroud it in secrecy.
11. That FIFA’s new transfer regulations on agents involve full transparency so clubs, as well as individuals, can be held to account. They likely won’t, because FIFA says European privacy laws don’t allow it. Fine, challenge them: Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and many agents want openness too.
12. That the opportunity is taken to ban sovereign wealth funds from buying clubs. Such a fund’s job is to look after the money of a country’s citizens, who, unlike with a private equity fund, don’t get to choose where their money is invested. And unlike a private equity fund, governments can be toppled or voted out. That’s a recipe for neither fairness nor stability. I’m not picking on Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain or Newcastle; they can be given an exemption or be made to sell over time. But there’s no valid reason for this to continue. Clubs should be owned by members, who freely choose to take a stake, or by private companies, whose shareholders make that choice with their own money.
13. That leagues regulate partnerships between clubs and providers of cryptocurrencies and nonfungible tokens (NFTs). I have nothing against either — in fact, I own some cryptocurrency myself — but some of what is going on looks like little more than pump-and-dump operations using club brands for legitimacy and club loyalty to sucker in fans. Caveat emptor and buyer beware? Sure, but legitimate cryptos and NFT providers also get fleeced.
14. That the European Super League and its proponents go away and have a long, hard think. I know they retreated with their noses bloodied, and some are still fighting, but if their only solution for making the game better is trying to impose their will on others, that’s no solution.
15. That we realize that although a superleague was wrong for Europe — especially in how it came about — that does not necessarily apply elsewhere. I use the term loosely, but if you take it to mean some sort of open pan-continental competition — without permanent places that, for some, might replace domestic competition — it might not necessarily be a bad thing for some parts of the world.
16. That at some point we answer the basic question of what we want football to be, whether purely a part of the entertainment business or some sort of communal social trust. The European Court of Justice might end up answering it on behalf of all of us, but I’d rather the game got there first. If it’s purely a branch of the entertainment business, then we don’t really need FIFA, confederations and national associations. Clubs can band together to write their own rules and create and run their own competitions, without any oversight or accountability to anyone, other than their customers (sorry, fans…). If it’s a communal social trust, like public education or law enforcement or national parks, then the system has to be open to all, with solidarity and with elected leaders who make decisions for the entire pyramid. The best outcome, as I see it, isn’t at either end of the continuum; it’s somewhere in between. But we need clarity.
17. That match officials explain decisions, including admitting errors, so that fans can better understand. The key word here is explain, which is different from justify. From VAR to on-pitch referees, too often we don’t know why or how a decision was taken. When Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi make mistakes, we accept them as such. If referees were allowed to speak more openly, we might accept errors more readily.
18. That the last bastion of protectionism in the game — referees — be removed. The best leagues in the world attract talent from all over, from players and coaches to sporting directors, owners, physios and so on. But, with very few exceptions, refereeing remains a de facto closed shop. Strictly speaking, you don’t need to be Italian to referee in Serie A or English to referee in the Premier League, but you do have to be part of those countries’ refereeing associations. In practice, that rules out most foreigners unless they want to start near the bottom of the pyramid. Leagues should be free to hire the best they can find.
19. That the battle against racism, sexism, anti-gay behaviour and other bigotry continue to attract more and more support. There are many ways to fight the fight, so let’s not get bogged down on what might be performative or lip service. Instead, let’s do more to be inclusive; the world is changing for the better, and the game needs to keep up.
20. That women’s football be given a chance to grow on its own, marking its own path, rather than simply copying the men’s game. It went under the radar somewhat, but FIFA took a big step last month when it split out the commercial operation of its male and female competitions. There is no valid reason the strategy for growth among women — where, in real terms, the elite game is a few decades old — should be dictated by those who had a century-long head start.
21. That we get a biennial Women’s World Cup. Club football drives the men’s game, but we know international football drives it for the women; you only need to look at attendances and viewership of elite women’s leagues versus World Cups and continental championships to understand this. A biennial World Cup, plus a strong Nations League in each confederation, is the way forward, at least in the short term.
