Premier League Playback: Shrewd Spurs succeeding

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TOTTENHAM’S IMPRESSIVE BUSINESS

Victor Wanyama surged forward late in the second half of Tottenham’s 2-0 win against Arsenal in the final North London derby at White Hart Lane on Sunday.

[ MORE: Spurs eager for more ]

Roared on by the crowd the Kenyan clipped the ball into Harry Kane who forced Petr Cech to save as Tottenham closed the gap on Premier League leaders Chelsea to four points with four games to go. Their ninth-straight PL win also, as you may have heard by now, guaranteed that Spurs would finish above Arsenal in the Premier League for the first time in 22 years.

[ MORE: 3 things learned | Player ratings ]

Wanyama, 25, is yet another example of the fine business Spurs have done to turn their squad around. That has led to them being the top performing team in the Premier League over the past two seasons by quite some distance.

After the derby win against Arsenal, ProSoccerTalk asked Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino about Wanyama’s dominant display as the man who joined from Southampton for around $15 million last summer is quickly becoming yet another bargain buy.

“I think this season, what he is doing is fantastic,” Pochettino said. “Today was good and in the second half he was fantastic and he was key in some actions.  I am very pleased, but I am very pleased for all of my squad because we are fighting a lot during the whole season.”

Pochettino has every right to be pleased. So does the transfer committee, board of directors and owner of Tottenham.

Looking at the table below from Sky Sports in the UK, you can see Spurs have accumulated more points, scored more goals and let in the lowest number of goals in the Premier League over the past two seasons.

Despite those incredible stats the most amazing one, for me at least, is how low their net spend is.

In an era where the likes of Manchester City and Manchester United splash the cash like it’s going out of fashion, the shrewd business done by Daniel Levy and Spurs’ board has to be applauded.

Of course, Pochettino and his staff are the ones who put the players in a system and have drastically improved the likes of Dele Alli, Wanyama, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose to name but a few. In truth you could go through the entire starting XI for Spurs and make the argument that they’ve all gone to a new level under Pochettino over the past two years.

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When the Argentine arrived in the summer of 2014 he took over a bloated squad which was full of castoffs as a vast chunk of the then world-record transfer fee for Gareth Bale was squandered. Only Christian Eriksen (just $14.8 million from Ajax, by the way) and Erik Lamela remain from that spree.

With Spurs’ new 61,000 capacity, $1 billion home rising behind the current White Hart Lane it is easy to forget that amid all the euphoria around the likes of Dele, Harry Kane, Eriksen and Co. there has to be cost-cutting somewhere. Tying their key players down to long-term deals and spending wisely has been a shrewd move for Spurs. With the potentially tumultuous temporary move to Wembley coming up for next season, having the squad “all-in” with Pochettino will help.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

And if Pochettino and the club can keep upgrading sensibly each summer, then move on squad players to leave room for youngsters to break through, it is a formula which may bring success for the next decade given the average age of this Spurs team and so many of its key contributors still in their early 20’s.

Even if Tottenham don’t quite catch Chelsea this season, there are so many reasons for Spurs to be hopeful for the future.


TOP FOUR BATTLE

The battle is well and truly on for the final two places in the top four as Manchester City and Manchester United both slipped up at the weekend.

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Liverpool took full advantage of that slip-up as Emre Can scored a Goal of the Season contender with an astonishing bicycle kick to put them four points clear of fifth-place Manchester United (who have a game in hand) with three games to go. That means Jurgen Klopp‘s men now control their own destiny as wins against Southampton, West Ham and Middlesbrough will guarantee they’re in the UEFA Champions League next season.

As for City and United, they’re both scrambling to catch Liverpool and although City have the easier schedule, Pep Guardiola‘s men have drawn their last two and have lost the momentum they had gained early in 2017.

For Arsenal, well, a dejected Arsene Wenger admitted after their North London derby defeat to Tottenham that finishing in the top four would prove very difficult but if they win their game in hand against struggling Southampton then they’ll be right back in the race and just three points off fourth place.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Everything is still to play for and two of City, United and Arsenal won’t make the UCL next season. United could, if they win the UEFA Europa League, but given their injury crisis it will be a big ask for Jose Mourinho’s men.

