Tottenham thriving as AVB gets the best from Gareth Bale

Andre Villas-Boas has taken a lot of criticism whilst he has been in England, mostly as a result of his ill-fated spell as John Terry’s assistant at Chelsea. However, his work at Tottenham is starting to regain him the respect that he garnered whilst sweeping all before him during his one season at Porto.

One of the views being put about is that he is quite lucky to have Gareth Bale in the form of his life, but how about the idea that it is because of AVB’s teaching that Bale is achieving the levels that he is? Bale’s explosion in goalscoring form has coincided with AVB moving him in to a central role. In reality he has a roaming license, popping up all over the pitch. He is top of every dribbling statistic in the major five European leagues and he now has the freedom to do that from all over the field. The Wales international has become particularly dangerous from deep central areas, powering straight at defences; see his goals away at Norwich, West Brom and the first at West Ham. His finishing has always been quite good, but out on the wing he had less chance to demonstrate it.

Gareth Bale hugs manager Andre Villas-Boas

AVB isn’t actually the first to deploy Bale in the middle. Harry Redknapp played him in behind the striker a couple of times last season, including a two-goal plunder away at Norwich, but he didn’t stick to it. This was partly because he liked Rafael Van der Vaart in there, but mainly because he liked the two wide pacey wingers to put crosses in to the box.

AVB comes from a different tactical school to Redknapp. He deploys his best player in his best position and figures the rest out from there. Even if it means playing him in a different part of the pitch to where he might be expected to play. He did the same at Porto with Radamel Falcao. He told him to stay central and let the chances come his way, particularly after a barren start to the season.

Radamel Falcao

In his first season in Portugal Falcao had scored 25 goals in the league but just four in Europe. During Villas-Boas’ only season at the club he scored 16 more domestic goals, in only 22 games, but what made his name were the 17 he scored on Porto’s run to victory in the Europa League. When Villas-Boas arrived he made noises that he wouldn’t make any special adjustments to fit around Falcao, but there were subtle changes. He tweaked the Porto system meaning Falcao won the prized berth in the middle of the front three, and this showed the Colombian that he was Villas-Boas’ main man.

The same thing is happening with Bale. AVB is nothing if not a relentless worker and something of a football junkie. He meticulously plans his training sessions and his tactical game plans but at the beginning of the season he was struggling to get the best from Bale. It has been a slow transition but he has allowed the Welshman more and more license to get himself in to areas that the opposition don’t want to him to be. Where do they least want Bale? Running straight at them through the middle of the pitch. Where do teams least want to see Falcao? Lingering around in the box waiting to pounce on anything that comes his way.

These meticulously planned training sessions are a big factor in helping these players attain their maximum potential. Bale is the type of player who would spend all day on the training ground if he could, and having an innovative and thinking coach like AVB who is able to provide him with different challenges and stimulus every day is something that he buys in to. His work ethic has been compared to Cristiano Ronaldo and the fact that he has such a good coach and teacher is what is taking him on to another level.

After his spectacular season at Porto, Falcao headed to Atletico Madrid for £35 million, full of confidence and with the reputation as one of Europe’s hottest strikers. He has only continued on from there and is now considered amongst the top three pure strikers in the world. Tottenham fans will be hoping that the AVB affect won’t end with Bale, but it is clear that as a coach and teacher Villas-Boas knows how to take very good players and make them some of the best in the world.

Manchester United, Liverpool and the biggest Premier League losers of 2011-12

Despite a fantastically entertaining season with a raft of Premier League winners this term, it has been a campaign to forget for some teams and individuals. Euro 2012, the Olympics and the summer transfer window are approaching, and for some 2011-12 could not come to an end quick enough. Here are Ninety Minutes Online’s biggest losers of 2011/12.

Liverpool

Despite lifting the Carling Cup with victory over Cardiff, 2011/12 has been the worst campaign for Liverpool for quite some time. The Anfield outfit’s fans expected their side to be challenging for a top four berth, but a eighth place finish, 17 points adrift of Tottenham in fourth, has been a massive disappointment.

