The dust has barely settled, but the manner of Spurs’ 2-1 defeat against Inter was a movie I have seen plenty of times.
After a positive start to the season – 3 defeats in a row has made Spurs
The dust has barely settled, but the manner of Spurs’ 2-1 defeat against Inter was a movie I have seen plenty of times.
After a positive start to the season – 3 defeats in a row has made Spurs
The countdown is on.
In less than 4 weeks Team Europe and Team USA will tee it up for the 42nd Ryder Cup. 2018s edition will see Europe try to reclaim the cup they lost after a fairly convincing 17-11 defeat back in 2016.
The Ryder Cup is one of my favourite sporting events. Ever since I witnessed my first back in 1999, where the Americans rushed the green after Justin Leonard drained THAT forty foot monster, it has always been an event I have loved.
The shifts in momentum and partisan nature of the crowds make golf come alive. For drama and passion, very few events can match it.
The USA last claimed the Ryder cup on European soil in 1993, which considering the dominance of US golf is an astonishing statistic, but there is a feeling that Europe will be against it this time.
The bookies have the USA as slight favourites but I see it as a little wider. I view Europe as considerable underdogs.
A USA team consisting of, Koepka, Johnson, Thomas, Spieth, Reed, Fowler, Watson and Simpson looks Herculean on paper.
With the exception of Fowler all have won at least one major. Add in Tiger – who is a lock for a captains pick, the experience of Mickleson, the hottest player in world golf in Bryson de Chambeau plus probably Tony Finau or Xander Schaufelle and it looks a tall order.
Most predict that the USA will have up to 3 rookies whereas the Europeans could potentially field up to 5.
It could be argued that the European team is one of its strongest. Molinari, Rose, Fleetwood, Hatton, Mcilroy, Noren, Oleson and Rahm will certainly be no push overs. But it’s the captains picks that I think will ultimately decide whether Europe will be successful.
The candidates for a US captains pick (aside from Mickelson) seem to all be in relatively good form – the same can’t be said for Europe’s candidates.
Unless Bjorn has someone in mind that is completely left field (Lee Westwood seems to be the wildcard pick for many) I think the following 4 will be picked;
Some will argue that Knox, Pepperell, Pieters or Rafa Cabrera Bello should be picked for differing reasons. But I think the four I have chosen have vast Ryder Cup experience which I think with a team containing 5 rookies will be what Bjorn will opt for.
However, huge question marks remain over them all.
Stenson has been struggling with injuries and hasn’t teed it up as much as he would have liked. Will he be 100% fit?
Garcia after finally getting the monkey off his back in winning the Masters in 2017 has had a horrible year. He has missed all 4 x cuts in the majors and has been eliminated from Fed Cup playoff contention early.
Sergio brings so much to the Ryder Cup table and a Spanish pairing of Rahm and Garcia looks mouthwatering but Sergio if picked would need to find his form quickly.
After Casey declared his availability for selection, I alongside many others thought that he was a lock to make the team. He like Stenson has struggled with injuries but unlike previous years, he hasn’t been in the best of form and would arrive in Paris with a few questions to answer.
Lastly there is Poulter – the European Postman.
Poulter I think is 100% certain to make the 12 man team based on his Ryder Cup pedigree. He thrives under the pressure and has a great record. However he will have a huge target on his back and would be under pressure to perform like he has done in past Ryder Cups. To find that switch won’t be easy and if Poulter doesn’t conjure the magic, he won’t be feared.
The scary thing looking at this Ryder Cup, is that this American team contains a spine who could have decades of dominance ahead of them.
What’s even worse is that they all seem to like each other.
It has been well documented that the Europeans have always garnered a very strong team environment – see 2014 as a prime example. Whereas the European’s would spend the majority of the Ryder Cup week in each other’s pockets. You would hear tales of the Americans all arriving by there own private jets and not even sharing dinner together.
After years of European success – the Americans have started to copy the European rule book and it seems that a new pride in the team has been established. 2016 showed what a united American team could achieve.
There is a fear that the victory 2 years ago might provide the springboard to another period of dominance.
