De Luca on the importance of the coming weeks for Spurs & why Levy deserves more credit!

You’ve got to be careful not to overdramatise things in football. The mainstream media do enough for that for us, normally not warranted or without applying perspective.

BUT!!! I am not exaggerating fellow Spurs fans (and everyone else) when I tell you this next two and a half weeks for Tottenham Hotspur are absolutely huge. Massive. Monumentally important to the point where the next 18 months could virtually depend on it.

Let’s look at our recent history, we know how small the timeframe is that the window of opportunity is open to make a step forward as a football club, and when it closes how long before it opens again.

Miss champions league by a point – failed objectives – best players likely to leave – manager gone – start again- new players struggle to bed in – miles away for a season…
And repeat the above cycle. Which usually takes two seasons.

You’ve got to believe that Tottenham want to be a club that are capable of challenging for big trophies one day on a domestic level. Don’t ask me how long before that is…. I can’t answer that. But how I can be so confident that, that is the ambition, is by looking at the continued investment in the football club in between these cycles of near misses – to complete failures.
To get to anywhere normally requires a progressive step or a cycle, for Tottenham to ever challenge for big trophies they need to first finish in the top 4, probably in back to back seasons. Then comes the chance to attract the better players that meet your ambitions and the wages that attract them combined with the platform to perform that their talents and egos crave.
Spurs have never given up on achieving the initial champions league objective. Not since 2006 and lasagna gate have the club ever aimed or been prepared to settle for anything less. I’d describe the club as desperate over this period to make the step that is integral to their long term aims. That’s why managers have gone, some popular managers, some talented managers, a manager who delivered a trophy. There’s been managers from abroad, managers from within the club, personalities, man managers, tacticians. You get the point here, in the desperation to succeed the Spurs owners have tried everything. Literally everything.
Some questionable decisions made along the way? Yes. Desperation can do that to decision making at any level of sport. Backwards step is phrase used a lot. Is that True? No. Not a backwards step at all, just the recommencement of the cycle when the previous one ends.
It’s not the participation in the tournament that bothers me as a fan, making up the Champions League numbers every season like most clubs before getting a harsh reminder of how far adrift the premiership is when facing a decent side, is not something I care about one jot. Honestly. It’s more that I realise how important a step qualifying is on the journey to somewhere than caring about ever playing in it, it’s a very example of the media overdramatisation referenced in the first sentence of this piece. By the time the tournament gets genuinely interesting most premiership sides have long since departed.

During the decade since the day lasagna got the better of us, there has been vast improvements, near misses, and some quite outrageously unfortunate circumstances. Chelsea somehow winning the thing and eliminating Tottenham in 2012 the cherry on that particular cake. Lionel Messi & Arjen Robben missing penalties along the way making up some of the sponge. What has been consistent over the 10 year period though is the continued desire and hunger of the powers that be at the football club to chase the ambition. I’ll always be grateful to Joe Lewis and Daniel Levy for this, and whilst they receive criticism in some quarters it would be wrong to overlook the way they continue to try when it would be easy to give up and cash in. This has been backed up with investment, and not just words. Investment off the pitch more so than on it sometimes, but that adds further fuel to my beliefs that the club are genuinely sighting a serious spell of challenging anyone domestically in the not too distant future. Half a billion pounds on a new training and stadium are not actions of a football club wanting to finish 4th instead of 5th I wouldn’t say. I mentioned not cashing in just now, and the selling of the clubs best players would spring to mind of anyone wishing to put a counter argument, but the facts are this. Every club sells their best players, all of them. Man United sold Ronaldo for gods sake, Suarez, Robben, Fabregas, Vieira, Henry, Nasri, Torres, Van Persie. All gone. All but one of those players above were in the Champions League had they stayed with their clubs. Only salary keeps players and nothing else, Chelsea and City have kept their big names in recent times and that’s only due to the unlimited resources their owners have at their disposal. I’ll be sure even then that at least one of Hazard, Aguero or Silva will be on the move in the near future.
The money brought in at Spurs for sales has been re-invested in the playing staff though. A net profit over the last five years can be attributed more to the inflated prices the players have sold for and the trimming of a huge squad, more so than the lack of incoming transfer activity. It’s a myth that Levy doesn’t get his chequebook out – he does. Just so happens that some of the players have inexplicably flopped and some of the scouting has been on occasions questionable. Sure Levy drives a hard bargain which has cost various targets, but it is just living within the clubs means as he chooses to prioritise the infrastructure investment ahead of the squad. That’s what he has identified as the more important piece of his jigsaw to get right. There will always be another season on the pitch, there can always be another cycle. If you can’t buy the dream like City and Chelsea, then you need to systematically build it and within your means the way Manchester United did, the way Arsenal are trying to rebuild themselves as serious challengers. Leeds United is what happens when you step outside your means. If Levy thinks a stadium is more important than a 300k a week centre forward then I’m not going to argue with him because like I’ve said I firmly believe he has genuine big ambitions and no matter what he will leave this football club in an unrecognisably better position that when he took over in 2001.
Leeds United have been covered, but then there is Aston Villa. Aston Villa is what happens when you don’t have bigger ambitions than just wanting to play AC Milan and Real Madrid once only so you can say you’ve done it.
It was Villa who were the most likely to ‘break into the top 4′ finishing 6th for 3 consecutive seasons all under Martin O’Neil from 2008 – 2010. When Spurs first qualified in 2010 Aston Villa were only 6 points behind, they boasted players like James Milner, Ashley Young, Stewart Downing, Stylian Petrov & Brad Friedel in the sticks. Gareth Barry had already departed as the first of the big players to leave the club.
The ambition to follow up that near miss was not there at the club had a mid-table finish the year after. Villa ever since have been a side just waiting to be relegated. This year it is going to happen, they will go down to the Championship. Completely unthinkable 5 short years ago. They hoped they’d break into to the champions league, but never really wanted it, not properly, not the way Tottenham do. When people and pundits and even their own fans criticise Tottenham’s ambition I wish they’d think a bit before speaking.
I’ve rambled on. If Spurs didn’t hold the ambitions I believe they do, the board and the fans, then we’d be midway through our 3rd relegation battle in front of thousands of empty seats.

