Andre Villas-Boas, we hardly knew ye.
The axe finally fell on the 36-year old Portuguese manager and his meticulously groomed beard, as Tottenham fired him Monday morning, in the wake of Sunday’s embarrassing 5-0 loss to Liverpool at White Hart Lane. This news comes as a surprise to approximately zero soccer fans around the globe.
Without resorting to screaming hyperbole, let’s examine a few facts. Overall Tottenham has scored 15 goals in 16 league games and sits in seventh place with a 8-5-3 record, which isn’t terrible on the surface. However, Spurs have played all six teams ahead of them: Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, Everton and Tottenham. In those matches Spurs are 0-4-2 with 14 goals allowed and one scored.
That’s bad enough on its own. It’s a lot worse when you sell off the league’s best individual player over the summer, Gareth Bale for $140 million and then spend roughly $170 million on Paulinho, Nacer Chadli, Roberto Soldado, Etienne Capoue, Vlad Chiriches, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela for mediocre results. Fortunately for Spurs they sold some other players like Clint Dempsey and Steven Caulker and wound up with a positive net transfer profit when the window closed in September.
Yes, that’s a lot of players and a lot of moving parts to get all on the same page in a short amount of time, but even Mr. Burns had better luck with his cast of assembled ringers at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. At least Darryl Strawberry managed to avoid an off-field calamity and performed. Eriksen flashed some potential in spurts, Paulinho’s been mostly solid – Sunday’s red card notwithstanding – and Chiriches looks like one for the future, but overall Spurs’ new wave of recruits have been poor, particularly Soldado and Lamela which cost the team in the range of $80 million combined.
So the question, if you’re club chairman Daniel Levy, is at whose feet did the blame lay for the underwhelming start? Villas-Boas or director of football Franco Baldini? Does the fault fall with the guy who bought the groceries or the chef tasked to cook the meal?
Monday, at least, his answer was clear: blame AVB.
Villas-Boas didn’t do himself any favors playing a high defensive line, especially on Sunday vs. Liverpool when he played slow-footed Michael Dawson next to Capoue, a makeshift central defender. The Portuguese manager apparently didn’t learn from his Chelsea days when he employed a similar tactic and had a similar level of success, leading to him being fired just months into his tenure at Stamford Bridge.
The good news for Spurs? Unless every player the club bought in the summer is, in fact, a “donkey” a new manager with a fresh set of eyes should have a lot of options to work with. September to December isn’t a lot of time to get all the players together, but it’s long enough that the team should not haven been regressing by this point.
Who will replace AVB? Expect the usual British retread candidates to pop up. If Levy and Baldini want to go totally for broke, revered Argentine tactical wizard Marcelo Biesla is available. You’d think he could cook up something interesting with the pieces assembled at the club. Oddsmakers have installed current Russia coach Fabio Capello as the front-runner for the job, with current Swansea manager Michael Laudrup and ex-Spurs legend Glenn Hoddle behind the Italian.
Whoever takes over at Tottenham will try to get the club back in the Champions League. Spurs are only five points off the final spot. It doesn’t sound too bad, but Manchester City looks to be cranking into gear. Eventually Chelsea will get on a roll, too. So the window to do some damage and pile up the points might have closed for Spurs, unless the new manager turns around their woeful record against the top teams in the table.
As usual AVB’s plight underlines how quick everything can change in soccer and how fame is fleeting. In 2011 he led Porto to an undefeated season in Portugal and the Europa League crown. Two years later he’s been twice fired from high-profile clubs in England. AVB will wind up with another job — guys like him tend to be recycled until they decide to find another career — but it won’t be in England again any time soon.
The Premier League loves to pride itself as being the “best” league in the world, which is an impossible term to quantify. This weekend the EPL could easily lay claim to its status as the most entertaining league in the world with 30 goals scored in the 10 matches. That total would have been higher but, fittingly, West Ham/Sunderland and Stoke City/Hull each finished 0-0, but odds are you weren’t watching those matches anyway, unless you’re a masochist or the world’s biggest Jozy Altidore fan.
Manchester City’s 6-3 win over Arsenal in the weekend’s first game accounted for nearly 30 percent of the scoring.
