Three to Watch for Each Club

Trying to pop a list like this for any team is silly subjective, so don’t get offended if your favorite player isn’t listed here.  Americans are included by default, but when you consider each relative to their club, their spots are largely deserved. Some appreciated assistance provided by my friend Lars Sivertsen.

Arsenal (ARS): Saka, Ødegaard, Rice

Aston Villa (AVL): Emi, Tielemans, Diaby

Bournemouth (BOU): Adams, Solanke, Brooks

Brentford (BRE): Toney, Wissa, Schade

Brighton & Hove Albion (BHA): Mitoma, Enciso, Ferguson

Chelsea (CHE): Enzo, Caicedo, Jackson

Crystal Palace (CRY): Elise, Eze, Richards

Everton (EVE): Doucoure, Calvert-Lewin, Onana

Fulham (FUL): Ream/Robinson, Palhinha, Pereira, Willian

Liverpool (LIV): Diaz, Sarah, Szoboszai

Luton Town (LUT): Mpanzu, Lockyer, Makamba

Manchester City (MCI): Haaland, Grealish, Foden

Manchester United (MUN): Onana, Bruno, Rashford

Newcastle (NEW): Guimaraes, Tonali, Isak

Nottingham Forest (NFO): Turner, Awoniyi, Johnson

Sheffield United (SHU): Traore, Ahmedhodzic, Hamer

Tottenham Hotspur (TOT): Maddison, Son, Richarlison

West Ham United (WHU): Paquetá, Ward-Prowse, Bowen

Wolverhampton Wolves (WOL): Nunes, Cunha, Silva

ARS: Like several here, Arsenal is a side we could list far more than three players.  It would have included new defensive addition Julian Timber had he not suffered a season-ender ACL injury in Week 1.

  • Bukayo Saka (7): Absolute terror and superstar in the making from the right side, English international, will screw defenders into the ground and finish goals from impossible spots.
  • Martin Ødegaard (8): The young Norwegian seems to have been around forever, but we only now really beginning to see the promise of his “prodigy” tag as the Gunners’ version of Kevin De Bruyne.
  • Declan Rice (41): Just added from West Ham, the English international is a full package midfielder who many have waited to see his level on a top-flight side.

AVL: The arrow is pointed up for Unai Emory’s side, and the continuation of last season’s positive direction seems very likely with a few very enticing additions.

  • Emi Martinez (1) – the rare keeper on this list, but Emi is that World Cup winner, prankster and the league’s master of shithouse behavior
  • Youri Tielemans (8)- one of the aforementioned additions (from Leicester) the Belgian midfielder very well might be the connecting piece the Villains needed, can hit a banger too.
  • Moussa Diaby (19) – the other new addition, French winger, from either side, was sought after by several clubs – explosive, quick, skillful

BOU: The Cherries are, relative to the Premier League, a small club, but American owner Bill Foley won’t have it.  The new manager, Iraola, will have his side capitalize on the roster’s overall athleticism

  • Tyler Adams (18) – The American will be a much-needed addition and fits well into a high-pressing, all-out system
  • Dominic Solanke (9) – Initially bought for a big fee and flopped, but has gradually made himself a very respectable goal scorer
  • David Brooks (7) – Was a hugely promising and exciting players when he was younger, then suffered first a bad ankle injury and then cancer. Now trying to work his way back to his best. Worth keeping an eye on

BRE: The well-run West London club has been a consistently pleasant surprise since getting promoted, and so far, dealt well with their missing star striker (explained below)

  • Ivan Toney (17) – star striker and talisman, banned for gambling thru the holiday, they’ll be counting the days until he’s back
  • Yoane Wissa (11) – Bit-part player last season but with a very respectable goal record relative to minutes on the pitch. Must step up in Toney’s absence, has started with 2 in 2
  • Kevin Schade (9) – Huge physical capacity, over 6ft tall + VERY fast. A bit rough round the edges but could develop into a real star

CHE: Simply the most bonkers Premier League story of the last, I dunno – ever? American billionaires, Russian oligarchs, and historic spending got the historic London club nowhere. Patience is key. We could do three lists of three and still not cover all the talent on the roster – now can Pochettino turn it into a functional team?

