2018-19 EPL Match Day 5 Preview — Tottenham Hotspur (3-0-1) vs. Liverpool (4-0-0)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match for this website.)

They are sides cut from different clothes seeking a similar end game: A Premier League title and with a little bit of luck, Champions League glory.

Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur kick off the fifth match day Saturday at Wembley Stadium in a mouth-watering clash of top-five sides set to embark on their respective European adventures.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Reds (4-0-0) are atop the table on the maximum 12 points, ahead of resurgent Chelsea and surprise package Watford on goal difference. Their run to the Champions League final last spring emboldened the franchise to end a silverware drought now in its seventh season since winning the 2012 League Cup as they spent the summer spending the kitty from Philippe Coutinho’s sale to Barcelona.

The primary goal was to find a goalkeeper with the mental fortitude to go with the elite physical shot-stopping skills needed to challenge the league and continent’s best clubs. The other was finding players to fit Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpressing style.

Both have meshed well as Liverpool have conceded once thus far, and that goal was a howler by their £65 million man between the sticks – Alisson. The Brasil international may be too confident with the ball at his feet, as he was caught out trying to dribble around Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho, who dispossessed him and set up the goal that made that 2-1 victory a fortnight ago more nerve-wracking than needed.

It may be the only blemish for a Liverpool team which boasts a lethal attack in Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. The trio have accounted for seven of the team’s nine goals, and Mane is joint-leader in the Premier League on four with Fulham’s Aleksander Mitrovic.

Heading into a Champions League group that has a staggering amount of firepower in France’s Paris-Saint Germain, paced by Alisson’s compatriot Neymar and France starlet Kylian Mbappe, and Italy’s Napoli boasting scorers and playmakers in Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insgine and Marek Hamsik, both attack and defence – along with depth – are going to be needed for the Reds to have the kind of season they envisioned with their aggressive summer spending spree.

“I’m looking forward to the game against Tottenham, especially now because in the next few weeks we have a lot of games, a lot of good games, difficult games,” forward Xherdan Shaqiri told Sky Sports, fully expecting to see more playing time than the 27 minutes he has logged thus far as Liverpool begin chasing titles on three fronts when including the Carabao Cup. “But we will try to keep our good performances and I hope we can win a lot of games.

“We train hard every day. You can see that there is a lot of quality in our team and we are hard-working every day. And competition in football is also good for the players.”

Klopp made only one change to his XI over the last four games, and that was introducing Jordan Henderson into the midfield after 2017 signing and newcomer Naby Keita started the first three matches while the England international rested following World Cup duties. The biggest outfield signing Liverpool made this summer – midfielder Fabinho at a £39 million price tag – has yet to play a single minute, but that is expected to change in either this game or Wednesday’s Champions League opener versus PSG.

“My start has been good and the adaptation good. The pre-season was very good, we had nine friendlies and I played nine,” Fabinho told Globo Esporte.

“It was good to play against English teams to see what the rhythm, the intensity and the physique is like. I am adapting to the team’s style of play. The more experienced players have helped me, the technical team as well.”

Dejan Lovren remains the lone injury absence as Liverpool are not rushing the Croatia international to return from an abdominal injury. Joe Gomez is expected to continue his partnership with Virgil van Dijk in central defence, with Joel Matip also available.

Tottenham (3-0-1) have taken a pair of large injury hits which again calls their decision not to reinforce the squad during the summer window into question. While Liverpool spent, Spurs scrimped – they were the first side in Premier League history not to spend money in the summer window since it came to be.

As they impatiently wait to move into their new version of White Hart Lane – this was supposed to be the first match in their new digs — Tottenham believe their core is enough to bring them to new heights in Europe in a demanding group with perennials Barcelona, Italian side Inter Milan and PSV Eindhoven from the Netherlands and challenge at home for their first league title since 1961.

Striker and World Cup Golden Boot winner Harry Kane netted two goals and an assist in the first four matches, and Lucas Moura has made a full adjustment to life with the Spurs after his January arrival and paces the side with three goals. Kane and England compatriot Kieran Trippier were also shortlisted for the FIFA FIFpro World XI.

