MLB All-Star Break Power Rankings: Teams Seeking Soto

There is no denying that Juan Soto is one of the best players in baseball right now…and the crazy thing is he is only 23 and likely to be traded! It is rare that someone so young and incredibly talented is on the market for long, and the race to acquire Soto is on. The Washington Nationals are reportedly seeking a “historically large return” in trade, and Juan Soto is looking to break records with his next contract. Who can actually afford him? Here are five potential suitors and their likelihood of winning the Juan Soto sweepstakes.

New York Yankees:

This conversation has to start with the Yankees. The Yankees have proven they are willing to pay for premium players in the past, and they have a lot of intriguing prospects such as shortstops Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe that would make this trade possible. They fit both prerequisites for this trade to happen: having excellent prospects and deep enough pockets to pay the acquired player. If I am a Yankees fan, my biggest worry is the uncertainty surrounding Aaron Judge’s contract situation. Judge has clearly proved he is worth a significant contract extension, so why haven’t the Yankees given it to him already? It would be difficult for any team, even the Yankees, to give two players record-setting contracts in the same offseason. So, while on paper, the New York Yankees make a lot of sense as a trade partner for the Nationals, I don’t know if the Yankees are willing to take on 80+ million per year between two players.

Verdict: 5/10

New York Mets:

The New York Mets are very similar to their crosstown neighbors, the Yankees. They have an owner in Steve Cohen who has repeatedly stated that he will pay whatever it takes to win, and the team has some intriguing prospects that could entice the Nationals. Two factors will most likely eliminate the Mets as a landing spot for Soto. First, they are in the same division as the Nationals. It does not make sense for the Nationals if they have any hope of contending in the future to send their star player to a hated divisional rival. The second reason is the Mets’ past unwillingness to part with their top prospects. With the Nationals wanting multiple top prospects, the Mets would have to give up top-rated talent Fransisco Alvarez (C) and Brett Baty (3B). There has been no indication that the Mets will part with these future stars.

Verdict 3/10

Los Angeles Dodgers

You may be rolling your eyes at this one, but with some work, the Dodgers could pull this off. The Dodgers are the team with the highest payroll already, and there is no indication from their ownership group that they are unwilling to spend some more. Also, the Dodgers still have a top-tier farm system. They can offer some young MLB-ready starters that some of these other teams may not be able to provide, such as young starting pitcher Dustin May and second baseman Gavin Lux. Like the Yankees, they have many contract questions for this upcoming offseason with free agents Trea Turner and longtime starter and Dodger legend Clayton Kershaw. While I do not see the Dodgers chomping at the bit to trade for Soto, they are certainly a team to keep an eye on if the Nationals are unimpressed with other teams’ offers.

Verdict: 7/10

St. Louis Cardinals:

I really like this scenario for the Cardinals. This team, as presently constructed, is a perennial playoff team in a weak division with a good blend of young talent and high-producing veterans. They are still missing that little bit of oomph to get them over the hump and join the World Series conversation. I believe that Juan Soto could be the missing piece to the puzzle. With stars Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Armando both on the wrong side of 30, I could see the Cardinals wanting to capitalize and make a big splash to try and take advantage of the last of their veterans’ prime years. Like the Dodgers, they can also offer a blend of talented prospects like Jordan Walker and young MLB-ready starters like Dylan Carlson. Another factor is that the Cardinals have over 100 million less in payroll than the previous three teams mentioned. In my opinion, the Cardinals have the best reasons to land Soto.

Verdict: 9/10

San Fransico Giants:

This scenario is eerily similar to the Cardinals with a few veteran stars on the wrong side of thirty, some talented young players coming up, and 100 million less in payroll than the first three teams. The most significant difference is that the Giants have to compete with the Dodgers…which may be reason enough to swing for the fences and go for it. The Giants have proven to be a good team, but like the Cardinals, they are not in the top tier of teams competing for the World Series. Soto could be the solution and significantly bridge the gap with the Dodgers. My biggest concern for a trade would be that the Giants would most likely have to give up a critical piece that is crucial for success in the present, such as pitcher Logan Webb. But overall, the Giants are also an attractive landing spot for Soto.

Verdict: 7/10

Honorable mentions:

San Diego Padres: They have the prospects, but a combination of unwillingness to trade those prospects and a lot of free agents this offseason may take them out of the running.

Seattle Mariners: The Nationals will likely ask for Julio Rodriguez, and the Mariners will likely say no.

Toronto Blue Jays: While the Blue Jays have not shied away from spending, they clearly need to invest in pitching. Pursuing Soto would prevent them from doing that.

MLB Power Rankings: Three top trade targets.

David Bednar, CP for the Pittsburgh Pirates:

If you don’t already know, David Bednar has been one of the best closers in baseball so far this season. Bednar has a higher fWAR than elite closers Josh Hader and Edwin Diaz. He also has an elite 1.30 ERA for a rebuilding Pirates team that does not do him many favors with their lackluster offense. I expect the Pirates to try and swing a deal while Bednar is so hot since he does not match their timeline for contending. David Bednar is the type of player that any contending team could use and should see some serious consideration. The Boston Red Sox, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the St. Louis Cardinals are some playoff teams that need a closer or high leverage arm the most. These teams rank in the bottom half in many different reliever statistics and should be in the market for a top-level reliever like Bednar at the trade deadline. The team I would bet on to pursue him the hardest would be the Toronto Blue Jays, who have consistently had one of the worst bullpens this year.


Frankie Montas, SP for the Oakland Athletics:

Numerous playoff-contending teams have realized they are in desperate need of starting pitching. Frankie Montas is an excellent option for many teams and is one of the few leftovers from the A’s firesale that took place this past offseason. It was smart for the A’s to give Montas an opportunity to perform well and drive his price up. Montas has put up respectable numbers on a genuinely awful A’s team. He is top 20 for all starting pitchers in fWAR, and I expect some of his most prominent suitors to be the injury-ridden New York Mets, Minnesota Twins, and the Tampa Bay Rays. Montas is only 29 years old and is under contract control after this year as well. I expect the A’s to get a massive haul for Montas at this year’s trade deadline, and all the teams I listed before can offer acceptable deals.