Europe will be desperate to reclaim the Ryder cup and prevent the Americans from winning on European soil.
If Europe is to go toe to toe with the Americans, Bjorn’s selections on Wednesday will go a long way to deciding how successful they can be.
I’m probably a part of a dying breed of football fan (especially followers of a “top 6” club) that would prefer to see England win the World Cup rather than my team win the league / champions league. My Grandad was lucky enough to be at Wembley in 1966 when England beat Germany and I think it’s incredibly cool that he has seen England win a World Cup in person.
The first World Cup I remember was 1998, I remember being mesmerised by Michael Owen, Dennis Bergkamp and Zinedine Zidane. I loved how the whole nation became united and when David Batty missed that penalty it was the first time I had ever shed a tear over a football game.
Being a Spurs and England fan hasn’t been the easiest. Both have suffered numerous heartbreaking losses, but it was with England, where I thought I would witness a side I supported win something major.
The likes of Campbell, Ferdinand, Terry, Gerrard, Lampard, Scholes, Neville, Owen, Cole and Beckham were a great side on paper and were seen as the guys to finally bring England back from the football wilderness.
Englands golden generation.
They were genuine contenders.
Of course, it never happened and fast forward to 2018 and for the majority it has never felt so far away.
Before the squad announcement yesterday, I had predicted the 23 man squad and shared with some friends. A exercise that should take 5 minutes ended up taking about 20. WHO THE HELL PLAYS IN CENTRE MIDFIELD? I had Henderson and Dier and then my mind went blank. I had completely forgotten about Reuben Loftus Cheek, very much ignorance on my part, but the fact that a reasonably clued up football fan had forgotten about him is slightly concerning.
The lustre of the England football team seems to be at an all time low.
England haven’t won a knock out game at a major championship since 2002, previous championship performances have been way too defensive and insipid and the headline loss against Iceland has seen so many lose faith.
Many saw the appointment of Gareth Southgate as a failure before he had even started and the general feeling is that if England could sneak into the quarters (far easier said than done) it will be seen as a good tournament. However, I think there are a few reasons to be optimistic.
From what I can see, Southgate seems to be an incredibly liked coach and I think is a person that the players will respect. He seems to have learnt lessons from previous regime failures.
I like the fact he has gone with youth. Ok, there is a real lack of what you would call world class talent but hopefully with the youth comes a lack of fear.
He has made some ballsy decisions.
Hart, rightfully isn’t in the squad. Wilshere, is a player I think England could have done with but I am not overly bothered he didn’t make the cut. With the exception of Danny Rose he has picked players who have had good seasons and are fit. Everyone should be raring to go. This can’t be said for tournaments in the past.
I like that Southgate seems to have a plan and has picked players based on how he wants England to play. He has picked players that can benefit the system rather than the best 23 available. Too often in the past we have taken players and played them in weird positions – see Rooney as a holding midfielder vs Iceland. Or if things are unravelling we generally didn’t really seem to have a clue about how to get back into the game – see Kane taking corners.
With Southgate I think everyone will know their role and these calamities should be avoided. He is a calm presence and from what I have seen of his England side – we do seem composed and aware of the situations. See the Kane last second equaliser against the Scots.
Englands record under Southgate is solid enough. They have won the games they should have and lost against sides that are better. Even in defeat, England rarely get battered. The 3 – 5 – 2 that I think we will play with , will see us being defensively solid and I think we can give most countries a good game. When we play a Brazil, Spain, France, Belgium I don’t expect us to win but I don’t think we will be blown away – we should always be in the game.
Putting my bias glasses on, I do think we have a world class striker and if Kane can convert the few chances he is going to get, England might be able to cause some shocks.
I also love that England are going to be rapid. Pace at the top level can get you places and England on the counter could be really dangerous.
After re reading this I have now convinced myself that we are going to win this thing. Ashley Young will be the new Cafu and Kane will score 18 this tournament!
All jokes aside, all England need to do this tournament is build. Getting out the group should be the priority and that should at least build some momentum going into the knock out rounds. From there – who knows.
