Tottenham reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup on Sunday after a superb home performance against Millwall. It was billed as a tricky test for Spurs, but they came through with ease and scored six goals during the process. There was an early disappointment as Harry Kane was brought off after only ten minutes as he contracted an ankle injury. This was the last thing that Mauricio Pochettino would have wanted as the team relies on his goals. There isn’t an obvious replacement for the England international, but one player managed to further their first team chances on Sunday.
Son Heung-min is a frustrating attacker as he can produce moments of magic, but he can be equally poor in the final third. His versatility makes him a valuable member of the Tottenham squad and he started this afternoon in one of the attacking midfield positions behind Kane. After the injury to the team’s top-scorer, Son was moved into a striking position and he thrived. It spoke volumes that Pochettino opted for the South Korean over Vincent Janssen and the manager’s faith in the 24-year-old was repaid with an excellent performance. If Kane is going to be injured for a significant amount of time, Tottenham’s number seven could be the one to benefit.
During the match, Son was a constant threat with his movement and positioning in the final third. He kept finding pockets of space and regularly made the correct decisions when he had the ball at his feet. His first goal was great to watch, as he carried the ball into the box from the right wing and curled an unstoppable shot into the top corner. His second was equally as impressive as he expertly controlled a first-time volley after a ball was played through over his shoulder. The South Korean then completed his hat-trick thanks to an error made by the Millwall goalkeeper, but he deserved it after one of his best performances in a Tottenham shirt.
Aside from his form in front of goal, Son was at the centre of everything good that Tottenham did in the final third and he showed that he can offer a lot more to the overall play than somebody like Janssen. He completed six key passes during the match, which was more than any other player on the pitch. This underlines the impact that he had on this game and he made the most of his opportunity up front after the early withdrawal of Kane.
Son is very good at running with the ball and his dynamism adds an extra edge to the Tottenham attack. He completed four of his six attempted dribbles on Sunday. It may have come against League One opposition, but Millwall have been in excellent form recently and the South Korean deserves a lot of credit for his attacking performance. Although he was selfish at times, the 24-year-old showed that he has good vision in the final third as he opted to pass the ball to Janssen for the fifth goal, rather than trying to get his hat-trick. It was a complete display from Son and he will be full of confidence ahead of a crucial period for his side.
Since joining Tottenham, Son has failed to secure a regular starting position, but he is a crucial squad player and he certainly has a big role to play before the end of the season. The extent of Kane’s injury isn’t yet known and that will have a huge effect on the South Korean’s playing time. If the club’s top scorer is going to miss the next few matches, Son will be the man who gets the opportunity to lead the line. Based on this performance, he should be an able deputy.
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Jose Mourinho should build Manchester United around Marcus Rashford
Marcus Rashford returned with a bang against local rivals Liverpool on Saturday.
In his first Premier League start since Boxing Day, Marcus Rashford inspired Manchester United to victory over fierce rivals Liverpool. The 20-year-old’s first-half brace was the perfect way to mark his return to the starting XI, which had been confirmed following an injury to Paul Pogba.
Rashford has been a peripheral figure since Alexis Sanchez joined the club in the January transfer window. But, in arguably the biggest fixture on the Premier League calendar, the England international grabbed with both hands a rare opportunity to impress as United moved five points clear of Liverpool.
There was no evidence that Rashford’s prolonged spell out of favour had affected his self-confidence. His first goal was bursting with skill and composure. After latching on to a long ball from Lukaku, Rashford bamboozled Trent Alexander-Arnold before firing past Loris Karius.
Although his second found the net with the aid of a deflection, once again it was a testament to his sharpness. Despite his limited game time, that’s now 12 goals in all competitions this season for the World Cup hopeful.
Rashford’s stunning contribution will certainly give Jose Mourinho food for thought. The Portuguese has regularly picked Pogba, Sanchez, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard ahead of Rashford of late, in the attacking trio behind Romelu Lukaku.
While Martial and Lingard have justified their selections, the same cannot be said of Pogba, who at times has looked uninterested. Sanchez too has yet to exhibit his best form in a United shirt since joining from Arsenal.
