Spain’s three-week master class in prudent, patient application of effort (a.k.a., playing Spanish possum)

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Admittedly, claiming a major tournament on a thoughtful platform of efficiency and “prudent conservation” isn’t so sexy.

It’s certainly not as alluring or intoxicating as, say, creating history by mercilessly punishing a litany of hapless opposition, by winning through a series of lopsided results.

Spain may reign today, but everyone had hoped for more of that flashy 4-0 flourish along the way. We wanted to be treated to more of the Spanish hammer (as in Sunday’s Kiev kick-around) rather than seeing the champs chisel deliberately away with the precision tools.

But the manner in which Spain just made history really deserves proper recognition. Because the Spanish just stitched together a masterpiece – never mind some unappreciative grumbling along the way about Spain making its case in underwhelming style.

But Vicente del Bosque didn’t bring Spain to Eastern Europe to wow and impress in first-round matches or in some early elimination contest. They came to make grand history, and such high ambition cannot be entrusted to breathless unrestraint.

We may have wanted to be entertained; but Spain simply wanted to win, coveting that unprecedented third major tournament title (Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, Euro 2012). So win they did, through patient self-regulation, through the tricky tenets of “doing just enough.”

We talked for three weeks of Spain never achieving the best version of itself, about apparent contentment and the need for blessed discontent, about possibly lacking that final, telling pang of hunger.

But did we have it wrong all along? Was del Bosque (pictured) simply having his men play a little Spanish possum en route to Sunday’s final in Kiev?  We all wondered where the “real” Spain might be hiding. In reality, they just didn’t need to be “full Spain” very often.

source:  They wisely determined just how much of the full Spanish treatment three successful weeks in Poland and Ukraine would require. So they got a lead and then got smart time and again, dropping the energy output a smidge – while the rest of us selfishly shouted “Go, go, go! … Why won’t they go?”

All that passing, passing, passing – the possession for possession’s sake that sometimes looked like Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and the rest were cruising down a highway but content to travel at a safer “school zone speed.”

It made us wonder if Spain was vulnerable. In truth, we weren’t giving Spain sufficient credit for thinking this one through.  Italian manager Cesare Prandelli took in ample praise for getting things right against Germany, and deservedly so. But what about that wily ol’ del Bosque, a cunning Spanish fox who got it right in a bigger way.

Let’s not forget, this really is a grueling tournament. The teams Sunday in Kiev were playing their sixth match in 22 days. That’s one contest about every three and a half days – and what a taxing, debilitating slog it is.

Early Sunday the ESPN announcers wondered why del Bosque’s men couldn’t look more like they did in extra time against Portugal, when they leaned in for further offensive push, pinning the Portuguese back with the extra run, the quicker pass, the earlier ball forward and the higher intensity, generally.

But again, perhaps we weren’t giving Spain enough credit for managing the energy level, for always keeping a restrictor plate on this classic car, for doing just enough and leaving plenty in reserve.

Don’t forget, this is a Spanish team that won a World Cup by scoring eight goals (Just eight, in seven matches!), another lesson in patient application of effort. So perhaps trophy acquisition at Euro 2012 by way of wise conservation shouldn’t have been surprising at all.

By the 60th minute Sunday, Italy looked exhausted. Yes, it was unfortunate the Azzurri had to finish with 10 men, but Prandelli’s unit would likely have been similarly pooped with 11.

The Italians, not quite good enough to hold something back and still steer through the elimination rounds, were spent.

Spain, one of the best teams of all time (there can be little argument now) could afford to pace the enterprise a bit. They did so expertly.

Guardiola lauds Man City after record 15th straight win

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Pep Guardiola is breaking records pretty much every time Manchester City step onto the pitch right now.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

On Wednesday they set a new Premier League and English top-flight record for the most consecutive wins in history, with City winning 4-0 away at Swansea to seal their 15th-straight win and stay 11 points clear of the table.

City beat Arsenal’s previous record of 14-straight wins in the Premier League from February to August 2002, and now they remain unbeaten with 17 games of the season gone.

Guardiola now holds the record for most consecutive wins in the top-flight of Spanish, German and English soccer with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Man City respectively. He’s a machine and he’s turned Man City into one.

Speaking to the BBC after beat Swansea, Guardiola was delighted with the win, especially coming so soon after the energy-sapping Manchester derby win at Manchester United on Sunday.

“Considering we have a lot of games in our legs, a demanding game at Old Trafford three days ago, we were solid, we were serious and we made a good performance,” Guardiola said. “You suffer and enjoy, like a manager you see many things. When the team play good we are happy. Our feeling – we understand what we want to do. We play good inside, outside. I’m so happy for David (Silva), we cannot disguise his quality but in the past he didn’t score too much goals. He’s sharp, he’s in an amazing condition.”

