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Tottenham round-up: Vertonghen talks up team-mates; two La Liga stars on radar

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One of the stars of Tottenham‘s resurgence under Mauricio Pochettino has been Belgium international Jan Vertonghen. Although Pochettino’s men are still to obtain a trophy for all their recent progress, they have an FA Cup semi-final date with Chelsea to look forward to and currently occupy a top-four spot, looking likely to retain their Champions League status.

And this week, Vertonghen earmarked the club as helping him to the best form of his career.

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“I’m having the best season of my career. Everyone is speaking about my first year when I scored a couple of goals and played well”, Vertonghen told The Sun.

“But it’s ten times easier to stand out when you’re a new player. No-one expects much of you when you join from the Dutch or Belgian league, so it was easier to stand out”.

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The Belgian has also highlighted the important role played by manager Mauricio Pochettino in helping him grow as a player.

“I can say I play a lot better than five seasons ago. I’ve been working with the gaffer for three years, and I’ve grown a lot and demand more of myself.

“The boss told me not to be happy with the level I was at. He said I must push myself every day to be better.”

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Part of what has helped Spurs excel at the back is not only Vertonghen’s exceptional partnership with compatriot Toby Alderweireld but also the impact of having a defensive-minded midfielder in front of them.

“I’m such a big fan of Victor (Wanyama)”, Vertonghen continued.

“If you look as well how it works with Mousa Dembele or Harry Winks too, it makes it a lot easier for us to keep clean sheets”.

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What can’t be understated is that is Spurs are to hold on to their top-four place, for the time being, they must do so without talisman Harry Kane, who is set for a spell on the sidelines with ankle ligament damage. It’s not a fact that Jan Vertonghen has taken for granted, and he acknowledged just how much of a setback Kane’s absence will be to the side.

“It’s a blow, of course. Harry (Kane) is, for me, the best player in the Premier League”, he said of his team-mate.

“But Vincent Janssen can fill that role. With all strikers, it’s just about needing a bit of confidence.”

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Speaking about Dutch international Janssen, Vertonghen explained that the forward needs time to flourish and fulfil his potential at White Hart Lane since moving from AZ Alkmaar, where he netted 27 times in the Eredivisie last season.

“I know him very well,” Vertonghen told Sky Sports. “I knew him in Holland and I’ve spoken to two players who played there with him and in the national team. They are confident of his abilities, and so am I.

“He’s very determined to make it here. The striker position is the hardest one in the Premier League. If you look at some top strikers, even they struggle to score goals here.”

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Such praise may not stop Mauricio Pochettino looking to add extra firepower to his ranks come the summer, though, and speculation is emerging that the Argentine is ready to bolster his forward line and strengthen his midfield, with the signings of Real Betis forward Antonio Sanabria, and Real Madrid midfield-man Mateo Kovacic, according to the Daily Express and Daily Mirror.

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Paraguay international Sanabria, 21, a graduate of Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy, has scored three goals in his last four outings for Betis in La Liga, and Pochettino is thought to be closely monitoring the youngster’s progress. Any approach may well cast doubt on Janssen’s future at the club, rendering this period where the club will be minus Harry Kane all the more important for him to prove a point to the manager.

Meanwhile, Croatian international Kovacic has struggled for minutes at Real since moving from Inter Milan two years ago, and Spurs are thought to be waiting on whether or not Los Blancos will make the 22-year-old available for transfer.

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It would cost Spurs though; the midfielder’s buy-out clause is thought to be at around £21.8million. Although, the Mirror believes that Real will entertain a fee of around £17.5million. The signing of Kovacic would add the option of a deep-lying playmaker to the Spurs midfield, with Victor Wanyama, Harry Winks and Eric Dier functioning mainly as more defensive options, whilst other midfielders such as Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli are firmly more attack-minded.

Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by MekyCM.

Scott is a Port Vale fan who writes regularly for The Boot Room as a freelancer. He is a fan of several sports but most of his experience in journalism comes from football and volleyball. He has produced several works on major Championships for both the FIVB and CEV in the volleyball world out in Switzerland, and is currently studying for a BA Hons in Modern Languages at the University of Oxford.

Arsenal

Who is best-placed to challenge Manchester City next season?

Pep Guardiola’s side will be looking to defend their title during the 2018/19 campaign.

