First Newport, now Rochdale, as another lower league side has fashioned out a stalemate at home to Tottenham, and earned a Wembley replay.

It seemed like heartbreak for Dale and Keith Hill, after Harry Kane’s late penalty put Spurs in front, but the League One side would not lie down, and in stoppage time grabbed a remarkable equaliser. Perhaps on other occasions, they might have been down and out, crestfallen to a state of deflation, at the sight of conceding a late goal against such a top side; and perhaps those occasions would be ones where Spurs don’t play their home games at Wembley.

Like a top class concert where only few can attend, playing away at Spurs seems like the equivalent of winning a raffle, if you can’t get there the routine way, why not some other way?

Considering the fact that playing at Wembley is supposed to be a unique occasion, the prospect of turning up there seems to be spurring on the lower-tier sides to earn a trip to the national stadium, it’s almost not about qualifying for the next round for these lads, as it is about just being there. The spectacle, the sense of occasion, the media attention, not to mention the revenue, seems to be factored in by these teams below the elite level, and Spurs are finding it hard to deny them the luxury of traveling to the capital.

It’s not inconceivable that Spurs will negotiate the replay with ease against Rochdale, a result that could lead to a potential tie with Sheffield Wednesday. Rinse, repeat? 

Published in International Watch

In the end it petered out. A game that started so ferociously in Turin and with Tottenham on the verge of early capitulation ended in a rather drawn-out fashion, and with Spurs having delivered another solid statement against an elite European side.

Mauricio Pochettino and his side had already beaten Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in this season’s Champions League, but this was probably a much harder, they were up against a Juventus side that had won 10 games in row, conceded only once in 16 games (none in 2018), and had won 50 of their last 55 home games in all competitions, fortress-like. Spurs knew they had to be wary, but after only two minutes they seemed careless, caught napping from a free-kick, as Miralem Pjanic played in Gonzalo Higuain, whose wonderful shot on the turn sent the home fans into early cacophony. But if 1-0 down after 200 seconds seemed bad, then two down after eight minutes was just as horrible, Ben Davies with a reckless challenge on Federico Bernadeschi, and Higuain’s resulting penalty found the net via the gloves of Hugo Lloris.

Spurs were suddenly in trouble, their impressive form before this game, as well as their group stage performances, seemed long in the memory; but they weren’t about to lie down, as they took charge and put Juve on the back foot, only a wonderful Mehdi Benatia interception prevented Christian Eriksen from playing in Harry Kane. And when Eriksen did find Kane afterwards, the latter’s point-blank headers was beaten away by Gigi Buffon.

Spurs’ attacking forays, mixed with a tinge of desperation, were always likely to leave them vulnerable at the back, and so it proved, although Higuain could only fire a shot just narrowly wide after a Bianconeri break. Spurs had ridden their luck, and would claw themselves back in the game- and the tie- with less than 10 minutes of the first half left; Eriksen caught Giorgio Chiellini in possession, then Dele Alli slipped in Kane, who rounded Buffon and filled an empty net. Now the deficit had been halved, and Spurs had an away goal to boot, but when Serge Aurier recklessly tripped Douglas Costa in the box for a second Juve penalty, all seemed lost. Except it wasn’t. Higuain blasted the kick from 12 yards onto the bar, referee Felix Brych blew his whistle, and half time came.

Pochettino spoke on the need for Spurs to remain calm after the game, and they were calm during, as they had to bide their time in the second period in their search for an equaliser. It came in the 72nd minute, Eriksen’s low free-kick bamboozling Buffon, who didn’t quite get a strong enough hand, and had to watch the ball find its way into the bottom corner. The action seemed to die down after this, Lloris making a couple of saves from Bernadeschi the biggest highlight, and Pochettino made his three changes all inside the final 10 minutes, proof of him being content, at least, with the draw.

The Spurs manager did describe things in the dressing room as a little angry after the game, but Spurs had a mounted a superb fightback here, the first side to score against Juventus in over 21 hours of football, and erased a seemingly unassailable two-goal deficit.

They’ll have undoubted optimism for the second leg in three weeks’ time, not to mention an advantage, however slim.

Elsewhere:

  • Marcelo couldn’t help himself, as he slid towards Zinedine Zidane in the Real Madrid dugout with less than five minutes to play, the left-back whose fall earlier in the game seemed to have alarm bells ringing, health-wise. Those bells were definitely in sync, when, in the 34th minute, Adrien Rabiot got on to a Neymar flick to put Paris Saint-Germain in front. Real did respond before halftime, Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a penalty after Toni Kroos had been fouled by Giovani Lo Celso. Ronaldo added his- and Real’s- second with eight minutes left, bundling home after a cross from substitute Marco Asensio, and Asensio was at it again moments after, another cross, another goal, this time from Marcelo as Real ensured they’ll take a 3-1 lead to Paris. As Unai Emery watched on with a grim face, it wasn’t hard to tell that his job is likely to depend on what happens three weeks from now.
  • For the first 28 minutes, Basel proved to be something of a match for Manchester City, then Ilkay Gundogan headed them in front, and for the final 72, it just seemed like torture for the Swiss champions. 0-4 loss at home; they did give a decent account themselves overall, but put it this way: when Taulant Xhaka (brother of Arsenal’s Granit) reached the yellow cards limit after being booked for upending Kevin de Bruyne in the 37th minute, it was clear that that was his last game of this Champions League season.
  • It’s also, barring a Quidditch-like Golden Snitch capture of a second leg, the end of the road for Porto, as they were taken apart on home soil by Liverpool, whose fab three were on song again; Sadio Mane bagging a hatrick, while Roberto Firmino and Mohammed Salah were just as impressive. At some point, their attacking dominance will stop being news.

