Spurs Top of the League!
Ah, if the season were but two games long, my pre-season prediction of Tottenham winning their first title since 1960/61 would already have come true! Spurs sit atop the early table thanks to a 4-0 demolition of Queens Park Rangers at White Hart Lane, the visitors being managed by Harry Redknapp and tactically coached by Glenn Hoddle, two of Mauricio Pochettino’s predecessors in the Tottenham hot seat. Neither Redknapp, nor club legend Hoddle, had the depth of talent in their squad that the Argentinian has available to him – though ‘Arry did of course have Gareth Bale – but what has impressed most about Pochettino’s tenure in the early stages has been the manner of Spurs’ performances. A high, pressing game has been adopted and when in possession, there is a fluidity about the movement of the ball and players; last saturday, that was particularly true of the triumvirate of Nacer Chadli, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela. The latter’s excellent showing against QPR, on the back of two assists that helped turn around the Europa League qualifying playoff against AEL Limassol, has led to many declaring that he will finally live up to the £30m transfer fee he cost Tottenham last summer. In truth, he was barely given a chance in his first season, making cameos off the bench and being played only in Europa League fixtures – during which he displayed a nice touch but was obviously playing like he had something to prove – before injury curtailed his campaign at the start of the calendar year. Now that Lamela looks likely to start every game (including in pre-season), he is has been able to establish himself and is playing with more confidence and that is paying off wonderfully for Tottenham – particularly in the third goal last weekend when he picked up a pass (the 44th of a lengthy spell of possession), glided past three defenders, then delivered a pinpoint cross for Chadli to head into the back of the net.
It is not just the resurgent Lamela that gives Spurs fans reason to be cheerful: 20-year-old Eric Dier looks like he will be one of the best buys of the summer, at a cost of just £4m he already looks assured in either the centre of defence or at right back, plus he has scored in both of his first two Premier League matches; the addition of Ben Davies to the squad has seemingly put a rocket under Danny Rose, who played fantastically against QPR as he now faces competition at left-back; and although Michael Dawson has been a great servant to the club who gave his all in every match, it was the right time for him to move on – Dawson joined Hull this week – as he lacks the pace needed to succeed in Pochettino’s pressing system. With the transfer deadline approaching on Monday, it is likely that a few players will leave, but I doubt there will be any major new additions at White Hart Lane. Federico Fazio joined from Sevilla in midweek and is likely to form a central defensive partnership with Younes Kaboul; but other than up front – where the combination of Emmanuel Adebayor, Harry Kane and Roberto Soldado still seems to be lacking a 20 goal a season striker – it is hard to see where else the squad can be realistically improved at this point. Finally, Tottenham also made the Europa League group stages on Thursday with a 3-0 home victory over AEL Limassol and will now face Besiktas (knocked out of the Champions League by Arsenal on Wednesday), Partizan Belgrade and Greek side Asteras Tripolis in the next round. As for the league title, you do not get anything for being top in August, but it is still better to be 1st than anywhere else no matter what the stage of the season – but my clairvoyance will have to wait until May to be proven correct!
United Continue to Stumble
With Louis van Gaal sticking to his guns and attempting to implement his favored 3-5-2 system at Manchester United, the teething problems continued this past week. Last Sunday in the league, the Red Devils were lucky to hold on to get a point against Sunderland; then they were demolished 4-0 by League One outfit MK Dons, in the second round of the Capital One Cup. Since 1996/7, clubs that have been involved in European competitions have not had to play in the second round of the League Cup, instead being given a bye to the third round, so this was the first time that United had played in this stage since 1995, when they were also knocked out by lower league opposition as York City beat them 4-3 over two legs. This time it was not even that close, as MK Dons took advantage of poor defending – particularly from Jonny Evans who was returning from injury – to completely humiliate a side that was crowned Champions of England less than 16 months ago.
