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Tottenham Hotspur Premier League Years Fantasy XI

Premier League Review 18/03

Not match reports, these are some thoughts and observations on the weekend’s headlines, action and talking points.

Wigan 2-1 Newcastle

Horror tackle overshadows much needed Wigan win

Overshadows? Something being overshadowed would be the garbage about City’s defence overshadowing a good Everton win. Overshadowing is something that distracts from the main story. This is the main story.

The exucse making for the officials and McManaman himself by Martinez is nothing short of disgraceful. Maybe Halsey couldn’t see the incident himself, but what about the other 3 officials? None of them saw it? I don’t accept that I’m afraid, as I’m sure most won’t.

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Martinez trotted out the usual rubbish about McManaman not being ‘that kind of lad’. Well he very obviously is because he has shown that he is. It’s not just a ‘poor’ tackle as you sometimes see, it was no different, if not more forceful even, than the famous Roy Keane one. The referee managed to see that at least. Why didn’t he apologise? Why didn’t he check to see if he had hurt his fellow professional?

I also don’t buy the defence that he was fired up because it was his first start. So what? You know what Michu did on debut? He scored twice.

Everton 2-0 Manchester City

Everton ‘ruthlessly expose’ City’s new formation to claim win. I can’t even type that with a straight face. Good luck reading it…

Everton are an odd team. Last week against Wigan they looked like they would rather be doing anything else than playing, this week they fought doggedly to a win with 10 men against the defending champions. So what was different? Firstly, they came up against a City team that seems to have given up. They can’t win the title and it is almost taken as read that they are safe for Champions League qualification. It’d take an incredible collapse for them to lose it but they’re only 4 points ahead of the roller coaster ride that is Chelsea now. The limitations of City’s squad are starting to look increasingly apparent now. They are so devoid of creativity at the moment that they can’t fashion enough chances for their profligate strikers to capitalise on. Silva looks exhausted, Tevez looks jaded and…who else is there?

The media focused on Mancini’s switch to a back 3 as if that is what caused this result. Everton are supposed to have ‘ruthlessly exposed’ City’s 3412. How was this again? Presumably Everton will have scored their goals from defensive disorganisation, or possibly by flooding the City flanks and scoring from crosses? That would justify the hysterical reaction to Mancini fielding a decidedly foreign looking formation.

So how did they score? Oh that’s right, Osman from 25 yards from the middle of the pitch and a 94th minute counter attack, up the middle of the pitch. Obviously.

Aston Villa 3-2 QPR

This is what the Premier League is all about!

A barnstormer of a game that had everything you associate with the Premier League; goals, fouls, tension and abysmal defending. But who cares about that last one right? There were 5 goals!

To be fair, this was actually a very entertaining game. It flowed up and down the pitch as each side surged forwards trying to make up for the defending with goals. It pretty much summed up why both teams are down where they are. Neither of them took control of the game and the defensive play was at times unbelievably bad.

Mind you, this was a critical win for Villa. Paul Lambert was got his young bucks confident that they can get themselves out of trouble. As I predicted last week, QPR’s recent back to wins may have been no more than a blip.

Southampton 3-1 Liverpool

Huh? I thought Liverpool were a top 4 dark horse?!

The inconsistency that plagues Liverpool is almost inexplicable, but I guess I’d better have a try! The main two reasons are; hit and miss attacking and more damagingly, terrible defending.

Liverpool have some big wins on their slate this season. When they click in to gear they can be impossible to stop, particularly if you are a small team at Anfield. When all is well, i.e. Suarez is playing well, they look super. The thing is though, Suarez’s consistency is new to this year and he is still prone to quiet days. Sturridge and Downing are Sturridge and Downing and Coutinho is still finding his feet in this league. Coutinho scored a nice goal but overall Liverpool looked unthreatening.

Defensively they either keep clean sheets, usually against small teams who have been overwhelmed or they leak silly goals. Against Southampton Lucas was way off the boil, probably not fit, so they didn’t have an effective shield. Skrtel is playing his way out of the club and both full backs don’t see defending as their main responsibility.

Having said all that it was still an excellent win for Southampton, but did they just catch Liverpool on the hop? It’ll still be close for them in the relegation fight.

Stoke City 0-0 West Brom

Erm…

Swansea 0-2 Arsenal

Arsenal’s defence sorts itself out after video session

I don’t know how seriously to take that ‘news’. If they really did only watch tape for the first time after the loss at Spurs then they are the most unprofessional team in the league. If the papers think that teams don’t watch tape of every game then they think it is 1992. Fair enough, Arsenal have tightened up at the back but if that was achieved in one tape session I will be staggered.

This is the kind of result that confuses everyone. Swansea are the current darling side and Arsenal the dogs. But Arsenal won this comfortably, just like they won comfortably in Munich. Huh?