Results

Juventus 2-2 Tottenham

Basel 0-4 Manchester City

Real Madrid 3-1 PSG

Porto 0-5 Liverpool

Published in International Watch

SpotkickNG

 

As the most memorable aspect of February rolls around (sit down, Valentine’s Day), spotkick’s trusted pick up their crystal balls and cast their predictions on which teams will remain when 16 gets trimmed to eight in the Champions League:

Ola Fadahunsi 

Man City vs Basel

City have been one of the best sides in Europe this season; the tie with Basel should be a banana peel.

City, duh! 

Juventus vs Tottenham

Spurs made a good statement by topping Madrid in the group stage but Juventus' experience in Europe should see them above the North London side.

Juve to knock out Spurs

Porto vs Liverpool

The oddity here is Liverpool qualifying if history is anything to go by. But I will still stick with the Merseyside Red.

Liverpool for me

Real Madrid vs PSG 

Madrid are going into this tie with little or nothing to lose as many have written them off - thus putting enormous pressure on PSG. I doubt PSG's ability to contain this pressure even with their star-studded side led by Neymar: last year's exit to Barcelona at this stage is a perfect example.

I still think Real will qualify.

Chelsea vs Barcelona

The Blues' strength playing Barca over the years has been how solid they've been at the back but this year’s tie will be different - as Barca's strongest household has been their back line and when you sync that with what Messi and Suarez can offer upfront, Chelsea will bow out in style.

Barcelona to progress

Sevilla vs Manchester United

Consistency has been a problem for the two sides but i think United have more than enough to deal with whatever Sevilla would be throwing at them.

United to go through. 

Shakhtar Donetsk vs Roma

An even tie. Against all odds, Roma made it pass group stage - topping both Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, but if you've been a follower of the UCL for years, you'll know how dangerous Shaktar can be in games like this. As a lover of history, I'll give it to Shakhtar

 

Kunle Ajao

Juventus v Tottenham

Spurs have delivered much better than expected in this season’s competition, after underperforming in the previous campaign. They topped a group that comprised Dortmund and Real Madrid, and their 3-1 win over the latter was mighty impressive. Juve, though, have pedigree in this competition, and have been finalists for two of the last three seasons. They’ve been here and done it before more times than their opponents at this stage. With both sides possessing formidable defences and midfields as well, it might well boil down to which striker, in Harry Kane and Gonzalo Higuain, will have a better day.

Juventus to just about sneak through. 

Basel v Manchester City

There’s no doubt who the overwhelming favourite is for this one, Man City have looked impeccable most times this season. Basel were impressive in qualifying from Group A, beating Manchester United on the way, but have lost Manuel Akanji and Renato Steffen to the Bundesliga. They might spring a surprise, but this looks a hard ask.

Barring a shock, City to go through 

Real Madrid v PSG

The tie of the round, the game that is most likely to determine the future of both managers. For Paris Saint-Germain, it’s finally a chance to prove they can roll with the elite after all the years of spending, especially with last year’s capitulation to Barcelona still in the memory. Real Madrid, meanwhile, have their whole season riding on this.

PSG to make the last eight for me

Porto v Liverpool

This tie seems finely poised, pitting two teams who’ll equally fancy their chances of progress. Liverpool’s front three, despite the departure of Philippe Coutinho, has been one to envy, even if Sadio Mane’s form has dipped recently. Their defence still leaves much to ponder, though, and Porto will look to capitalise on any slackness. But Liverpool’s best form of defending has been attacking, and it has worked so far.

Will be no straightforward task, but Liverpool should progress

Bayern Munich v Besiktas

No prizes for guessing the favourite here, Bayern haven't quite looked the same since Jupp Heynckes took over from Carlo Ancelotti, with only one defeat in all competitions since September. Besiktas do have an experienced, if not ageing, squad which helped finish top of Group G, but that also owed a big part to Cenk Tosun, whose January departure is a big blow.

The odds look overwhelmingly on Bayern Munich

Chelsea v Barcelona

This seems like the most ill-timed meeting of them all, Chelsea’s form having dropped massively, and not helped by Antonio Conte’s constant complaints over transfer dealings. Barcelona have lost just once since that supposedly-crushing Super Cup defeat in August. Philippe Coutinho is cup-tied, but Ernesto Valverde’s side are still favourites in this tie, if not the whole competition.

Barcelona to make progress here.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Roma

Roma were impressive in finishing top of a group that involved Chelsea and Atletico Madrid. But they haven’t been at their best lately in Serie A, and have slipped well out of the title race. Shakhtar are just as impressive a side, and have previous when it comes to the two teams meeting at this stage, they beat the Giallorossi in the last 16 in 2011.