Back to the present day and the ginormous 16 days ahead for the club. Tottenham sit in 5th place, 3 points behind 4th having never been in the top 4 at any point in the season. Despite this are on an unbeaten run dating back to the first game of the season and look the part whilst the squad is quite thin and lacks regular goal scorers to supplement Harry Kane. Look up and you won’t find Chelsea, look down and you’ll have to look further, the champions are in a mess. Man City are Arsenal aren’t exactly robotic in how they are going about their seasons but you’d think they won’t have to worry about their top 4 status and will probably occupy the top 2 positions come May. With Chelsea not looking like recovering who else is there? Manchester United are awful, machine like in grinding out wins but without the forward line to maintain it and you’d think they’ll drop plenty of points between now and the end of season while Van Gaal tries to bore us all to death. Liverpool are not very good besides a vibrant front line and are going to drop a whole load of points. Their defeats to Newcastle and Crystal Palace aren’t going to be isolated no matter how highly I think of Jurgen Klopp. He’s not Harry Potter and that side is not good enough this season to back with any confidence.
Then there’s everyone’s second favourite team Leicester. Hate to say it but they can’t maintain the form shown surely? They will drop away as the fixtures get tougher and more frequent and the defensive frailties will outweigh the attacking vibrancy over the season. So in short, unlike past years there isn’t 4 good teams in this league. There is not 4 teams better than Tottenham, not a chance. Everton may have a case for feeling the same.
In the 16 days coming Spurs have matches, just like their rivals, and where December is known for points being spilled Tottenham have an attractive set of fixtures comparatively. Newcastle at Home, Southampton, who have been struggling a bit lately, away, Norwich at home, Watford away. It’s hardly frightening and no reason why the unbeaten run can’t make it through to the New Year’s Eve fireworks.
The unbeaten run which I’m getting a bit tired of hearing about is only going to have been worth all the trouble if something comes at the end of it.
Maintaining the unbeaten run over the Xmas period could mean 4 points or 6, or 8. Spurs need to take advantage and return 10 or even 12, the team is more than capable and might need to be more daring as games peter out towards a draw. In the 2010 season where Aston Villa were 6 points adrift they lost two games fewer than Tottenham, but a third of their results (13) ended in draws, and that is proving to be Tottenham’s biggest threat.
The results in these next 4 games can build the platform that can put Spurs closer to the teams at the top than the teams coming from behind, and if so Levy might choose to add to the squad in January bringing in the players we’ll need to maintain the form we’ve shown over 38 games. The targets will have been identified and their agents will be aware of Spurs’ interest. The two weeks ahead are a shop window for the club, a chance to end the month firmly in the driving seat to provide champions league football whilst putting in some of the energetic performances that we have seen at times this season, the type that make a prospective player itching to be a part of. Without some re-inforcements I fear Spurs could drop away.
So that’s it, this is more than just 2 weeks of football, this is the chance to prepare for the next step of that all important cycle, and drive Levy closer to impossible dream. Everyone’s got to start somewhere, and sometimes, start again, and again. This is the latest opportunity. Spurs really can’t afford the time it costs to waste it.

Le Champions? – Alavi looks at France’s chances of winning the Euro’s in front of their own fans.

The Euro 2016 draw takes place tomorrow (Saturday 12th December). I wouldn’t bet on France to win the trophy on home soil above Germany, who remain rightful owners of the betting favourite title. However, they’re not a bad bet to reach the final at least. Here’s why-

International European trophies are not won on the grounds of history but, as French Legend Henry pointed out “we managed to win the World Cup [1998] and Euro ’84, which was pretty big for us. “Yes it is in France, yes the expectations will be big. I think the team is good enough, they are actually really good.”

Really good, if anything, is an understatement. Manager Deschamps is a popular man with the backing of the nation. Crucially, the squad boasts a perfect balance of youth and experience. The youngsters talents of Pogba, Varane, Kondogbia, M’Vila, Guilavogui, Sakho, Rabiot, Coman, Bahebeck, Grenier, Kurzawa, Areola, Laporte, Griezmann, Mangala, Schneiderlin, Cabella (to name a few!) will have the guidance of more established players such as Benzema, Sissoko, Lloris, Debuchy, Evra, Koscielny, Giroud, Payet and Cabaye.

There won’t be many better keepers in the tournament than Spurs man Lloris, or indeed many better players full stop than Pogba. Many predict, he will a Ballon D’or winner soon enough, and I wouldn’t disagree. Like many of the top European sides (Portugal aside) there isn’t a star player. There is no ‘Ronaldo’. Sure, it would be hard to argue against Pogba being technically the most gifted player, but an injury to the Juventus man wouldn’t instantly erase any hopes of lifting the trophy in Saint Denis on July 10th.

Schneiderlin & Cabaye are solid and stead. They may not start every game, but Cabaye especially is perfectly suited to the pace of summer international football. I’ve said a couple times on the pod, that Mangala will go on to be amongst the world’s elite defenders. Varane, is already there. I feel he’s been unlucky at times with City, much like his fellow countryman Kocsielny was a couple of seasons ago for Arsenal, when every mistake would be coupled with a keeper error resulting in conceded goal. And thus, highlighted and scrutinized by pundits worldwide. The aforementioned Kocsielny is as good a centre back as there is in the Premier League. Cool and composed but stronger than his slender physique would indicate. The ‘engine’ Matuidi and the skillful Cabella are just two others earning deserved plaudits.

Varane and Pogba may already considered two of the outstanding young players in their respective positions in world football, but young Martial has a point to prove following his £36m move from Monaco to Manchester United. It is a squad that screams power and strength, yet still possessing players such as Griezmann and Benzema who can unlock defences. Underachievement has been the story of the French national team in recent years, although this is a seriously good crop of players. There are a number of obvious reasons why France should make a serious impression, but football aside, the importance of home support cannot be downplayed.
Henry went on to comment “The only thing I will say that will be tricky, can they handle the pressure of playing at home?” the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 winner said. “We all know what Germany can do. Spain had a bad World Cup but they will be there or thereabouts, and Portugal are almost playing at home. There’s a big Portuguese community there” in France. But I back them to perform, to actually win it. I’m not just saying that because I’m French.

Annoyingly, as someone who enjoys Arsenal losing, Henry is usually right.

Kyri reflects on Arsenal’s ‘great escape’ & looks at their potential opponents in the next round.

I’ve never witnessed Arsenal do anything the easy way and this years Champions League group stage was no different.

Arsenal went to Athens last night in search of at least a 2-0 win to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League and put in a great performance.

Some will say it was against a poor team, that’s probably true but going to Athens, a place where there’s a very hostile atmosphere, against a team that beat you on your own turf (some how) a few months ago was never going to be an easy task.

Joel Campbell for the second game in a row worked his socks off and his involvement in the 2nd goal was brilliant, great first touch great feet and a great pass to slip in Giroud to score.

Would have been my man off the match had Giroud not scored a hat-trick.

Well done to Giroud as well who got his first hat-trick for the club, he takes a lot of stick and it’s nice for him to have an evening like that to boost his confidence going into the busy Christmas period.

I know Arsenal scraped through the group by the skin of their teeth but it’s got to the point now where we have to start being serious contenders in the the Champions league.

I love Wenger, always have always will and he’s achieved so much at Arsenal but if there is an area he’s under achieved its in Europe.

In his time we’ve been to a UEFA Cup final a Champions League Final and reached the Champions League Semi-Final twice, when you’ve been in the competition for 18 years in a row that’s under achieving for me.

We might of had a period from 2006-2013 when we weren’t in a good financial position to compete. Now with players like Cech, Koscienly, Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez, world class players who have so much experience, including World Cup winners we should be looking to go far in this competition.

A lot of you might disagree with me on that but I’m not deluded, I know Arsenal are not the best team in Europe I know there’s a level between your Barcelona’s, Real Madrid’s and Bayern Munich’s to the rest but the best in Europe doesn’t always win the Champions League it’s a cup competition and anything can happen.

Were Liverpool who finished 5th in the Premiership in 2005 the best team in Europe? Were Chelsea the best in Europe when they finished 6th and won the Champions League? Even Arsenal in 2006, awful domestically and scraped 4th but beat the Real Madrid team full of players like Beckham, Figo, Roberto Carlos, Zidane, Ronaldo, Fabio’s Capello’s Juventus and went onto the final breaking the clean sheet record! It’s important to remember that even with 10 men we were 12 minutes away from beating Barcelona in the final.

