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.

Bayern can’t break down Simeone’s Atleti: “We played too slowly”

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 28:  Carlo Ancelotti, Manager of Bayern Muenchen looks on before the UEFA Champions League group D match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at the Vicente Calderon Stadium on September 28, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich sits second in Group D of this season’s UEFA Champions League after losing its toughest match of the bunch: a trip to the Vicente Calderon.

Atletico Madrid won 1-0 when Antoine Griezmann linked up with Yannick Carrasco for a first half goal and Diego Simeone’s stubborn defense lived up to its reputation in blanking the Bavarians.

[ MORE: Champions League roundup ]

Manager Carlo Ancelotti has been frustrated by Simeone in the past, perhaps most notably in his brief stint at Real Madrid. But the Bayern boss says the loss was down to speed.

“We tried to get back into the game but we played too slowly, which is why we did not have many chances to equalize,” Ancelotti said. “It’s never nice to lose.”

Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer also acknowledged a lack of speed in a way, pointing at urgency when he said, “Atlético showed a killer instinct tonight and we didn’t.”

Bayern hosts PSV Eindhoven in its next UCL match on Oct. 19.

Guardiola, Rodgers left to unpack thrilling Celtic-Man City draw

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  Brendan Rodgers, Manager of Celtic issues instructions to his players next to Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League group C match between Celtic FC and Manchester City FC at Celtic Park on September 28, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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What a match in Glasgow.

The UEFA Champions League group stage returned to Celtic Park on Wednesday, where the hosts thrilled their crowd by taking a trio of leads before settling for a 3-3 draw with mighty Manchester City.

[ MORE: JPW on Walcott’s Arsenal heroics ]

The draw is the first competitive game City hasn’t won under Pep Guardiola, but the manager didn’t feel much like complaining after his team rallied.

From the BBC:

Guardiola: “It was difficult for us. I’m happy with the reaction from the players, it’s not easy to score three goals away.

“I don’t know how many the chances they had after the third goal. We should have won it.”

As for Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers, he was tickled. After all, Celtic had fallen 7-0 to Barcelona at the Camp Nou during their first outing.

From the BBC:

Rodgers: “We were brilliant, the pressing and the energy. Every time we went forward we looked like we could score.

“Apart from the Barcelona game these players have been operating at a high level this season. Now, to do it against that team, it was a magnificent performance.”

Celtic Park was loud on Wednesday, and both sides gave the crowd plenty of oohs and aahs. It’s hard to imagine Celtic could do the same again, and City did give away a pair of goals (one own goal from Raheem Sterling, one gaffe from Aleksandar Kolarov).

But for one afternoon, who cares about anything other than an entertaining 90 minutes?

Theo Walcott remains rampant after going back to basics

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  Theo Walcott of Arsenal scores his team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League group A match between Arsenal FC and FC Basel 1893 at the Emirates Stadium on September 28, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Theo Walcott scored both of Arsenal’s goals in their 2-0 win over FC Basel in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday and the English winger is back to his best.

[ RECAP: Arsenal destroy Basel ]

Walcott, 27, is in fine form with four goals in his last three games as Arsenal have won four straight in all competitions.

Against Basel he simply ripped their defense apart in the first half, cutting in from the right wing to combine with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil and wreck havoc.

What has been the big change in Theo’s game this season?

Following Arsenal’s win against Chelsea last weekend (Walcott scored in the big 3-0 win) I asked his manager Arsene Wenger exactly that.

“I believe the change in Theo Walcott is his attitude this season,” Wenger told ProSoccerTalk. “He is ready to fight, commit and you know straight away he gets the crowd behind him. Theo Walcott of that stature is a completely different player.”

That is what we are seeing this season as Walcott spoke before the game against Basel about focusing more on himself and finally giving up on trying to be a central striker.

He looks sharp, focused and angrier (especially when tracking back defensively, something the fans are loving) than he has been in recent years and Wenger will be hoping Walcott stays clear of the horrendous injuries which have peppered his 10-year career at Arsenal.

Sometimes we forget just how long Walcott has been around.

When you look at the stat above, it hits home that he’s no longer a youngster we are waiting to explode into life. It is time Walcott started to deliver and seems like the penny has dropped somewhere along the line and he has gone back to basics. With his pace and power, when he’s on it there’s few defenders who can slow him down.

Now, the only thing Wenger and Arsenal’s fans will be hoping for is that Walcott can stay injury free and finally fulfill the massive potential many have always believed that he had.

Right now, Walcott is rampant for the red-hot Gunners.