From Fenway Sports Group’s ill-fated home-grown transfer policy, to Luis Suarez’s racism ban, defeat in the FA Cup final to embarrassing home defeats to some of the division’s lesser lights, Liverpool fans will want to forget 2011/12.

Andre Villas Boas

After leading Porto to an unbeaten league title and lifting the Europa League in 2010/11, Andre Villas Boas was heralded as the next Jose Mourinho and the man to lead Chelsea back to the summit of the Premier League. However, an at times bullish squad rotation system saw the senior players at the club alienated, the Blues floundering outside of the top four and Villas Boas given Roman Abramovich’s axe.

The £13 million Chelsea paid Porto for AVB’s services was not rewarded, and the young trainer is still out of work after seeing his stock drop in west London.

Wolves

Wolves have been in a fight to stay in the Premier League over the last number of seasons, but Mick McCarthy has led them to survival and commanded the respect of the squad. Steve Morgan’s decision to sack McCarthy, despite a poor run of form, was an ill-sighted one, and the appointment of assistant Terry Connor a disaster.

The Molineux club reportedly interviewed the likes of Alan Curbishley and Steve Bruce for the role, but were reluctant to offer the experienced pair long-term contracts. The appointment of Connor has backfired, with the club finishing bottom with a woeful five wins all season.

Sir Alex Ferguson

2011/12 will be a season to forget for Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. The Old Trafford outfit are known for their will to win and mental toughness at the business end of the season, but the relinquishing of an eight-point lead is sure to give the legendary Scottish manager nightmares for years to come.

A lame Champions League exit in the group stages, a 6-1 hammering from City at Old Trafford and FA Cup elimination to Liverpool have been hard to take for the defending champions’ fans.

Alex McLeish and Aston Villa

Alex McLeish was a shock appointment at Villa Park last summer given his links to rivals Birmingham City, and the club’s supporters have not warmed to the Scot since. A toothless tally of seven wins, weak defending, a lack of creativity and the division’s second-lowest goal tally have had the Villa fans with their heads in their hands.

McLeish’s position as Villa manager must come under scrutiny this summer, but Randy Lerner must also invest in new players if the team are to have a better 2012/13 – Stewart Downing and Ashley Young have simply not been replaced.

Honourable mentions

  • Venkys – With Blackburn relegated this term, Steve Kean has received most of the flack from the media and the club’s fans. However, the Lancashire outfit’s Indian owners Venkys have not given the Scottish coach any funds to spend, and the side are now reportedly in financial trouble.
  • John Terry – Due to stand a court case in July for reportedly racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, the Chelsea skipper has lost the captaincy of his country and there is a train of thought that Terry may be excluded completely from Euro 2012. Add to this a sending off against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals for petulantly kneeing Alexis Sanchez, and Terry has had better years.
  • Jermain Defoe – The diminutive striker has proved time and again that he can score goals at the top level, but has simply not been given enough time on the pitch this season. Harry Redknapp’s preference for Emmanuel Adebayor and Rafael van der Vaart could cost Defoe a place at Euro 2012.
  • Jack Wilshere – The talented Arsenal midfielder has not seen one minute of action this season, with consecutive knee cruciate injuries keeping him on the sidelines throughout. Wilshere will also miss Euro 2012 due to injury.
  • Joey Barton – Barton is no doubt talented and able when in the correct mindframe, but stupidity, ill-discipline and a terrible attitude have continued to blight his career. A red card against Manchester City on Sunday cost his team the game and his constant abusive and opinionated Twitter comments should see Mark Hughes ditch his troubled ‘captain’ this summer.

Published – Soccerlens

Chelsea vs Tottenham: The Blues’ traditional hex over the White Hart Lane club no longer apparent

Chelsea and Tottenham meet in the second FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Sunday, with the London rivals’ fate this season tied in with that of their opponent. With one or the other set to miss out on a top four finish in the Premier League also, progression in the cup takes additional importance this season.