My England shirt (not the £60 shirt with a badge on) is on the way and my World Cup playlist will be created. I’m listening to 3 lions as I write.
England. I’m ready. Bring on Russia lets shock some people.
Tonight sees 32 of college football brightest prospects be drafted by a professional NFL team. The draft, a centrepiece in the NFL season is what keeps the NFL competitive, with the worst performing teams getting the top picks and choosing the best players.
There are arguments that some sort of wage cap or cap on spending would help the premier league become even more competitive but what would happen if a draft system existed?
What if each team could pick one player from any rival?
Based on league position I thought I would have a bit of fun and apply a draft scenario to each premier league team (with the exception of WBA who have already pretty much been relegated) taking a player from another team to strengthen their own.
So working from last to first, on the clock first……..
Stoke – a no brainer. The best player available and it has to be Mo Salah. Stoke have struggled for goals and Salah would inject both pace and much needed goals – considering he has scored 11 more than the whole team combined.
Southampton – are struggling for goals but are also leaking goals left right and centre. The solution? Bringing back Virgil Van Dijk. A towering presence and a leader, Van Dijk would bring some much needed stability to a very wobbly back line.
Swansea – another team massively struggling for goals, they have only scored 27 all season. Therefore Harry Kane seems the logical pick. Guaranteed to score at least 20 a season (and claim several others) Kane could provide the firepower the Swans would desperately need.
Huddersfield – despite a precarious league position, David Wagner insists on playing pretty football. A team with technical ability and an insistence to keep the ball on the deck, I think Eden Hazard would be a welcome addition to Wagner’s side.
West Ham – they have been trying to secure their striking position for a few years now but still haven’t found an out and out number 9. The search is now over, with the drafting of Romelu Lukaku who would bring pace, power and the goals that West Ham crave.
Crystal Palace – another team that have shipped a lot of goals. A commanding centre back is needed and I think Toby Alderweireld would be the perfect solution.
Brighton – a great first season, they don’t score many but keep it tight at the back. I think they need a player to unlock defences and I think Kevin De Bruyne could be the man they need.
Watford – are another side that lack a real goal scorer. Based off his excellent season Gabriel Jesus would add to the list of clever young playmakers that the hornets have and he would provide a nice clinical edge up front.
Bournemouth – rarely win to nil and need to be more solid. I think Ngolo Kante could be the type of player they desperately need.
Newcastle – need a new icon and are another team that need strengthening up front. A team that has been blessed with out and out goalscorers in the past can see a new hero join their ranks through Pierre Emerick Aubameyang.
Leicester – would love another forward player to compliment Vardy and Mahrez and I think David Silva would be the pick for the foxes.
Everton – steady and solid but need a difference maker in those tight games. I think Christian Eriksen is an Everton type player and would instantly become their new talisman.
Burnley – an amazing season for the clarets and they have been so strong all over the pitch. However they lack pace, so I think Sadio Mane would be the ideal option to help Burnley on their European mission.
Arsenal – need a defender and a leader. Although he has fitness issues, could Vincent Kompany be the man to help propel Arsenal to another title push?
Chelsea – the Morata project hasnt really paid off and I feel Chelsea are missing a real goal scorer. They have been linked numerous times with Sergio Aguero in the past and now could be the time for him to move down South.
Tottenham – lack real pace going forward. Leroy Sane is the man that would add a new dimension to the Tottenham attack and help add to the youthful blend Pochettino seems keen on implementing.
Liverpool – seem to have the pieces in place for a real title challenge however, they still have a question to answer at the goal keeper position. Could you imagine the scenes when Jurgen Klopp unveils David De Gea as the new Anfield shot stopper!
Man Utd – have no real weaknesses but when I look at the Utd side I think they lack a quality full back. Young has done well but would Marco Alonso recently voted the leagues best left back be a solid upgrade?
City – how do you improve a team that seemingly has everything? Earlier this year when Sane went down injured, Guardiola, put a bid in for Mahrez so does he thinks he needs another creative midfielder? Although he would need to adjust to Pep’s demand of the high press, Mezut Ozil could be another high class operator added to the City ranks.
