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English Premier League

Premier League end of season grades: How did your club do?

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Now the season is done and dusted it’s time for teams to reflect on how they performed. Here, we look at how teams performed relative to their expectations, giving each team an exam-style grade for how successful their season has been.

Chelsea: A

Despite disappointing in the FA cup and the Champions League, the Blues have been by far the stand out team in England. No team came close to matching them in the league, a formidable defence was coupled with a clinical attack. Only the top grade is suitable for the runaway winners of the Premier League and League Cup.

Southampton: A

The Saints have come a long way from the team many predicted to be towards the bottom of the table last summer. After many of their biggest names left, including their manager, a huge rebuilding job was required. Koeman hit the ground running and signings such as Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic helped propel the club to a European qualifying place.

Leicester City: A

At one stage the Foxes were looking doomed and Nigel Pearson seemed to be heading for the exit until a phenomenal run of games turned their season around. Finishing their first season back in the Premier League in 14th place surpassed most expectations and they did it with a fast-paced attacking style which caught the eye. On this seasons showing Leicester look like they could be here to stay.

Swansea City: B+

Rookie manager Garry Monk has built on the work done by his predecessors and Swansea are now well established as a quality Premier League outfit. Finishing 8th is probably the best that could realistically be expected and they must now turn their attentions to improving further and possibly competing for a trophy.

Stoke City: B

Mark Hughes has confounded his critics this season and is well on the way to transforming Stoke into a team that plays attractive, attacking football. Stoke fans could be forgiven for thinking their side would be in a relegation scrap when Bojan suffered a season-ending injury, but the team rallied to a comfortable top half position thanks to good seasons from the likes of Charlie Adam and Mame Diouf.

Crystal Palace: B

After a slow start the appointment of Alan Pardew revitalised the side who look full of pace, power and skill. Not only have Palace managed a top half finish they have done it in style with Yannick Bolasie particularly catching the eye. If they can keep hold of their emerging stars Palace could climb even higher with a full season under “Pards”.

Arsenal: C+

Even with another FA cup title this has been a pretty average season for Arsenal. There have been good signs and some great individual seasons from Sanchez and Cazorla, but the Gunners were well off the pace Chelsea set at the top of the table and exited the Champions League to a poor Monaco side. Arsenal need to build on their FA cup success and put in a serious challenge for the league next season, they aren’t far off being equipped to do so.

West Ham: C+

The Hammers had a fast start to the season, staying in European contention until December. Unfortunately 2015 wasn’t as successful and the season was finished in pretty dire form, something which can’t have been helped by constant rumours over Big Sam’s future. A comfortable mid-table finish is probably about good enough for West Ham and they have a solid foundation to build on for next season.

West Brom: C+

West Brom are another team who had a mid-season turn around. It was hardly a surprise that the appointment of Alan Irvine failed to inspire the players, fortunately the men in charge acted swiftly and the appointment of Tony Pulis rescued the Baggies season. They managed to steer clear of any relegation battle and their 13th place finish must be seen as a mild success.

Tottenham Hotspur: C

With a top four finish always the aim for Spurs they have fallen short of their ambitions, however I don’t think they will be too disappointed on the whole. Mauricio Pochettino has come in with the initial task of stabilizing a club which has really been a mess since the departure of Gareth Bale. This has been achieved and he has unearthed some young gems in Mason and Kane, if they can bring in the right players over the summer Tottenham are the best placed team to move into the Champions League places.

Manchester United: C

It’s stage one complete for Louis Van Gaal and Manchester United. Normally a fourth place finish wouldn’t be seen as a decent season for United but they have got back into the Champions League after a season away which has to have been the main target. It’s not been bad but it’s also not been great, Van Gaal has experimented with tactics which which often haven’t worked and players such as Di Maria and Falcao have disappointed, it will be interesting to see what happens next but there is no doubt they will have to find some consistency.

Aston Villa: C

Tim Sherwood has managed to rescue Villa from the snoozefest fans were witnessing under Paul Lambert, his energy and enthusiasm have seemingly rubbed off on the team and he’s given fans renewed hope. An FA cup final appearance is a good effort from the side even though they ultimately came up short.

Burnley: C-

It’s been a valiant effort from Burnley who were always likely to find the going tough as thy made the step up to Premier League football. With Sean Dyche sticking with many of the players who got the team promoted it’s hard to be critical of the Clarets. There were some memorable performances including a win over Manchester City in March, but ultimately they didn’t have enough fire power to survive.