History has taught us that Mourinho rarely excludes his high-profile players, regardless of form. Had Pogba not been sidelined through injury, it is entirely likely Rashford would once again have been forced to watch on from the bench. Consequently, what transpired against Liverpool might have been a mere fantasy.
United have a proud tradition of producing homegrown players and not relying on foreign imports. Look at the treble-winning side of 1999, whose success was founded upon a British core.
Admittedly, the landscape has changed dramatically in the past two decades. The riches of the Premier League mean a club of United’s stature is able to cherry-pick the world’s best players. But just because they can, doesn’t mean they should. The club’s identity is sacred and, in recent times, United have been in danger of losing theirs.
The fact that Rashford was not signed for £75 million should not preclude him from being United’s centrepiece. As he reminded everyone in his performance against Liverpool, he has all the talent required to be a fixture at the club for years to come.
However, he needs to be playing regular football. A few minutes here and there will not accelerate his development. On the contrary, it could risk one of this country’s most promising starlets becoming an unfulfilled talent.
Rashford offers United something different from his team-mates. He gets supporters off their seats and electrifies the atmosphere thanks to his blistering pace and trickery, which in many ways is a throwback to the Sir Alex Ferguson era at Old Trafford.
These are qualities not usually associated with Mourinho, who throughout his time in management has always demanded his players to be tactically aware. Rashford is a wildcard, the ace in the pack that can conjure something out of nothing.
Forget Pogba and Sanchez, If Mourinho gives Rashford an extended run in the team, he and United will flourish.
Why Everton are the perfect club for Theo Walcott to rebuild his career
It is hard to believe Theo Walcott is only 28 years old. He burst on to the scene aged 16 for Southampton in League One and was snapped up by Arsenal shortly afterwards. His inexplicable selection for England’s 2006 World Cup squad, without playing in a single Premier League game, transformed him into an overnight star.
Big things have been expected of Walcott ever since. It’s fair to say that, despite winning 47 caps for England and making 397 appearances for Arsenal, he has failed to live up to the hype. Now, after 12 years, Walcott is bidding farewell to the Emirates and hoping to revive his flagging career under Sam Allardyce at Everton, whom he has joined for £20 million after agreeing terms on a three-and-a-half-year deal.
Speculation that Walcott’s days at Arsenal were numbered had persisted for several years, but his desire to prove himself at the club kept him in north London even when admirers came calling. His 21 goals in all competitions in the 2012/13 campaign suggested he had cracked it, but that proved to be a false dawn.
In truth, Walcott’s decision to sign for Everton was probably a no-brainer. Now in the prime of his career, he simply has to be playing regularly. The reality of how far down the pecking order he had fallen at Arsenal struck this season, when he often failed to make Arsene Wenger’s match-day squad. His last appearance for the Gunners came as a second-half substitute in the 2-1 defeat to Bournemouth.
Everton’s interest in Walcott emerged only recently, but he was clearly one of Allardyce’s top targets. One look at the Toffees’ recent form underlines why. After an immediate upturn in fortunes after the former England boss’s appointment, Everton have embarked on a winless streak that stretches back to December 18.
Lack of pace is a pressing concern and this is an attribute that Walcott possesses in abundance. The likes of Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson are intelligent footballers, but not the type that will blitz opposition defenders. Instead, they have relied on chipping balls over the top for the striker to chase. As such, Everton are one-dimensional and easy to play against, with no player capable of launching a counter-attack.
Also highlighting their urgent need for more firepower is the grim statistic that only rock-bottom Swansea have had fewer shots than Everton this season. New big-money signing Cenk Tosun has increased competition in the striking department but may take time to settle, whereas Walcott’s Premier League pedigree means no transitional period will be needed.
The former Southampton man’s versatility makes him an attractive proposition. For Arsenal, he predominantly featured on the right wing – either in a four-man midfield or a three-man attack – but he is equally adept at playing up top on his own, a position where he tried but ultimately failed to establish himself at the Emirates.
Potential is a word that has long been associated with Walcott. It is no longer applicable. At 28, this is possibly his final chance to realise his ambitions, both domestically and internationally. Everton, a sleeping giant, are a perfect fit. Under the auspices of major shareholder Farhad Moshiri, plans are in the pipeline for a brand-spanking new stadium to enable them to compete alongside the Premier League’s elite.
