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.

Europa League preview: Arsenal looks to wrap up Group H and more

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While several teams have already booked their place in the knockout phase, the Europa League reaches its penultimate round on Thursday with many big matches in hand.

[ MORE: Yannick Bolasie finally returns to Everton training ]

Of the two Premier League sides in the competition, only one will advance to the Round of 32, as Arsenal have all but assured themselves of the top spot in Group H. The Gunners can do so tomorrow with a win over Koln or a Red Star Belgrade defeat.

The other end of the spectrum features Everton, who has already been eliminated from reaching the next round after acquiring just one point in its first four matches.

European giants AC Milan can lock up a spot in the knockout phase on Thursday despite the club’s ongoing struggles in Serie A, while fellow Italian side Atalanta can move a step closer to the Round of 32 in Group E along with Lyon.

Here’s the full rundown of Thursday’s UEL matches.

Astana vs. Villareal — 11 a.m. ET
Konyaspor vs. Marseille — 1 p.m. ET
Rosenborg vs. Real Sociedad — 1 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. Vitesse — 1 p.m. ET
Viktoria Plzen vs. Steaua Bucuresti — 1 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv vs. Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit vs. Vardar — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Vitoria — 1 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao vs. Hertha Berlin — 1 p.m. ET
BATE vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Ostersund vs. Zorya — 1 p.m. ET
Koln vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET
Nice vs. Zulte Waregem — 1 p.m. ET
Lugano vs. Beer-Sheva — 1 p.m. ET
Ludogorets vs. Istanbul — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga vs. Hoffenheim — 3:05 p.m. ET
AEK vs. Rijeka — 3:05 p.m. ET
AC Milan vs. Austria Wien — 3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. Apollon — 3:05 p.m. ET
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Slavia Praha — 3:05 p.m. ET
Sheriff vs. Zlin — 3:05 p.m. ET
Partizan vs. Young Boys — 3:05 p.m. ET
Skenderbeu vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:05 p.m. ET
Everton vs. Atalanta — 3:05 p.m. ET

UCL roundup: Roma flounders against Atleti, PSG nets seven

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PSG-Celtic hogged most of the goals on Wednesday, but the action was wild across the day’s UEFA Champions League slate.

[ MORE: Celtic shocks PSG early, but Neymar and Co. take over ]

Group B now knows both of its sides that will advance into the Round of 16, but there will be plenty of drama on Matchday 6 as several other groups sort themselves out.

With PSG already knowing it would advance, Bayern Munich joined the French giants today after picking up a 2-1 win against Anderlecht. That didn’t stop the Parisians from putting on a show though, as Neymar and Co. put up a 7-1 drubbing of Celtic at the Parc des Princes.

That brings PSG’s goal total up to 24 in the group stage, which has well-surpassed Dortmund’s mark in the 2016/17 campaign (21).

Meanwhile, tight races in Groups A, C and D will see squads fighting in early December for the right to continue in this season’s competition.

Antoine Griezmann scored a massive goal for Atletico on the day to give Madrid side a 1-0 win over Roma, keeping the club’s UCL hopes alive. Atleti now sits just two points behind the Giallorossi with one match remaining.

Elsewhere, Juventus and Sporting CP will have an intriguing final matchday as the two sides currently sit one point between the other for the second position in Group D.


Group A

Basel 1-0 Manchester United
CSKA Moscow 2-0 Benfica

Table

1. Man United — 11 points  (ADVANCED)
2. Basel — 9 pts +4 GD
3. CSKA — 9 pts -1 GD
4. Benfica — 0 pts (ELIMINATED)

Whichever team finishes higher (CSKA or Basel) will reach UCL Round of 16, while other team goes to Europa League.


Group B

Anderlecht 1-2 Bayern Munich
PSG 7-1 Celtic

Table

1. PSG — 15 pts (ADVANCED)
2. Bayern Munich — 12 pts (ADVANCED)
3. Celtic — 3 pts
4. Anderlecht — 0 pts (ELIMINATED)

Celtic and Anderlecht are both in contention for the third position, which would send either of them to the UEL knockout round.


Group C

Qarabag 0-4 Chelsea — RECAP
Atletico Madrid 2-0 Roma

Table

1. Chelsea — 10 pts (ADVANCED)
2. Roma — 8 pts
3. Atletico Madrid — 6 pts
4. Qarabag — 2 pts (ELIMINATED)

Either Roma or Atleti will advance on Matchday 6, with the former taking on Qarabag and the Spanish side facing Chelsea.


Group D

Juventus 0-0 Barcelona
Sporting CP 3-0 Olympiakos

Table

1. Barcelona — 11 pts (ADVANCED)
2. Juventus — 8 pts
3. Sporting CP — 7 pts
4. Olympiakos — 1 pt (ELIMINATED)

Juventus will take on Olympiakos on Matchday 6, while Sporting faces Barcelona for the right to move into the Round of 16.

Lang strike helps Basel stun Man United in final minute

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The Red Devils didn’t make things easy themselves on Wednesday, and they certainly helped their opposition’s case of reaching the knockout phase.

[ MORE: Chelsea moves into Round of 16 with win over Qarabag ]

FC Basel struck late to earn a 1-0 win over Manchester United at St Jakob-Park in the penultimate match in Group A play, making the group-stage finale all the more intriguing for both clubs.

Jose Mourinho’s United had the chance to lock up a place in the Round of 16 with a win or draw, but the defeat now means they must get at least a draw against CSKA Moscow on Dec. 5 to move into the knockout stage.

Michael Lang struck in the 89th minute to give the home side the unthinkable victory, setting up a crazy final day.

After pushing for a goal in the second half, Lang’s chance came in the dying moments as he was picked out in the penalty area by Raoul Petretta.

The Red Devils dominated the opening stanza without allowing Basel to a single shot on target, however, the visitors struggled to find a breakthrough of their own.

Anthony Martial had the one of the best chances of the first half just minutes before halftime when his shot from close range was saved by Tomas Vaclik in the bottom corner.

Mourinho’s group certainly benefitted from Paul Pogba‘s return over the weekend, and the Frenchman’s influence showed again early on in this match.

Pogba picked out Romelu Lukaku in the 12th minute, but the latter was stopped by Vaclik.

As things stand, Man United currently tops the group on 12 points, while Basel and CSKA Moscow sit second an third, respectively, on nine points.

Madrid defender Carvajal faces 2-game ban for seeking yellow

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) Real Madrid defender Dani Carvajal is facing an additional two-match Champions League ban for deliberately getting a yellow card in a 6-0 win at APOEL.

[ MORE: Chelsea advances after 4-0 beatdown on Qarabag ]

UEFA said Wednesday it has charged Carvajal with “receiving a yellow card on purpose.”

UEFA’s disciplinary panel will judge the case on Dec. 7. The European soccer body’s disciplinary rules say a player trying to get a yellow or red card should get a two-game ban.

Carvajal was cautioned in the 90th minute in Cyprus on Tuesday for time-wasting at a throw-in.

His third yellow card in three Champions League games earned a one-game ban – at home against Borussia Dortmund on Dec. 6.

Madrid is certain to finish second behind Tottenham, making the final match essentially meaningless.

However, Carvajal now risks being suspended by UEFA for both games in the last 16 instead of beginning the knockout round with a clean disciplinary record.

Madrid has previously been in trouble with UEFA for deliberately triggering cards in a fifth group game in order to serve bans in the sixth and final game.

In the 2010-11 season, UEFA found then-Madrid coach Jose Mourinho guilty of misconduct for ordering two players, Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso, to get themselves sent off late in a game at Ajax. Four players, including Ramos and Alonso, were fined over that incident.