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Pochettino says fatigue, not his new book, causing Spurs’ slump

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Tottenham Hotspur have lost their last three Premier League games away from home and won just one of their last five games in the league, thus Mauricio Pochettino has come under a bit of (justifiable) scrutiny.

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Pochettino, who guided Tottenham to third- and second-place finishes in the last two PL season, respectively, has seen his side slip from third to seventh in the league table in four weeks’ time. Spurs are currently one point behind Burnley.

Naturally, the inquest has begun, and one of the more interesting theories used to explain Spurs’ recent struggles is as follows: relationships between Pochettino and his players have been strained ahead of the release of “Brave New World,” a book written by Guillem Balague, who shadowed Pochettino for the entirety of the 2016-17 season. The first excerpts were released in mid-October. Pochettino insists the book has no bearing on his squad — quotes from the AP:

“I think my relationship with them is so strong and to find excuses about the book is wrong. It’s a great opportunity to get a better idea that it’s not only about playing football.

“When you are clear with everyone, the problem doesn’t exist. The problem is when you lie, no?”

As for the real reason his side slipped into a mid-season coma, Pochettino says it’s more to do with fatigue than a perceived sense of broken trust:

“A player like Christian Eriksen maybe can be a little bit tired, but mental more than physical, because in the last international duty he played two amazing games to try to qualify for the World Cup, and he cannot rest, he cannot stop.

“Maybe him and Eric Dier, that is playing a lot. Maybe Davinson Sanchez. It’s the same group, the players that travel a lot and were involved in nearly all the games. Maybe they can feel a little bit tired about competing.”

That’s all extremely well and reasonable — not to mention, a far more logical explanation than the book theory. That said, let’s take a moment to consider why players like Eriksen, Dier and Sanchez — as well as others, like Harry Kane and Dele Alli — might be “a little tired,” whether it be mental or physical exhaustion, with only a little more than one-third of the season complete.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s picks — Spurs to bounce back vs. Watford? ]

By mid-July and early August, it had become crystal clear that the likes of Manchester City ($293 million), Chelsea ($273 million) and Manchester United ($228 million) were going to spend until they had elevated their respective squads to title-contending quality. Spurs, on the other hand, waited until Aug. 23 — 12 days after the start of the PL season — to announce their first signing, Sanchez. No additional transfer business (of real consequence) was done until Aug. 31, deadline day, when Serge Aurier and 32-year-old Fernando Llorente arrived.

If Pochettino, Daniel Levy and Co. think Spurs can continue punching above the squad’s monetary weight and contend year after year for the PL title without a serious financial push to acquire players on par with those being signed by fellow top-six sides, they are sorely mistaken. Clearly the new stadium will be a financial burden for an unknown period of time, as was the case for Arsenal until recently, so Spurs fans might just have to make themselves comfortable with once again being the fifth- or sixth-best team in England with a chance to crack the top-four in especially strange seasons.

[ MORE: West Brom hire Pardew | Allardyce takes charge at Everton ]

That’s without considering the futures of Kane, Alli, Eriksen and Dier — all of whom will attract serious interest from other clubs this summer, should Spurs not get into the Champions League, and every ensuing summer — as well as Toby Aldeweireld (28 years old), Jan Vertonghen (30), Mousa Dembele (30) and Danny Rose (27) — all of whom will soon be on the wrong side of the primes of their respective careers.

Early-season injuries to Rose, Dembele and Victor Wanyama, and now Aldeweireld, have left Spurs without a great deal of room for rotation. Pochettino might appear to have worked miracles in recent seasons, but he’s finding life a bit more difficult now that two years of good injury fortune has quickly turned against him.

10-man Red Bulls hold off Atlanta United at home

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Atlanta United’s five-game winning streak went up in smoke as the New York Red Bulls pulled off an incredible 1-0 victory.

Playing down a man for around 65 minutes, the Red Bulls shutout Atlanta United’s high powered offense in front of 18,495 fans at Red Bull Arena. Tom Barlow, in just his second appearance with the Red Bulls, scored the game-winning goal in the 65th minute off a header at the far post, one that left U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper Brad Guzan rooted to his line.

[READ: Pep: Domestic Treble harder than UCL]

Tim Parker was shown a straight red card in controversial fashion, after grabbing Josef Martinez’s left arm with Martinez in front of him just outside the box. Martinez was clearly pulled back but continued running and eventually got a shot off that Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles parried away.

Referee Robert Sbiga then decided to call the play back and award Atlanta United a free kick outside the box. After what seemed to be consultation with his assistants, Sbiga then showed Parker a straight red card, likely for denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO) while Martinez was through on goal.

The outcome is a massive one for the Red Bulls. It’s been a rough season, with the loss of both Jesse Marsch and Tyler Adams and the poor form of Bradley Wright-Phillips up top. Wright-Phillips was out on Sunday and another attacker Andreas Ivan, went off with an injury in the first half as he was about to be substituted off anyways following the red card.

Alejandro Romero Gamarra, Kaku, has made his feelings known that he wants (or wanted) to leave the club. His form hasn’t been stellar this season either.

