Premier League Preview: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Aston Villa

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  • Tottenham are unbeaten in 12 league meetings against Aston Villa (W9, D3). They have won the last five, equalling their longest winning run in this fixture.
  • No team has used more substitutes than Tottenham (91) this season but they have only contributed one goal (Kane v Aston Villa in November). Only Villa have fared worse.
  • Villa are still nine points adrift of their lowest final tally in a Premier League campaign: 38 points in 2011-12 and 2013-14. (BBC Sport)

Tottenham Hotspur, in the thick of contention for a Europa League position, will protect their home turf against Aston Villa on Saturday.

Tottenham, currently at sixth place in the Premier League table, is hoping to get a leg up on Liverpool and Southampton. The Reds, at fifth, are tied in points but beat Spurs on goal differential, while the Saints are positioned one point behind Mauricio Pochettino’s crew in seventh place.

Harry Kane has the highest goal tally in the PL beside Chelsea striker Diego Costa, making his case for multiple year-end awards, assuming he contributes for the remainder of the season.

Spurs have won the three out of their past five games, losing to Manchester United, 3-0, and tying Burnley in a scoreless draw last week.

[RELATED: Pochettino praises Sherwood’s eye for young talent]

Meanwhile, Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood is trying to avoid relegation, an area dreaded by every team in England’s top-flight.

Heading into this contest, the Villans haven’t won since a 4-0 blanking of Sunderland on Mar. 14, and they sit at 16th place right now, just three points in front of Queens Park Rangers in the final demotion spot.

Christian Benteke has spurred Villa’s attacking magic as of late, with the Belgian netting seven goals in the past five competitions.

Expect an exhilarating match, available for viewing on NBCSN, or online at NBC Sports Live Extra, at 9:45 a.m. ET.

What they’re saying

Aston Villa boss Tim Sherwood believes on time at former club Tottenham (BBC Sport): “Spurs were a good club for me. I had a good time there. I wouldn’t be here as Aston Villa manager if it wasn’t for my time at Tottenham…It’s good to be the chosen one at a football club the size of Aston Villa. This is the dream job of all time for me. I need to be in the Premier League, I’ve come here to be a Premier League manager.”

Spurs midfielder Erik Lamela on maintaing form for Villa match (Tottenham official website): “We have the firepower in our team to win and, in front of our fans at White Hart Lane, I’m confident we can beat Aston Villa..I hope we can do well against them. It was not a good game for us against Burnley last week but we can change that this weekend…I hope we can win so that we can finish the season well. We need to play very aggressively and try to get the three points.”

Match injuries/absences

Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and defender Jan Vertonghen are the notable players labeled as doubtful for Spurs. Lloris is dealing with a knee injury, and Vertonghen has sickness.

Defender Kyle Walker is also not up for selection due to a foot issue.

The Villans will be without Scott Sinclair, Alan Hutton, Ashley Westwood and Carles Gil once again. Left back Aly Cissokho is set to return from a groin ailment after a solid week of training.

Prediction

Villa will have the chance to draw level many times, but Tottenham should be able to manage three points behind a excited home crowd. Tottenham 2-1 Aston Villa.

Spurs’ Son happy South Korea “unscathed” in North Korea qualifier

Photo by Korea Football Association via Getty Images
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As expected, North Korea did not broadcast its World Cup second round qualifier against South Korea this week, making for an old school “wait and see” for fans back home in South Korea.

The match ended 0-0 in front of no fans in Pyongyang, with just police in the stands as Heung-Min Son and South Korea kept their group lead over the North Koreans on goal differential.

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Son, the Tottenham Hotspur star, says it was an odd experience. From The Korea Herald:

“The opponents were pretty physical, and we exchanged some terse words,” Son told reporters at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul. “It might have been their strategy. They played it rough, and they took exception to our own physical play. …. Rather than focusing on the match, we started worrying about trying not to get hurt. It means a lot to have come out unscathed from a match like this.”

The few videos released by journalists show an eerie scene, and South Korea’s status as AFC powers probably played in North Korea’s lack of desire to broadcast a potential home loss. But you have to think that also lived in the home players heads a bit, too.

Atlanta heads into MLS playoffs looking to defend its Cup

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MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) It’s been a strange season for Atlanta United.

They’ve added more two more cups to their collection.

They’ve endured some rather baffling losses.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

After all that, the defending MLS Cup champions are heading into the postseason from essentially the same position as last season.

Atlanta, which was runner-up in the Eastern Conference, will host the New England Revolution on Saturday in the opening round of the playoffs, a rematch of their Oct. 6 game to close out the regular season.

“We’ve put ourselves in a pretty decent spot, as strange as the season has maybe been,” midfielder Julian Gressel said Wednesday after a training session. “We’ve already won two trophies, and now we have a chance for a third.”

In mid-August, United broke out the champagne after a 3-2 victory over Mexican powerhouse Club America to capture the Campeones Cup.