All of a sudden it is Liverpool who have grasped their chance to put themselves in the driving seat to snap up one of the final two places in the top four. City look like the other favorites given their remaining games (Crystal Palace, Leicester and West Brom at home, plus a trip to Watford) but in this season when it seems like nobody wants to finish in the top four, we can expect a few more twists and turns.


PUEL UNDER PRESSURE

ProSoccerTalk understands that the pressure is mounting on Southampton manager Claude Puel at the end of his first season in charge of St Mary’s.

Puel saw his side booed off the pitch at half time and full time of the 0-0 draw against Hull City on Saturday as Dusan Tadic had a last-gasp penalty kick saved by Eldin Jakupovic which would’ve provided Saints with an undeserved victory.

[ MORE: Saints’ fans take over Milan

With Saints still on course for a top 10 finish and coming incredibly close to winning their first major trophy in 41 years, why is Puel under pressure?

For outsiders everything may seem rosy but if you dig a little deeper it’s not easy to find discontent at Southampton. It is believed that throughout the season several senior members of Puel’s squad have aired their concerns over the style of play being ordered by the 55-year-old Frenchman and when that starts to happen, well, we all saw what happened to Claudio Ranieri

Puel is a great coach and has shown in his time in France with Monaco, Lille, Lyon and Nice that he can develop attractive teams and bring through talented youngsters.

That said, there are several reasons why Southampton’s fans, and perhaps players, are turning on him already.

Number one: Southampton’s fans have had success after success. They’ve finished in a higher league position for seven-straight seasons but that run will now end. With Mauricio Pochettino followed by Ronald Koeman, the transition was seamless (almost freakishly so) and they’ve finished in the top eight of the PL in each of the past three seasons. They can’t go on forever — they may indeed finish eighth, once again — but the issue is that many of Southampton’s fans feel like it should. With the current uncertainty surrounding a potential $271 million investment for 80 percent of the club from a Chinese businessman, Saints want to push for the top four and many are unsure if Puel is the right man to lead them to that challenge.

Number two: the Europa League exit was a big blow for Puel. I was in his press conference following the exit to Hapoel Be’er Sheva at St Mary’s back in December and he was distraught. The main reason he was brought to Saints was due to his pedigree in European competitions and his side crashed out at the group stage due to the amount of away goals they’d scored. His rotation policy came back to bite him. Hard. When Saints beat Liverpool in the EFL Cup semifinal to reach the final against Man United at Wembley, I asked Puel if righting the wrongs of this European campaign was key to him. He was unequivocal as to how important Saints being back in Europe, via winning the EFL Cup would be, but Saints came up short, losing 3-2 to United in a final they dominated. Now, he’s left with a bloated squad of players and a lot less games. That will be a headache.

Number three: Puel having a distinct “lack of personality” has been one of the main reasons the fanbase hasn’t quite taken to him. His English isn’t great and he isn’t bothered about delivering box office performances in his press conferences. That has led to many Southampton fans who want him to succeed now having a “meh” attitude if he does leave. Southampton’s fans aren’t too bothered either way about Puel and that’s led to discontent growing steadily despite promising displays littered throughout the season.

However deep you try to dig into this situation, there does appear to be something not quite right about one of the steadiest clubs in the PL in recent years. With key injuries to Charlie Austin, Sofiane Boufal and Virgil Van Dijk this season, plus the Jose Fonte saga leaving him without his two first-choice center backs for over half the campaign, Puel has had plenty of obstacles to overcome, especially with Saints playing 48 games in all competitions to date and that will rise to 53 matches by the end of the PL campaign.

This has not been a normal season and with no European action next season, Puel could thrive with extra time on the training ground and a smaller squad to rotate. Whether or not he’ll be given the chance to kick Saints on is another matter. Rumors state the likes of Garry Monk and Marco Silva are being lined up and ProSoccerTalk understands Fulham’s Slavisa Jokanovic is a leading contender to take charge if Puel is shown the door.

Puel should probably be given another season to push Southampton towards the top six again but the reality is they may not finish above seventh place for the foreseeable future as the perennial powers who struggled over the past two seasons have now regrouped. Whoever came in after Koeman left summer had a big job on their hands to meet rising expectations and Puel has, so far, failed to do that despite glimpses of hope. The current Southampton manager is the victim (unfairly so) of their rapid ascent and undoubted overachievement in recent years.