Arsenal have to win the Champions League soon, they’ve been in it long enough and should have won it by now but to achieve that we need to get to those quarter and semi finals. That means beating the big teams along the way to create that belief we can win it.

It’s about time we seriously started challenging the big guns in Europe for that trophy and not just making up the numbers, it’s the one trophy that has eluded Wenger and Arsenal.

As a Gooner words cannot describe how much I want to see my team win that trophy, I WANT IT SO BADLY.

We have to believe we can win it, on our day we can beat any team in Europe. It’s been done over the years we’ve beaten Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan the and the list goes on.

First of all we need to get past the round of 16, something we haven’t done in about 6 or so seasons now. I seriously think we need to get as far as the last 8 maybe even the last 4 this season.

It’s long overdue that we have a good run in Europe at the very least.

Having a good run in Europe will help us believe in future seasons we can actually win the competition, it will help us in signing big players in transfer windows and it will help you keep our big players at the club for longer because let’s face it players like Sanchez and Ozil etc don’t just want to play in the Champions League they want to win it. Going far in the competition even if you don’t win it gives you the believe that you are one of the best teams in Europe and the belief to win it.

If we go out in the round off 16 then we may as well have gone into the Europa League and tried to win that.

On to the knock out stages now and Arsenal
can draw 1 off 5 teams

Real Madrid
Barcelona
Zenit St Petersburg
Atletico Madrid
Wolfsburg

That’s what you get for finishing 2nd in your group.

REAL MADRID

Real Madrid can be got at for me if you play it right. I believe you can get around the midfield and at their defence that’s been a long standing problem for Real Madrid. Sometimes their centre halves can be wreckless and lack concentration so you will get chances against them.

Thing is with Real Madrid they have such a talented midfield and strike force. They possess a load of fire power offensively with the likes of Bale, Ronaldo, James Rodriquez, Modric, Kroos, Benzema and the list goes on. If they keep the ball and pass around the opposition, create gaps they can crucify teams, similar to Arsenal at times because both teams can be so good with the ball but can be sluggish without it. They do have a manager in Benitez that is tactically very good and is good at rotating his squad and that is very important at this level.

ATLETICO MADRID

Atletico Madrid are going about their business quietly so far this season in La Liga and the Champions League, a really good team who two seasons ago came within seconds off winning the competition.

With Antoine Griezmann having a good scoring season so far and Jackson Martinez having settled in well. The two of them along with Fernando Torres can always get goals.

Diego Simeone in charge, a very good tactician and knows how to get the best out of his players but Athetico are certainly not the same team they were 2 years ago. If we had drawn them two years ago I would have said there is no chance we’ll beat them but now I think they are beatable. Having said that, on their day they are still capable of beating anybody in Europe.

We have seen it many times in the past where Simeone pumps his players up for the big games and gets his tactics spot on. His teams become extremely difficult to break down and like to hit teams on the break with pace and aggression, just ask Barcelona and Real Madrid.

They have a few very disciplined and experienced players in Koke, Tiago, Gabi, Godin, Juanfran, Filipe Luiz to name a few. These players can be masters in defending and frustrating teams.

WOLFSBURG

Wolfsburg are a top team and have one of the best home records in Germany and Europe. They finished 2nd to Bayern Munich in Germany last season and they have a lot of good players. They are similar to Arsenal in terms off playing a high line, full backs push forward and over lap and are basically wingers and their wide forwards such as Draxler and Schurrle drift in and cause damage centrally. They are certainly more dangerous than Arsenal on set pieces!

Swiss left back Rodriguez and Brazilian centre half Naldo can also strike brilliant free kicks as well.

They have a lot of options offensively in players like Bas Dost, Max Kruse, Ivan Perisic and of course super Nicholas Bendtner so they have plenty of options.

Deiter Hecking has done a great job with Wolfsburg but Arsenal can definitely score goals against them home and away, they have two good (and old) centre backs in Naldo and Dante but Naldo seems to be better at scoring them! Arsenal and Wolfsburg met in the Emirates Cup in Pre-Season and Arsenal won 1-0 but Wolfsburg were quite impressive.

BARCELONA

Then there is Barcelona! The team I really hope we avoid! Although I feel we are definitely capable of beating them in the one off game, I don’t think there are many teams in the world who could beat them over two legs. For me them and Bayern Munich are the top two teams in the world at the moment.

Even when that front three are having an off day they are still capable of destroying defences, how do you stop Suarez, Neymar, Messi?

Not only do they have that awesome front three but behind them are the likes of Rakatic, Iniesta, Busquets.

That three in midfield even off the ball work so hard. They are capable of pressing to win it back or being disciplined in the right shape and positions to not be caught out. On the ball they are so technically good, passing and moving around so quickly that it makes me dizzy watching it. Busquets does all the simple things brilliantly, his positioning is second to none, intercepts the ball and makes it look effortless, a great passer of the ball and he has very quick feet, he’s always been extremely under rated.

Rakatic and Iniesta both have quick feet too and are both fantastic passers of the ball. They can read the game, pick a pass, chip in with goals and can dribble past players for fun.

The front three though are irresistible at times. They move around so much,pass the ball, dribble, and can create goals from nothing. Barcelona have world class players all over the pitch.

ZENIT ST PETERSBURG

I can’t say I know too much about Zenit St Petersburg. I know that Andre Vilas Boas has done a very good job and that they smashed their group with Valencia and Lyon in it winning 5 out of 6 games. They only lost on the last match day so if Arsenal do draw Zenit don’t underestimated them.

Best case scenario: Zenit St Petersburg
Worst case scenario: Barcelona

‘Gunners back on track’ – Harry’s thoughts on the win over Sunderland.

Having failed to win in the last three premier league games Saturday’s home fixture vs Sunderland was a must win. There was a feeling of pressure building as people were beginning to question our title credentials after defeat at West Brom in between a couple of draws against Spurs and Norwich.

I think the pressure increased in the build up to kick off knowing that Man City had been beaten – surely we were finally going to take advantage of another City slip up!

The game began and I for one was not impressed with the start. Some slack defending allowed Fabio Borini in on goal for the first big chance of the game – the Italian raced through onto a well timed pass and seemed to have all the time in the world to pick his spot. Fortunately the Italian didn’t have his shooting boots on and Petr Cech made a fairly comfortable save.

It’s fair to say that Petr Cech played a huge part in Borini’s miss. The big keeper was out and stood his ground, refusing to dive down early and making Borini have to think twice about how he was going to finish. That’s something I’ve seen a few times now from our new goalkeeper and his presence and determination to stay on his feet as long as possible has often down the years put even some of the coolest strikers off in front of goal.
£11m? Surely one of the buys of the season at that price!

Saturday’s win was by no means a great performance but it will do. Back up into second, two points off the lead going into the busy Xmas programme is a very decent position to be in.

The lack of options from the bench at the moment is proving to be a problem. Wenger was forced to name 4 defenders on the bench not including the goalkeeper just to make up the numbers! The sooner we get some of the lads back the sooner we can kick on and really shift our title challenge up a gear.