Manchester City: D

A “D” may seem harsh for the team that finished second in the Premier League but the Blues showed an alarming decline in 2014/15. They never looked capable of winning the title ahead of Chelsea and went out of the FA cup to lower league opposition, struggles in Europe continue, even though the loss did come to Barcelona. Big signings just haven’t come off and it is worrying that they seem to rely so heavily on Toure, Silva and Aguero. It looks like Pellegrini will be around next season but his job may come under threat if performances don’t improve.

Everton: D

After such a promising year in 2013/14 it’s hard to figure out what has gone wrong at Everton. A drop off of 25 points has seen the Toffees fall from 5th to 11th in the table. The drop in form has been collective of the whole team with no player reaching the levels we’ve seen them perform at before, fans will have to hope that Martinez can turn things around and recapture their old form as mid table can’t be acceptable for a squad with so much talent.

Liverpool: D

The loss of Suarez has been absolutely disastrous for Liverpool resulting in a season that was looking like some sort of sick joke by the end. Their Champions League performances were woeful, struggling against Ludogorets and eventually losing out to Basel in the group stages. Goals were a huge problem with Daniel Sturridge out injured the others couldn’t consistently find the back of the net. Liverpool’s season can be pretty accurately summed up by two performances: Steven Gerrard’s brief show against United and their drubbing on the final day to Stoke.

Newcastle United: D

Newcastle stayed up by the skin of their teeth after things seemed to just keep getting worse after Alan Pardew left. John Carver never seemed to be in control sine he took over and looked dangerously out of his depth. However, it is hard to look only at results when the clubs biggest problem is the owner. Until Mike Ashley goes it’s hard to see anything changing for the Magpies.

Sunderland: D

Under Gus Poyet Sunderland were awful, the team were defending awfully and couldn’t compensate at the other end of the pitch, highlighted by an 8-0 drubbing at Southampton. Dick Advocaat’s appointment seemed to be popular with the players and the dutchman managed to keep the Black Cats in league with a game to spare, a major overhaul in playing personnel seems necessary or Sunderland will find themselves in the same mess next year.

Hull City: E

When you’ve finished below the likes of Newcastle and Sunderland you pribably deserve to go down and that’s just what’s happened for Hull City, the final nail in their coffin had to be losing 1-0 at home to an already relegated Burnley. Injuries crippled the Tigers and the season might well have turned out differently if Nikica Jelevic had managed to stay fit. Relegation only confounds the off field problems such as Jake Livermore’s substance abuse ban and the controversial name change.

QPR: F

Bottom of the league and most certainly bottom of the grade class, QPR failed to learn any lessons from their previous season in the top league. Charlie Austin and Matt Phillips provided brief glimpses of magic but it was not near enough to keep the London club up. The ageing, expensive squad never gelled and there were too many passengers. When Harry Redknapp jumped ship in January their doom seemed inevitable. Now with financial fair play charges looming the future looks uncertain at Loftus Road.

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Genetics student at the University of Liverpool, Blackpool fan and co-editor of the site. Joe's main interests are at all levels of the English game. Twitter: @JoeWalsh17

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Manchester United

How will Manchester United line up with Alexis Sanchez?

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

The most highly-anticipated transfer of the January window has finally been confirmed. Alexis Sanchez is now officially a Manchester United player after joining from Arsenal in a swap deal with Henrikh Mkhitaryan. It is quite a coup for the Red Devils to have snatched the Chilean from the clutches of Manchester City, who had long been the frontrunners for his signature.

Sanchez scored 80 goals in 165 appearances for Arsenal and his arrival at Old Trafford significantly strengthens Jose Mourinho’s attacking resources. United are second in the Premier League, but lie a distant 12 points behind their Manchester rivals. So how might the Red Devils line up with Sanchez, who will wear the iconic number seven shirt?

What will have most attracted Mourinho to Sanchez is his ability to play in any number of attacking positions. Although his goalscoring ratio for both Barcelona and Arsenal is close to one in two, he would not be classed as an out-and-out striker.

Wenger did sometimes deploy the 29-year-old on his own up top, but more often than not the Gunners boss favoured him on the left of an attacking three, alongside the likes of Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud.

Mourinho is hardly short of forward options. He signed Romelu Lukaku from Everton last summer to spearhead the attack, while Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba have all shown to be more than capable of chipping in with goals.

Sanchez provides another dimension altogether, though. He is more physical than the aforementioned quartet and his tireless work-rate is exactly what Mourinho looks for.

Sanchez could rotate with Lukaku in the number nine role – or even play alongside hm in a front two – but it is more likely that he will occupy one of the three spots behind the Belgian.

When fit, British record signing Pogba is guaranteed to slot into a central role in front of a deep-lying central midfield pairing, which gives the Frenchman the freedom to express himself. That leaves one of the two wider positions, currently occupied by two of Rashford, Martial and Lingard.

