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Do Tottenham Hotspur have a fighting chance at Top 4?

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As the man at the helm for Tottenham Hotspur, Mauricio Pochettino knows that this is his year to truly prove himself at the top table of the Premier League. The Argentine led Spurs to a fifth placed finish in the league last time out – which is far from below par – and even a cup final at Wembley. However, he needs improvements this season and definitely sustainability if not growth. 

Tottenham have been clever in their transfer business and have so far addressed almost every area that needed strengthening at the beginning of the summer. They have brought in two centre backs; when it can be argued that only one was really required, and in fact the acquired players were of high quality – Toby Alderweireld and Kevin Wimmer. Clinton N’Jie has been brought in to support Harry Kane, a man who single-handedly secured the team a significant number of points last season. Saido Berahino has been a summer-long target but that deal may or may not materialize and; due to the signing of N’Jie, it not materializing might no longer be particularly disastrous. Dele Alli has the potential to become a big star for club and country in the future and I believe that Pochettino is the right man to guide and mentor the player. Kieran Trippier was extremely impressive for Burnley last season and securing his services for £3.5 million was particularly good business by the north London team.

However, arguably the biggest and best signing for Tottenham Hotspur has been the arrival of Son Heung-Min from Bayer Leverkusen for a hefty £18 million. The South Korean will wear the number 7 shirt for Spurs, a clear demonstration of faith by the manager. The club and its fans will be hoping the forward can play a crucial part in their quest for a Champions League berth next season.

Son joined Hamburg’s youth academy in 2008 as a 16-year-old and went on to score on his Bundesliga debut against Cologne in October 2010. He spent three years in the senior team at Hamburg and eventually notched up 20 goals in 73 Bundesliga matches for the German side before becoming the record signing for Bayer Leverkusen as he was snapped up for approximately €10 million. He became an integral part of Leverkusen’s team and has scored 21 goals in 62 matches in the last couple of campaigns.

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Over the last few years, he has undoubtedly improved and matured. Son has been a consistent goalscorer and it is remarkable that in each of the past three seasons, he is one of only four players to score 10 or more Bundesliga goals. He is in distinguished company in this regard, as the other three in this group are Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Müller and Max Kruse. Perhaps the best part about these figures is that scoring is not his greatest or only quality. He is a versatile player who can play anywhere across the attack. Upon signing on at White Hart Lane, Son himself has said; “I don’t care where I play. The main thing is I’m in the game. I can play right, left, as a forward or behind it. What the coach says, I’ll do. I don’t have a favourite position. I’ll be anywhere and always on the throttle.” 

This means that Pochettino has the option of fielding him as a striker if Harry Kane’s current goal drought is to continue for longer. Kane was in top form last season but is increasingly looking out of sorts at the moment. The Englishman has missed some glorious chances this season including a one-on-one against Everton where he astonishingly kicked the ball right at Tim Howard – an opportunity that he surely would have dispatched with consummate ease last season. Spurs would hope Kane can put this behind him after the international break but if this becomes more of a prolonged problem, Pochettino is now at least in a position where he is not limited entirely. 

However, the versatile South Korean could probably be utilized best in the middle of the pitch. If he is deployed on the wings, he tries to cut in and get more central. Son’s finesse and skill on the ball make him an enjoyable footballer to observe and watch and Spurs fans may have got a new favourite.

Son’s signing almost completes the puzzle for Spurs in my opinion. They now have plenty of quality in the squad, indeed with back-ups in place in the majority of roles. Against Everton, they were dominant and played attractive football in the most part if admittedly without a cutting edge. Some patience is needed because that team looks like once it clicks, it could be extremely threatening. Pochettino has shown us in the past that his tactical mind can obtain favourable results out of situations that appear decidedly grim. In simple terms, for wherever Tottenham Hotspur do not possess enough class, Pochettino can tinker and use his tactical mind to do something irregular which could pay dividends. Need we look any further than him deploying Eric Dier in the heart of the midfield.

According to International Business Times, “You just have to look to the investments made by Liverpool, Manchester City, [Manchester] United, Chelsea or Arsenal during this summer,” the Spurs boss told Spanish radio station Onda Cero earlier in August. This might well be mistaken for a defeatist mentality by some and Pochettino has perhaps rightly acknowledged that the top four is currently beyond their reach. Nevertheless, the club now has a solid team and I can see no reason to not be competing for Champions League qualification.


Featured image: All rights reserved by Tricia H. Kuhn

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20, Third year student of History, English Premier League enthusiast with interest in Ligue 1 and the Croatian National Team.