Chelsea have improved since the axing of Andre Villas Boas, with club man Roberto Di Matteo instilling confidence and a belief in the side. The Blues have made strides in the league to give them a chance of making the Champions League qualification places, and a memorable comeback against Napoli in Europe has set up a mouth-watering clash with Barcelona.

The main difference in Di Matteo’s approach is the respect and responsibility handed back to the club’s senior players. With the likes of Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda and Ashley Cole feeling devalued by the Portuguese coach’s squad rotation system, the Italian has made the old guard feel more valued, and this has paid off for him.

The Stamford Bridge club have the distraction of a Champions League date with the Spanish giants upcoming, and although the clash with Pep Guardiola’s men will be in the back of their minds, Spurs could capitalise on any lack of concentration. Chelsea have traditionally had something of a hex over their London neighbours, but the 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge in the league a couple of weeks ago, in which Harry Redknapp’s men dominated, will have given the White Hart Lane club confidence.

Tottenham have come unstuck slightly over the last couple of months, with an excellent start being counteracted by a poor second half to the season. Defeat against Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton could almost be understood given the difficulty of the opponent, but a loss to Norwich and draw with Stoke at home have the White Hart Lane faithful nervous.

Ahead of the game at Wembley, Spurs are still in fourth place but are level on points with Newcastle, and two ahead of Chelsea. With a five-point gap opening up to Arsenal in third, it is a safe bet to say that one of Sunday’s competitors will miss out on the top four. Spurs fans will look to win their first piece of silverware since their League Cup triumph in 2008, where they beat Chelsea in the final.

A couple of key matchups may well decide the outcome of what should be a close game. With Branislav Ivanovic suspended, the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon will look to get at makeshift fullbacks and take advantage of possession down the flanks. Scott Parker and Frank Lampard will hope to be team-mates this summer at Euro 2012, but will go head-to-head in the battle to win possession and shield their back fours. Finally, second strikers Rafael van der Vaart and Juan Mata are the playmakers that can create chances that will ultimately win the match.

Published – Soccerlens

Tottenham: Easier April on paper for Harry Redknapp’s men

Tottenham will be glad to see the back of March and their tricky fixture list against some of the best sides in the Premier League. A stuttering period has been costly, with Spurs relinquishing their grip on third place and falling to fourth, behind Arsenal. However, with a more agreeable five fixtures in April, Harry Redknapp’s men will look to close the three-point gap on their bitter rivals and take back the automatic Champions League qualification place.

Swansea home

Tottenham take on the progressive Welsh side at home this Sunday, and will look to get back to winning ways in the league after only two points from their last five games in the division.

Brendan Rodgers has instilled an exciting passing style in the Liberty Stadium outfit, who have surpassed all expectations this season in their first season in the top flight. The Swans are generally better at home than on the road, but have nothing to lose and will go out to compete.

In Gylfi Sigurdssson the visitors have a dangerous attacking midfielder who can score goals also; Spurs must watch the on-loan Iceland international carefully. However, with the bulk of his players fit and available for selection, Harry Redknapp will urge his men to show their quality and get three points.

Sunderland away

Not an easy fixture by any means, Sunderland are always a tricky opponent in front of the passionate Stadium of Light crowd. The Wearside club looked like relegation contenders back in December, but new manager Martin O’Neill has given The Black Cats confidence and powered them up into the top half.

The Bantams have taken their foot off the pedal slightly in recent weeks, and Spurs will be buoyed on by Everton’s comprehensive 2-0 win over Sunderland away from home in the FA Cup quarter-finals. However, O’Neill will motivate his side to be at their best as they look to finish as high as possible in the league.

In James McClean the hosts have a tricky and fearless winger, who has lit the Premier League up in his debut season, whilst Stephane Sessegnon is difficult to mark as he plays in the hole between teams’ midfield and defence. Redknapp should adopt a three-man midfield and hope the likes of Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart can inspire the London side to victory.