Roma to qualify, just about. 

Sevilla v Manchester United

Sevilla are still searching for that first Champions League quarter-final appearance. They came close in 2008 (losing to Fenerbahce) and last season (eliminated by Leicester), but this looks like the hardest task of all. Jose Mourinho is a master at negotiating ties like this, and only the most courageous would bet against United going through, particularly with this being perhaps their most likely chance of silverware.

Manchester United to progress

 

Shehu Idris

Basel v Manchester City 

Does this actually need a prediction. Better luck next time Basel. A full scale hurricane is coming Basel's way, perhaps they shouldn't even bother showing up for both legs but, in Ed Sheeran's voice, "What do I know?". 

Juventus vs Tottenham

This is like a classic ole battle between an old, experienced and embittered war veteran and a young, greenhorn who's shown that his youthful exuberance can bleed giants to death if allowed. I'm tilting towards the green-necks from North London they should handle the Old Lady pretty easily. 

Porto vs Liverpool

This should be easy for Jürgen Klopp's men, they'll do it on both legs and if by deeds of their typical Liverpool-ism they don't, take this prediction as a tongue-in-cheek bluff. 

Real Madrid vs PSG

We'll plumb this pseudo-big club money sack with over-pampered players who're only there because of the jiggling coins it has in coffer. Real Madrid to progress, yes of course. 

Bayern Munich vs Besiktas

It’s hard for anyone to not see Bayern progressing here 

Chelsea vs Barcelona

Chelsea are but a sorry shadow of their true selves currently, with their coach a 'Noob Saibot' of his usually maniac, football-loving self and against a Barcelona side that haven't lost in the league this season and have Lionel Messi? May God have mercy on them. Barcelona to progress. 

Sevilla vs Manchester United

Sevilla struggled under Eduardo Berrizo, are still struggling under Vincenzo Montella, plus this season has been what they projected it will be. Manchester United will help see to that. United to ease pass them. 

Shakhtar Donetsk vs Roma

Who are these ones? Me, I'm tired ooo. Anyway, Roma to progress.

 

So, according to we at spotkick.com, the potential quarter finalists are:

Barcelona 

Manchester City 

Manchester United 

Roma

Real Madrid 

Juventus 

Bayern Munich 

Liverpool

Keep in mind, keyword, ‘potential’,  there’s not many things as humbling as seeing a seemingly genius and iron-clad prediction go all kinds of wrong.

 

Feel free to disagree with us in the comments section.

Published in International Watch

It’s a bit of a cliché, almost annoying really, that once a North London derby comes round, it’s described as the most important one yet. From top four battles, to title challenges, and issues of a power shift in the North of the capital, every derby is seen as the most pivotal to have come, until the next one.

So, in that vein, this is probably the most important derby yet. Okay, maybe not, but there’s a fair bit riding on the 195th meeting between Arsenal and Tottenham, especially in the case of chasing a top four spot. It’s a measure of how much the Gunners have risen and slipped to note that they were well behind Spurs before the first leg in November (which they won), and by December they were well ahead of the Lilywhites. Inconsistency, squad unrest, and sometimes, just plain erratic football has seen them tumble down and firmly rooted to sixth place, five points away from the top four. Alexis Sanchez finally left, this January, but the arrivals of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has brought its fair share of optimism, which was augmented last weekend, Mkhitaryan with a hatrick of assists, while Aubameyang scored on his debut as they thrashed Everton out of sight.

But there’s still Arsenal’s tendency to implode when optimism takes hold, and the fans would surely have that on the back of their minds, not so long ago they followed up a 4-1 win against Crystal Palace with a 3-1 loss at Swansea. Arsene Wenger will undoubtedly know his side can’t afford the same here, lose at Wembley, and they’ll be at least seven points off the top four with 11 games left. The Gunners have an enviable record at the national stadium of late, though, they’ve won their last nine at the ground (including penalty shootouts), and Spurs will have one eye on Juventus, whom they face this midweek when the UEFA Champions League returns.

In spite of their European commitment, Spurs know their best chance of a successful season lie on the domestic fronts, and securing a top four spot come the end of the season will a part of that. With Chelsea slacking off since the start of the year, there’s a window of opportunity for either side. One neither can afford to miss.

