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.

Portland beats Orlando to win MLS is Back championship

MLS is Back
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) Soaked in sweat and doused in water, the Portland Timbers hoisted the MLS is Back trophy at midfield and then headed toward a giant TV screen filled with fans cheering from afar.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

It was a huge Zoom party. It might just be the way to celebrate championships in 2020.

Dario Zuparic’s first goal of the season gave Portland a 2-1 victory against Orlando in Major League Soccer’s return tournament finale Tuesday night, capping a month-long event that showed sports can be played safely inside a bubble.

“I always think the more difficult the fight is the more beautiful the victory is at the end,” said Portland’s Larrys Mabiala, who scored the game’s first goal.

Orlando was slow to react to Diego Valeri’s corner kick in the 66th minute, allowing Eryk Williamson to collect the ball, change direction and take a shot that Jeremy Ebobisse deflected to Zuparic’s feet. Zuparic didn’t have to do much to get it by Pedro “The Octopus” Gallese, who had made two fantastic saves in the lead-up to the corner kick.

The goal started the celebration on Portland’s sideline and sent Orlando into panic mode. The Lions had a chance in the closing minutes, but failed to get the equalizer.

“It’s a group of players in a lot of pain right now,” Orlando coach Oscar Pareja said. “Things didn’t bounce our way. We made a couple of mistakes.”

The Timbers, who spent 39 days in the MLS bubble and remained on West Coast time, hugged and danced after the final whistle. They raised the silver trophy while hooting and hollering. But the lasting image will be players and coaches waving at a camera and reaching hundreds back home.

It ended a wild month for the MLS, which managed to play 51 matches in 45 days at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex at Disney World.

No family. No friends. No fans.

But it was by most accounts a rousing success, especially considering how it started. FC Dallas and Nashville were forced to withdraw days before the start because of positive coronavirus tests.

Players, coaches and support personnel were tested regularly inside the MLS bubble. The league reported just two positives out of nearly 35,000 tests following the initial setbacks that threatened to derail a tournament that came with a $1.1 million purse.

“We just told ourselves we need to make it worth it,” Mabiala said, adding that his son has been calling, crying and clamoring for him to come home in recent days.

Portland will get $328,000 in prize money to split. The Timbers also earned a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League, their first since 2016.

Orlando settled for $150,000 to share.

Orlando’s appearance in the finale was a surprise considering the team finished 11th out of 12 in the East last season and fired coach James O’Connor. Pareja took over in 2020 and made an immediate impact.

Pareja convinced his players, including star Nani, to settle into the bubble several days early. They won the tournament opener, a group-stage victory against Miami, and ended up spending nearly seven weeks quarantined in the bubble.

Portland’s experience – the Timbers won the MLS title in 2015 and were runners-up two years ago – showed in the finale.

Portland’s first shot on goal found the back of the net. Valeri delivered a perfectly placed free kick into the box that Mabiala headed past Gallese in the 27th minute. It was Valeri’s 93rd assist with the Timbers.

But considering Portland has managed just three clean sheets in its last 23 matches, it was no surprise to see a defensive breakdown just a few minutes later.

Nani worked the ball down the left side following a turnover and created enough room to get a crosser into the box. Mauricio Pereyra got a foot on the ball and then took advantage of a fallen defender to tie the match.

The equalizer came shortly after Portland’s Sebastian Blanco exchanged words with Pareja during a hydration break. Referees stepped between them, and they later apologized and hugged it out.

The league resumes its regular season Wednesday night with Dallas playing at Nashville. The league’s 26 teams will play 18 games apiece. A majority of the games will be played without fans because of local regulations. Teams will be subject to a rigorous testing protocol and will use charter flights or buses to limit outside contact.

“We have to see if it works,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. “If it does, we go through with it. If it doesn’t, we’ll have to adjust.”

Nuno ‘proud of the boys’ after Wolves’ magical UEL run ends

Nuno Wolves
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Nuno proud, but frustrated: Wolves’ 2019-20 campaign kicked off 383 days ago, on July 25, and finally ended on Tuesday in a late, heartbreaking defeat to Sevilla in the quarterfinals of the Europa League.

[ MORE: Lille sign $35-million Canadian star Jonathan David ]

From those early-round UEL qualifiers, to another fine season in the Premier League (finishing 7th), to reaching the quarterfinals, it’s been an incredible, dramatic, exhausting road for Nuno Espirito Santo and his players.

