LONDON — Wolves beat Tottenham 3-2 in north London on Sunday as Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side continued their surge up the Premier League table as they outclassed Jose Mourinho’s injury-hit Spurs and deserved the win which boosts their chances of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League.
Spurs retook the lead before half time as Aurier rifled home a shot with his left foot which flew into the top corner but Wolves almost levelled at the start of the second half as Diogo Jota flicked a header just over. Dele Alli then headed inches wide as he spurned a glorious chance and moments later Wolves were level again. Adama Traore, Raul Jimenez and Doherty combined to set up Jota to tap home on the line.
Jimenez then sealed the comeback and the win as he finished up a counter as Jota played him in and Mexico’s star striker finished with extreme composure to stun the home fans and secure a massive victory for Wolves as they move two points ahead of Spurs and are now just three points off the top four.
Here’s what we learned from a wild clash in north London on Sunday as Wolves and Tottenham put on a show.
WOLVES HAVE MOMENTUM IN TOP FOUR RACE
They have a small squad, played away in Spain in the Europa League on Thursday as they reached the last 16 and still they wouldn’t quit. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side were dogged at Tottenham as they twice pinned the hosts back and dug deep to secure a huge win. With hefty challenges, rapid counter attacks and total commitment they kept their Champions League dreams well and truly alive and this game summed up everything that is great about this Wolves side. Jimenez and Traore ran themselves into the ground, while the in-form Jota was a brilliant pest and even when they coughed up goals their belief never wavered. Wolves went to Tottenham and grabbed a statement win which took them above Spurs in the table and kept their momentum going. Wolves have lost once in their last seven games, that was a narrow defeat against Liverpool, and they now face only one team who sit above them in the table in their final 10 games of the season. That is fourth-place Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, on the final day of the season. Wolves are three points off the top four and Chelsea can feel Wolves breathing down their necks.
3-4-3 NOT THE WAY FOR SPURS TO GO
It wasn’t pretty and the 3-4-3 system doesn’t really suit Tottenham. Given the absence of Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son up top, Jose Mourinho keeps going back to it and although they had more of a cutting edge in attack they lacked defensive stability as strangely both Vertonghen and Alderweireld were left on the bench. Given their recent displays, what else could Mourinho do? Going forward Bergwijn, Lucas Moura, Goivani Lo Celso and Dele Alli can all operate centrally and combine in the final third, but it isn’t Kane, Alli, Eriksen and Son in their prime when former boss Mauricio Pochettino preferred 3-4-3 in their title pushing seasons a few years ago. Dele Alli missed glorious chances and there was just no direction in the final third and no belief without Son and Kane. Defensively there is so much work to do as Mourinho abandoned any kind of formation late on and he doesn’t appear to have a plan with this group of players. Tottenham have now lost three games in a row in all competitions and they are in freefall. The negativity Mourinho is spreading about injuries is in the psyche of his team. This is not good, at all. Spurs look very unlikely to make the Champions League next season and Mourinho will have some big questions to answer, injuries aside.
JIMENEZ BACK IN FORM
Wolves’ Raul Jimenez has now scored 13 goals in 28 Premier League games this season. That is the same amount he scored in 38 games last season. Mexico’s star striker is having an even better season this time around and after a run of four goals in 11 games (a rough patch, for him!), Jimenez was back to his menacing best against Spurs. Early on he had a few loose touches but he managed to work his way into the game and he set up countless counter attacks to set up another second half comeback fro Wolves. Jimenez is a hero in Wolverhampton and Mexico and if he leads this side to the Champions League he will be able to shine on the biggest stage of all, which he truly deserves. In the last two seasons he’s scored 39 goals in all competitions, assisted 18 times and has become the highest-scoring Wolves player in the Premier League. His 13 Premier League goals this season have been worth 16 points to Wolves, the joint-most won thanks to a player’s goals alongside Sadio Mane and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. That is why Jimenez is well on the way to becoming a Wolves legend.
“To be honest, I would love to work in the Premier League,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult, I know, and for now it’s a moment to wait and we’ll see what happens. It’s a moment of recovery, to think about yourself a little bit, and to be ready because in football always something can happen and you need to be ready. I’m ready and waiting for a new challenge. I have the belief and confidence that the next challenge will be fantastic.”
It feels likely Pochettino’s next move is going to come outside the Premier League, but you never know. And the manager is making it clear to anyone who will listen that he’s available in the coach’s version of a “Come and get me.”
Aston Villa’s self-produced star and Birmingham native, Jack Grealish, is set for a Villa Park exit this summer.
