Football Focus, Arsenal-Tottenham: Examining Spurs’ sputtering attack

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source:  Having scored just twice in three Premier League matches, both on penalty kicks, Tottenham Hotspur’s quest for attacking inspiration continues. A 1-0 loss at Arsenal on Sunday magnified those troubles.

Especially considering the massive amount of money Spurs spent in the transfer market, the poor talent-to-attack conversion rate has received a lot of recent attention.

André Villas-Boas played the same 4-1-4-1 formation in each of the side’s first three matches, with Étienne Capoue sitting behind Nacer Chadli, Moussa Dembélé, Paulinho and Andros Townsend in midfield.

Outside backs Danny Rose and Kyle Walker overlap on every attack, and Roberto Soldado roams the front line alone. Spurs does not often lump balls into the box, instead preferring to probe for a way through on the floor, remaining patient as defenses bunker in front of their own goal.

On Saturday, Tottenham gave the impression of a team still finding its attacking chemistry. Its patterns of play belied a lack of ideas going forward; it was slow to change the point of attack and resorted to long shots from outside the penalty area when build-ups stalled.

Multiple patterns, similar results

Starting from the back, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris looks to play short and keep possession. He completed six of his seven instances of distribution from hands and goal kicks, most often playing center back Michael Dawson.

In the back half, Tottenham tries to get Capoue on the ball as quickly as possible, and he rarely strays from the spot between Spurs’ defenders and the opposition’s midfield line.

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His responsibility is to sweep up in front of the back line and distribute short, forward passes to continue the build-up. At times, either Paulinho or Dembélé check into that space, and Capoue vacates it momentarily, but he hardly advances as the ball does.

As the ball moves up the field, the outside backs overlap. Spurs attacks with seven players, both wide midfielders pinching in and one central player advancing next to Soldado.

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Another reason for Capoue’s conservative positioning is Rose and Walker’s instruction to get forward, often both at the same time. That leaves center backs Dawson and Jan Vertonghen alone in the back, and Capoue is there to fill in with them as necessary.

Getting numbers around the ball in attack means the opponent must collapse to defend, so having three players in the back to delay counter-attacks should be enough to allow recovery. This shot is from the same build-up as above, but after Spurs loses the ball and Arsenal springs a counter:

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Lloris supports the defense with his quick reading of the game and his ability to corral through balls.

Tottenham preferred three approaches to attack against Arsenal: trying to find Soldado as quickly as possible and hoping he could hold defenders off and combine; working the ball wide to look for combinations or individual play to the endline for a cutback; or playing through the central midfielders, who tried to turn and run at players.

Soldado had a rough day in hold-up play, as he was often all alone in attack when Spurs eschewed the short approach for long balls. He received 21 passes, but just three were inside the penalty area, two of which resulted in shots. His higher success rate comes when finding those cutback crosses, not chasing balls over the top or playing with his back to goal.

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In a few moments, Spurs pressed Arsenal high up the field and won the ball close to goal. Tottenham’s outside backs played pivotal roles in holding Arsenal deep, stepping up to support the wingers as they forced play toward the middle.

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Soldado, having just recovered from taking a tackle in the corner, is out of position on this play, allowing Per Mertesacker to play the ball wide, but Walker cuts it out because of his advanced position:

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The outside backs’ higher starting positions also allowed them to combine with Townsend and Chadli, trying to isolate Arsenal’s defenders in the channels. Rose played 16 passes to Chadli on the left, and Walker played 13 to Townsend on the right, both of which were the defenders’ most targeted players.

Townsend offered Spurs its most dangerous attacking option, mostly attempting to penetrate with the ball at his foot and cut onto his preferred left foot from the right wing. He successfully completed six of nine dribbles.

Despite Spurs’ desire to get the wide players involved, it didn’t have a good rate on crosses on Sunday. In the first 80 minutes, before Tottenham tried to get everything into the box as quickly as possible, just one of its 19 crosses reached its target, resulting in a shot from Soldado on a cutback.