The positives from Saturday, other than the result of course were the return of Ramsey to the midfield, the Ox came through the game without any problems and we welcomed back a very ‘sharp’ Theo Walcott. All in time for the huge trip to Athens on Wednesday.

Mesut Ozil continued his fantastic form, providing another assist for Joel Campbell to score the opener. Olivier Giroud had a mixed afternoon, the Frenchman scored an own goal in front of the north bank just before half time but redeemed himself with a fine finish to put Arsenal back in front. It was great to see Aaron Ramsey net the all important third goal and the Welshman looked as sharp as ever after a spell on the sidelines.

On to Wednesday night, a huge tie in Athens to determine whether we progress in the champions league. It is a very do-able task but will by no means be a walk in the park. My prediction as much as I don’t want to say it is for the Arsenal to win 2-1. That won’t be enough to see us go through to the last 16 unfortunately. The prospect of dropping into the Europa League having spent so much time trolling Spurs fans for their involvement is too bad to think about!

UTA

Harry – AFC

SPECIAL FEATURE: Alavi talks us through Tyson Fury’s huge win over Klitschko

There’s nothing in the world I dedicate more hours to than boxing, and as such, Saturday night will always live long in the memory.

Tyson Fury burst the heavyweight bubble that is Wladimir Klitschko before bursting into song. I urge anyone who hasn’t seen it to youtube his version of Aerosmith’s “Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” before the most sincere “I love you my wife” you will ever hear. In a boxing ring at least. Tyson Fury, famous for punching himself in the head many fights ago is now the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion of the world. In boxing terms he’s the no.1 man in the most glorified division of them all.

It was a messy fight. In truth, I only enjoyed the result. A few of the rounds were close but the crisper, cleaner work was done by Fury, who deservedly took a unanimous decision 115-112, 115-112, 116-111. Some had suspected that the 39-year-old Klitschko was slowing down. But few gave Fury a hope of so conclusively proving it. After all, Klitschko was unbeaten in 22 fights over 11 years and was making the 19th consecutive defence of the title. This was also his 28th world title fight, eclipsing Joe Louis’s old record of 27. Fury had only had 24 fights in his entire career.

Fury came charging out of his corner at the sound of the first bell but thereafter it was a cagey first round which the challenger probably won courtesy of a couple of ramrod jabs. The second was another tight affair but with Klitschko unwilling to open up and unleash his fabled right cross, the more ambitious Fury – who looked remarkably relaxed given the circumstances – probably nicked it again. Fury’s switch to southpaw at the start of the third failed to draw Klitschko out of his shell and it was becoming apparent that the champion was finding his British rival more difficult to work out than perhaps he had anticipated. After the fourth, during which Klitschko was again frustrated, there was a sense of disbelief among the German fans that their hero was finding the task so onerous
In the fifth Klitschko was lightly cut under the left eye after a clash of heads, but landed with a good right hand for the first time in the fight. Fury responded with a sharp right of his own, though, and was confident enough to talk to his opponent as the bell sounded. Through the middle rounds the pattern was similar, with Fury presenting a puzzle that Klitschko was unable to solve. He tried to switch his attack to the body, but with only limited success. It was a desperately messy fight, with lots of cries from the referee Tony Weeks to “stop, stop, stop” as the two men grasped and grappled. Fury had made Klitschko look bad. Now he was making him look worse. Finally in the ninth round, the action became less measured and more intense as both men landed with big right hands. But Klitschko was still struggling to break through. As his camp told him at the end of the 10th: “You’ve got to get this.”

In the 11th, the referee deducted Fury a point for repeatedly hitting Klitschko behind the back of the head. Given this was Germany, a country notorious for rewarding the home fighter, some wondered whether it might have given Klitschko renewed hope. It certainly looked that way in the final round as he rushed forward and appeared to hurt Fury for the first time. The crowd began chanting for Klitschko, but both men were desperately tired. It was messy but manic … and when the scorecards were announced, Fury – the fighting gypsy-Irishman with the glint in his eye – was the one left smiling.

There is a rematch clause in the contract but people are already sceptical about seeing the rematch. I’d like to see it, not because it was a great fight, but because both fighters deserve it for a variety of different reasons. My prediction is that Wladimir will take the rematch believing he has nothing to lose and everything to gain……or re-gain

One name being mentioned as a potential opponent is David Haye. However, Fury has not forgiven Haye for pulling out of two scheduled fights against him in 2013 and causing him “mental and physical torture”. Fury added “David Haye will never get a fight against Tyson Fury after what he did to me.” I can’t lie and say that Haye isn’t still my favourite heavyweight, but Fury is well within his rights here. David Haye and everyone else need to let the Manchester man Tyson have his moment. Whatever you think of Fury outside of the ring, don’t take away this achievement from him.

The best pound for pound fighter on the planet retired recently. Floyd Mayweather, although not physically a “big man” is known for giving it the big talk and delivering. Tyson Fury is a a very big man, who gives a lot of big talk. But boy did he deliver.

Crystal Palace 5-1 Newcastle Utd – Mark Storey’s thoughts.

Given how despondent I was on Monday night after one of our worst performances since returning to the premier league, I wouldn’t say I was worried about Newcastle but it did concern me that if they scored first and then managed to defend like Sunderland, it would be unbearable.

9 minutes in and every fear was becoming a reality when Cisse scored with a free header. Got to say his movement was fantastic, playing on the shoulder of the defenders but I think we should have closed down the opportunity for Janmaat to cross a lot earlier.

All of my worries were unfounded as 4 minutes later Macarthur equalised with a deflected shot that gave Elliott no chance. From that moment on there was only ever going to be one winner and as bad as Newcastle were, we were impressive.

Pardew had made a slight tweak to the formation from Monday night although utilising the same 11 starters. Bolassie moved more centrally to support Wickham and Puncheon moved to the left hand side. This definitely made a difference to our attacking threat. Bolassie has been incredibly successful through the middle for us, given that he can’t shoot! He’s unbelievably unpredictable, has skills that other players could never pull off even if they practised for the next ten years and destroys defenders with his pace and tricks. Those who watch him every week will understand what I’m saying when I say he can’t shoot. The number of times Yannick has got himself into positions only to hit a corner flag, or spectator in Row 42 is incredible.

However, when he plays through the middle and has that freedom to pull defenders out of position and the pace to exploit a ball over the top he really is a handful and creates so much space for others. He also has a knack of scoring goals inside the box, which is completely different to the shooting I mentioned from long range.

I talked in my last blog about reserving judgement on Connor Wickham and to be fair to him he had a really good game for us yesterday. You can’t argue too much about three assists during a game and I’d settle for that every week. It was a shame that given we scored five he didn’t break his duck and I really hope he does soon, because for Palace to be 6th and no centre forward has scored for us this season is pretty unbelievable when you think about it.

Returning to the game – As soon as Palace equalised Newcastle collapsed. The defending for Bolassie’s goal on 16 minutes was Sunday league (in fact that’s an insult to Sunday league) and once Wilf added a third just prior to half time the game was over and we were looking at a cricket score.

Newcastle made changes at half time, going three at the back and that was obliterated within one minute as a Delaney header was finished by Bolassie from close range. My only disappointment during the afternoon was that we didn’t push on more to score more goals because I honestly believe we could have done. As it was Wickham, Puncheon, Souare, Ward and Zaha all had chances in the second half so maybe I shouldn’t moan too much!