To coin a phrase from the NFL, each team has a championship window and in spurs’ case that window appears to be diminishing. With yet another semi final defeat, it is another season which will end without a trophy.
Similar to the Juventus game it all started so well, but once Spurs suffered the set back of the equaliser they looked devoid of attacking ideas and Utd ran out clear and deserved winners.
The most worrying aspect of the defeat was Pochettino’s remarks about the future being “with him or another. ”
I don’t doubt that he will be there at the start of next season but this was the first indication that Pochettino was sending a message to his chairman.
Pochettino, has been a dream appointment for Levy. He has returned Tottenham to the top 4, has overseen vast improvement and has done this on a shoe string of a budget in comparison to his rivals.
However what Pochettino has also done is given Tottenham fans a taste of competing at the top end of the league and it’s a feeling Spurs fans don’t want to lose.
This season has shown that they are a team that on their day can compete and beat the very best, but are still a little way off from being touted as genuine contenders.
Spurs want to be seen as winners but the infrastructure of the club is still that of a club that would hope to win the odd cup here or there rather than be challengers year in and year out.
To make that next step , will they buy or even try to compete to sign genuine world class talent? No.
What they will do is continue to be savvy and hope Pochettino can work his magic with another band of rough diamonds. Names banded about like Evans and Rodriguez hardly indicate a willingness to buy top rate talent.
It will also be interesting to see if Levy comes good on a promise to get his business done early – giving Pochettino a full pre season with his signings rather than nervously waiting by the phone with two minutes of the window to go.
Will Spurs fight tooth and nail to try and keep hold of their best talent? Again. No.
Toby Alderweireld is already on his way out – our best defender. We have probably seen the last of Danny Rose in a Spurs shirt and I fear Spurs will do very well to keep hold of Dembele and Eriksen.
Will Spurs start paying their players so that they are on a parity with their top 4 rivals? Potentially.
If the rumours are true, Kane is due to sign a bumper new deal that will see Spurs smash through their existing wage barrier. Alli, Eriksen and Pochettino himself have all been rumoured to follow.
But, what must be disheartening for the players is to see themselves operating at a high level but not get the rewards that players from other lesser performing clubs are getting.
The sad fact is, that a guy like Jonjo Shelvey, is probably earning more than most of the current Spurs squad. That simply has to change.
If we want Spurs to become winners then surely we have to pay them like it?
Like the majority of Spurs fans – Pochettino’s comments about the FA cup in the build up to Saturdays match were concerning. Yes, we all want Spurs to win the league and champions league but surely before we make that leap we have to know what winning titles feels like? The fans are desperate for some sort of silverware. For all the crowing from pundits and fans about the great style of play, we need something tangible to show for it. Pochettino might downplay the significance of winning the league and FA Cups but realistically this is what Tottenham should be aiming at. To win the league or champions league is still a very lofty target, one that needs sizeable investment and the addition of world class players. Something I think that Levy and co will be unwilling to pay top dollar for.I feel that Spurs have one or two more years at trying to achieve something big with this talented group. However this squad needs to be supported by the board. Now is the time for them to make a decision. With real solid investment, Spurs could try and make the leap. I feel that we are close to something special. However, if the model continues as it is, I only feel the task will get harder and harder. It is clear that Spurs are a hungry bunch, desperate to win. But Levy must now realise that although Spurs have been fantastic for the last few years what they have isn’t quite enough. We could be on the verge of something really special or alternatively if things don’t change we could find ourselves back at square one.
Daniel, its over to you.
After months of inevitability, Man City finally secured the premier league title with four games to go. A thumping 3-1 away to Spurs suggested that Man City were back.
As a Spurs fan, I didn’t really have massive expectations of the game but thought we would compete and if we kept it tight could maybe sneak it. Instead, I saw my side get comprehensively outplayed and dominated. City scored 3 but could have had 6 or 7!
Pace, power, guile and quality all over the pitch has seen City dominate the league this year and I fear this dominance is only going to continue.
The worst thing for fans of Chelsea, Utd, Arsenal and Spurs was City losing in the champions league to Liverpool.
