Spurs Injuries Cause Problems for Poch

The situation looked grim for Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino. In the 86th minute, with the score in Sunday’s match versus London rival Fulham knotted at 1-1, one Tottenham’s key playmakers, Deli Alli, went down holding his hamstring.

In real time, the player left no doubt about the injury, pulling up lame then gingerly using the ad boards as a crutch to ease himself to the ground.

Luckily, for the North London side, a stoppage-time winner meant walking away with three points.

For most top six sides in the Premier League, an injury to a key player isn’t the end of the world. But for the Pochettino coached side, it meant missing yet another star going into a tough run of games, especially mid-February to early March.

Harry Kane is with an ankle injury and unlikely to return until the second leg Round of 16 tie away at Dortmund. Although, there are reports he may be back sooner.

And Son Heung-Min is out at least until next week while on International Duty with South Korea. Luckily, barring any injury in UAE at the Asia Cup, Son will return for the match Leicester City in February--maybe even sooner.

The problem isn’t just missing star players, but it’s also not having players who can fill in and be a stop gap. Moussa Sissoko, Lucas Moura, and Victor Wanyama have all been nursing injuries, but have returned to training this week. And with both Fernando Llorente and Vincent Janssen woefully out of form, there’s no wonder that the North London side’s manager is feeling a little pressure.

Any decision Pochettino takes will carry risks, however. Playing Llorente up top in Kane’s role runs is a gamble. As we saw against Fulham, Spurs lacked any real creative effort up top and the Spanish striker looked out of sorts. Janssen hasn’t played since August 2017 and won’t figure into Poch’s plans anyway. Sissoko, Moura, and Wanyama may not be fully fit, but will nonetheless be called on to play, running the risk of reinjury.

It’ll be too late for Thursday’s Carabao Cup match against Chelsea, but Poch could look to the transfer window--something Spurs didn’t do in the summer. But who would they pick up? Gonzalo Higuain, the player most similar to injured striker Harry Kane, is already on his way to Chelsea. Regardless, he wouldn’t want to simply be a role player after Kane returns.

And any transfer could upset team chemistry, which has seemed to be going well at the moment.  

My guess is that the Argentine manager chooses to stick it out. Seeing as Troy Parrot, the young 16-year-old Irish striker, trained today it looks like that’s the direction he’s going.

It certainly is a gamble, but that’s life in the Premier League’s top 6. There are certain risks each team has to take. Of course, you want to minimize exposure, but often there’s not much a team can do.

Pogba Shines sans Jose

“It was Jose,” read the text from my friend, an only recently suffering Man United fan.

I wanted to copy, paste, then print out his message. He’d been reluctant to blame Jose Mourinho for a less than stellar start to the 2018-19 season. For what’s it worth, the writing was on the wall this time last year.

My friend’s revelation took well into the sixth game after Mourinho was sacked for him to accept, without provocation, that Jose was at fault. (I’d been working with him on how to say the uncomfortable phrase).

‘Say it with me, “It was Jose. It. Was. Jose.”’

To say that I’m proud is an understatement.

But I digress from the topic at hand…Paul Pogba’s resurrection as an attack minded central midfielder, one who can take a game by the scruff of its neck and dictate terms, especially in the attacking third.

Playing in a role that’s more defensive is something that Pogba can do. Just look at France’s World Cup victory last summer. But that was for seven games and players make sacrifices for the national teams all the time, especially in a tournament as big as the World Cup.

At Manchester United, however, the season is 38 games long, add in several cup games and that number sometimes reaches closer to 60. A few games out of position here and there aren’t a problem, but you need your best players in their best positions for most of the season.

Under Jose, Pogba’s offensive prowess, his surging runs from the midfield into prime attacking real estate were stifled. He was to play a role clogging lanes, something more akin to a holding midfield player. It was almost as if Jose had the former Juve star slated to play in the Makalele role--named after former Real Madrid and Chelsea star Claude Makalele who helped Jose to a premier league title in his first ever season as manager at Chelsea.

For an example of a modern-day Makalele, look no further than N’Golo Kante. On rare occasions, he ventures forward to exploit space in his teams attacking third. While he certainly may have better vision than Makalele (although that’s debatable), Kante’s main objective each game is slowing the other team’s attack and then cooly distributing to one of his other midfield partners. He doesn’t dribble, he doesn’t make incisive passes (often), he doesn’t take more than two or three touches.

That’s not the Paul Pogba any soccer fan has come to appreciate. He’s a taller Paul Scholes, a nicer Roy Keane, and definitely not a Nicky Butt or David Beckham (who sometimes deputized as a center mid for Sir Alex Ferguson). Rather, he’s more of a Frank Lampard-Steven Gerrard hybrid with more speed and physicality. He can shoot from distance, pick apart defenses with incisive passes from any distance, beat defenders 1v1, and finish from anywhere inside 20 yards with any surface.

