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Sissoko close to Tottenham return

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Moussa Sissoko is closing in on a return for Tottenham and my how Jose Mourinho has missed the Frenchman.

Sissoko, 30, went down with a knee injury in the defeat at Southampton on New Year’s Day and has since had surgery but is going to return quicker than expected.

Speaking to Tottenham’s website, Moussa Sissoko gave the following update on his recovery.

“I’m fine, my knee’s okay. I’ve been training with the team for nearly two weeks now and everything is okay. I’m trying to build up my fitness and trying to be ready for when we’re allowed to play again,” Sissoko said.

Tottenham are one of the teams who look set to benefit most from the current suspension of the Premier League season until at least April 30. Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son, Steven Bergwijn and Sissoko have all suffered serious injuries in recent months but Mourinho could have them fit and available for their final nine games of the season as they focus solely on the final nine games of the Premier League season.

Having Sissoko back would be a huge help to Mourinho as Tottenham have often been overpowered in central midfield with Harry Winks out of form and Eric Dier preferred at center back in recent weeks. Sissoko’s ability to run with the ball, win it back and link midfield and attack has been badly missed.

Sissoko, born in France, has also issued a message to everyone amid the coronavirus pandemic as he is in constant contact with his family in France.

“It’s a very sad situation, all the world is affected,” Moussa Sissoko added. “We need to be sensible and try to follow protocols. Hopefully in a few weeks or a few months everything will be okay and everyone can go back to normal life and try to enjoy life. Everyone needs to be careful and like I said, follow the protocols, stay at home and try to be safe, take care of your family. At the same time, it’s a good opportunity to spend time with your family and have some love together because as I said, at the moment the world is sad and we don’t like to see this kind of thing, but we need to stick together and hopefully, in a few weeks or few months, we’ll have a better world.”

PST Roundtable: PL at the 3/4 mark

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The Premier League season is paused at just more than the three-quarter mark — 76.05 percent, to be a bit more formal — and we’ve got a good handle on who’s good and who isn’t.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

That said, the number also gives an idea of why there’s plenty of possibilities remaining for the table and award winners once the season presumably resumes for the stretch run.

It would be natural to speculate on the front-runners and Championship-bound sides if there were matches this weekend, so why not do it now?

We’ve quizzed our PST staff on a handful of questions in roundtable form, though there was no table and my desk is decidedly rectangular.


Liverpool players have won Player of the Year for the past two seasons despite not winning the league. Are the tables flipped this year? Who is on track for PL Player of the Year?

Joe Prince-WrightKevin De Bruyne should probably win it but I expect Jordan Henderson or Sadio Mane to win it. Liverpool will win the league by a mile and both have been influential. When they’ve been out injured Liverpool have missed them and I’d probably say Mane should win it.

Andy Edwards: This is a weird one, because Liverpool have been so thoroughly outstanding in every way, on every level, that it would be difficult to pick just one of them for Player of the Year. Is Sadio Mane deserving? Sure is. What about Mohamed Salah? Also yes. Virgil Van Dijk? Yet again, yes. Trent Alexander-Arnold? You can make a strong case that he’s perhaps done the most to lift Liverpool another level higher from a “non-traditional” award-winning position. All of that is to say, simply deliver the award to Melwood Training Ground and let the players decide amongst themselves.

Daniel Karell: Remember when the U.S. women’s national team won the 1999 SI Sportsperson of the Year award? I think we’re going to have to do that for Liverpool. While Virgil Van Dijk, Mo Salah, and Sadio Mane would all be worthy of the trophy individually, it’s truly been a team effort this season and the culmination of 5 years of growth, smart transfer dealings, and hard work. Trent Alexander-Arnold has been immense at times, as has Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, and Allison Becker. Ultimately, it’s a bit of a cop-out answer but I think it’s just hard this year to pick just one who has been better. Jamie Vardy currently leads the Premier League in goals, and while he’s been terrific, he hasn’t also been playing in the Champions League like Salah, Mane, and Van Dijk have, for example. 

Kyle Bonn: It has to be Kevin de Bruyne, right? Yea, it does.

