Spurs Top 4 Finish Is Good For Premiership – From Big 4 to Great 8?

Overall, I think the biggest winner with Spurs dethroning one of the big four and fending off Man City’s riches is that the Premier league will be even more interesting next year. After a decade of dominance by the big four this reign of terror or era of harmony – depending on your perspective – may have given way to a new era of actual unpredictability in the Premiership.

With no Premier league clubs making the semifinals of the Champions league, with Man United staying in the title hunt despite seven losses, the top sides are just not as good as they were in the previous years. The financial crisis has clearly taken its toll on Manchester United and Liverpool. Both with highly leveraged American owners are struggling to splash the cash.

Man United despite being in the tile hunt and narrowly missing out on the Champions league semis, have at many times throughout the year looked shadows of their past selves and appear overly dependent on Wayne Rooney. They are in need of a talent injection. Arsenal’s few big purchases maybe due to Arsene Wenger’s frugality, but it may also be a result of a significant stadium debt burden. Chelski are doing fine in the cash department and as a result were able to win the league with a deep and talented squad. Yet with the talent at their disposal, one would have expected Ancioliti to have the league wrapped up a while ago.
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Spurs In Champions League – How They Did It

Not to pat myself on the back, but I had predicted Spurs to finish fourth as the season started. Much of this was simply due to my own homerness, but looking at the Spurs squad at the start of the season, the thing that was most notable about it was its depth. Spurs didn’t achieve top four because of one particular player, they got there because their depth.

Prior to the Man City-Spurs game yesterday there was a lot of talk that if City did reach Champions League it was due to their deep pockets essentially buying there way in. Spurs, while lacking the cash and the prestige to attract the high profile talent that City was able to bring in last summer, had been anything but frugal. Spurs had sold a lot of players, but they had also spent a very significant amount over the last five years. Unable to attract that established high profile players (both due to profile and wage demands), Spurs have often shelled out substantial sums for that up and comer who is supposedly about to be a star – the Darren Bent’s (16 mil), David Bentley’s (16 mil), Roman Pavlyuchenko (15 mil), Luka Modric (16 mil), Younes Kabul (8 mil), Kevin Prince Boateng (5 mil), Gareth Bale (5-10 mil), Dmitar Berbatov (7 mil) [disclaimer: there figures are based off memory]. Some of these players have become stars, some haven’t, others have seen mixed results.
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Assessing Altidore’s Year

I see that Martin Rogers at Yahoo is concerned about Altidore’s allegedly poor season at Hull with the head butt the “final embarassment.” I touched on the “head butt” incident yesterday, but is Rogers’ right that Jozy’s year was a disappointment:

Bradley goes into soccer’s greatest tournament with a first-choice forward who has managed just two goals this season and who failed to lock down a permanent starting role with one of the worst sides in the EPL.

I think, contrary to Rogers conclusion, that Jozy’s time at Hull was largely positive and that Bob Bradley going into the World Cup has a young player that took big strides this year and is much more of a complete player.

Let’s be clear, Jozy never set the league alight. He burst on the scene with an amazing first game, where he did everything but score. He then struggled to find his footing a bit in the fall, as he was in and out of the starting lineup and seemed to find his groove a bit just when Phil Brown got sacked. The last month of the season saw the new manager changing things up a bit.

But Jozy, contrary to Roger’s claims was a Hull mainstay. Jozy started 16 games and appeared in 12 others as a substitute. Remember he also missed a few games at the beginning of the year with visa issues and took a brief leave during the Haiti earthquake. Despite Rogers claim that Altidore couldn’t lock down a spot, he had started more games than Jan Vennegor of Hesselink. This is a lot of PT for a 20 year old Premier League newbee. I think that in and of itself is quite an accomplishment.
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Overreacting to Jozy’s Red

Jozy Altidore received a red card at the close of the first half against Sunderland for “head butting” Scotsman Alan Hutton – queue the commentary of Jozy as an immature thug that is wasting away his talent.

Please.