Spurs had their 100 percent start end in surprising fashion at Watford before the international break. The upstart Hornets, who are third in the table with the maximum 12 points, rallied and struck twice in a seven-minute span against backup keeper Michael Vorm as he deputised for injured No. 1 Hugo Lloris.

Vorm is going to be between the sticks for the foreseeable future, as Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino announced Thursday that Lloris would miss “several weeks” with a thigh injury suffered in their win over Manchester United on Aug. 27 that also caused the World Cup winner to miss France’s first two Nations League matches.

Spurs will also be without attacking midfielder Dele Alli due to a hamstring injury suffered while with England on international duty. It is also likely to sideline him for Tottenham’s Champions League opener at Inter Milan on Tuesday. Pochettino will likely choose between Erik Lamela and Harry Winks to fill that spot.

They do get back forward Heung-Min Son, who missed the previous three matches helping South Korea win the gold medal in the Asian Games. The title also earned Son, who assisted on both goals in the 2-1 win over Japan in extra time, an exemption from the 21-month compulsory military service all South Korean males must do before the age of 28.

The Lilywhites ended a 10-match winless spell (0-3-7) to Liverpool in all competitions with an emphatic 4-1 thrashing in last season’s corresponding fixture. Kane and Son scored in the first 12 minutes, and after Salah pulled one back before the half-hour, Alli restored the two-goal lead in first-half stoppage time before Kane completed a brace on 56 minutes.

Kane, who also had a match-tying penalty in the 2-2 draw at Anfield in February, has five goals and two assists in seven league matches versus Liverpool. Salah accounted for all three goals for the Reds against the north London side last term.

PUNTER’S NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are slight 5/4 favourites, while Tottenham check in at 19/10. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 5/2. In terms of the 2.5 goals over/under benchmark, Liverpool are 9/4 favourites with the over, and Spurs are 13/4. The intrigue also comes for those who believe this will be a goal-fest, as a Liverpool win and over 3.5 goals gets a 9/2 return, while a Spurs win over 3.5 goals is listed at 13/2 odds. The odds of a 2-2 draw is 8/1 for both 2.5 and 3.5 goals.

For first goal-scorers, Kane and Salah are joint leaders, as expected, with 7/2 odds. Despite his recent form, Moura is 15/2, behind the Liverpool tandem of Firmino and Mane, who are both 13/2. One of the more intriguing “GetAPrice” picks is Salah at 6/1 odds to get a goal and an assist in this match.

PREDICTION

Though Liverpool have not shown the rampant form of their lid-lifting 4-0 thrashing of West Ham in their other three victories, they have gotten the job done as evidenced by their 100 percent record. Everything has gone status quo for Klopp, and with both Lloris and Alli absent for Spurs, there is a better-than-average chance it will continue at Wembley.

It will be interesting to see who replaces Alli, with the most likely option Winks with a lesser likelihood of Son, who played eight games in 26 days for South Korea. Son feels like a more likely option for the final half-hour than the first hour. This will be a big game for Moussa Dembele, who gets the unenviable task of trying to stop Liverpool’s build-up through the midfield and the linkup from Milner and company to the Salah-Firmino-Mane strike force.

The “Kane is tired” trope has been trotted out ahead of this match, which seems counterintuititve since the Spurs striker did end his August goal-scoring blues in league play already and also was held out of England’s friendly versus Switzerland. But it is another chance for Gomez to shine in Liverpool’s defence. In the end, this will be another match Liverpool grind more than glide through, and a late second when Spurs hunt for an equaliser would not be surprising.

