This week’s Monday Verdict discusses Tottenham’s struggles to keep in touch with the top four and pays tribute to the form of one of Chelsea’s MVPS and Barcelona.
SPURS STUMBLE ONCE AGAIN
Mauricio Pochettino admitted after the game again Southampton that Tottenham’s players were hit by a virus last week, but insisted that was no excuse for their sloppy display.
Harry Kane cancelled out Davinson Sanchez’s own-goal but a below-par Tottenham were held to a 1-1 draw and missed the chance to move into the Premier League’s top four.
They will fall five points behind Liverpool if Jurgen Klopp’s men beat Swansea on Monday.
Pochetttino, who took his team on a warm-weather training camp to Barcelona last week, would not name the players affected by illness as he maintained they had all recovered.
“A few players were affected last week but it’s not an excuse,” Pochettino said.
“We are disappointed because our game wasn’t great, our performance wasn’t the best. The game was even and full credit to Southampton because they fight and play well.
“I think it is a fair result in the end, 1-1. There were massive chances we had in the last minute with Harry Kane but at the end if you analyse the game it’s a fair result.”
A fair result it may have been, but the same problems are on show for all to see, and the same trend manifested itself at St Mary’s.
Spurs extended an unwanted run with the 1-1 draw: it is now nine games this season where they have conceded first and failed to win. Sure, coming from behind is difficult, but the circumstances were there today to end that run.
Hitting straight back after the hosts scored was absolutely key, or so you would have thought. Scoring when they did suggested that they would do enough to beat a Mauricio Pellegrino side on an awful run of form.
Tottenham had 61% possession, but never really managed to put together any periods of sustained dominance against a Southampton team that were surprisingly open in the first half.
Saints managed double the amount of shots on target that their visitors did; an indication of just how blunt Spurs look without Christian Eriksen, perhaps.
There does have to be some questions asked about Pochettino’s substitutions, too. As F365 pointed out, in 33 games in all competitions this season, Tottenham have made 99 substitutions. That they have garnered just one goal and one assist suggests that this is quite the problem.
Bringing on Kieran Trippier and Victor Wanyama inside the last 15 minutes when searching for a winner was borderline laughable, while striker Fernando Llorente was forced to watch from the bench, not called upon despite the clear need for bodies up top.
Spurs have scored nine goals in the last 15 minutes of games this season, which suggests that finding a goal when they need one most hasn’t been a problem. In fact, 17 of their 47 league goals have come in the last half an hour of games.
On Sunday though, it didn’t come. By Monday night they could be five points back of fourth, this a team that finished 2nd last season.
After 24 games last season, they were second in the table and five points ahead of where they are at the same stage this season, with three less defeats. The Spurs machine may be coming to a halt.
NOTHING BORING ABOUT LA LIGA TITLE RACE
Much has been made about the title race being ‘dull as’ in the Premier League, but it’s unlikely to have escaped your attention that there is a very similar story being painted in Spain.
For all Manchester City’s dominance over here, it’s been the same in La Liga with Barcelona.
Sunday night’s 5-0 win at Real Betis strenghened Barca’s grip at the summit and allowed them to move 11 points clear at the top.
But rather than remonstrate on what are two boring titles races, we should in fact applaud the brilliance of these sides.
Barcelona this season look back to their imperious best and in Lionel Messi, we’re looking at a player seemingly determined to recapture his crown as the world’s best player.
Messi was particularly impressive in Barca’s second-half assault and Ernesto Valverde could only pay tribute to his superstar.
“You have to enjoy him,” he added. “We have been able to live his era.
“I have suffered because of him and I know what that is like. Now I can enjoy it.
“It is an event to watch him every day.
“He is the best player there is and there ever will be.”
And that’s the point; these teams and these players should be celebrated, rather than bemoan the inability of those around them to make a sustained challenge.
WILLIAN SERVES REMINDER WHY HE’S ONE OF CHELSEA’S MVPs
Back in the autumn, and with rumours of interest from Manchester United mounting, it seemed Chelsea and Willian were set for a sad divorce.
The Brazilian was regularly overlooked by Antonio Conte, with the former Shakhtar man often having to make do with fleeting cameos off the bench.
But an injury and a loss of form suffered by Alvaro Morata forced Conte into a rethink – and the Brazilian’s return to his very best form has been a major plus for the Italian over the last six weeks.
His performance in Saturday’s 4-0 win at Brighton exemplified the belief the Brazilian is now playing with. His movement, energy and drive were simply too much for the the Seagulls to live with and his understanding with Eden Hazard was in full flow as the visitors raced into a two-goal lead inside six minutes.
7 – Willian has been directly involved in seven goals in his last five Premier League starts for Chelsea (3 goals, 4 assists). Movement. pic.twitter.com/TritUjtgaV
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 20, 2018
And after playing a role in the opener, the player was on hand to score their second, with a brilliant sliced finish – and at the end a flowing move in which he stated.
A goal of the season contender? It probably won’t win the prizes, but it’s as pleasing on the eye as any we have seen this season.
🚨 GOAL OF THE SEASON CONTENDER 🚨
Beautiful from Willian! pic.twitter.com/sKRnNVEpo8
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) January 20, 2018
Despite the odd shaky moment at the back, it was a cushion Chelsea never looked in danger of letting slip, and with Willian at the forefront, the Blues always looked a threat on the break.
Indeed, the Brazilian showed his authority he has at Chelsea when, midway through the second half, he took command of a free-kick from a dangerous position outside the box. Cometh the hour, cometh the man; his brilliant free-kick inches from making it 3-0 with only an excellent Mathew Ryan save pushing the effort onto the post.
As it went Hazard went on to score his second of the afternoon and take home a deserved man of the match plaque too. And while the Belgian quite rightly takes the plaudits as Chelsea’s star turn, make no mistake about it, the Blues carry so much more threat when they have Willian alongside him in and in this sort of mood.
Willian appreciation tweet
— Tara (@Rhona0505) January 20, 2018
Manchester United’s imminent signing of Alexis Sanchez means any deal for Willian was always unlikely anyway. But given the chance, you can bet your bottom dollar Mourinho would love to be reunited with the player at Old Trafford.
However, if the Blues made a mistake in allowing Nemanja Matic to move to the north-west this summer, there’s not a chance in hell they will repeat it any time soon and allow Willian to follow the Serbian to Old Trafford.
SLACK FROM WATFORD TO BLAME EVERTON FOR SILVA SACKING
Marco Silva became the eighth Premier League manager to lose his job this season after Watford sacked the Portuguese coach on Sunday morning.
The Hornets explained the decision to dismiss the 40-year-old due to an “unwarranted approach” from Everton.
Silva had been a target for the Toffees earlier in the campaign after an excellent start, but a run of one win in 11 matches saw his eight-month spell come to an abrupt end.
Granted, the Hornets had seen their form suffer, but blaming Everton for their decision to sack Silva smacks of both a shameless act and blatant lies.
Especially when a matter of hours later, Watford hired Javi Gracia as his replacement on an 18-month contract to become the club’s 10th manager in seven years.
All we’ll say is good luck Javi, just don’t start so well that other teams sit up and take notice of your achievements, otherwise you too may well be doomed.