Spurs 3–2 Southampton: Quick Recap

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A post I was writing about Sherwood needing to go will just have to wait.  What a performance.

 

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World Cup Update: Julian Green Commits to USMNT

Earlier today, ESPN’s Taylor Twellman reported that FC Bayern München forward Julian Green would make a decision as to which national team he would play for within 24-48 hours.

It took only a single hour for Green to commit.

Julian Green’s decision to play for the United States Men’s National Team represents what is probably the biggest recruitment news in Jürgen Klinsmann’s tenure.  Klinsmann had been gently introducing Green to the side. The approach to recruiting the American-German forward proved to be the correct strategy.  Klinsmann brought Green along slowly, allowing him to make a decision when he felt comfortable.

The question now becomes; how soon will Green play for the USMNT?

After spending some time training with the US National Team, the 18-year old Green appeared to believe he could contribute early, as did Klinsmann.  Former USMNT player and ESPN analyst, Alexi Lalas reckons that Klinsmann told him “he wouldn’t use a USMNT WC roster spot on player that couldn’t help this summer.”

Those are strong words considering Green likely committed because he believes he will play in the World Cup this Summer.

At which position Green fits is another story. The newly-minted US national has seen time at both wings and in the striker position. This flexibility means Klinsmann can use Green in a variety of situations or perhaps move him back to an attacking midfielder or wide midfield position.  Green is 5’7″ though so Klinsmann may want him to play at wide positions.

Now that the decision has been made, Julian Green and the USMNT can focus on being their best in preparation for a difficult World Cup group stage.

The David Moyes Predicament: It’s not ineptitude, it’s a lack of identity

The Manchester United-Liverpool game was the last chance for David Moyes to make a case for the top 4 chase. Given the build-up and positive results in the league recently, United had a grain of optimism.

But today, Brendan Rodgers didn’t pull his punches and dared United to try and stop his team rather than the other way around. This had the makings of being an open game, and unfortunately United were too open.

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While the diamond formation was a bit new since Liverpool have mainly used a 4-3-3 with one of Suarez or Sturridge drifting wide, the overall playing style was the same except Sterling was used centrally and Allen got wide left to drag Fellaini out of position.  At this point United were effectively being pulled apart on Liverpool’s counters and essentially beat themselves with a hat-trick of penalties, a sending off, and Rafael basically asking Mark Clattenberg: “Send me off IRL”

Of course, the result leaves us with two options: 1. the highly unlikely scenario that we win the Champions League to qualify next season. 2. Cut our losses and look to the summer where we can ship out the deadwood and bring in genuine quality replacements.

The second one might make me more optimistic if the manager knows where he wants to take the team going forward.  We can all point to the underperforming players on this team, and no doubt the “Sack Moyes” brigade will be in full voice tomorrow morning due to a perceived ineptitude.  But what was even more concerning was that David Moyes did not really know how to respond and he has yet to show evidence that he has the bottle to evolve with the times.  This was very evident as United were running like headless chickens trying to get back in the game.  And for the first time all season, I am starting to question whether Moyes has what it takes to keep United competing at a high level for the long-term.

David Moyes made a name for himself at Everton by building a team that was very tough to beat, hard-working, and capable of staging a few impressive one-off wins.  Last season Everton lost 7 games, the third fewest in the league.  But being a tough team and being hard working  aren’t identities.  Manchester United isn’t Manchester United because they work hard and don’t lose.  Sir Alex Ferguson built this team by taking a high risk-high reward approach. He would rather lose a game 2-0 than 1-0 if it meant his team could take a point, and that kind of attitude made Manchester United such a feared team.  The sheer number of late-game heroics by those sides of the past meant that there was more to it than just being lucky.  The ethos of ” The more you attack, the luckier you get” has been entrenched in Manchester United’s culture for so long that it seemed like second nature.  Something we’d take for granted.

