ANDRE VILLAS-BOAS

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.

Three things we learned from Chelsea vs. Tottenham

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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur drew 2-2 with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Monday as their hopes of winning the Premier League title were ended.

Leicester City have won the 2015-16 Premier League title.

[ VIDEO: Leicester fans react to title ]

Spurs looked to be on the brink of their first league win at Chelsea since 1990 as they scored twice just before half time through Harry Kane and Son Heung-min and were cruising.

There were multiple flashpoints in a feisty London derby and Mauricio Pochettino‘s men couldn’t hold on with Gary Cahill pulling on back and Eden Hazard smashing in an unstoppable strike late on to send the home fans wild.

Here’s what we learned from a wild night at Stamford Bridge.


SPURS CAN’T KEEP TITLE HOPES ALIVE

Tottenham did not give up without a fight but they threw away a chance to keep the title fight going until the penultimate weekend of the season.

Pochettino’s side started slowly but after Son and Danny Rose went close, they grew in stature and then the goals arrived. In the 35th minute Kane was played in by a wonderfully simplistic pass from Erik Lamela and Kane showed supreme composure to round Asmir Begovic and tap home. One minute before half time it got better as Christian Eriksen teed up Son to smash home. 2-0. Spurs’ fans were in dreamland.

Even at the start of the second half they pushed hard with Kane getting free on the left and having his curled effort saved. He then flashed a cross across goal which evaded his teammates and Spurs were on top. Chelsea pulled a goal back through Gary Cahill just before the hour mark to liven up a spicy encounter further and then Chelsea pinned Spurs back for the remainder of the game. Willian‘s cross just evaded Diego Costa at the back post as Kyle Walker cleared and then Hazard delivered the killer blow.

Spurs have had a sensational season but they crumbled at Chelsea and have now not won at Stamford Bridge for 27 years. Losing the battle in this manner was the most upsetting for Spurs and their fans.

PASSION BOILS OVER; DEMBELE IN TROUBLE

Right on half time, with Spurs leading 2-0, Danny Rose clattered into Willian in front of the benches. All hell broke loose. Pochettino raced onto the pitch to try and break up the scuffle, players from both teams bundled in and the coaches got involved. It was utter pandemonium as the thrusting passion of a truly vitriolic London derby was in full flow. Amid all that madness a moment of sheer lunacy arose.

Tottenham’s Mousa Dembele had already been at it with John Obi Mikel earlier in the game and, of course, Costa had been going at it with Jan Vertonghen and just about anybody else who wanted a piece. So, Dembele and Costa came together, squared up among the crowd and then the Belgian gouged Costa’s left eyeball with his right finger. Just what was he thinking? Referee Mark Clattenberg missed it but one of his linesman was looking straight at the incident, I mean straight at it, and didn’t tell the referee to act. Dembele will likely be getting a call from the English Football Association this week and can expect a ban for the rest of the season. There is no place for this kind of  behavior. What to follow was almost worse.

There were so many contentious incidents during this game and Clattenberg tried to be lenient and let tackles go to start with, but in the end he dished out 12 yellow cards. Eric Dier flew into tackles against Hazard and Fabregas and how he stayed on the pitch we will never know. At the end of the game it all kicked off again. Coaches, players and officials were involved in a huge brawl at the headed down the tunnel. Severe FA punishment for both clubs, mostly Tottenham, will follow.

Spurs threw away their chance to win the title and they reacted in the worse possible way. It was shambolic the way they ended the game. If it passion, pride and commitement you’re after, look no further than this London derby. It was a belter but is likely to see repercussions, especially for Dembele and probably many others.

HAZARD WINS THE TITLE, AGAIN

Almost 12 months ago Eden Hazard to win Chelsea the Premier League title. On Monday he scored to win Leicester City the Premier League.

Hazard came on at half time with Chelsea 2-0 down and helped changed the game. His incisive running scared Spurs’ defense every time he got on the ball and his sublime curling finish in the 83rd minute made it 2-2 and hammered the final nail in the coffin of Spurs’ title hopes. He hasn’t had the best season, far from it, but he gave the Chelsea fans what they wanted on Monday. To  end Tottenham’s title hopes. See the video above to watch it play out. The home fans were desperate to beat or draw with Spurs and were cheering “Leicester, Champions!” in the final moments and one fan held up a sign for their former manager, and current Leicester boss, Claudio Ranieri: “Do it for Ranieri!”

They did. Fans in Leicester rejoiced as Hazard celebrated in front of Tottenham’s fans following his goal. Last week he spoke of how Chelsea did not want Tottenham to win the league and do whatever they could to stop it happening. Turns out he did it himself. Hazard won the PL for a team for the second-straight season.

WATCH: Leicester players, fans react to winning the Premier League title

LEICESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 02:  Leicester City fans celebrate Chelsea's second goal as they watch the Barclays Premier League between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Yates's Bar on May 2, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom. If Spurs fail to win against Chelsea, Leicester City will become Premier League champions.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
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Leicester City have won the 2015-16 Barclays Premier League.

