Honours Even

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 19th 2015)

Dominant

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Mauricio Pochettino was disappointed with the result after his Tottenham Hotspur team were held to 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane tonight by Fiorentina. Pochettinoʼs decision to rest the in-form Harry Kane backfired, despite Roberto Soldado Rilloʼs 6th minute strike – his first goal of the year. In the first half hour Spurs dominated, running Fiorentinaʼs back three ragged, but despite creating chances, the hosts failed to profit.

After 5 minutes Nacer Chadliʼs effort was saved at the expense of a corner. Paulinho took it finding Soldado. The former Valencia strikerʼs shot beat Romanian keeper Ciprian Tătăruşanu to give Spurs a platform they failed to capitalise on. Half chances at the other end were made by Joaquín Sánchez Rodríguez, resulting in a weak effort by Mario Gomez and for Mohamed Salah, on loan from Chelsea as part of the deal that took Juan Guilermo Cuadrado Bello the other way, but Federico Fazio blocked the Egyptianʼs shot. Despite the threat posed by the visitors, led by their captain Manuel Pasqual, but Spurs were more dangerous.

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Christian Eriksen had almost converted a chance created by Chadliʼs excellent approach play, but shot just over. After his goal Soldado was profligate, but spectacular. Eriksenʼs cross found Soldado after Stefan Savićʼs block rebounded to him. Soldadoʼs bicycle kick was spectacular, but straight at the keeper from point blank range with the goal gaping.

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Recovery

With half an hour gone Fiorentina came into their own. Borja Valeroʼs cross field pass found Pasqual and Fiorentinaʼs captain set up Gomez. The former Vf Stuttgart and Beyern Munich strikerʼs effort went just wide. Two minutes later Salah slipped Gomez through, but recovering from a long injury lay-off Gomez had to settle for a corner.

That five minutes of pressure culminated in Soldado tripping Joaquín after the former Real Betis and Valencia winger had got past him. Soldado was rightly booked. Chilean international Matías Fernández Fernández took the free-kick. It was pushed out to his right by Hugo Lloris onto Savićʼs back and rebounded into path of José María Basanta, who took advantage of his good fortune to smash in the equaliser from close range.

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Just Deserts

Just before half time Spurs almost regained the lead. Kyle Walkerʼs cross was met by Soldado, whose header was saved by Tătăruşanu. Chadli latched on to the rebound. His shot was lashed onto the crossbar. Appeals for a goal were rightly turned down as the ball bounced on the wrong side of the goal-line. Vincenzo Montella changed his formation at half time and contained Tottenhamʼs threat, despite the introduction of Harry Kane.

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After 90 minutes we were better, we created more chances”, Pochettino said, “but it’s true that in the second half, in the last 15-20 minutes, we maybe didn’t create many chances. It’s a shame because at half-time maybe the team had deserved to score more than one goal and then it was 1-1. We have 90 minutes in Florence to try and win the game”.

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Return to Form

The decision to rest Harry Kane raised a few eyebrows, although it may indicate where Pochettinʼs priorities lie. At first he was vindicated by Soldadoʼs goal, but the equaliser and Montellaʼs changes in formation saw la Viola become a different proposition in the second half. Shortly after the restart Joaquín created space for himself on the right flank to tee up Salah. The Egyptianʼs curling shot from just outside the area went close with Lloris beaten.

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Savić deserved his booking for hauling back Chadli after 5 minutes of the second half. With an hour play Spurs pressure was absorbed by Fiorentinaʼs defence. Andros Townsendʼs cross was headed clear by Savić to Nabil Bentaleb. The Algerian defenderʼs long range shot failed to trouble Tătăruşanu. Five minutes later Pochettino made a concession of sorts. Kane was introduced for the last 25 minutes, but despite his red hot form, not even a front two of Soldado and Kane could find a way past Tătăruşanu.

We have a lot of games ahead, six in 17 days”, Pochettino said in defence of his decision to rest Kane. “It’s difficult. We need to rotate and give the possibility to play for all. It was a very open game. I think that we made a big effort in the first half, a great effort. I’m a little bit disappointed with the result because I thought we could have won.”