I’m so pleased Macarthur finished the game off with the 5th as he was outstanding all game. He gets the plaudits from Palace fans who see him every week but because of the abilities of Yannick, Wilf and Cabaye he probably doesn’t get the recognition he deserves from those outside the club.

The final mention must go to Alan Pardew. He’s been exceptional for us and to all those fans and pundits who could not understand how he could leave a so called ‘big club’ like Newcastle for a lowly club like Palace – who’s laughing now! For those Newcastle fans who were always moaning, thank you. You’ve given us a manager who attracts top players, makes decisive decisions and plays football how it should be….entertaining.

Goes to show…Be careful what you wish for!

Oh and by the way…….Can we play you every week?!

The injury crisis continues as Arsenal are held at Carrow Road – Harry Symeou

The Arsenal have now failed to win in our last three league games. Two frustrating draws either side of a disappointing defeat at the Hawthorns has left us two points a drift of the leaders.

Hardly title winning form but by no means the end of the road and our title challenge is still well & truly alive!

We were firm favourites to go and win on Sunday against a Norwich side who have been struggling of late.

Although our form hasn’t been great, with our quality of players I expected nothing less than a victory. After going ahead through Mesut Ozil’s smart finish we were caught half asleep at the back and punished by canaries striker Lewis Grabban. Shortly after equalising the home side missed a great chance to go in front when Wes Hoolahan couldn’t keep his effort down.

In the end a frustrating day added to by more injuries as neither side could grab the winner and the game ended in a stalemate.

Fortunately for us the premier league continues to provide us with unpredictable results and has seen the other contenders drop points along the way. I’ve said it all along and I mentioned it in last week’s podcast, the benchmark for me is Manchester City. Whilst still giving credit to the other teams around the top such as Manchester Utd and even the mighty Jamie Vardy’s Leicester …come the end of the season it’s City we will be chasing.

Going into December I’m still optimistic. So what’s the problem lately? Why has our form taken a nosedive in recent weeks?

I put it down to a number of factors. Firstly, the injuries. Constantly having a number of key players on the treatment table is taking its toll on us. For those of you who question the size of our squad I think you are well off of the mark. In terms of numbers we have more than enough players, their ability to stay fit though is another matter & its clear that something needs to be addressed by the medical staff.

It seems as though each week we are losing a couple of key players, when is this rotten luck going to end?! Sunday’s draw @ Norwich saw the long awaited return of Aaron Ramsey to the starting line up & the Ox back on the bench. Finally some good news!

But it all turned a bit sour when Laurent Koscielny (hip), Santi Cazorla (knee) & Alexis Sanchez (groin) came away from Carrow road with injuries! Three players of huge importance & once again we are sweating over the fitness of our stars.

Sunday’s result for me was a disappointing one but the injuries were the icing on the cake. Should our title challenge fade over the Xmas period people will point the finger again at the manager & question why he didn’t bolster the squad over the summer.

As frustrating as it is to see so many of our key players out I’m not of the idea that we should sign a load of players for the sake of it. Out of all the various positions we are suffering with injuries my biggest concern is that central midfield area. Coquelin and Cazorla both out now means we have our first choice central midfield missing. But let’s put this into perspective, it’s very easy to criticise Wenger for not signing during the summer but take a minute and think about it.

Off the top of my head I can think of another FIVE central midfielders in the squad (That’s without Ozil as I see him in the no.10 role). So that is SEVEN players to fill TWO positions, you do the maths. The injuries are the issue and not the size of the squad.

The second factor for me is fatigue. Due to the ridiculous number of injuries we currently have and have had over the past few months we are unable to rest players. We find ourselves constantly fielding the same players in all competitions and to be quite frank certain individuals have been run into the ground. ‘They’re running on empty’ – as you’ve seen this can lead to muscle strains and various other injuries (take a look at Alexis Sanchez for example).

Recent performances have shown a lack of sharpness and where we traditionally finish games the stronger of the sides we have been unable to stamp our authority and achieve the end results we have deserved.

So what’s the solution? Right now I’m not entirely sure, just hang on in there lads. If we can ease our injury problems over the coming weeks, slowly get some of our stars fit again and continue to remain there or thereabouts I’m confident we can finish the season with a strong push for the title.

Come on you Gunners!

Harry AFC

Do we have to play at home!? – Mark Storey reflects on Palace’s defeat at home to Sunderland

Selhurst under the lights excites most Palace fans and with a chance to go 5th with a win over a Sunderland side who’d conceded 6 the last time out, everything pointed to us being a point or so off the Champions League places come the end of this weekend (Newcastle on Saturday).

Now don’t get me wrong I love night games at Selhurst, but apart from that amazing Liverpool 3-3 and a win last season over Man City we haven’t exactly performed well on a Monday night (in games we should win) since our return to the Prem – Fulham, Sunderland (last season), Aston Villa.  Alright some of those maybe Tuesday nights but you get the point.

Add to that the way Sam Alardyce sets his sides up and what looked on paper an easy fixture becomes more blurred the more you thought about it.  Say what you like about Allardyce and West Ham fans will say plenty, but he knows how to keep sides in the Premier League and so whatever our expectations were to be in the top 5 by the end of the night it wasn’t going to be easy.

And so it turned out….

Palace with nearly all of the squad fit gave a start to Connor Wickham and had Chamakh back on the bench.  Joel Ward returned at right back and I must say, as much as I see Joel as a future England right back I thought Martin Kelly was unlucky to lose his place after his performance at Liverpool.  Sunderland started with 5 at the back with Kaboul, O’Shea and Coates as the central three.

To be honest it was a frustrating night and although I’ll touch on the game it’s our lack of goal-scoring threat that really concerns me.  Sunderland, however did a fantastic job.  There three central defenders didn’t really give Palace a sniff in the first half and apart from two long range efforts (Bolassie and Macarthur) Pantillimon could have smoked a cigarette!  It would also be wrong to say that they just “parked the bus” as Fletcher and Defoe caused some problems and if Van Aanholt had a better first touch late in the first half we could have gone in a goal down.

On a freezing cold night with neither keeper having to make a real save in the first half my only crumbs of comfort were delivered from Cabaye, Macarthur and Zaha.  Cabaye is exceptional.  His work rate, interceptions and his ability to hit passes of 5 and 50 yards effortlessly finding a red and blue shirt is a joy.  Equally, Macarthur’s work-rate alongside Cabaye and his continual availability to receive the ball gave us dominance over Sunderland’s midfield.  Zaha just simply excites me.  He had a good battle with Van Aanholt but his unpredictability, his desire to always receive the ball and try a trick even if it doesn’t come off gets me on the edge of my seat and to me that is what football is all about.  Man United nearly ruined him and instead of pointing a finger of blame they should look at themselves as to how they nearly ruined a true talent.  I’d take Wilf to the Euros, I’m not saying I’d start him but if you were looking for a player to come on midway through the second half and change a game… there will be no-one better!