If the last five Premier League games under caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are any indication, Paul Pogba has finally lived up to expectations after three seasons at Old Trafford. In 14 appearances under Jose, Pogba only netted once, while this recent run of games has that tally at 4 with 4 assists. The bottom line is, Pogba is happy and excited to be in the squad.

Maybe this is the honeymoon phase though. What will happen during a spell of bad results, it may all come crashing down.

I doubt it.

Pogba unleashed should scare the rest of the league and embolden his teammates. As a Liverpool fan, I’m not excited to see a resurgent Manchester United led by Pogba ready to play spoiler. But a pure soccer enthusiast, I don’t mind it a single bit.

Premier League Transfer Deadline Looms Large

We've all become used to the mad dash to wrap up transfers by August 31st.

Several games into a season, teams were still searching for a solution to glaring needs on the field. Maybe they haven't quite settled on terms with a long held transfer target. Or, possibly there's that lone trouble maker they're trying to off-load. 

But those late editions/subtractions can also be disruptive to team chemistry. 

That's precisely what Premier League clubs were seeking to avoid when they announced last season on a 14 to 5 vote (one abstention) that they'd move their transfer deadline back from August 31 to the Thursday before the first weekend of games. The new deadline falls on August 9th. 

FIFA, it must be noted, has mandated a 12-week transfer window. Which is why, if you recall, Premier League teams were finalizing transfers as early as mid-May. Fabinho to Liverpool from Monaco is a prime example.

It seems, though, teams in England haven't really caught on to the new transfer deadline. Yes, there have been some big signings--Liverpool picked up Xerdan Shaqiri from Stoke and Alisson from Roma. But overall there haven't been the series of splashes that a transfer window normally has. 

We should also take into account the four-week-long extravaganza in Russia, the World Cup usually slows the transfer market. Surely that puts a damper on activity as teams wait to see how targets perform and whether or not they have to increase their bids. 

But that doesn't account for the general hesitancy of teams to buy or sell. Normally a big transfer, like Ronaldo to Juventus, would act like a multiplier and set off a series of other transactions. That hasn't happened yet.

Some have said we should wait until the last ten days, which will begin July 31st. There's always a flurry of activity as the window starts to close.

Still others have pointed to the delayed transfer deadlines of other clubs. Italy has decided to enact the same policy as the Premier League, but their start date is a week later. Germany, Spain, and France haven't made those changes and will be free to sign players until August 31st--even  from sides in the UK.  

While it is certain to limit confusion and allow players to focus on the season, the new policy could lead to Premier League sides missing out on players as clubs in other leagues have a bit more time hammer out transfers. And if there's a want-away player on a side in England, a club with a longer transfer deadline would be able to make a lower bid, knowing there's a strong desire to get rid of the player. In short, the last three weeks of August will be a buyers market. 

The new transfer rules look to be reasonable, but the fact they aren't uniformly applied across Europe makes it all the more confusing and likely that English sides could get the short end of the stick. 

Obtaining consistency across Europe should be next on the agenda. 


Liverpool picks up a goalkeeper, Chelsea's new coach is tired of transfers

Liverpool may have found the solution to their problems in net. It's been over a decade since there's been a reliable net-minder at Anfield. Pepe Reina, as loved as he was, had his problems. Simon Mignolet, was, well, Simon Mignolet prone to errors on routine plays. And most recently, Loris Karius seemed to find ways to fumble in big games.

Barring some unforseen medical issue, Alisson, a 25 year old Brazilian, previously at Roma, will likely take over between the posts. He's been reliable for the Rome side, but also in the goal for Brazil. Both Chelsea and Real Madrid had expressed interest in signing the Brazilian. 

It will be interesting to see how the future shakes out for Karius and Mignolet. Who will stay and deputize for Alisson? My guess is that for the time being Mignolet will stick around, while it's clear that Karius doesn't really have a chance to suit up for another season at Liverpool. 

Hopes will be high for the former Roma keeper. Liverpool look to challenge for their first title in nearly 30 years. They'll need a strong showing from Alisson to do that. Can he live up to the pressure.

In other news, Chelsea's new manager indicated he was "bored by the transfer market." While he's keen on keeping Belgian stars Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois, but he's not interested in talking about how they can keep them on. Real Madrid seems like the front runner for both players. 

Chelsea have signed former Napoli player Jorginho and have expressed interest in Russian standout Alexandr Golovin.