Martyn Cooke

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Manchester City were crowned as Premier League champions on Sunday afternoon after Manchester United suffered a surprise defeat at the hands of struggling West Bromwich Albion.

Pep Guardiola’s team have ripped apart the top-flight of English football this season with a devastatingly effective style of play that has left their rivals struggling to hold on to their coattails.

City are currently 16 points clear of second place with five games still to play and now have the opportunity to break the 100-point barrier as the season comes to a conclusion.

Here, The Boot Room evaluate which top-six team is best placed to challenge Manchester City’s dominance next year.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Manchester United

There are currently mixed feelings around Old Trafford regarding how Manchester United have performed this season and the long-term direction of the club under the stewardship of Jose Mourinho.

A failure to maintain the astonishing pace set by Manchester City has left supporters having to be content with a top-four finish and FA Cup semi-final whilst there has been a deluge of criticism aimed at the pragmatic style of play utilised.

Mourinho remains one of the best managers in world football and he is still in the process of moulding a team in his own image.

The Portuguese maestro has already spent big in the transfer market, as demonstrated by the arrivals of Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku over the past two years, and the club are expected to make further significant investments in the summer.

He needs to find the missing piece to the Manchester United jigsaw and that will mean addressing the lop-sided defence, demonstrated by Ashley Young’s emergence as first-choice left-back.

Mourinho has overcome Guardiola in the past but there will be no room for excuses next season if, after two years of building a team, Manchester United are unable to challenge their cross-city rivals.

(Photo by Glyn Kirk/Getty Images)

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur have continuously improved year-on-year under the stewardship of Mauricio Pochettino but you still feel that the club is some way behind their rivals in terms of winning the Premier League.

Spurs have a young, dynamic squad of players that play fast, attacking football and, in Harry Kane, they possess one of the best strikers in the world right now. However, something is still missing and it is hard to put your finger on exactly what it is.

Perhaps it is simply a mental issue? Tottenham have not won a league title since 1960 and last secured silverware of any kind almost a decade ago – do the current group of players have the right mentality or experience to enable them to maintain performances over the course of a full campaign? Their upcoming FA Cup semi-final may provide an insight later this month.

Whilst you feel that Tottenham will always be in and around the top spots next season, it is difficult to see them overcoming Manchester City without significant investment or Pochettino uncovering the magic formula.

(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Chelsea

Chelsea have offered a feeble and limp defence of their title this year and still face a scramble to secure a place in the top-four.

Things have clearly not been right behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge and Antonio Conte is expected to depart the club in the summer after spending much of the season snipping at the Chelsea hierarchy.

Regardless of who the Italian’s successor is, it is widely expected that the club will bounce back.

Under the ownership of Roman Abramovich, the Blues have continuously maintained their standing as one of the leading side’s in the country and you would imagine that the Russian oligarch will be keen to reclaim their crown next season.

Chelsea will spend big in the summer to ensure that they build a squad capable of challenging Manchester City and a striker will be top of the new manager’s wish list. Alvaro Morata made a positive start to the campaign but has struggled for form and fitness in the second half of the season.

If the Blues can make the right appointment in the dugout and strengthen significantly on the pitch then history suggests they will be in and around the top spots.

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Liverpool

Since arriving at Anfield in October 2015 Jurgen Klopp thrown himself into the task of restoring Liverpool’s status as one of the leading club’s in Europe.

Each transfer window has seen the squad steadily improve and you now feel that the German has built a team that is capable of challenging for both domestic and European silverware.

Liverpool have a reputation for producing attacking, dynamic and exciting football and the attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino possess an abundance of pace, power and creativity.

Under the stewardship of Klopp, the team have always looked capable of scoring goals but have regularly been criticised for being undermined by defensive fragile and frail.

However, the signing of Virgil Van Dijk in January, the emergence of John Robertson and the new-found confidence of Loris Karius appears to have put some of those concerns to bed – Liverpool have kept eight clean sheets in their last 12 matches in all competitions.

Klopp will continue to develop the squad during the summer and, as proven by their historic victory over Manchester City, the Reds are certainly heading in the right direction.

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Arsenal

There has continued to be a degree of frustration and dissatisfaction around the Emirates Stadium this season as Arsenal have continued to fall behind their rivals on the pitch.

