Three good questions for Clint Dempsey – Part III: Shunning complacency, and his second season at Tottenham Hotspur

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Hang around Clint Dempsey for a few minutes, and the words “get better” or  “improve” will soon spill out of his soft rural drawl.

These are the words and tenets around which the Tottenham Hotspur and U.S. international attacker have built a highly successful career. He seeks out betterment with a no-nonsense, businesslike focus, the way a bomb-sniffing dog, utterly unaware of distraction, diligently scans for the potential menace.

Complacency never an option, Dempsey got better every year at New England, leading to his recruitment at Fulham. Once ensconced at Craven Cottage, Dempsey kept the career curve pointed north, finding more grind and smarts in his game every year, adding to his personal bag of tricks while driving toward the goal of a bigger club.

A club like Spurs.

Dempsey’s first season at White Hart Lane was sure-footed enough. The U.S. man finished third in goals and second in assist with Spurs, starting in 32 matches and appearing in 43 overall.

But the numbers Dempsey would like to repeat: those 17 EPL strikes and 23 in all competitions for Fulham in the breakthrough 2011-12 season. That’s what he wants.

We’ll see …

In time arranged by Spurs and the United States national team, I talked to Dempsey on Saturday. (This is the third of three parts of the interview.)

Q: Your early days at White Hart Lane certainly could have been easier; getting into the team so late and then playing catch-up on fitness is hardly ideal. But manager Andre Villas-Boas seemed to demonstrate faith in your abilities straight away. Did that help push things along?

Yeah. He believed in me, gave me a chance to be out there and try to prove myself. I was unlucky in that first game at home, I would have scored goal in my first game at home [Sept. 20 in Europa League vs. Lazio] if I wasn’t offside. That might have gotten things rolling for me sooner, but it took just a little longer. But then I got my first goal, an away game at Old Trafford. It was first time we won there in quite a few years [since 1989]. So that was a good debut goal to get. So, yeah, he showed faith in me and I tried to repay him by getting some goals in some big games.”

“Toward the end of the stretch, I got my fair share, but obviously I would have liked to have done better and gotten to those levels that I got to in my last year at Fulham. Hopefully, that’s something I can strive for next year at Tottenham.”

Q: Everybody’s name gets tossed into the media’s transfer-madness meat grinder. Yours did in May, and I read that AVB might be willing to part with you because he likes players able to perform strictly defined roles; your game has always been harder to define. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on that?

You always just go out and try to do the best you can. I’ve been told I can play a number of positions.  I feel like I’m a pretty complete player. But you just try to go work as hard as you can, to fight for your spot and get on the field. That won’t be any different. Far as I know, I will be there for the next three years. I go into preseason doing what I do every year, play hard, try to get into the team, get as many games as possible, get as many goals and assists I can get. That doesn’t change.”

“He tried me in different positions, and told me what he expected of me. And I would try to go out and perform that. Saying that, he did play me, I got quite a few games last season. Quite a few starts. I was happy with my first season. It was the best season I’ve had in the debut seasons at a club, so I’m happy with that. But like I said, I’m looking to try to get to the level of what I did when I was in my last season at Fulham.”

Q: What are your personal expectations for Year 2 at White Hart Lane? Are you the type to set individual targets on number of goals and such?

You want to play for the top four [in league positioning] every year and try to win silverware and get as far as we can in whatever the competitions were in, Europa League, F.A. Cup, Carling Cup and all of them. You try to get better every year. The focus this season is to try to finish in the top four [in the English Premier League], finish as high as possible and try to win something.

“I just try to better myself every year. I want to be better than what I was last season, obviously. I want to play as many games as I can play and start as many as I can, try to help this team do well. The goals are to try to qualify for champions League and try to win some trophies. If I can play a part in that, I’ll be happy.

“So like I said, I just try to get more goals than I got last seasons and more assists than I got last season, but I don’t put a number on it. Obviously, I’d like to get to those levels that I had with my last season at Fulham, when I got those numbers like I did. That would be a great number to shoot for.”

(MORE: Part I looks at Dempsey’s summers away and his ‘chill’ time)

(MORE: Part II … London calling)

 

Pep sticking with Bravo for final: “Locker room more important”

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Petr Cech and Ederson will watch from the bench as their clubs start the League Cup Final on Sunday.

