Juan Foyth

AP Photo/Rui Vieira

2 days to go until new PL season: Is it a 2-horse race again?

Leave a comment

On the evidence of the 2018-19 season, Manchester City and Liverpool appear set to dominate the Premier League for many years to come.

[ MORE: 2019-20 season preview: Manchester City ]

Both squads are full of brilliant, ambitious players on the younger side of their respective careers, and between them they have two of the best managers in the world. That’s a surefire recipe for success, and just some of the reasons so many fans and pundits alike are predicting another neck-and-neck title race between Man City and Liverpool.

But — and stick with us here — what if there were other sides in the PL who could mount a title challenge of their own? Does such a thing exist as we count down to two days until the start of the 2019-20 PL season? If so, what would such a club’s path be to doing the near-unthinkable and close the 25-point gap between second and third?

[ MORE: 2019-20 season preview: Liverpool ]

Chelsea finished third last season which would make them the logical place to begin such a discussion, but they have since seen Eden Hazard depart for Real Madrid and begun a two-window transfer ban. Christian Pulisic arrived after signing last January and Mateo Kovacic made his loan deal a permanent one. Other than that, a handful of previously loaned players, most notably center forward Tammy Abraham, have returned and will fill out the holes in the squad. Frank Lampard, who has one season of managerial experience, replaced Maurizio Sarri. All of that adds up to far too much instability and uncertainty. Verdict: not a threat.

Tottenham Hotspur finished fourth and reached the Champions League final last season, and they have neither a transfer ban (self-imposed or otherwise) nor a new manager this season. It’s a promising start, at least. Tanguy Ndombele should be the answer to many of Tottenham’s problems in midfield, though it remains to be seen how quickly he’ll take to the PL and Mauricio Pochettino‘s system. For Spurs to make a real challenge, Harry Kane would have to avoid ankle ligament injuries for the first time in his career, Dele Alli would have to return to his very best of two and three seasons ago, Daniel Levy would have to pull off another one or two signings in the next 24 hours, one of Juan Foyth or Kyle Walker-Peters would have to become a lockdown defender at right back, and Spurs would likely have to bow out of the Champions League early to focus on the PL. That’s a lot of ifs. Verdict: probably not, but maybe, but probably not.

[ MORE: Is Man City’s defense strong enough, or deep enough? ]

Arsenal finished fifth last season, and the Gunners have spent aggressively this summer. Unfortunately for their title dreams, they’ve done nothing (again) to address their perennial achilles heel: the defense. Nicolas Pepe might very well be brilliant from day one, but Arsenal were hardly short on dynamic attackers when the summer began. William Saliba might be a long-term stalwart at center back, but he won’t move to London until next summer. There should be every hope alive inside Arsenal fans’ hearts that they’re the third-best side in the PL this season, but a title challenge? Verdict: also not a threat.

Manchester United finished sixth last season, and they might be lucky to avoid a more embarrassing outcome this time around. The signings of Harry Maguire ($97 million) and Aaron Wan-Bissaka ($57 million) addressed two positions of need in the most expensive ways possible, but each is far from a sure thing to be great. As of this moment, the only transfer activity in the midfield — another major area of weakness — was the departure of Ander Herrera. There’s also the ongoing, and seemingly never-ending, Romelu Lukaku saga, which will either see the Red Devils lose a starter or retain a thoroughly unhappy player. Verdict: no chance.

So, who you got: Man City or Liverpool?

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.

Foyth’s injury looms large over Spurs’ window, start of season

Photo by Matthias Hangst/Bongarts/Getty Images
2 Comments

File this one under Statements No One Expected to Make Right Now, or Ever: the impending diagnosis of Juan Foyth‘s ankle injury could shape the final days of Tottenham Hotspur’s transfer window, as well as their first few months of the 2019-20 Premier League season.

[ MORE: Arsenal sign winger Nicolas Pepe for $87 million ]

After Kieran Trippier was transferred to Atletico Madrid last month, no replacement was signed for last season’s regular starter at right back — surprise! — which now appears due to the fact Mauricio Pochettino had said replacement already in the first-team squad: Foyth, a 21-year-old defender/defensive midfielder who’s been at the club for two seasons but made just 12 PL appearances (all last season).