Predicted Final Score: Tottenham Hotspur 0, LIVERPOOL 2

OTHER MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Manchester City vs. Fulham
Newcastle United vs. Arsenal
Watford vs. Manchester United
Everton vs. West Ham United

2018-19 EPL Match Day 3 Preview — Manchester United (1-0-1) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-0-0)

Both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are dealing with sizable distractions ahead of Monday’s showdown at Old Trafford.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Jose Mourinho’s third-season meltdowns at previous stops in England and Europe are well-documented, and the prospect of another one seems to be growing with each passing day. He is still reportedly upset club vice chairman Ed Woodward failed to land any of his summer transfer targets, most notably in central defence, and that contributed to United’s horrid 3-2 loss at Brighton and Hove Albion on Aug. 19.

The pairing of Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof – centre backs whom Mourinho wanted and United (1-0-1) got for a combined £60 million – both endured a torrid time in the opening 45 minutes when they conceded all three goals. Lindelof was directly responsible for the first and Bailly committed the foul that resulted in a penalty for the third.

As opposed to late last term when Mourinho excoriated his players, the Portuguese manager held his tongue publicly after the match, saying “please don’t ask me to go in this direction because it’s not good for me.”

Midfielder Paul Pogba, who would have been one of those players Mourinho likely would have criticised given he lost possession 28 times versus Brighton, created his own swirl of post-match controversy by saying “My attitude wasn’t right” to MUTV.

The midfielder, who has converted penalties in United’s first two matches, is also getting stick for failing to keep his agent Mino Raiola out of the media’s eye. Raiola got into a social media dust-up with ex-United midfielder and BT Sport pundit Paul Scholes, who criticised Pogba’s lack of leadership in the defeat.

Raiola shot back Scholes “wouldn’t recognize a leader if he was in front of Sir Winston Churchill,” and sarcastically suggested he should become United’s sports director. Pogba failed to help matters Thursday by making a shushing motion on an Instagram post while unveiling his new line of adidas footwear to mark France’s World Cup title.

Mourinho was then at his tetchy best in Friday’s pre-match news conference, which lasted all of four minutes and 19 seconds. He confirmed his relationship his Woodward as fine by responding “of course” to the question, told reporters to take up Pogba’s comments with the midfielder, offered little about how the squad trained during the week, and only conceded Spurs will be a “difficult match, against a team that last season finished top four, so difficult match.”

The most newsworthy portion was learning Alexis Sanchez, Nemanja Matic, Antonio Valencia all are training with the first team. Sanchez was a surprise omission last week due to a muscle injury, while first-team regulars Matic and Valencia have yet to make their season debuts.

Valencia would be a welcome sight at right back, where both Matteo Darmian and Ashley Young struggled to cover ground in the opening two matches. Matic could provide a needed counterweight to Pogba, taking his customary spot in front of the back four and forming a diamond with him, Fred and striker Romelu Lukaku as Sanchez and either Marcus Rashford or Juan Mata roam the flanks.

Things were humming along nicely for Tottenham Hotspur (2-0-0), who put aside the chatter of standing pat this summer with victories over Newcastle United and new boys Fulham. Harry Kane freed himself of the August albatross by finally scoring his first league goal in the first month of the season to cap a 3-1 win over the Cottagers on Aug. 18.

Yet all those good feelings were wiped away with the news keeper Hugo Lloris was charged with drink-driving in the early hours Friday in west London. The talisman of France’s World Cup winning side quickly released a statement through the team in which he wanted “to apologise wholeheartedly to my family, the club, my teammates, the manager and all of the supporters” and added “I take full responsibility for my actions and it is not the example I wish to set.”

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino has yet to say whether the charge will lead to him benching his No. 1 keeper for this match. There have been reports Lloris will be stripped of the captaincy, which would be given to Kane – who wore the armband for England at the World Cup.

Last weekend’s win over Fulham saw Spurs at full strength save Heung-Min Son’s absence as he plays for South Korea in the Asian Games. Lucas Moura filled that spot and scored the opening goal of the match, and Kieran Trippier – a key cog in England’s run to the semifinals in Russia – scored the match-winner with a well-taken free kick.

