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October 3, 2019

Trouble In North London: What’s Behind Tottenham Hotspur’s Sudden Decline?

Avatar October 3, 2019

To fall from competing in the UEFA Champions League final in one season to being pumped seven goals at home takes some shocking backtracking. Well, Tottenham Hotspur have somehow managed to achieve this embarrassing task.

The drubbing to Bayern Munich validated their sudden vulnerability. While their shockingly poor away form in 2019 has been the talk of the town, many shushed opinions that they’ve gone downhill since that majestic night in Amsterdam.

Quite similar to Manchester United’s downfall following their Parisian delight in March, Mauricio Pochettino’s side has gone from among Europe’s best to operating like just another inconsistent Premier League mid-table side.

The pressure keeps mounting on the Argentine to face the sack if things don’t improve. With only a point in two games, Spurs need a small miracle to make it out the group. However, this worrying decline, which has been going on for nearly a year now, only manifested further after a brittle summer.

Daniel Levy comes up short in the transfer market AGAIN

Spurs were among the absolute rare clubs to not have spent a dime for three transfer windows stretching from the 2017 winter transfer up till the 2019 summer, when they started splurging again. Building a new state-of-the-art stadium posed an excuse, as Pochettino dug his teeth into getting the best of whatever he had.

Of course, he worked wonders for a certain period with the Champions League success. However, it was evident his thin squad needed more firepower. He soon made it clear it wasn’t him but chairman Daniel Levy-known for selling his star players for highly inflated fees- was handling the business.

Levy ended up securing three targets in Tanguy N’Dombele, Ryan Sessegnon and Giovani Lo Celso. When you look at how Sessegnon (a future star) still being injured and Lo Celso hasn’t even played an hour, the recruitment doesn’t seem that clever, does it?

Well, Levy’s inability to sign a top-quality centre-back or a replacement for the outgoing Kieran Trippier has clearly backfired. Spurs are conceding goals for days, looking unstable whenever having to defend and lack their explosiveness going forward.

They need at least two or three more players, including a feisty number #10 (Paulo Dybala rejected them in a last-minute deal) and a few strong defenders to mount a proper challenge. Levy took a risk trying to save money again, but his greed’s come back to haunt him.

Tactical & ego problems

Their off-the-field problems have integrated into their performance-levels this season, as Spurs have lost that hard-working mentality which allowed them to go past many obstacles last season. In a bid to complement lethal finishers Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son together upfront, Pochettino’s shifted to a two-man strike force this season.

As a result, we’ve seen a 4-3-1-2 or 4-4-2 formation be used on different occasions. While this does allow Son & Kane to link up smoothly going forward, it’s had a problematic effect on those behind them. However, these narrow formations has a toll on their midfielders and wing-backs, who tire out after being forced to put in extra shifts.

Their right-wing is posing to be a big problem, with the sloppy Serge Aurier consistently being wrong-footed and oppositions specifically targeting to attack via that side. Despite showing a never-say-die spirit last season, they get withered out too easily, allowing opponents to sit-back, soak in pressure and thwart them in swift breaks or counter-attacks.

How Spurs conceded five goals in the second half against Bayern, two against Leicester City and almost two near about the half-time break mark proves how their players switch off after a point. Hugo Lloris’ botchery doesn’t help and the ageing centre-backs can only do so much.

Adding to the problems is the fact that there are some tensed relationship between senior players. As per ESPN, some don’t think Spurs can go further after the UCL final last season and Pochettino recently questioning their mentality only proved not everything is swell in the dressing room.

Too many wantaway players

While Spurs have done well to overthrow the reputation for being a “selling club” over the last few years, they still aren’t elite enough for their top stars to commit themselves for life. Christian Eriksen, in particular, has been agitating for a move away.

He explained his wishes to leave North London in the summer but after Real Madrid simply ran out of money to sign him, the Dane was forced to stay. However, he’s almost guaranteed to leave soon with his contract running out in the summer of 2020. Moreover, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen’s contract are also expiring in May.