22. That we learn the lesson of the Chinese bubble. Remember the sport’s boom and president Xi Jinping’s 2016 ambition to win the World Cup in the next 15 years and become a world superpower by 2050? That looks unlikely to happen, given the team that won the Super League in 2020 was dissolved a few months later. There’s a lesson to be learned about growth being organic, sustainable and, above all, not top down.
23. That Christine Sinclair sticks around a few more years, making it tougher for Cristiano Ronaldo to break her international scoring record. OK, I jest. It’s apples and oranges, obviously. Ronaldo broke the men’s record in 2021 and is now at 115 goals for Portugal. Sinclair has 188 for Canada and, since I want Ronaldo to keep playing and breaking records for a long time, I like to think that reaching Sinclair’s mark — whatever it might be — should keep him going for many years.
24. That we one day we find out the truth about why Lionel Messi is no longer a Barcelona player. It might take forensic accounting. It might take truth serum. But I’d love to know what happened, because I simply don’t buy the explanation we got. Messi was in tears at leaving and later said he was never asked to play for free, while Barca president Joan Laporta said the club did everything to keep him. Maybe I’m wrong, but it just doesn’t add up.
LIVE ON ESPN+ (SELECTED GAMES)
25. That somebody explains to me whether Karim Benzema got really good all of a sudden or whether all the wise, highly paid football folk at Real Madrid over the past 13 years didn’t see what they had on their hands. Benzema was 21 when he arrived at the Bernabeu. For the first four years, he was in and out of the line-up. For the five after that, he played third fiddle in the BBC, doing the groundwork for fellow front men Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo. For the past three years, Benzema has been one of the best centre-forwards in the world and, finally, has gotten credit. How does that work?
26. That however well Manchester United do under interim boss Ralf Rangnick, they wait until the end of the season to choose whether he should be made permanent manager. They made that mistake before when, for absolutely no reason, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got the full-time job three months before a decision was needed. Once bitten, twice shy, you’d think, but with this club you just don’t know. You’ve got a plan, stick to it. Take all the time you have to decide whether Rangnick should stay on the bench, whether he should take some kind of technical director role or whether you want to say “auf wiedersehen.”
27. That Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Mueller either stay or go out together. They’ve defined the past decade at Bayern Munich, are 33 and 32 respectively, and will both be out of contract in June 2023. Devising the right exit strategy for superstars isn’t easy. If they’re not going to stay, as a fan of both players, I’d rather Bayern just ripped off the Band-Aid.
28. That Juventus‘ majority shareholders, the Exor company, hold the folks running the club to account, not just for events on the pitch but for the negative publicity received. When you’re the biggest and most successful club, many folks will be jealous and dislike you, but over the past few seasons — from the Super League debacle to Luis Suarez‘s Italian language exam and a false accounting investigation — this club has received too much avoidable negative publicity.
29. That Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland continue to do what is best for them. Some argue that having family members influence your career can be detrimental, and in some cases that’s true. But with these two, it feels as if every step has been carefully designed with a long-term view. Haaland could have moved directly from Salzburg to a mega-club and made much more money. Mbappe could have moved to Real Madrid when he left Monaco. Instead, both took their time. And both face a major decision in 2022: Mbappe is a free agent, while Haaland might as well be, since he has a release clause far lower than his market value.
30. That kids who fall in love with the sport be given the chance, first and foremost, to support their local club before jumping on the big-club bandwagon simply because that is what is pumped relentlessly onto screens. Yes, this is copied-and-pasted from previous years, but it’s worth repeating. And it’s the one wish over which we have the most control.
Why U.S. Soccer Couldn’t Get Half-Decent Teams For 2022 SheBelieves Cup
THE COMPETITION LEVEL IN THE 2022 SHEBELIEVES CUP IS BY FAR THE WORST THE TOURNAMENT HAS EVER SEEN.