Pep Guardiola announced that Manchester City will turn to Claudio Bravo between the sticks against Arsenal, which has already appointed David Ospina as its backstop for the final.

[ MORE: Europa League draw ]

And if you think Pep, having seen his side lose to Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup, should go back to Ederson for the final, he gets it.

“You can have an opinion, I am the manager. We are here for Claudio. He saved two lots of penalties. He deserves to play in the final. The locker room is more important than the final.”

The points aren’t completely independent, of course, but at this point the final is pretty darn important as Man City could see its trophy potential drop from 4-2 in little more than a week’s time.

Bravo has played just 45 minutes in the Premier League, against Liverpool in relief of Ederson, but has been the man for each of eight League and FA Cup matches.

City has just one clean sheet in that group, but won the seven matches apart from the 1-0 Wigan defeat. Two of those, against Wolves and Leicester, came in penalty kicks.

Arsenal gets AC Milan in Europa League Round of 16

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Arsenal’s path to the UEFA Champions League just got a whole lot tougher.

[ MORE: Arsenal loses 2nd leg, advances ]

Already eight points back of the Premier League’s Top Four, the Gunners have drawn Gennaro Gattuso’s AC Milan in the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 16.

The first leg is March 8 at the San Siro before moving to the Emirates a week later.

Milan is currently 7th in Serie A despite its big-spending summer, and faces a similar problem to the Gunners; Gattuso’s men need to make up eight points on Lazio and seven on fifth-place Inter Milan.

Elsewhere, Moscovian sides CSKA and Lokomotiv got no favors with trips to Lyon and Atletico Madrid, respectively.

Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund will be pleased to see Red Bull Salzburg, while the latter’s sister club, RB Leipzig, was held apart from it by a draw with Zenit Saint-Petersbug.

Here’s the draw in full.

UEFA Europa League Round of 16
Lazio vs. Dynamo Kiev
RB Leipzig vs. Zenit St Petersburg
Atletico Madrid vs. Lokomotiv Moscow
CSKA Moscow vs. Lyon
Marseille vs. Athletic Bilbao
Sporting Lisbon vs. Viktoria Plzen
Borussia Dortmund vs. Red Bull Salzburg
AC Milan vs. Arsenal

CCL: Lodeiro from 45; Royer’s diving header — SEA, RBNY lead (video)

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After 45 minutes of their respective CONCACAF Champions League knockout-round quests, things are going unnervingly well for the Seattle Sounders and New York Red Bulls.

[ MORE: FC Dallas disappoint in CCL; Club America flying ]

If you’ve watched Major League Soccer teams try, try and try again — only to eventually fail in spectacular fashion — in CCL over the years, you might say things are going a little too well.

There’s still another 45 minutes to be played on Thursday — plus the return legs next week — but both the Sounders and Red Bulls hold 1-0 halftime leads, and the vitally important away goals which come with it. Nicolas Lodeiro’s 45-yard, first-time lob of the Santa Tecla (El Salvador) goalkeeper in the 15th minute has already been eternally etched into the memories of Sounders fans.

Just 15 minutes later, Daniel Royer perfectly executed the diving header and got on the end of Bradley Wright-Phillips’ curling ball into the box to Jesse Marsch’s side ahead of Honduran side CD Olimpia.

Villarreal DF Semedo charged with attempted murder

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MADRID (AP) A Spanish judge has charged Villarreal defender Ruben Semedo with attempted murder and ordered him to be temporarily detained without bail.

Court officials in Lliria say on Thursday the Portuguese player is also charged with assault, robbery, illegal detention, and illegal possession of firearms.

Semedo testified before a judge on Thursday, and left the court in handcuffs.

The 23-year-old Semedo was detained early Tuesday, accused of tying up, assaulting and threatening another man last week. Authorities say he and two other men allegedly held the victim captive while they robbed his apartment.

Semedo’s agents told Spanish media the player denies any wrongdoing.

Villarreal on Tuesday said it was investigating Semedo and would take appropriate disciplinary action.

Villarreal signed Semedo from Sporting Lisbon last summer for a reported fee of $17 million.