This match could also make Mourinho wistful for Spurs centre back Toby Alderweireld, who was one of the players on his summer wish list. He became the most realistic option before the transfer deadline after United were priced out of signing Leicester City and England international Harry Maguire.

The Belgium international had wanted out of north London due to a lack of playing time – due to both a hamstring injury and the fallout of a contract standoff – but Alderweireld got his first start against Fulham as part of a 3-4-1-2 set-up and is expected to be in the first XI again versus United. Based on Pochettino’s comments after the victory over Fulham, the relationship between the pair appears to be merely professional at best.

“I won’t talk about him, I’ll talk in general always,” Pochettino told The Times. “I want players committed with the team. Players that are not happy, from my point of view, can leave. Then it’s different if they can negotiate with Daniel (Levy) or not.

“But if they are going to be here, I want full commitment. If not, tomorrow we can find a solution. I am so tired of talking about this.”

United have won four on the trot at home – the last three by 1-0 counts — over the Lilywhites and carry a 384-minute shutout streak there since Christian Eriksen scored the winner in Tottenham’s 2-1 victory to ring in 2014.

Spurs have a track record of abject misery at Old Trafford, winning only two of their last 30 matches (2-4-24) in all competitions. And for all the talk of distractions and dissention around Manchester United, Mourinho’s men did win their last four matches versus top-six sides last term.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester United are slight 6/4 favourites, while Tottenham Hotspur have 15/8 odds to win. The draw is the long shot of the trio carrying 11/4 odds. Since punters expect both teams to score (Yes is a slight favourite at 3/4 over No at 21/20), United are 4/1 favourites to win such an outcome while Spurs are close behind at 9/2.

Punters also seem to be leaning toward a 1-1 draw as that is getting 3/1 odds, followed by a United victory and over 2.5 goals (16/5) and a Spurs victory over 2.5 goals (17/4). Those who feel United can record a fourth consecutive 1-0 scoreline at Old Trafford can get 21/5 odds on that outcome with under 2.5 goals and 7/1 odds on that exact outcome.

Kane leads the line for first-time goal-scorers at 7/2, followed by Lukaku (9/2). Spurs reserve striker Fernando Llorente is a surprising third option at 11/2, edging out both Sanchez and Rashford at 6/1.

Kane and Lukaku also lead the anytime goal-scorers list at 5/4 and 7/4 respectively. Llorente is again third at 2/1, closely followed by Sanchez (21/10) and Rashford (11/5).For those who believe Pogba will score for a third straight contest via penalty or otherwise, the France international checks in at 3/1.

PREDICTION

It may be too early to label this a must-win game for Manchester United, but there is a very real urgency not to lose this contest. Falling six points behind Manchester City after three matches will only fan the flames of panic and sharpen the knives around Old Trafford, and if you thought Mourinho was at his cantankerous best Friday, you can imagine what he would be like with two losses in three out of the blocks.

Getting Sanchez back would be nice, yes, but Matic could wind up being the swing vote in this match should he be ready to go. If Lindelof and Bailly can’t handle the pressure from Pascal Gross and Glenn Murray, how are they going to cope with Kane and Dele Alli while Christian Eriksen supports both through the middle? Matic is an enormous security blanket for the two young centre backs, a role neither Pogba nor Fred fully figured out working in tandem with Andreas Pereira.

The fact two players needed to do it while Matic has been recovering speaks volumes to his importance.

Lloris’ status cannot be fully addressed until Pochettino announces his decision, so there is little to debate for the time being. The between the lines message from Pochettino when discussing/not discussing Alderweireld’s status is the Spurs’ boss seemed ok with chairman Daniel Levy’s decision to stand pat over the summer.

While this goes completely against the arms race the Premier League has become since the most recent television deal, it’s still an interesting long-term gamble that could determine if Spurs are in Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal-like holding pattern fighting for a top-four spot or whether Unai Emery’s Arsenal and Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea can overtake them, even as early as this season.

