Premier League Review: …And The Spurs Go Marching On
Most outsiders will likely consider it to be a corner turned, but supporters of Tottenham Hotspur know from long and bitter experience that, for much of the last half-century, corners being turned have tended to mean that any portrait of the club’s season was being etched by MC Escher. Two years ago, it was putting five goals past Chelsea at White Hart Lane. Last year, it was a swashbuckling performance against Manchester City. This time around, City arrived in London with a flawless record of six out of six in the league, but there were reasons for Spurs supporters to be optimistic before kick-off. After all, Celtic had put three goals past them in the Champions League the week before. There had been signs of… whisper it… vulnerability on show from Manchester City the week before.
This was a vulnerability that Spurs ruthlessly exposed through pressing, pressing and more pressing, so much pressing, indeed, that one might be tempted to wonder what the prognosis is for this team possibly running out of steam in the way that they did last season. Aleksander Kolarov chipped in with an early own goal and Delle Alli gave Spurs a two goal buffer, but even then there was enough time for ghosts of Christmases past to manifest themselves with a minor argument between Son Heung-min and Erik Lamela over who would take the penalty kick that would have put the result beyond any reasonable doubt. Lamela won the debate but missed the penalty kick, and the extra shot of adrenalin that this infused Manchester City’s players with might have allowed them a back-door route back into the game. Spurs hung on with relative comfort to become the first Premier League team to take points from City this season, though.
So it is that the talk has started again. Can Tottenham Hotspur launch a title challenge this year? Well, the team is a year older and more experienced than it was last time around – whether this makes all concerned a year wiser remains to be seen – and they seem to have enough vim and vigour about them to indicate that the core first team squad is capable. It might have been considered maximum Spurs to lose Harry Kane to injury for a couple of months just minutes after scoring his first goal of the season, but the aforementioned Son has been a revelation in his place and this may well come as a relief to Mauricio Pochettino, who is likely to find that a degree of squad rotation is even more necessary that last time around, what with the Champions League group stages to negotiate and all. In the meantime, though, all that Spurs can do is continue to win games. It won’t be enough to convince some people on its own,, but it’s a start.
Meanwhile, Arsenal and Liverpool remain in third and fourth place in the table after narrow wins against modest opposition. If Arsenal’s one-nil win at Burnley proved anything, it was that our laws concerning at least handball – and possibly also offside – have become so convoluted that they probably need a complete rewriting. Was Laurent Koscielny “deliberately” handling a ball that bounced off his elbow and in? Well, there’s no way of proving intent without lie detector machines, and the fact that there remain arguments ongoing over whether an offence was committed more than a day after the event hint at deficiencies in the laws of the game rather than anything else. Still, it was three points for Arsenal whilst not playing particularly well, and that in itself says something about a team that has flattered to deceive on more occasions in the past than could ever be considered healthy.
Liverpool, meanwhile, required a late penalty kick to edge their way past Swansea City, a result that gave the impression of being all the encouragement that Swansea’s new owners needed to make the first Premier League managerial change of the season, replacing undoubted future pub quiz answer Francesco Guidolin with the former USA national team coach Bob Bradley. Bradley therefore becomes the first American manager in the top flight of English/Welsh football with the Swans separated from the relegation places by goal difference only. He has, however, a decent chance of setting the club back on an even keel. Performances haven’t been great so far this season – the league table isn’t lying in that respect – but Swansea didn’t play badly against either Manchester City or Liverpool, their last two league matches, and there are likely three worse teams in this year’s Premier League. Liverpool, on the other hand, are in the same as Spurs in terms of having had an understatedly impressive start to the new season. The Jurgen Klopp revolution might not be exactly what most expected before he arrived at Anfield, but there’s little denying the club’s upward trajectory so far this season.
Manchester United, meanwhile, remain a curate’s egg of a team. A couple of wins had partially silenced the “UNITED IN CRISIS” headlines that had been threatening to start revealing themselves a couple of weeks ago, but their performance against Stoke City was noticeably goal-shy and a late Joe Allen goal was enough to nick Stoke a point and feather Mark Hughes’ bed for another week or so. His team gave the very distinct impression of lifting themselves out of the funk that seemed to have settled over their season so far. Manchester United, however, are a work in progress. Their inability to close this game off at one-nil up will clearly concern the manager, especially considering the amount of money spent on attacking players – and yes, Zlatan Ibrahimovich was a free transfer, but his contract sees him receive a very large amount of money from the club – and the feeling remains that this team, at least the parts of it that witnessed it, still haven’t quite got out of that Louis Van Gaal way of thinking just yet.
There was at least a return to winning ways for Chelsea on Saturday, but how much importance can be placed on a two-nil win against a Hull City team that is starting to live down to pre-season expectations may be questionable. Still, it was a clean sheet at least – only their second since holding Watford to a goalless draw at Vicarage Road on the third of February – whilst another goal and assist for Diego Costa gave further glimpses of his capability once other distractions are factored out. Hull drop to fifteenth place in the table, now one place above Middlesbrough, who ended their recent losing run with a one-all draw at West Ham United, another club with an unsuccessful streak to exercise. This was a somewhat improved performance from West Ham on recent weeks – though matching the paucity of their matches against Southampton or West Bromwich Albion would have required some special attention – but a failure to win a match that saw Dimitri Payet cancel out Cristhian Stuani’s opening goal for Middlesbrough leaves them in the relegation places.
At this stage it’s difficult to say whether a home point against one of the less ambitious teams in the division should ever be a cause for celebration, but Sunderland supporters have had to take their jollies where they can get them of late, and a one-all draw against West Bromwich Albion might have been worse, while the point that they took from the game at leaves them above Stoke on goal difference at the very bottom of the table, and all of the teams at the bottom of the table can probably take some heart from the recent resurgence of Crystal Palace, whose one-all draw at Goodison Park against Everton on Friday night was their fifth consecutive unbeaten Premier League match, a run that has seen the team jump to eighth place in the table. Everton, meanwhile, remain in fifth place. And finally, an enjoyably knockabout game broke out at Watford on Saturday afternoon, a two-all draw against a Bournemouth team who may be a little disappointed to have come away from the match with just a point after having taken the lead twice. Watford’s second goal came from substitute Isaac Success, by the way. You’re probably already sick of jokes about his surname, so I think we’ll leave it there.
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