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Tottenham’s new-look midfield still a work in progress

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LONDON — Andre Villas-Boas was understandably a happy man following Tottenham’s narrow 1-0 win over Crystal Palace.

Spurs’ manager was delighted with the three points in their first game of the 2013-14 season and praised his team for a disciplined display.

“Very happy. It was a good performance. It was a surprise against Palace because of the amount of new signings that they brought and the fact that we don’t know them so well,” Villas-Boas said. “I am extremely happy with the performance, we had plenty of chances to put the game to bed. We can only be pleased and overall we were the deserved winners.”

Inevitably AVB was asked about the future of Gareth Bale but he declined to comment on a potential transfer, instead stating he is injured and will not be featuring for the foreseeable future.

“The player is injured and unavailable for selection as is not likely to start neither the Tbilisi [Europa League qualifier] or the Swansea game [next Sunday].”

But with Tottenham grinding out a win without their influential attacker, Villas-Boas’ side were lacking a cutting edge with their Welsh wizard sidelined. Spurs deployed two holding midfielders against Palace as Paulinho and Mousa Dembele battled it out with Mile Jedinak in the engine room.

(MORE: Crystal Palace 0 – Tottenham 1, Soldado’s penalty seals the win for Spurs)

Villas-Boas accepted that Palace made Spurs’ job extremely difficult.

“I think Palace set up really, really well. Because they put three players behind the striker very, very narrow. Plus two more in midfield so it made it extremely difficult for us to play through the middle. We were outnumbered in the middle.”

Belgian international Dembele, 26, also believed Spurs did as well as they could on a hot and sticky day in South London.

“It was not easy,” Dembele said. “The pitch was very dry, so it took a bit out of our game because we want to play fast and everything. In the end we had some good chances. They are a good side but we should have been ahead by more.”

Dembele’s fellow Belgian international Nacer Chadli carved out a few chances and did well out on the left. Leaving Spurs fans optimistic that they’re covered even if Bale does leave. And Icelandic attacker Gylfi Sigurdsson was sharp and creative in the No. 10 role.

Sigurdsson was happy with his performance and to return to his favored position behind the front man.

“It was nice to play there again and I enjoy playing there. Hopefully I will stay there behind the striker. I think that is probably what I prefer, but I will play wherever the manager wants to play me.”

source: Getty Images
Paulinho, and Spurs, battled well in the engine room.

Capping off a whole host of new faces in Spurs’ midfield, Brazilian midfielder Paulinho looked bright and sharp in the tackle. Palace’s midfield was marshaled by Jedinak who was the pick of their players and made the Spurs midfield work for every single ball.

AVB was pleased with his new midfield terrier. Although Tottenham’s Portuguese boss wasn’t too pleased about Paulinho playing the full 90 minutes for Brazil in midweek, as the Samba Boys lost to Switzerland.

“I don’t understand why he was the only player involved for Brazil for 90 minutes against Switzerland. And he probably should have been taken off a little bit earlier,” Villas-Boas continued. “We didn’t speak to Scolari [Brazilian national team manager] and we didn’t get involved. I was mentioning it because he hasn’t had a 90 minutes for a while. So it was a great, great effort for someone who hasn’t done that in preseason.”

With Paulinho, Dembele and new signing Etienne Capoue — who came on as a second half substitute — shoring up the midfield, Spurs looked solid and dependable as Palace cranked up the heat late on. They certainly looked less fragile than they had last season, as a late onslaught was thwarted with Spurs claiming the shutout.

Last year Spurs conceded easily at times, but they had Bale to rescue them late in games. This season they might not be able to rely on his clutch goal scoring exploits, so a solid midfield core is a necessity. Will it be a different Tottenham team this season?

“I don’t think so,” Villas-Boas said. “Not in terms of the system because we will keep on what we did last season. Between the 4-2-3-1, the 4-3-3 and the 4-4-2. These are the systems that we will continue to work on, it gives us flexibility.”

On this showing, Spurs’ new midfield is more then capable of providing flexibility and solidity.

It will just take time.

Lewandowski’s agent confirms talks with Bayern over new contract

SHANGHAI, CHINA - JULY 21:  Robert Lewandowski of FC Bayern Muenchen in action during the international friendly match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Inter Milan of the Audi Football Summit 2015 at Shanghai Stadium on July 21, 2015 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Robert Lewandowski’s stellar season has seen the striker linked with all the top clubs in Europe, but he could be staying put at Bayern Munich.

The Bundesliga’s second-leading goalscorer has been tipped for big-money moves to Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain this year, but his agent Cezary Kucharski said “there is no need to change anything.”

[ MORE: Barca unbeaten in 28 ]

Speaking to Polish news outlet Polsat Sport, Kucharski said that he has started talking with Bayern about a contract extension and denied speaking with other clubs.

Yes, we’ve started talking [to Bayern]. I can confirm this.

I won’t talk about specifics, because it’s confidential. Real have not conducted talks over a transfer. It’s just speculation. Rumours around Robert show what a player he is. He’s known not only in Poland or Germany, but throughout Europe.

There are no talks with PSG. The English write about English clubs, the French about PSG, the Spaniards Real Madrid, and Juventus in Italy. In each country a great club is linked with Robert.

But Lewandowski is at a team that suits him, and there is no need to change anything. I know [Bayern chairman] Rummenigge is aware that Lewy is a great player, who has great value for Bayern, and how such a boy should be rewarded.