A couple of weeks later, they were celebrating again with a 2-1 victory over Minnesota United in the U.S. Open Cup final, guaranteeing a spot in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League.

“I felt like we were always there and pretty much at our best in those games,” Gressel said. “That’s why I’m pretty confident we’ll be at our best when it really matters.”

But there are reasons to be concerned. Atlanta struggled badly in some league games – especially on the road – and rarely looked like the dynamic team that won the MLS Cup in just its second year under former coach Tata Martino.

With Frank De Boer now at the helm, United got off to a sluggish start and spent much of the season juggling lineups and switching up tactics in a desperate bid to find some consistency. Atlanta never put together an unbeaten streak longer than five games – it had three such stretches a year ago – and finished with 58 points, 58 goals and a plus-15 goal differential. All were short of the 69 points, 70 goals and plus-26 differential from the 2018 season.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings ]

Still, United’s second-place showing in the East behind New York City FC matches last year’s finish, guaranteeing the team at least one home game in the playoffs and another in the conference semifinals should it beat the Revolution.

That’s a crucial edge for a franchise that has essentially broken every MLS attendance record and again averaged more than 52,000 per game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, doubling up every team in the league except Seattle and Cincinnati. In 17 home games, Atlanta lost only twice.

While United closed out the season with a 3-1 victory over New England, the Revolution has been one of the league’s hottest teams over the second half of the season.

Atlanta will be further tested by the possible absence of its best defender, Miles Robinson, who is dealing with a strained left hamstring sustained during a workout with the U.S. national team last week.

If Robinson can’t go, United will have to change up their lineup once again and possibly adopt a more defensive approach to Saturday’s game.

“If I do push up, it’s more so getting back a little faster than I normally would, things like that,” said midfielder Darlington Nagbe, one of those who may be affected if Robinson can’t go. “Just feel the game out and see how it plays out.”

In the regular-season finale, Ezequiel Barco got the start over Pity Martinez, a lineup that de Boer might go with again in the playoffs.

Barco played only 15 league games this season because of injuries and a lengthy stint with Argentina at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, but he provided the sort of spark de Boer was looking for against New England. Martinez, who was the 2018 South American player of the year and Atlanta’s major acquisition during the last offseason, has struggled to find his nice in MLS with just five goals in 32 appearances.

“We have to see,” de Boer said. “The only thing that concerns me is to win the playoffs.”

MLS switched up the playoff format this season. Instead of the top two teams from both the East and the West receiving byes and two-legged rounds to determine the winner of conference semifinals and finals, only the first-place finisher gets the opening round off and every step of the playoffs is a single-game elimination.

There is no room for error.

“If you have an off day, you might be out,” Gressel said. “I feel like it’s a format that favors the underdog a bit more, or gives the underdog a bit more hope.”

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

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com

Zlatan paces MLS jersey sellers, offers fresh quip on Minnesota challenge

AP Photo/Chris Carlson
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Zlatan Ibrahimovic: He’s like a more charming, less anarchist version of Tom Hardy’s Bane.

The LA Galaxy man was revealed to again have the top-selling jersey in Major League Soccer on Wednesday, days before the club begins its 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs run with a match in Minnesota.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

Snow is in the forecast, but Zlatan is not bothered by such weather.

“I’m from Sweden I was born in the snow. When it snows, I’m a viking. When it’s warm, I’m a lion. We adjust for every condition there is.”

Back to the jerseys, the MLS MVP finalists are 1-2-3 in sales. Ibrahimovic is first, followed by Atlanta’s Josef Martinez, and LAFC’s Carlos Vela.

The top sellers amongst Americans are Seattle’s Jordan Morris (7) and Cristian Roldan (12). Chris Wondolowski of San Jose is 13th, while other domestic names on the Top 25 include Sebastian Lletget, Brad Guzan (!?!), Dom Dwyer, Jozy Altidore, and Graham Zusi.

Midweek El Clasico possible in December following political unrest

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Political unrest in Catalonia has both La Liga and the Spanish government looking to move the first El Clasico of the season.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are scheduled to meet at the Camp Nou on Oct. 26, but the jailing of nine Catalan separatists has caused uproar in-and-around Barca.

In fact, Barca as a club has denounced the imprisonment, so it plays more than a peripheral role in the controversy.

[ JPW: What now for Berhalter, USMNT? ] 

Players heading to and returning from international break have faced in challenges in getting to the club.

Instead, Marca says that we may see a midweek match played in Madrid on Wednesday, Dec. 18, with the reverse fixture in March moved from Madrid to Barcelona.

Dec. 18 would give both teams three matches in eight days before La Liga’s winter break. Barca would play Real Sociedad, Real Madrid, and Alaves, while Real would play Valencia and Real Betis in addition to the Clasico. Both difficult runs, but fairly even.