Nick Mendola: Kevin De Bruyne and it’s not particularly close. He has a fine chance of setting the league assist record, and he’s two away becoming the only player in the Top Five twice. There are words to be said for Trent Alexander-Arnold, Sadio Mane, Wilfred Ndidi, and Raul Jimenez, but no true decent arguments outside of “it should come from the champion,” which we covered in the question.


Who’s on track for your Best XI?

Joe Prince-Wright: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Maguire, Saka; J. Henderson, Ndidi, De Bruyne; Mane, Firmino, Vardy

Andy Edwards: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Soyuncu, Robertson; Ndidi, Moutinho, De Bruyne; Salah, Jimenez, Mane

Daniel Karell: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Soyuncu, Robertson; De Bruyne, Maddison, Jorginho; Vardy, Aubameyang, Salah

Kyle Bonn: D. Henderson; TAA, Van Dijk, Maguire, Robertson; Ndidi, De Bruyne, J. Henderson, Grealish; Mane, Vardy.

Nick Mendola: Leno; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Soyuncu, Robertson; Ndidi, Rodri, De Bruyne; Salah, Jimenez, Mane.


What’s the best goal you’ve seen this season?

Joe Prince-Wright: I think that has to be Heung-Min Son’s incredible solo goal. Clear winner for Goal of the Season.

Andy Edwards: Heung-min Son’s solo goal versus Burnley

Daniel Karell:  I mean…it’s got to be Heung-min Son against Burnley. Honorable mention though to Kevin de Bruyne vs. Newcastle and Moussa Djenepo vs. Sheffield United.

Kyle Bonn: Three goals so far stand out in my mind: Heung-Min Son’s dizzying run vs. Burnley, Jahanbakhsh’s bike against Chelsea, and Jordan Ayew’s little zig-zag against West Ham. The Spurs’ man’s goal wins for the sheer distance he covered.

Nick Mendola: Son. Solo. Next.


What are your Top 3 moments of the season so far?

Joe Prince-Wright: Woah. What a question. In no particular order: Christian Pulisic’s hat trick for Chelsea v Burnley. Leicester winning 9-0 at Southampton. Liverpool destroying everyone but I particularly enjoyed their 4-0 win at Leicester.

Daniel Karell: The season being postponed for the Coronavirus: Only a global pandemic could upstage the season Liverpool was having. Then Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Man City, which proved that the Reds have fully passed Man City in the pecking order. Finally, I’m biased, but for me it’s the malaise and slide that Arsenal is in. How the mighty have fallen.

Kyle Bonn: Lot to potentially go into the pot here, but the ones that stick out most in my mind are Leicester City demolishing Southampton 9-0, Newcastle ridiculous late 2-2 draw with Everton on Lejeune’s double, and Southampton exacting revenge on Leicester City for the aforementioned demolition with a 2-1 road win. I think Liverpool could potentially have three on here as well, one for the Sadio Mane header against Aston Villa, one for the late Lallana goal against Manchester United to draw, and one for the loss to Watford that ended the unbeaten league season.

Nick Mendola: Two of my three involve the soon-to-be champs, and the first took 24 seconds to reshape the season. It was the time that passed between Trent Alexander-Arnold’s would-be handball penalty for Man City and Fabinho’s rocket to beat Claudio Bravo. ‘Member? Insane. Maybe we should’ve called “Game: Blouses” on the whole season there, citing a season of fate.

The second is Watford’s beatdown of Liverpool to end the Reds’ unbeaten season is here because of its complete nature. The worn-down Reds capitulated to Ismaila Sarr in a way that lives very large.

Third could be anything: Liverpool coming back to beat West Ham. Leicester City hanging nine on Southampton. Hometown kid Matty Longstaff using all five-foot-nothing of his teenage body to piledrive Newcastle past Manchester United on his Premier League debut with his brother next to him in the midfield.

It’s been a season, team.


Grade VAR on a scale of 1-10 (1 being poor and 10 being perfect). What can be changed to make the VAR system more efficient and consistent?

Joe Prince-Wright: I’d give it a 6/10. People forget the small errors which still pop up but a lot of decisions which would have previously been wrong are now correct. I think letting referees use the pitch side monitors will improve the system and the respect for on-field officials. Too much of the control is sent to Stockley Park.

