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.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

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.

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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

Turkish players defy UEFA with another military salute

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PARIS (AP) Turkish players defied UEFA with another military salute in Turkey’s 1-1 draw with France in their European Championship qualifier on Monday.

UEFA was already looking into Turkish players’ salutes from during and after Friday’s 1-0 win over Albania. The European soccer federation prohibits political statements in stadiums.

But Turkish players lined up again to show a military salute after Kaan Ayhan’s late equalizer in Paris. Captain Burak Yilmaz was joined by goalkeeper Mert Gunok and several other outfield players in giving the salute toward the crowd – in apparent support of the Turkish forces involved in the country’s invasion of Kurdish-held regions in northern Syria.

Defender Merih Demiral urged Ayhan to salute, too, leading to what looked like a heated discussion between the two, but the goal-scorer desisted and made his way back to the pitch.

Ayhan and Turkey striker Kenan Karaman both play for German side Fortuna Dusseldorf, which had issued a statement after Friday’s game to distance itself from “politically motivated acts.”

“Both players stand for values that the club lives by,” Dusseldorf sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel said.

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

Bulgarian prime minister intervenes, Bulgaria FA chief resigns

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Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov asked for the president of their football association, Borislav Mihaylov, to resign following the racist abuse of England’s players in Sofia’s Vasil Levski stadium on Monday.

And on Tuesday Mihaylov stepped down and handed in his resignation.

During the EURO 2020 qualifier monkey chants were heard from sections of the home crowds, while Nazi salutes were also made and the officials stopped the game twice in the first half and then followed step one of UEFA’s anti-racism protocol as a message was broadcast over the speakers that the game was in danger of being abandoned.

The Bulgarian sport minister, Krasen Kralev, released a statement on the incident and said that Mihaylov, who had previously complained to UEFA about Gareth Southgate‘s concerns over potential racist abuse in Bulgaria, should resign.

“The prime minister called me urgently a short time ago,”  said. “You know that the government has done a lot for the development of Bulgarian football in the last four years. But after the recent events, having in mind the whole state of football and last night’s incidents, the prime minister has ordered me from today to suspend any relations with the BFU, including financial ones, until the resignation of Borislav Mihaylov.”

UEFA is opening a full investigation into the disgusting scenes inside the stadium, as England’s players and staff have been applauded for the way they handled themselves in their 6-0 win.

Southgate, Tyrone Mings and other England players have reacted to the abuse and say they have made a statement on and off the pitch for UEFA having to use their anti-racism protocol.

“We know it’s an unacceptable situation, and I think we’ve managed to make two statements. By winning the game, but also we’re raised the awareness of everybody to the situation,” Southgate said. “The game was stopped twice, I know for some people that won’t be enough, but we as a group were on board with that process.”

On This Day: Bornstein becomes national hero – in Honduras

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You know what today is? It’s Jonathan Bornstein day in Honduras.

Ten years ago today at RFK Stadium in our nations capital, a young, hot-shot kid with plenty of hair named Michael Bradley and Bornstein helped the U.S. Men’s National Team come back to draw Costa Rica, 2-2, in World Cup qualifying. In fact, it’s eerie watching Bornstein’s celebration, running to the corner flag and diving headfirst as he’s mobbed moments after by his teammates. It’s a bit similar to what Lanson Donovan did about nine months later.

[READ: USMNT looks to build in match v. Canada]

To add some context, it was the final day of qualifications matches in the Hex. Three days earlier, the U.S. had already secured a place in the World Cup with a wild 3-2 win at Honduras, meaning Los Catrachos needed to win over El Salvador on the final night and hope that the U.S. would keep Costa Rica from winning in the final match.

Who else, but Carlos Pavon gave Honduras a 1-0 win over El Salvador that night. Then, it was Bornsteins goal later that night that put Los Catrachos into the World Cup for the first time since 1982, and left Costa Rica to battle for the shared spot between CONCACAF and CONMEBOL.

In honor of the big day, hundreds of Honduras fans had been mentioning Bornstein on social media, and the veteran defender – currently of the Chicago Fire – retweeted quite a few of the thankful messages to him. Below, here’s video of the call from Honduras TV, as well as from Ian Darke and the ESPN crew.

Unfortunately for Bornstein, this may be the highlight of his national team career. He did make the 2010 World Cup squad and started twice, including the matches against Algeria and Ghana, but he never truly took the next step in his career to become a star left back.

After a calamitous performance against Mexico in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, which also Bob Bradley his USMNT job, Bornstein was dropped and hasn’t been seen from again on the national team stage.

However, even though he’s only a club player these days, he’ll never have to buy a drink in Honduras, that’s for sure.

Euro 2020 qualifying: France settles for draw with Turkey

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Euro 2020 qualifying continued on Monday and included a top-of-the-group clash in Group H.

[READ: England rout Bulgaria in game marred by racist chants]

France 1-1 Turkey

France spoiled a chance at home to put one foot in Euro 2020 after conceding late in the match and settling for a draw with Turkey.

Despite playing without a lot of starters – Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, and Hugo Lloris are all out injured – France still was strong in the first half and peppered Turkey with 12 shots. Goalkeeper Mert Gunok made an outstanding double-save in the first half and Leicester City’s Çağlar Söyüncü did his best to keep Antoine Griezmann in front of him.

In the 72nd minute, Olivier Giroud came on the field as a substitute and four minutes later, he put France in front to the delight of the home crowd at the Stade de France. What else, but a header off a corner. However, the lead didn’t last long. Off a free kick in the 82nd minute, Hakan Calhanoglu’s delivery was nodded home by Kaan Ayhan. The 1-1 draw leaves both France and Turkey tied with 19 points from eight qualifying matches. It also means that Turkey hasn’t lost to France over two games in this qualifying cycle.

Here’s a look at the rest of Monday’s scores:

Monday’s Euro 2020 qualifying scores

Group A

Bulgaria 0-6 England

Kosovo 2-0 Montenegro

Group B

Lithuania 1-2 Serbia

Ukraine 2-1 Portugal

Group H

Iceland 2-0 Andorra

Moldova 0-4 Albania