Elsewhere

  • It seems like there’s a grudge match lying in wait at Goodison Park this weekend, as Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace travel to face Sam Allardyce’s Everton. It’s one in which the focus is going to be placed on both managers a bit, Hodgson having demanded an apology from Allardyce, following the latter’s comments after succeeding the former for the English job back in 2016. With both sides not out of danger though, on the pitch is where the more pressing matters lie. Hodgson would surely take a win over an apology.
  • No wins in eight. All defeats in five. Huddersfield are basically steering into the skid at the moment, the Terriers have dropped into the relegation zone following last weekend’s defeat at Old Trafford, where, once again, they showed little enterprise going forward. Surely that’ll change at home to high-flying Bournemouth. Eddie Howe’s Cherries are top of the 2018 form table, and will relish the chance to play in front what would be a rather edgy home crowd.
  • Two years ago this week, Leicester arrived at the Etihad stadium to face a Manchester City side who had recently found out that Pep Guardiola would be their manager once the season ended. The Foxes came, played City off the park, scored three goals, and earned all the plaudits on their way to that unprecedented title. Two years on they arrive in relatively comfortable state, although the absence of Riyad Mahrez is not a cause for jubilation so far, the Algerian hasn’t played since Leicester rejected a bid from Man City. They haven’t won any of the two games without him in the side, which doesn’t make facing the log leaders a particularly pleasant task at the moment. Not that it would be pleasant at any moment, mind.
  • Plus, expect a ring of boos when anytime Virgil van Dijk touches the ball for Liverpool at Southampton this weekend.

Fixtures

Tottenham v Arsenal

Newcastle v Manchester United

Southampton v Liverpool

Swansea v Burnley

Stoke v Brighton

Manchester City v Leicester

Huddersfield v Bournemouth

Everton v Crystal Palace

West Ham v Watford

Chelsea v West Brom

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

There was no hiding the impression that Tottenham put forward on Wednesday, during their 2-0 win over Manchester United. A fast start, and an overwhelming display were on show, and Spurs were barely flattered by the scoreline, and will know they should have added more, as they remained in touch with the top four.

And come Sunday, there’ll be an opportunity to climb into it for Mauricio Pochettino and his team, even third place is possible by the end of this weekend, all they have to do is win at Anfield. A place where Spurs have won just twice in 25 Premier League games, where Liverpool haven’t lost in the league since last April, the Lilywhites will know their work is cut out for them. Their record away to the rest of the top six teams under Pochettino is barely any good as well, with nine points since 2014, a record that has one win in it.

Liverpool have done well to respond to those league (Swansea) and FA Cup (West Brom) setbacks with a comprehensive 3-0 win at Huddersfield, and climbed to third place, above Chelsea on goal difference. That loss to Swansea has been their first in the league since Tottenham hit four past them in October, a result that had left them back in ninth, and now Spurs’ midweek result means even second-placed United are well within their sights.

It’s a clash between two sides of similar styles, with similar levels of momentum, and similar league aspirations, but neither will get any similar level of satisfaction after the final whistle on Sunday.

Elsewhere

  • Crisis? Perhaps. One league win in 2018 so far, out of the League Cup, and dismantled at home by Bournemouth, the ‘C’ word appears to be hovering above West London, on the verge of touch down. Antonio Conte and his Blues team (for how long will that continue to be the case?) will be hoping that opponents Watford don’t get the new manager bounce, in Javi Gracia’s first league game at Vicarage Road.
  • Southampton still haven’t hit the panic button and decided to dismiss Mauricio Pellegrino yet, despite the poor run of form, the Saints have no league wins in 12. They haven’t lost in three, however, performances are improving somewhat, and the Saints hierarchy will hope their faith in Pellegrino, alongside the winter arrival of Guido Carrillo, can spark a revival, although their patience might snap should they suffer defeat here and move to the foot of the table. Hosts West Brom have scored only four goals at home since Alan Pardew took charge, all from set pieces. Talk about finding it hard to move on following a break-up. They’ll more than take it, mind, if a bunch of set-piece goals takes off the bottom of the league.
  • After the hapless display at Wembley in midweek, Manchester United will no doubt be keen to get back on track, especially following manager Jose Mourinho’s criticism post-match. They’ve only lost once at Old Trafford this season, which was to league leaders Manchester City in December. Huddersfield, visitors to the Theatre of Dreams, have lost eight of their last 11 away, conceding two or more in them. The Terriers are not unlikely to find themselves in the red zone at the end of this one.
  • Beset by injuries, bothered by transfer fracas once again, West Ham’s smiles over the past months look to be abating. The Hammers travel to Brighton next, a win takes them to the top half, as well keeps the focus mostly on the pitch. For the East Londoners, and their shoddy PR, that’ll be welcome.
  • It’s a homecoming for Theo Walcott, as he and his new side, Everton, travel to the Emirates. Walcott has begun life at Goodison in fine fettle, scoring twice and setting up one in three games, and might relish causing Arsenal’s troubled backline (as Swansea showed) some problems. The Gunners have some new signings of their own on show, Henrikh Mkhitaryan might make his first league start for the club, although Arsene Wenger says illness could delay Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang making his debut. The history books rarely favour the Toffees in this one, they’ve lost eight out of 10 games against Arsenal in the month of February, and have never won at the Emirates. Expect the Sam Allardyce special away to a top six club.

Fixtures

Liverpool v Tottenham

Arsenal v Everton

Bournemouth v Stoke

Crystal Palace v Newcastle

Manchester United v Huddersfield

West Brom v Southampton

Leicester v Swansea

Brighton v West Ham

Burnley v Manchester City

Watford v Chelsea

Published in International Watch

When Carlos Carvalhal was swamped in celebration by his staff, while Sam Clucas lay down on the turf in exhausted disbelief, Swansea had just confirmed another special result, as Clucas’ second goal of the game put the South Welsh side 3-1 up at home to Arsenal, with less than 10 minutes.

