Just how well is Sherwood doing at Spurs, anyway?

Much-changed Tottenham fall to Dnipro, as squad players struggle in Europa league clash


Eastern Europe on a cold February evening is a tough place to go.

Tottenham Hotspur found that out on Thursday as they lost 1-0 away at FC Dnipro in the first leg of their Europa League last 32 tie.

Spurs started with several second-string players, who found it tough going on a churned up pitch in Ukraine. And it was the performances of several of those stand-ins that will give Tottenham’s fans a small cause for concern.

With 10 minutes to go the pivotal moment came as Dnipro’s Brazilian striker Nascimento raced clear after a lighting quick break from the home side, one of many, and the attacker was brought down by Spurs’ defender Jan Vertonghen and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. The man Tottenham and Liverpool chased in the January transfer window, Yevhen Konoplyanka, stepped up and smashed the penalty past U.S. ‘keeper Brad Friedel to seal a first leg win for the Ukrainian side.

It could’ve been even worse late on as Konoplyanka terrorized Spurs’ defense and they managed to hack the ball clear on several occasions in the final moments as Dnipro pushed for a second and the Premier League sides goal led a charmed life. But Spurs survived the onslaught and return to White Hart Lane with only a 1-0 deficit to overcome in the second leg.

That won’t be that easy to do on this showing, as Dnipro have only lost four times this season, twice to Fiorentina in the group stages of the Europa League and twice in the Ukrainian league.

(MORE: Europa League draw for knockout round and Round of 16)

Tottenham started with Friedel in goal, Kyle Naughton at full back, Etienne Capoue as center half, while Andros Townsend and Nacer Chadli supported the  much-maligned Roberto Soldado up top. Spurs huffed and puffed, but looked disjointed in difficult conditions against a fired up Dnipro side. The industrial city is 280 miles south east of the troubled capital Kiev, and you could sense this game, which was in danger of being cancelled, took on a greater meaning for the local people after the recent troubled in the former Soviet nation.

But for Spurs, it was used as an opportunity to give squad players valuable minutes. However manager Tim Sherwood can’t be too happy with what he saw. Yes, chucking plenty of guys onto the pitch who haven’t played regularly together doesn’t usually work out that well, but they should’ve played better than they did. Tottenham are one of the favorites to win the Europa League, but if they thought they could draft in squad players to take them to the final in Turin, this result will be a rude awakening.

With the cash from selling Gareth Bale spent on strengthening the already deep squad last summer, Sherwood seems to have an multitude of players to choose from in every position. But are they strong and ready to compete in Europe and in the Premier League for a top four spot?

On this showing, I doubt it.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.