The red card came after a mêlée in sued following Hutton provocatively picking up the ball and throwing it at Jozy as he laid face down on the ground. While Hutton’s act caused no bodily harm it was a deliberate effort to both disrespect and provoke. If this were baseball Hutton would have gotten a fastball in his ear the next time up. Jozy proceeded to get up and aggressively push Hutton and when leaning forward clashed heads with Hutton. Now by definition this was a “head butt” as the English media have pointed out. Steve Bruce went so far as to describe Jozy’s act as a deliberate effort to inflict “grievous bodily harm.”

I think this is bogus. Altidore did “head butt” Hutton, but from my viewing this was entirely unintentional. As Jozy started pushing Hutton he leaned forward and they clashed heads, with Jozy’s head lowered the contact had the effect of a head butt and Hutton went down as if he were shot. Now of course, only Jozy knows if it was intentional or not, but I find it hard to believe that Jozy, an American, would instinctively head butt someone. We aren’t Scottish after all. So in my view the red card offense, was not a deliberate act of aggression.

This doesn’t make Jozy’s red card stupid. Jozy got duped into losing his cool and that sense showed his immaturity. Could he have handled it better? Yes. But assuming the head butt was unintentional, Jozy had every reason to get in Hutton’s face and if heads did not clash both would have likely received yellow cards – something that would have been quite advantageous to Hull since a defender on a yellow means much more than a striker.

Alas things went poorly and Jozy deserves criticism. But a few have gone way over the top, such as Eric Altshule at MLS Talk, who wrote that:

Jozy Altidore is a wonderful soccer player from the neck down. Unfortunately, he is gaining a deserved reputation as a player with a million dollar body and a ten cent brain. Jozy needs to put away the twitter, stop with the silly antics on the field and become the outstanding professional he has the potential to be. Otherwise, he is destined to become another American journeyman player in Europe whose only honors will be the Clint-Mathis-Memorial-What-Could-Have-Been Award.

Now Eric writes some great stuff, but this is asinine.
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Can Spurs Close The Deal?

After wins against Arsenal and Chelsea, Spurs have little pressure on them as Manchester United. Harry Redknapp would have taken 6 points from those three games in a heart beat. Even if Spurs lose to United this weekend, they will still control their own destiny in the pursuit for fourth. In essence, they have nothing to lose against United and should play like it.

What has been remarkable about Spurs recent run, is the poor form of their strikers. Neither Crouch, Defoe, or Pavlyuchenko have been reliable goal scorers. Of the four goals scored in their last three games, only one came from a striker and it was on a penalty. The failure to score against Pompey at Wembley, despite dominating possession could be discounted, as Harry did, to being just one of those days, but the fact is that it also demonstrated a lack of class among the front two. Defoe has 21 goals in 39 games, which is a more than respectable total, but many of those goals came in bunches early in the season. Peter Crouch has just 7 in 34 games, which is just not good enough. And the remaining strikers have contributed a handful.

What is also remarkable about the Spurs run is that they have rarely had their two best players on the field at the same time. Aaron Lennon who came into his own this year has been out since January, while Luka Modric broke his leg in August and didn’t return to full form until the winter. Yet when one has gone down another has stepped up. The loss of Modric, saw Lennon fill the creative void, as he handed goals to Defoe on a silver platter with pin point crosses. When Lennon went down, Gareth Bale stepped up to provide that offensive spark from LB and then LM. If Bale and Lennon were on the field at the same time Spurs would be quite a force.
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Its awesome when you’re right

Finally, Aquilani plays in his best position

I know it was only Portsmouth at home, but after many, many painful displays of inept and disgraceful soccer, Liverpool finally put together a strong outing in yesterday’s 4-1 win. Scoring four goals against the Premier League’s bottom team that is in administration and definitely going down is not any great achievement in itself. But far more than the scoreline, its was the players and formation that manager Rafa Benitez put on the pitch at Anfield that is giving Liverpool fans reason for hope. Finally, we got to see big money summer signing Alberto Aquilani play in an advanced midfield role with both Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. The big question now is with Lille at home in the Europa League on Thursday and a trip to Old Trafford on the weekend, will Benitez stick with it or revert to form and use both Dirk Kuyt and Lucas. Continue reading

In Spurs Injury Crisis – A Silver Lining?

