Three things we learned: Tottenham v. Man City

1 Comment

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.

Solskjaer: ‘We just need consistency’

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In a vague, general word, Manchester United manager knows exactly what his club have been missing. Consistency.

More specifically, consistent success.

In a sit-down interview with the BBC, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer mentioned striving for consistency in performances on no less than four occasions, including when speaking about Alexis Sanchez. Man United won eight straight matches in all competitions and 10 of its first 11 under the Norwegian manager.

[READ: De Ligt lands in Turin ahead of Juventus move]

And yet, the consistency wasn’t there late in the season, when Man United faltered down the stretch and won just two of its last ten matches to close the season on a sour note. Man United finished in sixth place, and while Solskjaer said he believed it would be a challenge to break into the top four, he said with some consistent performances, Man United could achieve its goals.

“We have to aim for further up than fourth,” Solskjaer told the BBC. “I would rather be an optimist and be wrong than a pessimist and be right. I am not used to us being fifth or sixth but that is where we are at. That is the size of the challenge. I love that challenge.

“We have to work with the players, sign the right types and gradually make our way to the challenging line. Our players do have quality. They do have a chance. We just need consistency. We have to keep working every single day and not take our eyes off the target. Everyone gets off line at some point but you can’t let it drift too far because then you won’t get to the overall goal.”

Some Man United fans have been mumbling and rumbling due to the slow start in this summer’s transfer window. Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia have both departed on free transfers, while only Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have come in. While it’s not the improvements some fans were hoping for, it’s helped give some of the young players, like James Garner, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenword, some hope that they can get minutes.

Perhaps the push from the young players for first team minutes will make Man United a bit more competitive in training again, which can only help in terms of having success on the field.

The big question remains, which Man United team will we see this season. The one from Solskjaer’s first two months on the job, or the one from his last six weeks.

MLS Notes: Shea out for season with torn ACL, and more

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It appeared Brek Shea had finally gotten his career back on track, only for a serious injury to end his season prematurely.

Atlanta United announced on Tuesday that Shea had suffered a “right knee injury” that will involve season-ending surgery. An earlier report from the Athletic stated it was a torn ACL, which could leave Shea sidelined into the start of next season.

[READ: de Ligt arrives in Turin]

Shea has made 10 starts out of 19 appearances so far this season for Atlanta, where he’s often played as a left wing back or left midfielder, offering speed down the flank and a deeper starting position to connect with Atlanta’s talented attackers. A good season from Shea could have propelled him back into the USMNT conversation, especially if he took part in next season’s January camp. Now, that option is off the table.

Here’s some more MLS news and notes:

(more…)

De Ligt lands in Turin ahead of proposed Juventus move

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Cristiano Ronaldo’s recruiting tactics with Matthijs de Ligt during the UEFA Nations League final appears to have worked.

[READ: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

Juventus posted a video on the club’s social media accounts that shows de Ligt arriving in Turin, Italy on a private jet, likely to sign his contract and get started with the club. It’s a huge precursor to an announcement for one of the top targets of this summer’s transfer market, and it represents a huge coup for Juventus.

Just a month ago or so, Juventus were on the outside looking in, with Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, and even Manchester United and Manchester City all mentioned in the race to sign the Netherlands and Ajax star centerback. And yet, PSG, which appeared in the lead at one point, lost ground to Juventus, and de Ligt now gets to compete alongside Ronaldo after facing him twice over the past season.

It’s the latest move in the incredible rise of de Ligt over the past three years. De Ligt was promoted to Ajax’s first team as a 17-year-old, and pretty quickly established himself as a huge talent for the Netherlands. Then Netherlands National Team coach Danny Blind called up de Ligt to start in a crunch World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria, with the Netherlands desperate for some defensive answers.

It’s didn’t exactly go well.

And yet, de Ligt has overcome those experiences and raised his game to new levels each of the last two years. Alongside Davinson Sanchez, Ajax made it to the Europa League final, and last year, de Ligt scored as Ajax defeated Juventus on the way to the UEFA Champions League semifinals. Ajax was just a few minutes away from the finals before Tottenham’s late winner.

At the same time, along with Virgil Van Dijk, they form one of the strongest centerback partnerships in Europe, and look set to lead the Netherlands to UEFA Euro 2020.

As mentioned before, it’s a massive get for de Ligt, assuming that the soon-to-be 20-year-old can settle in Turin. Juventus’ defensive corps continues to grow older, with Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini both well into their 30s. De Ligt’s arrival can help give some stability at the back and allow Juventus to transition to the next generation of centerbacks.

Cameroon fire Seedorf, Kluivert

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Upset with how the national team was bounced from the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, the Cameroon Football Federation has taken a drastic and surprising measure.

[READ: Reports: Trippier set to join Atletico Madrid]

The Cameroon FF (FECAFOOT) announced on Tuesday that it had dismissed head coach Clarence Seedorf and his coaching staff, which includes Seedorf’s former Netherlands and Ajax teammate Patrick Kluivert. Seedorf and Cameroon were defeated 3-2 by Nigeria in the Round of 16, knocking The Indomitable Lions out of the tournament.

Cameroon had won the last AFCON tournament and were set to host again, but the Confederation of African Football (CAF) removed the tournament from Cameroon due to the anglophone political crisis.

Seedorf signed a four-year contract last August, bringing Kluivert along with him in his first attempt to coach international soccer. However, it appears that the bosses in FECAFOOT expected more from Cameroon at the AFCON, and the results have embarrassed the federation enough to sack a promising coach.

The news should be a boost to club teams across Europe, which could pick up two of the top young coaches with a ton of playing experience, both of whom are free agents.