That the win lifted them temporarily out of the drop zone and undoubtedly off the foot of the table was one thing, that it was achieved against the Gunners was another, and that it was their first back-to-back league success of the season, after seeing off Liverpool eight days earlier, was something else as well.

‘It’s all about winning’, said Swans defender Mike van der Hoorn. ‘If you are winning then life is happier. I was talking to the boys when we were having lunch at Fairwood about how life is so much easier when we win’. ‘It changes you as a person’, the Dutchman added, ‘the belief is there and now we need to keep up this form.

The belief certainly looks there under Carvalhal, under the swamp of haplessness that was present in the closing stages of Paul Clement’s tenure. Not just that Swansea had beaten Arsenal, but that Swansea outplayed Arsenal, going toe-to-toe with them, looking them in eye until the Gunners blinked; they had more shots, and more corners, than their more-illustrious opponents. The Jacks had beaten Liverpool at the Liberty stadium on the previous Matchday, and here they began well, Jordan Ayew seeing his shot deflect wide, Alfie Mawson coming close on two occasions, while a superb tackle from Arsenal’s Mohammed Elneny denied Clucas an opening. It would be the Gunners who would take the lead though, as an excellent piece of foresight, as well as pass from Mesut Ozil found Nacho Monreal, who, prior to this season had one league Arsenal goal to his name (at the Liberty Stadium in 2013), but was celebrating his fourth of this campaign.

That seemed to be the beginning of the end for Swansea, under Clement, it probably would have been without question. But Carvalhal’s first win as manager was a comeback victory at Watford, and his side demonstrated their new found resolve when Mawson played in Clucas, who slotted home the equaliser barely 100 seconds after Arsenal struck.

The Swans have been showing enough grit and effort to earn a fair bit of luck this season, and judging by the game at home to Liverpool, when Roberto Firmino directed a free header onto the bar, unmarked, in the 93rd minute, they were getting it. But that would be nothing compared to what occurred midway through the second half in this game. From quick Arsenal throw-in Monreal shuffled the ball to Shkodran Mustafi, whose ill-advised back pass put goalkeeper Petr Cech under pressure, and the latter’s miscued clearance fell straight to Ayew, who required just one touch to accept the gift, and put the hosts in front.

The stadium was in full bounce, and with 19 minutes left, watched as Nathan Dyer’s shot grazed the outside of the post, as Swansea sought a third. But they would get it late on, a not-so convincing moment from Monreal resulted in Ayew making his way into the box with the ball, and his deflected cross would be turned home by Clucas. Cue delirium at the Liberty, from the fans, goal scorer, and dugout as well, Swansea had scored seven league goals at home this season before that night, then they got three in 84 minutes. The belief is rising, as are the performances on the pitch.

‘If we can continue to play at the level we have in the last two league games’ said van der Hoorn, ‘and the fans can keep it up too, then it will make for a very interesting finish to the season’. If Swansea keep this up, it might just make for another seemingly unfathomable escape this season.

Cherries in Dreamland at the Bridge

Olivier Giroud made his way into a seat at Stamford Bridge, the Frenchman had signed for Chelsea, less than a day after playing a part in Arsenal’s loss at Swansea, but what he proceeded to watch would be nothing short of jaw-dropping. For the first 45 minutes, Chelsea toiled and probed as they sought a way through, but none was forthcoming, and barely two minutes into the second period had been played when they fell behind, Callum Wilson in an exchange with Jordon Ibe, before finishing under Thibaut Courtois. One became two soon after, Junior Stanislas the next to find himself in behind the Blues defence, and his finish also went under Courtois, albeit the Belgian ‘keeper got something on the effort. Stanislas would turn provider for the third, his shot having been turned in by former Chelsea defender Nathan Ake, who didn’t hold back in celebrating. There was no celebration from Antonio Conte, though, his side have dropped to fourth place on goal difference, and are only two points away from fifth-placed Spurs. Conte says he doesn’t feel pressure, but recognises the fight on Chelsea’s hands to make the Champions League next season. Also known as pressure

Spurs Catch United Napping

‘I don’t think it’s very normal to concede a goal like we did’, said Jose Mourinho, as he watched his side concede to Spurs’ Christian Eriksen after just 11 seconds played at Wembley. ‘Ridiculous’ he described it, and United, perhaps stunned by such a start, never really got going, and before the half hour mark, they would concede again, Phil Jones slamming Kieran Trippier’s cross into his own net. The scoreline barely flattered Spurs, who will know they should have added more, Mauricio Pochettino’s side are two points off third place. As for Manchester United, the gap to City increases to 15 again.