Today showed the difference between a manager who has a plan and one who’s frantically trying to figure out what works.  Rodgers could have kept the same team as usual, but instead he chose to experiment in such a big game and it paid off handsomely. In fact, much like Fergie has done previously against Liverpool,  Rodgers has altered his personnel and tactics for each of the three meetings, and he’s won twice.  He knows what he’s about and what to expect from his players.  Moyes, after United conceded two penalties, went with low-risk, like-for-like substitutions while 2-0 down.

At United, Moyes no longer has clearly defined constraints like he did at Everton (both financial and ability wise) and is looking overwhelmed as he’s trying to “get things right”.  He’s saying all the right things and is taking much of the blame, but he doesn’t seem to know what his own philosophy is and his managerial profile is starting to look increasingly divergent from Manchester United’s historic image.

David Moyes frustrated

I’m not saying that being a reactive one-off type manager can’t be a successful approach.  Jose Mourinho is probably the most famous example of preparing his teams that way, but he also motivates his players and makes them feel as though they are capable of doing anything he needs. Mourinho was unafraid to make the bold decision of dropping Juan Mata and now has Chelsea playing his way with a mix of creativity and guile.  Moyes might have a great work-ethic and wants to get his players to be fit and determined, but for what? What are they trying to work towards?  Does Moyes know what he wants to achieve no matter the cost?   Why is he worth playing for?

These are all fundamental questions David Moyes needs to ask himself, and his answers do not appear to suit Manchester United’s long-term needs.  He doesn’t need to do what Mourinho or Ferguson would do, in terms of rattling opponents or creating a larger-than-life persona, but he has to show some signs that he fits with United’s image.  Moyes is one of the Premier League’s diplomatic nice guys, but if he’s unable to answer these questions to fit United’s long-term identity, it might be worth looking for the next man. If a manager like Louis van Gaal is available, he would likely be more successful for a short spell since he has tried and tested methods that he can rely on.  It’s not about Moyes winning nothing in comparison to the others, it’s about his approach to take the next steps fearlessly which he doesn’t seem willing to do.

Spurs 0–1 Arsenal: Snakebitten

A rocky start and an unstoppable rocket by Tomáš Rosický led to Spurs’ doom in the latest installment of the North London Derby.  Arsenal painted Tottenham red, claiming victory at White Hart Lane for the first time in five years.

Just like the Chelsea match, Spurs started poorly and this time it cost them everything.  But as slow as the defense started, there was nothing even the world’s best could do on the lone Arsenal goal.  Tomáš Rosický scored in only the first minute on a seeing-eye shot to the far top corner over Hugo Lloris.

Spurs very slowly began to regain form.

After an almost fatal mistake and an outburst from Tim Sherwood, the club settled into their high line and began to carry play.  Though Arsenal mounted several promising counters, they never found another goal.  Spurs on the other hand were close several times, only to have an equalizer snatched away.  Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny and defender Laurent Koscielny played important parts, with Koscielny making two especially important blocks in the second half.

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This club is in a scary place right now.  Desperate to stay afloat in the top-5 with a manager who is “learning on the job,” Spurs look to be at their breaking point.  The team has talent, so nobody should rule out that they may just pull out a miracle, but nobody seems to want to take responsibility for the losses.  Sherwood was quoted as saying “We didn’t deserve to lose that game.”

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But guess what, Tim?  Your team did lose.  The whole team did not do enough when it mattered and it’s time to accept that and rally.  Spurs went down only a minute into the game and had 89 to tie.  As has been the case all season, they were missing that final ball.

If football were played in terms of “almost,” Spurs would top the table.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

The players and management must accept that this is a huge problem and then take necessary steps to find a solution.  The question for them now is, who will step up and do something about it?

So, how did Spurs do compared to the “Keys to Victory?”

1. Protect the House

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Spurs goal differential continued to drop with this loss.  They now sport a -3 at home and -1 differential overall.  As noted above, the inability to score, especially in key moments, has been a major problem for Tottenham.  Whether Sherwood can find a way to rectify this continues to come into question as the season winds down and Spurs have to fight to qualify for European competition.