  • Enzo Fernandez (8) – World Cup winner, young and has all the tools to be the top midfielder in the league
  • Moisés Caicedo (25) – the latest “most expensive transfer fee ever”, (from Brighton) he’ll work w/ Enzo and a formidable midfield duo
  • Nicolas Jackson (15) – another addition that checks all the “potential” boxes for the one position that Chelsea have lacked, of late

CRY: The perennial mid-table London club, featuring the return of their elder statesman manager and their historic Selhurst Park where we’d recommend anyone attend a match.

  • Eberechi Eze (10) – Shifty, clever and flat out fun to watch play the game
  • Michael Olise (7) – Turned down a chance to move to Chelsea to stay at Palace, and is smooth progressor of the ball
  • Chris Richards (26) – From Birmingham, Alabama (by way of FC Dallas’ academy), he is one of the USMNT’s most promising center backs – but needs to find playing time and may end up going out on loan

EVE: “The other historic Liverpool club”, are tangled in the messy combination of building a massive new (expensive) stadium, while also trying to stave off relegation, again, this season

  • Abodoulaye Doucouré (16) – Rampaging central midfielder whose forward runs and presence in the box is crucial because of Everton’s lack of strikers
  • Dominic Calvert-Lewin (9) – The only proper Premier League level forward in the squad, and gets hurt too often
  • Amadou Onana (8) – Everton have made some dreadful decisions in the transfer market the last decade but Onana is a gem. Brilliant ball-winner, has a powerful stride on him, will be sold to a big club for a big fee

FUL: London club who have regularly featured Americans (McBride, Dempsey) and play in Craven Cottage along the river Thymes

  • Tim Ream (23)/Jedi Robinson (33) – The USMNT duo play center back, left full back respectively and mostly show up when called upon
  • João Palhinha (26) – a fantastic ball winning holding-midfielder, will kick your guy
  • Willian (20) – surprising resurgent run of attacking form since returning to the PL with Fulham

LIV: Another historic club worthy of multiple “lists of three”, the great Klopp as manager and the classic all red kits

  • Luis Díaz (7) – young, dynamic Columbian winger who plays with a street-baller’s flair
  • Mohamed Salah (11) – Superstar Egyptian, one of the club’s all-time best and you can’t keep your eye off of as he works his magic from the right side.
  • Dominik Szoboszai (8) – New young Hungarian midfielder who has already demonstrated his pure class on the ball and already my pick for “signing of the year”

LUT: The most storybook story of English football – Once at the top level (pre-Premier League), fell all the way down to the fifth tier and now back to the top.

  • Pelly Mpanzu (17) – Box-to-box guy. First player to go from non-league to the Premier League with the same club. Has played for Luton in the 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd and top tier in England, which is pretty wild
  • Tom Lockyer (4) – Captain and all-action defender. Collapsed in the play-off final and had to be taken to hospital due to a heart condition)
  • Marvelous Nakamba (13) – (yup, that’s his name) Zimbabwean midfield battler. Big part of their promotion push. Grew up in poverty and now does a lot of charity work off the pitch

MCI: England’s most dominate club. Current and 3x Champion, reigning Champions League champs, and the best manager in Pep. (Another worthy of multiple entries)

  • Erling Haaland (9) – Weird what happens when you add the world’s best finisher to the world’s best team
  • Jack Grealish (10) – When you think of “characters”, Jack definitely qualifies. Skill, quick first step and those calves!!
  • Phil Foden (47) – Finds himself in this trio with the injury to Kevin de Bruyne, now holds the opportunity to fill this role and live up to all his hype

MUN: Historic club, one-time PL dominator has fallen into a Cowboys-like downturn in the last decade. Hired Dutch manager Eric Ten Haag (ETH) to set things right

  • Marcus Rashford (10) – England international and a product of the United youth system. Better running at defenders from the wings than with his back to goal.
  • Bruno Fernandes (8) – Portuguese midfielder who creative abilities and determination tends to be a two-sided sword
  • André Onana (24) – Replaces the legendary David deGea, but arrives with ball playing abilities required for ETH’s desired tactics

NEW: Set aside the controversial ownership, the Premiership benefits from not only having another “top club”, the return of great brand of black/white stripes is always a good thing.