New blood, new possibilities

Villas-Boas refused to panic after the match, even though the middle of Tottenham’s field was somewhat of a desert, devoid of playmaking ability.

“It’s not a concern because when you have this quality individually, it can only help you achieve things,” he said, likely referring to newcomers such as Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela. “Eriksen is a wonderfully creative player. He is a great solution for our No. 10 position. I think Christian brings that flair and creativity that we saw at Ajax for these last few years.”

Lamela showed promise on the right wing when he made his debut, making a quick case for inclusion in the starting lineup. Townsend could play on the left, on the same side as his strong foot.

As for Capoue’s injury, which could leave him out for at least a month, Romanian Vlad Chiricheș would fit well in central midfield, although he would attack more often than Capoue. Chiricheș is an attack-minded center back who finds himself on top of the opponent’s penalty area as often as his own.

No matter the combination of players, Spurs needs to start creating opportunities and scoring goals from the run of play. With the structure in place and the right players on the squad, results should not be far behind, even if the early stages of the season have been relatively fruitless.

Hertha Berlin slams racist abuse of under-23 player Ngankam

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BERLIN (AP) Hertha Berlin has condemned apparent racist abuse of its under-23 player Jessic Ngankam from Lokomotive Leipzig fans during their fourth-division game on Friday.

Hertha says on Twitter that, “Ngankam was subjected to racist hostility during the game against Lok Leipzig. As a club, we are completely behind Jessic . The incident was also noted in the match report and a preliminary investigation has since been launched by the league. Lok Leipzig have already given their own statement on the incident. (hash)notoracism”

Hertha executive board member Paul Keuter says the club should have reacted sooner to the alleged abuse, “but nobody should doubt our commitment against racism.”

Hertha player Jordan Torunarigha wrote on Twitter the club is “100% against racism and one shouldn’t argue over why my club is just giving a statement now.”

The 19-year-old Ngankam, who is black, told broadcaster MDR that he was targeted with monkey chants by some fans in the visiting supporters’ block and that he was called an “ape” by an opposing player.

“Of course you’re trained not to react or show emotion. But it still hits you,” Ngankam told MDR. “Insults are unfortunately an everyday occurrence in football, and I can put up with them. But racist abuse is a no-go.”

Lokomotive criticized the abuse on its website, where it reminded its own fans that it has players within the club with roots in 32 countries.

“Only two colors interest us – (club colors) blue and yellow,” Lokomotive said. “Racism has no place among us and everyone knows that! If there are still people who call themselves blue-yellow fans and can’t comprehend that, then it must be clear that (Leipzig district) Probstheida is no place for them.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

Champions League permutations: Who needs what?

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Here’s a quick reminder of how many teams from each group have already reached the last 16:

Group A: Paris St-Germain (winners), Real Madrid (runners up)
Group B: Bayern Munich (winners), Tottenham (runners up)
Group C: Manchester City (winners)
Group D: Juventus (winners)
Group E: None
Group F: Barcelona (winners)
Group G: RB Leipzig
Group H: None

And here’s what teams in each group need to do to advance:

Group C
Shakhtar Donetsk will reach the last 16 if they win at home against Atalanta, while both Atalanta and Dinamo Zagreb can still reach the last 16 with wins.

Group D
Atletico Madrid will secure their spot in the last 16 if they beat Lokomotiv Moscow at home, but if they draw or lose and Bayer Leverkusen win at home against group winners Juventus, the German side will go through.

Group E
Red Bull Salzburg will reach the last 16 if they beat Liverpool at home, while the reigning UCL champions need just a point to make it to the knockout rounds. However,  if Liverpool lose they will be out unless Napoli lose at home to Genk too or if Liverpool score four away goals or more and only lose by one goal (eg a 5-4 loss) combined with a Napoli defeat they will go through. Napoli need a point in their final game at home against Genk to reach the last 16.

Group F
Inter Milan will make the last 16 if they beat Barcelona at home but if they don’t win then Borussia Dortmund will go through by bettering Inter’s result. Dortmund host Slavia Prague at home.