Elsewhere

  • Huddersfield are well and truly on the side, as the Terriers have slipped to 17th place after yet another defeat, this time at home to Liverpool. A well-taken strike from Emre Can, and another wonderful display from forward Roberto Firmino were the highlights, as the Reds bag a first win since beating Manchester City almost three weeks earlier, and climb to third. Huddersfield might wonder if things would have gone differently had Laurent Depoitre’s shot not been away by Loris Karius when it was still goalless.
  • Debut: Theo Walcott bags an assist as Everton salvage a point at home to West Brom. Second game: Theo Walcott’s double gives Everton three priceless points at home to Leicester, the English winger’s brace was responsible for Everton getting their first win of the New Year, against the Foxes, whose pre-match was covered in speculation about Riyad Mahrez, the Algerian absent for the game, but doesn’t leave the club in the end.
  • Oh, and it was transfer deadline day last night, Giroud’s move to Chelsea part of a three-way roll that saw Michy Batshuayi leave for Dortmund, whom had initially sold Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Arsenal, although the transfer crescendo had to share the limelight with some actual football (how horrible!).

Results

Swansea 3-1 Arsenal

Tottenham 2-0 Manchester United

Stoke 0-0 Watford

Southampton 1-1 Brighton

Newcastle 1-1 Burnley

Manchester City 3-0 West Brom

Chelsea 0-3 Bournemouth

West Ham 1-1 Crystal Palace

Huddersfield 0-3 Liverpool

Everton 2-1 Leicester

Published in International Watch

The Togolese striker has admitted that though he was unhappy with his footballing career but the fact that he’s alive, meant he could still win the Ballon D’Or

Adebayor, who had represented the likes Arsenal, Man City, Real Madrid et al in the past highest individual accolade was the African footballer of the Year that he won in 2008.

But the 33-year-old forward has said that there were still hopes of him winning the Ballon D’Or – an award that is being shared between the duo of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo since 2008.

Adebayor on winning Ballon D' Or

“I had dreamt of playing for Arsenal and Real Madrid and those dreams came true,” Adebayor, as quoted by vanguard ng.

“Maybe I can dream of winning the Ballon D’Or and that can come true as well.

“I’m not really happy with my footballing career but I can’t still complain about it either.

“I’m still alive, so I can keep dreaming.”

The Nigerian born, Togolese player, who worked with Mourinho for six months at Real Madrid in 2011 also chose the Portuguese as the best manager he’s worked with.

Adebayor added, “The best coach I ever worked with is certainly Jose Mourinho. He has an unparalleled passion.”

Maybe his eight goals in 13 appearances so far for his Turkish side Istanbul Basaksehir in the 2017/2018 season was what gave Adebayor the courage that he could still win the Ballon D’or but how do we tell him that the duo of Messi and CR7 are not dead yet?

Published in International Watch

‘I would like to win the cup of course.’ Over (qualifying for) the Champions League? Yes. It is a cup! Win the cup and I can hold it up. Get in the Champions League and I have to buy a magazine to show the league table and shout ‘look where we are…’ The proof is silverware. So I would prefer to win the FA Cup…and then finish fifth or sixth.’ And there was a big point in there. After all, why take finishing fourth over the FA Cup, why side-line a trophy for the opportunity to get knocked out of the last 16 of the European elite competition by some big gun, and that’s if you make it that far?

Slaven Bilic certainly made no secret of what choice he’d make if given one when asked in January in 2016, with his Hammer close to the top four and preparing for the Third Round of the FA Cup, a competition the Croat always believed ‘never lost its value’. After all, there was a time when only the league winners made the Champions League and the cup winners headed for the Cup Winners Cup, a secondary competition, like the UEFA Cup that the second and third-placed sides got.

In the end Bilic got neither, as West Ham finished seventh in the league, were only a goal away from taking an FA Cup Sixth Round Replay to extra-time, but fell short. Bilic’s first season with West Ham was an unmitigated success despite falling short in both races, but it’s not hard to opine that the Croat would have been afforded even more time than he was before being sacked last November had he somehow managed to lift the FA Cup back then; surely the fans would have been onside for a lot longer.

Mauricio Pochettino is under little (if any) pressure at Tottenham, and his contributions at the club have been unparalleled, moulding a young team previously renowned as perennial bottlers to one of the most formidable in the country, and even in Europe(just ask Real Madrid), consecutive top three finishes are no mean feats. But Poch has lacked a certain item at the club, a trophy. Despite the obvious and impressive improvements Spurs have made with the Argentine at the helm, they haven’t won anything; two doomed-to-fail title challenges, alongside domestic cup final and semi-final defeats have been the best they’ve managed. In that same period, an in-transition Manchester United have won both domestic cups and the Europa League, an under-achieving Manchester City also achieved League Cup success, while a supposedly declining Arsenal have two FA Cup titles.

For all the talk of whether there’s been a shift in power in North London, for all Spurs final competing and finishing above the Gunners, if they keep winning nothing and their neighbours manage to nick a cup or two, they are likely to always be inferior, not to talk of turning the task of keeping their most valuable players from Mission Impossible to Mission…Oh Just Forget It.

As the popular Football Manager press conference option goes, ‘trophies aren’t the barometers of success’, and Pochettino’s work at a club looking at the future with optimism (a new stadium is around the corner) is without question, after all, as Diego Simeone has shown in the past three years at Atletico Madrid, you don’t have to win something to highlight significant. But, then again, Simeone has won a few with Atletico. In fact, the only trophy he hasn’t won with the club is the Champions League, and they’ve come mighty close on two occasions.