  • Bruno Guimarães (39) – another great Brazilian midfielder with a bit of a nasty side
  • Sandro Tonali (8) – Newly added Italian midfielder who already has shown he can be a force of his own with qualities that mesh well w/ his new teammates
  • Alexander Isak (14) – Do not be surprised when this deceptively lanky striker pulls off an insane skill move or hits a banger from a silly angle

NFO: One of the PL’s best home atmospheres, and one of those clubs you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get

  • Matt Turner (1) – USMNT’s top keeper, moved from Arsenal for a starting spot, will certainly have his work cut out, and see a LOT of action
  • Taiwo Awoniyi (9) – Forward with a nice blend of strength, speed and work-rate. No superstar but has a lot of things you want your striker to have and should probably be at a bigger club
  • Brennan Johnson (20) – Exciting and versatile young attacking player, good at running with the ball at speed, can take people on and finish. Will move to a bigger club at some point

SHU: Generally found in most anyone’s “relegation prediction” list, newly promoted and simply didn’t (couldn’t?) refresh/upgrade the roster

  • Bénie Traoré (11) – Ivorian forward/wide player who made his name in the Swedish league. 12 goals in 14 games there in the first half of 2023 before me moved to England
  • Anel Ahmedhodzic (15) – Born in Sweden but of Bosnian descent and at 24 has 21 caps for Bosnia. Fine central defender who is good on the ball.
  • Gustavo Hamer (8) – Born in Brazil but grew up in the Netherlands. Scrappy and aggressive midfielder who also likes getting forward and can score goals

TOT: Tremendously popular north London club with the fancy new stadium, having to deal with the sale of their legendary striker (Harry Kane) and a new manager who’s new to the Premier League

  • James Maddison (10) – Brought in from relegated Leicester City, the crafty English midfielder is exactly what Spurs have needed
  • Heug-min Son (7) – Korean superstar with blazing speed, word class finishing qualities and genuinely one of the game’s nice guys
  • Richarlison (9) – Brazilian striker who has the unfortunate role of replacing Kane, wears his emotions on his sleeve next to his numerous tattoos

WHU: Another London club (The Hammers) who last year had the curious mix of a poor league season while also winning a European trophy

  • Lucas Paquetá (10) – Wildly effective midfielder who never quite showed off his stuff last season, and now is facing a suspension over accusations of betting, TBD
  • James Ward-Prowse (7) –  Arguably the best set piece and free kick taker in the league and rescued from relegated Southampton and we finally get to see what he’s capable of in a team more his equal
  • Jarrod Bowen (20) – Simply a super hard-working goal-scorer and will wear out a defender

WOL: A team who has more been known as a landing spot for a long list of Portuguese internationals has struggled of late and fired their manager just days before the start of the season.

  • Matheus Cunha (12) – Gifted but inconsistent forward. Good dribbler but has never been reliable in front of goal.
  • Matheus Nunes (27) – Born in Brazil but moved to Portugal at the age of 12. Midfielder with excellent technical qualities (Man City are currently poking around on buying him)
  • Fábio Silva (29) – Was brought to Wolves at significant expense when he was still very young. Was thrown off the deep and when Raul Jimenez got injured, and clearly wasn’t ready. Have spent some time out on loan and Wolves now really need him to step up

VAR – Soccer’s New Normal (reprise)

I wrote this back in 2017 subsequent to the limited introduction of VAR and the obvious implications that loomed.  At this point, I hadn’t even gotten into the matter of the use of slow motion in video replay. 