Manchester United 1-0 Reading

Wayne Rooney wonder goal proves Sir Alex was wrong to drop him against Real Madrid

Yep, I’m not making that one up either. I wish I was. If you made it through this unpaid or as a neutral you deserve a medal.

Sunderland 1-1 Norwich

Players turn to volleyball to relieve boredom

That one’s made up. Bunn sent off with arms by his side. Bassong concedes penalty after the ball bounces off his chest on to his arm which he is trying to keep out of the way. Rose concedes free kick after having ball drilled at him, with arms by his side, inside the penalty box.

So, ‘Unwatchable eventless game’ becomes ‘Norwich cling on with ten men in match full of controversy’.

Spurs 0-1 Fulham

Berbatov returns to haunt Spurs

I would have thought ‘returns to haunt’ would be more apt if he scored against Man United. Spurs got £30m for him and didn’t want to sell. Anyway, this was another result that defies explanation. Spurs looked completely done in after their midweek extra time exploits in Milan. AVB ventured in to bizarre decision territory again and the starting XI looked a bit thrown together. Maybe it was an off day, but the suspicion that if Bale doesn’t fire Spurs can’t win won’t go away like this. Meanwhile the almost unmentioned Fulham have secured their place in the league for next year.

This game produced the funniest bit of punditry for the weekend. On Sky Sports News Alan Curbishley said that Gareth Bale ‘doesn’t want to play through the middle. He wants to be out on the left where he can use his pace to run at the full back’. Remember this if you get sent a CV club chairman of England.

Chelsea 2-0 West Ham United

Super Frankie reaches 200

Chelsea did the opposite of Spurs. After making an absolute meal of things on Thursday like their rivals, they went out and won at an unchallenged canter in the league. They really are closing in on Man City now and that second half surge at Old Trafford seems to have instilled some confidence again. Mind you, there’s always next week…

Chelsea, Spurs and Newcastle should expect to win their Europa League quarter-finals

Yesterday’s Europa League draw went about as well as expected for the remaining Premier League representatives in Europe; Chelsea, Tottenham and Newcastle. They managed to avoid playing each other and Spurs in particular look to have a very winnable tie. A series of surprise results has seen the draw really open up for the English trio, so let’s look at their chances of winning their quarter-finals.

Spurs v FC Basel Basel are marginally the weakest of the 8 remaining teams in the Europa League. They currently sit in 2nd in the Swiss League but have found some form recently. Their key man is experienced Swiss national team striker Marco Strellar who has scored 16 goals in all competitions so far this season. He will likely be partnered by wily veteran Alexander Frei. However, these two really shouldn’t pose the Tottenham defence much in the way of significant headaches. They don’t possess the pace or physicality to cause any real issues. Having lost Xherdan Shaqiri last summer they are missing some attacking spark.

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However, they have a very strong defence. They concede less than a goal a game and the unit, led by young Austrian Alexander Dragovic, is shielded by two defensive midfielders. Basel will get bodies behind the ball and try to squeeze the space that Spurs crave in attack. One thing they don’t have is the necessary pace to cope with the likes of Bale and Lennon, and that will be a key deficiency.

Spurs have the firepower to steam roll Basel in the home first leg and get the tie well and truly under control for the second. Spurs should win this easily.

Chelsea v Rubin Kazan
Rubin Kazan are a dangerous dark horse for Chelsea to overcome. They may well only be 6th in the Russian league currently but they boast the second best defence in that league. Full backs Kuzmin and Ansaldi are good at both ends of the pitch and shielding midfielder Orbaiz offers them a Xavi-lite presence bringing structure and organisation. Their defensive group is strong and experienced, and so will be very difficult for Chelsea to break down. Chelsea have had some problems against heavily defensive set ups this season. They haven’t scored against QPR this year for example.

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Rubin’s big problem this season has been a chronic lack of goals. There is no one in double figures for goals and no one name on the team sheet stands out as a real menace. The Chelsea defence has been wobbly at times but they shouldn’t really have anything to worry about. Like Spurs, they play at home first and if they can get a good 2-0 type win they will be heavily favoured. They should have enough to get it done.

Benfica v Newcastle United Benfica are the toughest of the English teams’ opponents. They are unbeaten domestically and are currently top of the table, ahead of also unbeaten Porto. They’ve scored a lot of goals and not conceded many. However, the lack of challenging football domestically could be their undoing. The players face an enormous jump in standard when playing in Europe, one that they have coped with well so far.

Their biggest threats are the dangerous attacking duo of Cardozo and Lima who have scored 22 and 16 respectively. They have a classy and well balanced midfield that are more than capable of monopolising the ball and making tackles. It sounds like a tough task for Newcastle, but the in form Magpies will feel like they can win it.

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The win over Anzhi in the previous round, with out conceding, was a huge achievement. The influx of quality from France in January has given them a new depth and they are flowing full of belief in themselves. Their midfield is more than a match for Benfica and their attack poses a similar threat. If they can get an away goal and keep things tight in Portugal they would be favourites to win at home.

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