First, a sense of level-headedness: Not scoring in August has ultimately always meant very little to Harry Kane’s season as far its entirety is concerned; goal tallies of 21, 26, 29 and 30 in the past four campaigns are practically redundant proof of that. The Englishman had registered 108 Premier League goals, none of which had come in the eighth month of the year, the first of the new season.

Until this weekend, that is. And when Kane was played in by Erik Lamela, cut back inside and placed a finish past Fulham goalkeeper Fabricio and into the top corner, the look on his face bore semblance to relief. That, and the fact that Kane talked post-match about getting that stat over with and moving on was perhaps proof that it was starting to get to him. His stumble when through on goal in the first, which led to Mauricio Pochettino’s fury in an appeal for a penalty and resulted in a Stage One yellow card for the gaffer, was probably proof of that. Perhaps he’s starting to try too hard, trying to put that stat to bed, but with 13 minutes to go, he succeeded.

Not that it should take the shine off what was a thoroughly enjoyable game at Wembley, or the fact that for the first time in four seasons, Spurs have won their opening two league games, the latter of which Kane was keen to point out afterwards, citing its importance: after all, their past three seasons have been ultimately affected by the fact that they started sloppily. There was no such sloppiness at the start on Saturday against Fulham, only 76 seconds had gone and Spurs had pressured the visitors into giving the ball away in their defensive third three times. Openings were being created, but that final piece in the puzzle was always lacking, Lucas Moura spurned two good opportunities, while Christian Eriksen flashed a shot wide.

Fulham were back at the scene of the triumph that took them to the top-flight some three months ago, and as this game grew, so did they. The Cottagers started making forays, Ryan Sessegnon and Aboubakar Kamara were threatening on the wings, while skipper Tom Cairney tested Hugo Lloris in the Spurs goal. But on the stroke of halftime, the breakthrough would come, Moura with a delightful curling effort with his weaker foot, which went in via the post, and the hosts went into the break ahead.

Only seven minutes into the second period, though, and parity would be restored. Aleksandar Mitrovic has an eventful history against Spurs before this game, two goals and one red card in two games against them with Newcastle, and now in Fulham colours, he was their scourge again, as after Sessegnon miscued a brilliant Joe Bryan cross into his path, the Serbian headed from less than five yards. Signed from Newcastle after a successful loan spell last season, Mitrovic had hit the base of the post moments before his goal, and moments after it, really should have put Fulham in front, but scuffed his shot after being played in by Kamara.

Then Pochettino rang the changes, and Spurs upped the ante. Kane hit the bar from close range, from Kieran Trippier’s cross, as it looked like his August hex would continue. But it wouldn’t; moments after seeing Trippier put Spurs back in front with a superb free-kick, Kane would get his foot.

Stepping inside Calum Chambers, and beating Fabricio, England’s captain wheeled away in celebration. Inconsequential as it may have seemed, he’s finally kick-started his goal-scoring engine early. More importantly, Spurs haven’t taken their foot off the gas.

Chaos at the Bridge

It was the definition of bedlam at Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening, when Chelsea and Arsenal met in West London. It was dubbed as a game between two sides still adapting to their managers’ systems, so a lot of defensive lapses were expected. And, boy, was it quite a feast of defensive munificence. For Chelsea’s opening goal, Marcos Alonso had the freedom of the capital, before setting up Pedro, same went for their second, by Alvaro Morata, Arsenal opting to play a line so high there was no outfield player in their own half when Cesar Azpilicueta played his pass towards Morata.

But anything generous the Gunners could do, the Blues could match in their own magnanimity. First, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was left in a lot of room just outside Chelsea’s six-yard box, just before Morata’s goal, a chance the striker inexplicably skied. Then- after Henrikh Mkhitaryan did his best Aubameyang impression, and then made amends with a goal later on to halve the deficit- Alex Iwobi was the next Arsenal man to find himself in acres of space, and it was from that opening the Nigerian who dragged Arsenal level before the break.

No such flurry of goals in the second period, the game was settled late on by Alonso’s simple finish, as Chelsea bagged a second win in two league games, while Arsenal have begun the season with two straight losses. 3-2 it finished at the Bridge; it could have easily been six-all.