Lewandowski has scored 19 goals in 19 Bundesliga appearances this season for Bayern, as the German giants hold an eight-point lead at the top of the table. Overall, Lewandowski has scored 27 goals in 29 appearances in all competitions.

[ RELATED: Alexandre Pato eager to make his mark at Chelsea ]

In the midst of the best season of his career, the 27-year-old Polish international could move to any club and be the star player, where at Bayern he is just one of many stars. However, with the amount of success he is having at Munich, there is no reason to leave.

VIDEO: John Terry says he made it “very clear” he wanted to stay at Chelsea

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John Terry will leave Chelsea at the end of this season, although it may be against his will.

The Blues’ captain announced earlier this year that he would not be given a new contract and will move on after 18 years with the club.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Speaking after Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United on Sunday, Terry said he has had no communication with the club about the possibility of signing a new deal, although he made it “very clear” that he never intended on leaving.

The club is the most important thing.

There’s no communication between myself and the club at this minute. I said what I had to say, that’s how it was.

I made it very clear that I wanted to stay.

Chelsea has a policy of giving older players one-year contracts, and one would assume Terry could still help the club on the pitch for another season. However, with the captain saying there has been no communication about even the possibility of signing a new deal, it looks like he is being forced out.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Chelsea vs. Manchester United ]

With more than 700 appearances for Chelsea and one of the club’s iconic figures, it looks like the end of Terry’s run at Stamford Bridge could be a bit messy. Hopefully, the club can patch this situation so Terry gets the send-off he deserves.

VIDEO: Louis van Gaal destroys journalist for questioning his Manchester United future

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Louis Van Gaal isn’t happy about reports that Manchester United is speaking with Jose Mourinho.

He also isn’t happy about reporters asking about it. In fact, it makes him quite angry.

[ RELATED: Aging giants show familiar deficiencies in Stamford Bridge draw ]

The Dutchman went after a journalist following United’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea for asking a question about the potential of a managerial change. The journalist actually phrased his question more in the form of an olive branch, but Van Gaal still took exception.

[ RECAP: Overview of Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea ]

Should the club actually be talking with a manager while still employing another, it would be quite controversial move. Van Gaal turned the situation on the journalist, asking if he could make up a story about the journalist being fired, and what he would tell his family.

Ailing giants showcase obvious deficiencies as Chelsea, Man United draw

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LONDON — Despite Jesse Lingard‘s stunning strike and Diego Costa’s dramatic stoppage time equalizer on Sunday at Stamford Bridge, the cracks could not be papered over fully during the 1-1 draw.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Both Chelsea and Manchester United have many deficiencies and are a long way from past glories. Both clubs are in a state of flux with future’s uncertain as rumors continue about Louis Van Gaal being replaced and Chelsea to welcome a new manager this summer.

Chelsea’s slide to mediocrity, as has been well documented, has been dramatic. The defending Premier League champions looked wary of springing too many attacks and their midfield creators were too eager to look back and sideways rather than take a chance. With Guus Hiddink in charge on an interim basis and the long-term direction of the club unclear, it’s easy to understand why Chelsea’s players seem unable to click into top gear. Since Jose Mourinho was fired in December they’ve gone 10 games unbeaten in all competitions but have drawn six of those.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Chelsea-United ]

As for United, they’ve come through a rough stretch of not scoring goals and despite letting three points slip late on Van Gaal will be heartened that his side created numerous chances. Anthony Martial looked unplayable at times. Lingard’s goal and overall play was hugely impressive and Wayne Rooney seemed to be in the groove, chipping over and having an acrobatic effort squirm just wide.

That said, the same deficiencies which have held back two giants of the Premier League all season surfaced once again.

Chelsea started slowly and were over-cautious in attack. They looked nervous in possession of the ball and United’s central midfield trio of Michael Carrick, Juan Mata and Maroune Fellaini overran Chelsea’s midfield trio of Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas and John Obi Mikel. Chelsea finally equalized but slow build up play has been a regular theme of their season — with multiple demoralizing defeats during Mourinho’s final months in charge taking its toll — and United dealt with plenty of their attackers far too easily.

ProSoccerTalk asked Hiddink after the game if he felt his team was being too cautious.

“I think in the first part you have to say Manchester United stretched us out, they did well and they have good players. But when you have the reaction that is a little bit insecure to drop back then you are in trouble,” Hiddink said. “If one or two players drop back then you are in trouble. You have to do it collectively, which I don’t like, but I like when they go collectively forward which we tried to initiate a bit after a period. Then you see that go we go into the duels and we win it, then we got the chances from there.”

United’s main deficiency this season has been giving up costly goals at pivotal times. They simply don’t score enough to be able to leak goals as they have done in recent encounters. In three of their last five PL outings — a 3-3 draw with Newcastle, a 1-0 defeat at home to Southampton and the 1-1 draw with Chelsea — they’ve conceded late goals to cost them a total of five points.

Speaking to the media afterwards, Van Gaal knows that can’t continue if they’re going to finish in the top four.

“That’s why I am frustrated and my players are frustrated. When you are playing like we have played today and you are not making the gap smaller. You can say its misfortune but it’s not the first time that is overcoming us. For example Newcastle United scored in extra time. We have to do that better, improve in that way. I am happy with the performance. It was not a boring match so for the third time in the row it was sparkling. I hope to get the support of the media this week.”

There’s not much chance of that. Even if Van Gaal’s side showed more attacking intent, similar problems in defense stopped them from closing the gap on the top four as they’re now six points off fourth-placed Manchester City.

The main thing we learned from Stamford Bridge on Sunday was that two giants are treading water and their futures remain uncertain.