The Gunners are currently 33 points behind Manchester City in the Premier League are relying on winning the Europa League in order to qualify for the Champions League next year.

The club under-performed last season, failing to qualify for Europe’s premier competition, and the decline has continued over the following twelve months with supporters becoming increasingly frustrated with Arsene Wenger’s failure to consistently secure positive results.

The same old problems persist – there is a lack of leaders, a lack of quality in central defence and no commanding midfield player.

Wenger has brought together an exciting forward line that possesses pace, power and experience with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan arriving in January to complement the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette and a fit-again Danny Welbeck.

However, Arsenal continue to be undermined by prevalent weaknesses throughout the remainder of the team and there are currently a world away from competing with Manchester City.

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PSG

Tottenham should learn Aurier lesson and resist buying Layvin Kurzawa

The Frenchman is being linked with a summer move to the Lilywhites.

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Layvin Kurzawa
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Reports this week in France from RMC Sport have linked Paris Saint Germain left-back Layvin Kurzawa with a summer move to Tottenham Hotspur, as Mauricio Pochettino looks to strengthen his side after the anticipated departure of Danny Rose.

But the purchase of the French fullback would prove to be an expensive mistake, just like the signing of Serge Aurier was last summer.

Tottenham already have a brilliant left-sided fullback in the form of Welshman Ben Davies, a player who was desperately unlucky to miss out on the PFA Team of the Year after an outstanding season.

Davies has contributed two goals and six assists for Spurs this season, an impressive attacking outlay for a defender.

Perhaps more importantly, he has stood out with his solid defensive performances, which have led the north London club to concede the third-fewest goals in the Premier League.

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

It is clear that Spurs already possess a top quality left back; there is no need to splash unnecessary funds to secure Kurzawa in the offseason.

Tottenham should have learned their lesson from the poor signing of Serge Aurier from the French champions in August 2017. The Ivory Coast international has been limited to just 16 first team league appearances thus far, often playing second fiddle to Kieran Trippier.

And when Aurier has played, he has been erratic and inconsistent. He has picked up a multitude of bookings and has been sent off once, as well as conceding numerous penalties with poorly-timed challenges.

Aurier cost Spurs a hefty £23 million in the summer, and it is to be expected Kurzawa will be in a similar price range. Tottenham would be wise to learn from their previous mistake and pass on the transfer of the French fullback.

Already retaining the services of a world-class defender in the same position, the multimillion-pound signing of the PSG man would prove to be a pricey waste that would only disrupt team chemistry.

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Tottenham Hotspur

Exclusive: Milos Veljkovic – Werder Bremen hopes, World Cup chances and Spurs exit

The Werder Bremen defender spoke to The Boot Room about his time in Germany and his chances with the Serbia national team.

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Not every extremely talented youngster makes it at Tottenham Hotspur. Making it into the first-team at Spurs is no mean feat and in the end, many have to head elsewhere.

The likes of Ryan Mason, Alex Pritchard, Nabil Bentaleb and Tom Carroll are such examples, but the list goes on.

Another name who would appear on that list is Milos Veljkovic. In the winter of 2016, after nearly five years at Spurs, he left to join German side Werder Bremen.

The defender, who can also operate in midfield, was making a brave move joining a club halfway through a season. But Veljkovic backed his ability and made the switch.

Now the Serbian international has spoken exclusively to The Boot Room about his time in Germany, his national team hopes and what helped trigger his desire for a Spurs exit.

(Photo by Joerg Sarbach/Getty Images)

At first, some might have felt Veljkovic had made a mistake with the move. First-team football was not immediate at Bremen.

His first start, in March of 2016, saw Bayern Munich put five past The River Islanders.

But Veljkovic worked hard and, as of January last year, has become an ever-present in the Werder Bremen side:

“When I came from England I had a tough start with injury and I didn’t play so much as I wanted,” he explains.

“But I think I have turned it around. Now I am playing and have a lot of games and play every game so I am satisfied.”

His recent form has certainly not gone unnoticed.

Veljkovic has played 31 times this season and become a vital cog in the Bremen defensive unit. Such form saw the club’s sporting director Frank Baumann tell Deich Stube last month of his desire to tie down Veljkovic to a new deal.

