Rose

Where did it all go awry for Spurs? Danny Rose’s injury is a significant reason for the defense’s struggles

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The Tottenham defense has been battered, bruised, and beaten into a shell of its former self.

With Spurs having gone from owning the Premier League’s best back four to conceding 15 goals in its last five matches. Andre Villas-Boas didn’t make it through with his job intact.

Where did it all go wrong?

For that answer, or part of it at least, you have to travel all the way back to September 19 – the day left-back Danny Rose broke his foot, and threw the Spurs defense completely out of whack.

Up to that point, Spurs had conceded just one goal in its first four matches, in a 1-0 defeat to Arsenal.  In fact, across the six matches he’d played up to that point including the Europa League, they’d still allowed just one goal.

With Rose going down, their cover at left-back is 25-year-old Kyle Naughton, and AVB knew he wasn’t the answer.  He certainly wasn’t this weekend, coming off at halftime, probably a good 20 minutes too late.

So what did the Portugese manager do to replace Danny Rose? At first he went with Naughton, and the results were decent.  They held Cardiff to a clean sheet and Chelsea to one score. But he is a right-footed player on the left wing, which doesn’t give the team good width in the attack.

Then the West Ham match, the beginning of the end for Villas-Boas.  Naughton was partly to blame as Mark Noble, Mohamed Diame, and Stewart Downing (the right side of West Ham’s attack) shredded the Spurs left flank, and they fell 3-0 to the Hammers at home.

So AVB made a change. He took his PFA Team of the Year center-back Jan Vertonghen and moved him to left-back. Again, initially the results were positive, and Spurs kept Aston Villa, Hull City, and Everton all to three consecutive clean sheets. But inside things were churning.

source: Getty Images
The injury to Rose has stuck Belgian CB Jan Vertonghen out wide, something he has publicly stated he hates.

The well-documented Spurs attack failed to score against Newcastle at home, and it began to boil over. Vertonghen publicly criticized Villas-Boas for playing him out of position.

“Tottenham pay my wages, so I have to accept it, but it doesn’t suit me,” said Vertonghen on November 19. “The club know how much I want to play centre-half. I think I have done enough to deserve a place there now, ideally for every game.”

With his gripes now out in the public eye, things officially unraveled. The Man City Massacre, we’ll call it. With Vertonghen at left-back and Vlad Chiriches and Yohan Kaboul forced into regular duty in the middle, Sergio Aguero and company shredded the Spurs back line for a 6-0 victory.

Spurs found a bit of form in the attack, but their defense continued to concede goals. Two against Manchester United. One against woeful Fulham (which probably should have been more). One against Sunderland, with Naughton back in the lineup thanks to an injury to Vertonghen.

Then the kill shot.

This past weekend’s 5-0 defeat was another blow to the team’s confidence, and Villas-Boas paid the price.

Sure, there are questions in the attack that still haven’t been answered. Sure, the oodles of purchased wingers and midfielders haven’t gotten on the same page, and a preferred lineup still is a mystery.

But for a team that began the season with one of the staunchest defenses in the league, they should not be taking such heavy defeats.

Not without Danny Rose in the lineup, anyways.

He returned to the lineup against Anzhi in the Europa League last week, but only played 45 minutes and spoke afterwards about how he’s barely trained with the club. He could return this coming weekend against Southampton, but most likely the following weekend against West Brom.

The sooner the better for Spurs, no doubt. Especially now that Vertonghen is injured until the new year and Chiriches is also missing out.

West Ham United 2-1 Liverpool: Ogbonna strikes after 120 minutes

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Jordon Ibe of Liverpool takes on Pedro Mba Obiang of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Angelo Ogbonna is now an FA Cup hero.

Two sides willing to move the ball and attack produced a fine FA Cup tie on Tuesday at the Boleyn Ground, with Ogbonna heading home the match-winner in the 121st minute of play for a 2-1 win.

Michail Antonio scored a first-half goal for West Ham before Philippe Coutinho equalized for the visiting Reds.

[ WATCH: Coutinho’s cheeky free kick ties the score ]

All told, West Ham heads to Ewood Park for a fifth-round date with Blackburn Rovers. Peterborough United hosts West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday to sort out the fourth round’s other replay.

Liverpool played a more second-string set than the home side.

Brilliance met brilliance in the 38th minute, as Dimitri Payet struck a gorgeous dipping free kick over the wall only to see Mignolet get the slightest touch to help the ball crank off the goal post. Cheikhou Kouyate failed to scissor kick the rebound, and Mignolet flew back into the picture to parry Antonio’s header.