Grealish, 24, has given Manchester United’s brass’ proposed deal the thumbs up, and has begun house-hunting in Manchester, according to Goal.com. It is believed that neither Villa or United have began talks on said transfer, however.
Thus far, Grealish has displayed indisputable loyalty towards his boyhood club, opting for a Villa Park stay amid interest from top-five English sides over the course of past transfer windows. That is reportedly set to come to an end this summer, as United are willing to offer the attacker far more than the reported $110,000-per-week deal he currently has at Villa Park.
A lifelong Villa supporter, Grealish has been with the club since the age of six, making his debut with the senior team in 2012. Throughout the years, the Englishman has made 146 appearances for Villa, scoring 22 goals.
Prior to Atletico Madrid’s 1-0 victory over a visiting Granda on Saturday, the club had yet to record a league victory since January 4 against Levante at the Wanda Metropolitano.
A sixth-minute strike from Angel Correa proved to be the determining factor for Los Colchoneros. Koke, back on the field after recovering from injury, set up the 24-year-old inside the box with a soft pass. Correa, with a Granda defender in closing in, struck the ball into the bottom left corner.
With Diego Costa and Joao Felix inactive with injuries, Correa, who increased his goal tally to four, and Vitolo spearheaded Diego Simeone’s 4-1-2-1-2 formation. The seldom seen tandem paid it forward.
Heading into Saturday matchup on a five-match winless streak, the pressure was looming on Simeone. So much so that reports out of Spain began indicating the potential hiring of Mauricio Pochettino by Atletico’s brass.
With that in mind, Simone, more than Atletico, needed the win to stay afloat in a couple of different areas.
“There are quite a few positive situations,” Simeone said after Atletico’s 1-0 win on Saturday. “We were coming from a not good time. We needed to win first and foremost. And that always generates a responsibility rather than pressure. We are once again an extraordinary stadium that generated that energy that is needed to get out of these bad times.”
Simeone and Atletico will try to build on the crucial victory on Friday, as they travel to Mestalla to take on Valencia. Granda, on the other hand, take on Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey semifinals midweek before hosting Real Valladolid on Saturday.
The Premier League is currently on its first-ever winter break and that gave us time to sit down for a roundtable to have a look at what has happened so far as we are now two thirds of the way into the season.
Below we answer a host of questions on the 2019-20 season so far and make some predictions for the final few months of the campaign.
Which team(s) has exceeded expectations so far?
Joe Prince-Wright: I tackled this question a few days ago here at Pro Soccer Talk and I think Leicester City and Sheffield United have been the most surprising. Leicester look nailed on to finish in the top four while the newly-promoted Blades look set to push for the Europa League. Both have been a breath of fresh air in the upper echelons of the table and both teams are great to watch as innovators Brendan Rodgers and Chris Wilder set their teams up very differently to the rest of the Premier League. I’ve marvelled at Liverpool’s brilliance all season long and struggle to sum up just how ruthless they’ve been as they sit here with 24 wins from 25 games and no defeats. Jurgen Klopp‘s side have destroyed the rest of the league. Also, a shoutout for Newcastle United too who should be bottom of the table if you’re going on expected goals for and against but somehow Steve Bruce has dragged them through, even with a myriad of injuries.
Kyle Bonn: Obviously Sheffield United is the easy answer here, and it’s fantastic what they’re doing. It only got better with the Blades bringing in Sander Berge in January, a stellar signing. However, I’m going to reach a little further and say Liverpool. What they’re doing this season is beyond the realm anyone thought possible for any team, not just the Reds. Barring a brutal collapse, this season will go down in the history books as one of – if not the – most dominating season of all time. Jurgen Klopp has engineered a masterpiece for the ages, one to sit alongside Da Vinci and Picasso.
Nick Mendola: Look: There are only two answers In this muddled Premier League season unless you include Liverpool and we write a lot about them anyway. One is Leicester City, and my gut tells me they’ve thrived on good Fortune more than most teams and will sink into fourth or maybe even fifth by the end of the season (Still an incredible season, but that’s the trend in most metrics). Plus, it’s a lot more fun to wax poetic about Chris Wilder and Sheffield United, who rose up the table through a combination of craft, guile, discipline, and hard work. There’s midfielder John Lundstram, who was so under-the-radar that he’s holds the honor of being fantasy PL gift of the season due to being listed as a defender. Young star goalkeeper Dean Henderson is getting England shouts but he’s lived his full senior career knowing he’s behind David De Gea at Manchester United. Wilder has refined Lys Mousset from a Bournemouth disappointment to a lively threat, and unrewarded striker David McGoldrick has produced without actually producing (7.19 expected goals but zero on the actual sheet). And now they’ve signed Sander Berge, showing both their team room, supporters, and the rest of the league that they will spend to make their over-achievement closer to the norm.