Given how Mourinho does his best work when the outward appearance is he’s cornered, expect United to bare their teeth in a cagey match. Even with Matic, one gets the sense Mourinho’s squad are still not capable of a full-on 90-minute performance in the back without at least one glaring mistake, and Spurs’ defence has also switched off at times.

Predicted Final Score: Manchester United 1, Tottenham Hotspur 1.

Other Match Day 3 Previews:

Wolverhampton (0-1-1) vs. Manchester City (2-0-0)
Arsenal (0-0-2) vs. West Ham United (0-0-2)
Fulham (0-0-2) vs. Burnley (0-1-1)
Newcastle United (0-1-1) vs. Chelsea (2-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 1 Preview — Newcastle United vs. Tottenham Hotspur

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match in this blog.)

With three straight top-three finishes, a new stadium, and their star player signed to a new long-term contract, the future is bright at Tottenham Hotspur.

Yet a lack of reinforcements from the transfer window could loom large early as Spurs open their season for the second straight year at St James’ Park on Saturday against a Newcastle United squad again embroiled in self-inflicted turmoil.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Tottenham (23-8-7 in 2017-18) had 12 players take part in the World Cup this summer, third-most in the top flight behind Manchester City (16) and Chelsea (14). Three Lilywhites – Kieran Trippier, Dele Alli and Harry Kane – were full-time starters for England while Eric Dier and Danny Rose made multiple starts as they reached the semifinals.

Additionally, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris backstopped France to their second World Cup title while centre backs Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen along with midfielder Mousa Dembele claimed third place with Belgium, who beat England twice. Christian Eriksen (Denmark) and Davinson Sanchez (Colombia) both progressed to the round of 16, with Sanchez losing to his English teammates.

Heung-min Son was the only Spurs player not to reach the knockout round, but his South Korea side sprung one of the biggest upsets in Russia by defeating 2014 champion Germany.

All these players are just returning to camp and coupled with dual-track responsibilities domestically and in Champions League, chairman Daniel Levy was curiously inactive as Spurs made zero personnel moves coming or going in the summer window. Levy made a late charge at Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish but was rebuffed by the Championship side as his £25 million offer was deemed insufficient by new ownership.

Levy, however, blew apart his carefully built wage scale for Kane, the Golden Boot winner in Russia with six goals as he signed a new six-year deal in June worth a reported £90 million only 11 months after putting pen to paper on his previous contract.

This new deal, worth £200,000 per week, recognizes the value of the 25-year-old striker who scored 79 goals in the last two seasons in all competitions, narrowly missed winning a third straight Premier League Golden Boot last spring, and is the face of English football as talisman of the Three Lions.

The other big contract was signing manager Mauricio Pochettino to a five-year extension worth over £40 million through 2023 in May, tying together the fates of star player and gaffer.

“Daniel and I have spoken at length about our aspirations for this football club,” Pochettino said at the time of his signing. “We both share the same philosophies to achieve long-term, sustainable success. This is a special club – we always strive to be creative in the way we work both on and off the pitch and will continue to stick to our principles in order to achieve the success this club deserves.”

Kane’s new deal raised eyebrows among his teammates, many of whom experienced difficult negotiations with Levy. Alderweireld was hoping Manchester United would pry him from White Hart Lane, and Rose expressed his desire last season to find his market value with his next deal at Spurs or elsewhere.

On the pitch, the 4-2-3-1 Pochettino prefers should see little change from last season, though Sanchez now occupies the centre back spot Alderweireld once held. Dier may have supplanted Victor Wanyama as a midfield partner with Dembele, and the attacking quartet of Kane, Alli, Eriksen and Son remains intact.

A higher-up not spending money is nothing new for Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez, who has seemingly been at odds with club owner Mike Ashley since taking over the club in 2016. The Spaniard did yeoman’s work last season with what was essentially the same side that won promotion from the Championship in 2017 as the Magpies (12-8-18) finished 10th mainly on player graft and coaching guile – their 39 goals were second-fewest among top-10 clubs.

