Three things we learned: Tottenham v. Man City

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LONDON — Manchester City beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 at Wembley on Monday, as Pep Guardiola‘s men went back to the top of the Premier League thanks to Riyad Mahrez‘s early goal.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

In truth, it was an edgy game played on a pitch ravaged by Sunday’s NFL encounter at Wembley with both teams guilty of misplaced passes at vital moments and letting one another off the hook after mistakes.

Here’s what we learned from a cagey encounter at Wembley.


DISJOINTED SPURS PROVE POCHETTINO’S POINT

Spurs’ tally of 21 points was their highest from the opening nine games of a PL season, so you’d think Mauricio Pochettino would be a happy man. He’s not at all. Ahead of the game against City he was asked about Tottenham’s first few months of the season as they’re in-touch of the PL leaders but have yet to win any of their opening three UEFA Champions League games.

“The season so far?” Pochettino said. “It’s strange because my feeling is the worst feeling I’ve had in the five years that I’ve been here. It’s the worst. But it’s the best start ever for the club in the Premier League. It’s strange, no?”

Pochettino’s main gripe has been the sloppy nature of his team. They’ve ground out wins without impressing and due to several factors including injuries to stars such as Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen, plus a World Cup hangover for many of his players, Spurs just haven’t got going. Monday was a perfect example of that. They found gaps in-behind City on numerous occasions but Harry Kane‘s touch was off, Erik Lamela skied a great chance, the final pass was poor or concentration at the key moment was missing. That sums up Tottenham’s season so far and perhaps proves how far they’ve come as Pochettino is annoyed with sitting in fifth spot despite being far from their best.


MAN CITY’S TITLE DEFENSE BUILT ON DEFENSE

With their shutout win at Tottenham, Man City equalled a club league record of six-straight clean sheets as their defensive unit continues to be resolute. The last time City conceded a goal was to Newcastle on Sept. 1 when DeAndre Yedlin burst free to slot home. That was almost two months ago. They are now unbeaten in their last 16 Premier League games (since a 3-2 home capitulation against Manchester United) and have conceded just six goals in that timeframe. Defensive solidity has been their key area of improvement this season, as City have conceded just three times in their first 10 PL games and only one team in history (Chelsea in 2004-05) has let in fewer at this stage of a season. They conceded the fewest goals in the PL last season with 27 but it seems like they will easily beat that record this season with 28 games to go.

Some of the individual defending wasn’t perfect on Monday, with Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker guilty of poor touches and being caught upfield as Spurs countered. But John Stones, Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho put themselves in the correct positions in front of Ederson to safeguard City’s shutout once again. After their 0-0 draw at Liverpool earlier this month, City showed they can play in a more defensive framework away from home against one of their fellow top six sides and get a result. Just as they have away at Arsenal, Liverpool and now Spurs, scoring three times and conceding none. It is more of a mindset for City at this point, as it looked like their defenders truly believed they wouldn’t concede, even though Spurs were guilty of some gilt-edged misses. We usually associate Guardiola’s style with pressing to win the ball back high up the pitch and City still do that, but away from home they’ve been dropping deeper and now have the ability to bend but not break, then spring forward and terrorize their opponents.

We all know about their attacking talents but City’s defensive solidity could be how they get close to reaching the 100-point mark again this season.


STERLING ADDING POISE TO PACE

Raheem Sterling may be one of the most divisive players in the Premier League, if not world soccer.

But this stat sums up his importance to Man City: since the start of last season only Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah have been involved in more goals than Sterling’s 22 goals and 14 assists.

Still just 23 years old, only four players in PL history have made more appearances than the 200 Sterling has now racked up. The main criticism of him is that he lacks the nous and patience in the final third to unlock opposition defenses, while his struggles in front of goal for England have been well documented.

Yet on Monday he showcased once again why he’s in the form of his life. He raced free time and time again in the first half, pulling Spurs’ defense all over the place. The way he calmly cut inside and set up Mahrez’s for City’s goal proved the poise he’s added to his game under Guardiola. The goals and assists are coming for City (even if his effort from close range in the second half was blocked) and the goals flowed for England in their marquee win at Spain a few weeks ago.

With reports of contract talks stalling between Sterling and City, it is clear to see why he’s now one of the hottest properties in the game.

Rodgers excuses Maddison’s behavior after England departure

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Leicester City and England midfielder James Maddison made headlines for the wrong reasons after he was pictured last week watching the England match at the Czech Republic from a casino.

Despite the negative attention from Maddison’s decision to watch the game at that venue, he has the backing of his club manager, Brendan Rodgers.

“The kid went away with the international team and took ill while he was away,” Rodgers said, via the Guardian. “He wanted to stay and hopefully be ready for the second game. But the England medical staff – which I can understand, as he had flu and they didn’t want that to spread to his teammates – decided it’s best for him to leave the camp. So he leaves, gets some tablets with our guys at the club, then he feels better.

“He watched the game at home on his own on the Friday and then goes out at half-time – probably he’ll make better decisions in his life but he went to a casino on his own to sit and watch the second half by a poker table. The suggestions are he left England purposelessly and then goes to a casino but that’s totally not the case at all. But his eyes have been opened now to the wider world in terms of what he did. He knows in hindsight he’s made a mistake.”