Josh Bell, 1B for the Washington Nationals:

The Nationals are another team that is not going anywhere anytime soon. Josh Bell is one of the best hitting first basemen in baseball, which many teams would covet. He has a very respectable 135 wrc+ which would tie his best season in 2019. He also is batting close to .300 and is striking out less than ever. The only issue is that he is in the last year of his contract, so he is basically a rental for the rest of this season. There are many contenders to land Josh Bell, but the one that stands out is the Boston Red Sox. The biggest question mark in their lineup has been first base for a couple of seasons now, and Josh Bell makes too much sense for them to try and acquire him. To be fair, we said the same thing about Anthony Rizzo last year, so you never truly know. I expect Bell to be a substantial offensive piece for whoever is lucky enough to land him.

MLB Power Rankings: Teams I’m Buying and Selling.

There has been a lot of movement in the MLB Power Rankings this week, and here are some teams I’m buying and selling right now.


Cleveland Guardians

On face value alone, this team isn’t very impressive. They’re second in a weak AL Central, their offense isn’t very spectacular, and they have the third-lowest payroll in baseball. But, when you look past all that, this team is doing some extraordinary things. First, the Guardians are 8-2 in their last ten games and have stolen the final AL wildcard spot from the red hot Red Sox. Second, they are led by superstar third baseman José Ramírez who has flown under the radar as an MVP candidate behind the Yankees’ Aaron Judge. Still, he is having a genuinely historical season. Let me lay down some stats. According to Sports Illustrated, Ramírez leads the league in RBIs with 59. He is on pace for 171 RBIs, the most since 1938 and seventh-most all-time in one season. He is on track to hit more than 40 homers with less than 50 strikeouts. Nobody has done that since Albert Pujols in 2006. Ramírez is on pace for 46 homers and 26 stolen bases. No infielder has ever achieved those kinds of numbers. He has struck out swinging on a pitch in the zone only five times all season. He has swung and missed at only 14 of the 487 fastballs he has seen this year. The average major league hitter sees a fastball in the zone 30% of the time. Ramírez sees one only 25% of the time, and he slugs .959 against them. Thirteen of his 16 home runs this season have been hit off fastballs, and 100 of his 131 homers over the past five seasons have come against fastballs (76%). I think this team has the potential to make some noise this year, especially in the AL Central. There will soon be an announcement that a new minority owner has joined the Guardians ownership group. Hopefully, they will spend some money, and if they do, they could have something special.

Verdict: Buy


NL Central

This division is led by two good teams: the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers, and is burdened with three horrible teams: the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, and Cincinnati Reds. The St. Louis Cardinals have a top 5 offense in baseball right now, led by scorching hot first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and third baseman Nolan Arenado. On the other side, their pitching is ranked in the bottom ten in fWAR. I look for this team to make some moves before the deadline and increase their chances of winning the division. The Milwaukee Brewers are one of the colder teams in baseball right now, going 2-8 in their last 10 games. While they have had a lot of injuries, their problems are the polar opposite of the Cardinals. They have an excellent pitching staff (when fully healthy), but their offense has been disappointing once again. I think both of these teams could turn it around, considering the weakness of their division, but I don’t see much playoff noise coming out of it. Those factors make this an easy sell for me.

Verdict: Sell


Atlanta Braves

The Braves are HOT. Only losing one game so far in the month of June, this Braves team seems to have tapped into last year’s magic to really get rolling after a slow start. While many of the same pieces are there from last season’s world series win, there are a few notable new faces and surprises. Rookies Center Fielder Michael Harris II and Pitcher Spencer Strider are simply outstanding. Michael Harris is the Brave’s number one prospect and has shot through the minor leagues, skipping AAA to join the big club. He has exceeded all expectations, especially at the plate. Since calling up Harris on May 28, the Braves are 16-3. Spencer Strider started off the season as a depth bullpen arm, but injuries and his own consistent success have thrust him into a starting role. His signature mustache and electric fastball have made him a quick fan favorite. Two other surprises have been likely all-stars: Pitcher Kyle Wright and Shortstop Dansby Swanson. Both have been spectacular and nothing like they were projected to be by the pundits. Relievers Tyler Matzek, Collin McHugh, and Kirby Yates all look to join an already great bullpen sometime around the All-Star game. Also, Ozzie Albies and postseason hero Eddie Rosario look to return sometime within the next few months to give this explosive lineup even more juice with their bats. All these data points are great for the Braves right now, but they look to get even better before the playoffs, which is why I am buying stock in them.

Verdict: Buy


Tampa Bay Rays

May 21, 2021; Dunedin, Florida, CAN; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow (20) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at TD Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

This team is by no means terrible, but this just is not the quality team they had last year or the year before. With a few critical injuries and offseason losses, it just feels like this team is coasting until next season. Before this season, they traded corner outfielder Austin Meadows to the Detroit Tigers and are still waiting for pitchers Tyler Glasnow, Peter Fairbanks, Nick Anderson, and more to return from the IL. While the pitching has been depleted, others have stepped up, especially Shane McClanahan. McClanahan is a dark horse Cy Young candidate for sure. The main challenge lies with the Ray’s offense. They are 24th in the AL in runs scored so far this season which is abysmal. As players start to come back from injury, I expect this to improve, and the Rays will probably end up in the playoffs because that’s what they do. But, I would not expect much more than that this year. This team needs to make some changes, especially to their offense. So as for this year, I am selling on the Rays.

Verdict: Sell

After Hours Week Three Show and Notes!

