Monday Verdict: Could underrated Spurs still sneak up on title pack?

Date published: Monday 21st November 2016 9:34

We revel in Yaya Toure’s reintroduction at Manchester City but question his blind loyalty to his agent and ask if Jose Mourinho’s poor substitutions put Manchester United on the backfoot against Arsenal.


Welcome back Yaya  – but what a waste of three months it’s been

He wasn’t quite a man possessed, but not far from it: Yaya Toure made his first start for Manchester City since August – and he set himself out like a man with a point to prove.

It’s fair to say his obituary at the Etihad had long been written; farewell to a man who will go down as one of the Premier League’s top goalscoring midfielders – and one of the most powerful, athletic and combative to boot.

When Guardiola was appointed City manager it appeared Toure was doomed. Their past relationship at Barcelona, and the manner of his departure, meant a parting of ways seemed inevitable.

But this time around, Toure dug his heels in and refused to move. Older and wiser? Or perhaps befitting of a man who knew that by leaving the ‘glory years’ of City behind, the only way was down….?

But it seems the Yaya Toure story at Man City isn’t finished and his two-goal display against Crystal Palace on Saturday reminded us all, and Guardiola moreso, that here is a man who can still do a job.

Pep Guardiola: Anxious wait for Man City boss

Explaining his recall, Guardiola hinted that the player’s return wasn’t just a one-off.

“He’s a very special player.

“His performance was not about my decision, it’s about his quality. Yaya was, for the last two months, training really well. His physical condition is better than ever. I’m so happy for him and his family.

“He’s now a real part of the team and can help us achieve our targets. We need this kind of player.

“The Premier League, Champions League and cups are so demanding. John Stones didn’t play, so we need all the players to be fit to achieve our targets.”

So what had changed and why the recall?

Again Guardiola wasn’t mincing his words, laying the blame pretty firmly at his agent’s door…..

“It’s for many, many, many reasons. Now we have Yaya. We will have Yaya during the season. He’s ready and can play with us.

“You know the reason why (he had been left out).”

Yaya Toure’s agent trouble

Pep Guardiola & Yaya Toure: Duo's problems solved?

So. The morale of the story – it’s simple really, kids – keep your friends close, but abandon your agent the second he starts stirring up ****.

Dimitri Seluk (Toure’s representative) has had a long-running feud with the City boss and it’s that row between the pair that, more than anything, has contributed to the player’s expulsion.

Seluk was stirring things up with Guardiola almost straight after his pre-appointment as City boss was announced on February 1.

I could write out a string of the exchanges between the duo, but a simple ‘Seluk Guardiola’ google search provides all you need to know….

Yaya Toure agent row google search

Put it this way, it’s almost like being suspended from school as a kid, but not through your own actions, but more because your mother performed a dirty protest on the headteacher’s desk.

But while you can’t choose your family, you can choose your agents, and you do wonder if there’s a part of Toure that feels he should have ditched Seluk some time ago…?

For whatever reason (we’ll call it ‘blind loyalty’ for arguments sake) Toure stuck by his man. Maybe Guardiola has had the apology he’d been demanding from Seluk or whether Toure’s peacemaking simply did the trick, we don’t yet know.

But you do wonder how different life at Man City may have been for Yaya Toure this season had he ditched his man; or more to the point, whether the player might have spent longer at Barcelona than he did.

Yaya Toure: Left Barcelona in 2010

Either way, Barca’s loss back in 2010 has been very much City’s gain – and it seems his story isn’t quite yet told at the Etihad.

The player is out of contract next summer and able to discuss a free transfer abroad come January. Is it too much suggest that the 33-year-old could complete a complete U-turn and sign up for another year….? Either way, I can’t see Guardiola wanting to handle the negotiations if Seluk is around….



The five agents making a mint and the players they represent

Watch: Guardiola explains Yaya Toure’s recall


Mourinho left aggrieved – but did his substitutions hinder United?

Jose Mourinho & Arsene Wenger: Shake hands before kick-off

Jose Mourinho was clearly a frustrated man after watching Manchester United let slip a 1-0 lead at home to Arsenal on Saturday. After claiming just one win against a top-half side this season – Southampton on the second weekend – he really needed a positive result to silence those doubters who suggest his better days are behind him.

“We’re the unluckiest team in the Premier League,” he bemoaned at full-time, and while he’ll have little sympathy outside Old Trafford, there is a small argument to say he’s right.

A tense first half saw United edge proceedings – but they stepped it up to another level after the break and eventually got the goal their dominance deserved – the ‘born again’ Juan Mata once again in the right place at the right time with another tidy finish.

