How can Spurs get over Wembley jinx?

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LONDON — There is a real danger that the book “That’s so Spursy!” will have to add an entire chapter for their ‘home games’ played at Wembley Stadium over the next season.

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Fans of every club get butterflies in their stomach when they first spot the famous arch of Wembley either from the train, the road or on foot.

Supporters of every club except Tottenham, that is.

Spurs lost 2-1 to Chelsea at Wembley on Sunday as the first-ever Premier League game at their temporary home followed the narrative to a tee. Let’s get this straight from the offset: Tottenham didn’t deserve to lose this game. At all. They did, because, well, Wembley. Is it as simple as that?

Everyone connected with Tottenham will be saying so, but there are so many factors to consider, and to try and alter.

After dominating the game Spurs were hit by two sucker punches courtesy of Marcos Alonso‘s first half free kick and then a late Alonso goal following a mistake from Victor Wanyama.

Tottenham have now lost more games at home this season than they did all of last season and they’ve won just two of their 11 games at the new Wembley and one of their last five ‘home games’ there.

Mauricio Pochettino, who continues to be positive above moving to Wembley, insisted that Spurs’ new home wasn’t to blame for his first London derby defeat as Spurs boss.

“It doesn’t affect me. I understand that we need to talk and everyone today I think the Wembley effect is not the reason because we lost the game,” Pochettino said. “The team played really well and it is not fair to blame Wembley because Wembley is, for me, one of the best places in the world to play football.”

“Today was clear today that if you love football and watch football and you want to watch again the game, you will see Wembley isn’t the problem and the size of the pitch. I think we played better, we created chances to score but that is football,” Pochettino continued.

The main qualm from those connected with Tottenham is the size of the Wembley pitch. Here is a fact: it is only five yards longer and two yards wider than their White Hart Lane pitch where they failed to lose a game last season with the size of the pitch supposedly a key factor in allowing them to high-press teams into submission.

Spurs have a system which only works if they push their defensive line high. Jan Vertonghen revealed in preseason that he sees Harry Kane, their highest line of attack, as the reference point for when they need to push higher. The gap between Spurs’ defense and Kane was much more than it was last season, but maybe that’s because they were too scared about leaving space in-behind for Chelsea to hit them on the counter and that would leave the ultimate sweeper-keeper, Hugo Lloris, with too much ground to cover. Five yards it a lot of space to make up time and time again at the top.

Those were the tactical issues, but some of the aesthetics were also challenging.

With confetti still on the floor from Arsenal’s FA Community Shield win against Chelsea two weeks ago, plus beating drums being broadcast over the loudspeakers to generate more noise which prompted chants of “what the f***** hell is that!” from the Chelsea fans, this will take some getting used to.

There are many positives to Spurs playing at Wembley this season.

My ears are still ringing from the roar when Michy Batshuayi scored an own goal late on to make it 1-1. Adults can pay as little as $25 for a ticket, with children paying just $10. It was notable that more families were present at the home of soccer on Sunday with Spurs suddenly able to accommodate double the amount of home fans they could at White Hart Lane. From that point of view it is fantastic.

Every game will be an event but on the flip-side every game will feel like a cup final for visiting sides. Burnley next week, Swansea in mid-September and Bournemouth in October will all relish the chance to play at Wembley in Spurs’ next three home games.

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte told Pro Soccer Talk after the game that Chelsea found extra motivation by playing at Wembley.

“Honestly, I think to see this atmosphere was great. This stadium, Wembley, it is a fantastic stadium, to see this, it is amazing. It is amazing also for the opponent,” Conte admitted, as he smiled. “In this atmosphere, so strong for us, our fans tried to push the same despite 70,000 Totttenham supporters. Honestly I think to see this atmosphere is also great for the opponent.”

Tottenham’s players will not only have to deal with that but the bigger pitch, the increased pressure from larger crowds and also trying to settle into a temporary home. Even after Tottenham get through this season on the road, they will move into the new stadium at White Hart Lane and have to do this all over again in 2018-19.

The mental side of this is huge, hence why putting your finger on how to solve this jinx is so complex.

Just as West Ham proved last season, it’s tough to settle into new, larger surroundings. Mentally it plays tricks with players, the staff and supporters. Everyone. Just like Arsenal struggling in UCL games many years ago before them at Wembley, the truth is that not much can be done to lift this hoodoo.

It has been a constant dull noise scrambling away in the back of the mind of Spurs’ players for well over a year. Pochettino didn’t want to blame the Wembley pitch but he did point at Tottenham’s unlucky streak continuing.

“I think we were a little bit unlucky, if you don’t have sometimes this bit of luck, it is difficult to win,” Pochettino explained. “I am only disappointed, I am not upset.”