Considering all that went on during England’s international break, from the poor performance in Prague to the horrible racism endured in Bulgaria, this is a bit of a silly scandal. To be honest, as long as Maddison is taking care of his body and himself, why does it matter if he was at a casino, or a pub, or anywhere?

However, there’s no denying that the optics look bad. Folks didn’t know that he arrived to England camp with the flu, or a flu-like illness at least, and the England medical staff are right to send him away to make sure no one else gets sick. He may have been feeling better by Friday and wanted to get out of the house. I think we’ve all been there after being sick for a few days.

The most important lesson for Maddison is to learn that his actions, out of context, can be misunderstood. In terms of soccer, after Ross Barkley’s performance for England, Maddison will have to prove in his club form that he should still have a place in the England team for the near future. There’s only two more international dates left before the 2020 Euros, so time is running out for Maddison to make an impact to Southgate.

 

Tierney, Lacazette available for Arsenal

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Arsenal are edging closer to finally having a full-strength squad.

Ahead of Monday’s prime-time matchup with Sheffield United, Arsenal manager Unai Emery confirmed that Kieran Tierney was in line to make his Premier League debut, while Alexandre Lacazette was back in full training and should be in the gameday squad.

“Today is Lacazette’s first training back with us,” Emery said in a press conference on Thursday. “He finished it well and he’s feeling well with his injuries. Tomorrow we will be training again and he will be with us. We will decide.

“The most important thing is that first he is training, then secondly it’s whether he can be with us and it depends how he can feel in the next days training with us, whether his ankle is not giving him any more problems.”

This is a huge boost to Arsenal, which has had to rely on some youngsters and have made some lineup changes to accommodate not having Lacazette on the field. Tierney meanwhile could step into a position where there’s already a decent starter, Sead Kolasinac.

Lacazette’s return also couldn’t have come at a better time. In Premier League action, Arsenal’s high-powered offense has been stymied, scoring just two goals in the last two league games. Meanwhile, against weaker defenses in the UEFA Europa League and the Carabao Cup, Arsenal has bagged a total of 12 goals.

The veteran Frenchman has scored two goals in three appearances so far this season, including a big goal just before halftime in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham. However, he suffered a long-term ankle injury in that match that has kept him on the sidelines for more than a month.

“[Tierney is] ready to play,” Emery later said. Now we have two options in that left-back role with Sead Kolasinac and him. We’re going to play a lot of matches after Monday. We will need every player. It depends how he comes into the first training with us, Sead, after his international matches. We now have two players in that position and we can use one on Monday, it depends how they are, one or the other.”

Tierney, the 22-year-old Scottish left back, has made two appearances for the Arsenal first team since recovering from a double hernia operation over the summer. Signed from Celtic for around $32 million, Tierney adds a skill that Kolasinac has struggled with – expert crosser of the ball into the box, where the likes of Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can score when given a decent chance.

USWNT star Rapinoe, boxer Shields win sportswomen of year

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Soccer star Megan Rapinoe and boxer Claressa Shields have been honored as Sportswomen of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation.

They won in the team and individual categories, the awards coming at the foundation’s 40th annual Salute to Women in Sports.

Rapinoe led the U.S. to victory at the World Cup in France and earned the FIFA Player of the Year award. Shields is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and middleweight champion.

Sheila Johnson, part-owner of the Washington Wizards, Capitals and recent WNBA champion Mystics, won the Billie Jean King Leadership Award. Marta Vieira da Silva, star of the Brazilian national soccer team, won the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award.

Rapinoe thanked her teammates Wednesday night and lauded Marta, a six-time FIFA Player of the Year, calling the Brazilian the greatest of all time and an “absolute hero in our sport.”

John Burke, president of the Trek Bicycle company, received the inaugural Champion for Equality Award.

MNUFC’s Opara wins MLS Defender of the Year

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For the second time in three seasons, Ike Opara has been named MLS Defender of the Year, this time as the foundational piece of Minnesota United’s much-improved defense.

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Opara becomes just the fourth player to win multiple Defender of the Year awards, joining Carlos Bocanegra (2002, 2003), Robin Fraser (1999, 2004) and Chad Marshall, the only three-time winner (2008, 2009, 2014) in MLS history. Opara won the award going away, nearly doubling the percentage of votes received by second-place Walker Zimmerman.

Defender of the Year Player % Club % Media % Final %
Ike Opara  25.75% 27.27% 44.88% 32.64%
Walker Zimmerman 20.40% 17.17% 12.20% 16.59%
Miles Robinson 19.40% 13.13% 15.75% 16.09%
Maxime Chanot 1.67% 16.16% 4.33% 7.39%
Eddie Segura 4.35% 9.09% 5.91% 6.45%
Aaron Long 2.34% 5.05% 1.97% 3.12%

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This time last year, the 30-year-old was a member of one of the league’s stingiest defensive units as a member of Sporting Kansas City. Following a contract dispute with Sporting, Opara was traded to Minnesota in exchange for $900,000 of targeted allocation money, plus an additional $100,000 after Minnesota qualified for the playoffs for the first time since joining MLS.