Alongside the new tactics, van Gaal is also trying to improve the quality available to him in his squad: Angel DiMaria joined this week for a British transfer record fee of £59.7m, while the Dutchman is still pursuing Arturo Vidal and Daley Blind. Whatever van Gaal might say about the talent available to him, his current squad is the most expensive in Premier League history as their total transfer fees are £401.2m (though Wilfried Zaha – who cost £15m – has just been loaned back to Crystal Palace), whereas MK Dons assembled their playing staff for just £500,000. If only all management was as easy as bringing on a substitute keeper for a penalty shootout to fluster the mighty Costa Rica…
Rest of the Premiership Roundup
Tottenham are not the only team to have started the 2014/15 campaign with two league wins, as they are joined on six points by the usual suspects of Manchester City, Chelsea and…Swansea. The Welsh side followed up their opening day victory over Manchester United by beating Burnley 1-0; Chelsea were made to work hard to beat Leicester 2-0 at Stamford Bridge, with Diego Costa notching his second goal in as many Premiership games; while the reigning champions overcame their closest challengers from last season, Liverpool, with a 3-1 victory on Monday night thanks to two goals from Stefan Jovetic and another from Sergio Aguero, who scored 23 seconds after coming on as a substitute. Watching that match at the Etihad was former City player, Mario Balotelli, who has joined Liverpool in a £16m move from A.C. Milan and the Rossoneri have replaced him up front with Chelsea misfit, Fernando Torres, who has headed to Serie A on a two-year loan deal.
Everton looked strong for the first 80 minutes of their home match against Arsenal last Saturday, leading 2-0 heading into the final 10 minutes and it seemed like there was no way back for the visitors, who were lucky not to have had Jack Wilshere sent off for a reckless challenge. However, the Gunners fought back and struck through Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud to earn a 2-2 draw, though there was bad news for Arsene Wenger as the French striker suffered an injury blocking a ball in the final minute that will keep him out for a few months. Crystal Palace’s troubled start to the season continued with a 3-1 home defeat against West Ham, but the Eagles did finally appoint a manager this week as Neil “Colin” Warnock returned to the club and – as mentioned above – his first piece of business was to bring Zaha back to Selhurst Park on loan from Manchester United. Elsewhere, Hull played for the majority of their match against Stoke with just 10 men following James Chester’s 14th minute dismissal, yet were only denied a victory by an equalizer in the 83rd minute by Ryan Shawcross; while the matches between Aston Villa and Newcastle, plus Southampton versus West Brom both ended goalless and the less said about them, the better.
Week 3 Preview and Predictions
Despite the season being so young, this weekend sees the last round of fixtures before the first international break of the campaign as the Premier League takes a break until September 13th. The action starts with the early match on Saturday at Turf Moor, as Burnley hope to heap more misery on Louis van Gaal and Manchester United – the Clarets won the corresponding fixture last time they were in the top flight and a similar result could result in alarm bells going off at Old Trafford even at this stage of the campaign. However, with Van Persie and DiMaria looking likely to be available, even this poor United team will probably have enough to beat the Premiership newcomers despite their own shaky defense. Also on Saturday, Chelsea travel to Goodison Park to face Everton and their biggest test thus far; while Spurs confront their demons on Sunday when they play Liverpool, who beat them 5-0 at White Hart Lane last season to end Andre Villas-Boas’ tenure. Alongside Burnley, the other two promoted clubs are also looking for their first wins of the campaign and this weekend, Leicester have another tough match as they take on Arsenal; and QPR have a home fixture against Sunderland. Elsewhere, Manchester City take on Stoke, who only conceded once in their two matches against the otherwise free-scoring champions last year; West Ham host Southampton; Warnock’s first game back in charge of Crystal Palace is at St. James’ Park versus Newcastle; and you can take your pick of which fixture is more likely to end up 0-0 – Aston Villa vs Hull, or Swansea vs West Brom (probably both of them).
Last week, 6-4; Season, 9-11
Home teams listed first
Burnley vs Manchester United – Away win
Manchester City vs Stoke – Home win
Newcastle vs Crystal Palace – Home win
QPR vs Sunderland – Away win
Swansea vs West Brom – Draw
West Ham vs Southampton – Home win
Everton vs Chelsea – Away win
Aston Villa vs Hull – Draw
Tottenham vs Liverpool – Home win
Leicester vs Arsenal – Away win