Toby Alderweireld

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Pochettino, Guardiola preview key UCL clashes

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Tottenham and Manchester City begin their UEFA Champions League knockout rounds on Tuesday, with Spurs heading to Juventus and Man City at Basel.

[ MORE: JPW’s UCL last 16 predictions ]

Both Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola have been speaking about the importance of getting their UCL knockout stages off to the perfect start.

Speaking in Turin ahead of Spurs’ clash with Italian champions and last seasons’ runners up Juve, Pochettino revealed that his side will go all out for victory in the first leg in Italy.

“We are going to be brave, we are going to try to win,” Pochettino said. “We need to play with freedom and clear ideas. It’s a game we must enjoy.”

With Spurs top of the form table in the Premier League over the past six games, Harry Kane in superb goalscoring form and the likes of Dele Alli, Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen back to their best, it’s no wonder that Pochettino is feeling confident.

Most Spurs fans would take a draw or even a one-goal loss away at Juve in the first leg but given that this is an ageing Juventus side, it seems like a winnable tie for Tottenham.

In team news Toby Alderweireld was left at home by Pochettino as the Belgian continues to recover from a long-term hamstring injury. The Belgian defender was fit enough to start last week in the FA Cup replay win against Newport County, and declared himself fit to play against Arsenal in the north London, but Pochettino left him out of the win against the Gunners and explained why.

“He is 28 and it was a massive injury that we need to care about, because we could not put at risk his career,” Pochettino said. “We designed a plan to try to provide him with the best tools to recover as soon as possible and be stronger than before. In that period that he started to work with the team, under our judgement, he needs to build his fitness slowly. He needs to work hard. To play this type of game (against Juventus) you need to be 200 per cent.

“It’s not the same as training to compete, and that’s why we are caring about him with our plan, to try for him in to be at a high level of condition again, (and) can be competing for one place in the starting eleven. That is always what we try to do with different players. Of course we are sorry for him because when you miss some games like Arsenal or the Champions League, and we work a lot to play this type of game, I can understand that (he is frustrated). We are frustrated too because, when you cannot play, it is difficult to accept.”


As for Guardiola and Man City, their focus is not only on getting by Swiss champs Basel but being crowned European champs.

The Premier League’s runaway leaders are the bookies favorites to win the UCL, but Guardiola is understandably cautious as they head into the latter stages of a tournament they’ve slipped up in many times before.

“I don’t know,” Guardiola said when asked if they will win the Champions League. “Our target is to do better than last season. The teams are so clinical and we have to be. Basel have shown good performances in the group stage. They are good opponents. We will have difficulties here.”

Skipper Vincent Kompany, who reached the UEFA Champions League semifinals with City in 2015-16 under Manuel Pellegrini, believes that City now feel as if they belong among Europe’s elite.

“If there is a year, a moment when the club is ready to feel at home, then it’s now,” Kompany said.

City have Leroy Sane back in their squad after he made a quick recovery from the horror tackle he suffered at Cardiff City in the FA Cup last month, but Gabriel Jesus and Benjamin Mendy remain out injured and David Silva could be a doubt.

Premier League Playback: Moving week arrives

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MOVING WEEK

Watching the Premier League this weekend was like watching a Saturday at Augusta. Moving day was in full swing.

When we look back and wrap a bow on the 2017-18 Premier League season, it seems like Week 27 will have been particularly pivotal in deciding the fate of several teams.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Manchester United and Arsenal lost in the top six, while Liverpool and Tottenham won to solidify their top four hopes and Manchester City all but sealed the title as they extended their lead atop the table to 16 points.

But arguably the biggest results came in the bottom half of the table with massive victories for Swansea City, Huddersfield Town, Newcastle United and West Ham to all significantly boost their survival chances.

There were seismic shifts in optimism over the past few days in the PL as clubs who previously thought they were destined for a relegation battle are targeting the top 10 and teams who believed their top four chances were in jeopardy have steadied the ship.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Momentum is everything at this point of the season and the fact that Swansea and West Ham won again suggests they’re heading in the right direction and have hit form. In fact, West Ham, Swansea, Newcastle and Bournemouth are all in the top eight of the form league in the PL.

But for all of those clubs, a word of warning: respect the schedule.

It’s easy to get giddy and see the finish line on the horizon with just 11 games to go, but several strugglers have incredibly tough fixtures lists in the new few weeks which could see them sink back into the mire.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

For example, Stoke’s schedule looks particularly nightmarish in March and early April: Man City (H), Everton (A), Arsenal (A), Tottenham (H). Plus, West Ham’s schedule includes Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal in their next six games.

With City running away with the title, the top four battle and the scrap against relegation will take center stage in the final months of the season.


SEASON OF INDIVIDUAL BRILLIANCE CONTINUES

As a member of the Football Writers’ Association, I’m honored to get a vote for the FWA Player of the Year each season in the Premier League.

