Snappy Spurs stun Citizens
Tottenham deservedly won at home against league leaders Manchester City this weekend. Seemingly inspired by the way Celtic caused City problems in midweek with high pressing and direct attacking, Spurs used both masterly to outplay their visitors and condemn them to their first defeat under Pep. Something that was lost in most summaries of the game, despite a fleeting acknowledgement of Wanyama’s excellent display on MOTD2, was the effectiveness of Spurs’s frequent, snappy fouls. The high press and the quick passing was vital, but so was their niggling ability to physically impose themselves onto City without the referee ever dishing out real punishment. This has been an under observed hallmark of Pochettino’s Spurs, whose end-of-season meltdown at Chelsea was in part due to the ever present physical bite being pushed into overdrive by the situation and a provocative opponent. Perhaps City’s greatest failing on Sunday, rather than being outplayed, was failing to return the home side’s highly-strung physicality.
Klopp’s turned corner
Antonio makes history and strengthens national claim
Scoring the last goal at an iconic English stadium would be plenty enough for most English players to retire on. Not content however, West Ham’s Michail Antonio then proceeded to score the first league goal at the new London Stadium, and in the process bagged his side a win in their dour match with Bournemouth. While the game was one the Premier League will want to bury far from its ‘best league in the world’ reputation, the Hammers’ versatile midfielder – a signing from lower in the English leagues – continued to impress. He is the blend of muscular, composed and direct play that fans across the country love, and has showcased decent flexibility in a West Ham career that has often had him playing away from his preferred wide-right position. The arrival of ‘Big Sam’ to the England job has many clamouring for more ‘common sense’ squad inclusions to counter the supposed past generations of pampered ‘softies’. Both on his skill set and tactical flexibility, few deserve a ‘common-sense’ call-up more than this man.
Klopp already dividing Kop?
Stones and Sterling impress; Pep with work to do
After a summer filled with new arrivals and all the hype surrounding the new manager, Manchester City kicked off the new season with a surprisingly familiar sort of victory against a dogged Sunderland side. True, there were innovations. Outlets such as Match of the Day were hypnotised by the formational twists, with the fullbacks coming inside and many of the side constantly flitting between different positions in a fluid tactical system. Also, two of the players under the biggest pressure impressed. Stones looked composed having been thrown into the first team days after signing, while Sterling hopefully began to put a miserable last few months behind him with one of his best ever City performances.
With under a fortnight left until the recommencing of the new Premier League season, it has almost been lost that Manchester City have had a summer of major change. The recent drama surrounding their local rival’s pursuit of Paul Pogba could give the impression that it is only United that have undergone an off-season of significant transformation. This may have come a lot from how City, much like when Pellegrini replaced Mancini, did much of their big business early on in the summer. Before the Euros began, and bringing to a close one of the most obvious will-he-won’t-he sagas in recent sporting history, Pep Guardiola was announced as the club’s new manager. City’s owners and former Barcelona board members have long expressed their interest in recreating Catalonian success in East Manchester, and had been courting Pep for years before he eventually signed at the end of last season. And now, with such a short time to go, how much has changed? The short answer: it’s unclear.
Spineless. Pampered. Weak. Cowardly. Underachieving.
In the wake of England’s terrible defeat to Iceland, these sorts of words have become the linguistic norm when evaluating Hodgson’s side. With the manager gone and having fallen in the last 16 to a side featuring barely any significant names, the media and professional observers are tearing into the team for what is seen as the worst failure of an England side since the defeat to a semi-pro USA in 1950. It is a guttural cry against a talented team full of Premier League stars under performing on the big stage and shaming their fans and nation. Safe to say, it is a cry we have heard before.
Credit: Reuters via Dailymail.co.uk
The group stages of EURO 2016 are over, and we must all now live in the unsettling reality of not having any football for two whole days. Before we can begin our lives again with the Round of 16 fixtures, let us take a look back through the six groups and select some of the outstanding and noteworthy moments of the tournament so far.
Game of the Groups: Croatia 2-1 Spain
While Hungary and Portugal’s 3-3 draw was the most ridiculous and open game of the tournament, it was this concluding clash of Group D that stood at as the best game. While it was a shame that the wonderful Modric missed out, it was a game that delivered on nearly every level of footballing pleasure. For the dramatists, there was the controversy of penalties missed by both officials and kick takers that provoked genuine talking points after the game. There were also the mishaps of David de Gea, whose off-field antics were now matched in media attention by those on the pitch. Most of all however, it was a game between two of the best teams at the Euros who executed two different yet equally exhilarating tactical plans that created a flowing game of attacking football that pitched orchestrated passing against silky, swift counter-attacks: a closely-contested treat.
Best Team Performance: Italy vs Belgium
Rotation takes undeserved hit
Hodgson’s decision to change much of the first team for this final group game was questioned by many commentators as an unnecessary risk. The decision to use the depths of the squad should not be seem as abnormal, and the changes actually did little to change the fact that England dominated a third EURO game in a row. However, the decision to make so many changes does invite criticism if the result is not perfect, and so England’s rotated squad will take the hit for not getting the win. It is a shame that this result will get the biggest kicking because of the personnel, and will overlook that an English side dominated the possession in a major tournament game and played, let’s face it, the sort of fluid football that many have been demanding since the fall of McClaren.
Dier is essential
Substitutes take Sterling’s chance
Having survived the kneejerk calls to drop him, Raheem Sterling needed a strong forty-five minutes to justify his place. However, in a game where England had few clear chances against deep, impressive banks of Welsh defence, the Manchester City forward did not take his chance. Six yards out and on the end of a lovely cross from Lallana, he desperately poked his effort over when it looked easier to score. His general play was no better or worse than the forwards who replaced him at half-time – Vardy and Sturridge – but he did not take his glorious chance. In contrast, while their impact on general play was unremarkable, the Leicester and Liverpool strikers very much took their solo chances. In a game where little was available to them, these two snatched their opportunities. Sterling, once again, did not.
Coleman out-changed by Hodgson
It has been observed on many occasions before, but a team of talented sportspeople should only become a ‘golden generation’ when they actually triumph in a significant way. Thus, England’s much-discussed lineage of supposedly golden talent (one that never made it past the last-eight of a major tournament) are undeserving of the title, while Germany circa 2006-2014 (perennial semi-finalists before becoming world champions in Brazil) fit the bill more accurately. Despite this, the latest team to carry this honour/albatross around their necks is the current Belgium side: frequently ranked as one of the best two or three sides in world football, and boasting some of the most expensive and talented individuals to ever grace the modern game. Like England, they have earned this international title of ‘golden generation’ through no major international achievement, and their opening round defeat to Italy at EURO 2016 has provoked many questions over this side’s true quality.
Knee-jerking helps nobody
After conceding a last-minute equaliser, social media was quick to start bitterly reacting to seemingly another England failure. Amid some of the amusing observations, there were criticisms flung around so aghast and exaggerated it were as if England had left the tournament already. Negative reaction is fine and understandable, but to see significant media voices already bemoaning crippling player performances and timid management is excessive and unhelpful. Their thoughts may hold nuggets of truth, but are the product of a last-minute error in a game that, in truth, England dominated with significant examples of recent tactical advancements. There were also encouraging performances from Dier, Rooney and Lallana in particular. Errors change games though, and certainly alter the media and public mind-set with devastating ease.
Vardy Party against Wales?