Norwich home

Another home clash against a newly-promoted side, this on paper is a game Tottenham must win. Despite the relative inexperience of the Canaries’ players in the top flight, the Carrow Road club have, like Swansea, got their teeth into their campaign back in the big time and not looked out of place.

Paul Lambert’s men have already guaranteed their safety, and Tottenham will hope to catch Norwich cold after a long, hard season. At White Hart Lane the visitors will most likely set up a defensive line-up and look to counter on the break, so Spurs must be patient in attempts to breaks their opponents down.

Targetman Grant Holt will provide a threat in attack, and the bulky striker must be given little space by the Spurs centre half pairing. Enforcing some strong and fast like Younes Kaboul to counter Holt’s physicality may be a good move.

QPR away

London rivals QPR are fighting for their lives at the bottom of the Premier League, and are right in the mix with four other teams in the battle to avoid demotion to the Championship. Mark Hughes has a raft of January signings at his disposal, and the Loftus Road crowd will be desperate to pick up points.

Despite their position in the bottom three of the division, Rangers have shown some steel at home at times, beating Chelsea and overturning a two-goal deficit to get three points over Liverpool in a recent 3-2 win. The fact that the fixture is a London derby will also motivate the hosts.

The Hoops’ frontline of Djibril Cisse and Bobby Zamora has the ability to hurt any side, and the former France international in particular has the pedigree and experience to score goals. However, Spurs will look to get a grip of the game in midfield, and if they do so should be on top.

Blackburn home

A home game against Blackburn completes the Premier League schedule for April, and the White Hart Lane faithful will hope that their side have strung together wins and all but sealed their place in the top four by this point.

Rovers are likely to be panicking by the time this fixture comes around, and any team fighting to avoid relegation are dangerous to play towards the end of the season.  Steve Kean has given a relatively young group confidence, and they have the ability to spring a surprise; they have beaten both Manchester United and Arsenal this term.

The visitors’ hope will rest on veteran striker Yakubu and young prospect Junior Hoilett. The Nigerian has re-found his goal-scoring form this term, whilst Hoilett has an assurance on the ball that will most likely see him move to a bigger club in the summer.

All in all Tottenham will want to put their bad run of form behind them, and will believe that they have the ability to win all five of these games. Sunderland away will be the most difficult fixture, but it is imperative that at least all games at White Hart Lane result in three points for the hosts.

Published – Bleacher Report

Tottenham: Review of the last five Premier League games

Tottenham will have been praying for the end of March after a difficult run of fixtures saw them collect only two points from their last five Premier League fixtures. Spurs were comfortably in third place at the start of the month and touted as potential title contenders, but find themselves in fourth place and in a battle for Champions League qualification at the end of it; here’s a recap of the last five games.

Arsenal 5 Tottenham 2

The lowest point of a season full of highs, Tottenham’s capitulation against Arsenal in the North London derby was a throwback to the mediocre Spurs days of the recent past. A two-goal lead against a team that was low in confidence was spurned, due to defending too deep and resting on their laurels. The team and supporters will want to forget this fixture and hope it doesn’t impact the standings come the end of the season.

Tottenham 1 Manchester United 3

A positive first-half display against the English champions would have been rounded off by a goal, but with a lack of clinical finishing, Harry Redknapp’s men were put to the sword by the experience of United. Jermain Defoe came on to score a consolation, but the positives from this game lie with an aggresive start. Redknapp started to adopt three central midfielders instead of two after the Arsenal debacle the week before, which proved successful later in the month.

Everton 1 Tottenham 0

A game of two contrasting halves; Spurs were poor in the first 45 minutes before dominating the second half. Tottenham were lucky to only be one goal down at the interval, but looked much more assured in the second period. Could—and should—have scored to get something from the game; Goodison Park is starting to become a bit of a hoodoo for the north London club.

Tottenham 1 Stoke City 1

A game that the White Hart Lane faithful wanted to win but that Tottenham were very lucky not to lose. Stoke continue to prove themselves as a difficult opponent, at the Britannia or away from home, and Spurs struggled to deal with their physicality and direct approach. A last minute Rafael van der Vaart equaliser salvaged what could be a very important point.

