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PL Preview: Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur

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  • Spurs (24 points) sit 4th in PL table
  • Palace (8 points) in 14th
  • Spurs won both meetings 1-0 last season

Mauricio Pochettino is four months into perhaps his greatest miracle (thus far) as Tottenham Hotspur manager — keeping the club in the thick of the Premier League’s top-four race despite a series of debilitating challenges from outset. Has it been a complete departure from the last two or three seasons when Tottenham played some of the most attractive, entertaining attacking soccer in the world? It absolutely has, and perhaps that’s why they’ve been criticized for perceived regression. That’s without even mentioning the ongoing stadium situation.

Due in large part to injuries — coupled with serious fitness struggles following the World Cup — and the fact they failed to sign a single player during the summer transfer window, it becomes quite clear, quite quickly, how any start to the season would be seen as unimpressive should a single aspect of recent successes change. But — and here’s the important part — they just keep finding ways to win. Saturday’s trip to Selhurst Park (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) — even to take on a struggling Crystal Palace side — will likely require a similar grind-it-out approach, given injuries to Jan Vertonghen (hamstring), Mousa Dembele (ankle), Eric Dier (thigh), Danny Rose (groin) and Victor Wanyama (knee), to those of recent weeks.

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Palace, on the other hand, are winless in their last six league games (two draws) and have slipped to within two points of the relegation zone. Admittedly, a run of fixtures against Arsenal, Chelsea, now Spurs, then Manchester United is going to be a tough period for any non-top-six side. The Eagles haven’t topped Spurs in a PL fixture in six tries, suffering defeat all six times — five of which came via a 1-0 scoreline.

What they’re saying

Pochettino, on unfounded criticisms of Harry Kane: “He is so obsessed with scoring that sometimes, when it is against him, he needs more freedom — not to be obsessed. But he is going to learn and he is starting to be really mature. Kane is English and sometimes you push him to the sky and paradise and then you put him on the outside. If Harry was Italian and playing for the Italian side, he would be a bit more protected because the Italian people are more protective of their players. It’s difficult to push them but when they are there, they try to keep them up there. It’s similar in Spain. Here, it is more up and down.”

Palace manage Roy Hodgson, on struggling to score goals: “I can’t in any way criticize or complain about what the players are trying to do either in training or in matches, and I’m sure that (the goals) will come when the ball goes in for us. But, as I say, we’ve scored three in the last games. “The only thing we can do is keep trying to give those performances, and hope that if there is any luck going, it goes our way”


Prediction

It’ll be something of a slog — perhaps with multiple goals for each side, given the lack of midfield options for Spurs — but they’re battle-tested and have given a fantastic account of themselves in recent weeks. At some point, the fatigue and grind will catch up to them, but not on Saturday.

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.