This summer, the soap opera renewed as Ashley again promised Benitez he would open the purse strings and never fully delivered. This created fresh enmity between owner and supporters, the latter of whom share a two-way street of adoration with Benitez and fearful he will quit St James’ Park after one empty promise too many.

The Toons made targeted moves this summer – centre back Fabian Schar, defensive midfielder Ki Sung-yueng and forward Yoshinori Muto all signed for a combined total of less than £13 million – and Ashley kept a hawk’s eye on the balance sheet as Newcastle off-loaded striker Aleksander Mitrovic to Fulham for £22 million.

Newcastle secured winger Kenedy on loan from Chelsea for a full season, and Benitez will work on Salomon Rondon as a reclamation project after being loaned from West Bromwich Albion in exchange for Dwight Gayle. The Magpies also signed keeper Martin Dubravka on a permanent deal after he arrived in January from Sparta Prague. Right before Thursday’s deadline, they added defender Federico Fernandez from Swansea City.

While friction between Benitez and Ashley is nothing new, the same holds true for players and owner. They boycotted “walk-up” media duties for broadcasters for one day due to a row over bonus payments Ashley promised from both the FA Cup and last season’s finish. It was resolved Wednesday, and captain Jamaal Lascelles is looking forward to leaving all the distractions behind.

“We’ve managed to sort the off-field stuff; now that’s out of the way, we don’t have any reason why we can’t go out and put on a good performance,” he told Newcastle’s official website. “Everybody looks sharp, we’re training hard and we’ve all got our heads in the right place.”

Benitez is counting on a standout season from midfielder Johnjo Shelvey, one of the league’s most creative yet mercurial playmakers. The 26-year-old nearly made England’s World Cup squad after heeding his manager’s call to be more under control – Shelvey was not disciplined the final 15 matches after being ejected twice in the first 13.

One of those red cards came in last season’s opener when he needlessly stamped on Alli’s ankle in the 48th minute and swung the match in Spurs’ favour. Alli would get the last laugh with the first goal just after the hour and Ben Davies added a second nine minutes later for a 2-0 win.

Tottenham did the double over Newcastle last season and have won three of their last four at St James’ Park.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Spurs are an even money favorite while a draw has 12/5 odds and a Newcastle victory has 14/5 odds. Tottenham and under 2.5 goals has a 17/5 return while the same over/under with a Newcastle victory returns 13/2 odds.

PREDICTION

There are some managers who know how to steal points in various places, and despite all the chaos surrounding Newcastle — even if the bonus payment is settled and even if Ashley is done spending his money on a new investment — this feels like an opportunity where Benitez’s shrewdness can pay off with three early points for Newcastle.

Shelvey is not going to make the same mistake he did last year and get sent off, which will be a huge plus for the Toons. Additionally, the ICC tour did not give Tottenham any benefits aside from giving most of the fringe side substantial playing time in contrast to Newcastle, which has spent the preseason drilling towards this match.

While the Magpies have not recorded a clean sheet at home versus Spurs since 2003, 13 matches ago, there is a sense they can pull that off here with a disciplined effort. I can’t give a reason or a goal-scorer for Newcastle, but just simply offer a hunch they will open the season with a victory by catching Spurs off-balance.

PREDICTION: NEWCASTLE UNITED 1, TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 0

2018-19 EPL Team-by-team previews: Tottenham Hotspur (August 4)

(Writer’s Note: This is the 18th of what will hopefully be 20 team previews in 20 days. Or at the very least, all 20 teams prior to the 2018-19 Premier League’s season-opener between Manchester United and Leicester City on August 10. Links to previous teams can be found at the bottom of the page.)