Welcome to week three of After Hours! Listen in as our hosts Austin Streitmatter, Ryan Hain, and Ryan Hernan discuss players, teams and organizations that changed the game!

|| SHOW NOTES ||

  • General Topic is GameChangers
  • One Big Thing
  • The High Five – Hain
    • What franchise that moved would you like to see return?
    • Thoughts on the new LIV golf league? Also do you think it is ok that this kind of money has gone into sports (Middle East oil money)? (Soccer, F1, and now Golf)
      • Implications from PGA
      • Oil money question
      • The LIV golf league…
  • Stat or Cap – Hernan
    1. Statmaster: Hernan
  • Hear Me Out – Austin
    1. Look Back on Last Week
    2. Austin – Both the Celtics and Warriors will have 15+ point wins. 
    3. Hain – Warriors win Friday, Curry more assertive
    4. Hernan – Australia to defeat Peru 2-1 and Costa Rica to defeat New Zealand 3-1

After Hours Week Two Show and Notes!

  1. Blazing Start – Austin
    1. Austin – The Monaco GP should NOT be removed from the F1 Calendar
    2. Hain – Jaylen Brown is the best basketball player who can’t dribble
    3. Hernan – Touching the ball after a goal allowed in soccer should be a red card
  2. The High Five – Hernan
    1. What are your thoughts on the recent Champions League Final?
    2. Who do you think is the greatest player in the NHL of the 2010s?
    3. With the rumored expansion of the NBA to 32 teams (Seattle and Las Vegas), should the MLB also consider expansion in the near future?
    4. How do you see these NBA Finals playing out?
      1. Austin’s 538 Article
    5. All-NBA Team Draft
  3. Quick Q’s – Austin
    1. Is Jimmy Butler a Top 15 NBA player?
    2. Who will win the 2022 NBA Finals MVP?
    3. Who is one MLB player you’d like to see get traded?
    4. Should Barry Bonds be in the Hall of Fame?
    5. Right now, who are you taking 1.01 in fantasy football?
    6. Will an American sports league ever have a team in Europe?
    7. Who is the best out of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic, and are they the best of all time?
  4. One Big Thing – Hernan
    1. Austin – Oregon State vs. UCLA comeback
      1. https://www.instagram.com/p/CeH-ZvpLxr-/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link 
    2. Hain – Jeter
      1. https://twitter.com/nyporchsport/status/1531638475744759815?s=20&t=aZL2TkV9Mw0gBx5jHac1Dg 
    3. Hernan – Joc vs Pham
      1. https://www.sportingnews.com/us/mlb/news/tommy-pham-joc-pederson-slap-fantasy-football-mike-trout/e2spcfcezag0pldcztlra1p8 
  5. Hear Me Out – Hain
    1. Look Back on Last Week
    2. Austin – 19+ Games of the NBA, NHL finals and semis 
    3. Hain – Warriors will be down 2-0 and the narrative will be they are done before they come back and win win 7. 
    4. Hernan – UGA will win their region in the CWS

Champions League Final Recap: How Real Madrid Won Number 14

by Ryan Hernan 6/1/2022

Real Madrid and Liverpool played a thrilling Champions League Final on Saturday, and while many thought Liverpool would walk away with their second trophy in four years, it was Los Blancos who triumphed once again, adding another chapter to their storied history in the competition. Even after the game, some are still calling Liverpool “the best team in Europe” and questioning if Real deserved their win over Klopp’s mighty Reds. While Liverpool certainly played well in a losing effort, it’s harsh to say that Real’s win was not deserved, and in the end, Madridistas won’t care how they got their hands on the trophy.

Sweet 14

For Real Madrid, Champions League number 14 might be one of the sweetest of them all. After a tense, action-packed, and late night in Paris, the book has closed on yet another eventful Champions League season. A fan could not have asked for more from this season, which featured late comebacks, spectacular goals, upsets, and the world’s top talent showcased on Europe’s biggest stage. UEFA’s decision to do away with the away goals rule to determine the winner of two-legged ties turned out to be a wise one, resulting in more late drama, most notably in Real’s late comeback from two goals down in second-leg stoppage time to beat Manchester City in extra time and advance to the final that they, of course, would win. That’s about the only nice thing to say about UEFA after their terrible mismanagement and mistreatment of fans led to dangerous scenes outside the Stade de France as well as a lengthy delay of the match that surely impacted Rafael Nadal’s early pre-match bedtime (though he seems to be doing just fine after his recent defeat of Novak Djokovic). 

In terms of the actual match, however, the result could be called nothing but a smashing success (unless, perhaps, you’re a Liverpool fan). The game was competitive, fun, and, for a 1-0 result, filled with action from whistle to whistle. Much of the discourse before the game centered on how Liverpool would dominate and win after the game it was all about how Liverpool dominated but lost. Calling the game a Liverpool “domination” doesn’t quite capture the full picture. Yes, Liverpool dominated certain facets and periods of the game, but Real was often comfortable in dealing with Liverpool’s threats. Liverpool did control the game with their press, possession, and passing from the back, and the numbers (54/46 possession and 24-4 on shots) certainly back them, but they did so in a manner that seldom worried Real, and when they did conjure a chance, Thibaut Courtois was there to block anything and everything that came near his goal. 

Tactical Analysis

Both teams lined up in their typical 4-3-3 formations, though Real often dropped into a 4-4-2 in defense, allowing Federico Valverde or Vinícius Júnior to drop back and provide additional cover on the wings while Luka Modrić pushed higher with Karim Benzema. In the first half, Liverpool was able to catch Madrid out with quick attacks sprung from turnovers in midfield or by beating Madrid in rotation. Thiago Alcantra had space and time to pick passes that cut apart Madrid’s midfield and allowed Mo Salah or Sadio Mané to turn and attack Real’s goal. As the game went on, Real dropped their midfield line deeper, creating a 4-2-2-2 with one of Kroos or Modrić falling back to support Casemiro, while the other played on the third line with Valverde, and Vinícius Jr. and Benzema looked to be released on the counter. 