2. Missing Pieces

As it turned out, even with the missing pieces in Arsenal’s lineup, Spurs still managed to field a far inferior team.  Tim Sherwood did not take advantage of missing playmakers, instead selecting a side where very few of the players would have earned a spot in the opposing XI.  This, combined with the system, gave up a potential advantage for Spurs.

3. Unlock Arsenal’s Defense

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Spurs played a 4-2-3-1 yet again.  They have shown an ineptitude at scoring in this formation and the Arsenal game was no exception.  The high line/trap did not take effect until too late and Sherwood had both Christian Eriksen and Nacer Chadli playing out of position. Despite dominating possession at 59-41%, Spurs were terribly inefficient in generating chances.  Good service for Adebayor came from neither side of centre and the defense looked porous despite adding the speedy Danny Rose back at left back.

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Match Facts

Spurs: Lloris; Naughton, Kaboul, Vertonghen, Rose; Sandro (67′); Townsend, Bentaleb, Eriksen (81′), Chadli (68′); Adebayor
Subs: Friedel, Walker, Lennon, Paulinho (67′), Sigurdsson (68′), Kane, Soldado (81′).

Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Rosicky (68′), Oxlade-Chamberlain (84′), Podolski (76′), Cazorla, Giroud.
Subs: Fabianski, Monreal (76′), Vermaelen (84′), Jenkinson, Flamini (68′), Gnabry, Sanogo.

Yellow cards:
Arsenal – Sagna (21)
Tottenham Hotspur – Chadli (32)
Arsenal – Gibbs (45)
Tottenham Hotspur – Sandro (47)
Tottenham Hotspur – Vertonghen (75)
Arsenal – Flamini (79)
Tottenham Hotspur – Rose (92)
Tottenham Hotspur – Soldado (94)

Goals:
Arsenal – Rosicky (1)

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Derby Week Preview: Manchester United vs. Liverpool

I saw an article on ESPN FC recently that irked me as a United fan. It was called Role Reversal between Merseyside and Manchester.  While it is a decent narrative, because Liverpool are genuine favorites at Old Trafford for the first time in a long time, it is a bit inaccurate and while the league table says it’s an 11 point gap, the teams might be a bit more even than previously thought.

When these two teams played each other in the third game of the season, the game was about as interesting as anecdotes on the history of mite research.

Daniel Sturridge scored the game’s only goal in the 4th minute from a poorly defended corner, and there was hardly a chance created afterwards.  Apart from a fluffed chance for van Persie and Nani’s long-range drive being  tipped over by Simon Mignolet, United hardly created a genuine moment of danger despite having 57% of the ball.

United did get a 1-0 win  in the Capital One Cup in an almost identical situation to how Liverpool scored in the league meeting. Javier Hernandez was unmarked on an early second half corner and touched the ball past Mignolet.  United were able to play a bit more on the break, but Liverpool did have a couple of great chances to equalize.

So while it appears that the winning side in both fixtures was able to take advantage of a set piece and essentially sought to deny the other team space, both sides have changed quite drastically since then, particularly in February. Manchester United in the league have kept three consecutive cleansheets and Liverpool have become a more gung-ho team taking a “we can score more than you” approach in recent weeks

Liverpool Strengths and Weaknesses

While Brendan Rodgers used to be very possession oriented in his first season at Liverpool, he has since accepted that his team can be a lot more dangerous with quick one-touch counter-attacks and lots of combination play between Sturridge, Suarez, and Sterling.  Here have been Liverpool’s respective possession statistics in the past six games, and they’ve only drawn once.  Rodgers still likes Liverpool to build from the back and he likes the midfield to stay fairly tight together to create passing triangles, but he is pragmatic enough to change this as he sees fit.