Despite pandemics and lawsuits, one constant for the U.S. women’s national team lately has been the SheBelieves Cup. Every year since 2016, the USWNT has hosted some of the best teams in the world in a four-team competition aimed at inspiring young women. Unfortunately, the 2022 SheBelieves Cup looks like it’ll be the least inspiring yet. U.S. Soccer unveiled the schedule for the 2022 SheBelieves Cup on Wednesday. As usual, the top-ranked USWNT is the main attraction. The rest of the three-team field, in years past filled by other top-10 teams, now doesn’t feature a single team in the top 15. Iceland, New Zealand and the Czech Republic will be in California and Texas to play in the 2022 SheBelieves Cup next month.Last year, Argentina was a late replacement for Japan, which pulled out of the 2021 SheBelieves Cup because of Covid-19 concerns. It marked the first time a team ranked above 13th in the world had participated in the competition. This year, all three of the USWNT’s opponents are ranked above 13th in the world. Iceland leads the pack with a No. 16 ranking followed by New Zealand (22) and the Czech Republic (24). Only Argentina last year (31st) has competed in the SheBelieves Cup with a lower ranking than these three nations.It’s a disappointing reality for the competition, which used to be comprised of top teams like Germany, France, England, Brazil and Japan. The U.S. couldn’t even entice reigning Olympic champion Canada to come south for the competition.So why is the 2022 SheBelieves Cup so disappointing compared to previous tournaments? Other competitions have proven more enticing.The biggest women’s competition early in 2022 is the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, held in India from Jan. 20-Feb. 6. This made it extremely unlikely the U.S. would be able to get top teams like Japan, Australia or South Korea to come to the States (plus the U.S. has played the latter two a lot recently). It makes sense Asian countries will want to focus on the tournament that is serving as 2023 Women’s World Cup qualifying. The harder pill to swallow is England starting its own February tournament to compete with the SheBelieves Cup — and immediately becoming the better competition.The English FA will host the inaugural Arnold Clark Cup during the same time period as the SheBelieves Cup. The four-team, round-robin competition is basically identical to the SheBelieves Cup, only without the U.S. This year, Germany, Spain and Canada will join England in Middlesbrough, Norwich and Wolverhampton. All four of those nations have previously competed in the SheBelieves Cup, but chose to compete in Europe ahead of the Women’s Euro 2022 this summer.You can’t blame these other countries for joining these other competitions, but it certainly will make for a boring 2022 SheBelieves Cup. Simply put, the USWNT will be expected to cruise past these three opponents without even getting out of first gear. The last time the U.S. dropped points to a team ranked 16th or lower in anything other than a friendly was a 2-2 draw with Colombia at the 2016 Olympics. But that doesn’t mean the competition will be a total waste of time. This is the perfect opportunity for coach Vlatko Andonovski test out younger players ahead of the Concacaf W Championship this summer. Iceland, New Zealand and the Czech Republic will provide more similar tests to what the U.S. will see in the Concacaf tournament, which will serve as qualifying for both the 2023 Women’s World Cup and the 2024 Olympics.
2022 SheBelieves Cup Schedule
Feb. 17 — Carson, California
Iceland vs. New Zealand, 8 p.m. ET
USA vs. Czech Republic, 11 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Feb. 20 — Carson, California
USA vs. New Zealand, 3 p.m. ET (ABC)
Czech Republic vs. Iceland, 6 p.m. ET
Feb. 23 — Frisco, Texas
New Zealand vs. Czech Republic, 6 p.m. ET
USA vs. Iceland, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The 2022 SheBelieves Cup could be a chance for Trinity Rodman to break into the national team after she refused to go to Australia for the November 2021 friendlies. It could be a chance for Mal Pugh to prove she can be a World Cup starter. It could be the moment Catarina Macario announces herself as the best player on the USWNT. Who knows, maybe it’ll be a farewell tournament for Megan Rapinoe. Regardless of who is playing, we’ll still eagerly watch anytime the U.S. women’s national team takes the field. It’s disappointing this year’s tournament doesn’t feature the same high quality as previous editions, but it’s still international soccer, and it’s a great opportunity for the nations who were invited. The 2022 SheBelieves Cup comes at a bit of an awkward time. NWSL players report to their clubs for preseason training on Feb. 1, only to join up with the national team for a couple of weeks before starting the Challenge Cup in March. But the SheBelieves Cup will once again be a launching point for the USWNT in a calendar year, and I’ll never complain about more soccer to watch, even if the matches end up being snoozefests.