Chelsea 0 Tottenham 0

By far the most positive performance and result of late. Tottenham have not won at Stamford Bridge in 22 years, and after a run of poor results and Chelsea’s rejuvenation under Roberto Di Matteo, entered the fixture as firm underdogs. However, an assured display saw the points shared and the five-point gap between the clubs maintained. Sandro and Scott Parker battled well, whilst William Gallas showcased his experience at the back. With good chances for Emmanuel Adebayor, Van der Vaart and Kyle Walker, Spurs were disappointed not to win the game, but would have taken a draw before-hand.

With a tough run of games concluded in March, Tottenham have played all of the Premier League’s top seven twice, and now have an easier run of games on paper. With Chelsea’s priorities split due to their likely progression to the Champions League semi-finals, and Arsenal still with a couple of tricky games, Redknapp’s men will look to push towards a third-placed finish with a strong run of form in April.

Published – Bleacher Report

Tottenham’s Future: The usual 4-4-2 or an attacking 4-5-1?

Harry Redknapp has recently tweaked his tactics slightly to incorporate an extra defensive midfielder in his line-up against fellow top four contenders. Instead of the usual 4-4-2 system, an extra combative midfielder has been installed to change the format to a 4-5-1, that turns to a 4-3-3 when Spurs are on the attack. This I feel has added extra balance to the side, but it will be interesting to see if Redknapp continues this approach against Swansea at White Hart Lane on Sunday.

This change in tactics and personnel have changed the roles of a number of players. The old 4-4-2 system saw Scott Parker and Luka Modric in the centre of the park, two wingers and two strikers. Against the better teams Tottenham started to get over-run, with Parker’s workload at times unmanageable. However, with either Sandro or Jake Livermore both more than adept at fitting into a three-man central midfield, it makes Tottenham a more difficult team to break down. Additionally, the idea is that with two battlers in front of the backline will hopefully free Modric to get forward a bit more and free the creative player slightly of defensive duties.

Moving forward, Emmanuel Adebayor’s position of frontman does not change, but Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart and Aaron Lennon once he is fit will have to alter their roles slightly. With a three-man central midfield a side can become vulnerable on the flanks, so former left-back Bale and Van der Vaart or Lennon on the right will have to help out their respective full backs. The Dutch forward has previously indicated that he is not keen to play wide and wants to play centrally, but this system may suit both him and the team if he is willing to track back when needed; he did this well against Chelsea.

Finally, the main losers out of the change in tactics however are Jermain Defoe and Louis Saha. With Bale and Van der Vaart certainties to play when fit, there is space for only one out-and-out striker, which for the time being will be Adebayor. An extra midfielder cuts down the second forward’s time on the pitch, with Defoe in particular sure to be frustrated with lack of opportunities.

There is a case for Spurs continuing their three-man central midfield against Swansea, as the Welsh side are fearless away from home and have shown sleek passing this season. Sandro and Scott Parker together would cut down space for the likes Gylfi Sigurdsson and Joe Allan, but with Tottenham in desperate need for three points Redknapp will be tempted to go back to 4-4-2 and play Saha instead.

Published – Bleacher Report

Tottenham and Manchester United have it all to play for at White Hart Lane

Second host third in the Premier League on Sunday, as Tottenham welcome Manchester United to White Hart Lane. With the business end of the season upon us, both clubs need points to wrap up a successful campaign, and a defeat would leave each respective team facing a considerable setback. Spurs have seen their lead over the chasing pack reduced in the race for a top four place, whilst United need to keep pace with cross-town rivals and current division leaders Manchester City.

Tottenham’s excellent form this season hit a massive speed bump last weekend, as a 5-2 north London derby defeat to arch enemies Arsenal brought the side back down to earth. Harry Redknapp’s team missed the chance to all-but-guarantee Champions League qualification, as if they had beaten Arsenal a lead of 13 points between the rivals would have been opened. However, the loss means that the gap between Spurs and both the Gunners and Chelsea is down to seven points, and the White Hart Lane men’s confidence may have been shook.