Dan Karell: It’s got to be Sheffield United, and a close 1A to Leicester City. The transition between the Championship and Premier League is incredibly difficult, and at this point it’s hard to predict exactly which preparation is best. However, in this case, for Chris Wilder and his team, limiting summer signings and going with the players who got them promoted has paid handsome dividends. Very few people would have expected Sheffield United to be in the top six of the Premier League standings at this point of the year, and who knows, with how bad Man United and Arsenal have been this year, there’s every chance Sheffield United could be playing in Europe next year.
Which team(s) has been the most disappointing?
JPW: Man City are up there. They’ve been wonderful at times in attack and midfield but so poor defensively and their title defense has never really got going. Not signing a new center back was a big issue for a club which is usually so practical in planning ahead with its recruitment and Vincent Kompany was never replaced properly and Aymeric Laporte‘s injury compounded that. That said, City will probably win the Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup. What a poor season that would be… I’ve been disappointed by Tottenham and Arsenal but mid-season manager changes have seen both teams become more ruthless. I did not think West Ham would be as much of a mess as they have been and I seriously worry about them being relegated.
NM: Now that Everton and Arsenal have (somewhat) stabilized, the answer comes down to two Uniteds. Manchester United’s disappointment is down to its arrogant lack of depth (especially considering few would’ve expected Marcus Rashford to perform at near-superstar levels before his injury), but there’s been nothing worse than West Ham United. The quality on the roster is a Top Seven contender, but they didn’t have answers to the questions posed by long-term injuries to Lukasz Fabianski and Felipe Anderson. Then the club fired its Premier League-winning manager to bring in an even better one “All I Do Is Win” David Moyes. Scottish DJ Khaled is winless in six since beating Bournemouth and Gillingham to restart life in London.
KB: Tottenham. It’s shocking that the same squad which made the Champions League final less than a season ago is suddenly as deficient as it seems to be now. The midfield is a wreck, the attack is toothless, and the defense is far less dominating. What made Mauricio Pochettino’s team click – a relentless pressing – is now suddenly a glaring weakness. There’s very little ability to stop a counter. Even the famed Jose Mourinho Bump couldn’t rescue this squad. Daniel Levy will have headaches rectifying problems he never imagined would arise. This summer Spurs should be very busy – if they’re not, something has gone terribly wrong.
DK: I’m biased as an Arsenal fan, but it’s got to be Arsenal. It’s been a failure at pretty much all levels of the club. For the umpteenth year, Arsenal came into the season not addressing their core weakness (Centerback and holding midfield), and instead spent big to sign another talented attacker. The panic buy of David Luiz was further proof that Arsenal was only going to go down and down. For the players, they’ve been terrible, for the most part. If you plugged a lot of these guys into other teams, individually, perhaps they’d play better, but the terrible defending has exposed this squad to be much worse than we all thought. Arsenal has won just two Premier League games since Mid-October, which is insane. It’s been a failure across the board.
Who would you rather watch week in, week out if every single player is fit: Liverpool or Man City?
JPW: I would usually go with Man City but this season Liverpool have taken their game to another level. They haven’t always been at their attacking best but there is something so satisfying about watching an entire unit know they are going to win games, stay calm and doing it. Klopp has turned Liverpool into a well-oiled machine and as slick as Man City are to watch when they are in full flow, Liverpool can blow teams away at the start of games and then turn on the style. One word to sum up watching Liverpool over the last 12-18 months is absorbing. It just captures you.
NM: Oh my, what a question. My personal football preference is the system behind Man City, which has been successfully implemented by so few. Yet the Reds just pouring everything forward and defending from the front while basically telling Virgil Van Dijk and Fabinho “anything else is on you, dog” makes for the possibility of 4-3 on any given day. And it’s a weird season to ask, given that City’s head-scratching lack of depth behind Aymeric Laporte has not given us many opportunities to see the side as intended by its architect.
KB: It has to be Man City. As much as Liverpool’s season has endured, and will endure for decades to come, Man City on its day is so incisive, so dominating, so unplayable. When the team clicks and Pep’s system produces a masterclass, there’s nothing the opponent can do to stop it.