39 v Everton, 50 v West Brom, 43 v Arsenal, 69 v Fulham, 53 v Swansea, 43 v Southampton

Last season Liverpool had the third highest possession average in the league. This year they’re down to 7th in that category, but they seem perfectly okay with that since they’re getting more space and scoring more goals.  Sturridge has played more centrally so that he can play off the last defender’s shoulder when Liverpool are quickly breaking.  Suarez and Sterling start wide but cut inside and frequently swap positions.  They aren’t pressing from the front as often, so Suarez often drops deeper when Liverpool don’t have the ball which effectively makes Sturridge or Sterling the out-ball.

The midfield trio of Coutinho, Henderson, and Gerrard is somewhat interesting.  It has a lot of attacking potential, but is somewhat suspect defensively.  Coutinho started as a wide player/attacking midfielder this season but has since moved infield to provide an extra body in the center.  Gerrard can still hit his trademark passes from deep, but he doesn’t quite have the awareness of a defensive midfielder and often lets runners go unmarked, leading to more shot attempts from midfield.  Jordan Henderson has somewhat shed his ‘flop’ tag by finding a new role within the team.  He complements the creativity with a more “English” style of play (hard tackling, hard running, and disciplined positioning).

Defensively, Liverpool started the season strong with a series of 1-0 wins, but have since become rather exposed.  Since the start of the New Year, Liverpool have kept just 3 clean sheets, and while that was partly due to Daniel Agger’s injury and a couple of howlers by Kolo Toure, it does hint that Liverpool are taking more gambles going forward and allowing more space for smaller teams to exploit.  While Manchester United aren’t in much better shape in that department, it does give hope that if United’s creative attackers can get space, Liverpool are there for the taking.

How United should play

I’ve talked earlier about how Moyes should generally prepare his sides to counter-attack, and I still believe that he should use that approach since Liverpool have conceded more goals when they dominate possession; however, he shouldn’t be afraid to press Liverpool’s defenders in certain situations such as goal-kicks.  Martin Skrtel isn’t very comfortable with the ball still and forcing Gerrard to drop deep to pick up possession will limit his range of influence.  Coutinho is a dangerous player in the final third and Henderson will get forward in support so it’s important to get two midfielders who are willing to tackle and track them.  Fellaini and Fletcher would be a good central midfield pairing for this kind of job.

Rooney vs. Gerrard would also be the main battle-ground.  If Rooney can stick tight to Gerrard and force him into mistakes or hurried passes, United will have space to break into for United’s attacking quartet. Valencia has generally had the beating of Jose Enrique and Aly Cissokho isn’t the quickest LB either so regardless of who plays, Valencia and Rafael should be able to combine effectively.  Januzaj against Flanagan might also create a favorable matchup since he offers a more varied threat, although Shinji Kagawa has had very good displays against Liverpool in the past.

Defensively, enough has been said about Suarez and Sturridge so it will be a very hard job and one that will require intelligent play and communication among the back 4.  Playing a packed defense will be tougher for Liverpool to break down, but it’s unlikely that United will come out defending in a game at Old Trafford unless they felt they were grossly outmatched.

This is an unfamiliar position for many United fans, but for several years Liverpool were not close to United’s level yet they still won.  United will need to do the same and I expect this game to be like most other derbies.

Derby Week Preview: Spurs vs Arsenal

Spurs head into a critical match day against Arsenal on dipping form.      While back-to-back losses to Chelsea and Benfica may have the club looking vulnerable ahead of the North London Derby, it appears there is no better time for Tottenham to beat Arsenal.  This is a big moment and will tell us a lot about Spurs’ character.  Below, we have this week’s keys to a Spurs victory.

Protect the House

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Spurs enter the match having won five of their last four games at White Hart Lane and are 7-3-1 in all home matches this season.  Arsenal also have gone five years without registering a win at the Lane and are hoping to break that streak.  If there ever was a time to do so, it is now.  Though Tottenham boast the League’s best road record, they rank only 6th at home.  The biggest cause for concern, as has been the case any distance from home, is scoring.  Spurs’ goal differential at home is -2.  Thanks to lopsided home defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City, that number is deflated a bit but is still not good enough.  To be successful this week, Spurs’ scorers will need to step up against a team that has frustrated them this season.