Like PSG, and Abramovich in his early years at Chelsea, the board will certainly take Premier leagues and Carabao cups but it is European Glory they crave. Therefore the investment will continue and the very best players will be targeted.
Champions league success is the benchmark that this City team will be judged on. Next year this will be the main target and I don’t see any let up of City’s desire to win absolutely everything.
Liverpools 5-1 demolition in the quarter finals revealed the weakness the team still has. A defence that still has a tendency to creak. I have no doubts that Pep will look to the transfer market to strengthen his defence and team once again.
The standard response to City this season is that they have bought the league. To some extents you can’t argue against it. At the end of the January transfer window, Sane was to be out for 6 weeks. City’s response? A 60 million bid for Mahrez! A 500 million net spend would also indicate that City should be winning the league each season, but it is clear that Pep has improved and developed his players considerably.
City swaggered around the pitch at Wembley, they exuded confidence in every area. They are slowly starting to remind me of Roger Federer. Let me build on that…..
When Federer was at his peak 7 or 8 years ago and now, the feeling was that his opponents were already a set down before they stepped on the court. City have the same aura. Teams seem to turn up to just try to limit the defeats to under 3 goals. Against the majority of teams this season the game has been won before the game actually starts. And who is to say this won’t continue.
The other area of concern I had when watching City on Saturday was their bench. City were missing Aguero, Fernandinho and Mendy but the bench read Bravo, Bernardo Silva, Otamendi, Zinchenko, Foden, Toure and Diaz. Strong? Yes. But could the depth of the squad be improved? Worryingly, yes. This squad can still be improved.
Fast forward to next season and City will be short price favourites to win another league title.
The feeling from pundits is that the gap will be reduced as clubs will be more tactically aware to how City play and actually winning the league for successive years is pretty hard to do.
Liverpool have shown the way to beat them and will be very confident of mounting a challenge. Utd will invest and will demand to be closer. Chelsea often bounce back after a poor season, Spurs will be back at White Hart or whatever it will be called and Arsenal will most likely have a new manager which could see a revival and a return to being title challengers.
However, I fear that City could win the league in similar fashion next year. They have the world’s best manager, a team of hungry and more importantly happy players clearly ambitious to achieve, they will invest in top quality and be extremely confident in winning another title.
The hope is that someone from the chasing pack can push them a little closer and keep the pressure on OR they put more eggs into the champions league basket. But, get used to this football fans, the era of City dominance could have just begun.
There is a new trend that has emerged in recent times which I hate. It is a trend that gets bought up at the end of every transfer window with every top signing:
The need to discuss net spend and wages.
The amount of Net Spend that a club accrues, now seems to determine how ambitious a club is. And the amount of money players are being paid, often triggers debate by pundits and fans whether players and clubs are performing as they should. There are some, who think that Alexis Sanchez is failing at Utd because he hasn’t scored 10,000 goals to justify his huge wage.
For some pundits, money seems to be the only barometer to measuring success or failure. Football is about more than that, but it is sometimes forgotten about.
So, with nothing better to do on my commute to Edinburgh, I have decided to see where each club would rank if the league was determined purely on net spend and wages. I have then compared these results back to the current league table to determine if clubs’ performances are matching their spending.
Using Net figure spends from the last 5 seasons and wages from the end of last Summers’ window, I have been able to compile a table for each. For each position that a club finishes in the wage and net table leagues – I have assigned a total and added them together. This total then decides where the club is ranked on my new net spend and wage table.
For example City have the largest net spend so they earn a 1 in that table, they are then the 3rd biggest wage spenders. So in that table they earn a 3. Their total is 4. That’s easy to follow isn’t it???
I want this table to reveal who deserves more credit, who is struggling and whether clubs like West Ham and Arsenal have grounds to attack their respective boards.
Net spend table
1. Man City
2. Man Utd
5. Crystal Palace
10. West Ham
1. Man Utd
3. Man City
8. West Ham
13. West Brom
14. Crystal Palace
OUR NEW NET SPEND AND WAGE TABLE with current table variation –
(clubs with symbols *,^,• next to their names scored the same totals, so positioning is determined by the amount they spend on wages. I feel these day to day costs are a better gauge than net spend).