DIVING NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED

The great simulation debate reared its ugly head this weekend and, as always, it was not pretty.

Penalty decisions involving Marcus Rashford, Leroy Sane and Harry Kane stole the headlines, while we won’t waste much time on Lucas Leiva‘s pathetic dive for Liverpool against Watford on Monday because it was the easiest yellow for simulation in the history of the game. Perhaps the Brazilian had gained inspiration from Rashford and Sane given their actions earlier in the weekend…

Now, let us start by saying referees have an incredibly tough job and players make it even tougher.

Rashford went down right on half time against Swansea as goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski rushed out and referee Neil Swarbrick awarded a penalty kick despite not having a clear view. On second viewing Fabianski pulled away his hands and expecting the contact Rashford had fallen to the ground. It was a clear dive.

Sane then did something similar on Sunday as Man City won a penalty at Middlesbrough. The German winger left his leg trailing and went down under a challenge from Martin de Roon. Boro’s players were livid by referee Kevin Friend awarding a penalty and rightly so. It was another case of simulation.

Then, once again on Sunday, Harry Kane went down under a challenge from Gabriel and although the trailing leg of Arsenal’s defender caught him the Spurs striker let referee Michael Oliver know he’d been caught. Let’s clear up any debate on Kane’s penalty: it was a foul and not a dive. There was clear contact so Oliver got it spot on and hopefully Video Assistant Referees (VARs) will be on hand to help clear up these decisions in the PL in the near future.

In the meantime, how do we stop instances of simulation? The boys discuss in the video above and you have to agree that harsher retrospective bans for diving will help stamp it out of the game. Simple.


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

Transfer news: Werner to Chelsea; Sanchez to Inter

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In the latest transfer news Timo Werner is reportedly being chased by Chelsea, while Alexis Sanchez could be staying at Inter Milan instead of returning to Man United.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

First up, a juicy report from Bild says that Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger is trying to convince his Germany teammate and close friend Timo Werner to join hm at Stamford Bridge.

Werner, 24, has dazzled at RB Leipzig this season (31 goals in 40 games in all competitions) and is widely expected to leave with Liverpool, Man United and many others clubs across Europe chasing his signature. Per the report, Chelsea have Rudiger working hard to convince his friend and former Stuttgart teammate that west London is the place for him.

The release clause on Werner’s current contract is said to be $60 million and Chelsea are one of the few clubs who have a healthy transfer budget as they had a transfer ban for a whole year and Frank Lampard has just spent $44 million on one new signing so far, bringing in Hakim Ziyech who will not arrive until later this summer.

Werner is exactly what Chelsea need. They have created so many golden goalscoring opportunities and although Tammy Abraham was putting them away at the start of the season, his form and fitness was a concern in the last few months before the suspension.

Olivier Giroud is their only other forward option and Werner would be perfect to finish off the chances this attack-minded Chelsea team create. Even better for him, he would actually play at Chelsea which may not be the case at Liverpool and Man United given their stacked attacking lineups.

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Heading to Manchester, it appears Alexis Sanchez may not be going back to his parent club next season.

Sanchez, 31, is on loan at Inter Milan for the 2019-20 season and the Daily Express claim that he could stay at Inter rather than heading back to Old Trafford despite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer previously saying he was open to the idea. Per the report, Man United are keen to loan Sanchez out to Inter once again on a similar arrangement and the Serie A side are willing to see how Sanchez does when the season restarts in a few weeks. With Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and others around at Man United, he may struggle for minutes at Man United.

Would another loan be a good move for Inter?

Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez have been their main strikers this season under Antonio Conte, with Sanchez out injured for large chunks of the campaign and then doing okay when he did play. However, with Martinez chased by Barcelona, if they do sell the Argentine forward for over $115 million, having Sanchez around on loan would soften the blow.

The main problem with Sanchez is that over the last three years he has picked up consistent injury problems. If he can shake those issues off, we all know he is capable of scoring goals and creating havoc. Given this recent track record though, that’s a big if, as he’s scored just one goal and added three assists in 15 outings for Inter this season.

