IT has been the first One-Day International of the season for the England cricket team, so summer is obviously close at hand.
But there are still major issues outstanding in the Premier League with just over a fortnight remaining. PREMIER LEAGUE WEEKLY examines teams under the microscope at the top and the bottom.
Can Tottenham keep the vultures at bay?
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR can make it a perfect ten this evening if they win at West Ham. It would be their tenth successive Premier League win and their first run since the heady days of the double winning season of 1960/61. Even though the Hammers are bitter London rivals, few would bet against Spurs in their current mood.
Three points would narrow the gap behind Chelsea to just a single point ahead of their game at home to Middlesbrough on Monday night and would keep the title race bubbling along for a few more days yet. Winning matches seems like the easy bit at the moment for Mauricio Pochettino and his men, as a pivotal summer seems on the cards in N17.
Tottenham’s first XI has fallen into place perfectly over the last few months. There is a glorious balance between defence and attack and the team flows beautifully. It is a situation that clubs strive for season upon season, but happens so fleetingly. It is something Chairman Daniel Levy should be acutely aware of, and determined to maintain. Yet Spurs’ biggest problem is that their wage structure is dwarfed by the other five clubs in the Premier League’s top six. Hugo Lloris, Danny Rose, Kyle Walker, Toby Alderweireld, Mousa Dembele, Dele Alli and Harry Kane would all be coveted by the best in England and Europe.
Already in the last few days, Walker was dropped for the Arsenal game with Pochettino worried that his right-back has been turned by a big money offer from Manchester City, while Alderweireld is stalling over a new deal until a transfer release clause is inserted. As fans, we want the glory, but as so often happens, money talks. Can Spurs keep their players happy when they know what is available elsewhere? Players who leave this summer might increase their bank balance but not have the same professional fulfilment as they do in this team with this squad.
There are plenty of examples where teams have been broken up as the European big boys have swooped in. Ajax reached two European Cup finals in 1995 and 1996 with an incredible batch of young players, but they were soon torn apart by the vultures. Bayer Leverkusen were runners-up in the Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup in 2002, but immediately lost Michael Ballack and Ze Roberto to Bayern Munich. And four years ago, Borussia Dortmund went on a thrilling run to the Champions League final where they narrowly lost to Bayern. Sadly for them, Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels, Mario Gotze and Ilkay Gundogan all left for pastures new in the seasons that followed.
So for Tottenham, the pressure at the moment is two-fold, to capitalise on their great form by winning silverware and winning silverware before there is any potential break-up of their team.
Should Marco Silva be Manager of the Year?
IT’s that time of the season when people start thinking about accolades and prizes and one of those is the Manager of the Year. Antonio Conte and Mauricio Pochettino will probably top the lists, but if Marco Silva can keep Hull City in the Premier League, then he surely deserves to be in the reckoning.
That’s because the Portuguese has overcome insults, ignoarance and indifference to put Hull in a position where safety is in their own hands with three games to go. When Mike Phelan was sacked early in the New Year, there was a feeling of hard luck and ‘What else could he do?’ given that Hull had a threadbare squad and were bottom of the league.
Worse still, Phelan was being replaced by a manager in Silva that virtually no-one in England had heard of, cue insults about his actual ability and how he could possibly flourish in the Premier League with no prior experience. This was a club where the owners and fans were at civil war, with the owners keen to sell up and the fans hoping for a swift exit from them. Atmosphere at the games before Christmas had been low key, with spectators disillusioned and having little belief in the club’s chances of staying up.
When I went to the Liverpool game in February at the KCOM Stadium, I sensed a different mood. The fans had more belief and even though Silva had brought in what looked like a motley crew of mercenaries during the January transfer window, there was something about them. Italian centre-half Andrea Ranocchia, Polish midfielder Kamil Grosicki and unwanted Everton striker Oumar Niasse have all brought a bit more quality to the team.
Silva has brought belief and confidence with him, reminiscent of a young Jose Mourinho. He has not lost any of his last 41 home league games as manager at Hull, Estoril, Sporting Lisbon and in Greece with Olympiacos. Under Silva, the Tigers have picked up 19 points out of 21 which has given them a real chance of survival. Suddenly, the fans are getting behind the team and there is a more positive mood on Humberside, which was absent for months.
Victory over already-relegated Sunderland tomorrow would extend Silva’s remarkable home statistics and heap the pressure on 18th-placed Swansea, who face Everton at home in tomorrow’s evening kick-off. If Hull do stay up, it will be a miraculous escape as hands up please, who thought they had any chance at all on the day Silva walked through the door.
Stat of the Day
52.5 – THE percentage of Swansea City’s goals this season in which talismanic star Gylfi Sigurdsson has been involved.
The Icelander has scored nine and set up 12 more out of the Swans’ 40 goals. He will surely need to do more in the next three games if Swansea are to leapfrog Hull and stay up.
Adam’s (Friday and) Saturday scores:
West Ham 0 Tottenham 3
Manchester City 2 Crystal Palace 1
Bournemouth 2 Stoke 0
Burnley 1 West Brom 1
Hull 2 Sunderland 0
Leicester 4 Watford 1
Swansea 2 Everton 2