Premier League Playback: Tottenham’s creative concerns, unlikely title duel, concussions continue

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SPURS’ SCORING STRUGGLES, FRIEDEL’S FOOTSTEPS BEMUSING

Whatever way you look at it, Tottenham Hotspur are struggling to score goals this season and it’s costing them, big time. But it has been going on for some time, and after netting just nine times in 11 games — three of those penalties — only the bottom two sides Sunderland and Crystal Palace have scored fewer. I noticed a lack of composure and cutting edge in front of goal in Spurs’ 1-0 derby loss to Arsenal back in September.

Tottenham manager AVB replied angrily to me after I suggested Tottenham’s suffered from a lack of creativity.

Other journalists shook their head in agreement with my question, AVB was described as ‘delusional’ and it seems as though he still doesn’t agree with me questioning his sides creativity. This is what he had to say then, and he’ll probably say the same now as offensive issues placate his sides title charge.

“I think that is a false question,” Villas-Boas replied. “I don’t think there is a good argument. We came to Arsenal and created lots of chances, obviously there are players that are different from others. There are players that are box-to-box, players that are more creative and have that ability to link up with others. It’s not a concern but it’s something that we have to work on. It’s very difficult with all the stops for international duty, most of our players will go away. But I think it will come through time, through matches and I’m very, very confident because the ability is there from all the players.”

At the time I thought it was a fair question, after two months of offensive struggles I think it’s an even better one. Tottenham’s lack of cutting-edge creativity is still hurting them and may derail their title aspirations and dreams of a top four finish. I like AVB, a lot, I think he’s a terrific young manager and he will figure this out. But he has to somehow get Spurs’ players to believe they’re going to score. Right now, they don’t. The vast mixtures of attacking talent he’s used isn’t clicking in the league, and they’ve now only scored 34 goals in 25 home league games that AVB has overseen. Frustrated moans, groans, heckling and boos rang out from the home crowd against their own team in the loss to Newcastle. As Villas-Boas has told fans, that won’t help. But you can see why they’re upset. But Tottenham fans, don’t despair, Spurs lead the league in ‘chances created’ as they’d set up a staggering 130 goalscoring chances before the Newcastle game.

Several times in Sunday’s 1-0 defeat to Newcastle, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andros Townsend get their heads up after bamboozling full backs but had nobody to aim for in the box. Right now Roberto Soldado is taking most of the blame as Spurs’ main striker with people using the ‘three of his four PL goals have come from the penalty spot’ argument to say he isn’t doing his job. He’s doing a lot of great things, holding the ball up, bringing the midfield into play and his movement is sublime. But other attackers aren’t flooding into the box with purpose to try and get on the end of things, Paulinho, Townsend, Eriksen and Sigurdsson need to get beyond Soldado and want to get on the end of inviting crosses. Spurs don’t seem to WANT to win enough right now, the hunger, belief and passion of a team that’s trying to win it’s first title since 1961. Villas-Boas needs to address their lackluster attitude in front of goal.

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Friedel’s hesitation on Newcastle’s winning goal cost him three yards, which from this image you can see would’ve made all the difference as Newcastle’s Remy advanced.

Creating decent chances isn’t an issue, it’s just putting them away. On Sunday Tottenham had 31 shots against Newcastle, but they found Magpies ‘keeper Tim Krul in inspired form as he made 14 saves that’s a PL record since they began collecting that stat in 2006-07.

And as for the goal they conceded, Brad Friedel’s initial backwards one-two shuffle cost Spurs’ veteran American ‘keeper some all-important yardage as Loic Remy closed in on goal. If first-choice Tottenham ‘keeper Hugo Lloris would’ve been in between the sticks (rested due to his head injury, more coming up on that) he would have gobbled up Yoan Gouffran’s through ball with his sweeper-keeper ways. But if you look in the image left, Friedel’s initial step back cost him at least 3 or 4 yards which would’ve meant he met the ball and Remy on the edge of the box instead of seeing the Frenchman glide past him and tap into and empty net while Friedel languished on the floor.