Although we were better in the second half and played with greater tempo when Sako came on for Puncheon, we still lacked either that killer final pass or a real goal scoring threat.  Yes Pantillimon made two good saves from Cabaye and Sako went close with a 25 yard effort that narrowly went wide, but not one single shop on goal from a recognised centre forward and our two best efforts were from a central defensive midfield player!  And this is my one concern with our current side and I’m not moaning about Alan Pardews decision-making as he’s been incredible for us but the facts speak for themselves.

We’re approaching December and not one of our four dedicated forwards has scored a premier league goal… that cannot be right!  Wickham may come good for us but to me he’s unproven both at Palace and as a premier league striker.  He didn’t exactly set the world alight at Sunderland did he! And who is he learning from? Glen Murray would have been the perfect person to coach him in the art of that lone striker role and oh how we could do with Glen’s finishing at the moment, especially at home where the teams we expect to beat sit back and say “come on then let’s see what you’ve got”…. Unfortunately as we saw last night – not a lot!  To be fair to Wickham he’s been out for a good few weeks and he does give the side a focal point so I’ll reserve judgement until January when Pardew might need to look at a proper goal-scorer if those stats remain the same. I do think Chamakh will make a difference for us at home playing in the no10 role.  He is such an intelligent footballer, creates space for others and we may see a difference in our ability to break sides down at home when he’s back fully match fit.

Back to the game and we all know what happened with Scott Danns defensive calamity and unfortunately for me the game was over as soon as Defoe scored as we were never going to break down Sunderland’s back five, who to be fair were outstanding all night.  As for the goal, as soon as there was hesitation Dann should have put the ball in Row Z or Hennessey should have wiped out the ball, Dann and Defoe but I was at the other end and so to me it looked like Dann’s mistake.  I’m not going to dwell on it, he’s a magnificent defender and has been absolutely outstanding for us and to me deserves to be in the England squad.  It goes back to my previous point that you can have all the possession in the world but it means nothing if you don’t score goals and then one mistake costs you the game.

After the euphoria of Anfield last night was a real let down.  Oh well, let’s hope we give Pard’s the victory he deserves on Saturdayagainst his old club.  Can’t we play away!

Champions League dream is still alive, but an opportunity missed in the Premier League? – Harry talks Arsenal

After Saturday’s defeat at West Brom many began once again questioning Arsenal’s title credentials.  The result was not what the Arsenal faithful wanted or perhaps even expected but I for one was not surprised.  An injury hit squad returning from an international break that saw some of our stars (most notably Alexis Sanchez) having to travel half way around the world and play two international games in the space of just a few days,  fatigue was always going to play a part.  With so many key players still out injured Mr Wenger has been forced into picking the same side every week in recent times and I said it after the NLD – ‘Arsenal are running on empty’.

As disappointing as Saturday’s result was its important not to over react,  if you told me we would be going into December level on points with Man City and 12 points ahead of Chelski I would have taken it!  I’m sure most sensible Arsenal fans will agree and I am optimistic about our title challenge this season.  We finally have a top class keeper that earns us points, as opposed to costing us them! Mesut Ozil has finally arrived at the Emirates and Alexis Sanchez continues to be brilliant, why wouldn’t we be hopeful!

Having watched the game on Saturday I thought that the result flattered WBA, we certainly had the chances to get more out of the game and the missed penalty just summed up our day.  Our luck was out and Santi’s slip at the penalty spot was an absolute stinker!

The most disappointing thing and I’m sure many of you will agree was the injury to ‘Le Coq’ – it was the injury we have all been dreading.  Wenger in recent times has pointed out that we have Arteta and Flamini as back up in that position, unfortunately Mikel Arteta was far from convincing when he came on and only increased the pressure on the manager to buy in January.

On came Arteta to concede the free kick that led to Albion’s equaliser, in fairness to the midfielder I personally didn’t think that it was a foul but none the less his defending at the far post was diabolical.  Mikel then scored an OG to give Albion the lead and then went off injured, hows your luck?  Awful day for the Arsenal skipper!  This might sound controversial but it’s a blessing in disguise in my view because I much prefer Flamini in that role for a number of reasons.

A bad day at the office, but I for one felt a hell of a lot better after Liverpool won at the Etihad.

On to Tuesday’s champions league tie at the emirates, a convincing and very comfortable win – just the kind of game I like 🙂

There was a strange atmosphere around the place leading up to kick off.  It wasn’t a negative one, but it was a quiet one, it took a lot longer to get into the stadium due to all the added security checks and as the players emerged onto the field many seats were still empty.  The Arsenal fans seemed relaxed and rightly so, surely we would be strong enough to beat Dinamo at the Emirates and keep the champions league dream alive.  The lads didn’t disappoint!

Brilliant performances from Sanchez & Ozil and good performances from the rest of the team made this a comfortable win.  Was especially great to see Aaron Ramsey get some game time as well – a massive boost at a time where we are desperately short in the midfield.  We have given ourselves a very good chance of progression and I fancy us to go and win by a couple of goals in Athens – not saying it will be easy but we certainly have it in us.  There is a good chance we will have Theo or the Ox available by then as our key players slowly begin returning to full training.

Despite the injury crisis and a few disappointing results of late there is still much to be excited about as a Gooner and I for one am looking forward to the rest of the season.

Coming up:  This coming Sunday see’s us travel to Carrow Road to face a struggling Norwich side live on Sky sports.  No premier league away game is easy these days but I expect us to take all three points and get our title challenge back on course.  The return of Aaron Ramsey is a huge boost and as we begin to get players fit I expect us to find that momentum again and put a decent run together leading into Christmas.

My prediction is Norwich 0-3 Arsenal (a brave one i know!)

Harry

Spurs go marching on! – De Luca reflects on the win over West Ham

Sunday 22nd November 2009, Spurs crushed Wigan Athletic 9-1 at White Hart Lane. 6 years later & the score line could have quite easily been repeated.

The similarities between the line up that day and today were nil in terms of personnel. All 18 players in the squad that day have moved on in the 6 years between that afternoon and now, Aaron Lennon the last to depart this summer meaning every member of the squad who made the Champions League at the end of that season was no more. A team, piece by piece, dismantled.

The comparison between that team and today is a lot more telling, no world superstars like Bale, Van der Vaart & Modric (Modric was injured that day, Bale still to discover form and seemingly heading for a January exit), and no over-reliance on one player like interim seasons at the Lane. Just XI players, with a distinct style imposed by Redknapp playing for each other with supreme confidence.

That’s where Tottenham are now in 2015. Who do you mark? Where do you focus your attention? How do you stem the constant waves of energetic attacks? The answer is you can’t. It’s how some of Europe’s top teams who execute this style of play win match after match, title after title, playing this way. Those sides have better players, like Messi Muller and Iniesta. Tottenham don’t need those sort of players for where they need to be though, we’re not talking about title challenging for Tottenham but instead getting to a position that can be used as platform. There’s nothing wrong with looking up every now and then to distract you from looking down at who is coming up the rails. Chelsea winning again and visiting the lane next week in a massive game, and Liverpool registering their second successive away mauling of a pre-season title contender. Klopp’s Liverpool executed a very similar style to Tottenham in both those games at Chelsea and The Etihad. When teams play well in this way they are near impossible to beat, the opponent needs to play exceptionally well. Teams can’t beat Tottenham at the moment, not since the opening day have they been defeated in the league. How Pochettino must regret a few of the draws that should/could have been wins when looking at the table tonight. Stoke, Liverpool & Everton at home the big examples of two points dropped in dominating displays. That’s where the Muller’s, Iniestas and Messi’s come in handy.