Missing Pieces

Arsenal are missing several key players this week and Spurs must take advantage.  Jack Wilshire (foot), Aaron Ramsey (thigh), Abou Diaby (knee), and Theo Walcott (knee) all remain out of the lineup, and now BBC Sport reports that Arsenal’s record buy, Mesut Özil, will miss at least four weeks with a hamstring injury.  The Gunners may have Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal returning this week, and Arsene Wenger has suggested that Kim Källström may make his first start.

The recent string of injuries has caused Arsenal to take a small dip in form recently and now appears the time for Spurs to strike.  Wenger will have the team well prepared, but late additions and nagging injuries may cause confusion over which  an aggressive Spurs can take advantage.

Unlock Arsenal’s Defense

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So far this season, Spurs have not scored against Arsenal.  Both AVB and Tim Sherwood have been unable to out-coach Arsene Wenger.  In both games, Spurs allowed a goal in the first half and Arsenal were able to deny opportunities the rest of the match.  Spurs will need to score quickly and put Arsenal into a position where they are less comfortable.

Sherwood appears to be going with the 4-2-3-1 again and Adebayor will be the lone striker.  Hopefully the larger midfield pays off this time.  If not, you can expect a very unhappy Tottenham squad.

West Brom 0-3 Man Utd: Breaking Bad [luck], by winning intelligently

Many of David Moyes’ post-match interviews this season have sounded like playback messages.  “I thought we played well today, but we just didn’t get the goals” or something about not having any luck.  In fact I was tempted to make that my voicemail greeting at a certain point but thought better of it.

But every so often, Manchester United turn the screw away and put in a genuinely good performance that takes us fans back to the glory days (e.g. anything but this season).   So I wanted to give a shout-out to what I thought were some good decisions and just my general thoughts from what I saw against West Brom.

First 15 minutes:  West Brom started better, and our clearances were extremely shaky. This would be my ideal back 4 given the players we have, but due to injuries they just haven’t played together much.   Phil Jones really struggled in his first game back

’16-’34:  United had a few great chances. Fellaini’s shot cleared off the line.  Shows what you can get when you dominate possession effectively.  Jones scores from a van Persie free-kick.  Things are looking good.  Fellaini’s tackling helps Mata, Januzaj, and Rooney flourish.

’34-halftime:  United continued to create chances, which they haven’t done enough of this year.  Januzaj and Mata have something promising in the works.

2nd Half restart:  United again defend poorly. Carrick’s not picking up runners and nearly cost us as Gera went through.   RVP nearly sent off which would have led us down the slippery slope towards David Moyes’s pained facial expressions.

’58-65:  Subs being made. Moyes takes off RVP to protect him from being sent off. Stephane Sessegnon comes on for West Brom.  Kind of worried because United simply couldn’t handle him at Old Trafford.  Rooney scores and puts the game away

’65-Full time: A rare Shinji Kagawa sighting!  He’s alive! He’s actually real!  But in other news, United were comfortable and resisted West Brom’s late surge.  Fantastic build-up to Welbeck’s goal.  We need more of that and less crosses.

Earlier this week,  Earlier today, I published what I thought would be Man Utd’s best team for the rest of the season and it seems that Moyes agreed with some of my suggestions.  The back 4 of Rafael, Smalling, Jones, and Evra had a couple rough patches for a total of maybe 30 minutes with botched clearances and just withstanding pressure. But after United scored the second goal, they hardly allowed a shot at de Gea’s goal.  Plus all four of these players are more comfortable on the ball.  Useful if we wanted to break a team’s pressing game.  Fellaini offered more tackling quality and an aerial presence.  Januzaj and Mata combined very effectively with Rooney throughout as well.  van Persie looked a bit tired from the international friendlies, but otherwise looked more lively even while defending.

Overall, United survived a couple of tough spells and managed this away fixture the way Sir Alex would.  They’ve looked fluid in back to back games against Crystal Palace and West Brom, but they’ll probably need to make some special defensive plans to deal with Liverpool’s counter-attack.