Elsewhere

  • There were few eyes watching Manchester City as they hosted Huddersfield Town, their first game since Kevin de Bruyne got ruled out for three months, against a side they failed to score against at home just three months ago. So, naturally, the champions put six past the Terriers, with Sergio Aguero registering a hatrick. There will be sterner tests than this for City, but this was a signal of what they could do even without their best player around.
  • Two wins in two for Watford, whose opponents Burnley may well be starting to feel the exertions that come with European commitments. Or at least that’s a ready-made excuse for one goal and one point in their opening two games.
  • So, Brighton did a number on Manchester United again, with the Red Devils putting in a hapless performance. One for the Grumpy Jose chronicles.
  • No single pass completed in the second half, a yellow card and penalty miss in stoppage time. It’s not a good weekend to be Kenedy.
  • It’s a rosy start for Richarlison at Everton so far, as the man who supposedly ruined the transfer window this summer scored another in the Toffees’ win over Southampton, his third goal in two games.

Results.

Manchester City 6-1 Huddersfield

Tottenham 3-1 Fulham

West Ham 1-2 Bournemouth

Leicester 2-0 Wolves

Burnley 1-3 Watford

Brighton 3-2 Manchester United

Chelsea 3-2 Arsenal

Cardiff 0-0 Newcastle

Everton 2-1 Southampton

Monday Night Football: Crystal Palace v Liverpool

 

Published in International Watch

 

And so the end of the road is near. After four weeks, and a lot of plotlines, the 2018 World Cup in Russia is about to close the book on its story. A tournament of expected thrills and unexpected spills, it also has its standout performers:

 

 

 

Goalkeeper

 

Hugo Lloris (France): It’s been a World Cup where a few goalkeepers have done their reputations no harm, Jordan Pickford has been subject of well-merited praise in between the sticks for England, Thibaut Courtois likewise for Belgium, Danijel Subasic has been brilliant for Croatia, Kasper Schmeichel was no different for Denmark, Guillermo Ochoa picked up where he left off four years ago with Mexico, while Iranian goalie Iranian Ali Beirenvand also caught the eye. Hugo Lloris, though, came into this tournament under a fair bit of pressure. The French skipper had an underwhelming season at club level with Tottenham, with a few errors, and was almost something of a liability at times. But he has rock-solid in Les Bleus’ run to the final, as despite conceding four times, those goals have come in only two games, and one of them was a penalty. He began the World Cup with a brilliant save against Australia, and hasn’t looked back, with three clean sheets in five.

 

Defence

 

Kieran Trippier (England): There was a reason why Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino wasn’t chuffed about Kyle Walker leaving the club last summer. In Kieran Trippier, he had had a more than good enough replacement, who had already begun relegating Walker to the bench before he departed, and form last season was so good, English manager Gareth Southgate had to put Walker as part of his back-three to accommodate both. Trippier has been the best right-back in this tournament, complementing his defensive displays with his actions up front. His chance creation rate in this tournament is no mean figure, his ability to cross from set-pieces was one of England’s most potent weapons in their run to the semis, and he topped it with a brilliant free-kick against Croatia in the last four.

 

Diego Godin (Uruguay): Uruguay’s tournament may have ended in the last eight, but their defensive solidity will last long in the memory. La Celeste didn’t concede until the last 16, which was the first international goal they’d let in since October 2017. The centre-back pairing of Jose Maria Gimenez and skipper Diego Godin was at the heart of their defensive steel, the latter standing out in this tournament. His reading of the game is exemplary, his aerial prowess top-class, it’s no exaggeration to say he has been the world’s most underrated defender of the past five years.

 

Raphael Varane (France): Another vital cog in France’s defensive wheel, Varane has been rock-solid at this World Cup. His aerial ability was needed against teams like semi-final opponents Belgium and last-eight foes Uruguay, and he popped up with a goal at the other end in the latter. The French players speak of his leadership ability, they are likely need it in the final as well.

 

Jan Vertonghen (Belgium): So much has been made of Belgium’s attack firing them to a first semi-final in 32 years, the Red Devils being the competition’s top scorers with 15 goals. As such, it’s easy to forget the defensive contributions of Roberto Martinez’s side. Jan Vertonghen stands out in that regard, and has appeared at left-back, as well as left of the back-three. His reading of the game is as impressive as ever, and he bagged a crucial goal in the comeback win against Japan in the last 16.

