Spurs Surge To The Top Of The Winners

Tottenham climb to the top of the Winners after their victory at Old Trafford while it was also a good weekend for Chelsea and Arsenal at the top of the table...

Last Updated: 02/01/14 at 12:51 Post Comment

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Winners

Tottenham
A result that hinged on Tim Sherwood's tactical nous or David Moyes' lack of it? For the first hour, it is fair to say that Sherwood outwitted his counterpart. Despite being a managerial novice, he set up his team to hurt the champions where they have been weakest, with Mousa Dembele and Etienne Capoue controlling the midfield battle and Christian Eriksen and Aaron Lennon raiding the flanks on the counter-attack. Tottenham saw much less of the ball, but knew exactly what to do with it compared to a Manchester United side guilty of sterile domination.

And then came Sherwood's decision to replace the impressive Capoue with Nabil Bentaleb. It was clearly not the time to introduce a rookie and the change handed the momentum back to United for an onslaught in the final half-hour. As I wrote in 16 Conclusions, Sherwood has shown that he can learn quickly in his first two weeks in charge - dropping his gung-ho approach for a more refined 4-4-2 system - but he will need to continue showing similar application if he is to maintain his excellent start.

There is a nice symmetry to the statistic that Sherwood and Harry Redknapp are the only two Tottenham managers to gain 10+ points in their opening four Premier League matches, and Spurs now stand one point better off than at this stage last season. Considering the problems they have faced this year it is a remarkable achievement, and bodes well for trying to better last year's record points total. If reinforcements in defence are sought in January, and Roberto Soldado begins to repay his £26m price tag, then this could yet be a successful campaign at White Hart Lane, even if their poor planning renders it something of a fluke.


Premier League Narratives
A Spurs team that were widely reported to be in crisis during the final weeks of Villas-Boas' reign now stand just two points behind what is accepted to be the best Liverpool side since the 2008/09 title race. Southampton, who were excessively lauded for their impressive start, are six points adrift of Newcastle, the laughing stock of the division when Joe Kinnear was appointed as director of football. "Judge me on my sigings," said Kinnear at the time, and his solitary recruit has scored more goals than Chelsea's three leading forwards combined as we move into the new year. It is a season of endless and fascinating subplots, as the surprises continue to outweigh consistency.


Chelsea
Speaking of Chelsea strikers, Fernando Torres strike at Southampton earned him the (unlikely?) achievement of becoming the first Blues forward to score an away goal in the Premier League since his brace at Sunderland on December 8, 2012.

Chelsea's victory at St Mary's rather embodied their season to date, as they struggled to find their rhythm but eventually overcame their opponents in the second half. After complaining about his team's defensive resolve, Jose Mourinho will have been encouraged by the backs-to-the-wall resistance before the break and he will also be smug at his decision to replace Juan Mata and Andre Schurrle with Oscar and the rapidly improving Willian, which proved to be a defining moment in the result. That Oscar continues to impress more than an out-of-sorts Mata is a feather in Mourinho's cap and reassures supporters (if it were needed) that he still knows exactly what he's doing, despite being a cantankerous so-and-so for much of the campaign.


Aston Villa
A fourth away win of the campaign compared to only two at home, where Villa have mustered a miserable seven goals so far.

It isn't an exagerration to say that this was a huge result for Villa and Paul Lambert. There have been grumbles of discontent over the manager's aptitude following four defeats in five matches before Wednesday, but he eased talk of the sack with a valuable win at Sunderland.

"We've been without a couple of big players with (Christian) Benteke and (Ron) Vlaar coming back. (Gabriel) Agbonlahor has been missing at times. (Fabian) Delph has been missing," said Lambert in his post-match interview.

"We needed those big players back. When you lose Benteke and Vlaar, that's a big chunk of your side. It's been hard. After the criticism of late, that (win) was well justified."

It was well-timed, too.


Arsenal
This may have been billed as a gimme for the Gunners but, perhaps rather perversely, it was one of the more difficult fixtures they could have faced following a gruelling Christmas schedule.

With Cardiff content to stick 11 men behind the ball, Arsenal found it hard to break down their opponents in a match reminiscent of so many occasions during their barren eight-year trophy hunt. The difference on Wednesday is that the Gunners eventually found a breakthrough, and for that they must be eternally grateful to the Asinine Ponytail.

With Nicklas Bendtner now ruled out for 'weeks' with an ankle injury, the need for Arsene Wenger to dip into the transfer window is even greater, if it were not already imperative. Lukas Podolski's abject 64 minutes at centre-forward against Cardiff underlined that he is not a realistic option for the role, while Olivier Giroud has looked exhausted in recent weeks, scoring in only two of his last 13 appearances.

Arsene Wenger has already stated that he is looking for a 'special' player in January, but he should not let luxury blind his search for essentials. The Gunners failed with a last-minute loan move for Demba Ba in the summer and a similar mistake on this occasion would be unforgivable given their genuine shot at winning the title.


Liverpool
A routine victory to return to winning ways and a routine thunderbastard from Luis Suarez. Brendan Rodgers continued to use sham psychology on his players following the result, claiming it was their "best win of the season".

"We might not have always been at our best, but we got two great goals, had other opportunities and actually restricted Hull to no shots on target," he said.

"I'm very, very pleased with today because it was a great victory for us."

As great as the 5-0 victory over Spurs? We think not, Brendan.


Fulham
An enormous win to banish the bitter memories of that second half at Hull and guide Fulham back outside the relegation zone. They were good value for the victory, but Rene Meulensteen may wish to send Kevin Nolan a late Christmas present for his part in the result.


Everton
"We feel disappointed in terms of we see it as dropping two points today," said Roberto Martinez after Everton's 1-1 draw against Stoke.

"But as you know in football, we knew that Stoke have got a very good record at home.