SheBelieves Cup: USWNT announces field for February tournament
Wed, January 5, 2022, 12:51 PM
The United States women’s national team will be overwhelming favorites to comfortably win the 2022 SheBelieves Cup next month in California and Texas.The FIFA-ranked No. 1 USWNT will face No. 16 Iceland, No. 22 New Zealand, and No. 24 Czech Republic in what will be a challenging but relatively-straightforward tournament for a team moving into a new era with the retirement of Carli Lloyd and progress of Catarina Macario and Trinity Rodman.The Yanks have won the last two SheBelieves Cups and still have Alex Morgan, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan, and a host of magnificent talents and boast a tremendous record against the field.The USWNT is 16-1-1 all-time against New Zealand, has 12 wins and two draws in 14 matches against Iceland, and beat the Czech Republic in their only meeting back in 2000.Czechia won one match in 2021, against Cyprus, and was beaten 4-0 by Iceland. The Icelandic team only lost twice last year, to Italy and the Netherlands, and also boasts a win over Japan in the Netherlands plus a draw with Italy.New Zealand beat South Korea in a November friendly but lost all of its 2021 matches including a 6-1 pasting by the USWNT at the Olympics.The tournament should give USWNT boss Vlatko Andonovski a terrific opportunity to continue growing the experience levels of the next generation leading up a World Cup year in 2023.Andonovski has 28 wins, five draws, and two losses in an exceptional start to life at the helm but his Bronze Medal at the Olympics was only likely that color because of a lack of star turns from veterans in Tokyo.The program is tasked with identifying its next long-term goalkeeper — Jane Campbell seems the front runner — and will continue to develop Tierna Davidson, Alana Cook, Macario, Sophia Smith, and others.The United States has won four-of-six SheBelieves Cups and every field was significantly stronger than February’s cast.
2022 SheBelieves Cup schedule
Feb. 17 in Carson, Calif.
Iceland vs New Zealand, 8pm ET – ESPN
USWNT vs Czech Republic, 11pm ET
Feb. 20 in Carson, Calif.
USWNT vs New Zealand, 3pm ET – ABC
Czech Republic vs Iceland, 6pm ET
Feb. 23 in Frisco, Texas
New Zealand vs Czech Republic, 6pm ET
USWNT vs Iceland, 9pm ET – ESPN
Midseason grades for every Premier League team
Joe Prince-Wright Mon, January 3, 2022, 6:55 PM
We’ve hit the midway point of the Premier League season and with the FA Cup break coming up, now is a good time to reflect on the first half of the campaign and dish out some grades.
Ah yes, the gradebook is open.From teams starting fast and floundering to others building momentum slowly, it has been a crazy first half of the 2021-22 Premier League season.Riveting? Yes. Fun? Absolutely. Predictable? Anything but.With all that in mind, below I’ve dished out a grade for each of the 20 Premier League teams based on their play so far and have some analysis on each.
Latest Premier League news
There has been a ton of progress at Arsenal this season and I didn’t see it coming. Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White, Martin Odegaard, Aaron Ramsdale and Albert Sambi Lokonga were the big summer additions and I thought the Gunners needed a few more new players in. But the likes of Emile Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli, Gabriel and Bukayo Saka have been superb, alongside Ramsdale, Odegaard, White and Tomiyasu all becoming regulars. After a poor start to the season Arsenal have fought back admirably and Mikel Arteta should be applauded for getting the balance between youth and experience right, while also creating a new culture at the club. On the pitch they’re fun to watch and the next step is beating some of the big boys. Arsenal are serious top four contenders in the Premier League and that is a massive step forward.