Unless a miracle, Spurs’ experience trio should be out by next summer. However, Eriksen’s pre-season antics and grumpy theatrics aren’t helping Pochettino. The Dane’s the enforcer in Spurs attack, but has seen himself benched on many occasions as Spurs prepare for life without him.

The fact that Dele Alli, who’s yet to score or assist this season, has gotten the nod over him on multiple occasions has also frustrated many senior figures. By having to deal with wantaway, disgruntled players on one side and underwhelming on another, Pochettino’s losing his patience.

All these problems have surmounted into a systematic issue for the Argentine. There are really no guarantees Spurs will be firing on all cylinders even if he calms down the storm this season. With big chances ahead, their manager’s future in potential and multiple stars slated to leave, it’s safe to say the high-flying North London giants have been brought back to the grim reality they lived in for years.

Previewing La Liga Matchday 8: Real Madrid Hosts Second-Place (!) Granada and Barcelona Takes on Sevilla

Tyler Everett October 3, 2019

Who: Real Madrid vs Granada
When: Saturday, October 5th @ 10:00am ET
LineReal Madrid -335 | Draw +480 | Granada +750

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Matchday 8 in La Liga is the best of the season, even if last weekend boasted the best single game of the year (Atleti-Real Madrid). Though one of the four teams in the games I’m about to mention were promoted to the top flight this year, it’s still hard to overstate the fact we get first place vs. second place and fourth vs. sixth on back-to-back days.

This weekend, Real Madrid (-335) hosts Granada (+750) at the Santiago Bernabéu on Saturday at 10 a.m. Eastern. We’ll elaborate later in this piece, but for now, let’s just say that line would have made a ton of sense before the season started. Now? Not so much. Granada is in SECOND PLACE, WITH A LEAGUE-BEST GOAL DIFFERENTIAL OF +7.

I promise I didn’t call this the most interesting matchday of ’19-20 just because it’s the next one or because I’m interested in Granada’s trip to Madrid. Barcelona (-177) also has one of its toughest games of the season (to date), as they host a Sevilla (+450) squad that is only two points out of first place despite dropping two of their last three.

Real Madrid Rollercoaster

We’ll get to the Granada clash in a second, I swear, but until Real Madrid steadies itself, reviewing their most recent week will be a necessary part of previewing their games.

The good news for Los Blancos is that they are in sole possession of first place and have not lost since that Champions League meltdown in Paris on September 18th. But if you think that means all is wel … who am I kidding, by now, everyone knows what happened on Tuesday vs. Club Brugge, when they were lucky to salvage a draw. And last week’s tie at Atleti wasn’t what they were looking for, either.

So with advancing from their Champions League group in major jeopardy, no pressure – or reason to worry — as Granada comes to town, right? That’s clearly what oddsmakers seem to believe. Dismissing a team with as little star power as Granada boasts would make some sense if they’d only played a game or two or beaten nothing other than also-rans.

But first of all, we’re seven games (more than 630 minutes, if you want to think about it that way) into the season. And Granada has a 2-0 win over Barcelona and has only lost once. That, along with their goal differential*, should give them more respect, but for whatever reason, it isn’t happening, at least not yet.

*Speaking of goal differential in Spain, guess who is tied for first in that department at +7?? If you said Villarreal, you’re either a liar or a fan of the eighth-place team.

So who are these guys?

Now, if you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned Granada’s players or how they’ve piled up 14 points, let’s just it’s definitely not because I haven’t gotten around to watching them play yet. That will change Saturday, but in the meantime, I can tell you it’s a balanced attack offensively: 27-year-old Antonio Puertas leads the way with three goals and is one of eight players who has contributed to the 12 goals they’ve scored. And the always-useful WhoScored profiles them here. They are managed by 38-year-old Diego Martínez, who learned under Sevilla mastermind Monchi for a number of years. This is just his second head coaching job with a top senior team after he managed Osasuna in ’17-18. You’re going to hear a lot more about Martínez if this team continues to win.

The verdict

As for Real Madrid, if they’re on their game, they should have enough to get three points at home. Unfortunately for Madridistas, that’s such a big “if” that betting Granada at +750, or the draw at +480, makes a ton of sense.