And therein lies Spurs’ arguably most prominent adjective so far under the former Southampton boss, ‘CLOSE’, but never quite there. With the Premier League already out of the reach, having been eliminated from the League Cup, and as likely to win the Champions League as they are to be knocked out by Juventus next March, the FA Cup is the most likely silverware available this season, and they begin this weekend against third-tier Wimbledon.

Poch’s work with the Lilywhites is immeasurable, but maybe it is time to start measuring it. Surely he’d rather have people watch his side triumph than show them magazines of where they are.

 

 

Published in International Watch

Premier League Mid-Term Report: Part Two

Monday, 25 December 2017 12:44

Manchester City

Ah Yes. The seeming autocrats of the Premier League so far, no one beats them, no one attempts to have the ball against them, no one even dare avoid defeat to them. Top of the league, 17 league wins in a row, 60 goals scored (sixty!!), their goal difference tally is higher than the goals scored section of every other team, 13 points ahead in the league. Then again, Pep, we’re still not convinced. Let’s see you lead Chesterfield to the Quidditch championship.

Would they have taken this in August: Top of the league, won their Champions League group, into the last four of the League Cup, there’s quite literally nothing else on offer. 

Top performer: The squad, manager, back room staff, training pitch, everything about City, even roads in the city (okay quit drooling). David Silva is in prime form, Raheem Sterling looks unstoppable, Ederson is an upgrade in goal, but there’s no substitute for Kevin de Bruyne.

Should do better: Why are you here?

Grade: A+

 

Manchester United

Second on the table, 41 goals scored, 14 conceded, won their Champions League with ease, yet fingers are still being pointed. They have conceded points quite sloppily so far, but much has to do with their city neighbours being in abnormal form.

Would they have taken this in August: Would they indeed? After all the years of mediocrity post-Fergie, sitting pretty in second is much welcome. Again, but for City’s outrageous form, things would be looking a lot better. Their League Cup exit at the hands of Bristol City was a potential trophy gone, that would displease Jose Mourinho.

Top performer: Romelu Lukaku started like a house fire, 10 goals in his first 10 games in all competitions. Since then though he’s managed four, but he’s still having an impressive debut season. David de Gea continues to defy logic and normalcy, but the fluidity in the side is always lacking when Paul Pogba is unavailable. Credit to Nemanja Matic for allowing the Frenchman freedom to roam.

Should do better: Chris Smalling has improved of late, as has Victor Lindelof, but both started poorly. One man who has gone in the opposite direction is Henrikh Mkhitaryan, after the Armenian’s glorious first month of the season, his form has nosedived alarmingly, he even regularly misses out of the entire 18 these days.

Grade: B

 

Newcastle

‘Short blanket’ Magpies just climbed out of the relegation zone, having swung into poor form after their bright start. Rafa Benitez would be one waiting for the January window, although the potential takeover looks likely to be a stumbling block.

Would they have taken this in August: Probably, yes. Given Rafa’s complaints over his squad before the campaign, two points off the drop zone isn’t much cause for alarm. It isn’t one to get tongues wagging either, mind.

Top performer: Jamaal Lascelles has performed admirably when fit, and the skipper is never shy to speak out if things are going awry, loanee-turned-permanent-addition Mikel Merino has been impressive in the side. Perhaps with the way the summer looked, Joselu also leans towards ‘hit’ than ‘miss’.

Should do better: Aleksandar Mitrovic looks a more capable player in his position than those appearing regularly, but his attitude is still a giant hitch. Read that sentence again, although this time put ‘Jonjo Shelvey’ where appropriate.

Grade: C-

Southampton

Claude Puel is sacked for the torrid style of play despite finishing eighth and reaching a cup final. Mauricio Pellegrino is appointed with the prospect of better football. December, and the Saints in 13th, eight points behind Puel’s Leicester, who won at the St. Mary’s with some good football. The Saints lack of goals this term shows the blame shouldn’t have laid solely on Puel last season, though Charlie Austin is finding his feet with five goals in six.

Would they have taken this August: Probably not. The Saints were expecting to be among the best of the lot, and with constant attacking and goal-scoring football. They haven’t quite managed either, although there are worse positions to be in.

Top performer: Mario Lemina has been a top signing from Southampton, while Nathan Redmond continues to spark in non-existent attack. Austin also deserves a mention for his recent form.

Should do better: Plenty. Fraizer Forster’s form for the past 18 months has been alarming, and although he might have improved a bit in the few weeks, he still concedes soft goals, and seems to be an easy target. Dusan Tadic and Steven Davis have gone awfully quiet, while Manolo Gabbiadini’s early form at the start of the year seems like a flash in the pan. Oh, and let Virgil van Dijk go already.

Grade: D

 

Stoke

So rumours that Stoke would struggle again this year weren’t so daft after all. The Potters lie three points away from the drop zone in 14th, and though they won recently against West Brom, there is still a sizeable amount of pressure on Mark Hughes.

Would they have taken this in August: Maybe, the squad looked shorn of quality as the season began, and though Hughes dismissed talk of them set for a struggle as rubbish, it seemed inevitable.