With two matches to spare, the Foxes have clinched their first-ever top-flight title in the club’s 132-year history, finishing off the most improbable run in sports history.

While Leicester didn’t get to celebrate the title on the pitch, that didn’t stop the players and fans from celebrating around the city.

 

Leicester City crowned 2015-16 Premier League champions

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Leicester City have won the 2015-16 Premier League title.

I’ll repeat it again: Leicester City have won the 2015-16 Premier League.

One of the greatest fairytales in sporting history is complete.

[ VIDEO: Leicester react to winning PL ]

With nearest rivals Tottenham Hotspur drawing 2-2 at Chelsea on Monday, the Foxes become just the sixth team in history to win the Premier League as they won their first-ever top-flight title in their 132-year history.

They have an seven-point lead at the top of the table and Tottenham have just two games remaining, meaning Leicester cannot be caught and won the title while watching the game on TV from the comfort of their own home.

[ MORE: Full Leicester City archive

In a season which has defied belief, Leicester has shrugged off the challenge of Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Manchester City to become the most unlikely champion in PL history and probably English soccer history.

Italian manager Claudio Ranieri has masterminded the success in his first season in charge at the King Power Stadium with the veteran boss moved to tears at the final whistle. He took over last summer after Leicester City survived relegation in the final weeks of last season under Nigel Pearson. They were only promoted back to the PL for the 2014-15 season and have kept a large number of the players who led them from the third tier in 2009.

[ MORE: The perfect storm which Leicester took advantage of

Now, they’ve gone from 5000-1 outsiders and among the favorites for relegation to PL champions. This is one of the most remarkable stories in sporting history. Period. Maybe even the most remarkable.

Their journey has inspired every other team around the globe and with Jamie Vardy‘s goals, Riyad Mahrez‘s magic, N'Golo Kante‘s running and a defiant defensive unit led by captain Wes Morgan, the Foxes have ridden an incredible wave of euphoria in recent months to get over the line.

[ MORE: Detailing the day Leicester (pretty much) won the PL ]

In truth, every single Leicester player must be lauded and they will go down in history, their names never forgotten in Leicester and further afield.

With streets set to be named after them, calls for Raineri to be knighted and a first-ever appearance in the UEFA Champions League coming up next season, the Foxes have become the biggest sporting story on the planet.

I’ll say it again one more time just in case you don’t believe me: Leicester City are the 2015-16 Premier League champions.

Never in my life did I think I’d be typing those words.

Chelsea 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur: Hazard’s late goal hands Leicester City the title

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 02:   Toby Alderweireld of Tottenham Hotspur and Diego Costa of Chelsea battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on May 02, 2016 in London, England.jd  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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  • Kane, Son score for Tottenham
  • Hazard equalizes in the 83rd minute
  • Leicester City are Premier League champions

Leicester City are officially your Barclays Premier League champions for the 2015-16 season.

In need of a win to keep their title hopes alive, Tottenham squandered a 2-0 halftime lead at Stamford Bridge, settling for a 2-2 draw with Chelsea to hand Leicester the trophy.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

After an even opening to the match, Tottenham scored two late goals before the break to take a commanding lead into the dressing room.

Harry Kane opened the scoring in the 35th minute, capping off a fluid run of play from the visitors. Erik Lamela collected from Christian Eriksen before slotting Kane in with a perfectly-timed through-ball. Kane’s first touch took him around the goalkeeper, leaving him an open net for his league-leading 25th goal of the season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Less than ten minutes later, Son Heung-min made it 2-0 Tottenham. A turnover from Branislav Ivanovic led to a quick break from Spurs, with Son finishing off just his third Premier League goal of the season.

The first half ended with a touchline melee that saw both benches clear as tempers boiled over. A challenge from Danny Rose on Willian led to a shoving match between the players, with Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino jumping onto the pitch to separate the two. Pochettino’s presence led to a huge gathering that took a few minutes for referee Mark Clattenburg to quiet down. In the midst of it all, video review showed Mousa Demebele appearing to scratch the face of Diego Costa, which could bring on further punishment from the FA.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Two goals down, Chelsea came out of the break on the front foot, and the Blues pulled a goal back in the 58th minute. Gary Cahill got free of his mark on a corner kick, finding enough room to take a touch and fire a left-footed volley past Hugo Lloris to cut Spurs’ lead to one.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Chelsea looked the better side throughout the second half, with Hiddink’s men determined to end Tottenham’s title hopes. Then, in the 83rd minute, Eden Hazard found an equalizer to give Chelsea a share of the points and Leicester the Premier League title. After scoring his first two league goals of the season last weekend, Hazard’s third was his prettiest, bending a beautiful shot into the top corner to the delight of Leicester fans everywhere.

Tempers flared before the final whistle, but when that whistle blew at Stamford Bridge, Leicester City were crowned Premier League champions.