Spurs’ showing at the Emirates Stadium was disappointing to say the least, as the side in white threw away a two-goal lead and looked a shadow of the team that has enthralled and captivated fans this term. Tottenham’s defence last Sunday was questionable at best, and will need to improve if they are to avoid consecutive defeats. Ledley King was not his usual assured self last weekend, and Redknapp will need to organise his troops to withstand the advances of the champions in this outing.

Redknapp admitted that his team selection was flawed in the derby, and Rafael van der Vaart needs to start this game, either as a second striker or on the right side of midfield. In attack Emmanuel Adebayor was isolated for large portions of the game at the Emirates, and to stand more of a chance this time round the likes of Gareth Bale and Van der Vaart must get closer to the Togolese marksman.

United are notorious for kicking into top gear at this time of the season, but as yet Sir Alex Ferguson’s team have not shown the performances we are accustomed to. A two-point gap at the top means the title race may well go down to the wire, but the game between the Manchester sides at the Etihad Stadium at the end of April could be the decider.

Ryan Giggs scored an injury-time winner against Norwich at Carrow Road last Sunday to mark his 900th appearance for the Red Devils, but it was widely acknowledged that the champions were lucky to escape with all three points against the newcomers. Wayne Rooney did not play against the Canaries and similarly missed England’s international friendly with Netherlands on Wednesday; United just do not look the same attacking force without his invention and energy, and the visitors’ potency going forward at the weekend will depend on the striker’s late fitness test.

The battle in the centre of the park will play a key part in deciding the eventual victor also, with both clubs having midfielders unavailable. Spurs will be without Scott Parker for the match-up, after the newly-appointed England captain was sent off to compound Tottenham’s misery against Arsenal, which will put an added weight of expectation on Sandro to fill the role of shield in front of the back four. Veterans Giggs and Paul Scholes continue to play a pivotal role for the Old Trafford side despite their age, and will look to use all their experience to steer their side home in the absence of Tom Cleverley, Anderson and Darren Fletcher.

This should be an exciting spectacle for the neutral, but both sets of fans will know the importance of the game. United have had the better of the London club in recent meetings, so this fixture will be a real tester to see just how far Harry Redknapp’s men have come.

Published – Soccerlens

Five strikers ready to light up Euro 2012

Interest and excitement is starting to build around Euro 2012, with the international tournament less than six months away. All the usual suspects will travel to Poland and Ukraine, with holders Spain sure to be tested by Germany, Netherlands and maybe even England, amongst others. The following five attackers have their nation’s hopes resting on their shoulders, and will battle it out for the competition’s golden boot.

Robin van Persie – Netherlands

Premier League defences will testify to the quality and predatory nature of Arsenal and Netherlands striker Robin van Persie, as The Gunners’ captain is ready to lead Bert van Marwijk’s attack in the summer. With 22 goals in the English top flight so far this campaign, Van Persie is without doubt one of the form forwards in world football. With the likes of Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder ready to supply him, expect Van Persie to continue his stellar club form on the international stage.

 

 

Mario Gomez – Germany

Mario Gomez has emerged as the spearhead for Bayern Munich’s improved showing this term, and is the Bundesliga’s top goalscorer with 17 goals so far. On the international stage Gomez scored six goals in Euro 2012 qualification, and will battle it out with veteran Lazio forward Miroslav Klose for the No 9 jersey. With a considerable contingent of Joachim Low’s squad originating from the Allianz Arena, Gomez’s bond with his club team-mates, in particular playmaker Thomas Muller, could see Germany as a real contender in the summer.