Top performer: Eric Choupo-Moting has performed in patches for the team, but is among the better performers. Xherdan Shaqiri is still their hub of creativity.

Should do better: Everyone else? Kevin Wimmer has been a disappointing signing, Jese scored on his debut but has done little since, Darren Fletcher’s form is a bit of enigma, and Joe Allen has also dropped glaringly. Saido Berahino hasn’t scored in two years.

Grade: D

 

Swansea

Terrible defence, the league’s worst attack, no invention to come back and win games from behind, Swansea have acted by ridding themselves of Paul Clement. The witless display that was on show in player/caretaker manager Leon Britton’s first game means the Swans have a lot of work on to avoid the drop. Bottom at Christmas, and rightfully so.

Would they have taken this in August: Who would have taken being bottom of the table at Christmas? There was quiet optimi…okay no real cause for alarm at the start of the season, even as Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente left, the arrivals of Renato Sanches and Wilfred Bony were interesting arrivals. That seems to be the most interesting thing about them so far.

Top performer: Tammy Abraham. Goes without saying.

Should do better: From the rest of the squad down to chairman Huw Jenkins and owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien.

Grade: E

 

Tottenham

Seen as arguably the best team in the land at the start of the season, there were worries over Wembley, and for the first two months of the campaign they seemed justified, as Spurs won away but couldn’t buy a ‘home’ win. It’s been quite the opposite lately, Mauricio Pochettino’s men haven’t lost at home since August, but haven’t won in five away games.

Would they have taken this in August: Perhaps. This was seen as a season of transition for Spurs. Fifth place and a point off the top four isn’t that bad, 21 points from the top isn’t good. Neither was the manner of their League Cup exit against West Ham, although they did impressively top a Champions League that included Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, beating the European champions on the way.

Top performer: Davinson Sanchez might have dropped a bit, but the Colombian has been an excellent buy from Ajax. Christian Eriksen and Kieran Trippier have been impressive, same for Harry Winks. No one has scored more goals in a calendar year in the history of the Premier League than Harry Kane.

Should do better: Erik Lamela has returned from a long lay-off and should set his sights on improving as the weeks go by. Moussa Sissoko is still a curious case, and Dele Alli’s form has dropped considerably.

Grade: B-

 

Watford

Impressive start, and seemed like Dark Horses for a European place. Their form has tailed off a bit, but they still lie in the top 10. And eyes are still poking over manager Marco Silva.

Would they have taken this in August: No doubt. They might have been hoping for more considering how the season had been going, but should have no real complaints.

Top performer: Richarlison is such a watchable lad, the 20-year-old has had his fair share of glaring misses, but in general has been a big hit, as was Nathaniel Chalobah before he got injured. Defender Christian Kabasele has also been impressive, but none more than the ever-present Abdoulaye Doucoure, the French manager is enjoying a fine campaign, and even has six league goals to his name.

Should do better: From underrated forward to senseless front man, Troy Deeney and his mas cojones haven’t had the best campaign. He’s currently serving a four-game ban, having missed three over suspension earlier. Save some displeasure for Etienne Capoue as well.

Grade: B

 

West Brom

First two games, two 1-0 wins, it looked to be going rather nicely. Yeah, about that. Those are the only wins for the Baggies in the league so far this term, they haven’t won in 17 games. Tony Pulis has been dismissed, and Alan Pardew has come, yet the improvements haven’t. Second from bottom, West Brom are in need of some resuscitation.

Would they have taken this in August: Before the season began, surely not. After those first two games, absolutely not.

Top performer: Tough call, it’s been quite a collective mess at the Hawthorns. Gareth Barry set a new record of Premier League appearances this season, so that’s something. Goalkeeper Ben Foster and defender Ahmed Hegazi are probably the least disappointing of the lot.

Should do better: The lot.

Grade: F

 

West Ham

Following their rather eye-catching summer additions, much was expected of the Hammers this term, well better than last season at least. By November, though, Slaven Bilic had been dismissed, and replaced to the distaste of more than a few, David Moyes, who wasn’t a proponent of the ‘West Ham way’ (I don’t know what that is either). Things have considerably improved in the past few weeks, but the Hammers are still battling to stay up.

Would they have taken this in August: Not a chance. Even with how bad last season was, the Hammers didn’t expect to sink this low.

Top performer: Adrian has been doing well since usurping Joe Hart as the first choice goalie, even in his ageing state Pablo Zabaleta still gives his all, while Michail Antonio and Arthur Masuaku aren’t doing badly. West Ham, though, are hardly the same side without Manuel Lanzini.

Should do better. Hart was supposedly the headline arrival. Four months later, he’s struggling to maintain a starting spot. Andre Ayew still continues to swing one way and the other in extremities, Aaron Cresswell’s hasn’t been the same since injury in 2016.

P.S: Put Marko Arnautovic somewhere in-between? The Austrian announced himself by attempting to reshape Southampton defender Jack Stephens’ jaw in August and quickly developed into the boo boy. But his performances of late have been impressive, three goals in his last four games, including that one against former club Stoke.

Grade: D-

 

 

Published in International Watch

Page 1 of 3

Follow Us