Will big-spending Spurs be Premier League title contenders?

2 Comments

Tottenham Hotspur’s 2018-19 season was quite the “glass half-full” occasion.

Spurs won 23 matches, only Liverpool and Man City claiming three points on more occasions. The North London outfit also lost 13, the biggest number in the Top Six and the same as Wolves.

[ MORE: Spurs agree Dybala fee ]

With a plus-28 goal differential, also third-best in the PL, Spurs finished 15 points back of second and 16 behind victorious Man City. That felt okay because Mauricio Pochettino‘s men, of course, also made it to the UEFA Champions League Final, losing to Liverpool on a questionable handball call.

Now two seasons removed from a second-place finish in the league, Spurs have broken their transfer record to bring in Tanguy Ndombele and may be spending bigger, linked Tuesday with both Paulo Dybala and Philippe Coutinho. Playmaker Giovani Los Celso has been in their orbit, too, all summer.

Perhaps no team has more questions in the air over the final 48 hours of the transfer window than Spurs, with Christian Eriksen still whispered as a possible departure, to boot.

Only Manchester United suffered more injuries than Spurs last season, with Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Moussa Sissoko, and Hugo Lloris missing time (Spurs went 2W-3L in league play without the latter). And Heung-Min Son was gone through national team duty, too.

This is a club who stopped Man City from its most-sought jewel, the Champions League, and it’s no coincidence that Spurs’ Premier League freefall came once the group stage arrived at Wembley in mid-February.

Spurs were five points back of the first and second at that point, with a match-in-hand on leaders City but not Liverpool. The chasers — Arsenal, Manchester United, and Chelsea — were between 9-10 points back of Spurs.

They had won all but six of their matches at that point, falling to Watford, Liverpool, Man City, Arsenal, Wolves, and Manchester United. The losses to the leaders were both at home and by a single goal (as they would be later in the season, away from London).

They have a lot going for themselves, even a bit of momentum from the Audi Cup. Their festive season slate is very forgiving, as is their season run-in.

Spurs’ three toughest fixtures of the opening 10 come away to Man City, Arsenal, and Liverpool. Draws can, of course, do the trick there as Pochettino’s men look to build a path to the top (Liverpool’s start is more difficult, while Man City’s early visit from Spurs is its only top challenge of the first two months, all respect due to Wolves).

The biggest argument against Tottenham comes at right back, where Kieran Trippier has left, Juan Foyth is injured, and Serge Aurier is still returning to fitness. The easy option is for Pochettino to find an answer in the next 48 hours, but the little things matter when you’re talking about a title; Spurs may have to face down City in Week 2 with either a brand new piece or a revived Aurier.

That’s digging a bit too far into the weeds, though; When assessing whether Spurs can make up distance to Liverpool and Man City, it’s not really about the big gap at the end of last season. Look at where Spurs were before the Champions League knockout round stage. Ask yourselves whether you see them shallow enough to finish 3W-2D-7L regardless of UCL status.

We’d argue the opposite. With Dybala or Coutinho, this team can make it a bonafide three-team race almost regardless of what Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester United manage by Thursday evening.

Arsenal players “low on confidence” as slump continues

Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsenal interim manager Freddie Ljungberg saw his brief tenure turn from meh to worse, as the Gunners followed up their weekend draw with Norwich City by losing at home to Brighton and Hove Albion on Thursday.

The Swedish legend could only point to one thing.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 1-2 Brighton ]

“The players are low on confidence,” he said on NBCSN after the game. “We had a bit of reaction in the second half after our discussion at half, but we need to start the game like that. That’s the biggest disappointment I have. The second half they gave it a crack.”

“We’re in a difficult situation. We’ve got a lot of games and the confidence has gone down. It’s my job to get them to be more aggressive and have more energy.”

Perhaps most depressing is Ljungberg’s description of his players in the first half, via Football.London.

“They looked scared to get the ball and were standing still.”

Arsenal defender Hector Bellerin wouldn’t put any of the blame on the manager.

Bellerin credited Ljungberg for bringing energy to the training pitch this week, and was lost for answers after a poor showing at home.

“I don’t know what to say. I have the feeling that whatever we do it doesn’t come out right. The team gave its best, we created chances, we defended good but it seems like we need so many chances to score and teams score every chance against us. I am lost for words a little bit.”

He said he’s 100 percent sure the results will come Arsenal’s way. The next chance comes Monday at West Ham United.

Wilder laments VAR goal: ‘I don’t know where the game is going’

Leave a comment

Referees these days need to get off Chris Wilder‘s lawn.

The Sheffield United manager, author of an incredible season so far, could not wrap his head around VAR allowing Newcastle United’s second goal of a 2-0 defeat of his Blades at Bramall Lane on Thursday.

[ RECAP: Blades 0-2 Newcastle ]

Jonjo Shelvey kept running onto an Andy Carroll flick despite the linesman’s flag going up, and Stuart Atwell let Shelvey play to the whistle in beating Dean Henderson 1v1.

VAR review showed Carroll onside when he headed the ball, and the goal stood. Wilder says that’s not how he was told VAR would work, and that soccer is ruined because of it.

“The game has changed. This game now is completely different to what I experienced as a 16-year-old lad as an apprentice. This game in a heartbeat has changed. I don’t know where it is going and it is sucking the life out of me and the supporters.”

You can understand his frustration, of course, but really it’s more of a listen Henderson shouldn’t forget. Play it to the whistle, then complain if it ends up in the goal.

Atwell is the referee and has the right to overrule his linesman if he thinks there’s been a mistake. In the light of day, Wilder will understand a bit more. Surely he’ll get a similar call in the future.

