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…