Aston Villa: C
A poor start led to Dean Smith being fired and after the end to last season, there weren’t many complaints. The decline had been a gradual one over the last 12 months and hiring Steven Gerrard gave this talented Villa squad a proper kick up the backside. New signings Danny Ings, Leon Bailey and Emiliano Buendia have taken time to settle in but John McGinn and Emiliano Martinez have been superb and Villa look like a comfortable midtable team. That is where they should be and if Gerrard can add a few key attacking players, next season they could push for a top six finish.
What an addition to the Premier League the Bees have been. The new boys are pushing for a top 10 finish (23 points from 19 games so far), have given the big boys a real run for their money at home and they have an entertaining, full-throttle style of play. Manager Thomas Frank is a breath of fresh air too and Brentford are pretty much everyone’s favorite second team. If Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo can get firing up top again a top 10 finish is not out of the question. Remarkable.
Brighton and Hove Albion: A-
Graham Potter’s side have been excellent so far this season and should be even higher in the table than ninth. The Seagulls play lovely stuff and were soaring early in the season as they edged tight games. They then hit a bumpy few months as goals dried up and they kept drawing games. Now they are back on track and pushing for European qualification. If Neal Maupay and Leandro Trossard can keep creating and scoring Brighton will easily finish in the top 10.
A very poor season so far for the Clarets. Sean Dyche’s side are struggling to score goals (even though summer signing Maxwel Cornet has been sublime) but their play is more adventurous this season. They’ve won just one of their opening 17 games and sit in the bottom three, but are just two points from safety. Is this the season Burnley finally get relegated from the Premier League?
What a weird season this has been for Thomas Tuchel and Chelsea so far. They looked like the pacesetters early on and most believed they would win the title. But then Romelu Lukaku was injured and since then he’s spoken out about being unhappy and the wheels have come off due to injuries and coughing up late goals after not putting chances away. Chelsea sit 10 points off league leaders Man City but it feels like they could mount a huge winning streak in the second half of the season. Can they get their title bid back on track?
Crystal Palace: B
Patrick Vieira’s side are a lot of fun to watch and they are comfortably above the relegation zone. That is much better than most predicted and Conor Gallagher has been sensational, while Palace could be much higher in the table had they not conceded so many late goals. The big win at Man City was the highlight and Palace are no longer a counter-attacking team as they can mix things up and keep the ball. This young squad will do well and Vieira is an underrated manager.
After such a great start under Rafael Benitez things have gone south. Badly. Injuries to Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison haven’t helped matters and they are just above the relegation battle. There have been some bright spots recently with a win against Arsenal and draw at Chelsea, but there’s isn’t much to smile about at Goodison. Benitez’s style of play isn’t great to watch and Everton’s entire squad needs an overhaul (once again), especially in defense. What a mess.
Leeds United: C-
Marcelo Bielsa’s side have too much quality to go down and injuries have hit them hard this season as they’ve had a bit of a second season slump. Being without Patrick Bamford and Kalvin Phillips for large chunks of the season has been rough and they have endured some heavy defeats. That said, they are well clear of the relegation zone and should be just fine.
Leicester City: C
A very peculiar season for the Foxes as Brendan Rodgers’ side have secured some big wins but they’ve been wildly inconsistent. Defensive injuries have hit them hard and they were knocked out of the Europa League, which was a huge shame. Jamie Vardy started off on fire but has struggled in recent weeks and they haven’t found any rhythm at all. Despite all of that they look primed to push for a top eight finish once again. Not bad, all things considered.
Jurgen Klopp had the Reds in a title fight until just before the festive period but some bad results and injuries have hit them hard at just the wrong time of the season. Liverpool will still be in the title race in the second half of the season and that is largely due to the brilliance of Mohamed Salah who has been consistently excellent and is the best player on the planet right now. Defensively there have been some teething issues and midfield injuries has disrupted their flow. When they are fit and firing on all cylinders, Liverpool can still beat anyone in the Premier League and Champions League.