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Knock Out

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 18th 2015)

Patchy

Tottenham Hotspurʼs league form has been patchy, relying on a rich vein of form of striker Harry Kane, whose recent form compares to that of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Kane was recently rewarded with an improved contract. Vincenzo Montellaʼs Fiorentina side are aware of the threat posed by Kane.

At the moment heʼs kind of exploded onto the scene recently and thereʼs no doubt that heʼs one of Spursʼ best players at the moment”, veteran defender Manuel Pasqual said. “We know heʼs a goal-scorer, so weʼll be marking him and trying to stop him from scoring”.

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But Spurs have a chance of silverware – the first of the season – next month. They face Chelsea in the Capital One Cup Final, but first they have possibly their best chance to win Champions League football next season – the Europa League. Their manager Mauricio Pochettino expects a tough match tomorrow night. The former Argentine international expected the Viola not to be affected by the loss of Colombian World Cup Star Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Bello. He stresses that Fiorentina have good players.

Points to Prove

Among them is Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian winger has a point to prove. His performances for Basel against Spurs in the Europa League and then against Chelsea earned him a move to Chelsea. It didnʼt work out as he planned, but his move to Italy appears to have already rejuvenated the young Pharaoh.

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Pasqual is impressed. “Well obviously it goes without saying that weʼve replaced Cuadrado with someone who is an excellent person to replace him and Cuadradoʼs a great player, the kind of guy who could make a difference on the pitch, but I think that Salahʼs got off to a flying start”, he said. “Heʼs being doing really well and I hope that he just continues playing the way he is at the moment”.

Montella has been won over too. “Salah is a very good player”, he said. “Heʼs used to playing at this level and although heʼs only been with us for a short while, heʼs already shown very quickly thatʼs heʼs up to playing very well in Italy and playing very well for us”.

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Hungry for Success

But Salah is not the only player with a point to prove. Mario Gomez has endured a terrible year recovering from injury and the disappointment of missing out on Germanyʼs World Cup triumph. He is scoring again and confident. Pasqual was one of the most supportive players in the Violaʼs squad about Gomez.

“Well I donʼt think that the way that heʼs playing now is just down to me”, Pasqual said. “Itʼs down to the whole of the team and I think that when a team sets out to play in a certain way and create chances for a striker to score goals then all of the team contribute to that”

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He remains supportive. “I think you need to bear in mind that Marioʼs a striker”, he explains. “Strikers score goals and once he started scoring goals, things got a lot better for him. You know he was out for a whole year. Thatʼs a long time and it did require time for him to get back to his form, but I think now certainly heʼs playing at a very good level”.

And for anyone tempted to write a eulogy for his career after tomorrowʼs last 32 tie, he has a simple message. “Certainly I donʼt believe itʼs going to be my last game playing in this kind of match playing for Fiorentina”, Pasqual said.

Spurs Ease Past Partizan and Pranksters

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 28th 2014)

Rudely Interrupted

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Tottenham Hotspur guaranteed progress to the last 32 with a 1-0 victory over already eliminated Serbian outfit FK Partizan of Belgrade. The Serbian fans behaved immaculately despite three pitch invasions and the provocation of an Albanian flag being flaunted at them. They had their chances, but both teams were profligate.

Former Valencia striker Roberto Soldado being one of the worst culprits even though he got an unconventional assist for former French Under-21 international Benjamin Stambouli’s 49th minute game-winner. Stambouli put Soldado through and the striker did everything right but score. He latched on to Stambouli’s pass and chipped Partizan keeper Milan Lukač, but as was typical of his luck since joining Spurs, it hit the post and rebounded. Stambouli had followed in to score easily – his first goal for the club.

Amazingly, given the number of chances it was the only goal in the match. Within the first minute Erik Lamela, scorer of the fantastic rabona against Asteras Tripolis in the last Europa League match at White Hart Lane, found Soldado on the edge of the area. The former Valencia striker pulled his shot wide. Petar Grbić was at the heart of much of Partizan’s best attacks. With less than 10 minutes played Grbić crossed from the right flank, but Petar Škuletić couldn’t make contact.