Of late, Mourinho has opted for Martial and Lingard, both of whom have been in scintillating form with goals and assists aplenty. To leave out either would seem harsh, but given the high-profile nature of this signing, one will surely make way to accommodate Sanchez, whose inclusion may also help to get the best out of the unconvincing Lukaku.

If Mourinho’s vision is similar to Wenger’s, then the fall guy would appear to be Martial. However, the Portuguese may have other ideas and such is Sanchez’s versatility that the United manager knows he can select the Chile international anywhere in attack without diminishing his influence.

The increased competition for a starting berth can only benefit United and it certainly would not be a surprise to see Sanchez selected as a number nine, should Lukaku’s form continue to suffer.

With the Red Devils hoping to go deep into the latter stages of the Champions League as well as the FA Cup, the flexibility Sanchez offers will be invaluable in facilitating squad rotation. Games come thick and fast at this stage of the campaign and, consequently, player burn-out is a real possibility.

By landing Sanchez, United have issued a massive statement of intent. Despite an improved Premier League season, they will almost certainly have to watch on as City lift the title in May.

Whether the former Barcelona star is the man to shift the balance of power back towards the red half of Manchester remains to be seen. Nevertheless, he undoubtedly improves Mourinho’s squad and it will be fascinating to see how he fares in a United shirt.

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Arsenal

How Arsenal could line-up with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang?

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Reuters

Arsenal prefer not to do business in the January transfer window, but their hand has been forced this month due to the contract situations of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere.

They could all leave the club before the start of next season and Arsene Wenger will recognise the need to prepare for those departures. Sanchez is the only one to have left the club already this month, as he has joined Manchester United.

In return, the Gunners have secured the services of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The former Borussia Dortmund player has struggled in England, but he has the talent to produce more at the Emirates Stadium.

Considering they are facing a battle to qualify for the Champions League, there could be more arrivals this month to improve their chances of making the top four.

Sky Sports reported that Arsenal are attempting to secure a deal for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Dortmund could be tempted to make a clean break from the striker

The Gunners are at risk of missing out on the Champions League for the second successive season, but their reputation remains strong across Europe. It would be a statement of intent to sign the Gabon international and an exciting move for supporters.

How could they line-up at the end of the window?

Arsene Wenger has favoured a 3-4-2-1 formation this season and it has achieved relative success. It was a major reason for their FA Cup win last season, as it provided more balance and made the side solid at the back.

However, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang are both attacking players and will be expecting to start most matches. It could be that a switch back to 4-2-3-1 is required to fit both into the starting eleven.

One major problem that Arsenal have faced this season is their lack of quality at the back. Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal are serviceable as a three-man defence.

However, it has been rare for all three to be fit at the same time and the squad is lacking in depth. Per Mertesacker is passed his best, while Rob Holding and Calum Chambers remain inexperienced at the highest level.

A change back to a four-man defence would be a smart move unless a quality centre-back is signed this month. A tactical switch would likely mean Monreal loses his place in the starting eleven.

This would be a shame considering his impressive season to date, but he would offer stern competition to Sead Kolasinac.

It would be a boost if they were to sign another centre-back. Sky Sports reported earlier this month that Arsenal had made a fresh enquiry for Jonny Evans, but no reports suggest that a deal is in the pipeline for this month.

If they were to make no defensive signings, their back five would pick itself when everyone was available.

Petr Cech is not the player that he once was, but he remains the best goalkeeper at the Emirates Stadium.

The full-backs would provide the width, as Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac are both excellent at going forwards. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Nacho Monreal would offer good competition on the left side.

By playing two attack-minded full-backs, Arsenal can afford to play with narrow attackers, which will get the best from those playing in the forward positions.

There has been a resurgence in the career of Jack Wilshere, but he is unlikely to make the starting eleven when everyone is fully fit.

The midfield pairing of Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka has been the most balanced of those chosen by Wenger this season.

The former has provided the drive and attacking support from deep, with three goals and six assists in the Premier League. Meanwhile, the latter sits deep and contributes in both halves of the pitch.

There is still more to come from the Swiss international and it will be next to Ramsey that he takes the next step forward.

The four attacking players would be best suited in a fluid attacking set-up as they are all intelligent players and capable of fulfilling any role. It would likely be a narrow formation with the full-backs providing width.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would be the ones asked to start on the wing. It would be great to see the former be given a sustained run on the right flank, giving him a great opportunity to re-capture his Dortmund form.

Although Aubameyang is primary a striker, he has played on the left-wing during his career and he would be given freedom to interchange with the rest of the front-line. His pace will cause problems and he has the dynamism to excite supporters in the Premier League.