FA Cup

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham – Lucas Moura shines despite disappointing day for Spurs

Jake Jackman

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Tottenham

Tottenham are going to have to rely on a replay for the second successive round as they conceded a dramatic late equaliser to Rochdale. It was a reminder of the magic that the FA Cup still possesses and it will provide a useful cash injection for the League One club. Spurs opted to make several changes and rest key players, but they selected a team that should have progressed on the day.

Ian Henderson scored in the first-half to give Dale a first-half lead and it was deserved. Keith Hill’s team played good football and went toe-to-toe against their more illustrious opposition.

Lucas Moura and Harry Kane scored to put Tottenham into a 2-1 lead, but that wasn’t the end of the goal-scoring as Steve Davies scored to take the tie to a replay. Here are three talking points from Spotland:

Lucas Moura’s performance showed why Tottenham signed him

It was a signing that came out of left-field, as Tottenham prefer to do their transfer business in the summer. However, this opportunity was too good to turn down as they were given the chance to sign a proven Brazilian international. He had fallen on tough times at PSG and rarely featured this season, but he proved why the club signed him on Sunday.

The Brazilian wasn’t afraid of the fight and was up for the test offered by League One opposition. Every time he got on the ball, it looked like he could make something happen, as shown by his seven dribbles completed.

He had a touch of class that allowed him to stand out from the rest of the players on the pitch and if he can consistently perform at that level, he will turn out to be a great signing.

His movement was superb, as he regularly found pockets of space to exploit. Interestingly, he won five aerial duels and that shows that he has quickly adjusted to English football. It was Lucas that scored the equaliser mid-way through the second half with a confident finish. He will have played himself into Mauricio Pochettino’s plans for the coming weeks.

Rochdale impressed on their day in the spotlight

They were written off before a ball was kicked as they were facing one of the best teams in the country. Rochdale are currently rock-bottom of League One and 11 points from safety, albeit with four matches in hand. They laid a new pitch ahead of this match and the players adapted to it well, showing that they can play good football.

Callum Camps and Andrew Cannon impressed in the centre of the park, while their two wily experienced strikers got the goals. Ian Henderson was a tireless worker in the final third and put the Tottenham defenders under pressure.

He snatched at a couple of chances in the first-half, but he remained cool when another chance came his way and scored the opening goal.

It will be a tough ask for them to go to Wembley, but they can go there with no fear as they have nothing to lose. The tie will give them an injection of money that the club needs, especially if they are to suffer relegation this season.

Toby Alderweireld looks a long way from his best

The Tottenham defence didn’t look as assured as they usually do and both of their centre-backs struggled at times during the match.

Alderweireld was left out of the trip to Juventus and there were some supporters that questioned that decision. However, he looked short of match fitness against Rochdale and was arguably at fault for the late equaliser.

The Belgian international looked rusty and his decision making was not great. He picked up a yellow card for a rash tackle and that is one example of that. Juan Foyth played alongside Alderweireld and his inexperience showed when Rochdale did attack.

For Alderweireld, he wants to be back in the first-team and that is eventually where he will be, but he isn’t at the level required to be starting right now. Tottenham are fighting on multiple fronts and they can’t afford to have any players that aren’t at 100%. He is returning from a serious injury and he will need time to get back to his best.

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Liverpool

Roberto Firmino: His performances will shape the end to Liverpool’s season

Martyn Cooke

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On Sunday afternoon at St Mary’s Stadium the returning Virgil Van Dijk took centre stage and assumed the role of pantomime villain for the day.

However, whilst much of the pre-game build up was centred on the former Southampton defender, who was making his first return to the club since signing for Liverpool in January, the post-match conversations were focused on the brilliance of the Dutchman’s attacking teammate.

Roberto Firmino is one of the most under-rated players in the Premier League and his performance last weekend reaffirmed that he is one of the most effective forward players in the top-flight of English football.

The Brazilian has rarely been the centre of attention since arriving at Anfield in the summer of 2015 for £29 million and the media have often overlooked his significant contributions on the pitch.

Roberto Firmino

At Liverpool he has been forced to be content playing in the shadow of Philippe Coutinho, prior to his move to Barcelona, and Mohamed Salah, who has been a revelation since joining the club in the summer.

But Firmino is now emerging as one of the most creative, innovative and exciting forwards in the Premier League and he is undoubtedly one of the most improved players of the season.

The 26-year-old is both a creator and a goal scorer, as Southampton discovered to their cost at the weekend, when he opened the scoring with a neat finish within the opening six minutes before providing the assist for Salah’s goal with an ingenious flick.

The goal was his 20th of the campaign, which was shortly followed by his 21st of the season against Porto in the Reds’ midweek Champions League fixture, and he is now only nine short of becoming the Premier League’s all-time highest Brazilian goal scorer.

Firmino is a unique mixture of technical brilliance, creativity, innovation and an intelligence that makes him unpredictable, difficult to mark and a constant threat, regardless of where he pops up on the pitch.