There are no outstanding world class individuals in this Spurs team as I’ve already pointed out, but there is still quality oozing throughout the squad. Just like all good strikers endure goal droughts, they enjoy rich veins of form. 7 goals in the last 4 for Harry Kane in the league, not bad for a one season wonder. The centre half pairing is as good as any in England, Dier Alli and Dembele continue to dominate midfields, and I wouldn’t normally mention it as I don’t personally believe a corner and a five yard sideways pass should fall into the special mention category, but since assists seem to be fashionable these days Christian Eriksen chipped in with two as part of this rout.

As the first ten minutes of this game ticked by I was intrigued at how it was going to play out. Two sides who prefer to counter attack both sitting back waiting for the other to dare to push forward. As the home side the onus is on Spurs to find a way through and West Ham looked well organised with the added option of the aerial threat they posed. Ironic then that Spurs’s second came from a set piece header whilst West Ham had earlier failed to make the most of a couple of opportunities from corner kicks, Alderweireld powered a header home following a dart to the near post on 33 minutes. Spurs had taken the lead 10 minutes earlier when a lucky ricochet gave Kane the chance to roll his marker and smash a finish high into the net. Between the two goals West Ham struck the bar when Kouyate was somehow ruled onside.
Already 2-0 up, Dele Alli then hit the bar at the end of a Spurs move created brilliantly by Christian Eriksen. Harry Kane then missed comically when through on goal, it wasn’t even half time.
It didn’t take long in the second half though for him to make amends, smashing one under the keeper after West Ham were sloppy playing out from the back.

By the time Lanzini scored a late consolation, a lovely goal by the only man in claret and blue who had tried all afternoon to make things happen, Spurs had already gone 4 up.
Walker finished beautifully with the outside of his boot after a 1-2 with Son who was really lively in the second half. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether Lanzini or Walker should take the goal of the day spoils, that’s down to personal preference.
There were missed chances too, two double saves from Adrian, and Mason striking a post amongst others I’ve probably forgotten amongst the constant bombardment of Tottenham attacks.

It finished 4-1, it really could have been 9 again, an absolute onslaught of a display by Tottenham and this time with the goals and the points to prove it.

Pochettino utilised the ‘one game at a time’ cliche when an interviewer suggested he might look up the table instead of behind. I didn’t believe him. I can’t accept that Thursday’s trip to Azerbaijan will be ahead of Chelsea next Sunday in his thoughts.
A midday kick off after a trip to Asia is not ideal and the absence of Dele Alli through suspension will be a miss too, the only blot on a superb day for Tottenham. If Spurs can get home from Qarabag with their first team unscathed it’s a huge opportunity to open up a healthy gap over the defending league champions.

I’ll leave you with the starting line up from that afternoon six years ago against Wigan:
Gomes; Corluka Dawson Woodgate Assou-Ekotto, Lennon Huddlestone Palacios Krancjar, Crouch Defoe.

If that team can finish 4th then there really is only one direction Pochettino should be looking. Good teams beat good players. Bring on Chelsea

No Striker, No Problem – Alavi talks us through Liverpool’s win at the Etihad

The Game 

Liverpool set a high pace from the start and took the lead inside just seven minutes when Coutinho displaced Sagna of the ball in his own half and found Firmino in behind the City’s back-line. Soon after, Liverpool found themselves two up after twenty-two minutes when Firmino broke clear down the right-hand side and had the presence of mind to pick out Coutinho from eight yards. With just over half hour on the clock, Emre Can produced an outrageous back-heel to find Coutinho who in turn found Firminho to tap into an empty net. Aguero gave City a flicker of hope before half-time  but Liverpool remained the dominant team, whilst Raheem Sterling of Manchester City had a quiet game against his former club. With ten minutes remaining a corner dropped at the feet of Skrtel and from about 18 yards he rocketed a half-volley past Hart into the top corner.

Klopp

Jurgen Klopp has revealed that Liverpool had to find a way to create problems for Manchester City by pressing higher up the pitch.  “It’s a very important thing in football and the better your opponent is the more important it gets that you do things like this,” Klopp explained, as quoted by Liverpool’s official website.
“Manchester City were top of the table, so at this moment are the best team in England. We had to try to find some ways to cause them problems and that’s what we did,” he added.
“The next point is, if you win a ball [high up the pitch], then it’s not the longest way in the right direction and that’s very important of course. We try to do similar things but not always the same.”
“What we try to do is to analyse the opponent and see what their biggest strength is and things we can do that they don’t feel confident [defending against] then we try to do it,” the German said. You here plenty of managers who want to be hands-on with their players and kick every ball, but Klopp is in a place of his own with his touchline choreography. No sooner had Roberto Firmino tapped in Liverpool’s third, Klopp was screaming at his midfielders for losing their shape in an earlier move. He was similarly irate when Lucas failed to switch play quickly enough and when James Milner chose to shoot from 18 yards rather than pass to an overlapping midfielder.

Centre-backs

As I remarked on the Pod a few weeks ago, I’m a big fan of Sakho and I worried for Liverpool when I noticed his absence on Saturday. However, Lovren was up to the task. He has the attributes to be a good centre-back and he was certainly up to the challenge. Lovren will need top provide this form to fully convince me but, if anything, it is a further example of Klopp’s powers of rejuvenation as he continues to get more out of these players than many believed possible.

Even the most casual of football fans will tell you that Vincent Kompany is a major loss for City. It was worrying how often Mangala and Demichelis wilted under the slightest pressure. The scurrying Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana took advantage of the City captain’s injury absence with brutal efficiency. Just for the record, I think Managla will prove to be a top defender, but on this occasion, Liverpool’s creativity proved too much.

Up Next

Liverpool take on Swansea at Anfield whilst City are also at home against the Saints. Manchester City, would have gone top with a win, are in third, two points behind surprise leaders Leicester City. Now that’s a sentence I never thought I’d say three months into the season!

 

Man City vs Liverpool Preview – Alavi

The biggest game in the Premiership this weekend sees Manchester City take on Liverpool at the Etihad live on Sky Sports (17:30). The home side are 8/13 favourites, although to a degree those odds will be dependent on late fitness tests for a handful of players from both sides.