Andy Edwards: 5, dead center of the spectrum. My biggest gripe: it’s been used to micromanage and legislate the smallest of margins far too frequently. We all understand the Laws of the Game are the rules by which the game must be officiated, but what of the Spirit of the Laws of the Game? There must exist a gray area of sorts, as there is with everything in life, where intent and advantage are considered and weighed en route to the final decision. If a player is offside by 2 millimeters, is that an advantage which has a decisive impact in favor of the attacker? In most cases, it’s probably not.

Daniel Karell: 5. It’s decent, but the fact that refs refuse to use the monitors means that they’re just constantly second guessing themselves and it’s affecting how they call games in general. Make a call, and if the VAR says, hey, you might want to look at this, take a look at it to be sure. You can’t go wrong.

Kyle Bonn: VAR so far gets a 4 out of 10 for me. It gets a 3/5 on intent and ability, as the system for the most part has demonstrated the ability to serve as intended when used properly, with a few tweaks necessary such as pitchside monitors and rules like the handball rule needing amending. It gets a 1/5 on execution, with the Premier League struggling mightily to grasp the spirit of the technology. The offside line has done its job, despite the bad publicity, but the “clear & obvious error” has been grossly misinterpreted and calls have been changed or even investigated when not needed.

Nick Mendola: I’m going with five, and it’d be much higher if the PL learned from the NHL’s biggest mistake with replay: offside(s). At least in hockey there’s a blue line to help. The “moment the ball is struck” is such a poor reference point. Let the linespeople live here.


 

BONUS: Who is the best referee in the Premier League and why?

Joe Prince-Wright: Mike Dean because he is not only a pretty fair referee, overall, but he jokes with the players and seems to have their respect. Don’t @ me.

Daniel Karell: I don’t know who the best is, but Mike Dean is towards the bottom.

Kyle Bonn: Mike Dean, because he has supreme control of the pitch and makes the fewest amount of obvious errors.

Nick Mendola: I find Michael Oliver the most consistent.

Special PST roundtable: Premier League suspended season

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It’s been a head-spinning period for the world, and the soccer world has been shuffled to the back of the pack as we concern ourselves with the vulnerable population in the face of the coronavirus.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

How will this season play out? Seemingly, Europe is going to do everything in its power to complete all fixtures. Whether it does or not, we’ve got ideas.

The pausing of the Premier League season, like many things, shows the gravity of the COVID-19 situation. Is there one story in the soccer world that stood out to you the most this past week?

Joe Prince-WrightSoccer is secondary in this horrendous time for the world. From a Premier League perspective I think the quick announcements one after the other that Mikel Arteta and then Callum Hudson-Odoi had tested positive were moments when this all became very real, very quickly for people in the UK, the Premier League and PL fans in general.

Nick Mendola: The steady stream of young footballers at the peak of their physical lives carrying this virus, whether Daniele Rugani or Ezequiel Garay, really put in perspective the danger of the asymptomatic carriers. Then to see a focal point of the season like Mikel Arteta affected, let alone the Spanish youth coach passing away, has reinforced my will to self-sacrifice and stay home.

Kyle Bonn: The financial impact of this public health crisis is catastrophic, and the soccer world isn’t immune to that effect. The knowledge that smaller soccer clubs could be severely impacted is devastating to read, and really brings to the forefront the effect this pandemic has on all facets of society.


Obviously the situation is dire for so many people, and soccer not so much. Still, we’ve got more than a few big items to resolve. Which club is hurt more by an extended break in terms of table Fortune? Which club could see the biggest boost by a prolonged reset?

Joe Prince-Wright: I’m sure teams who were getting into a good rhythm like Chelsea and Man United may be impacted but then again so many teams will use this time to get players back to full fitness and they could both benefit from that. If and when the PL season resumes, it seems like Spurs have the most to gain with Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son both expected to play in the majority of their remaining games. If we get to that point.

Nick Mendola: Let’s start with the second question. The delay may move Jose Mourinho’s Spurs from injury-addled and hoping for a Europa League to a top four probability once Harry Kane, Heung-min Son, and back fit and firing. Not to mention Mourinho and clubs with good tactical managers having all this time to reassess best practices. Let’s not forget Pep Guardiola may get to roll out healthy Leroy Sane and Aymeric Laporte. This could sting Arsenal and Manchester United, who had been going really well and now may have a super-congested fixture list after some serious time off the pitch.