Foyth gobbled up the lion’s share of the minutes at right back during preseason and acquitted himself quite well. He appeared the favorite to start over Serge Aurier, even in the rare event the Frenchman is fit and available. Then came a potentially serious ankle ligament injury during Wednesday’s friendly against Bayern Munich. Foyth was stretchered off the field and the club awaits word on the severity of the injury.

[ MORE: Dybala excused from Juventus training until transfer saga is resolved ]

Of all the positions on the field, right back is perhaps the one position in which Tottenham couldn’t afford any long-term injuries, and here they find themselves before the new season even kicks off. Aurier is as unreliable for fitness and form as they come, and Kyle Walker-Peters has been a promising prospect for a few years now but has thus far failed to make his mark on anything.

Right back was very plainly singled out as Spurs’ weak point last season, before letting Trippier leave. If Foyth is to miss any prolonged period of time — meaning more than the season’s opening month — Spurs could find themselves needlessly dropping points once again and all but precluding themselves from a legitimate title challenge before the air turns crisp and the leaves change colors.

Spurs defender Kieran Trippier officially joins Atletico Madrid

Getty Images
Leave a comment

A transfer that only became legitimately rumored one day ago has come to fruition as Tottenham right-back Kieran Trippier completed a move to Atletico Madrid, the two clubs confirmed.

The move is for a reported transfer fee of about $25 million plus add-ons and sees Trippier become Atletico Madrid’s first English player in over 90 years.

The 28-year-old signed a team-friendly three-year deal with Atleti, keeping him tied to the Spanish side through the summere of 2022. Trippier will hope to replace the retired Juanfran, and will no doubt benefit from the coaching of Diego Simeone, but it will be interesting to see a player with some defensive deficiencies look to earn a place in the starting lineup of such a defensively stout team.

Trippier leaves Tottenham after a four-year spell where he made 114 appearances for the club across all competitions after joining from Burnley in 2015. However, he began to lose his consistent starting place at Spurs over the past year after a dip in form this past season. While he started the Champions League final, Juan Foyth began to take Trippier’s place as the third center-back in Mauricio Pochettino‘s three-at-the-back system, and both Serge Aurier and Kyle Walker-Peters began to challenge for the traditional right-back role.

There is a lot of risk for the England international in this move. With such a short contract, he could be shopped by Atletico Madrid if he does not lock down a first-team place in his first year, with clubs often looking to cash in on players with two years left on their deal before market value dips. He also will need playing time to earn his place on the England national team, having played a starting role for the country at the 2018 World Cup but with plenty of competition at his place. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kyle Walker, and the versatile Joe Gomez all made the England squad over Trippier for the recent Nations League semifinals and finals.

Reports: Kieran Trippier flies to Spain for Atletico Madrid medical

Getty Images
Leave a comment

According to a host of reports across England including Sky Sports, The Telegraph, and The Guardian, Tottenham defender Kieran Trippier is flying to Spain for a medical ahead of a move to Atletico Madrid.

This transfer has expedited extremely rapidly over the last 12 to 24 hours, with nearly all reports connecting the two parties coming out today.

According to the reports, a base fee of $25 million has been agreed upon with add-ons on top of that, as Atletico Madrid looks to replace the retiring Juanfran. The medical seems to be a preemptive measure, with work seemingly still to do on the transfer, as Sky says the deal could be completed “by the weekend.”

Trippier, a 28-year-old England international who started for his country at the World Cup last summer, has three years left on his Tottenham contract. Trippier’s emergence saw him mentioned alongside the best right-backs in the league, but at times last season defensive flaws were exposed despite the club’s title chase and run to the Champions League final. Towards the end of last season, young Juan Foyth at times was preferred in the back-three.

All the reports state that Trippier is not expected to travel with the team to Singapore on Wednesday for the club’s preseason tour.

Tottenham still has Serge Aurier and Kyle Walker-Peters to take over at Trippier’s right-back position, but there would be some work needed in that regard. Trippier was molded from a natural right-back into a center-back option as part of a back-three both at the club and international level, and it doesn’t seem like the two remaining options would be able to fit that role. Aurier is a marauding wing-back with more attacking ability than defensive, while Walker-Peters is a 22-year-old who can dribble but has shown inconsistent defensive abilities and at this point struggles in the air and crossing.

Instead, should Pochettino stay with a three-CB formation, Foyth would likely start over either those two at the back given his versatility and sharp rise through both the club and international ranks. Foyth impressed enough this summer at the Copa America that he could even get looks at center-back or right-back in a traditional defensive setup.