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s finally found its way back into the win column and is looking more like the juggernaut from last season, especially with five-straight shutout wins. It’s all back to zero today though, with the defeat at the Red Bulls on a perfect grass pitch up a man.

Mbappe hints he could leave PSG

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Kylian Mbappe accepted his award as the Ligue 1 MVP, dedicated it to Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, and then mentioned he could be off soon to another club.

Wait, what?

Yes, following Mbappe accepting his award, the French star and World Cup winner stated he hoped he could continue his career at PSG but left open the possibility of moving to another club that allows him to take the next steps in his career.

[READ: Kompany to join Anderlecht as player-manager]

“This is a very important moment for me, I arrive at a first or second turn of my career,” Mbappe said, via L’equipe. “I’ve discovered a lot of things here, I feel that maybe it’s time to have more responsibility. I hope it may be at Paris Saint-Germain, it would be with great pleasure, or perhaps elsewhere for a new project.”

Mbappe later clarified his comments, stating he was looking for more responsibility. “If it’s at PSG, that’s good. If it is elsewhere, it will be elsewhere for a new challenge.

“For me, it was time to say it. I am someone whole: when I say something, I think it. For me, it was the right time to say it. That’s it, I said it!”

It’s unclear why exactly Mbappe used this moment to put some pressure on PSG. Perhaps its to remind them that the club needs to be successful in its transfer endeavors this summer, so it can compete deep into the UEFA Champions League. With Neymar injured and a central midfield ravaged by injuries, PSG capitulated and somehow fell to Manchester United in the Champions League Round of 16, grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

There’s no reason why PSG can’t dominate the Champions League like it does Ligue 1, especially with the attacking trident of Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani. But of course, against better competition, the inferiority in mentality and in talent along the backline has started to show.

So, where could Mbappe go? There’s very few places that could effectively match both his salary and his competitive goals. It’s the usual suspects, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and perhaps Manchester City, should they be interested in it. More recently, while Man City has spent big, it’s been on signing multiple players on $50 million transfers, as opposed to one player on a $200 million transfer, for example.

It’s unlikely, but an intriguing option would be Liverpool. If the club somehow came up with the funds, imagine Mbappe playing alongside Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, with Roberto Firmino coming in to spell either of the three over the course of the season. Mbappe would likely make up that one-point difference between Liverpool and Man City, and if that’s what it takes for Liverpool to finally win the title, it could be worth the initial massive investment.

Messi finishes season leading La Liga in goals, assists, and more

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Lionel Messi turns 32 this summer, and after more than a dozen years of first team soccer, playing more than 50 games a season, the old man’s still got it.

The Argentine star, playing his first season in almost a decade without direct competition from Cristiano Ronaldo, scored twice as Barcelona tied Eibar, 2-2. The two goals gave him 34 for the season, by far the most by any player in the league, and his 50th in all competitions.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Messi also led La Liga this season with 13 assists, 136 shots, 85 shots on target and 70 through balls. In terms of successful dribbles, Messi’s 132 fell seven short of Celta Vigo’s Sofiane Boufal.

Messi’s 34 goals gave him his sixth Pichichi, the trophy given to the league’s leading scorer. Messi is now tied with legendary Telmo Zarra for the all-time record of most Pichichi’s, and Messi is now three ahead of Ronaldo.

As if Messi wasn’t already a legendary player, the man seems to be showing no signs of slowing down. It may have helped that he skipped matches with Argentina after the 2018 World Cup this past fall, keeping him fresh for Barcelona. Even so, the man looks as good, if not better, with age.

Messi already holds the record for most goals in league history, and at this rate, he’ll set it to a level that will be almost impossible to reach. While he’s going to be remembered for his incredible control on the ball, it doesn’t hurt that he’s been incredibly productive during his career, including in 2018-2019. Barcelona won the league title with ease and the club made the UEFA Champions League semifinal. If for some better defending, Messi could be contesting for another Champions League title.

Nani scores twice as Orlando City thrashes FC Cincinnati

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Nani may not be the star he once was while he played for Manchester United, but he’s still making a powerful impact in MLS.

The Portuguese international scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season as Orlando City ran circles expansion side FC Cincinnati, winning 5-1. Along with Nani, Tesho Akindele scored a brace and Dom Dwyer came off the bench and scored a header in the win.

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Aside from having a chance to record a big win over a struggling side, Orlando City may have been ultra motivated on Sunday. Orlando City manager James O’Connor has history with FC Cincinnati from his time at Louisville City, with intense rivalry matches taking place as well as arguments between O’Connor and former FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch on the sidelines.

FC Cincinnati actually went up early with a Darren Mattocks finish past Brian Rowe, but it didn’t take long for Orlando City to respond. Akindele fired home from 20-yards out in the 37th minute to make it 1-1. Early in the second half, Nani scored on a penalty kick rebound to make it 2-1 to the hosts, and then he added a second off a cross from the right to blast the game wide open.

With the win, Orlando City moved just one point outside of a playoff place, while Cincinnati remains in the basement of the Eastern Conference. However, Orlando City has a difficult road ahead, with matches against the LA Galaxy, Montreal Impact and D.C. United to come.