Can Spurs extend their unbeaten PL record under Tim Sherwood?

Like Liverpool, Tottenham a nice, mixed bag after two rounds


Liverpool’s duel 1-0 wins to start the season have inspired some confusion. Yes, it’s a perfect start, for which Brendan Rodgers and his team deserve credit, but what have we learned about the Reds? After a late penalty kick save salvaged a result against Stoke City and more Simon Mignolet heroics preserved a result against Villa, there’s enough for both skeptics and believers. Perfect records are better than perfect performances, one camp would hold, while their adversaries can point to the underlying form and level of competition.

The same can be said for Tottenham, who (like Liverpool) have been the best side in each of their 1-0 wins. But they are still just one-goal results over teams they were expected to beat, and where Liverpool doubters can point to the Reds’ dependence on Mignolet to preserve results, Spurs have yet to score from open play. Second half penalty kicks from Roberto Soldado have been the difference against both Crystal Palace and Swansea City.

The encouraging part for Spurs: A relatively new group improved week-over-week. None of Soldado, Nacer Chadli, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue, Andros Townsend, or Danny Rose (all starters on Sunday) were regulars with Spurs last season. Obviously, this is going to take some time, and with Spurs having acquired an enviable amount of talent, opponents are more likely to stand back, let them figure it out, and not risk gifting them chances. The extent to which Spurs can navigate this coming up period while still collecting points could decide their Champions League-qualifying fate.

Last week, Spurs scarcely created anything on their own. They dictated play, dominating possession to the tune of 61 percent, but the cohesion in the final third just wasn’t there. If they didn’t get their penalty at Selhurst Park, their match with Crystal Palace could have ended deadlocked.

Today was different. Spurs were creating chances early. If it wasn’t for Michel Vorm, Tottenham would have opened their account in the first half, though with both Paulinho’s 21st minute blast from 14 yards out (blocked then covered by Vorm) and Mousa Dembele’s attempted curler near the half-hour mark (tipped over), Spurs’ players could have been more clinical. Still, with Kyle Walker breaking down Swansea’s left side, Tottenham had established a reliable route toward goal. One way or another, they looked destined to break through.

It was telling, however, that it was the raw athleticism of Walker that generated Spurs’ best chances. His ability to blow by a defense, get to the byline, and cut the ball back presented the kind of direct threat Spurs seem to be missing from their attacking three. Chadli’s generated chances, Soldado’s presented a consistent danger, while both Townsend (drawing the penalty) and Gylfi Sigurdsson (maintaining possession) have done their parts. But in order to maximize those parts, Spurs need somebody like a Walker or an Aaron Lennon (injured on Sunday) — or potentially more consistently aggressive Chadli or Townsend — to crack a defense.

Put another way, they missed Gareth Bale. They missed that consistent out he provides – the ability to provide that direct option that can cut through not only an opponent’s setup but any kind of tendency his teammates may have to equate control with results. They missed his ability to get a ball and take on a man or shun the simple pass to provide the little something extra it takes to make a chance dangerous. They missed his willingness to try.

Obviously, replacing the to-be-Madridista is impossible, but Spurs don’t need to. They need to replace the type of player he is, something that may make acquiring Roma’s Erik Lamela even more important. Tellingly, the young Argentine wasn’t in Rudi Garcia’s XI when Roma travelled to Livorno, hinting a move may be imminent. Be it him, an increased dependency on the likes of Walker, Lennon or perhaps Chadli, or buying another player, Spurs need to replace Bale’s tendencies.

There’s plenty of time to do so, and the good news: While they’re working out their kinks, they’ve taken six points. But particularly with Paulinho’s early chance, you can see the danger a different threat would pose. With Soldado occupying a defense, there should be room for somebody like Paulinho — somebody who can trail and convert more efficiently than Spurs’ other midfielders — to pile on the goals.

How can Chelsea qualify for last 16 of Champions League?

HAIFA, ISRAEL - NOVEMBER 24: Willian of Chelsea celebrates scoring his teams second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC and Chelsea FC at Sammy Ofer Stadium on November 24, 2015 in Haifa, Israel.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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With one match left in UEFA Champions League group play, Chelsea control their own destiny.

After beating Maccabi Tel-Aviv 4-0, the Blues sit tied with FC Porto on ten points at the top of Group G.

[ MORE: Champions League standings

However, with Dynamo Kyiv earning a big win over Porto on Tuesday, Chelsea must wait until the final matchday to qualify for the knockout round, as there is a possibility of a three-way tie for the top spot in Group G.

With Chelsea hosting Porto on December 9, here are the scenarios for Jose Mourinho’s men to assure advancement.

  • A win over Porto will clinch Chelsea the top spot and a place in the last 16.
  • A draw against Porto will see Chelsea advance.
    • Chelsea draw/Dynamo win: Chelsea win group, Dynamo finish second
    • Chelsea draw/Dynamo draw or loss: Porto win group, Chelsea finish second
  • A loss to Porto and a Dynamo Kyiv draw/loss to Maccabi Tel-Aviv will see Chelsea finish second in the group and advance to the last 16.
  • The Blues have secured at least a berth in the Europa League, regardless of the result in their final match.

Simply put, get a point at Stamford Bridge and Chelsea advance.

Mourinho says bad pitch in Tel-Aviv injured Ramires, John Terry

during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC and Chelsea FC at Sammy Ofer Stadium on November 24, 2015 in Haifa, Israel.
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Chelsea left Israel with a 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel-Aviv, but also left with some injuries.