Whilst being wary of the dangers of commitment in the modern game, the Serbian certainly sounds happy to be at the Weser Stadion:

“In football, you never know because this is a business and everything,” Veljkovic forewarns.

“But I like the club, I like the coach and my team-mates. (I like) the city and you know it is a nice environment and at the moment I am really happy.

“But you know, you never know what can happen. But I think you know at the moment I am confident and happy to be here.”

The move from England to Germany and vice-versa has been a common theme in recent years. With good reason as well.

Both leagues have massive similarities. A fast-paced and high octane style in both leagues, Veljkovic sees few differences between the Premier League and the Bundesliga:

“I didn’t play too much in Tottenham the first-team but I watched them also. I was also in the Championship (on loan at Middlesbrough and Charlton Athletic). I played some games there.

“I think (the Premier League) is quite similar. It is also very fast, depends again who you play, you know normally it is like this and it is physical also. Also, technically you need to be really sharp. With your technique and your movement and everything, you need to be concentrated. Or else you are going to get punished so I think it is really similar.”

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

As well as finding his feet in Germany, the 22-year-old is making waves with his national team. Although born and raised in Switzerland, even representing the nation at under-16 level, Veljkovic is unquestionably a proud Serbian.

In 2013 he helped his country win the European Under-19 Championships. Two years later, and Serbia conquered the world. Veljkovic played every game as Serbia won the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand, a feat England achieved last summer.

Clearly, it was a moment of huge pride to the young man:

“The experience was amazing,” said Veljkovic. “To win the u-20 World Cup with Serbia was something amazing. It was not like Brazil or Germany it was Serbia, so it was even more special because we were not favourites or nowhere near.

“But we believed in ourselves and it was an amazing experience. When we came back the people in Serbia were really, really happy because they didn’t have much exciting football before.

“Everyone was watching. Even at seven in the morning. To see those happy faces and people smiling there, it really made me proud. After five or six days we realised what he had done because it was like a dream, you know?”

But it was also one of the catalysts that pushed him out of Tottenham Hotspur. Veljkovic, who had played just three times for Spurs, felt his time to play regular first-team football had come:

“It was a really big experience for me but then to come back to Tottenham and not get a chance that also got me a bit upset.”

(Photo by Marty Melville/Getty Images)

With his pathway blocked by the likes of Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Kevin Wimmer and Eric Dier the time was right to move on:

“After this, I wanted to be able to get a chance. Obviously, I can’t play every game then but I needed a chance or I needed to go somewhere else. So that was what I decided.

“Unfortunately I could not go straight away to Werder Bremen but after six months the club agreed to let me go. It was also a relief because after winning the under-20 World Cup all of my team-mates went to big clubs or were playing with their respective clubs. I didn’t get the chance. This was a bit disappointing from my point of view.”

Such a feeling should certainly come as a warning for English teams, with such an abundance of talent in the Premier League likely feeling the same way Veljkovic did after his summer triumph.

This summer Serbia will be competing at the World Cup for the first time since 2010. A golden generation has passed, but a new one is on the horizon. Serbia dominated a qualifying group containing both the Republic of Ireland and Wales, who ended up not making it to Russia.

Veljkovic has two caps for the national team, after making his debut in November 2017. Undoubtedly, he is in consideration for the summer and was in the national squad for the most recent fixtures against Morocco and Nigeria.

But the young defender is clearly just focused on a strong finish to the season with his club side:

“At the moment I am just concentrating on the last five games in Germany with the Bundesliga. Obviously, everyone wants to go there.

“I think if I am fit and if I keep playing, then I will be there. Hopefully.”

(Photo credit should read MICHAEL BRADLEY/AFP/Getty Images)

Werder Bremen had a tough start to the Bundesliga this season but with Veljkovic’s help, the ship has been steadied. Now, with just one defeat in six, they sit 12th in the table and look comfortable ahead of next season:

“I have always had this feeling with Bremen,” claimed an optimistic Veljkovic. “With this coach and with these team-mates. If we keep the coach and these players and keep playing like this, like we have, we will be looking up rather than down.

“I think we will be really successful next season.”

Veljkovic has an exciting few months ahead. A possible World Cup experience lies in waiting and he is also clearly hopeful of achieving great things with his club side next season.

Bremen and Serbia fans are certainly lucky to have a personality like Veljkovic’s on their side going into 2018, 2019 and beyond.

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