Kyle Martino chats Andre Villas-Boas drama and Premier League parity

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EXCLUSIVE — Following his side’s 2-2 draw with Manchester United this past weekend, Andre Villas-Boas made headlines for lashing out at journalists who questioned his ability to manage Tottenham (see video).

Accusing the Daily Mail’s Neil Ashton and Martin Samuel of launching an attack on “my integrity, my human values, and my professionalism,” many felt Villas-Boas came off as overly-sensitive and even petty.

He had just finished a high-intensity 2-2 match with Manchester United, a game that may not have seen his side take the three points but one that did, however, go a long way to erasing the previous week’s 6-0 nightmare loss to Manchester City.

Fast forward three days and Villas-Boas’ squad finally did get that much-needed victory, although the 2-1 win at Fulham was hardly a convincing act. Down 0-1 after Ashkan Dejagah’s 56th minute strike, Spurs needed goals from Vlad Chiriches and Lewis Holtby to spare AVB’s blushes.

Unconvinced that the Portuguese boss is off-the-hook at White Hart Lane, I sat down with NBC Premier League analyst, Kyle Martino, and talked all things AVB and Spurs.

When asked whether AVB’s job was under threat, Martino issued a decisive “No,” adding the caveat, “but the period of scrutiny has definitely started and you can bet the powers-that-be are now monitoring the situation very close. The reality for AVB is that he lost the best player in the Premier League last year, a player who probably overshadowed a few cracks in the system. But when you spend $150 million or so in the summer, alongside that comes incredible expectations of improvement. If they hadn’t lost Gareth Bale and didn’t spend a lot of money, you’d have more patience with his predicament.”

Hard to disagree with that. With increased resources comes increased expectations.

As far as AVB’s reaction at the press conference goes, Martino was sympathetic. “Look, I understand and appreciate his desire to want to defend himself when he feels he’s being personally attacked but something that comes with being an experienced manager is being calm and secure when playing the media game.”

“Right now the media are getting AVB to do exactly what they want him to do, which is react and get upset. I don’t think he’s wrong in a man-on-man personal situation but he needs to look at the bigger picture – when his team sees an interview like that I think they see a manager that’s slightly over-sensitive before they see a manager who’s standing up for himself.

“When you go back at your critic, you give them bait that validates their comments. Whereas if you dismiss them, that’s what makes you look the strongest.”

Martino’s argument of refrain and dismissal is spot on. A similar philosophy was echoed by Sir Alex Ferguson in his latest autobiography, “Ferguson.”

There, the United legend notes that the best piece of advice he ever received on the media front was from a friend named Paul Doherty, who told Fergie that he was “giving the game away” and “showing his worries” during press conferences.

Ferguson agreed. “Appearing beleaguered is no way to handle the press. Showing your torments to them is no way to help the team or improve you’re chances of winning on a Saturday.”

Ferguson goes on to claim that he “couldn’t allow a press conference to become a torture-chamber” and that it was his duty to protect the integrity of the club.”

For Ferguson, the key to press conferences was to prepare himself mentally while he noted that his “experience” was a huge factor in allowing him to “see the line a journalist is pursuing.”

It all lines up, doesn’t it?

The perfect descriptor for AVB last weekend was “beleaguered.” The press room truly was his “torture-chamber.” And during that bust-up, he definitely would’ve given his left arm for 1/4th the experience of Sir Alex Ferguson.

But that’s life.

AVB is simply not that experienced. He’s only 36-years-old. Those kind of moments are bound to happen.

When I asked how smart he thinks Villas-Boas is, Martino said: “I think he’s very smart, getting his badges as a young man, learning under Sir Bobby Robson and Jose Mourinho. If you’re an intelligent and ambitious person, which AVB is, you can’t help but absorb those things.”

With that high a level of intelligence, however, there is a sense that AVB tends to overcomplicate things. Martino makes an interesting observation: “If you watch AVB on the sideline it takes him three minutes of conversation to get across his points to a substitute. That’s the kind of technocratic overload that can paralyze some players. I’ve heard players talk about him planning training sessions weeks in advance. To be that meticulous can be too much.”

Another thing AVB seems to be taking seriously is the Europa League.

Martino chuckles, “Yeah, I’m not sure if going after the Europa League rather than the Premier League is the best thing to do after spending $150 million on players last summer. Spurs fans want improvement on last year’s Premier League season. They want a Champions League spot.”

That’s the thing in the Premier League – a lot of clubs want a Champions League spot. Right now, it appears the title will be decided by three teams: Arsenal (34p) Chelsea (30p) and Manchester City (28p).

But who will claim that precious 4th spot?

That’s the million dollar question.

And currently any of six different clubs (Liverpool (27), Everton (27), Tottenham (24), Newcastle (23), Southampton (22) and Manchester United (22)) could make it happen.

It’s a situation that has Martino shaking his head in disbelief.

The parity truly is astounding.

Reports: Mourinho looking into Fellaini, Dzeko signings

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People joked when Jose Mourinho was hired at Tottenham Hotspur. “Just wait until he goes after Marouane Fellaini” they said.

If only they knew.

According to a report by Belgian publication DH, Mourinho is seriously considering a January swoop to bring Fellaini back to the Premier League, wishing for a player of his body and skill profile in his squad. Fellaini was initially a David Moyes signing at Manchester United in 2013, but became a Mourinho favorite thanks to his aerial presence in midfield and his ability to play up front in a pinch.

Fellaini is currently playing for Chinese club Shandong Luneng, having scored seven goals and assisted four more in 22 Chinese Super League matches this season while playing mostly a center-mid role. The club finished fifth in the league table, with the season just coming to a conclusion on December 1. Luneng also played in the Chinese League Cup final, falling to Shanghai Shenhua 3-0.