Antonio would get his glory next, as Enner Valencia took Payet’s pass and dribbled through the left side of the 18 and toward the end line before crossing the ball. Antonio let the ball sink to hip height before volleying home. 1-0, 45′.

There were three goal posts struck in the first half.

[ MORE: American takeover at Everton update

[ MORE: Recapping Week 25 in the PL ]

Coutinho scored on a clever free kick from the edge of the 18, betting on the wall jumping and cheekily rolling his shot under it and past Hammers keeper Darren Randolph.

Christian Benteke started and nearly finished a 56th minute chance inside the box, but his shot was blocked.

West Ham should’ve been awarded a penalty when Tiago Ilori pulled down Valencia in the box. Roger East didn’t see it that way.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s Courtois says FA Cup or UEFA Champions League final a must ]

The match went to extra time after eight minutes of second-half stoppage time.

Mignolet made a solid flying stop on Mark Noble in the first frame of extra time. At the other end, Benteke struck a low chance wide of the right post. Moments later, Randolph came out to thwart Benteke on a breakaway.

If anyone needed a reminder of Daniel Sturridge‘s skill, the late sub let fly with a 108th minute bullet that missed the goal by inches.

Then Lucas Leiva gave up a free kick just as two minutes of extra time stoppage began, and Ogbonna struck.

LINEUPS

West Ham United: Randolph, O’Brien (Moses, 83′), Reid (Collins, 64′), Ogbonna, Cresswell, Kouyate (Carroll, 76′), Noble, Obiang, Antonio, Valencia, Payet.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Flanagan, Stewart, Tiago Ilori, Smith, Teixeira (Origi, 60′), Lucas, Chirivella (Milner, 102′), Ibe, Benteke, Coutinho (Sturridge, 60′).

WATCH: Liverpool’s Coutinho bewitches West Ham with cheeky free kick

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09: Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool scores from a free-kick during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Philippe Coutinho has some gumption.

Liverpool’s Brazilian wizard tied things up with West Ham United in Tuesday’s FA Cup replay at the Boleyn Ground, and did it in style.

[ MORE: Courtois says FA Cup or Champions League final a must ]

With a free kick from just outside the 18, Coutinho thought West Ham would expect he’d hit a ball that would get up quick before dipping after the wall.

They’d jump, he figured, and he’d roll it under the wall. He was correct (video courtesy Fox Soccer):

USWNT’s Solo says Zika fears could make her skip the Olympics

Hope Solo attends the premiere of "He Named Me Malala" at The Ziegfeld Theatre on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
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As it stands, Hope Solo would skip the Olympics if fears over the Zika virus don’t subside in Brazil.

It’s been speculated that Zika increases the odds of certain birth defects, and Solo said playing in the Olympics is not worth risking future pregnancies.

[ MORE: American takeover at Everton update

With CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying heading to NBC Live Extra at 8:30 p.m. ET Wednesday against Costa Rica (All games of the tournament will be streamed on Live Extra), Solo is set to star between the sticks for the USWNT.

But in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl, the 34-year-old netminder is far from ready to commit to the tournament.

She went as far as to say she wouldn’t go if the tournament was today, elaborating in this story from SI.com:

“I would never take the risk of having an unhealthy child,” said Solo, 34. “I don’t know when that day will come for Jerramy and me, but I personally reserve my right to have a healthy baby. No athlete competing in Rio should be faced with this dilemma. Female professional athletes already face many different considerations and have to make choices that male professional athletes don’t.”

Brazilian officials claim there will be minimal risk by the Summer Games because of the change in season, but that won’t alleviate all the concerns of female athletes. It will certainly be interesting to monitor how the situation develops in the coming months.

Chelsea’s Courtois says FA Cup or Champions League final a must

Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea FC
Brian Westerholt/AP Images for International Champions Cup
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Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is used to big matches, whether at Stamford Bridge, with the Belgian national team or during his loan to Atletico Madrid.

[ SPORTSWORLD: Courtois “standing tall” at Chelsea ]

If he doesn’t get one or two of those contests by the end of this season, a bad season will become an utter failure.

Courtois says it’s a long way to the Top Four, but Chelsea hasn’t given up on that hope. Regardless, he’s targeting wins over Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain in the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League, respectively.

From ChelseaFC.com:

“After that we play in the Champions League and FA Cup against two great sides and we have to try to win those games because the only way to save our season is to reach the final in one or both of them.”

Chelsea’s star has fallen this year, but this is still largely the team that won the Premier League last season. Courtois’ goals are not unreasonable.