 

 

 

Midfield

 

Luka Modric (Croatia): The standout star of this World Cup without an iota of doubt. His grace and elegance on the ball has always been evident, in this tournament he stood out for those qualities as well as his work-rate off the ball- no one has run more in this tournament. Modric entered this tournament on the back of national displeasure as a result of his role in the Zdravko Mamic court issue, he has dominated it with his displays. Has always taken control of games in this tournament, and popped up with a superb goal against Argentina, without him Croatia would be nowhere near the final.

 

Ngolo Kante (France): You could lavish all the superlatives on Ngolo Kante, and he’d still be underrated. While a few other members of the French squad get the limelight and the attention, Kante continues to do his job in the middle, and basically everywhere, on the pitch. A continuously tireless worker, he’s almost worth three on the pitch.

 

Aleksandr Golovin (Russia): Tipped to be a potential breakout star before the World Cup began, Golovin was the star of Russia’s surprise run to the quarter finals. Began with a bang, a goal and two assists on the opening day, he followed that with another outstanding display against Egypt in the second game. Has been linked with a few clubs already, reports of Chelsea in particular have been circling.

 

Forwards

 

Romelu Lukaku (Belgium): Began the tournament on fire, with four goals in the first two games. Hasn’t scored since Belgium’s second game against Tunisia, but his influence in the side was still great in their run to the semis, typified by his display against Brazil in the last eight.

 

Harry Kane (England): His influence and form in this tournament may have been overplayed- three of his six goals have been penalties, two from corners and the other an inadvertent deflection, but they have been vital. His double in England’s opener against Tunisia was the sole for three points, and without his penalty in the last 16 against Colombia, the Three Lions might well be home already. He’s on course for the golden boot, the first Englishman to do that since Gary Lineker in 1986.

 

Kylian Mbappe (France): The turbo-charged teenager took some time to get up to speed in this tournament, but hasn’t looked back since. He was the standout performer in France’s last 16 win over Argentina, with two and bursts of pace that has etched itself into the nightmares of Argentine defenders. His close control on the ball has also caught the eye in this tournament, and he has cemented his status as a world rising star.

 

 

 

Published in International Watch

It's coming thick and fast isn't it, penalties at this World Cup. Two today, which means the five-day and 14-game old World Cup has witnessed seven spotkicks already. Fingers point to VAR, who review almost any form of contact in the box these days. The video technology has neither quelled the debate over the validity and controversy of decisions, nor the skepticism over its use. Maybe its calls are right, maybe not. Either way, that's not the only point of note today:

Good Day For...

Harry Kane: Whenever he captains, he scores. But none has come on a bigger stage than this, his brace giving England a win in their opening World Cup game for the first time since 2006. The clock ticked 91 minutes in Volgograd when Kane was in the right place at the right time to head home the Three Lions' winner. He keeps coming good for club and country.

Belgium: On evidence of the first half, it looked like this would be another game where the underdogs nick something, Belgium had dominated the opening 45 but couldn't find a way through, and frustration was starting to creep in. But once the floodgates opened up at the start of the second period, Belgium, getting room to relax, took charge and coasted home. At the start of a World Cup in which the big guns have failed to deliver so far, beginning with a win is a big plus for the Red Devils.

Sweden: A win in their first World Cup game in 12 years. It may have come via a penalty, but it was well-deserved, and could, just about should, easily have been more. Which brings us to...

...Hyun-Woo Cho: Kept South Korea in the match against Sweden arguably longer than they deserved with a few good saves.

Dries Mertens: The goal you don't see coming in. Almost disrespectful in its occasion, to calm Belgium at such a crucial time in the game.

Romelu Lukaku: Perhaps the man everyone now wants to have a wonderful World Cup, the forward hit a brace, a well-taken brace too, in Belgium's opening day stroll. Only Cristiano Ronaldo has scored more International goals in the past three years.

VAR (at first): The decision to review and award Sweden a penalty for the foul on Victor Claesson was spot on, making a case for the technology, even though cynics (i.e me) may choose to focus more on how the officials initially missed the foul.