It’s worth noting that FiveThirtyEight is not a Granada believer, as the site gives this team just a 10% chance to win this weekend. FiveThirtyEight also believes Granada has just an 11% chance to even finish top-four. Bulletin board material, anybody?

Barcelona-Sevilla Match Preview

A couple weeks ago, it looked like Sevilla might have a chance to not only stay in first place for a while, but build up a bit of a cushion. Through four weeks, this team had 10 points, and when it hosted RM (then on 8 points), it was a golden opportunity to make a statement. Instead, Sevilla lost that game 1-0 and followed that with a puzzling loss at Eibar. They bounced back by beating Real Sociedad last week, but head to Camp Nou a tough team to figure out.

Barcelona is coming off its first game with Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Antoine Griezmann all starting up top. It took the Catalans a while to get going vs. Inter Milan on Wednesday (and they honestly were lucky to only be down 1-0 at halftime), but Suárez scored two incredible goals, giving him three in the last 180 minutes. Messi didn’t quite look like himself (at least not in my opinion, though WhoScored, which gave him a 9.45 (!) would beg to differ). But it was still probably easily his best performance of the season, as he set up the Uruguayan for the winner in the 84th. In the process, he reminded everyone how dangerous his team is when he plays 90 minutes.

Away from Camp Nou, I’d expect Barcelona to struggle – and Sevilla at +450 would be very intriguing – but Ernesto Valverde’s team has scored 12 goals in three games in front of its home fans. The truly discouraging news for Sevilla is that Messi played just 45 minutes in those three games. Barcelona is up-and-down enough to make the draw at +325 enticing, but another home victory is the most likely outcome.

The Five Most Important MLS Games on Decision Day

Avatar October 3, 2019

MLS’s Decision Day is on Sunday. It is the last regular season game for everybody, and the whole league will play at the same time to decide various playoff matchups and seeding. For many, it is a crucial day.

Let’s run through the five most important matches.

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Portland Timbers vs San Jose Earthquakes

This is basically winner-take-all here. Both teams qualify for the postseason with a win. The Timbers, who will play at home (debatable whether that’s even a positive for them), make it through with a tie. San Jose, who trail seventh place by one point, have no chance at the playoffs if they lose, but would qualify if they draw at Portland and both FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids hold up their end of the bargain.

The Timbers will be without ice-cold forward Brian Fernandez, who will be suspended on a red card. San Jose’s current free-fall (five straight losses, though all have been against good teams) would indicate that Portland are the favorites here.

Portland -104 | Draw +300 | San Jose +225

Atlanta United vs New England Revolution

New England are safely in the playoffs, thanks to some epic long-term choking out of the Chicago Fire, but they would love to avoid traveling to a New York baseball stadium for the first round. A win against Atlanta (don’t count on it, but crazier things have happened) plus a Toronto FC loss to Columbus (more plausible) would move the Revs up to sixth.

Atlanta have all the motivation to beat New England, because any win on Sunday guarantees them second in the East and a rubber match with the Revs in the playoffs. Hosting Bruce Arena’s side again is much more favorable than having to deal with Toronto or even the New York Red Bulls in a knockout game.

Atlanta United -195 | Draw +330 | New England +475

Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United

The 2-5 slots in the Western Conference are up for grabs on Sunday. Seattle and Minnesota are locked at 53 points and 15 wins right now, with the Loons holding the goals tiebreaker and thus second place. The winner of this game secures second, while the loser could drop as low as fifth if the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake both win.

They might play to a cagey draw. That result could benefit both teams, but a Galaxy win and a Seattle-Minnesota draw would elevate LA to second and drop the Sounders and Loons. LA play the 11th-place Dynamo. Seattle and Minnesota should both be playing to win.

Seattle -117 | Draw +290 | Minnesota +270

FC Dallas vs. Sporting KC

In addition to being a rivalry match, this will be make or break for FC Dallas. A win over SKC and Dallas are in. A draw or loss, though, and they’d have to root heavily for Portland (and LAFC, to prevent a miracle rise out of Colorado).