The vote this year is going to be very tough.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

We know that soccer is a team game, but it’s those glittering individuals who are making a huge difference this season in the Premier League.

Kevin De Bruyne, Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah are ripping up the PL week after week and Week 27 was no different.

KDB grabbed three assists in Man City’s 5-1 win against Leicester. Kane scored the winner against Spurs’ bitter North London rivals Arsenal and tormented the Gunners defense. Salah scored one and set up the other as Liverpool eased by Southampton.

As things stand De Bruyne will probably be crowned the top player in the PL and he deserves it. He has 14 assists to his name this season and has reinvented himself in a deeper central midfield role this season under Pep Guardiola.

The way he sees a pass that nobody else can sets him apart and the Belgian wizard has it all. He digs deep to defend, controls the tempo of games and makes key passes at key moments.

[ LIVE: Stream every Premier League game

Kane and Salah continue to drive their teams towards top four finishes with their impressive goalscoring records, and arguably both men will be disappointed with chances they’ve squandered in recent weeks with their goal totals set to rise towards 30 by the end of the campaign. The fact that Sergio Aguero’s four-goal performance against Leicester is a sidenote says it all.

Given KDB’s brilliance for a team 16 points clear atop the table, he will likely win the Player of the Year vote by a landslide.

He’s the shining light in a glittering galaxy of stars in the Premier League as the outstanding individuals continue to shine brightest.


POCHETTINO’S PRECARIOUS GAME

Mauricio Pochettino‘s Tottenham are one of the form teams in the Premier League.

Over the last six games no PL team has gained more points than Spurs, with the North Londoners beating Manchester United and Arsenal at home comfortably (even if the scorelines suggest otherwise) and drawing at Liverpool.

You’d think he’d be a happy man. Far from it.

Pochettino has seemed slightly abrupt and ornery in his recent press conferences. He first responded in spiky fashion to questions about his team not being clinical enough against United, his record against the top six and new signing Lucas Moura, while he then barked back at reporters following the derby win against Arsenal on Saturday when asked why Toby Alderweireld didn’t feature despite declaring himself fit to play.

Since then Alderweireld hasn’t traveled to Turin for Spurs’ UCL clash at Juventus despite making his long-awaited comeback last week against Newport County in the FA Cup, with reports stating his future at Spurs could be in doubt as his contract has a release clause of $34.6 million next summer.

Still, it was all a bit bizarre as Pochettino grumbled under his breath as he walked out of the press conference room at Wembley on Saturday shaking his head. In general, the Argentine manager has started to become increasingly upset with suggestions that Spurs aren’t fulfilling their potential and it’s easy to understand why.

Over the past three seasons Spurs have finished third and second in the PL with legitimate title challenges in each campaign, reached the League Cup final, FA Cup semifinal, were the best team in the UEFA Champions League group stage this season and Poch has nurtured the talents of Harry Kane and Dele Alli expertly while managing to keep his playing philosophy crystal clear despite moving from White Hart Lane to Wembley. Not bad.

Yet the question mark hanging over his head remains a big one: why haven’t Spurs won anything?

Spurs look set to finish in the top four and challenge United for second place in the PL this season, while the FA Cup is now looking like their most likely chance of silverware. Getting past Juventus in the Champions League will be tough but doable, but can Spurs really win the Champions League?

Until Pochettino leads Spurs to that type of glory and ends a 10-year drought for silverware, he will continue to get questions which seem to upset and annoy him. At the moment questions which aren’t suppose to do either are pushing his buttons, and all of the wrong ones.

There’s a fine line between Pochettino being praised incessantly for his overachieving and then slated for his complaining. His nowhere near the levels of annoyance the likes of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho cause among their detractors, but Poch is starting to get on a bit of a slippery slope with his public demeanor.

Is their something bigger annoying him behind-the-scenes at Tottenham?


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

LIVE, FA Cup: Tottenham vs. Newport County

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The final FA Cup Fourth Round replay takes place Wednesday afternoon as Wembley Stadium plays host to Tottenham against League Two’s Newport County.

[ LIVE: Follow the FA Cup scores 

With the North London Derby on the horizon, Mauricio Pochettino has decided to rest some of his starters, opting to bring Fernando Llorente, Danny Rose and Juan Foythe into the lineup. Toby Alderweireld also makes his return to the Spurs starting lineup for the first time since December, when he was injured in a UEFA Champions League match against Real Madrid.

Video Assistant Replay is in effect at Wembley Stadium, which could change the outcome of the game if there is a clear and obvious error made by the match officials, so that’s one more thing to keep an eye on.

After holding Tottenham to a 1-1 draw in the fourth round proper, could Newport County shock Great Britain and advance to the fifth round?

Follow along in the link above, and stay here for full time analysis on Pro Soccer Talk.