Kyle Bonn: Obviously Liverpool’s title chase is severely impacted, and given their long drought and hard work to rise under Jurgen Klopp, an argument could be made that the Reds are the most negatively affected club of the lot. However, their form seemed to be dipping of late, and while the pandemic didn’t come quickly enough to save their Champions League fortunes, their domestic form could see a reversal as they avoid limping to the finish line in league play. Similarly, Tottenham could benefit greatly from this break. Spurs’ play on the field had been abysmal and their attack was stifled by injuries to key players who could now return before the end of the season. Conversely, Chelsea had put a small difficult stretch behind them and had turned a new leaf, and while their significant injury list could be alleviated with the time off, the Blues will rue the break from the aspect that they had only recently topped Liverpool in Cup action plus the win over Tottenham in late February and the clobbering of Everton just before the stoppage.


Let’s delve into the theoretical: If the season was not allowed to conclude, how would you favor solving the relegation picture? With three teams on the same amount of points between 16th and 18th and zillions of dollars at stake, this one’s big.

Joe Prince-Wright: I think it would be incredibly unfair to relegate the three teams in the bottom three right now. All three have a real chance of getting out of the relegation zone. I’d be in favour of relegating nobody and then promoting West Brom and Leeds, if that’s the route they go down.

Kyle Bonn: I think, for this reason alone, the Premier League (and many others) will do everything in their power to finish the season. However, if that’s not possible, there are a few solutions. One is to just go off the table as-is, and while that’s difficult from a competitive balance perspective because the teams have played an unbalanced schedule, it would be more fair than other, less desirable options such as leaving the leagues the way they are for next season which is no fun. Here are a few more fun, but less likely options:

  1. A full-on promotion/relegation tournament – basically an expanded version of what Germany has…take, say, the bottom 6 teams in the PL and the top 6 teams in the Championship and let them duke it out.
  2. A 23-team Premier League next season with four relegation places – send up the two Championship teams in automatic qualifying positions, hold the Championship playoff as planned (if time), but don’t relegate anyone. Then slowly taper it back to 20 teams over the next 3 seasons by relegating one more team than promoting.

Nick Mendola: The most proper way to go would be to bring up Leeds and West Brom and keep a 22-team division with five sides to get relegated next season. The Championship’s playoff sides would feel aggrieved, but pulling the big money from the PL sides seems more egregious than denying someone a spot in the mix (especially since there really aren’t any clearly terrible sides stinking up the table this season).


How about the top four?

Joe Prince-Wright: This is a little different to the relegation situation but equally as tricky. I would suggest a playoff, if possible, between the teams who are within reach of fourth spot but that would include almost half the league. Maybe an agreement could be made to keep the top four as it is.

Kyle Bonn: I think, unfortunately, the best way to resolve this is to leave it the way it is. Teams in the current top four (five? Man City?) get the Champions League bids. There’s really no other fair way to do this

Nick Mendola: I’d like to see a playoff here, too, because fifth is likely involved due to Man City’s UCL ban. Allow the top three their places, and maybe Chelsea if you want to limit teams. Then fifth plays eighth, sixth versus seventh. Winners go for fifth, the other go to UEL. It only adds three matches. This, of course, assumes that the UCL and UEL qualifying rounds are also adjusted.


Lots of interesting ideas have been proffered to solve calendar issues (A mini-tournament or single leg ties to decide the Champions League; Starting the league calendar later until the winter World Cup in 2022). Are there any you think could prove to be better than the current system?

Joe Prince-Wright: I think the 2019-20 season should be finished, whatever that means. If it has to resume again in September and be played until October, that is fine by me. We can then start the 2020-21 campaign early and play through one or two international breaks to catch up. If the league doesn’t start again until September, players will have had a lengthy break off and will be ready to play.

Nick Mendola: I’ll be laughed out of the room, and that’s fine, but I’d love to see the season start and finish a bit later. Wayne Rooney‘s proposal was just to get to the winter World Cup of 2022, but a dramatic rearrangement of the FIFA international calendar would be nice. Maybe a couple 3-week international breaks instead of five 2-week hits.