BIG GUNS FALTERING

Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City. Name one thing they all have in common right now…

Premier League Schedule – Week 11

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 2-0 Cardiff Recap and watch here
Chelsea 2-2 West Brom Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 0-0 Everton Recap and watch here
Liverpool 4-0 Fulham Recap and watch here
Norwich City 3-1 West Ham Recap and watch here
Manchester Utd 1-0 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Southampton 4-1 Hull City Recap and watch here
Sunderland 1-0 Man City Recap and watch here
Swansea 3-3 Stoke City Recap and watch here
Tottenham 0-1 Newcastle Recap and watch here

If you answered dropping points, give yourself a pat on the back, or a smiley face sticker, or something fun like that. But for fans of those four teams, it wasn’t a happy weekend as Arsenal lost to Manchester United, Spurs lost at home to Newcastle, Chelsea somehow rescued a point in controversial fashion late on to West Brom at home and City lost away at relegation threatened Sunderland.

What the heck is going on? Well, the PL is becoming much more level, just six points separate Arsenal in top spot from Man City in eighth. Why is this happening? The fat cats (the aforementioned quartet, plus Man Utd) didn’t fatten up enough in the summer, and like scrawny teenagers hitting the gym to try and impress the prom queen during their senior year of high school, the likes of Liverpool ($95 million), Everton ($32 million) and even Southampton ($54 million) saw an opportunity to elevate themselves, spend big money and strengthened considerably where they needed to. It worked, Chelsea and Manchester City spent over $220 million between them but mainly bought attackers, which they already had a rich abundance of. Now we legitimately have seven or eight teams who can not only challenge for the top four spots, but the top two. I’m not saying the likes of Everton, Southampton or even Liverpool are going to challenge for the title but they’re going to give it a bloody good go. This year is the year of the underdog in the PL. This weekend proved that, hands down.

TOP PERFORMERS

  • Adam Lallana – What a week for Southampton’s young captain. First he put in a man of the match display at Stoke City, then he was called into the England squad for his first proper inclusion, then he capped it off by scoring a spectacular goal in front of England manager Roy Hodgson as the Saints smashed Hull 4-1. Can he keep it going with the Three Lions next week?
  • Wayne Rooney – One of Lallana’s England teammates was in great form for United, as he swung in the beautifully curvacious delivery that his drinking partner (and occasional strike partner) Robin van Persie got on the end of to sink Arsenal. So often in the big games Rooney deliver, he did it again.
  • Steven Gerrard – Last week a radio show I went on asked me if Gerrard was finished and past it. I’m not sure if the Liverpool captain was listening to radio stations in the U.S. last Monday… but he certainly didn’t played like it. He had the bit between his teeth and set up three of Liverpool’s four goals with vicious set pieces and a cheeky nutmeg on Dimitar Berbatov in the buildup to Liverpool’s third goal. He came off after 65 minutes to a standing ovation, write off Stevie G at your peril.
  • Tim Krul – The big Dutchman made a Premier League record (since PL records for GK stats began in 06/07 that is) 14 saves against Spurs on Sunday with a highlight reel that will make you drool with envy. Krul’s leg save on Eriksen in the second half was sublime.
  • Wes Brown – Starting his first PL game since January 2012, the former Manchester United man was a colossus at the back as he intercepted, headed and tackled his way into the hearts of Mackems fans for his shutting down of Alvaro Negredo in the Black Cats 1-0 win over Man City. Rolled back the years in a massive win, Brown is fighting fit and raring to make up for lost time.

CHELSEA BAILED OUT BY POOR PK CALL

There’s cruel… and then there’s this. On Saturday Chelsea were seconds away from losing their 65 game unbeaten run at home in the PL under Jose Mourinho. But a controversial moment made sure the Baggies didn’t depart West London with all three points or a smile on their face.

Referee Andre Marriner took an age to point to the spot in second half stoppage time but when he did, disbelief, relief and devastation hung in the air as the steel girders high up in the stands at Stamford Bridge shook with the booming cheers of Chelsea’s fans.

Brazilian midfielder Ramires burst into the penalty box, with less than 20 seconds left of the four minutes of allotted stoppage time, and went down like ‘a sack of spuds’ as West Brom’s Steven Reid slightly, and I mean slightly, nudged him. Ramires hit the deck, Marriner pointed to the spot, Eden Hazard hit home the PK to make it 2-2, and then seconds later the game was over.

Mourinho (of course) agreed with the decision, West Brom’s manager Steve Clarke — Mourinho’s former assistant and a Chelsea player for 11-years — disagreed and everyone agreed the Baggies were hard done by. Chelsea seem to have lady luck on their side this weekend, but it will even itself out, right?

One thing’s for sure, West Brom’s injured ‘keeper Ben Foster certainly didn’t agree with the decision… this Tweet has been modified due to, erm, colorful language.