 

Roberto Soldado – Spain

Spain’s attacking options are frightening, and the holders will again be the team to beat in eastern Europe this time around. Although their midfield of Xabi Alonso, Xavi and Andres Iniesta is set, Vicente Del Bosque has options up front, with no clear cut starting No 9. With Fernando Torres struggling for form and David Villa recovering from a leg break, the stage is set for Roberto Soldado to become the World champions’ main man. The Valencia forward has consistently been a threat in La Liga and the Champions League over recent seasons, and the top Spanish goalscorer in the Primera Division this season so far could well be a massive success if given his chance.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal

Cristiano Ronaldo has been accused of not recreating his form for Real Madrid on the international stage, but the sprightly attacker will want to prove his critics wrong this summer. Last season’s Pichichi winner, Ronaldo has continued this term where he left off, and has already netted 24 times in 21 Primera Division games this campaign. At times a one-man band for club and country, Ronaldo will have to be at his best if Portugal are to progress through a difficult Group B, which also contains Germany, Netherlands and Denmark.

 

 

 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Sweden

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s record at club level is a copybook of success, as the striker has achieved glory and won league titles at Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona and AC Milan. At 30-years-old, Zlatan will look to lead his nation to a strong Euro 2012 campaign and build on his 28 international goals. Temperamental, at times selfish but undoubtedly one of the most prolific strikers in world football, Ibrahimovic could well be the Scandinavian country’s hero or villain.

 

Published – Footbo

The balance of power has shifted between Tottenham and Arsenal

Tottenham’s rise to prominence has been a gradual process, with the white side of north London steadily evolving into a team that can challenge for top four inclusion. However this season, like no other in the club’s recent past, Spurs have looked like a real contender for honours. Meanwhile, Arsenal, who have seemingly been perennial challengers for the Premier League title since Arsene Wenger took over at the club back in 1996, have looked their most vulnerable in years. With the status quo in north London set to be turned on its head, The Gunners may well have to accept that their local rivals are now the dominant force between the two.

Arsenal have had a terrible last ten days, with capitulation in Italy all but ensuring their elimination from the Champions League. Despite the extent of the 4-0 defeat to AC Milan, the most disappointing thing for the club’s supporters was the lack of passion, determination or fight put up by the English side; the days of Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit are seemingly long gone. Add to this a 2-0 loss at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland to facilitate an FA Cup exit and there is a gloom hanging over the Emirates Stadium. Bad luck comes in threes, and Tottenham are eager to put the final nail in their adversary’s coffin and compound their misery further come Sunday by denting their rivals’ top four ambitions.

Spurs meanwhile have recovered from their last-gasp defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium a couple of weeks ago, and a comprehensive 5-0 win over Newcastle shows that the White Hart Lane outfit are still confident and flying high. Harry Redknapp has been heavily linked with the vacant England job, but with the seasoned manager appearing reluctant to leave the club before the end of the campaign, the side’s progress and plans should stay on track. Injuries may however improve Arsenal’s chances at the Emirates Stadium, as Rafael van der Vaart, Emmanuel Adebayor, Luka Modric and Benoit Assou-Ekotto are all battling to overcome knocks to play at the weekend.

Pressure is starting to mount on Arsene Wenger, as the north London tide is turning. Football has no room for sentimentality, and despite the French coach’s hero status at the Emirates Stadium, question marks are being asked over his future. With The Gunners in no way guaranteed a place in next season’s Champions League, losing twice to Tottenham in the process of missing out on Europe’s top club tournament may well see the end of one of the Premier League’s coaching mainstays. Add to this Robin van Persie’s reluctance to sign a new contract, and this north London derby has the ability to massively impact Arsenal’s immediate future in a positive or negative way.

Published – The Oval Log

Hughes’ ability to deal with Barton and Taarabt crucial for QPR’s chances of success

QPR have installed Mark Hughes as their new manager after the hasty dismissal of Neil Warnock, and Sparky has a job on his hands to keep the newly promoted side in the Premier League. After a couple of plucky results at the start of the campaign, a run of eight defeats from eleven league games ended Warnock’s tenure at the club, and Rangers are two points above the dropzone at the time of writing. Despite the promise of new faces in January, it may well be Hughes’ handling of controversial characters Joey Barton and Adel Taarabt that will decide QPR’s fate this season.