Our article immediately after the game suggested that while Arsenal were lucky, they were displaying the mettle of champions.

And while the Gunners are showing a new-found resilience this season, you do wonder how much did impact Mourinho’s substitutions negatively affect the result of the game for United?

It all changed for the worse for United when Mourinho brought on Morgan Schneiderlin for Juan Mata. You could understand the reasons – Arsenal had moments earlier brought on Olivier Giroud and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – but the French midfielder’s introduction for Mata immediately stopped a United side who had been on the front foot into one who were happy protecting a 1-0 lead.

They invited trouble onto them – and ultimately paid the price.

In fact, I’d go as far to say that United had not looked like conceding until that decision.

Morgan Schneiderlin: Battles with Jordy Clasie

It’d take a brave man to ask Mourinho if he’d got his substitutions wrong and if Schneiderlin’s introduction had swung the game in Arsenal’s favour (I certainly wouldn’t if I was a reporter), but you do wonder in hindsight if the Portuguese coach had got that one wrong?

It’s certainly not Schneiderlin’s fault, he’s a good player – albeit not quite to Manchester United’s standards some would argue – but when you throw in a player who’s seen just six minutes of Premier League football this season and ask them to perform a defensive role, you’re simply asking for trouble.


[of_poll name=’Which player disappointed the most in Man Utd’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal?’ id=’1322884′]


A problem shared is a problem halved for Sunderland

David Moyes: Struggling to impress at Sunderland

For those old enough, there is a memorable scene in 90s sitcom ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’. The school’s basketball coach is giving a team talk in which his big plan for scoring the points that will win his team the game is revealed in all it’s creative tactical brilliance: “Give it to Will.”

Indeed, no matter the situation, the tactic is the same. It’s a farce with which Jermain Defoe can surely associate.

Defoe has been a brilliant signing for Sunderland. Even at 34-years-old, no Englishman has scored more Premier League goals in 2016 than his 18. Whatever Sunderland don’t have going for them, what they certainly do have is one of the best goalscorers in the whole of the Premier League.

That, though, rather than being a good thing, has almost created a strange sense of desperation. Defoe had become, not so much the focal point of the Sunderland attack, but the entirety of it.

Now, though, it seems that David Moyes has had a brilliant idea that hasn’t seemingly occurred to any other Sunderland manager since Defoe’s arrival. Maybe, just maybe, someone else can share that attacking burden with him. Step forward, the unlikely hero of Victor Anichebe.

Let’s be clear, Anichebe is only at Sunderland due to a failure to secure someone else in the transfer window. He has everything to prove and stigmas to shift. But, for now, somehow, inexplicably, he has sparked Sunderland into life.

And it hasn’t been so simple as just releasing Defoe by occupying defenders with his size and power. Actually, Anichebe has out-scored his partner in the two games (both wins) they have started together.

Whether he can keep it up, or keep fit long enough to keep it up, is the big question, and history suggests Sunderland may not want to start relying on the consistency and goalscoring prowess of Victor Anichebe.

Right now, though, Sunderland’s newly discovered front-two are absolutely flying.

The only unbeaten team  – yet how many would fancy Spurs?

Mauricio Pochettino: Highlights Kane importance

There’d have been few people who’d have taken you up on saying Tottenham would be the last Premier League side to suffer a defeat this season, and even fewer who’d say they’d have a big fat zero next on their losses column come the last week in November.

Yet that’s exactly where we’re at and Mauricio Pochettino’s side deserve plenty of credit for their resilience this season – exemplified in perfect fashion on Saturday when they twice came from behind to defeat West Ham at White Hart Lane.

Ask people again who they think will win the title, and you’ll have very few tipping up Tottenham. (In fact, if you to survey 100 people on the street, I bet you’d have more tipping Manchester United than you would Pochettino’s side).

But while Spurs remain within touching distance of the top, I think it’s high time Pochettino and his side got more credit. We touched on this in this article, suggesting the Argentine was one of, if not the, best coach this country had to offer.

The reason why they don’t get praise? Well, a run of seven games without a win going into the West Ham came probably had something to do with it.

Harry Kane: Came to life in dying moments

And yet in that time, while Spurs were playing badly, did they lose in the Premier League…?

Plenty will feel Spurs are big outsiders to win the Premier League title this season, but as long as their performances and results continue to go under the radar, it’ll probably help their prospects of mounting a challenge.

Their resolve will certainly be put to the test next weekend when they travel to face bogey side Chelsea – but if they escape from Stamford Bridge with their unbeaten run intact, maybe a few more will take notice of their achievements so far this season….

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