Speaking after the game, Espirito Santo revealed he was experiencing equal part pride and frustration at the way their season had just ended. Pride for meeting the challenges they faced along the way, and frustration for the missed opportunity — quotes from the BBC:

“We have frustration, in the last minutes it is something that has happened to us many times. We required focus on a set piece. I am proud of the boys, we played a tough team and we had moments, small details, small margins.

“That happens in football. We came this far and now it’s over. Let’s rest and look to the future. We need more players to help us, it’s a small squad.

“Sevilla made us run, we made a big effort to control it but of course there were players who gave everything and the legs and brain doesn’t work so good. We must be proud of ourselves, admit we made mistakes during the season that we need to rectify to compete at a high level. We must work harder and become stronger.

“We are here because we did things good the previous season. European football is something that we chase because we want to improve and compete agianst the best. The Premier League is challenging enough, it’s like playing the Champions League every week.”

The Wolves players will now have the next week or two off before reporting for the first day of 2020-21 preseason later this month. The 2020-21 Premier League season is currently scheduled for Sept. 12.

Europa League: Wolves knocked out by late Sevilla winner

Europa League Wolves
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Europa League: Wolves’ magical run through the Europa League came to an end on Tuesday, as Nuno Espirito Santo’s side was knocked out in the quarterfinals by UEL specialists Sevilla.

[ MORE: Lille sign $35-million Canadian star Jonathan David ]

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-1 Sevilla

Sevilla were quite comfortably the better side on the night, the side with the vast majority of the scoring chances, and thoroughly deserving semifinalists. Julen Lopetegui’s side will face Manchester United in the semis on Sunday.

It didn’t come easily for Sevilla, though. The game remained level at 0-0 for 87 minutes, until Lucas Ocampos rose above the crowd to head home his 16th goal of the season in the 88th minute.

Wolves had the game’s first — and virtually their only — chance to go ahead inside the first quarter-hour, but Raul Jimenez was denied from the penalty spot in the 12th minute. The real story here, however, is the ease with which Adama Traore left the pack behind and dribbled the ball 81 yards before Diego Carlos cut him down from behind.

Jimenez’s blunder from the spot was one of just two shots on target — both by Jimenez — that Wolves could muster in the game.

[ MORE: Transfer news: Havertz to Chelsea; Ramsey available ]

Sevilla began to ramp up the pressure after halftime and went dangerously close to breaking the deadlock just after the hour mark, as Youssef En-Nesyri weaved his way through traffic inside the penalty area before firing a low strike on goal. Fortunately for Wolves, Rui Patricio was all over and denied En-Nesyri his wondergoal.

Ever Banega forced Patricio to make a vital save of his curling free kick in the 77th minute, but again the Portuguese was up to the challenge. He scrambled across goal and rose high to get a hand on the ball and push it over the crossbar.

Shakhtar Donetsk thrashed Basel 4-1 in Tuesday’s other quarterfinal. They will face Inter Milan in the second semifinal next Monday.

Other Europa League scores

Shakhtar Donetsk 4-1 Basel
Man United 1-0 Copenhagen (Monday)
Inter Milan 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Monday)

Lille sign $35-million Canadian star Jonathan David

Lille sign Jonathan David
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Lille sign Jonathan David: Lille announced on Tuesday their signing of Canadian star Jonathan David from Belgian side Gent for a reported transfer fee of $35 million.

[ MORE: Transfer news: Havertz to Chelsea; Ramsey available ]

The fee paid is a record not only for a Canadian player, but also makes David Lille’s club-record signing and the most expensive player ever sold by a Belgian club.

David had been linked with a move to dozens of clubs across Europe, including a handful of Premier League sides, in recent weeks but it would appear that Lille’s recent success with young players starring in the first team, before selling them to those bigger European sides for massive profits, was an important factor in David’s decision to move to Ligue 1.

[ MORE: Spurs sign Hojbjerg from Southampton; Walker-Peters to Saints ]

The 20-year-old operates predominantly as a center forward but has, on rare occasions, played as a second striker underneath the main man. David racked up 48 goals and 20 assists in his two seasons at Gent, including a number of standout performances in the Europa League.