Group G
Leipzig have already qualified and will finish top of the group with a win. Zenit will reach the last 16 if they win away at already eliminated Benfica, while Lyon can qualify if they better Zenit’s result from the final game.

Group H
Chelsea know they will reach the last 16 with a win at home to already eliminated Lille. Ajax only need a draw to make the last 16, while Valencia need a win at Ajax to advance. Chelsea will also reach the last if they draw against Lille and Ajax beat Valencia.

Champions League score predictions: Matchweek 6

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The sixth and final matchday of the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League group stage is here, and two of the four Premier League clubs needing to avoid defeat to go through.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Fans of Liverpool and Chelsea will both be sweating ahead of their group stage finales.

Below we predict the scores for all 16 UCL games taking place over the next two days, with Tottenham heading to Bayern Munich able to rest players,  while reigning champions Liverpool head to Jesse March’s Salzburg needing a draw to advance but the hosts will go through with a win.

As for Chelsea, they host Lille needing a win to secure their route to the last 16 and a draw could be enough if Valencia lose to Ajax, while Man City travel to Dinamo Zagreb already confirmed as group winners.

Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section below, too.


Tuesday

Group E
Red Bull Salzburg 3-5 Liverpool
Napoli 3-1 Genk

Group F
Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Slavia Prague
Inter Milan 2-2 Barcelona

Group G
Lyon 2-1 Leipzig
Benfica 0-2 Zenit

Group H
Chelsea 1-1 Lille
Ajax 2-2 Valencia


Wednesday

Group A
PSG 3-0 Galatasaray
Club Brugge 1-2 Real Madrid

Group B
Bayern Munich 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Olympiacos 3-1 Red Star Belgrade

Group C
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-3 Atalanta
Dinamo Zagreb 1-3 Man City

Group D
Bayer Leverkusen 2-2 Juventus
Atletico Madrid 2-1 Lokomotiv Moscow

MLS teams learn opponents for CCL last 16

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The draw for the last 16 of the CONCACAF Champions League took place late Monday and some intriguing clashes have been set up to kick off the knockout rounds.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

2019 Supporters’ Shield champs LAFC face Liga MX’s Club Leon, while NYCFC fave San Carlos from Costa Rica, 2019 MLS Cup champs Seattle Sounders square off with Honduran side Olimpia, the Montreal Impact face Costa Rica’s Saprissa and Atlanta United also have Honduran opponents in Motagua.

Fans of MLS teams will not need reminding that Liga MX have dominated this competition, with a team from Mexico winning this competition each season since 2006.

Below is the schedule in full for the knockout rounds of the tournament, which begin in mid-February.


2020 CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 schedule

Leg 1: Feb. 18-20; Leg 2: Feb. 25-27. First team listed hosts Leg 2.

  1. Atlanta United (USA) vs. Motagua (HON)
  2. Club America (MEX) vs. Comunicaciones (GUA)
  3. Cruz Azul (MEX) vs. Portmore United (JAM)
  4. LAFC (USA) vs. Club Leon (MEX)
  5. Tigres UANL (MEX) vs. Alianza (SLV)
  6. NYCFC (USA) vs. San Carlos (CRC)
  7. Seattle Sounders (USA) vs. Olimpia (HON)
  8. Montreal Impact (CAN) vs. Saprissa (CRC)

Quarterfinals

Leg 1: March 10-12; Leg 2: March 17-19. Winner of odd-numbered Round of 16 game hosts Leg 2.

  • Winner 1 vs. Winner 2
  • Winner 3 vs. Winner 4
  • Winner 5 vs. Winner 6
  • Winner 7 vs. Winner 8

Semifinals

Leg 1: Apr. 7-9; Leg 2: Apr. 14-16. Hosting determined by performance in prior rounds.

  • Winner 1/2 vs. Winner 3/4
  • Winner 5/6 vs. Winner 7/8

Final

Leg 1: April 28-30; Leg 2: May 5-7. Hosting determined by performance in prior rounds.

  • Winner SF1 vs. Winner SF2