1. Man Utd (+1)
2. Man City (-1)
3. Chelsea (+2)
4. Arsenal (+2)
5. Everton (+4)
6. West Ham (+10)
7. Liverpool* (-3)
8. Leicester* (0)
9. Crystal Palace* (+9)
10. West Brom^ (+10)
11. Stoke^ (+8)
12. Tottenham (-9)
13. Watford (-3)
14. Southampton• (+3)
15. Bournemouth• (-3)
16. Swansea• (-2)
17. Newcastle• (-4)
18. Brighton (-7)
19. Burnley (-12)
20. Huddersfield (-5)
Although Utd top our table, the trophies that Mourinho has returned will be keeping most Utd fans happy. Although they would like to be closer to City they appear to be comfortably the best of the rest.
Fans of Everton and West Ham, 5th and 6th in our table, will be concerned.
Despite the protests on Saturday, the table would suggest that West Ham’s board have clearly been backing their team which has seen them at 5th place in our table above the likes of Spurs and Liverpool but the stadium issue and lack of consistency is massively derailing them.
Everton in 6th, have spent a lot recently but despite this spending, the team still appears really unbalanced which will surely see the club dive into the market once again. I would be surprised if Allardyce was around at the start of next season.
A few years ago Chelsea would have probably topped this table. The 3rd position they find themselves in our table supports Conte’s arguments that he hasn’t been financially backed. However, they are only 2 places off where they should be in the current league table so perhaps their season isn’t as bad as many are perceiving it to be.
Arsenal fans can just laugh that another table has put them in 4th.
There is an argument to be had that despite Klopp’s criticisms he is over performing with his current squad. A finish in the top 4 has to be seen as a job well done. With the promise of more spending this summer, could next season be Liverpool’s year?
Leicester are the only team that match up with their current league position so well done to them.
The next two teams, Palace and WBA are currently in the bottom 3 , but our table suggests they should already be thinking about sitting on the beach with them at 9th and 10th. The recent upheaval at both clubs and poor recruitment suggests that if a side is unsettled it will take more than spending to get out of trouble. Look at Swansea as a prime example who spent next to nothing in the last window but have been inspired by the managers stunning use of the English language.
Completing the bottom half of our table are a lot of teams you would expect to be there. But there are some interesting footnotes.
Based on the positions of the net spend and wage table, Burnley are performing the best out of everybody. Currently 12 positions better than the 19th our table gives them – Burnley embody everything that I think has gone wrong with Palace and WBA.
A board that backs the manager to the hilt, a manager who buys players dedicated to the badge and the creation of a dressing room where team spirit and the team comes before egos. Compare the likes of Ashley Barnes and Ben Mee to Palace’s Benteke and WBA’s taxi gang…….
Another manager at the bottom of our table who has not been getting the recognition he deserves is Brighton’s Chris Hughton. (I know he just got manager of the month) Brighton are seven places better off in the table than our finance table would have them. With the likes of Dyche and Eddie Howe constantly being linked to perceived bigger clubs should Hughton also be bought into these conversations?
The table also reinforces what a good job Benitez is doing as they should be 17th. Survival with a few games to spare would reflect a good season.
David Wagner’s Huddersfield would be bottom of our league but currently find themselves in 15th just a few wins from safety. He is another manager who has done incredibly well this season.
It seems that Southampton’s insistence to sell their star players to Liverpool is catching up with them – but recent top half finishes in the last few seasons suggest they have been over performing quite dramatically. Although they currently find themselves 17th, our table only has them at 14th. Perhaps the sacking of Claude Puel was a little hasty??
Stoke have suffered due to an insistence on signing football manager 2008 wonderkids and moving away from a model that has served them so well in the past as they are 8 places worse off.
Spurs often labelled as ‘bottlers’ have been performing far above where the finances would have them finish. However it does question what they might have achieved if they had potentially invested a little more as the other key intangibles seem to be in place.