DK: Manchester City. Pep Guardiola teams are so much fun to watch, with their fluid patterns of play and meticulous passing and movements off the ball. I fully expect (assuming Pep comes back next season) for Man City to contend for the Premier League and Champions League next season.
Sum up this Liverpool team this season in one word ______
KB: Ruthless. What’s wild about this season is Liverpool hasn’t been all THAT statistically dominant. They aren’t demolishing teams like Manchester City was last year. They have an xG differential so far of +29.67, which – while outstanding – isn’t remotely close to the pace Manchester City set last year with a bonkers xG differential of +72.8. They aren’t crushing teams with overwhelming tidal waves of attack. What they are doing, however, is taking every minuscule chance afforded to them and causing opponents to pay for even the smallest of mistakes. Last season, Man City actually underperformed its xG by -4.04, while this season Liverpool is outperforming its already fantastic expected goals total by +2.82. Liverpool has won games despite struggling at times. The Reds have displayed otherworldly grit this season.
DK: Ruthless. Similar to Leicester City in 2015-2016, Liverpool doesn’t have to play well to win, because they always find someone to finish their chances in front of goal. This team’s mentality is incredible.
How much longer do you think Jurgen Klopp will stay at Liverpool?
JPW: He has always hinted that he won’t stay be a manager into his 70s or anything like that but given his success and the age of this Liverpool team, maybe he stays until 2024 then leads Germany at the 2026 World Cup? I don’t think he really needs to do much more in the club game after his success with Dortmund and then Liverpool. Maybe his coaching style wouldn’t suit international soccer but it is tough to see why Klopp would leave Liverpool for any other club.
NM: Forever? I don’t see him as the type to take over another English club, and moving to Bayern wouldn’t give him any new advanced goals. I suppose Barcelona could work but why would he want the political headaches of ego in board rooms of either El Clasico rival.
KB: I can’t imagine him doing a Sir Alex Ferguson – that just doesn’t happen these days – but Klopp does seem like the kind of person who has no desire to wish for a “change of scenery” when things go poorly. Still, it’s tough to endure in this climate – look at Pep, who blitzed the league last season and suddenly, at the slightest hint of adversity, has rumors swirling. The media frenzy is sometimes too difficult to outrun. I would say 5 years at the maximum for Klopp at Liverpool, and those could potentially be five dominant years.
DK: Until things go south, so let’s say 4 to 5 years as the current squad ages out and it becomes difficult to replace those talents.
Who would you vote for as the Premier League Player and Young Player of the Year (21 years old and younger)?
NM: A success, with one qualification. Hampered early by managerial decisions, Pulisic has been good if not very good in 80 percent of his appearances. It’d be fair to call him a Top Ten wide player when healthy. The injury setbacks are tough, but not the mark of a soft player. Plus, as USMNT watchers, we should hope Chelsea treats his return(s) with patience. 8/10.
KB: Pulisic’s first seasons so far has been an unmitigated success. The American has established himself as a key component of Chelsea’s starting lineup, only hampered by injuries. To make things even better, nobody on the Blues has established themselves as critical to the squad in Pulisic’s absence, making his return to the field upon a return to fitness all but certain. It took a little bit of time to settle in, but that’s completely normal when switching leagues in Europe. Pulisic has been fantastic for Chelsea.
DK: Overall, pretty good. He was in, then out, but worked hard to get back in and kept his place in the squad with goals. The recent injury is a blow for him but if he comes back 100%, I believe he’ll get back into the squad.
Which of the four Premier League clubs will go the furthest in the Champions League?
JPW: I actually fancy Tottenham to go far. Mourinho is a master of the one-off games and they will fancy their chances to get past a RB Leipzig side which has run out of steam in the Bundesliga. Man City will go far too and Pep Guardiola probably needs to win the Champions League this season to make this a successful campaign for them. No pressure, Pep. Chelsea and Liverpool will both struggle against tough last 16 opponents, so it’s a flip of a coin on those two.
NM: The Round of 16 has not been kind to Premier League teams, so this is an extremely loaded question. I’m confident saying the answer is not Chelsea, but not much else. Forced to choose, I’ll peg Man City. As good as Real Madrid has been this season, I still don’t buy Zinedine Zidane outfoxing Pep Guardiola. Plus: Real allowed five goals in claiming one point over two matches with PSG, who feels a bit like Man City without the possession plan.
KB: It would be silly to vote against Liverpool at this stage, right? Right. So I’m not going to do it. Liverpool.
DK: Manchester City. With Aymeric Laporte back and all their focus on the Champions League, I think that Man City will be able to make it back to the semifinals, if not go farther.