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Near Misses

In microcosm it summed up the Serbians’ luck. Grbić’s long ball found Branko Ilić on the right wing after 17 minutes. His cross was controlled by Darko Lazović, but his shot went just wide of Hugo Lloris’ goal. Both Partizan and Spurs exchanged near misses. Moussa Dembélé, later to take down the third of three pitch invaders which organisers Troll Station called entertainment, won possession before spreading it to the left wing. Lamela crossed, but Soldado failed to connect at all.

Almost ten minutes later a nice move by Partizan culminated in another missed opportunity. Lazović bypassed Spurs’ defence by chipping it to Škuletić who rounded Lloris turned and squared, but the inviting cross eluded both Jan Vertonghen and then Lazović.

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Three first half ‘pranksters’ were rudely interrupted at White Hart Lane when 22 men insisted on playing a football match last night. Apparently the organisers of the invasions Troll Station think this was entertainment. The company whose t-shirts they were wearing headphones manufacturers BassBuds caught initial flak over it. The first of the invaders Nathan Brown amused the crowd by eluding security while taking selfies with Spurs players. The other two wore the joke out and the third managed to get play suspended for the best part of ten minutes.

More of the Same

After Stambouli scored Soldado had one last chance to ignite his Spurs career. His Head Coach Mauricio Pochettino claimed to be satisfied that he was getting into the right positions and making chances, but after Aaron Lennon’s delightful dink put Soldado through with just the keeper to beat, Pochettino must have expected to see his team’s lead doubled. Instead Lukač managed to save at point blank range. It summed up Soldado’s night and career to date at White Hart Lane.

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A minute later a flowing Spurs move ended when Vojislav Stanković blocked Lennon’s shot. Lamela went very close shortly afterwards. The in-form Harry Kane replaced Soldado with 25 minutes to go. His 30 yard free-kick was tipped round the post by Lukač. The resulting corner eventually broke to Algerian international Nabil Bentaleb. His shot took a wicked deflection off Škuletić, but Lukač managed to tip it over for another corner.

With less than ten minutes remaining a flowing Spurs move ended with Lennon picking the ball up on the left wing before cutting inside and putting Kane through. The striker scored, but a late flag – correct – ruled it out for offside. Playing for pride Partizan probed again. Lazović’s free-kick was cleared to Grbić – Partizan’s best player on the night. Grbić’s cross was headed at goal by Vladimir Volkov, which was well saved by Lloris, but substitute Andrija Živcović spurned the rebound by hitting the side-netting from a tight angle.

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There was time for Stambouli to make the wrong choice by passing to Lamela rather than shooting and for the officials to make a howler that simply should not have happened. Kane slipped past Vojislav Stanković and bore down on goal. Lazar Ćircović came across and tripped Kane in area with clumsy challenge. Astonishingly Ukrainian referee Yevhen Aranovskiy, and his assistant referees failed to give a foul. It was a stone-wall penalty that will fuel demands for technology to be used to get these decisions right. Lamela went close again, but Lukač was once again equal to the task. Spurs qualified for the last 32. Their position in the group will depend on their final fixture in Turkey next month.

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Spurs Trounce Asteras

by Satish Sekar at White Hart Lane © Satish Sekar (October 23rd 2014)

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Rabona

Tottenham Hotspur warmed up for this weekend’s match against Newcastle United wit an emphatic display. Mauricio Pocchetino’s team demolished Group leaders Asteras Tripolis 5-1 and it was Spurs rather than the Greeks that came bearing gifts. With misfit Roberto Soldado confined to the bench Harry Kane showed the former Valencia idol how it’s done, scoring a hat-trick.