Tottenham’s players will park their cars in different spots, sit in different places in the locker room and may even wear new boots for their next home game at Wembley against Burnley next Saturday. Maybe they can train on the Wembley pitch more, sleep in the executive boxes at night and have lunch in the glitzy suites to become more familiar with their new surroundings.

In truth, it will take time. Nothing more, nothing less.

They must simply do anything to break this hoodoo before the UEFA Champions League group stage rolls around next month as they cannot afford any more home defeats in the PL to harm their title hopes any further.

Right now this is just a jinx, but soon the negative noise about Wembley will drown out the optimism of over 70,000 Tottenham supporters.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

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Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

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Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”

Euro qualifying: Gundogan saves 10-man Germany, Bale earns Wales draw

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Germany played for much of its visit to Estonia with 10 men as Emre Can was sent off for a bad last-man tackle just 14 minutes in, but Ilkay Gundogan‘s second-half brace saw Germany slide through with all three points on a 3-0 win to jump back on top of Group C. The all-important first came on a deflected effort from just outside the box to the right of center, while his second came minutes later with a shot from nearly the same place but just inside the area. Timo Werner added the third with under 20 minutes to go.

Wales secured a 1-1 draw at home against Croatia, but both sides will have greivences with the refereeing. Daniel James was taken out by Dejan Lovren on the edge of the box eight minutes in and likely should have been a penalty kick as the Liverpool defender barged James over without playing the ball. After Nikola Vlasic put Croatia ahead moments later, Gareth Bale would equalize just before halftime one a silky play through the Croatian defense, but a foul in the buildup wasn’t called that would have stopped play before the goalscoring moment.

There were also a pair of scary moments that involved nasty-looking head injuries. James came together with a pair of Croatians in the first half, and while it looked initially like Borna Barisic and Domagoj Vida had taken the brunt of the clash, James appeared to lose consciousness thanks to a knee in the back of his head. Despite the appearance of a clear distressing head injury, James was allowed to continue. Just second after the halftime break, Ethan Ampadu settled under the ball for a header until Bruno Petkovic blasted through his torso from behind, sending the Welsh midfielder to the ground awkwardly, holding his head in agony. Petkovic came in so hard that he earned a yellow card and maybe could have even seen red on another day. Ampadu was not allowed to continue, replaced immediately by Joe Morrell. Also notable in the match, Mateo Kovacic was taken off at halftime after appearing to pick up a muscle problem.

Austria held on for a 1-0 victory over Slovenia to temporarily jump into the lead in Group G, ahead of Poland on goal differential. Hoffenheim defender Stefan Posch scored the game’s only goal, a 21st minute effort off a corner. The back line did the rest, holding the hosts to just two shots on target in Ljubljana.

Poland secured qualification to the finals with a 2-0 win over North Macedonia behind goals from Przemyslaw Frankowski and Arkadiusz Milik, both which came in the final 20 minutes. The first was a messy finish from Chicago Fire winger Frankowski, collecting a flubbed Robert Lewandowski shot and poking it through past goakeeper Stole Dimitrievski. The second goal was much prettier, with the referee playing advantage after Lewandowski was fouled, and Milik delivered a delicious looper into the far corner.

Click here to see a roundup of the action from the early slate of games, including wins by Belgium, the Netherlands, and Russia.

Full Sunday Euro 2020 qualification scoreboard:

Kazakhstan 0-2 Belgium
Belarus 1-2 Netherlands
Cyprus 0-5 Russia
Hungary 1-0 Azerbaijan
Scotland 6-0 San Marino
Estonia 0-3 Germany
Poland 2-0 North Macedonia
Slovenia 0-1 Austria
Wales 1-1 Croatia

Teams who have secured guaranteed Euro 2020 qualification:

Italy
Belgium
Russia
Poland

Report: Alexis Sanchez out until 2020 with ankle injury

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Alexis Sanchez has targeted a return to form at Inter, but that may be shelved for some time as an ankle injury picked up on international duty could keep him out of action for months.

The Chilean federation confirmed that Sanchez suffered a “dislocation of the ligaments” in his left ankle in the 0-0 friendly draw with Argentina over the weekend, but did not specify a timeframe for his recovery. However, Italian journalist Tancredi Palmeri tweeted that Sanchez will not return until the calendar flips to 2020.

The injury is poorly timed for Sanchez who just broke into the Inter squad after being loaned from Manchester United. He scored his first goal in a 3-1 win over Sampdoria in late September before being sent off and suspended a match. The 30-year-old was also quality in the Champions League defeat to Barcelona, assisting Inter’s only goal.

At worst, a three-month injury layoff would see Sanchez return in mid-January, meaning he would miss the rest of the Champions League group stage as well as a host of Serie A matches. A Milan derby in early February would likely be a significant possibility for a late return.