Man City’s manager rightly pointed towards David Silva‘s brilliance as the Spanish playmaker scored twice at Swansea and he’s now scored four times in his last three games, including a late winner against West Ham and setting City on their way to a win at United on Sunday.

With the record now in hand and Man City also stretching their club-record unbeaten run in the top-flight to 25 games, is there a risk his side will be complacent as the bookmakers have slashed their PL title odds to 1/25?

“That is not going to happen. We are so demanding for our players. We can lose, we can drop points but complacency, never happened in the past, the present or the future,” Guardiola said. “Winning 15 games in a row gives us a lot of confidence. If people are happy watching us that is the best gift.”

Ahead of the festive season, Man City are the gift which keep on giving and they have to be up their with the best teams English soccer has ever seen.

Less than halfway through the 2017-18 season they show no signs of slowing down and the Premier League title is simply theirs to lose.

More records will fall this season as an imperious, attacking unit has been fine-tuned by Guardiola. We are watching history being made in beautiful fashion.

Tottenham 2-0 Brighton and Hove Albion: Spurs back into Top Four

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  • Spurs outshoot Gulls 25-7
  • Earn 10 corners to Gulls’ 2
  • Aurier, Son score
  • Spurs back into Top Four

Serge Aurier‘s sailing cross and Heung-Min Son‘s late insurance goal led Spurs to a 2-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday.

Tottenham is back in the Top Four with the win on 31 points, while Brighton is 13th. The Gulls are now just three points clear of the drop zone.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Spurs had a pair of early possibilities, and Heung-min Son was blocked by Shane Duffy just after the latter got enough of the ball to avoid a penalty for going to ground.

Harry Kane then had two chances, one cleared off the line and another blocked by the Gulls.

It took a drifting cross to put Spurs on the board, as Aurier’s effort sailed over Mat Ryan and into the upper 90.

The second half didn’t have much pep, though Hugo Lloris was called upon to stop Tomer Hemed.

Kane blasted the bar with a free kick in a bid to make it 2-0 in the 70th, and Spurs found that second goal through Son’s redirection of a Christian Eriksen free kick.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

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Manchester United 1-0 Bournemouth: Lukaku nets winner

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  • Early Lukaku goal stands up
  • Cherries outshoot hosts 14-9
  • United three clear of Chelsea

Manchester United remains second in the Premier League following a 1-0 win over Bournemouth at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Romelu Lukaku headed home in the 25th minute to move United to 38 points, 11 behind Man City and three ahead of Chelsea.

Bournemouth remains 14th with 16 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

A bit of sloppiness plagued United, who was well in control of the early proceedings apart from the less than ideal passes.

Anthony Martial tried a clever cross from outside the 18 that missed both Romelu Lukaku and Juan Mata at the back post.

At the other end, Phil Jones cut out a Callum Wilson left-footed rip for a throw. David De Gea then made two interventions including a stop on Charlie Daniels.

You’d think Lukaku was a former Cherry the way he mildly celebrated his opener, nodding a Mata cross past Asmir Begovic.

De Gea managed typical heroics when he got went low to stop a slippery bounding Wilson should through traffic.

Martial missed a sitter as the second half wore on, with Lukaku’s cut back going for naught.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

West Ham 0-0 Arsenal: Cagey Irons snare point

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
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  • Arnautovic everywhere
  • Wilshere stars in rare start
  • Gunners 70 percent possession
  • Arsenal 22-6 edge in shots

Another dominant Arsenal display was missing the final product, as West Ham held the Gunners to a 0-0 draw at the London Stadium on Wednesday.

The Gunners sit seventh with 30 points ahead of a visit from lowly Newcastle on Saturday, while 19th place West Ham is one of three teams with 14 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

A slow start in London had Arsenal passing the ball around a packed-in West Ham formation.

Yet it was Marko Arnautovic and West Ham who appeared to be going in front only to see a flag raised in offside.

Jack Wilshere made his first Arsenal start in league play since May 2016, and set-up Alexis Sanchez for a decent chance only for the Chilean blazed over the bar.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Arnautovic chopped a leaping volley over Cech, but also the cross bar, as the second half picked up the pace.

Olivier Giroud turned a cross toward the far post which was deflected out for a corner than turned into another.

Cech’s poor punch of a West Ham free kick had Arnautovic shooting toward goal again, but Nacho Monreal cleared the effort off the line.

Wilshere saw a chance go for nothing moments later.

Substitute striker Javier Hernandez cranked a shot off the bar in the 90th minute.