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Argentine Érik Lamela scored a brace – the second and third. Lamela’s first was one of the best goals you could hope to see – an absolutely awesome strike. With just over 12 minutes played Kane was supplied by Moussa Dembélé 35 yards out. He drove forward before scoring off goalkeeper Tomas Kosický’s right-hand post. Lamela’s goal was sweeter still as less than a minute earlier Thanasis Panteliadis was through on goal. He was partially thwarted by Hugo Lloris, but collected the rebound on the right of the area and shot. He hadn’t reckoned on Europa League winner Federico Fazio’s magnificent block. Spurs counter-attacked. Kane passed to Emmanuel Adebayor and it broke to Lamela, who scored a rare left-footed rabona – kicking it with the foot wrapped around the standing leg – to Kosický’s left. The Slovakian keeper stood no chance. The last rabona was scored a month ago by Olympique de Marseille’s Ghanaian international André Ayew against Stade de Reims in France’s Ligue Un.

Emphatic

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Despite creating opportunities Lloris was hardly tested prior to Lamela’s goal. Twenty minutes into the second half Lamela made it safe. A give and go with Kane created the first opportunity which was blocked. He reacted quickly to beat Kosický at his right-hand post. Asteras tried to respond. A lovely chip pass found Fernando Usero in the area, but his volley was magnificently turned aside by Lloris at the expense of a corner.

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As the match approached its final quarter of an hour Kane completed his brace – a tap-in. Lamela played a short corner to Dembélé. His shot was parried by Kosický to Kane who Kosický scored easily. Lamela was replaced by Christian Eriksen. He received a deserved ovation.

With less than 10 minutes of normal time remaining Kane completed his hat-trick. His first effort was blocked, but Fazio reacted quickest, collecting the rebound and crossing for Kane to nod in. About the only negative on a night when a deserved tribute was paid to Spurs – no football – legend, Bill Nicholson at half time, came in the last minute. Despite being well beaten the Greeks still chased an opportunity. It came late. Through with just the keeper to beat Gasos Tsokanis was cynically upended by Lloris just outside his area. Slovak referee Ivan Kružilak had no choice but to brandish the red card. The stage was set for Kane to cap off a truly memorable night as the striker donned Lloris’ jersey and the captain’s armband – all three permitted substitutions had been made.

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Substitute Jerónimo Barrales stepped up to take the free-kick. He struck it more in hope than expectation, but Kane let it squirm under his body to give the Greek’s a consolation. He knew he had had a good night as the Spurs faithful – a disappointingly low crowd – chanted ʻEnglandʼs number one at Kane after the blunder. After the disappointment of draws against Partizan (Belgrade) and Beşiktas, Pocchetino’s team has responded in style.

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Spurs Spoil return of the Prince

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (August 9th 2014)

Tuned Up

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Mauricio Pochettino saw his revamped Spurs team deservedly beat Bundesliga outfit Schalke04, captained by German-born Kevin-Prince Boateng 2-1 at White Hart Lane this evening in their final tune-up before the new season starts next weekend. An offside flag spared Aaron Lennonʼs blushes as he hit the post after 4 minutes. It was a dreadful miss, but fortunately for him the assistant refereeʼs late flag against Emmanuel Adebayor rendered it moot.

Christian Eriksen fed Lennon on the left of the area after 13 minutes, but goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann came off his line quickly to smother the danger. Apart from that the opening quarter of an hour produced little of note. Within ten minutes Tottenham Hotspur began to exert control. Lewis Holtby spurned a gilt-edged opportunity provided by Eriksen once again. Fährmann saved well to deny the German, whose finish was hesitant, possibly believing that he was offside.

It didnʼt matter. Their possession was quickly rewarded with just under half an hour played. Togoʼs talisman Emmanuel Adebayor turned and shot into the roof of Fährmannʼs net. Holtby crossed to him from the right wing. Erik Lamela and Lennon had combined well with Holtby on the edge of the area before the German crossed for Adebayor.

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“I think very important”, Holtby said. “Every game is important especially in pre-season to get match fitness, to get a good run out and to be prepared for the first game”.

Schalke had produced little up to that point. Lamela fouled Boateng and Swiss international Tranquillo Barnettaʼs free-kick begged for a finish to match, but was headed wide by Roman Neustädter after 33 minutes. Spurs deservedly went in at half time leading by Adebayorʼs goal.