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HOLD ON TIGHT, YOU’RE ENTERING CONCUSSION CENTRAL

There’s something about Sunday’s and head injuries in the PL. Last week Hugo Lloris got hit hard by Romelu Lukaku and played on to much furore and damnation of Tottenham Hotspur. One week later, Lloris wasn’t able to play against Newcastle on Sunday due to “medical advice” according to Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas. Then, as if we needed one, we had another reminder about how dangerous the sport can be when Manchester United faced Arsenal. In the first half two ugly hits left Nemanja Vidic heading to hospital and off as a sub at half time, while Wojiech Szcezeny and Phil Jones were also involved in a nasty collision.

It’s a contact sport, yes, but stricter guidelines must be put in place to help the wonderful medical staffs who work so hard to ensure their players are always in top condition. No doubt this debate will rumble on, but it’s time to lay off the clubs, medical staffs and managers involved and instead ask the governing bodies to provide evidence assistance and guidelines to follow.

ARSENAL vs. SOUTHAMPTON: FIGHT FOR THE PL SUMMIT… WHAT!?

With the international break giving us a two week respite from Premier League action, a few games after the break now look much more meaningful given the wide-open PL standings which dominate the upper echelons.

Just six points separate the top eight teams and the topsy-turvy results see one fixture in particular taking center stage in Week 12. Arsenal vs. Southampton could see the winner sit top of the table after the next PL matchday. That’s right, Southampton. Few would have earmarked the game between Arsenal and the Saints being much more than an easy home win when the fixtures were released in the summer… now it’s first against third and top of the table clash. Okay, maybe it won’t make as many headlines as Arsenal vs. Manchester United or Liverpool, but if the Saints continue their remarkable early-season form against the Gunners then they could be top of the table in November.

Pochettino’s men spanked Hull City 4-1 and were 3-0 up after 36 minutes on Saturday, watch above, as England called up three Saints players – Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez – for the first time since 1984 in midweek and Nathaniel Clyne plus teenagers James Ward-Prowse and Luke Shaw have impressed for England’s U-21s and aren’t far away from the full squad. Top young English talent who’re driving a small team toward the top of the PL, no wonder England manager Roy Hodgson was smiling at St. Mary’s Stadium as he watched on. No doubt he’ll be watching the game at the Emirates on November 23. So will everyone else now.

Chivas Guadalajara wins 12th Liga MX title

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A nail-biting finish saw Chivas Guadalajara lift the 2016/17 Liga MX title, beating Apertura champions Tigres to earn the club’s 12th Liga MX title.

The title makes Guadalajara the joint-most successful club in Mexican top flight history, even with Club America on titles.

With the aggregate score at 2-2 coming into the second leg at Chivas Stadium, the home side took the lead on an 18th minute expert finish by former Tigres youth product Alan Pulido. Oswaldo Alanís delivered a brilliant deep, looping ball to the far post, and under one-on-one pressure with a defender, Pulido struck it first-time and buried the ball into the far corner.

The game waited until midway through the second half for the next strike, as the eventual winner would fall to Jose Vazquez. The 29-year-old charged down a bounding ball that Tigres failed to clear, and his effort on net took a sizeable deflection off the midsection of a visiting defender, leaving the ball to trickle in uncontested.

Despite a 4-2 aggregate lead, it was by no means comfortable down the stretch for Chivas. Tigres pulled one back in the 88th minute on a fabulous strike by Ismael Sosa from just outside the top of the box. The visitors pressed for a stunning late equalizer, but it wasn’t to be.

The title is sweet for Chivas, who has endured a decade of struggles since winning its last championship, even coming close to relegation at times. In addition, the starting lineup for the second leg was fully domestic from top to bottom, with all 11 players from Mexico. On that same note, Pulido outdueled expensive Tigres striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, putting in on of the most impressive shifts of the match.

MLS Snapshot: FC Dallas 0-0 Houston Dynamo

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The game in 100 words (or less): The goalkeepers starred as the first Texas derby of the season ended goalless in Frisco, leaving both teams winless for at least three matches. A relatively slow start to the match gave way to an electric pace before halftime, as both goalkeepers made incredible saves, and FC Dallas had a goal correctly ruled out for offside. The second half saw two more fantastic stops, and each team had little else to offer the game.

Three moments that mattered

27′ – A pair of incredible saves, one on each end. In a game that had slogged through the opening half-hour and just seen FC Dallas defender Walker Zimmerman off injured, the match sprung to life. First, Kellyn Acosta delivered a beautiful free-kick from just off-center to the right. Tyler Deric was there, acrobatically reaching the top-right corner with his fingertips to deny the USMNT youngster. The save was so good, Acosta appeared to be prematurely celebrating a goal before he was forced to pull up after seeing the stop.