The emphatic scoreline helped make the game feel awfully significant. It kept up the Manchester City home-form narrative, as the club now has 35 of its league-best 47 goals at the Etihad Stadium. It also might have started the “same old Arsenal” storyline, since the Gunners in the last week have: drawn Everton, lost to Napoli in the Champions League and then got dumped by City.
Instead of looking backward, let’s look ahead. It’s not all that surprising City is gaining momentum, while Arsenal have finally hit a bump in the road, right? If anything, on the eve of the congested holiday-time schedule the title race does look fairly clear. Odds are it comes down to Manchester City or Arsenal, but Liverpool have hung tough, Chelsea have too much talent to write off and, look, Everton keeps piling up points under Roberto Martinez.
The upcoming holiday slate of games, with three games for everybody in eight days is going to do a lot to clarify the table and give a better gauge if Arsenal’s wobble is real or simply a bad week of results. City will also go into this span minus the services of top-scorer Sergio Aguero who’ll be out at least a month with a calf injury. (The second games listed below will be played on Dec. 26.)
- Arsenal (35 points): vs. Chelsea; at West Ham; at Newcastle United
- Liverpool (33): v Cardiff; at Manchester City; vs. Chelsea
- Chelsea (33): at Arsenal; v. Swansea City; at Liverpool;
- Manchester City (32): at Fulham; vs. Liverpool; vs. Crystal Palace
- Everton (31): at Swansea; vs. Sunderland; vs. Southampton
Liverpool faces the biggest test with two games against fellow top-five clubs, and what do you know? We’re going to discuss the Reds in the next section.
In Suarez We Trust:
Another weekend, another two goals from Luis Suarez. Yawn.
The Uruguayan super-duper-star now has 17 goals in 11 EPL games. We’re at the point where it’s worth mentioning the single-season goal record jointly held at 31 by Alan Shearer and Cristiano Ronaldo. Suarez is bound to cool off, but the way he continues to score he could make a serious run at it. If nothing else, his superb play is keeping Liverpool relevant. Liverpool winning the title in May remains a longshot, but Robin van Persie dragged Manchester United to the title last season with 26 goals in 38 games.
Suarez’s superhuman efforts will be put to a test in the next week with matches coming up against Manchester City and Chelsea. Then again, considering the state of defense in the EPL, even games against “big” teams might not slow down the Uruguayan. The 2013 Premier League, for all the glitz and glamour, isn’t Serie A circa 1991 when it comes to defensive play.
Something that could also help Liverpool, believe it or not, is the injury to Steven Gerrard’s hamstring. Gerrard isn’t getting any younger, so sitting out during the hectic holiday schedule might be a good thing. Liverpool will miss his delivery on set pieces, but saving his legs for the second half of the year isn’t the worst thing in the world.
As it is, Gerrard’s injury leaves a lot more room on the field for Jordan Henderson, who was excellent against Tottenham.
Goal of the Week:
Let’s give it to Liverpool’s Jon Flanagan. That’s a hell of a goal by anyone, let alone a young defender scoring for the first time in EPL play.
Return of Deuce?
Late Sunday a report in the Guardian emerged that Clint Dempsey was close to returning to Fulham on a two-month loan beginning in January. It’s welcome news for Fulham, which sits in 19th place and could use anybody to help. Expect Fulham’s large contingent of America-based fans to be happy about it.
That said, if Dempsey arrives on Jan. 1 he has the potential to play in eight games at the most. Fulham hosts West Ham on Jan. 1, so let’s figure Dempsey doesn’t drop right into the lineup. Dempsey should help in the relegation fight, but after he leaves Fulham still have 12 games left. Considering how tight it is at the bottom of the table, the club will be scraping and clawing all the way to May to avoid the drop — long after Dempsey has returned to Seattle.
As for Dempsey, it’s good to potentially see him back in the Premier League, but are two months playing with his former club – a club that still starts guys like Steve Sidwell, John Arne Riise and Darren Bent in the year 2013, mind – going to make that much of an impact on his World Cup? At this stage in his development Dempsey is who he is, regardless of where he’s playing in February.
Odds are this doesn’t go as well as Landon Donovan’s loan move to Everton in 2010 and 2012. Those were the perfect storm: a player eager to prove himself in Europe’s top league and a club that needed his injection of pace.