The two lines of the midfield in this formation often broke into a fluid line that was able to play as a flat four or a 1-2-1 diamond that could shift to cover Liverpool’s attacks on the wings and expand to a 1-2-1 of Casemiro-Valverde/Kroos-Modrić when attempting to break into attack. This shape allowed Real’s midfielders to beat Liverpool’s press by remaining compact and dropping into deep areas where Liverpool’s midfielders were less willing to press at risk of exposing themselves at the back. What was originally a three-on-two in Liverpool’s favor became an advantage in Real’s favor, as Fabinho was taken out of the press and Real’s midfield four could pass around Jordan Henderson and Thiago. Real was then able to move the ball through Liverpool’s high press and stop committing the turnovers in their own half that were presenting Liverpool with quick attacking opportunities. This deeper position also led to more combinations with Real’s fullbacks pushing into higher positions that further stretched Liverpool’s midfield, such as with Carvajal in the build-up to Real’s goal. This allowed Real to break on the counter more effectively in the second half. Liverpool still found opportunities either over the top or (less often) in possession, but with this adjustment Real almost completely cut out the quick attacks up the middle that Liverpool’s midfield press was tearing them apart with in the first half.

The Game

The game was billed as one that would be won on the flanks, with Liverpool’s deadly attack looking to run at Madrid’s Dani Carvajal and Ferland Mendy, and Madrid in turn hoping to catch out Liverpool’s rampaging fullbacks Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson on the counter. In some ways this was accurate. Luis Díaz attempted to terrorize Carvajal on the left side throughout the first half, and Liverpool’s best chances often came from the combination of Alexander-Arnold and Salah on the right, at times linking up with a more central Sadio Mané as well. Carvajal, however, was more than up to the task, and with the help of Fede Valverde’s tracking back, contained Díaz throughout the game until he was substituted for Diogo Jota in the 65th minute. Madrid’s right back proved his doubters wrong, turning in a spectacular defensive performance across 90 minutes that almost completely nullified one half of Liverpool’s explosive attack. With 4/4 successful tackles, 7 recoveries, 2/2 successful dribbles and 34/40 successful passes, and a few tactical fouls, Carvajal was immense in defense and in helping break Liverpool’s press.

Carvajal’s exploits (as well as Mendy’s own solid defense) forced Liverpool to look more centrally when attacking, and, as mentioned above, the time that Real allowed them to have on the ball let Thiago deliver a wonderful performance in the first half. The Spaniard played his game superbly from the midfield, completing 70/74 passes, 5/7 long passes, and picking line-breaking balls with ease. He kept the ball moving quickly as Liverpool wanted and started many attacks with his wonderful right foot. Along with Ibrahim Konaté and Mo Salah (who had more shots on target than Real had total shots), Thiago was one of the stand-out players for Liverpool, even in a losing effort.

As the game wore on and Real dropped deeper, they also began to break out of their shell and take their chances. In attack, Real attempted to overload the right side of the Liverpool defense, perhaps targeting the supposed defensive deficiencies of Trent-Alexander Arnold. For his part, Alexander-Arnold mostly, besides one crucial moment, held his own against the combination of Vinícius Jr. and Benzema, a frightening prospect for any defender. Real did have their chances, though not nearly as many as Liverpool did, and it appeared that they had their first goal in the 43rd minute after they finally connected on a pass over the top and Benzema put the ball in the back of the net following a frantic scramble. The goal was ruled out for offside, though many (including myself) will argue that the ball found its way to Benzema at the end from an intentional play off the leg of Fabinho, which should have led to the goal being allowed. However, the half ended 0-0, with both teams having reason to be happy, and reason to believe that they should be leading.

The second half began more-or-less the same as the first ended. Liverpool controlled the ball, but Real often dictated what they could do with it. Their defensive block stayed strong the entire match, and they finally got their goal thanks to a brilliant combination between Carvajal and their midfield. The play began with a throw-in from Mendy on the left side of the pitch in Real’s defensive half. Kroos dropped deep to receive the throw and returned the ball to Mendy who played it back to the defensive line. Real’s midfield quickly shifting into their 1-2-1 diamond with Casemiro at the back and Valverde drifting into the attack. The ball reached Carvajal on the right, who dribbled inside and opened up space on the right touchline for Modrić to drift into. Carvajal passed the ball to Casemiro centrally who advanced it to Modrić at midfield. Modrić immediately retreated, taking Robertson with him towards Real’s goal while Casemiro stayed central and pushed further up the pitch. Thiago stayed attached to Casemiro, allowing Carvajal to occupy the space that Modrić vacated.

This rotation between Modrić and Carvajal pulled Liverpool’s press out of position, and with one pass to Carvajal, Modrić took Robertson and Thiago out of the play. Carvajal now turned towards goal with Díaz and Fabinho in front, Thiago rotating to cover him, and, with Henderson caught marking Toni Kroos on the left side of the center circle, Casemiro alone in the middle of the pitch. Carvajal smartly played Casemiro, erasing Díaz and Fabinho. Casemiro now had the ball at midfield with all of Liverpool’s midfielders behind him out of the play, and he immediately advanced the ball to Valverde in space on the right wing, creating a three-on-three for the Uruguayan, Benzema, and Vinícius Jr. in the attacking third. Valverde dribbled into the box against a backtracking Virgil van Dijk and fired what may have been a shot but he has the right to call a cross across the goal. Vinícius Jr., unmarked at the back post, had a tap-in, and Real had a 1-0 lead that they would never relinquish. It was another questionable piece of defending from Alexander-Arnold, leaving Vinícius Jr. in behind him, and while his offensive brilliance cannot be denied, he has had multiple moments of lackluster defending that lead to goals in this tournament alone. 