Then, immediately down the other end, Alberth Elis charged down a loose ball and ripped a shot on net, but Jesse Gonzalez produced an equally stunning save to keep the game scoreless.

66′ – FC Dallas dominated the opening stages of the second half, but they’d need their goalkeeper again to keep the score level. Alex delivered a dangerous cross from the left flank, and while it went over the head of Cubo Torres, it fell to Mauro Manoutas sliding in at the back post who met it on the slide. Unfortunately for Houston, Gonzalez was in the right place to make an admittedly awkward save.

80′ – In a 0-0 game, with no goals to speak of, the loudest cheer of the night was for Mauro Diaz. The 26-year-old made his return from an Achillies tear, subbing on with 10 minutes remaining for the first time since early August. He received a standing ovation from the FC Dallas home crowd.

Honorable mention – Kellyn Acosta delivered this eye-popping through-ball just before halftime. Feast your eyes.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jesse Gonzalez

Goalscorers: None

Championship Playoff Final preview: Huddersfield Town vs. Reading

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These two teams weren’t supposed to be here, at Wembley on Monday at 10:00 a.m. ET playing for a spot in the Premier League.

Everyone talked about how beautiful Fulham played. Everyone talked about how Sheffield kept on winning. Everyone kept talking about the favorites. Everyone wrote off the other guys.

Yet here we are. Reading, owner of a +4 goal differential. Huddersfield Town, owner of a -2 goal differential. Reading, winners over Fulham thanks to a bogus handball. Huddersfield, on to Wembley after a penalty shootout in the rain.

Here we are. The game that will catapult one team to the riches of the Premier League, the game that will send another team back to the depths of the Championship, consigned to progress with the heartbreak of knowing they were so close.

[ MORE: USMNT roster announced for upcoming World Cup qualifiers ]

The Championship playoff final is one of the biggest enigmas in the European soccer landscape. Teams like Reading looking to return to familiar lands of plentiful bounty, others like Huddersfield looking for glory never experienced before.

Huddersfield has not seen top flight action since 1972, and former American international David Wagner has them on the precipice. “There were a lot of statements before the semi-finals about momentum and about form,” Wagner said. “It is another example where we have proven that experience and what has happened in the past is irrelevant. After the 120 minutes against Sheffield Wednesday there were a lot of tired legs, but now after a training camp in Portugal and training on the grass here, everybody is ready to go.”

As far as form goes, Town is struggling. They drew both legs of the Sheffield Wednesday playoff semifinal 0-0, and finished the regular season on a three-match losing streak. They haven’t won a match since April 14th.

Reading, meanwhile, finished the year with wins in seven of their final nine regular season games, and they downed an attacking Fulham side 1-0 at home in the second leg of their semifinal. They’ve been stellar at winning close games all year, winning 18 regular season games by just a single goal, and losing just four, with seven draws. If Jaap Stam can lead his side back to the Premier League, it would mark just a four-year turnaround from their previous relegation from the top flight.

Riches await the winner. The sides couldn’t be more different, and yet on Monday, they both face the same brick wall.

Epic fake injury mars Hungarian league title match

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Sometimes it works out perfectly. Two teams, a title on the line, one match to decide it.

The top two teams in the Hungarian top flight, also known as the NB I, were set to play each other on the final day of the season to decide the title winner.

Budapest Honved hosted Videoton, with the winner set to win the league title. A draw would have given Videoton the victory on goal differential.

With the match 0-0 at halftime, it progressed tensely through the second half. So tense, in fact, that the teams felt they needed to do everything in their power to earn an edge. Even fake injuries. Terribly.

34-year-old Videoton striker Danko Lazovic, a veteran who has been around Europe with Zenit St. Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen, and a host of Eredivisie teams,  looked to earn a foul in the attacking half. He put so much effort into selling the foul that, well, he went a little overboard. And by a little overboard, we mean he went berserk on the field, rolling around and flailing on his back.

There are many factors that make this an absolutely epic moment. First, his team had already earned a foul without the dive. The referee had blown the whistle for a shove moments before Lazovic went down. Second, his teammate looks to come over and help him sell the foul a little more realistically, and instead of accept his teammate’s assistance, he shrugs off the help and continues to flail. Third, as karma would have it, Honved would score the title-winning goal six minutes later as they would go on to win 1-0.

Kids, don’t try this at home. It’s not a good look.