However, whilst his Brazilian flair may catch the eye it is his willingness to pressurise opponents and work hard off the ball that is genuinely impressive.

He is certainly a favourite of Jurgen Klopp, who admires his hard running, work rate and pressing that often sets the tone for the rest of the team.

The 26-year-old has still gone somewhat unnoticed this campaign despite his consistency and performances on the pitch and the fact that he has missed only one league game all season.

But that is set to change.

Firmino’s performances and form have proven that there is still a bright future at Anfield despite the departure of Coutinho in January.

Deployed as an unconventional number nine, the Brazilian is the centre of a dynamic attacking forward line that sees him flanked by Salah on one side and Sadio Mane on the other.

The trio possess the pace, intelligence and creativity to threaten any team in Europe, as demonstrated by the mid-week five-goal demolition of Porto in the Champions League, and central to their effectiveness is the link up play of Firmino.

Still only 26, the Brazilian is about to reach the peak of his prowess and his continued development under Klopp poses the exciting question of how much better the forward might become in the forthcoming two or three years.

He certainly possesses all of the characteristics to become a legend at the club, should he choose to remain at Anfield long term, and he now has the opportunity to step out of Coutinho’s shadow and enjoy the limelight for himself.

Liverpool supporters will be hoping that Firmino can maintain his current run of form over the coming months and his performances will shape the club’s season.

His creativity and knack for scoring goals will be an invaluable commodity as Klopp goes in search of a top four place and potential silverware.

Firmino my have been underrated in the past, but he is now taking centre stage as the focal point of Liverpool’s attack.

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Huddersfield Town

Huddersfield Town 0-2 Manchester United: Three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium as Manchester United overcame Huddersfield Town in their FA Cup 5th Round contest.

Rob Meech

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A brace from sharpshooter Romelu Lukaku fired Manchester United into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup at the expense of Huddersfield Town.

Lukaku opened his account in the third minute before netting his second of the evening shortly after the second-half resumption.

Victory was not as straightforward as the scoreline suggested. However, as the Terriers produced a spirited display after the early setback.

There was also controversy involving the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system.

Juan Mata saw an effort ruled out for offside after a review, but confusion abounded about whether it had been the correct decision.

Here are three talking points from an eventful encounter, as United set up a last-eight tie with Brighton & Hove Albion…

Lukaku’s goals are a fillip for Jose Mourinho

The Belgian has come in for criticism from some quarters for his goal return since last summer’s big-money transfer from Everton.

While he may not have reached the levels of Harry Kane or Mohamed Salah, Lukaku has now scored 21 times in all competitions for United this season.

That tally was boosted by his double against Huddersfield, which showed off his best attributes.

Lukaku was too strong and clever for Huddersfield’s defence as he latched on to Mata’s through ball for the first, before putting the finishing touch to an Alexis Sanchez pass for his second.

The former Chelsea man’s performance will be the biggest plus for United boss Jose Mourinho, who is relying on him to spearhead the attack for the remainder of the campaign.

Lukaku is a confidence player, so this was a timely boost ahead of a crucial run of fixtures both domestically and in Europe.

VAR under the microscope yet again

The introduction of technology to any sport usually results in teething problems.

It is fair to say VAR has experienced more than its fair share in football this season.

Employed in some FA and League Cup matches, controversy has never been far away. This was again the case at Huddersfield.

Mata appeared to have doubled United’s lead just before half-time, but referee Kevin Friend waited for confirmation from VAR that he had been onside.

After about a minute, Friend disallowed the goal when it was judged that Mata had been fractionally offside as the ball was played.

Contention emerged when viewers saw the incident on TV, where the guidelines were clearly not straight.

In fact, they were embarrassingly wonky.

Further replays suggested – with parallel lines correctly in place – that Mata’s knee had indeed been offside, but it was a very close call and certainly not an obvious mistake by the referee’s assistant.

These technical hitches will need to be ironed out before VAR is brought in universally.

Huddersfield can be positive despite FA Cup exit

With their Premier League status hanging in the balance, it would have been understandable if Huddersfield manager David Wagner had seen this fixture as an unwanted distraction.

But there was absolutely no suggestion that they were trying not to win the match, or prepared to exit the competition without a fight.

The Terriers, who famously beat United at home in the Premier League last October, carried on from where they left off last weekend in the impressive 4-1 victory over Bournemouth.

Conceding so early to United had not been in the script, but the hosts regrouped quickly and caused their opponents plenty of problems.

Ultimately, the difference between the two sides was the quality of finishing.

Whereas the visitors scored with their only two shots on target, Huddersfield wasted numerous openings as they slipped to defeat.

Nevertheless, attention can be turned back to their bid for survival, without their confidence dented.

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