Even after Real found their breakthrough, Liverpool still seemed the more likely to score, but they were never able to find the equalizer. Courtois made a number of world-class saves in a man-of-the match performance, and Real’s entire defensive seven from the defense to the midfield was airtight. Casemiro had his struggles on the ball, but was a stalwart in defense. Kroos and Modrić looked young again as the second half wore on and Real closed the game into the half-field, taking away the space and opportunity for Thiago and then Naby Keita to find the passes that were cutting them apart in the first half. Valverde continued to track back and add the extra defensive man that helped Real win duels all over the pitch, and Vinícius Jr. provided a great outlet on the counter that kept Liverpool on their toes until the final whistle. 

Final Takeaways

In the end, Real Madrid simply doesn’t lose finals, and neither does Carlo Ancelotti. The most decorated Champions League manager of all time does not get the credit he deserves, as he has earned the right to have his name spoken with the likes of Guardiola, Ferguson, and the other managers on the Mount Rushmore of world football. The Italian put forth a simple yet effective game plan that stymied the greatest Liverpool team of a generation and their own brilliant manager Jurgen Klopp. Madrid’s defensive set up was firm and purposeful. Their aging midfield grew into the game and provided a wall that Liverpool struggled to break down. Valverde and Carvajal were monstrous on the right side, and the constant two on one defending helped Real keep the Liverpool attack contained for most of the match. They smartly took their opportunities to go forward quickly on the counter or to slow down and possess the ball when the game flow called for it. 

Some will call this a Liverpool domination and a smash-and-grab for Real, but the true story is that Real played their gameplan to perfection. They dared Liverpool to beat them and won that wager. It took the performance of Courtois’ life to do it, but they did it. Real Madrid are champions of Europe once again.

Premier League Roundup: Where Do The Big 6 Go From Here?

by Ryan Hernan 5/26/2022

The 2021/2022 Premier League season came to a dramatic close this past weekend, with Manchester City defending their title and the other Big 6 teams left to figure out how to catch Pep Guardiola’s blue machine. Some teams are more equipped than others to close the gap at the top, while some have work to do if they want to get their hands on the trophy. Whether your team is using the transfer window to spend or to rest, here’s a look at what each club has to look forward to this summer and beyond.

Manchester City

And… exhale. Wow, I bet you never thought you’d go through another moment like that, City fans (all five of you). İlkay Gündoğan just did his best Sergio Agüero impersonation and, let’s be frank, saved your season. While all the talk has been “best team in the world,” City were about 15 minutes away from a trophyless season and a Liverpool team poised for a historic quadruple. Even with another Premier League trophy under their belt, can this season be called a success for City? I’m not so sure. There’s no diminishing the feat of winning the Premier League over and over again. The season is long and grueling, and the competition is stacked with some of the most talented teams in the world. It’s a credit to City’s world-class squad, depth, and manager that they’ve essentially turned the Premier League into their playground. But… we all know what City really want. The Champions League trophy. City fans have witnessed Champions League calamity year after year after year. Walloped by Liverpool. The debacle against Tottenham. Losing to Lyon (I feel like we need to talk about that one more). Heartbreak in Porto. The collapse against Real. City have bowed out of the Champions League in seemingly every way possible. And now they face the prospect of having to watch fellow English clubs Chelsea and Liverpool lift it in successive years. Time is running out and excuses are running thin. City need that trophy. Until they have their hands on Big Ears, their claims of “best team in Europe” will continue to fall on deaf ones.

But boy, do they look primed to light Europe on fire next year. If there’s one move this offseason that has Premier League teams shaking in their proverbial boots, it’s the arrival of Erling Haaland to the blue side of Manchester. Haaland is the real deal: a smart, powerful striker with elite movement inside the box, a willingness to do whatever is needed to win, and a left foot that can put the ball in the net from anywhere in his opponents’ half of the field. Some people may question Haaland’s fit in a City team that has set the benchmark for the use of a False 9, but there’s no need to question Pep Guardiola’s ability to adjust and put forth a system that will get the best out of his young talisman. Let’s not forget about Julian Álvarez either. The River Plate striker has been tearing Argentina apart, recently scoring six (6!) goals in a Copa Libertadores match and will be arriving in Manchester soon. Haaland and Álvarez have the potential to be the best one-two punch in football in the coming years, and they’re City’s latest and best (and last?) bet to finally win the Champions League under Guardiola.

City has already done most of their work. Even if Raheem Sterling or Riyad Mahrez depart and regardless of if players like Kalvin Phillips and Marc Cucurella come to the Etihad or not this summer, City have no more excuses and nothing left to do. Besides win the damn thing.

Liverpool

Well, this is a tricky one. How do you judge Liverpool’s season? Does it depend on if they win the Champions League? Or is a domestic cup double, 92 league points, and a UCL Final appearance enough to be called a success? For most teams, the answer would be a resounding yes, but this Liverpool team is special. A quadruple certainly would not have flattered them. They have truly been a juggernaut this season. A cup treble may still be on the horizon, and that of course is the first focus. Win the Champions League and the decision day heartbreak is forgotten. Lose it? Well… now you might have to start asking questions. The good news for Liverpool fans is that the future is bright. Young forwards Diogo Jota and Luis Díaz (what a talent he is) have already shown that they are more than capable of becoming the next generation of Liverpool stars. Even younger attackers like Fábio Carvalho and Harvey Elliot are ready to prove themselves as well this upcoming season. And young defenders Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Joe Gomez, and Ibrahima Konaté are in place at the back. What about the old guard? Mostly, fine. Virgil van Dijk, Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, Roberto Firmino, Alisson, and the rest of the Liverpool stalwarts are still performing at the highest level and look set to do so for the foreseeable future.

If there’s a question mark (or two) for Liverpool this offseason it comes in the form of their African superstars: Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané. Salah should be a no-brainer. Pay the man. Right now, Mo Salah is Liverpool, as much as any player can be. They would likely be fine without him, but this Liverpool team has higher aspirations than fine. Salah is one of the best players in the world, should have won Premier League Player of the Season, and terrorizes back lines like few attackers not named Messi or Ronaldo can. There’s no reason to think that Liverpool won’t bring back Salah, but if they somehow don’t, that would be a major mistake. Salah wants to stay, and that’s all the impetus the Liverpool leadership should need to give him whatever he wants. That may not be how they typically operate, but Mo Salah is no typical player. If Liverpool wants to keep chasing quadruples, they need their Egyptian star.

