Three things we learned from West Ham v. Tottenham

Leave a comment

LONDON — West Ham beat Tottenham 1-0 under the London Stadium lights on Friday night to deal a hammer blow to Spurs’ Premier League title hopes.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

The only goal of the game arrived just after the hour mark as Manuel Lanzini pounced to finish and a sluggish Spurs side never recovered.

Here’s what we learned from the London derby which has put a huge dent in Spurs’ title hopes.


CRUCIAL PK CALL CORRECT

There’s been plenty of talk about the new video assistant referees (VARs) which are being trialed in many leagues around the world but I’m not sure an official watching 50 replays of a first half collision between Manuel Lanzini and Hugo Lloris would have been able to make the correct call.

Andre Ayew clipped the ball through to Lanzini but as he raced through on goal he didn’t get the first touch on the ball before Lloris clattered into him with a tackle. Referee Anthony Taylor waved play on but Cheikhou Kouyate‘s tame effort on goal was shanked wide and everyone stopped. Hammers fans, players and management expected a penalty kick. It never arrived.

If West Ham had not won, they would’ve pointed towards that call as costly. In the end it wasn’t, but it also pointed towards just how tough some of these penalty decisions are for referees and even VARs. Even with the technology in place, it’s hard to get these calls 100 percent correct.


TIRED TOTTENHAM LOSE GROUND

Spurs just didn’t look correct throughout this game. A sluggish start to both halves gave West Ham hope and Mauricio Pochettino‘s men weren’t energetic in attack of pressing high to win the ball back.

Much has been made of Spurs playing before Chelsea this weekend to try and cut their lead atop the PL table to one point, but there wasn’t much chatter about the three days less rest for Tottenham after their North London derby against Arsenal on Sunday.

Look at the stat below just before Lanzini put West Ham ahead. How often are Spurs, or any of Pochettino’s sides outrun?

Spurs were sluggish and even when three glorious chances arrived on the 21-minute mark they couldn’t make the most of it as Adrian denied Harry Kane brilliantly following Dele Alli‘s shot was blocked.

In the second half Heung-Min Son‘s shot was tipped wide by Adrian but it was Spurs who ran out of steam and looked under pressure. West Ham had several glorious chances to extend their lead with Jonathan Calleri forcing a wonderful stop from Lloris and Spurs’ usually watertight defense looked incredibly susceptible on the break.

Spurs lost at West Ham last March under the lights at Upton Park as their title bid took a huge hit. This time around a defeat to their fierce London rivals just about ended their title hopes.


LANZINI STEPS UP ON DERBY DAY, AGAIN

With Dimitri Payet gone in January, this was supposed to be Lanzini’s time to shine.

He’s cut a frustrated figure in recent weeks but he turned up when it mattered on Friday, buzzing around behind the energetic Calleri and reacting first to a loose ball in the box to slot home the winner.

The Argentine playmaker,  like most of West Ham’s current squad, had a fine campaign last season and despite glimpses of his genius in 2016-17, he’s struggled.

Lanzini will grow into this central role after playing second fiddle to Payet last season and the first half of this and often shunted out wide. He’s now scored eight goals in 33 appearances this season, surpassing his seven in 32 appearances last season.

He received a standing ovation and the man of the match award for his performance which led West Ham to safety as they cannot be relegated. This performance may have just saved Slaven Bilic his job, too.

Finally, West Ham’s new home at London Stadium has a marquee win as the Hammers momentarily rose to ninth place in the table.

Olivier Giroud signs new contract at Chelsea

AP
Leave a comment

Olivier Giroud‘s meaty French forehead will remain in the Premier League for at least another season.

Giroud, 32, was set to be out of contract this summer but he has signed a new deal at Chelsea which is a big relief given their FIFA transfer ban for the next two transfer windows.

Reacting to his contract extension, the 2018 World Cup winner was delighted to remain at Stamford Bridge.

“I am very happy to sign a new contract. I really wanted to stay at least one more year – I have felt a part of the team, the family, since the beginning and hopefully there will be more trophies to come,” Giroud said.

This is a good deal for everyone involved. Giroud had options from across Europe and the Premier League for next season, and he will still have those next summer, but it feels like he has been underused so far during his time at Chelsea as Alvaro Morata was their main man in 2017-18 despite his struggles up front.

Giroud has proven himself as a reliable striker at Chelsea following his move from Arsenal — where he scored 105 goals in 253 appearances and won three FA Cups across six seasons — in January 2018 and helped the Blues win the FA Cup in 2017-18.

He has mainly been used in the Europa League and cup competitions during the 2018-19 season and has scored 10 times in Chelsea’s run to the Europa League final (he is the leading scorer in the competition) against Arsenal next Wednesday.

Giroud has scored 17 times in 62 appearances since making the move across London, which is a decent return considering he has mostly been used as a substitute.

Gonzalo Higuain will likely not be returning for a second spell on loan at Chelsea from Juventus, so Giroud will get more minutes in the 2019-20 campaign and he’s shown he can slot into this Maurizio Sarri side seamlessly. His intelligent hold-up play has seen him develop a telepathic understanding with Eden Hazard and even if Hazard leaves, as expected, this summer, you can see Giroud striking up a similar rapport with Christian Pulisic next season.

Giroud is probably one of the most underrated strikers in the world game, as he is third all-time leading goalscorer for France, behind only Thierry Henry and Michel Platini. If you whip a dangerous cross into the box, he will get on the end of it and often finish it.