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR LILYWHITES

Manager: Mauricio Pochettino (Hire Date: May 27, 2014)
Tenure Length: 3rd/20 in Premier League and 8th/92 in Top 4 leagues of English football
2017-18 Record: 23-8-7, 77 points, 3rd in Premier League
2017-18 Goals scored: 74
2017-18 Goal Difference: plus-36
Number of Current Consecutive Seasons in Premier League and/or First Division: 41 (including 2018-19)
Last Promotion: 1978
Last Relegation: 
1977 (First Division to Second Division)
2017-18 Champions League: Round of 16 (Juventus)
2017-18 Carabao Cup: Fourth-round loss (West Ham United)
2017-18 FA Cup: Fourth-round loss (Manchester United)

2017/18 IN REVIEW

With renovations to expand White Hart Lane in full swing, Tottenham Hotspur used Wembley as its home pitch for the entire 2017-18 campaign. The Spurs started somewhat slowly at their new digs after opening the season with a 2-0 win at 10-man Newcastle United, losing to Chelsea in a London derby and drawing Burnley.

Mauricio Pochettino’s men righted the ship with a 3-0 romp at Everton as Kane had a brace to trigger a 10-match unbeaten run (8-2-0) that included wins in their first two Champions League matches and a well-earned 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu in a toe-to-toe encounter versus two-time holders Real Madrid. That match announced Spurs as a team to be reckoned with on the continent. Tottenham further burnished its credentials with a 4-1 pole-axing of Liverpool straightaway following that draw to solidify a hold on third in the table.

A surprising Carabao Cup exit at the hands of West Ham United followed, as did a 1-0 loss at Old Trafford to Manchester United, but Spurs hit a stunning high in the immediate match after, thrashing Real Madrid 3-1 to qualify for the knockout round of the Champions League with two matches to spare. A brace by Dele Alli on either side of halftime before a goal by Christian Eriksen sent Wembley into raptures, with command performances by Alli, Kane and Kieran Trippier earning deserved plaudits from supporters and pundits alike.

The easy motivation of Tuesday and Wednesday nights, though, gave away to patchy play on the weekends. Spurs were overrun 2-0 at Arsenal in the first north London derby, and a 1-1-3 stretch in league play could be overlooked when a win at APOEL confirmed Champions League group honours in early December.

A pair of victories over Stoke City and Brighton and Hove Albion followed, but Spurs took a needed dose of humility in a 4-1 hiding administered by Manchester City at the Etihad. For all of Alli’s otherworldly talent, his mercurial side got the better of him, and a stamp on Kevin De Bruyne with the game in the balance at 1-0 to the host enraged the usually placid Belgium international to the point he unleashed his wrath on all of Tottenham.

It was a lesson well-learned as Pochettino’s team would go 17 unbeaten (11-6-0) across all competitions after that defeat. The young London side drew battle-tested Juventus in the round of 16 for the Champions League, and after a dreadful start in which Spurs fell behind two before the clock had reached 10 minutes, they showed their mettle in Turin by fighting back for a draw. They also had the precious advantage of two away goals in their pocket for the return encounter courtesy Kane in the first half and Eriksen in the second.

There was a surprising FA Cup draw at Rochdale, forcing a replay that was part of three wins on the bounce before the rematch versus the Italian powerhouse. But youth would not be served in Wembley as a tactical switch on the hour by Max Allegri caught Spurs out, and goals by Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala less than three minutes apart powered Juventus to a 2-1 victory in the match and 4-3 on aggregate.

Tottenham, though, revealed plenty of character with four wins on the trot — all on the road — highlighted by its first league win at Stamford Bridge since 1990 with a deserved 3-1 victory on April 1 in which Alli had a brace in a four-minute span of the second half.

Spurs were swept up in Manchester City’s relentless march to the Premier League title, this time losing 3-1 in the home encounter. That ended a seven-match winning streak in league play and started a three-match blip in which they were also ousted from the FA Cup in the semifinals against Manchester United despite it being a “home” match at Wembley.

While Kane missed nearly three weeks with an ankle injury, he made it a point to return as soon as he felt himself fit to play, which also may have been too quick a return. Still, the Spurs forward reached 30 Premier League goals for the first time in his career by recording a brace in the season finale versus Leicester City that also pushed him over the 40-goal plateau in all competitions. Fourteen of Kane’s 41 goals were match-winners, an impressive rate considering the Spurs won 33 gams across all competitions.