I think it was a really good test for us”, Barnetta said. “Spurs was really aggressive. Yes, they were very compact, really fast when they come from deep into the offence, so I think they make a good game and for us I think we have to work next week, so that we are ready for the first game”.

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Changes

Pochettino rang in the changes at half time. Andros Townsend made an impact and Harry Kane should have, but the officials were uninterested in his claims for a penalty. Replays established that Felipe Santana had shoved Kane over in the box after 53 minutes. Townsend tested the Germansʼ defence on the left flank with Kane unable to convert before popping up on the other side of the pitch.

The much maligned former Valencia striker Roberto Soldado gave Spurs comfort just over 20 minutes into the second half. Eriksenʼs pass found Townsend in space just outside the area. His fierce shot from over 20 yards out proved too hot for Fährmann to handle. The keeper parried it up in the air only for Soldado to embarrass him by nodding the rebound over him and into the net.

A couple of minutes later Townsend should have made it three, but wasted Eriksenʼs sublime reverse pass to free him on the right of the area by pulling his shot wide of Fährmannʼs far post.

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Zero Vier

With less than 20 minutes remaining Schalke, who qualified for the Championʼs League automatically, finally came to life. Camerounian international Jean-Eric Choupo-Moting released substitute Christian Clemens on the right wing. He pulled it back for Max Meyer to shoot just wide of Hugo Llorisʼ left-hand post. Five minutes later Sandro unleashed a fierce 30 yard shot which Fährmann parried rather flashily, but the danger passed.

Schalkeʼs belated ambition was rewarded with just over ten minutes left. Dennis Aogo was found in space just outside the left edge of the area. He crossed for Boateng to score to Llorisʼ right. The French international tried to block with his legs and ought to be disappointed with his efforts. It was Boatengʼs last contribution. He was brought off to a great ovation from both sets of fans.

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Yeah, obviously itʼs a mark of respect and I think Kevin obviously did a very good job here”, Holtby said of Boateng. “Otherwise the reception wouldnʼt have been that good. I think itʼs good for him and itʼs good to see Tottenham fans being so positive and I got the same reception when I came back from Fulham, so Iʼm very happy”.

Boateng was replaced by Donis Avdijaj who almost made a rapid impact, but after making space to shoot Lloris saved at the expense of a corner. Stung into a response a quick counter-attack saw Townsend feed Soldado, who found Holtbyʼs replacement Cristian Ceballos on the right of the area. His shot was saved by Fährmann at the expense of a corner.

In added time Townsendʼs excellent run and shot from just outside the area was parried by Fährmann, but Ceballos, following in, could only lob it just over the bar. He should have scored.

Strength

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Both sides put out strong teams with Spurs having the stronger bench. They start their league campaigns next week. Schalke began with five veterans of the recent World Cup. Bosnia-Herzegovinaʼs Sead Kolašinac: Swizerlandʼs Barnetta, Ghanaʼs Boateng and Camerounʼs Joël Matip and Jean-Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting provided a strong base.

Tottenham started with eight internationals on the pitch, two of whom played in the recent World Cup. They had the stronger bench which included Brasilian international Sandro, Andros Townsend who missed the World Cup due to injury and Robert Soldado whose form last season cost him a place in Vicente del Bosqueʼs ill-fated plans for the recent World Cup. Kyle Walker was also missing along with players on both sides who played in the latter stages of the World Cup.

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I think they gave us a good test”, Holtby said of his former club. “A lot of players were missing as well, Jan [Vertonghen] and Moussa [Dembélé], Paulinho, who just came back from that break and so Iʼm happy that we had a good game today and keep going forward”.

But Schalke had more significant absentees including two World Cup winners, Benedikt Höwedes and Julian Draxler. “I think we have also two world champion players”, Barnetta said. “Thatʼs not bad and also for the home fans it was a very good championship, but now it counts what happens with Schalke, so we have to look on us”. Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was also missing.

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