Above statement aside, credit Wilder for a well-reasoned approach to why he’s upset with the call (It definitely didn’t help that Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka stood on his head in denying several terrific Blades chances).

“I was told at the start of the season that the linesman would not put his flag up and let it go. He put his flag up and the referee was about to blow his whistle,” he said. “Everyone in the ground stopped. Jonjo Shelvey even nonchalantly went up and took an opportunity. His body language said to me he had seen the linesman had put the flag up and he was going to be offside.”

What do you think? Should Atwell have blown the whistle? We tend to think no, but this is a democracy.

Arsenal skid hits nine in home loss

Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsenal’s winless run reached nine with a 2-1 home loss to Brighton and Hove Albion at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Neal Maupay headed an Aaron Mooy cross past Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno with 10 minutes to play.

Alexandre Lacazette found a second half equalizer after Adam Webster put the Seagulls ahead before the break.

Arsenal stays 10th with 19 points, below Sheffield United and above Newcastle United on goal difference. Brighton rises to 13th with 18 points.

The nine-game run is Arsenal’s worst since 1977.


Three things we learned

1. Freddie not the fix: There’s been no new manager bounce for Arsenal, and perhaps that’s as big of an indictment on player recruitment than anything else. Who knows if Freddie Ljungberg is a future genius manager, but the Gunners had little to offer in being outshot for most of the match.

2. Leno would be Best XI on a good team: Arsenal’s goalkeeper is one of the good ones, and the 27-year-old goalkeeper was credited with seven saves at home. Who knows where the Gunners would sit on the table if Leno wasn’t leading the league in saves? I mean, look at the clubs represented around him on the board. This is a bad, bad, bad defense.

https://www.sofascore.com/tournament/football/england/premier-league/17

3. Potter’s men continue to impress: The Seagulls continue on an upward trend, and were the better team on the day inside the home of one of the biggest teams in the league. Their big backs dealt well enough with Arsenal’s talented attack, with midfielder Aaron Mooy the star of their match even before he assisted Maupay’s go-ahead goal.

Man of the Match: It would’ve been Leno, who had no fault on either goal, but Mooy’s assist tips the scales in favor of the Australian.


Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin conceded a free kick on the edge of the box in the 22nd minute, but that came to nothing.

At the other end, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang spun an outside-of-the-boot hit wide of the far post.

But Brighton was producing the best chances over the first half-hour, and were rightly on the board first when Webster slotted a shot from the heart of the 18.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Arsenal brought on Nicolas Pepe at halftime, but it was Lacazette who equalized with a looping header off a corner kick.

Brighton didn’t wilt, and Bernd Leno reacted well to Neal Maupay’s disappointing first touch of a loose ball in the six with just under a half hour to play.

The Gunners saw a goal pulled back by VAR after David Luiz was offside when he headed a free kick past Mat Ryan.

Pepe then slid Aubameyang behind the Brighton back line, but the Seagulls limited the damage to a corner kick.

Maupay put the Seagulls ahead when he held his nerve in front of Luiz to head Mooy’s cross home.

Newcastle takes three points at Sheffield United

1 Comment

Allan Saint-Maximin and Jonjo Shelvey scored goals and VAR made its presence felt as Newcastle United toppled Sheffield United 2-0 at Bramall Lane on Thursday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Its Newcastle’s fifth result from six following a loss to Chelsea, while Sheffield United sees the end of its seven-match unbeaten run.

The Magpies pull into 11th place with 19 points, two spots below the Blades on goal differential.

Sheffield United meets Norwich City on Sunday, when Newcastle hosts Southampton.


Three things we learned

1. Blades make rookie mistake in VAR era: The linesman’s flag was raised when Andy Carroll flicked a header into the Blades final third, but Shelvey kept running onto the ball and referee Stuart Atwell allowed play to continue into the 1v1 chance between the midfielder and Sheffield United goalkeeper Dean Henderson. Shelvey passed around Henderson and into the goal, the backstop apparently spotting the flag and assuming the call. Big mistake, as VAR negated the linesman’s flag.

2. Bruce rewarded for lineup risk, and ASM breaks down the door: Manager Steve Bruce pulled the plug on big money striker Joelinton‘s automatic spot in the Starting XI, installing veteran center forward and hometown hero Andy Carroll in that spot. Carroll was solid with Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron on his flanks, and won the pivotal assist in the second half.

Saint-Maximin is either the league’s best dribbler or a fixture in the debate, but he’s been unable to find the back of the goal whether through fine saves or misfired shots. Raise your hand if you had 50-50 header for his first Premier League marker. Didn’t think so. If this busts down the door, look out.

3. Magnificent Martin deserves a rest: Newcastle backstop Martin Dubravka was the biggest factor in the result, as the Slovakian national team goalkeeper was at his shot-stopping best. He was stopping all of the Olivers, with fine stops on McBurnie and Norwood in the first half and a well-controlled box in the second 45.

Man of the Match: Dubravka — Respect to Carroll, but the keeper made six saves on the night for a richly-deserved clean sheet.


[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

A deflection off Miguel Almiron forced Martin Dubravka into a fine reaction stop in the sixth minute.

Newcastle then had the ball for a spell without real threat, as Blades’ Oli McBurnie’s curl wide in the 15th minute was the next moment of danger for either side.

The Magpies scored soon after, Saint-Maximin rising high to thump a header inside the post after Andy Carroll laid off for Javi Manquillo‘s cross.

McBurnie then forced an incredible save out of Dubravka when George Baldock sent a terrific cross into the heart of the box.

Almiron gave away a dangerous free kick in first half stoppage time, but Dubravka was again there for a two-handed parry of Oliver Norwood‘s rip.

VAR made its voice heard in the 71st minute, when it ruled that