Premier League confirm zero positive COVID-19 test results

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Following the latest batch of tests on players and club staff the Premier League have revealed that zero out of 1130 COVID-19 tests taken on Thursday and Friday have come back positive.

Zero.

The fourth round of testing is the first time that no positive tests have come back, as a total of 3,882 COVID-19 tests have now been carried out with 12 positive results.

All players and staff at Premier League clubs will be tested twice a week during the strict return to training protocols put in place, as full contact training is now up and running and a restart date of June 17 has been set.

Here is the statement from the Premier League in full:


The Premier League can today confirm that on Thursday 28 May and Friday 29 May, 1130 players and club staff were tested for COVID-19. Of these, zero have tested positive.

The Premier League is providing this aggregated information for the purposes of competition integrity and transparency. No specific details as to clubs or individuals will be provided by the League and results will be made public after each round of testing.

Previous test results

Round 1: 17-18 May – 748 tested, with six testing positive from three clubs.
Round 2: 19-22 May – 996 tested, with two testing positive from two clubs.
Round 3: 25-26 May – 1,008 tested, with four testing positive from two clubs.


This is more good news for the Premier League as the UK government gave the green light for elite sport in the UK to return from June 1 in empty stadiums, as the top-flight of English soccer continues to clear each hurdle in its way to finishing the final 92 games of the 2019-20 season.

With just over two weeks to go until the action returns, Premier League clubs will have to keep these test results low for the restart to take place.

Bayern Munich batter Fortuna, go 10 points clear at the top (video)

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Bayern Munich are waltzing their way to an eight-straight Bundesliga title as they battered Fortuna Dusseldorf 5-0 on Saturday at the Allianz Arena to record an eight-straight win in the German top-flight.

[ MORE: Schalke lose again; Saturday recap ]

An own goal, two from Robert Lewandowsk and a goal each from Benjamin Pavard and Alphonso Davies did the damage to Fortuna as Bayern Munich are now just three wins away from securing the title, as they have five games left in the season.

Hansi Flick has now won 22 of his 25 games in charge of Bayern Munich after he took charge in November with the German giants struggling under Niko Kovac. Now, they are rampant and are one of the favorites to win the UEFA Champions League.

The Bavarian giants dominated early on as USMNT midfielder Alfredo Morales made an important clearance but Mathias Jorgensen was so lucky a few moments later.

[ MORE: Bundesliga schedule, stats

A ball into the box found Benjamin Pavard and his scuffed effort was going wide before it hit Jorgensen and went into his own goal.

Bayern then doubled their lead as Thomas Muller’s shot was pushed wide and from the resulting corner Pavard nodded home to make it 2-0.

Lewandowski made it 3-0 before the break as he has now scored against all of the current Bundesliga clubs and had previously gone without a goal in five outings against Fortuna.

Kimmich’s surging round saw the loose ball find Muller and his pass to Lewandowski was perfect as he swept home to an empty net.

Lewandowski was at it again just a few minutes after the break as he finished off a slick Bayern move as the Bavarian giants put their foot on the accelerator.

Alphonso Davies made it 5-0 as he bulldozed his way through the Fortuna defense and slotted home, while Muller and Pavard went close to adding a sixth and Fortuna had the odd chance on the break.

In the end, the victory was as routine as possible for Bayern Munich who have more than one hand on the Bundesliga title.

USMNT’s Weston McKennie honors George Floyd with armband

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Schalke and USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie has released a statement after he wore a personalized armband with the message ‘Justice for George’ on it to honor George Floyd.

McKennie, an American international who has played in the Bundesliga for the last four seasons at Schalke, was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. He wore the armband in Schalke’s defeat at home to Werder Bremen on Saturday.

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN on Monday there have been widespread protests across the USA. A video showed former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, putting his knee on George Floyd’s neck for more than 8 1/2 minutes. Chauvin was arrested Friday and charged with murder, authorities confirmed.

Weston McKennie released the following statement after wearing the armband at the weekend to honor George Floyd:

“To be able to use my platform to bring attention to a problem that has been going on to long feels good!!! We have to stand up for what we believe in and I believe that it is time that we are heard! #justiceforgeorgefloyd #saynotoracism

Here is a photo of McKennie wearing the armband which he put on before the game kicked off and wore on his left arm.