August 18, 2017

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the recession that followed the concept of a “New Normal” was born. Basically, the change was so foundational what once would have been considered a temporary shift, was now in fact, the norm.

With the global* introduction of the Video Assistant Referee system, or “VAR”, soccer is finding its own New Normal. There have been moments where watching VAR inserted into soccer is akin to trying to brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand.  It’s just weird.

*Global only in the sense there are several leagues across the globe instituting VAR, but not all.

Predictably, the introduction of VAR has had its fair share of controversy. Even the system’s biggest proponents forewarned this was not going to be a pretty process. Everyone knew this going in, but concerns over how much it would impact how fans watch and players react to the game never seemed to float to the top.  Today, now, can see for ourselves – that this is going to take some time to get used to.

While you can nit and pick at specific areas, (the system has delivered results from the confusing to the downright silly) many of the biggest ones – if you’re looking at the letter of the Laws of the Game and the introduction of VAR on top of them – turned out correctly.  And while that is kind of the point to all of this, does it have to be so – wonky?

Here are a pair of situations to consider.

Dutch Super Cup – Saturday, August 5, 2017 

Feyenoord and Vitesse: Ironically, one of the very first European club games to officially institute VAR contained the exact scenario we’ve pondered over on the radio show for some time. That scenario has always seemed highly unlikely, but here it happened – right off the bat.

A foul in one box is waved off as no penalty, the opponent takes possession, works its way downfield, and scores a goal of their own. Here, the result put Feyenoord up 2-0.

But wait! Swooping in is VAR to the rescue. A full two minutes and 25 seconds later – but what feels like the time it would take to play a Cricket match – the Feyenoord goal is revoked because the referee has changed his mind about the PK he waved off, is now awarding it and Vitesse converts to now make the game 1-1.  A lot happened between the penalty in question and the goal, but the ref used VAR to erase all of that and go back to the real error. Confused? (There used to be a video of this incident embedded here, but it no longer was available, Google it and you may find it somewhere)


FC Dallas v Colorado – Saturday, August 12, 2017 

In one of those steamy mid-August Frisco evenings, the Burn and Rapids clang off each other in a goalless game until the moments just before the halftime whistle, there’s action!  Dallas appears to win a ball deep in their own end, push it forward, and on the counter Maxi Urruti converts a sweet right-footed strike, leaving Tim Howard stone-footed.  Maxi shoots his imaginary arrow into the stands, he’s mobbed by his teammates, fans go bonkers, firewor…. *cue needle scraping a record sfx*

But. Wait. When Dallas won that aforementioned ball deep in their own end it was the byproduct of an Atiba Harris challenge. Harris not only won the tackle, it also spit the ball all the way out, almost to midfield, where it found Christian Colman. A sprint and pass later, Urruti scored. That is the entire “attacking phase of play”, a phrase that is important to understand.

The goal was overturned because VAR rang down to referee Allan Kelly’s ear and told him he may want to go back and take a peek at Harris’ challenge. Sure enough, when you watch it again, Harris does clearly commit a foul in winning the ball. It’s pure luck the ball ends up where it did, and then some skill it turned into a goal.

Now, Kelly decides to go view the replay, in slow-motion, watches for less than 10 seconds and decisively overrules himself, waves off the goal and gives Colorado a free kick atop the Dallas penalty area. The free kick ends up as a moon shot, therefore avoiding the even worse result of Dallas going down.

Here’s the thing, go back and watch the play again. Kelly is right there at the time of the foul. Maybe 12 yards upfield, with a perfect line of sight to make the call. He sees it, sees the ball fly back up field and then he turns and pursues the play.  In pre-VAR soccer, that’s about a clear shot a ref’s going to get at making a decision.  Kelly, probably PRO’s top guy, gives zero indication he’s waffling about his call.  In referee parlance that is referred to as ‘foul recognition’.  It is soccer’s subjective equivalency to baseball’s strike zone.