After Barton joined the Loftus Road outfit in the summer, the temperamental midfielder was quickly given the captain’s armband and asked to lead the team to top-flight safety. The merits of this decision, on paper, are understandable; a home-grown, determined, all-action man that may inspire less experienced team-mates to follow suit. The 29-year-old’s ability has never been in question throughout his career, and the Merseyside-born player has the skill and calibre to compete at the top domestic level. That said, his actions both on and off the field at times are not that of a captain; the controversies that shackled his time at Manchester City and Newcastle have followed him to London.

It is just not Barton indiscipline on the pitch that makes him a detriment to his employers; it is his attitude. Newcastle got rid of Barton due to his constant bickering, negativity, scathing comments on Twitter and the general pattern of going against the grain. Barton’s altercation with Gervinho on the opening day of the season was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the midfield battler duly criticised the Tyneside club’s owners and executives for their foolhardy decision to punt him out.

In Warnock’s last Premier League game in charge before being shown the door, Barton showcased the best and worst of his abilities and character. QPR took a 1-0 lead through a well-worked goal, finished off with a powerful strike by Barton. However, the skipper was then sent off for a supposedly head-butting Bradley Johnson. Although replays show that the dismissal was harsh, a Premier League captain should not be caught in a fracas that could well hurt his team. In this instance it did hurt QPR and their manager, as Norwich went on to win the game 2-1.

Barton’s red card was harsh, and the refusal by the FA to overturn the decision also incorrect. That said, Barton’s reaction was one of a petulant child rather than a professional footballer. Deranged with anger he threatened to sue the FA, the referee, Johnson and anyone else he felt had a part to play in his great injustice. The bottom line is that he should not have put himself, or his team, in that situation in the first place; there is no smoke without fire.

Joey Barton’s baggage greatly outweighs his benefit to the team. Having someone so volatile as your captain is folly, and should Hughes desire an upturn in his team’s attitude and ultimately performances on the pitch he should banish Barton and replace him with someone more dependable and level-headed; with Tony Fernandes’ financial backing this is more than possible.

The second big personality that Hughes will have to deal with is that of Adel Taarabt. The Morocco international is undoubtedly the most technically able member of Hughes’ inherited squad, but also has a penchant for indiscipline. Taarabt’s departure from Craven Cottage at half time in QPR’s 5-0 defeat to Fulham to get a public bus home is an example of the African attacker’s mindset, and he must be brought into line, and quick. However, the playmaker is one of the few match-winners at Hughes’ disposal and has the potential to be an excellent player if correctly managed. Taarabt inspired the side to glory and promotion last season, picking up The Championship Player of the Year Award in the process, but has not played at the same level this term.

Although Taarabt may be finding the going a bit tougher against Premier League opponents, there are a number of reasons for his downturn in form. Ironically Warnock stripped Taarabt of the club captaincy upon Barton’s arrival, which would be demeaning for a normal player, but confidence shattering for someone with an ego as big as the attacking midfielder’s. Secondly, he is playing out of position, largely finding himself on a touchline and with limited space to manoeuvre.

Hughes has already identified his attack as an area of necessary strengthening, and an established front man should be on his wish list, despite the ageing Heidar Helguson’s commendable performances this season. However to get the best from his diamond in the rough, Hughes needs to deploy Taarabt more centrally. Playing the playmaker in a second striker role, similar to how Rafael van der Vaart is used at Tottenham, will get Taarabt on the ball in more critical areas of the pitch, and allow the attacker to play a more dominant role in the game. His ego needs to be fed and he needs to feel loved, but if he is given more of a free reign, he has the ability to salvage QPR’s debut season back in the Premier League.

With five points separating the bottom five teams in the Premier League, it is set to be a bitter fight to stay in the top flight this term. Despite the advantage that Hughes has in terms of investment and potential new faces arriving at Loftus Road, the Welsh manager must get affairs in-house in order first to stand a chance of success.

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