Arsenal’s Mkhitaryan to miss Europa League final

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsenal’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be available to play in the UEFA Europa League final against Chelsea.

The final on May 29 is being held in Baku, Azerbaijan and that country has no diplomatic relations with the country of Mkhitaryan’s birth, Armenia. Hence, Arsenal cannot guarantee the safety of their playmaker who is also the captain of the Armenian national team.

Despite the ambassador assuring Mkhitaryan will be safe, the Gunners have decided he will not be able to travel with the squad over those safety concerns.

“We are very disappointed to announce that Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be travelling with the squad for our Uefa Europa League final against Chelsea,” the north London club said in a statement.

Due their conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, tensions are high between Azerbaijan and Armenia and Mkhitaryan did not travel for Arsenal’s Europa League game against Qarabag in Azerbaijan earlier this season.

He will now not be available for the final despite being a key part of Arsenal’s run to the Europa League final, which they must win to qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season. UEFA had previously said they would help with the situation, but this is the latest problem in holding the final in Baku as only 5,000 fans of both Chelsea and Arsenal are expected in the 67,000 capacity stadium due to their being no direct flights and other issues getting to Azerbaijan.

Arsenal released the following statement on the situation regarding Mkhitaryan.

We have thoroughly explored all the options for Micki to be part of the squad but after discussing this with Micki and his family we have collectively agreed he will not be in our travelling party. We have written to Uefa expressing our deep concerns about this situation. Micki has been a key player in our run to the final so this is a big loss for us from a team perspective.

We’re also very sad that a player will miss out on a major European final in circumstances such as this, as it is something that comes along very rarely in a footballer’s career. Micki will continue to be part of our preparations until we depart for Baku at the weekend.

Mkhitaryan responded by saying “it hurts a lot” to miss the final, but added that “we had to take the tough decision for me not to travel with the squad.”

Bologna draws 3-3 at Lazio to secure Serie A safety

Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ROME (AP) Bologna secured Serie A football for another season after drawing at Lazio 3-3 in a thriller on Monday.

Bologna moved four points clear of the relegation zone with one match remaining.

Lazio was still celebrating winning the Italian Cup midweek and Joaquin Correa fired the capital side in front in the 13th minute.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

However, two goals in the space of a minute from Andrea Poli and Mattia Destro saw Bologna take the lead early in the second half.

Bastos curled in a stunning effort to level for Lazio in the 59th but Riccardo Orsolini restored Bologna’s lead shortly after.

Substitute Sergej Milinkovic-Savic secured a draw for Lazio with a sensational free kick 10 minutes from time.

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

Choosing a USMNT XI for the Gold Cup

AP Photo/Julio Cortez
Leave a comment

Noting that most positions on the international stage are up for grabs based on form, there are special opportunities on the wing, right back, and center back when it comes to the USMNT at the Gold Cup this summer.

That’s because of two related things, one fact and one close to it:

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

  1. DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks are missing from the lineup due to injury. Brooks is easily the Yanks’ No. 1 center back, and Yedlin is a right back when Tyler Adams is unavailable and good enough that Gregg Berhalter tries to shoehorn him in at right wing when Adams is manning that spot.
  2. Mexico’s the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament with more in-form club players in Europe than the U.S., including would-be Premier League Best XI forward Raul Jimenez of Wolves. And who’s going to have to deal with Raul? You guessed it, the big American center backs.

Presuming Berhalter is still wed to Adams as the part-fullback, part distributing midfielder role, that has our lineup for important Gold Cup matches with few sure things.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — XXXXX — XXXXX — XXXXX

McKennie — Bradley

XXXXX — Pulisic — XXXXX

Altidore

Now you may not like that I’ve assumed Bradley and Altidore’s places here, but there’s little doubt both are still quite capable against CONCACAF competition and also have the experience in this exact competition and against Mexico. Surely both are motivated for a bit of redemption as well.

Friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela will give Berhalter a chance to try out players like Tyler Boyd, Marlon Fossey, and Miles Robinson should they impress amongst a 40-player field (although the Jamaica match on June 5 in Washington, D.C. is a day before the final rosters are due for the Gold Cup).

Now what we are trying to solve here is who is the best bet to help the Yanks win the dang thing.

Defenders: Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, and Tim Ream are the favorites to start at the two center back spots and left back, but Daniel Lovitz will try to push Ream after a rough season at Fulham. Both Walker Zimmerman and Omar Gonzalez are in good form, and you can bet Berhalter will give Cameron Carter-Vickers a chance to earn some time. A flat back four role gives Antonee Robinson hope in place of Ream, and if Adams moves into the midfield, Nick Lima did alright in his right back role in January.

Midfielders/Wingers: The spots around Pulisic should be filled by those who can keep the width of the field but also serve somewhat as enforcers for the No. 10. Sebastian Lletget gives them a good shot on one side, and Paul Arriola provides a similar spot. While Joe Gyau, Josh Sargent, Duane Holmes, and Djordje Mihailovic can hope to challenge, the MLS vets with experience outside the country are good bets to get the gigs.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — Miazga — Long — Ream

McKennie — Bradley

Arriola — Pulisic — Lletget

Altidore

Does that get the job done against Mexico? Probably not, but it’ll give Tata Martino’s men a hassle.