After being a peripheral figure at Arsenal for so long, Walcott has become the forgotten man of English football. For the sake of his career, he simply had to leave north London. By joining Everton, Walcott, who will wear the number 11 shirt, has the security of working under a manager who rates him highly. Now, he has the opportunity to become the player he always promised to be.
Does forgotten man Henri Saivet have a future at Newcastle United?
It is common for a player to be forgotten about after a lengthy period outside of the match-day squad and that was true of Henri Saivet at Newcastle United. The midfielder signed for the club during January 2016 and he is approaching the two-year anniversary of his time at St James’ Park. It hasn’t been a very memorable one in the slightest and he would have been one of those surplus to requirements heading into the transfer window next month. However, a combination of injuries and suspensions led to the Senegalese international being drafted into the starting eleven for the first time this season in the Premier League.
There was a collective groan among Newcastle United supporters when they saw the team-sheet for the visit to West Ham. The club had taken one point from their previous nine matches and it was imperative that they returned to winning ways, but a central midfield partnership of Mo Diame and Saivet gave them little chance of doing that. Or so they thought.
The two midfielders worked tirelessly in the middle of the park and offered good support to the attack. They may not be the midfielders that Benitez wants to build a team around, but they showed encouraging signs on Saturday and they have provided their manager with food for thought. Both of them got on the score-sheet to help the Magpies win an end-to-end contest with one of their rivals at the bottom of the table. The three points moved the club back outside of the relegation zone and it will be interesting to see what role these two players have to play in the immediate future.
Saivet’s performance against West Ham in numbers
It was a rocky start for the 27-year-old as he gifted West Ham an early lead inside the opening few minutes. He horribly misjudged a pass, which went straight to Marko Arnautovic. The only Newcastle defender behind the ball was Ciaran Clark and some good feet from the Austrian international took him out of the game. It was a lapse of concentration from Saivet that was indicative of his lack of playing time this season. Although there remained a lot for the Hammers’ attacker to do, the goal was a direct result of a mistake from the Magpies’ midfielder.
At that moment, Newcastle supporters would have been bemoaning the selection of Saivet as he showed why he hadn’t been picked very often. It would have been easy for the midfielder to go on to have a nightmare match, but he showed great spirit to fight back and deliver a very good performance after the initial mistake. Within minutes, he was stepping up to take a free-kick and took the responsibility over more senior players in the team. The result was extraordinary as his shoot on goal was perfectly measured and found a way past Adrian. It was a great response and it will have pleased his manager.
Saivet came through as a winger in Ligue 1, before being switched to the central midfield role. There were signs when that was evident against West Ham, but it was his tenacity when winning the ball back that stood out. The Senegalese international completed five tackles, four interceptions and made eight clearances. He more than played his part in a battling Newcastle performance and helped the team come out on top against a physical opposition.
In possession, it was clear that there was some rust in his game, as he completed only 63% of his passes. Benitez will want his midfielders to have more control in the middle of the park, but there were encouraging signs in Saivet’s intentions. He often looked to make forward passes and had the energy to get up and down the pitch.
Does he have a part to play for Newcastle United?
It looked impossible for Saivet to come back and play for Newcastle this season. The midfielder left after relegation to join Saint-Ettiene on loan, but failed to impress their then-manager Christophe Galtier.
“A playmaker? I thought I’d found him with Henri Saivet. But if he did not play in England, now I know why: he is no longer hungry. At all.
“We had lost sight of who he was. We concentrated on what he had done against us with Bordeaux in the days of Willy Sagnol and René Lobello. But the Henri of Bordeaux and the Henri of England were no longer the same. It’s an example (for us).”
These were troubling quotes at the time and shed some light on why Newcastle were unable to sell Saivet during the summer. He has big wages and he has been unable to show his quality for the last two years. The comment about hunger is interesting, as the player that delivered an eye-catching performance against West Ham was committed and fighting for the cause. He looked a completely different player to the one that floundered during his early days as a Magpies player.
Realistically, Benitez will not look at Saivet as a player that has a part to play in the long-term future of Newcastle United. He has already passed his judgement of the player and it will take a lot more than one encouraging performance to change that. However, in the short-term, he has done enough to earn more minutes in the first-team, whether that be as a starter or substitute.
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