The other question mark is a bit less black and white. Sadio Mané seems prepared to leave Anfield this summer, and Liverpool may just let him go. Jota, Díaz, and Carvalho are ready to step in and fill his shoes, and moves for a player like Ajax star Antony can quickly be lined up if Mané does indeed depart. Liverpool fans will surely be sad to see the Senegalese leave, especially on the back of a fantastic season, but the club will not miss a beat without him. Truthfully, Liverpool have little to do this offseason besides rest and get healthy. Yes, adding young stud Aurélien Tchouaméni would have been a fantastic move, but they may just find their consolation in PSV’s Ibrahim Sangare. The aging midfield will need to be addressed further in the future, but for now Liverpool are ok. They will head into next season, Mané or no Mané, primed to challenge City once again (and potentially defend their Champions League trophy). That is, if they resign Mohamed Salah. Pay the man!

Chelsea

Chelsea fans, it’s over. The long period of uncertainty that ended the Abramovich era has finally come to a close, and the reign of Todd Boehly (and friends) has begun. Reportedly, it has begun with a bang, with up to 200 million Euros promised to help Thomas Tuchel’s squad catch up with the likes of City and Liverpool. Chelsea are one year removed from a Champions League triumph, but this season brought them back down to earth. Furthermore, the confirmed or potential departures of key players such as Antonio Rüdiger, Marcos Alonso, César Azpilicueta, and Jorginho and a potential reshuffling of the attack, with players like Christian Pulisic, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, and Romelu Lukaku all less than certain to be wearing the royal blue next season, has made this a crucial offseason in SW6. But don’t be mistaken. Chelsea is not in rebuild mode. Consider it more of a retooling. Chelsea are still one of the top clubs in the world. They finished third in the Premier League, went toe-to-toe with Liverpool in two cup finals, and were oh-so-close to another Champions League semi-final appearance. Not to mention they picked up the Super Cup and the Club World Cup along the way. Yes, the expectations at Chelsea are high, but this season was not a failure, and the pieces are in place to catch Manchester City and Liverpool.

Just not in one offseason. The priority for Chelsea this summer needs to be bolstering the defense, and the rumored focus on Jules Kounde and Joško Gvardiol, as well as the potential of a Kalidou Koulibaly pursuit, is a fantastic start on that front. Adding a veteran player like Ivan Perišić to compete at LWB with the returning Ben Chilwell would be another great move. If indeed a few attackers leave London this summer, players like Ousmane Dembélé and Christopher Nkunku could also find themselves in the mix as replacements. What seems most likely, however, is that the bulk of the influx of Boehly Bucks be spent on patching up the defense and midfield (perhaps this is finally the transfer window that marks the return of Declan Rice). Chelsea should not spend this offseason chasing players like Robert Lewandowski. Instead, they should bring back Lukaku (a striker who ended the season in fine form) and let their youth flourish. This Chelsea team is still incredibly young. Reece James, Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, and the returning-from-loan Conor Gallagher are a strong foundation to build upon. Not to mention other young talents like Trevoh Chalobah, Billy Gilmour, and Harvey Vale. Just like in 1965, the kids are alright in London.

Chelsea may have been ahead of the curve when they lifted the Champions League in 2021, but they have the pieces in place to reach that pinnacle once again. They simply must be patient, trust the youth, trust Thomas Tuchel, and be smart with how they spend their money. Players should be bought because they fit Tuchel’s system and Chelsea’s timeline, not because they are big names or flashy signings. It’s a new era in West London, and it’s fair to say that the future, while not entirely clear, is bright.

Tottenham

Three words: let Conte cook. Just like with Chelsea, Tottenham are expected to have a war chest of cash to play with this summer. There’s two ways this could go. Buy players that Antonio Conte doesn’t like or buy players that Antonio Conte does like. Now, if you’re the owner of a major football club, sometimes the players that Antonio Conte likes are not the players that you want to spend your money on. That’s fine, don’t buy them. Antonio Conte will leave your club faster than you can say “we should’ve kept Pochettino.”

If you do buy those players that Conte wants, you could end up with a team that can do something that Spurs teams are not exactly used to doing: challenge for trophies. Major trophies. Tottenham has a mixed bag of a squad right now. There’s youth along with veterans, attacking-minded players along with defensive-first players, quality along with… well, you get the idea. Any team that stars the deadly duo of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min up front (not to mention Dejan Kulusevski) should be doing better than charging into fourth by the seat of their pants and bowing out of the UEFA Conference League. The influx of cash is a great sign that Tottenham is prepared to build a team around their stars that can truly compete, but money doesn’t buy trophies. Smart money buys trophies. Conte is a polarizing manager, but he’s also a successful one, and one who knows how to win the Premier League. He does it his way, and his way may not be the Spurs way, but if they want to finally get their hands on a Premier League trophy (likely not next year or even the year after, but at some point) they need to be a bit more open-minded.

To be fair, all signs point to them being prepared to fully back Conte this summer. And the emphasis seems to be in the right place: wing back, center back, and midfield. (Ivan Perišić has also been linked with a move to the North side of London). These are certainly areas that Spurs can improve upon. The players don’t have to (and wont) be world-class. Signings like John McGinn and Konrad Laimer could do wonders for simply shoring up some of the holes and questions of depth in the Spurs squad. While a Christian Eriksen return or a move for a big-name defender would certainly make the headlines, it isn’t in Tottenham’s best interest. This is a Spurs team that finished the year incredibly strong and has shown the most promise since making the Champions League Final in 2019. For all his… difficulties… Antonio Conte is a world-class manager, and if Spurs bring in the players he wants this offseason, there may be a Premier League darkhorse to watch out for in 2022/2023.