Last week, FCD fell flat in a 3-0 loss to the Rapids, which assured that this game would be of interest. They will have to rebound here, and play much better on defense.

FC Dallas -177 | Draw +320 | Sporting +430

NYCFC vs. Philadelphia Union

This is the other end of the battle for second in the East. Atlanta have the wins tiebreaker, so the Philadelphia Union don’t control their destiny here. They’d need to win or draw and have the Five Stripes pick up fewer points against the Revs in order to finish second.

NYCFC have no immediate implications to play for here. But this might be the most interesting game of the week, given that both teams are elite and gearing up for a chance at a deep playoff run. NYC are the better team, and have a much clearer shot at going far in the playoffs. Philly could prove people wrong if they walk into Yankee Stadium and score an important victory.

Philadelphia -120 | Draw +300 | NYCFC +270

Decision Day Match Preview: Montreal Impact vs New York Red Bulls

Peter Nolan October 3, 2019

Who: Montreal Impact vs New York Red Bull
When: Sunday, October 6th @ 4:00pm ET
LineMontreal +155 | Draw +280 | New York Red Bulls +143

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Playoff position and the chance to host a first round playoff match will be in the balance for the New York Red Bulls when they face an already eliminated Montreal Impact side this Decision Day at Stade Saputo Stadium.

Fifth place New York wasted an opportunity to move up to the fourth spot (which comes with hosting rights) in last Sunday’s goalless home draw versus old rivals DC United. With United wrapping up its regular season at home to league worst FC Cincinnati, it is likely that those two dropped points will end up costing the Red Bulls a realistic chance at a home re-match versus DC in the single elimination opening round.

Sunday will put a lid on what was a disappointing regular season for the 2018 MLS Supporters Shield winners. RBNY were expected to challenge defending MLS Cup champion Atlanta United and cross river rivals New York City Football Club for the Eastern Conference in 2019.

Then again, perhaps this is the year that New York flips the playoff switch and makes a run at the MLS Cup, the ultimate prize that has so far eluded the league’s original New York franchise.

Montreal Impact vs New York Red Bulls Match Preview

Montreal does not figure to put up much of a fight after last week’s meek capitulation at home to Atlanta, unless Impact owner Joey Saputo’s postgame, shape up or ship out, diatribe awakens his underperforming charges.

With a victory on Sunday essential, if the Red Bulls are to have any hope of hosting, New York’s attack will have to take advantage of Montreal’s defense, second most generous in the East this year only to record setting Cincinnati.

Prior to that 0-0 draw versus DC, the Red Bulls had run off a three match streak of scoring two goals per game following a 2-0 loss in Colorado back on August 31. No longer able to rely on Bradley Wright-Phillips to filling the score sheet, coach Chris Armas’ side has done a good job of spreading the wealth in recent weeks. Only Daniel Royer, with two, has scored multiple goals over the Red Bulls previous four matches.

Royer has done it all year long for New York and with striker Brian White, who picked up some of the slack in BWP’s absence still unavailable, Royer will be in the spotlight once more.

Defensively the Red Bulls have improved as well, carrying a streak of three consecutive shutouts into Sunday’s Decision Day showdown in Montreal. Central defense pair Aaron Long and Tim Parker finally seem to be on the same page. Kemar Lawrence is reminding us all just how good he can be while Kyle Duncan has provided solid defense and an athletic outlet on the wing and seems to have displaced Panamanian international Michael Murillo on Armas’ team sheet.

A loss to the Impact Sunday in Montreal could see the Red Bulls fall farther down the table, with Toronto FC just a single point behind the Red Bulls and facing Columbus, out of the playoff race, at home on Decision Day.

For Montreal, adding former “next Messi” Bojan Krkić alongside perennial star Ignacio Piatti did not prove to be the secret to getting the Impact back into the playoffs for the first time since 2016, a turn of events that resulted in Saputo dressing down his team ad is likely to lead into a turbulent off-season for the franchise.

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