Injury news

Silva has been side-lined since the beginning of October after suffering an ankle injury while on international duty in Spain’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Luxembourg. According to reports, the attacking midfielder is one of two players targeting a return to action for the City’s clash with Liverpool this weekend. While Manuel Pellegrini’s men have still picked up the points in the absence of Silva, maintaining their position at the top of the Premier League table, his return will no doubt lift the club’s mood even further. In what has become a far too familiar picture for City supporters, Aguero limped off the pitch holding his left hamstring in Argentina’s 2-0 defeat to Ecuador in the previous international break. The striker, therefore, has not kicked a ball in the Premier League since he scored five goals in the 6-1 demolition of Newcastle United at the beginning of October. However, there is good news, as, like David Silva, the 27-year-old is targeting a return in City’s next game versus Liverpool. And his return is one that the top flight’s top four contenders will be fearful of – particularly if he can continue where he left off. In my opinion Aguero and Suarez are the two deadliest strikers in the world, and naturally, a lift for any team.
Daniel Sturridge may provide a boost for Liverpool- It was hugely disappointing for Liverpool supporters when Sturridge was ruled out through injury in Jurgen Klopp’s first game in charge against Tottenham Hotspur almost one month ago. He hasn’t yet featured under the German, but that could all change this weekend. The England international returned to full training on Tuesday afternoon, and could therefore feature against Manchester City on Saturday evening. Henderson got the new season off to a nightmare start, limping off with a foot problem in the victory over AFC Bournemouth in the Reds’ second game of the campaign. A further setback in training two months’ ago, in which he broke his fifth metatarsal, has seen him sidelined ever since. As with teammate Daniel Sturridge, Henderson could be back in action when the Premier League returns this weekend – in what will be music to the ears of Jurgen Klopp. Liverpool have missed their captain in the centre of the park, and it will be interesting to see how he slots into Klopp’s midfield.

Key battle

A key battle will see the creative talents of Kevin De Bruyne and Philippe Coutinho pitted against each other. The two playmakers have been in fine form this season, proving decisive in their sides’ efforts in the final third, and there is little to separate them statistically. Premierleague.com displayed their stats as shown below:

image

Coutinho has the edge in terms of goals scored with four compared with De Bruyne’s three but the Belgian arrived in the BPL close to transfer deadline day and so has played three matches fewer. That makes his tally of four assists, double Coutinho’s, all the more impressive.The Brazilian has proved more prolific at probing into the final third than De Bruyne, having played 80 passes into dangerous areas, 42 more than the City player. However, where De Bruyne has shone is in picking out the right pass. Despite playing significantly fewer passes into the final third, he has created 24 chances, 10 more than Coutinho.

City tactics

We’ve spoken this season about the Klopp factor and tactics- but what about City?

One of the more mysterious features of the Champions League over the past four seasons has been the repeated failure of City: two group-stage exits and then defeat in the last 16 in the past two seasons. .Under Pellegrini, there has at least been a tactical explanation. In over half his Champions League games with City, Pellegrini has played with two strikers. It’s a trait that was becoming increasingly puzzling. Now that’s not to say that there’s inherently anything wrong with 4-4-2. As England manager Roy Hodgson has pointed out, most formations revert to two banks of four when out of possession. The problem has been that the players City have had at the back of the midfield haven’t offered sufficient protection to the back four. This at least in part explains why Vincent Kompany looked so out of sorts last season, as he was repeatedly lured forward to try to win the ball in the space that should have been occupied by one of the defensive midfielders.

Apportioning blame when the failure was systemic isn’t easy and probably isn’t fair, but the questions about Yaya Toure last season were reasonable. Was his application lacking or was it just that, at his age, he no longer has the stamina to get up and down the pitch as he used to? Either way, his indifferent form was part of a wider problem. The early stages of this season suggest City may have resolved that and, despite again being drawn in a tough group, they may at last be able to impose themselves in the Champions League.

Significantly, the shape has changed, and so has the make-up of the squad. With Alvaro Negredo, Stevan Jovetic and Edin Dzeko gone, there’s little temptation to play with two centre-forwards – though Wilfried Bony and Sergio Aguero could play together if ever required. There seems to be an acceptance that City will play 4-2-3-1 from now on, and that seems to have come with a greater defensive solidity – they didn’t concede at all in their first four league games, which included a 3-0 victory over reigning champions Chelsea.

More significant, though, is what the addition of Raheem Sterling has meant to the forward line. Whereas Silva or Nasri would usually play on the left last season, drifting infield, the versatility of Sterling means that there can now be pace on both flanks. In those first four league games,The arrival of Kevin De Bruyne from Wolfsburg increases those options even further and presumably means less pitch time for Navas. There is a knock-on effect as well. With pace on both flanks, teams will instinctively sit deep against City, but if they do, they risk leaving space that Silva can float in. Push up to restrict him, though, and the danger is that the opposition leave space behind for the pace of Sterling, Aguero and Navas to exploit. After the weary trudge of much of last season, Pellegrini’s Manchester City are looking sharp again and, more importantly, they may have the balance and the compactness in midfield.

City come into this game having drawn two and won two of their last four premiership games. Conversely, Liverpool boast two wins, a draw and the recent loss to Crystal palace. My personal forecast is that City will be too creative in Midfield, and probably have the advantage in this area above Liverpool, more so than they do any other of the top 6. If City can remain in good form without their two best players, it bodes well for their title chances.

Premiership but not the ‘Premier’ League – Alavi tells us why following on from the last podcast.

So we discussed this on the pod briefly- but why are English clubs struggling in the Champions league?

Many point to the physical intensity and competitiveness of the Premier League, but surely if the standard is competitive then the teams should be better? Economic theory suggests competition increases quality right? I’ve always been in favour of a winter break. In terms of helping English teams – a winter break is a must while, if they are complaining about fixture scheduling and tiredness, they need to tell the Premier League to make its planning more helpful to them.
When an English side does have a player of Ronaldo’s class, you can be sure they’ll end up in La Liga soon enough. Take the couple of phenomenal seasons Ronaldo had at Man united, when was the last time the top tier of English football league boasted the world’s best player? Some argue Gazza…..I’m not so sure. Maradona and Van Basten just a couple of other names floating around at that time. Any before Gazza………do we need to go as far back as George Best? The greatest players who come here are just passing through.

The English aversion to defensive football is at the root of the current failings of Premier League clubs in the Champions League. The supporters are also culpable in this, with Manchester United fans, for instance, chanting ‘attack, attack, attack’ at times when Louis van Gaal’s players are attempting to overcome teams with their possession-based tactics. Manchester United’s attacking philosophy is not always productive. For English clubs to be successful once again in Europe, it requires an acceptance from all parties that defending is just as important as attacking. Examples? Bentiez at Liverpool, Mourinho at Inter. Even Fergie would change his team selection to bring in Fletcher and Carrick in Europe.

We are delighted when 5-4 Premier league games provide us entertainment on a Sunday afternoon, but do they not highlight defensive frailties as opposed to the tight 1-0 victories elsewhere around Europe? I’m reliably told Liverpool won the European Cup four times and Nottingham Forest twice in the seventies and eighties by shutting up shop away from home and scaring the living daylights out of the opposition once on their own turf.

The group stages have been an interesting watch this season. In summary, English clubs have taken European opposition too lightly because we had become too used to winning easily in the group stages. We are too prone to believing the horrendous hype of the Premier League. Every game offers a different style, a different challenge. You need players who can adapt, who can think their way through a game. You need leaders on the pitch, midfielders who can solve problems in real-time, defenders who can read play rather than simply react to it.

Agents are dominating the game- and not for the good of football. Constantly in the club’s ear telling them to pay excessive fees for players that simply aren’t worth the money. The complicity as players, agents and managers makes themselves richer – ultimately with the assistance of subscription fees (which lead to further TV rights deal increases) – is scandalous and sickening. Nobody at any level of our game is demanding accountability. We are consistently denied genuine access regarding where all the money goes, while hypocritically turning our gaze to the finances of FIFA and UEFA. How about we start at home?