Arsenal

Trust in the youth. Yes, Arsenal fans may be (rightfully) disappointed by the late season collapse that saw them drop out of the Champions League in place of bitter rivals Tottenham, but after the calamitous start to the season, Arsenal showed real promise in even being in that position in the first place. That will be no consolation for how Arsenal fans view the 2021/2022 season, but it does offer some optimism for the 2022/2023 season. Not only does Arsenal have young talent in players like Aaron Ramsdale, Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe, Martin Ødegaard, Gabriel Martinelli, and Eddie Nketiah, but they also have a young manager in Mikel Arteta that truly appeared to find his footing in this past season. For all the justified criticism he and Arsenal have taken in recent years, this past season provided reasoning to believe that he is the right man to lead the Gunners back to the promised land.

Well, not so fast. The promised land is still a ways away for this Arsenal squad, but there’s at least a visible path to get there now. That path is certainly more difficult without Champions League football at the Emirates next season, but Arsenal like to do things the hard way. Think of this offseason as a sort of bridge for Arsenal from the doldrums of recent years to the future of trophies that they envision. Players like Gabriel Jesus, Rúben Neves, and Tammy Abaraham have all been heavily linked with Arsenal in recent weeks. Other such as Victor Osimhen and Youri Tielemans are also potential targets. All are very good players that would fit in well with the young squad that Arsenal boasts, but they’re not in-their-prime world-beaters that will take them straight back to the top.

That is perfectly ok. In fact, it’s the exact right thing for Arsenal to do. This summer the priority will simply be qualifying for the Champions League, and the signings that Arsenal makes should help them get there. Manchester City and Liverpool are virtually locked into two of the four spots, but if Arsenal makes the right moves, they can make the race with Chelsea and Tottenham for the last two very competitive. It sounds simple because it is. Sign solid players and don’t overpay. Prioritize your youth and let the future come to you. Don’t chase it and find yourself disappointed like Chelsea was this past season. Also, do a bit of offloading. There are a number of fringe players and disappointments (like club-record signing Nicolas Pépé) that could come off Arsenal’s books this summer. Any money made from these departures would certainly help their pursuit of the more ambitious players on their shortlist like Neves and Osimhen.

The pieces are there, and the good news is, they’re overwhelmingly young and will only get better. To trot out the youngest team on average this season and finish fifth should be seen as a triumph for Arsenal, and an indicator of a future that, as with Spurs, looks brighter than it has in quite a while. 

West Ham Manchester United

Well. Where to begin. Perhaps with a thank you card to Brighton? I mean, wow. The Europa League is bad enough for a Manchester United team that notably brought in Raphaël Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo this offseason, but the Europa Conference League… that would have been a colossal failure. Luckily for the Reds, West Ham couldn’t close the deal, and so they’ll be chasing the trophy that Frankfurt won this season, rather than the one claimed by Roma. European football is weird.

As for where Manchester United should go from here? It would be easy and cliché to say that the only place they can go is up, but unfortunately it is not too far-fetched to imagine them going quite a bit down. They are a club that appears to be in free fall rather than at rock bottom. Luckily they have their potential answer in Erik ten Hag, a decorated and celebrated manager who has finally stepped out of the Netherlands to right the sinking ship of Manchester United. He has some work to do. United is a team that possesses talent in the aforementioned Varane and Ronaldo, as well as Jadon Sancho, David de Gea, Bruno Fernandes, and Anthony Elanga. They also have some interesting question marks in Luke Shaw, Alex Telles, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Scott McTominay, Marcus Rashford, Harry Maguire, and the on-loan Donny van de Beek. These players have all shown their brilliance, either in flashes or over full seasons, but have also had periods of poor play that have caused some to question their place in the team. ten Hag will certainly question them as well, and rumors of his intent to not only analyze the players based on their performance on the pitch but also look into their lives off it serves as a credit to his intention to make sweeping changes across the club.

In theory, these are all supremely talented players who will be back with the Reds in 2022/2023, hoping to find their top form under their new manager. However, it is not a guarantee that any of these players will fit in ten Hag’s long term plans. United have drifted from manager to manager in recent years, with each boss failing to fully put their stamp on the club and to truly command the polarizing group of players at his disposal. If he wants to truly lift United out of the ashes, ten Hag will have to put an end to this cycle and remake United in his image, beginning with a full analysis of the squad and followed by a summer of selling and buying.

Names like Darwin Núñez, Declan Rice, Frenkie de Jong, Kalvin Phillips, and Milan Škriniar have all been floated as potential targets for United, but the Reds do not seem to be leading any of the races to sign these players. One player who may be acquired soon is Villarreal’s Pau Torres, and he would certainly be a good start, but this team needs more. With players like Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, and Dean Henderson already having one (or two) feet out the door and no real plan for who to bring in, the talent gap between United and the best teams in England (such as their city rivals) will only increase this summer. Players like United-linked Sergej Milinković-Savić and James Ward-Prowse will not fix that. ten Hag will certainly impact the team no matter who comes or goes this summer, but the Dutchman can only do so much. With no Champions League to play for, a mountain to climb to reach the levels of City and Liverpool, the only-increasing quality of Chelsea, and the resurgence of Tottenham and Arsenal, Manchester United faces a potentially bleak summer.

The Secret To Sports Marketing

Have you ever been watching something on TV and all of a sudden you are emotionally, and visually drawn to an advertisement for your local Sports Team? Well, that doesn’t happen just by chance. There’s an art to effective marketing and building relationships with people around you. While this video may be focused on the business side of Sports Marketing, the same principles apply to real life relationship building! Watch this short video to learn a little more about the Secret to Sports Marketing


Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

The Future of Sports Fandom

How do professional sports teams crack the code on better engagement with Generation Z? As Generation Z enters their 20s, they have unique preferences for engaging with sports. Professional teams and leagues on the leading edge are figuring out how to innovatively connect with this critical group of fans. This short YouTube video walks you through insights I gathered in my research on three key areas where professional sports properties can actively connect with and engage the Gen Z fanbase.


Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

MLB Best Bets

The Major League Baseball season is just around the corner! Here are some of me and Austin’s favorite bets for this season by division:

AL East:

Ryan’s Best Bet: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. home runs leader +800

The Toronto Blue Jays are this year’s offseason darling. They have made a lot of exciting moves to add to an already exciting young team. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is a superstar, and he hit a league-leading 48 home runs last year. If he stays healthy, I don’t see why he can’t do it again. Especially at +800, I think this is one of the safer player prop bets out there.

Austin’s Best Bet: Wander Franco AL MVP + 2200

Yes, I know, Ryan just said that he liked Vlad Guerrero as the HR leader and I have Franco as the AL MVP but hear me out. Ohtani won it last year and no one has repeated as league MVP since Cabrera in 2013-’14. Trout has battled some injuries over the past two years and that could hold him back this year. Guerrero is on a team that will do well, but some of the attention could be dragged away by the rest of the Blue Jays around him. That’s where I find Wander Franco. Rays should be good, Franco will be the leading star and he played well after being called up last year. At +2200, I’ll take my chances.


AL Central:

Ryan’s Best Bet: Detroit Tigers Over 78.5 Wins -110

I am a big fan of the Tigers this year. I don’t see them overtaking the White Sox in the AL Central this year, but their six-year-long rebuild is wrapping up quickly. Spencer Torkelson (pictured above) is the number 4 prospect in all of baseball and made the opening day roster. From all that I have seen, he is the real deal, and they have another top 10 prospects in OF Riley Greene scheduled to come up this season as well. This young talent aside, they added SS Javier Baez and SP Eduardo Rodríguez through free agency and recently traded for OF Austin Meadows from the Rays. All these additions add to a team that won 77 games last year. Considering the significant improvements this roster has made, I think it is pretty easy to see them getting well over 78.5 wins.

Austin’s Best Bet: Detroit Tigers Make Playoffs +370

I’m on the Tigers bandwagon here too and I know making the playoffs is a crazy bet but at +370 I can’t overlook it. It may not be a lock but for all the reasons Ryan said above plus a little bit of luck, you never know. Detroit is an interesting team and have always been that “yeah we play Detroit” but this year, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them in the playoff race come September.


AL West:

Ryan’s Best Bet: Shohei Ohtani AL MVP +340

Ohtani won the AL MVP last year with a truly historical season, both pitching and hitting. Even with a bit of regression, with the Angels being a better team than last year and if Ohtani can stay healthy, this seems like a given. It would take an all-time great season for someone to overtake him.

Austin’s Best Bet: Seattle Mariners to win the AL West +450

Austin, what are you thinking? I know, picking the Mariners?! Who would do that? An extra year for the farm boys of Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, and Emerson Hancock is never a bad thing and while the Mariners were incredibly lucky last year, they weren’t terribly far out from winning the division last year. 5 games. 95 to 90. That was the gap between the Astros and the Mariners last year. With a little luck for a different team as well as continuing to improve their youth, this Mariners team could compete for the division.


NL East:

Ryan’s Best Bet: Braves Division Winner +125

The World Series Champion Braves lost franchise cornerstone Freddie Freeman but somehow got better. They added 1B Matt Olson from the A’s, who is a similarly elite first baseman to Freeman and is 4 years younger. They also added former Rays pitcher Colin McHugh and longtime Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen to an already exceptional bullpen. Also, the Braves were without MVP candidate Ronald Acuna Jr. for most of the second half of last year, and he will make a big difference once he returns early this season. The Mets and Phillies made some big splashes in free agency, but until they prove it, I don’t see them overtaking the Braves, who have far fewer holes in their roster. The Braves have won this division 4 years in a row, and I don’t see it changing this year.

Austin’s Best Bet: Braves Division Winner +125

I’ll be lazy and just retweet Ryan’s bet. Braves fans won’t like it but Olson produced better numbers than Freeman last year… They get Acuna Jr. back like Ryan mentioned and anytime you add an MVP caliber player, your team should improve. As a Rays fan, I was very sad when the Rays lost McHugh to the Braves because I loved him and I think he’s sneaky good. Give me the Braves and I’ll sleep well tonight.


NL Central:

Ryan’s Best Bet: Seiya Suzuki NL Rookie of the year +350

Seiya Suzuki is a 27-year-old rookie from Japan on the Chicago Cubs. I am a big believer in Suzuki, but this bet is less about Suzuki’s talent and more about his competition. Unlike the American League, the NL ROY pool is pretty weak. Considering Suzuki will get an opportunity to start from day one in the Cubs outfield, it is his award to lose.

Austin’s Best Bet: Nolan Arenado Over 32.5 HR -110

Arenado balls. Since 2015 he has one season under 32.5 Home Runs. Take a wild guess at which season that one was. If you guessed the COVID shortened season, you’d be correct. Yes, he was under pace (30.39/182) but NOT BY MUCH. He hasn’t fallen off yet and barring an injury I think this is as locky as a lock can get.


NL West:

Ryan’s Best Bet: Los Angeles Dodgers Best record in MLB +220

The Dodgers are loaded again and are poised to make another World Series run. Due to some critical injuries and the rise of the San Francisco Giants, the Dodgers finished one game away from the best record in baseball last year. With the addition of Freddie Freeman this offseason, I think the Dodgers should coast to earn the best regular-season record this season.

San Francisco Giants Best record in MLB +3500:

This is the fun part of this article and this website where I predict the opposite of what Ryan said and then try and find stats that help prove my point (stats can lie people!). Two 2021 starters start the year on the DL, but that happens to everyone. They lost Gausmann to the Blue Jays and that hurts but this team can overcome a lot if they continue to just hit the ball as well as they did last year. I’ll take my odds on a +3500 and hope that some kind of confusion and mayhem comes to the Dodgers, opening the door for the Giants to have the #1 record in MLB.

Odds provided by FanDuel Sportsbook