UEFA Champions League wrap: Bayern falls at Atleti; Arsenal, Barca win

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 28:  Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Muenchen reacts after conceding a goal during the UEFA Champions League group D match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at the Vicente Calderon Stadium on September 28, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Oh, there were goals to be had in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, where Arsenal, Napoli, and PSG cruised to multi-goal wins while other powers had tougher times.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Manchester City needed to battle for its point at Celtic, while Barcelona came back to topple Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany. And Bayern Munich, well, they found it just as tough to score vs. Atletico Madrid as it did in last year’s semifinal.

Celtic 3-3 Manchester CityRECAP

The Scots opened up a pair of leads through Moussa Dembele‘s third-minute redirection of a Erik Sviatchenko attempt and a Raheem Sterling own goal, but Fernandinho pulled one back for City and Sterling made amends with a goal of his own to level things at half of a thriller at Celtic Park.

Dembele added a second shortly after halftime to put the hosts back on top, and Craig Gordon made a pair of fine saves to keep Celtic’s lead. That’s when Nolito found a loose ball.

Arsenal 2-0 BaselRECAP

A Theo Walcott brace had the Gunners rolling at the Emirates in a match which pits Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka against older brother Taulant Xhaka.

Napoli 4-2 Benfica

Marik Hamsik scores a first goal for the the Italians, and Dries Mertens gave Napoli insurance with a pair of second half goals and Arkadiusz Milik converted a penalty in between. Young Gonçalo Guedes and Eduardo Salvio scored for Benfica late.

Borussia Monchengladbach 1-2 Barcelona

The middle Hazard brother, Thorgan, staked the German hosts to a 1-0 lead over Lionel Messi-less Barcelona with his 34th minute tally.

Arda Turan took advantage of hesitant goalkeeping from Yann Sommer and a chipped pass from Neymar to tie the match in the 65th minute. Sommer then left a Luis Suarez shot on the foot of Gerard Pique, and the big Barca defender scored to make it 2-1.

Napoli 4-0 Benfica

Marik Hamsik scores a first goal for the the Italians, and Dries Mertens gave Napoli insurance with a pair of second half goals and Arkadiusz Milik converted a penalty in between.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Bayern Munich

Yannick Carrasco has the hosts up at the Vicente Calderon, on a nice shot to boot. Antoine Griezmann had the assist, and Atleti recorded more shots than the visitors despite a massive possession advantage for Bayern. The Bavarians also came close to doubling the amount of passes completed by Diego Simeone’s men, but goals are what matter here and Atleti has claimed the rematch of last year’s semifinal. Griezmann missed a late penalty for the hosts.

Ludogorets Razgrad 1-3 Paris Saint-Germain

Blaise Matuidi nabbed an equalizer after the Bulgarians surprised PSG with a Natanael goal in the 16th minute. Edinson Cavani scored twice after halftime to put the French powers in a favorable position.

Besiktas 1-1 Dynamo Kyiv

Portugal’s Ricardo Quaresma gave the hosts a first half lead, but 18-year-old Viktor Tsygankov played hero for the visitors when he scored in the second half.

FC Rostov 2-2 PSV Eindhoven

This was another first half thriller, with Dmitri Poloz netting twice for the hosts. Davy Propper scored the first equalizer, while Luuk De Jong made it 2-2 at the break.

Standings

Group A
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Arsenal 2 1 1 0 3 1 2 1-0-0 0-1-0 4
Paris SG 2 1 1 0 4 2 2 0-1-0 1-0-0 4
Ludogorets 2 0 1 1 2 4 -2 0-0-1 0-1-0 1
FC Basel 2 0 1 1 1 3 -2 0-1-0 0-0-1 1
Group B
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Napoli 2 2 0 0 6 3 3 1-0-0 1-0-0 6
Besiktas 2 0 2 0 2 2 0 0-1-0 0-1-0 2
Dynamo Kiev 2 0 1 1 2 3 -1 0-0-1 0-1-0 1
Benfica 2 0 1 1 3 5 -2 0-1-0 0-0-1 1
Group C
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Barcelona 2 2 0 0 9 1 8 1-0-0 1-0-0 6
Manchester City 2 1 1 0 7 3 4 1-0-0 0-1-0 4
Celtic 2 0 1 1 3 10 -7 0-1-0 0-0-1 1
Mönchengladbach 2 0 0 2 1 6 -5 0-0-1 0-0-1 0
Group D
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Atlético Madrid 2 2 0 0 2 0 2 1-0-0 1-0-0 6
Bayern Munich 2 1 0 1 5 1 4 1-0-0 0-0-1 3
PSV Eindhoven 2 0 1 1 2 3 -1 0-0-1 0-1-0 1
FC Rostov 2 0 1 1 2 7 -5 0-1-0 0-0-1 1