Manchester City: A-
A run of 11-straight wins through November and December has once again underlined the incredible squad depth Pep Guardiola has at his disposal. There were a few poor results early in the season but that was largely due to players not being up to speed after a busy summer. Jack Grealish has struggled to settle but City are clicking through the gears and Kevin de Bruyne is back to his best. City are threatening to runaway with the title as they aim to secure a fourth Premier League crown in five seasons.
Manchester United: D-
Just so many issues to sort out. So many. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lost his job after plenty of poor defeats and United sit in seventh place in the table, four points off the top four with a game in-hand. That doesn’t sound bad but the displays under interim boss Ralf Rangnick haven’t been good and there is talk of issues behind-the-scenes with the playing squad. David de Gea has won so many points for them and they look unorganized, Bruno Fernandes Harry Maguire are both having a nightmare and they look so disjointed and unable to control games. Add in the fact that Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo have arrived and can’t seem to help consistently and this is a squad of very talented players that is underachieving massively. United were supposed to be battling for the Premier League title, not trying to sneak into the top four.
Newcastle United: F
An awful season so far. Steve Bruce was fired and Eddie Howe replaced him amid the Saudi Arabian-led takeover. One win from 19 games would usually see them cut adrift but remarkably they are just two points from safety as they enter the second half of the season. Newcastle can survive but they need to buy a new defense in January and hope Callum Wilson, Jonjo Shelvey and Allan Saint-Maximin stay fit. If all of that happens then then could just stay up. Just.
Norwich City: D-
The hugely likeable Daniel Farke was fired and Dean Smith hired and Norwich are hanging in there better than most people expected. They are three points from safety (four if you count goal difference) but don’t look like they will score enough goals to stay up. New additions are needed in January to give themselves a chance but will that actually happen? Probably not. Smith has to get the best out of Billy Gilmour, Teemu Pukki and Ozan Kabak to give themselves a chance of staying in the Premier League.
After losing Danny Ings, Ryan Bertrand and Jannik Vestergaard last summer many people believed Saints would be relegated. They’ve actually done okay. James Ward-Prowse continues to be their main man and some of the youngsters Ralph Hasenhuttl has signed are very, very good with Tino Livramento and Armando Broja excellent. If Saints can keep improving defensively and put away a few more of their chances they can push for a top 10 finish. But if they start to struggle again at the back they could be sucked into a relegation battle. Big month or so coming up.
Tottenham Hotspur: C+
Nuno Espirito Santo didn’t last long despite a great start and now Antonio Conte is in charge, there’s a whole new dimension to Spurs. They are tough to beat and are grinding out wins and that is what it is all about under Conte. Harry Kane has yet to hit his stride and the balance of this team isn’t quite there yet. That said, Spurs are in the top four battle and are two points off fourth-place Arsenal with two games in hand. You’d fancy Conte to push them into the top four and Spurs should have brought him in this summer. Now they have, watch out.
Xisco was fired after a very decent start and that was very much a Watford move. Claudio Ranieri has struggled since replacing him and although they are starting to look better defensively, it will be a relegation battle this season for the Hornets. Ranieri’s boys are very dangerous in attack as Emmanuel Dennis has been exceptional and Josh King and Ismaila Sarr (injured for the last month or so) cause problems. Watford have to shore things up at the back if they want to push away from the bottom three.
West Ham United: A-
Another sensational season for the Hammers, so far. David Moyes’ side have beaten Chelsea and Liverpool at home and are in the Europa League last 16 after a fine European campaign. Their small squad has largely stayed fit but injury issues with Michail Antonio, Kurt Zouma and Angelo Ogbonna threatened to derail their top four push. They’re still hanging in there and Declan Rice has been marvellous in midfield. The Hammers looked set for another top six finish and that would be an amazing achievement.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: A-
Did anybody see this coming? Wolves look very good under Bruno Lage as they play a more expansive style and have had some great results. Raul Jimenez is slowly getting back to his best and their 3-4-2-1 system is tough to break down. They draw a lot of games and the next step is taking more opportunities. They sit in eighth place and are seven points off the top four. Could they surge towards the Champions League spots in the second half of the season?