Which player(s) will win the Golden Boot?
JPW: I am going for Jamie Vardy and Danny Ings to share the Golden Boot. Both have been brilliant in leading their respective teams and both will be licking their lips at the opportunity to play against plenty of teams below them in the final months of the season.
NM: Sergio Aguero gets his second. The only thing standing in his way is Guardiola possibly prioritizing his use in the Champions League, and that still might not matter.
KB: Jamie Vardy still leads the list, but he hasn’t scored since the holiday season and his insane xG overperformance was always going to regress to the mean eventually (at one point he was outperforming his xG by over 6 goals). Aguero is now one back of Vardy and he seems most likely to overtake the Leicester City frontman. Salah will keep scoring goals as well and has a shot, but there are too many other goalscorers on Liverpool, while Aguero is the focal point at Man City.
DK: Danny Ings? Haha, maybe. I’ll go with Sergio Aguero.
Who will finish in the top four?
JPW: 1. Liverpool. 2. Man City. 3. Leicester City. 4. Tottenham – Mourinho will do his thing and Lampard’s Chelsea will run out of steam. Wolves will be right there at the end of the season and if Bruno Fernandes hits the ground running, I fancy United to shock everyone and maybe sneak into fourth.
NM: 1. Liverpool. 2. Man City 3. Spurs* 4. Leicester City — Leicester’s remaining schedule makes it nearly impossible to drop lower than fourth. The * next to Spurs is because it would be cheating to write “Whoever is first knocked out of the Champions League or Europa League.” Also, Chelsea’s schedule is brutal the rest of the way.
KB: I like the current top four to hold firm. Liverpool, Man City, Leicester City, and Chelsea. Spurs will improve but not enough, while Chelsea will get healthy and maintain that spot. Sheffield United presents more of a threat than Manchester United (I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence) but the gap is just too much at this point to catch a big team.
DK: Liverpool, Manchester City, Leicester City, Tottenham
Which three teams are going to be relegated?
JPW: Norwich, West Ham, Brighton – The Canaries are great to watch but just haven’t got that extra clinical edge and quality at both ends of the pitch. Daniel Farke knows it and they will be back in a season or two as they continue to be the modern day yo-yo club. West Ham are in freefall and David Moyes looks like a man who has bitten off more than he can chew. They cannot defend and that is what his tactics are based on. Far from ideal. Brighton are my third pick because, like Norwich, they are great to watch but don’t finish off enough of their chances.
DK: Bournemouth, Watford, Norwich
KB: Norwich is the lock at this point, but the other two spots are anyone’s to be had. I like Aston Villa to go down, as Jack Grealish can’t carry that team on his shoulders forever. Watford seemed for all the world to be climbing out, but they just have too many deficiencies to make enough of a push. Bournemouth will also be in the mix – they’ve got tons of injuries and the defense is horrid – but I think Eddie Howe is good enough to keep them up, barely.
NM: 20. Norwich City, 19. West Ham United, 18. Aston Villa — Picking a third team is very difficult with nearly 10 teams in the discussion. Including Villa is the least confident of any prediction on our list, but they could also give us the rare “Championship team in the Europa League” with a win over Man City in the League Cup final. It’s a shame for Norwich City and Daniel Farke, who just don’t have enough good chances for points left on their fixture list. The fixtures are also brutal for West Ham, who may take 2-4 points from their next seven fixtures (Liverpool, Man City, Southampton, Arsenal, Wolves, Spurs, Chelsea) and be adrift for the stretch run.
What is your one outlandish/fearless prediction for the rest of the season?
JPW: Arsenal will finish in the bottom half of the table but strangely there will be an air of positivity around the Emirates Stadium as Mikel Arteta‘s side win some silverware. Europa League or FA Cup.
NM: It’s not outlandish to say Liverpool will lose, or is it? Is it outlandish to say Kevin De Bruyne will break the assist record? Cause I like both of those, but I’ll go with the spirit of the question and say Bruno Fernandes becomes Manchester United’s season leader in assists while averaging a goal or assist per game the rest of the way.
DK: Burnley and Newcastle will finish above one of both of Arsenal and/or Manchester United.
KB: This is tough as most of the unthinkable things (Liverpool’s incredible domination, Sheffield United’s rise, Everton and Arsenal’s struggles) have already shown themselves. It’s tough to say if this season has any more truly wild turns. But I’ll say both Wolves and Sheffield United will finish above Tottenham and Manchester United. Jose Mourinho won’t a full calendar year in charge, if he even makes it to next season.