Kyle Bonn: Simple answer: no. Current format is really fun.


Did you find yourself trying to feast on any soccer that was televised, hypercritical of anyone who kept playing, or both?

Joe Prince-Wright: I watched games on TV from Liga MX and listened to some lower-tier English leagues on the radio but I think the soccer world has come to the correct conclusion to at least ban all fans from stadiums. In different parts of the world the situation is different but it seems that now the universal plan is to stop playing all games until things improve. That is the correct call. I love soccer but I obviously love humanity, life and this world we live in a billion times more.

Nick Mendola: It was a fun idea to tune into the Istanbul derby, especially with American winger Tyler Boyd playing, but realizing most of the players would’ve rather been with their families, well, that took a lot of joy out of watching that or the Liga MX matches. Stay home, and let’s celebrate together when we can.

Kyle Bonn: I honestly found myself hyper-critical of teams still playing, especially seeing the reaction from players, going so far as to protest their forced employment.

More coronavirus connections to soccer:

Mourinho: Injury-hit Spurs need to be ‘very strong to cope with limitations’

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Jose Mourinho is taking the simplest approach to Tottenham Hotspur’s Champions League exit.

Spurs were rolled over by RB Leipzig in the second leg of their Round of 16 tie on Tuesday, falling 3-0 on the day and 4-0 on aggregate without Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son, and Steven Bergwijn.

[ MORE: Dele Alli reaction ]

Mourinho said things were going to have go nearly perfect for Spurs to overcome the 1-0 first leg deficit without those key pieces.

Spurs were not close to their best, and they were punished.

“There is nobody to blame when it looks like in every match we have a traumatic injury that ends with months and months,” he said on television after the match. “That’s the history of this season. It started with problems and you look at when I arrived our position at the table. The negative history starts with the first injury and look to our bench and look to our pitch with Tanganga with his first (Champions League) match and Sessegnon his second match. It’s very, very hard.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Mourinho said he’s confident his team will be much better when healthy next season, adding Kane, Son, Bergwijn and Moussa Sissoko to the fold.

That doesn’t help much ahead of a huge weekend tilt with Manchester United. Spurs will have two more days rest than the Red Devils, but can fall seven points back of the top five with a loss on Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

“With the squad we have it’s going to be very difficult if we have the same squad we had today tomorrow,” he said in his post-match press conference, via Football.London. “We have games ahead and we have to fight. We are going to fight and the players need to be very strong to cope with the limitations we have. We are not going to recover any players before Sunday.”

That’s an awful lot of foreshadowing from Mourinho, who would do well to strike a more positive pose for his players and fans ahead of a reunion with old pals Manchester United.

Dele after Champions League exit: ‘We have to fight. We can’t hide.’

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Dele Alli was one of many Tottenham players to struggle mightily in a 3-0 second leg loss to RB Leipzig that sent Spurs out of the UEFA Champions League.

“We had to show our maturity and fight and we didn’t do that,” he said.

[ MORE: Mourinho reaction ]

Dele had nothing going as Spurs fell 4-0 on aggregate, winning just seven of 22 duels according to SofaScore while managing a single off-target shot and failing to complete a dribble.

Contrast that to his performance in last season’s memorable comeback over Ajax in the UCL semifinals, collecting two assists.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

“It’s devastating,” Dele said. “We had belief before the game and we didn’t perform and this is the Champions League and if you don’t step up, you’re going to be punished.”

Dele refused to use the club’s myriad injuries in attack as an excuse, as Steven Bergwijn, Harry Kane, and Heung-Min Son all missed out.

“This is Tottenham and the players who come in have to step up and we haven’t done that,” he said. “Just gutted. We have to apologize to the fans, they traveled all this way to go out and lose like that.

“We have to fight. We can’t hide. We know this hasn’t been a good season for us. We have to keep fighting. Games like this brings you down to reality. Reality is we’re in a bad situation that we have to turn around and we’re the only ones who can do it. Confidence is gone at the minute.”

It sure is, and Spurs’ UCL future is in jeopardy. Tottenham plays Manchester United at the weekend and would drop seven points back of the fifth-place Red Devils with a loss.