Apart from poor maths, I hope this table can provide a little dose of reality. Liverpool and Tottenham lose one game and they are labelled as bottlers when in actual fact results would indicate they are performing well without relying on huge funds to do so.
Clubs like Brighton, Burnley and Newcastle aren’t getting enough plaudits they deserve for strong seasons. West Brom and Palace have chucked money at it but haven’t got some of the other essentials in place and look like they might both be relegated.
Too often as fans we are too knee jerk in our reactions and if a side has a poor result or are struggling we blame lack of money as the main reason. What do West Ham fans want? Do they realistically believe that they should be competing for the top 4 or top 6? Isn’t premier league survival the main aim? West Ham have been spending and the board backing the team. Shouldn’t the players be getting a little more stick? Arsenal 4th in our table can look to blame the board, but is trying to overthrow the owner the answer? Would a more battle hardened attitude that other teams display result in Arsenal not losing 10 away matches this year?
Essentially, shouldn’t all clubs be a little bit more like Burnley?
Two consecutive 6 nations titles, a clean sweep away against Australia and a possible 24 wins out of 26 matches – nobody can argue that Eddie Jones 2 year tenure as England coach hasn’t been successful.
But why does England’s trip to Paris this weekend feel like it is a must win match?
There has been a sense that Englands 6 nations campaign has provided more questions than answers.
Handed a comfortable start away against the Italians, England’s next matches against Wales and Scotland have produced scratchy, questionable performances suggesting that England’s sweet chariot is in danger of losing a wheel.
Goong into the Wales match the expectation was that England would comfortably outclass a patched up Welsh side – the result, a narrow victory where England were clearly hanging on. Without a very dubious decision from the TMO, England couldn’t have had too many complaints if they had emerged on the losing side.
Fast forward two weeks and a first half humbling against Scotland depicted an unravelling of a structured game plan and a defence that simply could not get to grips with Scotlands energy and chaos.
As an Englishman who calls Scotland his home – trust me there is no scalp that the Scots want more than a win over England. However England knew this.
As the game was quickly slipping away there didn’t seem to be any recognition of the way the game was going or an answer to the Scottish defence. England seemed jittery, unable to manage the pivotal situations and unable to cope with the boisterous Murrayfield crowd.
For the first time in the Jones era, England looked lost and poorly prepared.
The thing I love most about Eddie Jones is his personality and spiky attitude, I think he has made his England team embrace the “arrogance” label that is attached to the them by their 6 nation rivals.
Under Stuart Lancaster the impression was that England were too nice. They were a team that seeked public reapproval following a spate of controversies through the Martin Johnson era. They were a side that was too nice to win the big matches and overcome the big moments.
Jones’ England are different, they snarl, they bite and they swagger. Often embodying the very image that their rivals hate. However despite this, there is a sense that England are still very much a WIP.
As an ardent England fan I often find Englands lack of discipline frustrating. This years championship has seen England commit 32 penalties. Compare this to 30 by France, 13 by Ireland, 25 by Scotland and 18 by Wales. Through ill discipline, England are struggling to gain an advantage in the territory battle and put the squeeze on their opponents.
Rewind to the start of the second half at Murrayfield. England got the start they wanted through an Owen Farrell try but for the next twenty minutes they were often camped in their own half. Any forward progress quickly erased by silly errors, poor decision making and costly penalties. This wasn’t the England side we had become accustomed to watching.
There seems to be several issues hanging over the team.
Does Jones know his best centre partnership? Jonathan Joesph seems to be constantly in and out of the side and Ben Teo is still to produce a commanding performance that would see him shift his “finisher” tag.
Do England have a game changing back row? As Martin Johnson bluntly put it after the Scotland game. Games of test match rugby are won and lost at the breakdown.
John Barclay simply dominated the game line winning numerous turnovers. Do England have a player able to do this? Rewind to the 2015 World Cup and the work done by David Pocock and Michael Hooper. There furraging work was the foundation of their success. England at the moment don’t have the game changers to win the turnover battle.
Lastly, do England have the flair to produce moments of magic?