Ferjani Sassi: His 35th minute penalty against England made him the first African player to find the net in this World Cup.

 

Bad Day For...

South Korea: Entered this tournament with skepticism and little expectations, and, on evidence of this, will go home in next to no time. The Koreans looked lacklustre, and had their goalie to thank for losing by just the one goal. This is what Shin Tae-Yong didn't want the Swedish spies to see?

Panama: Was it really a bad day? No one is thrilled to lose, but being in the World Cup is just about victory enough for the maiden minnows.

Tunisia: On the cusp of an invaluable point against England, only to concede so late, Nabil Maaloul's face afterwards said it all. The wait for an African side to grab a point in this World Cup continues.

VAR (afterwards): How did it not catch Harry Kane being wrestled to the ground jujitsu-style?

And some 'anonymous' others: Who were only minutes away from an opportunity to blame Raheem Sterling for England not beating Tunisia. Damn you, Harry.

 

Results

South Korea 0-1 Sweden

Belgium 3-0 Panama

Tunisia 1-2 England

Published in International Watch

Loris Karius should have done more to prevent the Wanyama ’s stunner and was to be blamed for the first of the two penalties awarded against Liverpool, said Garry Neville.

According to many, the Karius was one of the best players in the Livepool’s 2-2 draw to Spurs on Sunday evening but Neville has argued that the German goalkeeper did cost Liverpool the three points – and that Jurgen Klopp would be worried with his choices in that department.

Though describing the Wanyama’s goal as the ‘most wonderful strike’, the former Manchester United defender argued that Karius could have done more to prevent the shot from scoring.

Read Also

'Liverpool made City ordinary' - Schmeichel

“Loris Karius maybe should have done a little bit better,” the former Valencia manager told skysports.

“But as it came to Wanyama I was thinking: ‘No, don’t shoot youre just going to sky it into the Kop.’”

“He hit the most wonderful strike. It was perfect, top corner, and one that he’ll remember for the rest of his life.”

On the first penalty, Neville who also believed John Moss was spot on to have given the second penalty said, “Karius threw himself out at it, and Jurgen Klopp won’t be settled down by goalkeeper, and neither will the goalkeeper.

“It was a penalty for me it looked reckless, and the chat between the linesman and the referee is something that created nervousness amongst officials.”

I could have helped not to write these but never wanted to be the only one who will see them.

But it’s suffice to state one amongst many goalkeepers Neville has been pitching for in recent times, is doing fantastically well on West Ham’s bench.

 

Published in International Watch

What he has done is beat people like Messi and Ronaldo, who are unbeatable in my head - Wenger

Wenger, Kane is absolutely amazing

Arsene Wenger has noted that given the competitive nature of the English Premier League, Kane has done something by beating the duo of Messi and Ronaldo to 2017 highest-scoring footballer.

The Tottenham striker finished 2017 with back-to-back hat-tricks against Burnley and Southampton, making it 39 Premier League goals to surpass Alan Shearer's previous record of 36 in a calendar year, set in 1995.

The Tottenham forward recorded 56 goals for club and country in 52 appearances this year - two more than Lionel Messi (54 in 64) and three ahead of Messi’sLa Liga counterpart and current Ballon D’or holder Cristiano Ronaldo (53 in 60).

And as a rival, the French man has nothing but to be full of praise for Kane who he described to have done ‘absolutely amazing.’

According to the Arsenal manager, he never thought Kane would have outscored the duo of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo considering the fact that the England man is playing in a tougher league.

"Yes there are. That is why I say that what he has achieved is absolutely amazing," Wenger, as quoted by FourFourTwo

"He has done it and would I have predicted it? I would modestly say no.

"What he has done is beat people like Messi and Ronaldo, who are unbeatable in my head, so what he has done, is absolutely fantastic."

Wenger has also shed light on some of the reasons why summer acquisition from Schalke 04 Sead Kolasinaic has been out of the starting X1.

According to Wenger, the emergence of Maitland Niles coupled with his preference to use the Bosnian international as more of a wing back as informed his decisions of dropping Kolasinaic from the starting X1.



 

 

 

 

Published in International Watch