Chelsea – Liverpool player ratings
Joe Prince-Wright Sun, January 2, 2022, 1:32 PM·3 min read
Chelsea – Liverpool player ratings were so much fun to dish out as plenty of superstars shone at Stamford Bridge in a classic Premier League encounter. After Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah scored early to put Liverpool into a 2-0 lead, against the run of play, Chelsea came flying back before half time. Mateo Kovacic scored a worldie to make it 2-1, then USMNT star Christian Pulisic made it 2-2. Both teams had chances to win it but goalkeepers Edouard Mendy and Caoimhin Kelleher stood tall, as a draw wasn’t great for either team as they aim to chase down Manchester City in the title race. Below are marks out of 10 with the full Chelsea – Liverpool player ratings.
Chelsea player ratings
Edouard Mendy: 8 – Two fine stops from Salah and Mane in the second half. Solid.
Trevoh Chalobah: 6 – Poor mistake for Mane’s goal, but recovered well. Came off with a knock.
Thiago Silva: 6.5 – Solid as ever as he tried to calm things down. Did a job on Jota to keep him off the ball.
Antonio Rudiger: 6.5 – No marauding runs forward but did his job at the back.
Cesar Azpilicueta: 7 – Did well at RWB and RCB after he was smashed in the face by Mane early on. Kept his cool.
N’Golo Kante: 8 – He was everywhere, once again. Brilliant midfield display as he swept everything up. Lovely assist for Pulisic’s goal.
Mateo Kovacic: 8.5 – Stunning volley to start Chelsea’s rally. Lovely flicks and passes. On another level.
Marcos Alonso: 6.5 – Deliveries weren’t at his best and Salah did him on his goal, but always an option as he surged forward.
Mason Mount: 7 – Some nice passes and movement to knit midfield and attack together.
Christian Pulisic: 6.5 – Scored a crucial goal but missed a big chance early on. Never gave up and finished the game at RWB.
Kai Havertz: 6 – Didn’t get too many chances, but helped Chelsea look a lot better in attack. Maybe he will start over Romelu Lukaku?
Jorginho (70′ on for Chalobah): 6 – Settled things down and used all of his experience.
Callum Hudson-Odoi (79′ on for Havertz): 6 – Couldn’t get behind the Liverpool defense after coming on up top.
Liverpool player ratings
Caoimhin Kelleher: 8 – Youngster did superbly. Denied Pulisic twice, the first a great save at 0-0. Only 23 and has a bright future.
Trent Alexander-Arnold: 6 – Clearance early on led to Pulisic’s chance. Couldn’t get forward much.
Ibrahima Konate: 6 – Solid enough, but still settling in at center back. His positioning was a little off at times.
Virgil van Dijk: 6.5 – Won plenty of balls in the air and calmed things down in the second half.
Kostas Tsimikas: 6.5 – Quality of his crosses not quite there but flew forward all the time. Standing in well for Robertson.
Jordan Henderson: 6 – Not his best game but kept battling away. Leadership skills key.
Fabinho: 6 – See above. Caught in possession in bad areas a few times, which is unlike him. Tough to play against Kovacic and Kante.
James Milner: 6 – See above. All three Liverpool central midfielders struggled to dictate the tempo but they battled away.
Mohamed Salah: 8 – Brilliant goal and could have scored a lovely chip in the second half but Mendy denied him Now he’s off to represent Egypt and Liverpool will miss him massively.
Diogo Jota: 6 – Very, very quiet as Thiago Silva and Rudiger did a job on him.
Sadio Mane: 6.5 – Lovely finish for his goal and Mendy denied him a second. But lucky to stay on the pitch after his early challenge on Azpilicueta.
Naby Keita (69′ on for Milner): 6 – Didn’t get on the ball but worked hard.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (69′ on for Jota): 6 – See above. A few times he could’ve launched counters.