The Belgian’s popularity at Manchester United never reached the levels of other fan favorites, and he was often seen as symbolic of the club’s struggles to find top-level players. Still, Mourinho persisted with a player he clearly favored, with Fellaini eventually making 89 appearances across all competitions under his Portuguese boss.

Reports also indicate that Mourinho is eyeing Roma striker Edin Dzeko as a January option. The Italian club is currently fifth in the Serie A table, in a tight battle for a top four spot. Still, the Bosnia-Herzegovina international has a contract that runs through the summer of 2022, meaning the club could look to cash in on a player who will be 36 years old at the expiry of his current deal. Dzeko has declined somewhat, but still proves a goal threat, with six scores in 15 league matches this campaign plus another two in Europa League action.

Newcastle win dampened by Saint-Maximin injury

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Steve Bruce has seen Newcastle up to 10th in the table after topping Southampton 2-1, but the news wasn’t all good at St. James Park after the victory.

The Magpies boss confirmed that Allan Saint-Maximin  could be out “for weeks” after pulling up deep into stoppage time, coming off in the 96th minute after all three Newcastle substitutes had been used.

Bruce partly blamed himself for the injury, claiming he nearly rested the Frenchman for the match. “I nearly left him out today,” Bruce said after the game, “and, now, I wish I had done because he could be out for weeks. I’m disappointed with myself. We don’t know how serious it is. I kick myself if he is out for a long time. The way he pulled up – let’s hope it’s not too serious.”

The manager claims Saint-Maximin was “fatigued” but risked him anyways. He could have brought the 22-year-old off at some point during the second half, but with the game level until Federico Fernandez’s 87th minute winner, he chose to risk it further looking for a winner. Bruce used his third and final substitute in the 85th minute to haul off Miguel Almiron still two minutes before the eventual winning goal was scored. And it wasn’t just Steve Bruce who thought he could miss significant time.

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Saint-Maximin struggled with a muscle injuries earlier in the season, missing games against Norwich City, Watford, and Liverpool while getting treatment. Since returning in full in early October, Saint-Maximin has played in every Premier League game for Newcastle, completing at least 80 minutes in eight of those nine games and finishing 90 minutes four times.

The injury is poorly timed with Newcastle set to begin a heavy set of fixtures. They take on Burnley next weekend before games against Crystal Palace, Manchester United, Everton, and Leicester City all in an eleven-day span through the holiday season. Saint-Maximin is a critical player to have go down, with a 7.07 WhoScored rating, ranking third on the team in that metric. He has completed 4.5 dribbles a game this season, which ranks second in the Premier League behind Wilfried Zaha‘s 4.6 despite having played five fewer games and 550 fewer minutes.

Ciaran Clark also went down during the game, with the Newcastle defender hauled off at halftime after suffering a calf injury.

Wolves, Seagulls split spoils at the Amex

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Wolves failed in a bid to pull within three points of fourth place, drawing Brighton 2-2 at the Amex Stadium on Sunday.

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Diogo Jota scored twice in a 4-goal first half, with Neal Maupay and Davy Propper bagging goals for Brighton. The Seagulls remain 12th with 19 points.


Three things we learned

1. Wolves’ blink at Top Four chance: Wolves entered the day with a chance to close to within three points of fourth place Chelsea, and Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men next face Spurs, Norwich City, Man City, and Liverpool. They needed three points here. Not for lack of effort, they couldn’t conjure the magic.

2. Jota calm in the finish: Jota scored his second and third Premier League goals of the season, joining his Europa League success to give him six. He added five assists in the UEL, and is averaging 2.5 tackles and 1.9 interceptions per contest.

 

3. Maupay paying off faith: The French center forward has blossoming into a steady Premier League contributor after his outlandish production in the Championship earned him a big money move to the Amex Stadium. His sixth goal in 16 matches now includes goals against Wolves, Spurs, Everton, and Arsenal.

Man of the Match: Jota.


Brighton had most of the ball for the first half hour, but could’ve solve the Wolves back line.

Jota put Wolves ahead via a clever 1-2 with Raul Jimenez to get behind the line, prodding home for 1-0.

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The lead lasted all of six minutes, as Maupay and Propper struck two minutes apart.

Maupay’s was a fine finish of a long Dale Stephens assist, while Propper headed a Leandro Trossard cross past Rui Patricio in the 36th.

Propper then fell from grace with a miserable pass stolen by Jonny Otto, the wingback finding Jota for his second goal of the night.

Wolves thought VAR might give them a penalty for handball in the 62nd minute, to no avail.

It was Wolves’ turn to give away a huge chance, but Stephens curled the effort wide of the far post in the 72nd minute.

Forster stars as 10-man Celtic beat Rangers, claim 10th-straight trophy

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At some point, Rangers supporters will be forgiven for thinking Celtic doesn’t have all the luck in Scotland.

The Bhoys, second best for most of the day, scored a 60th minute goal and then overcame a red card three minutes later to claim their 10th successive piece of Scottish silverware with a 1-0 win the Scottish League Cup.

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Celtic’s Chris Jullien prodded home a free kick before 18-year-old Jeremie Frimpong was sent off, and Rangers had already controlled the proceedings before seeing a 16-5 edge in shot attempts at the final whistle.

Goalkeeper Fraser Forster, the former Saints and Newcastle man, was outstanding in the win, even stopping an Alfredo Morelos penalty as the Rangers star failed to deliver.

From the BBC:

“It was just one of them days, it went my way today. I’m buzzing. There’s been days when it’s not gone my way, today it has. I can’t say how much it means to me. I didn’t really think about the penalty to be honest. I picked the way it went. I’ll take it.

“That’s why I came back; to play in games like this, to win silverware, to play European football.”