Tottenham’s win over Everton yesterday was both impressive and nervy. In that way it was a typical Spurs performance – points in the bag almost thrown away. One of the features of the first half was the increased involvement of Luka Modric, who had probably his most impactful game since he went down injured last August.

Unfortunately, for Spurs their other midfield standout Tom Huddlestone went down with a bad leg injury the extent of which is still unknown. This was preceded by groin injuries to Aaron Lennon who will be out another six weeks, groin surgery for Jermaine Jenas, and groin tear for David Bentley. This meant defender Younes Kaboul had to come on as a midfielder against Everton. Someone has to tell these guys to stretch. So how on earth could there be a silver lining?
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Donovan’s Most Complete Performance, Maybe Ever

Landon Donovan was sensational against Chelsea, save for Louis Saha’s two goals, Donovan I think was up for Man of the Match honors. Donovan won a penalty, hardly put a foot wrong, and was probably Everton’s most dangerous attacking outlet. He no doubt won more fans amongst the Evertonian crowd.

He was dangerous all night putting in dangerous cross after dangerous cross. His best ball of the night didn’t actually get enough credit from the announcing crew, since he won a penalty just seconds later. The play before Donovan sent in a pin point aerial through ball just over the head of Terry – a pass that should have been put away.
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Arsenal and Liverpool Yawn

The Arsenal-Liverpool game today was a big fat yawn. Both teams are very poor compared to the sides of previous years and both could conceivably drop out of the top 4 if City, Spurs, and Villa get their acts together.

The difference in this game was Jamie Carragher, or more accurately his forced absence due to injury and the presence of Philipp Degen. Degen seemed to think he was playing as a winger instead of a fullback and decided not to follow Diaby in the box on the goal. Carragher would have won the header. Also Fabregas should have been sent off in the final seconds for a blatant handball. No surprise it was Howard Webb officiating.

A couple thoughts on the two teams:

First, on Arsenal. For all their beautiful play they are dependent on a dominant #9 center forward. Any title hopes were quashed this season not with predictable defeats to United and Chelsea but when Van Persie went down. Van Persie gave them the thing they hadn’t had since Henry a guy who didn’t try and pass the ball into the net but someone who would just freaking shot. The Arsenal mentality was encapsulated when Bendtner break trhough one-on-one with the keeper and his shot went just over the bar – but there was Cesc Fabregas yelling at Bendtner to pass him but Cesc was A. in a worse shooting position and B. had a defender on his back. A pass would have been a waste, yet it described the Arsenal approach. They are just too predictable and both Chelsea and United exposed that. Liverpool did as well, but well…

And on to Liverpool. Despite styming the Gunners defensively, they just pack no offensive punch whatsoever. They effectively play with two players that simply should not be on a top 4 side. First Ngog, he may became a good player but right now he looks awkward as if he is in the midst of puberity. Bringing on Babel was a revelation and his physicality and speed, as well as his willingness to shoot, would seem to make him a better Torres replacement than Ngog. To be fair he did some decent things, but he is anything but threatening. Second, Lucas – he offers nothing. I don’t have much to offer on top of what Ken has said, but I just don’t understand why he is playing for Liverpool and not Portsmouth. I think Benitez has a clear record of success – something the British press don’t give him credit for but his refusal to use players that Liverpool has spent 20 million pounds on is really baffling.

This says it all about January Transfer window…

This January transfer window has been a real snoozer and is just further evidence that the financial crisis and resulting recession have taken a toll on all English clubs – not just those owned by Americans. There are likely to be a few interesting transactions as the English transfer window closes in a few minutes but there is nothing compared to previous years. BBC’s Simon Austin writes:

I’ve been to interview a sports consultant at Deloitte. They estimate only £21m has been spent in the January transfer window so far, compared to £170m last year and £150m in January 2008. There haven’t been any £10m signings this year and only one for £5m, which Spurs paid Portsmouth for Younes Kaboul. There were seven £10m signings last January – three were made by Manchester City (Nigel de Jong, Craig Bellamy and Wayne Bridge), three by Spurs (Wilson Palacios, Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane) and one by Arsenal (Andrey Arshavin).