Curtis Jones (90′ on for Mane): N/A
Africa Cup of Nations schedule, standings, odds, how to watch, more
Nicholas Mendola NBC Sports Wed, January 5, 2022, 1:30 PM
The first Africa Cup of Nations to be played in Cameroon since 1972 begins Sunday when the hosts begin Group A play against Burkina Faso at 11am ET.A tournament ripe with Premier League players and prospects holds sway over an entire continent for nearly a month until the final is staged Feb. 6, and we’ve got your schedule and standings here.There has not been a repeat winner or finalist at AFCON since Egypt won at home in 2006 before claiming the 2008 tournament title in Ghana and the 2010 edition in Angola, with Algeria and Senegal holding hopes of bucking that trend in February.Algeria beat Senegal 1-0 in 2019 to triumph in Egypt and become the seventh nation to win multiple AFCONs, following Democratic Republic of Congo (1968, 1974), Ivory Coast (1992, 2015), Nigeria (1980, 1994, 2013), Ghana (1963, 1965, 1978, 1982), Cameroon (1984, 1988, 2000, 2002, 2017), and Egypt (1957, 1959, 1986, 1998, 2006, 2008, 2010).Below you’ll find the tables, schedules, how to watch info, and outright odds for the winner of AFCON.
2021 Africa Cup of Nations group tables
How to watch Africa Cup of Nations in USA
Kickoff dates: Jan. 9 – Feb. 6
TV Channel: BeIn Sports (select games)
Stream: BeIn Sports Xtra
2021 Africa Cup of Nations (in 2022) schedule
Sunday, January 9
Cameroon vs Burkina Faso, 11am ET
Ethiopia vs Cape Verde, 3pm ET
Monday, January 10
Senegal vs Zimbabwe, 8am ET
Morocco vs Ghana, 11am ET
Guinea vs Malawi, 11am ET
Comoros vs Gabon, 2pm ET
Tuesday, January 11
Algeria vs Sierra Leone, 8am ET
Nigeria vs Egypt, 11am ET
Sudan vs Guinea-Bissau, 2pm ET
Wednesday, January 12
Tunisia vs Mali, 8am ET
Mauritania vs Gambia, 11am ET
Equatorial Guinea vs Ivory Coast, 2pm ET
Thursday, January 13
Cameroon vs Ethiopia, 11am ET
Cape Verde vs Burkina Faso, 2pm ET
Friday, January 14
Senegal vs Guinea, 8am ET
Morocco vs Comoros, 11am ET
Malawi vs Zimbabwe, 11am ET
Gabon vs Ghana, 2pm ET
Saturday, January 15
Nigeria vs Sudan, 11am ET
Guinea-Bissau vs Egypt, 2pm ET
Sunday, January 16
Gambia vs Mali, 8am ET
Tunisia vs Mauritania, 11am ET
Ivory Coast vs Sierra Leone, 11am ET
Algeria vs Equatorial Guinea, 2pm ET
Monday, January 17
Cape Verde vs Cameroon, 11am ET
Burkina Faso vs Ethiopia, 11am ET
Tuesday, January 18
Malawi vs Senegal, 11am ET
Zimbabwe vs Guinea, 11am ET
Gabon vs Morocco, 2pm ET
Ghana vs Comoros, 2pm ET
Wednesday, January 19
Egypt vs Sudan, 2pm ET
Guinea-Bissau vs Nigeria, 2pm ET
Thursday, January 20
Ivory Coast vs Algeria, 11am ET
Sierra Leone vs Equatorial Guinea, 11am ET
Gambia vs Tunisia, 2pm ET
Mali vs Mauritania, 2pm ET
Sunday, January 23 – Wednesday, January 26 —- Round of 16
Saturday, January 29 – Sunday, January 30 —- Quarterfinals
Wednesday, February 2 – Thursday, February 3—- Semifinals
Sunday, February 6 — Third-place game and Final