The 28-year-old has 13 goals in 15 Bundesliga appearances this season. In addition, despite Dortmund’s poor Champions League form, the forward found the back of the net on four occasions.

He is a top-tier striker and will add goals to the Arsenal attack. It will be exciting to see him link-up with Mkhitaryan again if a move does go through. Arsene Wenger will be hoping they can be as productive as they were in Germany.

Alexis Sanchez may have left, but Mesut Ozil is probably going to stay at the club until the end of the season.

The Evening Standard report that Arsenal are hopeful that the German international will extend his contract if they do sign Aubameyang alongside Mkhitaryan.

The 29-year-old will be given a central role in the team as the club try to convince him to stay and as the number ten position is his favoured role, this will likely be where he plays.

Alexandre Lacazette has had a mixed first season in the Premier League. It wasn’t easy to come into an Arsenal side that was short on confidence and Wenger will be wanting the Frenchman to kick on alongside the new arrivals.

If Aubameyang does sign, it will increase competition to start up front.

The current Gunners’ number nine has scored nine Premier League goals and contributed three assists. He is involved in a goal every 142.25 minutes, which is not bad, but he will be hoping to improve during the second half of the season.

If the club do sign Aubameyang, it will be a major statement of intent and serve as a reminder to the rest of Europe that Arsenal remain a force to be reckoned with.

A front four of Aubameyang, Lacazette, Mkhitaryan and Ozil promises to be exciting to watch and provide lots of goals.

No one player will be guaranteed a start and that is beneficial to the squad. The rest of the team needs strengthening, but this window would represent a good start to the rebuild.

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Burnley

Burnley 0-1 Manchester United: Three talking points from Turf Moor

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Anthony Martial scored the only goal of the game as Manchester United recorded their third consecutive victory by seeing off Burnley at Turf Moor. In a game devoid of end-to-end entertainment, the Frenchman struck in the 54th minute when his right-footed shot found the net via the underside of the crossbar.

Burnley tried in vain to force a leveller but could not find a way past David de Gea, as their winless run extended to seven Premier League matches. United, meanwhile, have maintained their grip on second spot but remain 12 points drift of runaway leaders Manchester City. Here are three talking points…

United pass another away-day test

Despite rumours of unrest at Old Trafford, United are now unbeaten in eight Premier League matches. While their hopes of reeling in Manchester City may be remote, Jose Mourinho’s men are red-hot favourites to finish as runners-up. That would be a huge improvement on last season – their first under Mourinho – where United finished sixth. It was only their success in the Europa League that guaranteed them a place in the Champions League.

The Red Devils are definitely progressing and the expected arrival of Alexis Sanchez would give them another dimension. In particular, their away form will please Mourinho. This was United’s fifth victory in their past six Premier League games on their travels, a run that is helping to keep the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool at bay.

Burnley is a notoriously tricky place to visit, but United withstood the physical threat of the hosts and just about had enough to claim all three points.

Burnley are feeling the effects

When looking at the table, Burnley’s position appears to be very comfortable. In eighth place and with 34 points to their name, the Clarets are all but guaranteed to be playing Premier League football again next season. That would have been manager Sean Dyche’s priority and he can feel satisfied with the job he has done.

Nonetheless, this is a difficult period for Burnley, who have not tasted victory since they beat Stoke City on December 12. Scoring goals has been their biggest problem, having drawn a blank in four of their seven-game winless  run. The Clarets are not renowned as being free-scoring – they have found the net only 19 times this season – and rely on a solid defensive foundation.

Perhaps the exertions of their promising start have taken their toll on a settled side. The challenge for Dyche, who had been linked with the Everton job during the height of Burnley’s success, is to ensure his players do not fall into the trap of thinking they have nothing to play for.

Martial is making rapid progress

The Frenchman began the campaign out of favour at United, but he has regained his place in the side thanks to a series of consistent performances. His output has been productive, too. His goal against Burnley was his third in a row, taking him to 11 for the season. Allied to his seven assists, Martial is beginning to fulfil his immense potential.

He cut a frustrated figure at being kept out of the starting XI by Marcus Rashford – there was even speculation he might be on his way out of Old Trafford. But Martial said all the right things publicly and is no longer in the ‘supersub’ category. Competition for places will only intensify if and when Sanchez’s switch from Arsenal is completed.

But the former Monaco starlet should not fear the Chilean’s arrival, but relish it. He has proved he can be a trustworthy player for United. Like Luke Shaw, he is another to have benefited from some stern words from Mourinho, who will soon have an embarrassment of attacking riches to call upon.

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