Ramires was hurt in training the day before the match, and John Terry was forced off in the second half.

[ RECAP: Tel-Aviv 0-4 Chelsea ]

Jose Mourinho talked about the condition of the pitch before the match, and was even more upset after it as two of his players are now hurt, although the extent of those injuries is not yet known.

Terry was stretchered off and looked to be in quite a bit of pain after going up for a challenge, as his ankle twisted awkwardly when he landed.

The pitch in Tel-Aviv was in poor condition, as large chunks of turf could be seen flying up when players planted or went in for tackles. Mourinho himself was seen on the field trying to fill in divots before the match.

While Mourinho said he didn’t want to jump to conclusions before getting test results, he believes John Terry will be unable to play this weekend, a huge Premier League match away at Tottenham.

[ MORE: Arsenal ready to “play for our lives” in match vs. Olympiacos ]

Other than his issues with the conditions, Mourinho was relatively happy with the team’s play and believes they are getting some confidence back, now with consecutive wins after beating Norwich City over the weekend.

UCL roundup: Barcelona, Bayern clinch spots in the knockout round

BARCELONA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 24:  Gerard Pique (C) of Barcelona celebrates scoring his teams fourth goal with Luis Suarez (L) and Lionel Messi during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between FC Barcelona and AS Roma at Camp Nou on November 24, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Two more teams booked spots in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, as perennial powerhouses Barcelona and Bayern Munich earned big wins to advance out of their groups.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Barcelona 6-1 Roma

Barcelona fared well without Lionel Messi, and now with him back in the lineup, they look unbeatable. The Catalans advance to the last 16 with an absolutely dominating performance, thrashing Roma 6-1. Messi and Luis Suarez scored two goals each, with Gerard Pique and Adriano adding the others. Edin Dzeko would ruin the clean sheet with a goal for Roma in stoppage time, but it was another Barcelona masterclass at Camp Nou.

Bayern Munich 4-0 Olympiacos

Continuing with the trend of dominating performances, Bayern Munich eased past Olympiacos 4-0 to clinch a spot in the knockout round. Bayern scored early and often, going three goals ahead in the opening 20 minutes through Douglas Costa, Robert Lewanowski and Thomas Muller. Despite going down to ten-men in the second half after Holger Badstuber was sent off, Bayern continued to dominate as the young Kingsley Coman scored the fourth and final goal.

Arsenal 3-0 Dinamo Zagreb

Arsenal is clinging on to hope of advancing out of Group F with a 3-0 win at home over Dinamo Zagreb. Mesut Ozil opened the scoring and Alexis Sanchez added two more as the Gunners now head into the final matchday in need of a win over Olympiacos.

Maccabi Tel-Aviv 0-4 Chelsea

Chelsea got a big win away from home in Group G, beating a ten-man Maccabi side 4-0. Willian scored another free kick for the Blues, as the Brazilian has now scored from a set piece in four of Chelsea’s five Champions League matches. Tied with Porto atop the group, Chelsea needs just one point from their final match to advance.

Elsewhere in the Champions League

Group E

BATE Borisov 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen

Group G

Porto 0-2 Dynamo Kyiv

Group H

Zenit St. Petersburg 2-0 Valencia (Zenit clinch top spot)
Lyon 1-2 Gent (Lyon eliminated)

Arsenal ready to “play for our lives” vs. Olympiakos to remain in UCL

Alexis Sanchez
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Following their 3-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday, Arsenal know what they must do in two weeks time at Olympiakos.

Win by two goals or more — or by a margin of one if they score three goals — and they’re in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League for the 16th straight.

[ MORE: How can Arsenal make last 16? ]

Anything less means Arsene Wenger‘s side will crash out of the UCL at the group stage and will be competing in the last 32 of the Europa League when European play restarts in 2016.

Hope remains. Just.

It’s a simple equation but don’t underestimate how hard the Gunners have battled to put themselves in this situation. After losing both of their opening Group F games at Zagreb and then at home against Olympiakos, they looked dead and buried.

Now, they have a chance to advance.

“The team knew it was a very important day today – everyone had to turn up and they did. Now we’re going to play for our lives [against Olympiakos],” Arsenal right back Hector Bellerin said. “This was an important test for us, to be alive in the Champions League. The team responded very well. The team is showing we have got a lot of quality, a lot of creativity. When we have all our players back, we’re going to be up there.”

Wenger’s men have been in these kind of situations in the UCL before, but usually in the knockout rounds.

[ MORE: Chelsea hammer Tel Aviv, face tricky final day ]

In each of the past five seasons they’ve fallen at the last 16 hurdle but often that exit has come after after putting themselves in perilous situations from dreadful displays in the first legs and then nearly clawing things back in the second legs. Last season they lost to AS Monaco 3-1 at home in the first leg and won 2-0 away, going out on away goals. The season before that they lost 2-0 at home to Bayern Munich in the first leg but drew 1-1 away from home in the second leg and battled hard in Bavaria.

Simply put, Wenger’s men have been in this kind of “do or die” situation many times in the UCL over the past few seasons. It’s all about one game in Greece in two weeks. Wenger knows it as he spoke following their win over Zagreb which set up the tantalizing encounter in Athens on Dec. 9.

“It promises to be a very interesting game [against Olympiakos], but at least we have a chance,” Wenger said. “I think Mesut Ozil had an outstanding first half, he has got the taste for scoring now. I have never seen Ozil in the box so many times as in the last five or six games. The Europa League is not the target – let us give everything to remain in the Champions League.”