It is important to note VAR clearly told us from the beginning that goals and how they are created – the time before the goal called the “attacking phase of play” – could all be taken into consideration in deciding to overturn. That is exactly what happens here. While it covers 80+ yards, maybe 10 seconds and only two passes, this attacking sequence does, in fact, begin with Harris committing a foul to win the ball. By the rules set forth by VAR, Kelly’s decision to wave off the goal, just like the Dutch Super Cup situation, was 100% correct.

Referees are asked to judge what is and isn’t a foul maybe hundreds of times a game. Kelly clearly decides, up close and in real time, that Harris’ tackle was not a foul. The very important part of this to absorb is VAR allows Kelly to realize he’d missed in that moment of foul recognition. What soccer is realizing now is just how transformative this change will be to a sport that has thrived for decades on an infinite number of moments of subjective decision-making by stacking on top yet another layer of subjective decision-making.  Remember, Kelly could have watched that replay and just as easily decided there “wasn’t enough there to call a foul”.  In VAR, the final decision still belongs only to the referee.

So, on that Saturday night, in a less than 60 seconds, the game goes back to donuts, Maxi is upset about his misfired arrow, and teammates break from embrace only to see the ref with a finger in his ear and then making a rectangle as if he’s teaching shapes to kindergarteners, fans are confused, fireworks are wasted.

And that, my fellow soccer friends, is our New Normal.

The greatest irony in the above cases is VAR ‘worked’, meanwhile the means to the end were confusing, frustrating and just plain weird to experience.

Go back earlier this summer, to the Confederations Cup, where VAR was used. The number of times a goal was scored, or not, and players, fans, coaches, and commentators all froze with confusion over what was going on as officials on the field and in the stands conferred over what would actually end up happening. Goal celebrations quickly went from the spontaneous eruptions of emotional fans, devolved into quasi-waiting rooms. Was it a goal? Was it not? And then even if it was allowed, the mood was ruined.

We can all agree, that the introduction of technology could improve the sport of soccer and has with Goal Line Technology (GLT) as used in the English Premier League. The difference there is the decisions are made by a computer in the ultimate binary way, and you know what happens? The computer instantly decides, signals the referee’s watch and everyone on the field accepts it. Pretty sure you’d struggle to find any protracted complaining about a GLT decision. But with VAR, you’re still stuck with humans, making subjective decisions and that means we’re all going to fuss and debate about them.

There’s a whole other conversation about the great human experiment side of VAR. The idea of asking a human being to be willing to overrule themselves, and admit fault, in front of a crowd of thousands or millions. Inversely, does the system actually give the ref a sense of protection to make/not make calls because they know VAR is there? It really is a fascinating personality test on full display.

And lastly, what about ‘Law 18’?  Take into consideration what happened on the same night Urruti’s goal was waved off. Orlando City’s Kaka was given a red card for putting his hands on Aurélien Collin’s face during a somewhat heated moment. The problem was the card was given after the referee watched it happen on a VAR replay and still they failed to recognize what occurred was two friends goofing with each other. Collin even went to the ref to plead Kaka’s case!

We all might find some way, even if it just takes time, to adjust and adapt to the New Normal, but what VAR should never, ever be allowed to do is supersede Law 18.  The unwritten law is taught to referees to understand the previous 17 Laws were written in a manner to allow for the injection of common sense.  It is the variable that allows referees to rule in the grey area which is the spirit of the game.  The Kaka incident would seem to be a perfect opportunity for a referee to realize they’d simply misunderstood and correct themselves, but here VAR was actually used to witness something, repeatedly in slow motion, and still deem it as “violent conduct”.


There’s so much wrong with how this went down, it’s almost impossible to unpack.  Bottom line: VAR not only failed the game here, it embarrassed the game.Of the three discussed scenarios the last is the one which seems the most correctable oddity. It is the first two, the revision of how a game transpires and the resulting clunky breaks, which will take a lot of time to adjust.

For better or worse, welcome to soccer’s New Normal.