Englands dominance under Jones has come about through their ability to control rugby matches. The Italy game aside – England have struggled to assert consistent pressure on their opponents. It almost seems that every England game is planned and plotted by the minute. X substitution will be made at this minute, if less than 40 metres from the posts we kick for goal etc…. This is all well and good when England are on top and dominating, but as showed against the Scots a few weeks ago, when they are behind the 8 ball and losing control, this England side started to question themselves and seemed to lack ideas and a plan B to get back into the game.
Fast forward to this weekend and England probably couldn’t have wished to play anybody worse. France in the process of what seems like a countless rebuild will be a sticky prospect.
France will certainly feel like they can trouble England in front of what will be a vociferous Paris crowd. There unpredictability and formidable pack could cause England major headaches.
Remember France were only one swing of a Jonny Sexton boot away from a memorable victory over Ireland and they will be after something similar when England rock into town.
England will be favourites and they should win. However like the Scotland game it is a lose lose situation. They are expected to win but if they lose this will be the first time that Jones and his side will be under real scrutiny. World Cup success in 2019 will seem an uphill task.
With Ireland still to play who might be chasing a grand slam, this feels like a pivotal weekend if England are to keep their faint dreams of a 3rd 6 nations title alive and their World Cup preparations on course.
This Wednesday sees Spurs face Juventus in the second leg of their last 16 champions league tie. After a dominant display (the first 10 minutes aside) in Turin – many pundits and fans would expect Spurs to progress at Wembley.
Many pundits this week including Glen Hoddle have stated that Wednesdays game is a defining moment in the clubs history. Yes, Spurs have reached the quarterfinals in the UCL before but this Spurs team is different.
The Spurs under Redknapp were a good side – but the feeling back then was that the good season they had was a bit of a one off. That side were viewed as top 4 contenders but they were still a little way off being viewed as genuine title contenders.
This side is different, the past two seasons have seen Spurs challenge for the league title, play champions league football consistently and challenge in the FA cup. Currently, in the league they are on a 17 match unbeaten run and are starting to look like the side many predicted could challenge for the title at the start of the season.
Despite Pochettino downplaying the need for a trophy – this spurs side has to start competing consistently for titles. In my lifetime this is the strongest Spurs team I have ever had the opportunity to watch – with world class talents such as Kane and Eriksen still to potentially reach their peak – Spurs fans know that in order to keep these talents, the titles need to follow.
If you had asked Spurs fans at the start of the season what represented their best chances of silverware – the majority would have targeted domestic success. Only the most optimistic Spurs fan would have believed that Champions League glory was a realistic target.
Having been drawn in a group with Real Madrid and Dortmund the consensus was that Spurs would do extremely well to sneak into the second qualifying spot. However, the way they qualified by beating Dortmund home and away as well as the inspired 3-1 dispatching of Madrid, put Spurs firmly in the conversation as potential dark horses for this seasons champions league title.
Fast forward to the 15 minute mark in Turin and it had appeared that Spurs Achilles heel had returned. Spurs were once again over awed by the occasion and seemed to shrink in the atmosphere. Panic had set into the Spurs side and after 15 minutes it looked like a case of how many they would lose by.
But instead what happened next surprised me and pundits alike.
Juventus thinking that the tie was already done, dropped deep and allowed Spurs to start playing. Dembele was majestic – Kane a constant threat and Eriksen produced arguably his best performance in a Spurs shirt.
Spurs emerged with a 2-2 draw which was a result that flattered Juve and it felt that a corner had been turned. It was a performance loaded with maturity and heart and put the rest of Europe on notice.
Ar Wembley Spurs have a real opportunity to progress. If they can beat Juventus and add them to the prestigious names of sides that Spurs have already dispatched – why couldn’t this side have a chance of progressing further in the competition?
A kind draw could see Spurs face teams like Liverpool, Man Utd, Roma or Shakhtar or even Chelsea. Of course there are no easy games at this stage but these teams shouldn’t have Spurs quaking in their boots.
Wednesday will determine that Spurs are a side who can genuinely compete and potentially win trophies at the highest level or it will be another moment where Spurs are the nearly men.