"They are unbeaten in the last six, they won their last two, and we knew it was going to difficult, especially if you don't get that early goal or the first goal."

That's the Everton manager disappointed with a hard-fought draw at Stoke, who beat Chelsea at home only three weeks ago. The Toffees have come a long way in a short space of time, and long may the new manager's enterprising style continue.


West Brom
Six points and two places gained since Steve Clarke's sacking. Keith Downing has done an excellent job to steady the ship.


Manchester City
Another away match in which they performed well below their best - Yaya Toure in particular - but at least they survived to claim all three points.

Arsene Wenger may have dismissed talk of City being title favourites on Tuesday, but we're still struggling to see beyond them at this stage. We're really struggling to agree with Wenger's assessment that United stand an equal chance of winning the league, regardless of it coming before their defeat on Wednesday.


Losers


Kevin Nolan
Where's his stupid chicken dance now?

"We're all in it together," said Nolan on December 29. But despite his rallying call, it seems the captain is intent on missing as much of the Hammers' relegation battle as possible after picking up a second reckless red card in only four matches.

"I just don't quite understand why he's lost his cool," said Sam Allardyce after Nolan's dismissal proved enormously costly against Fulham.

"He's probably responsible for us losing the game more than anybody else, I don't think there's any doubt about that.

"I don't understand it because the indiscretion of what he's done has just happened straight after what he did at Liverpool.

"So I'm going to have to find out what's wrong with him, because there's certainly something wrong with his mentality at the minute."

Nolan will surely regret his indiscretion but, after publicly backing Allardyce recently, he might be rather disgruntled by the manager questioning his mental state. Although the midfielder's previous powers are waning, he proved that his influence can still be crucial with two assists and a goal in the 3-3 draw with West Brom, and his understanding with Andy Carroll will be key to the Hammers' survival fight if/when the striker returns from his injury problems.

Should Carroll remain on the sidelines for the foreseeable future, another option for Allardyce is to pursue a deal for Nikica Jelavic, who is firmly out of favour at Everton. The striker has struggled for goals over the past 12 months (failing to score in nine appearances this season), but a move may see him reignite his form. With Modibo Maiga offering a convincing aerial presence for the Hammers, Jelavic could perhaps look to rekindle the sort of partnership he previously held with Marouane Fellaini at Everton.


Sunderland
"We are losing time, we are losing games," said a despondent Gus Poyet before Christmas.

"I said we needed to win 11 games to think, 'Can we get to 40 points?', and we can't win a football game."

Sunderland showed fight to dig in at Everton and mount a late comeback against Cardiff, but losing at home to Aston Villa highlights the harsh reality facing Poyet and his players. The squad is simply not good enough after Ellis Short foolishly granted Paolo Di Canio the power to overhaul in the summer. Additional quality may be acquired in January, but unless Sunderland win at Fulham in their next outing, it will be near-impossible to envisage a late dash for safety.


Howard Webb
Normally one of the more reliable refs in the Premier League (especially for Manchester United), and yet guilty of several poor errors in his last two matches. David Moyes was rightly exasperated over Webb's failure to award Ashley Young a late penalty on Wednesday, while Brendan Rodgers might have had a little more to say about Samuel Eto'o and John Terry's fouls on Luis Suarez at Stamford Bridge had he not already vented his spleen on Boxing Day.


Juan Mata
"I want to keep him. I don't want him to go," said Jose Mourinho after Mata reacted angrily to his substitution at Southampton. "That is my opinion, my wish, but my door is open."

With Mata failing to adapt to Mourinho's demands thus far, it seems a move away from Chelsea is now a genuine possibility. Paul Scholes described the Spaniard as one of the few players he enjoys watching in the Premier League at the end of last season, and Manchester United would certainly benefit from his creative talents in their search for more cutting edge.


Swansea
Only one win in the last eight and two at home all season. At least they might find some joy at Old Trafford in successive FA Cup and Premier League visits.


Manchester United and David Moyes
Clutching at straws. Yes, Manchester United should have had a penalty to rescue a late draw against Spurs, but we all know that sometimes these decisions go for you, and sometimes they don't. Managers have to make their own luck, and the only fortune Moyes have crafted thus far has come in the section of the fixture list about which he had no complaints.

"I am not frustrated," said Moyes, sounding incredibly frustrated. "I thought we played really well. Today was a defeat of course, but we deserved to win, or at worst draw."

However, despite United dominating possession and starting and ending the match brightly, their failure to carve out clear-cut chances continued. There was an over-reliance on Antonio Valencia's crossing from the right, as I detailed in 16 Conclusions, while Moyes failed to isolate Michael Dawson so that Danny Welbeck could expose his woeful lack of pace in the manner Brendan Rodgers achieved in Liverpool's 5-0 thrashing of Spurs.

How many times have we now heard Moyes state that United "will keep going and try to win the next game, and see where it takes us"?

"We will try and win the next game, never think much further than that," said the manager following the 1-0 defeat to Newcastle at the start of December. It is a hoary cliche often reeled out after a disappointing defeat, but points to a worrying focus on the short-term rather than the long-term improvement that United are lacking. Perhaps poor results would be tolerated in the immediate future if there was a sense that United are making progress in their style of play, but any evidence of that has not been forthcoming with any consistency.

With the domestic cups now United's best chance of silverware this season, Moyes cannot afford another slip-up at home to Swansea on Sunday. The concern for the manager, though, is that the following game is a re-match in the Premier League. That Spurs were the only team to beat Swansea more than once last season suggests that Michael Laudrup and his players are capable of learning from their defeats to improve against their opponents in the next meeting. With Moyes showing a lack of flexibility in his approach thus far, United may be vulnerable again when the top flight reconvenes in two weeks' time.

Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.

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