PL Preview: Tottenham vs. Everton

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  • Everton has not beaten Tottenham in any competitions since 2008
  • Tottenham are unbeaten in 10 home league matches
  • Everton have scored just one goal in their last four games

An important top-half clash comes your way Saturday as Tottenham hosts Everton at White Hart Lane, live on NBC at 12:30 p.m. ET or live online at NBCSports.com.

Spurs sit fifth in the Premier League table with 41 points, and they are looking in both directions as they chase Liverpool three points above them in a Champions League place and hope to fend off Arsenal two points back in sixth. While the Premier League title is likely wrapped up barring a historic collapse, the Champions League places are very much up for grabs.

WATCH LIVE, HERE

Since losing 4-1 to likely champions Manchester City, Spurs have rebounded with three Premier League wins and a draw. Harry Kane is in unstoppable form, with a pair of hat-tricks over the festive period followed by a brace midweek in FA Cup action against AFC Wimbledon. Key to that midweek Cup match was the return of Moussa Dembele, who played a full 90 minutes for the first time since December 16th. Dembele has lost his place in the team due to both fitness concerns and poor form, but the 30-year-old played well against Wimbledon and could potentially see a return to the starting lineup.

On the other side, Everton has seen a brutal dip in form strike the Toffees, with just one Premier League win since December 2nd. A loss to Bournemouth and a draw with West Brom highlight the disappointing results of late, and it appears the honeymoon period with new manager Sam Allardyce is over.

However, they could receive a boost as new signing Cenk Tosun, a 26-year-old Turkish international, could make his first Everton appearance as the Toffees look for help up front. The striker had eight goals in 14 Turkish Super Lig appearances for Besiktas this season before his transfer, and 14 goals in 24 appearances over all competitions. Everton is starved for goalscoring prowess, with just one goal in their last four matches.

INJURIES: Tottenham — OUT: Harry Winks (ankle), Danny Rose (knee), Toby Alderweireld (hamstring). | Everton — OUT: Michael Keane (foot), Idrissa Gueye (hamstring).


What they’re saying

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino on the potential for new signings: “Until today, now, no-one is close to arriving in this transfer window.  Maybe in five minutes something happens. But until now, before the press conference, nothing is close. I’m not concerned, not worried. I think we’re working and of course we’re awake about the market. If something’s available in the terms that we can take, of course we are going to do it.”

Everton manager Sam Allardyce on balancing Everton’s weaknesses: “I think the service provided in the final third is one of our weaknesses and why we’re not scoring enough goals. We don’t have enough natural goalscorers so we have to try and work on that without losing our defensive qualities.”

Prediction

Cenk Tosun is a quality signing and will help Everton up front, especially against a defensively depleted Spurs, but they won’t be able to contain the home side all game, and this ends up as a 1-1 draw that is disappointing for both sides.

Premier League Preview: Burnley vs. Tottenham

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  • Davinson Sanchez returns from suspension for Tottenham Hotspur but Toby Alderweireld (hamstring) and Victor Wanyama (knee) remain sidelined.
  • Burnley’s Stephen Ward (knee) is likely to miss the next two matches while James Tarkowski is suspended for the next three, during which time he will undergo a hand operation.
  • Spurs are aiming to win back-to-back league matches at Turf Moor for the first time in 92 years, but Burnley has lost only one of their last eight PL home matches (W5 D2). 
  • Burnley has won one of their seven Premier League matches against Tottenham Hotspur (D2 L4), 4-2 in May 2010. 

Tottenham looks to leapfrog back over Burnley and into the top five of the Premier League with a trip to Turf Moor on Saturday afternoon. (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com).

[MORE: Top Premier League storylines — Week 19]

Spurs were battered 4-1 last weekend against Manchester City and now face a very difficult task in Burnley, which has stunned observers with a top-six position at this point of the season. On the other hand, Tottenham should see a majority of the ball, even on the road, and Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli could find the key to break through Burnley’s defense.

Speaking of Burnley’s backline, it will be missing centerback James Tarkowski after a three-match ban for violent conduct, a big loss that could be tough to replace on Saturday.

What they’re saying

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino on rebounding from last week: “Players are disappointed because of the defeat against City but after you have time to train and to talk you change that energy and try to move on. The team is ready to compete, ready to go to Burnley and try to win again. It’s been a good week to work and refresh some concepts and again, to be all together, to try to assess, to analyze and try to improve.”

Burnley manager Sean Dyche on his side’s performances this season: “We’re progressing, you can see that. It’s beyond the league table; on and off the pitch the players are delivering performances and I’ve been very pleased with that. You want to look at the team in the tunnel and know they are going to give everything for the cause. It gives you a better chance of giving what you want, and I think we have that. They respect and believe in each other and the squad, that’s a really healthy position to be in as a team.”

Video Preview

Prediction: Burnley has been very impressive this season, but without two starters on its backline against one of the Premier League’s best attacks, it’s going to be very tough for Sean Dyche‘s side to get at least a point out of this match. Tottenham should get the result they need. Tottenham 2-0 Burnley