The form of Raheem Sterling has been crucial in Liverpool's title challenge, as Ali Tweedale of WhoScored.com highlights. Expect the youngster to play a key role in the run-in...
It's fine to have an opinion - everybody does - but Matt Stanger is tired of being told what to think about the title race. Liverpool deserve it? We'll see on May 11...
The timing was fortuitous. Alan Smith, Dietmar Hamann and, as Mediawatch notes, the son of Tottenham's previous manager were gathered by Sky Sports News to discuss the Champions League draw, and instead the discussion was hijacked by Daniel Levy's decision to remove Andre Villas-Boas from his job.
As a result we were given far less preamble than you would expect as to the opponents that Arsenal (Bayern Munich, as it turned out), Manchester City (Barcelona), Chelsea (Galatasaray) and Manchester United (Olympiakos) would draw. The fact that Tottenham had another hour to wait to find out their opponents, and the growing likelihood that they would be in the Europa League at best next season, explains why the manager could not survive. It also explains why there was a vacancy for Villas-Boas in the first place, whatever Jamie 'Previous managers have been sacked for having a lot of success there' Redknapp may think.
Yes, the cold fury provoked in Levy by the manner of defeats against Manchester City and, highly visibly, Liverpool played a substantial part in the execution. But the chairman would have been a lot more forgiving had Tottenham's ball been in the right baskets in Nyon.
Villas-Boas failed, confirmed on the last day of last season, to land fourth, which deprived him of a safety net. Redknapp Sr had squandered the chance to be third or even higher the year before and Spurs were bumped out by Chelsea's triumph in Munich; the manager was then bumped off by Levy. Both were punished, in effect, for the expectations that had been raised under Redknapp. He was not sacked for his success, as Jamie would have it, but in part as a result. Having reached the Champions League quarter-finals in 2010-11, qualification ceased to be a dream and became a requirement, an integral part of the plans to transform White Hart Lane. The new £400m stadium is not being built for Thursday nights.
It should be noted that in 2010 Redknapp seized on an opportunity caused by Liverpool's sudden weakness and the immaturity of Manchester City's plans, and that fourth place in 2012 was helped by Chelsea's continued instability. It should be noted, but it doesn't always work out like that.
This season, Liverpool are very much back in contention after four years and Chelsea are reinvigorated. Such was the wave of recruitment this summer, that it was as if Villas-Boas were trying to integrate his old players with his new ones, rather than the other way round. How, exactly, you replace Gareth Bale has sparked a lot of jokes, but the truest answer is 'with difficulty'. The one who settled best, Christian Eriksen, promptly got injured.
Luis Suarez was once a Spurs target when at Ajax and papers varied in their views over who ducked out of the deal, Redknapp (the Telegraph) or Levy (the Times). But as we consider the records of those players Spurs did sign this summer, it is worth remembering that the Premier League's current top scorer managed only four goals from February to May after arriving at Anfield in 2011: even the best can take time to adjust.
Still, Villas-Boas's tactical decisions left Spurs exposed; the high line employed against Liverpool so soon after the thumping at Manchester City, and with an even weaker defence, was an invitation Suarez could not turn down. At White Hart Lane as at Chelsea, on occasion Villas-Boas has treated football as if it were a game (yes, I know), seeing what would happen as if there would always be another go. While he was entitled to patience in his first season at Spurs (and also to more in his only campaign at Stamford Bridge), his recklessness suggests an insufficient seriousness for the task in hand. He will get a new job sooner or later, but not again at top-six level in this country until he has proved himself once more.
(Incidentally, while one can appreciate the sentiments of the mascot who spurned his handshake, one wonders, too, whether giving him an extra incentive to perform was really that wise a move.)
On Sky Sports News, Harry Jr's vitriol was largely reserved for Franco Baldini, who had signed so many of the players. Perhaps the message was that what Spurs really need is a wheeler-dealer manager. The man who takes the job will do so knowing that whoever does the buying and selling, it is the man who picks the team who is in the firing line and under no illusion as to the expectations, or rather the demands, of the owners.
Still, it's good that Jamie has finally got it all off his chest.