Kane finished second to Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah in his bid to win a third consecutive Golden Boot in the Premier League, but he would go on to capture the World Cup version for England with six goals in Russia in leading the Three Lions to their first semifinal appearance since 1990.

Overshadowed by Kane’s season-long magnificence and Alli’s burgeoning stardom was Heung-Min Son finishing second on Tottenham with 18 goals in all competitions. He also had nine assists while playing nearly 400 fewer minutes than Alli, who still had an impressive season with 14 goals and 14 assists. Eriksen also had 14 goals, with his sublime form late in the term serving as a springboard to power Denmark to the round of 16 in the World Cup.

POTENTIAL STARTING XI

Tottenham Hotspur Lineup.png

With the impending departure of Moussa Dembele and perhaps Toby Alderweireld, there could be some changes to Pochettino’s preferred 4-2-3-1 set-up, with Davies continuing to serve as left back and Dier stepping into the defensive midfield role after a solid performance for England this summer. While Eriksen does more damage in a central role as a playmaker, he and Alli will likely overlap in the center while Son moves about flank to flank underneath Kane.

THE NEW GUYS AND THE GONE GUYS

It has been a rather quiet summer for Tottenham, which has largely stood pat in the transfer window. Dembele has been rumoured to be heading for the exit, while defender Alderweireld has been frustrated for months over the lack of progress regarding a new contract. Tottenham’s on-again, off-again pursuit of Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha is apparently off at the moment.

While Spurs are reportedly interested in Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish, that situation is complicated by Villa having new ownership and their desire to return to the Premier League after coming up one goal short versus Fulham in last season’s playoff for the final promoted spot from the Championship.

THE GUY WORTH SEEING

Harry Kane (F)

Kane has become the face of both Tottenham Hotspur and England after spectacular seasons for both, and was properly rewarded this summer with a new six-year contract worth at least £62 million and worth potentially as much as £90 million if incentives are reached. He has grown in stature as a professional on and off the pitch, realising his spot in English football, and at the age of 25, is entering the prime of a career with a running partner in Alli as the linchpins of a London club set to open a new era with its shining new pitch on the hill with its revamped and more expansive White Hart Lane.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Tottenham is fifth on the tote board to win the Premier League at 16/1 odds per Ladbrokes and fifth with 4/5 odds to record a fourth consecutive top-four finish. Spurs are joint-fifth with Arsenal to be atop the table on Christmas Day at 12/1 odds and joint-fourth with Chelsea at 1/9 odds for a top-six finish.

Kane is the favorite to win the Golden Boot as the league’s top scorer with 11/4 odds, with Son a distant second among Spurs players at 80/1. In terms of top goal-scorers on the Lilywhites, Kane is an expected heavy favorite at 1/5 odds, while Eriksen, Alli and Son are all joint-second at 10/1.

Kane is also currently running third to be PFA Player of the Year at 10/1 odds, and Eriksen is joint-eighth at 20/1 and Alli slightly further back at 25/1.

FIRST FOUR MATCHES/LAST FOUR MATCHES

Aug. 11 — Newcastle United (10th) A
Aug. 18 — Fulham (N/A) H
Aug. 27 — Manchester United (2nd) A
Sept. 2 — Watford (14th) A
————–
April 20 — Manchester City (1st) A
April 27 — West Ham United (13th) H
May 4 — Bournemouth (12th) A
May 12 — Everton (8th) H

OUTLOOK

There is much to like about Tottenham Hotspur from one through 11 as constructed given it is one of the most balanced sides in the Premier League and Europe. The problem is little has been done to upgrade Nos. 12 and beyond, and in a league were the big guns are always re-loading and re-tooling to compete domestically and abroad, that is a troubling predicament.

Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has taken great pains to keep his wage structure as conservative as possible, though he recognised the obvious greatness in his midst with Kane and justly rewarded the striker with a deal that winds up creating a reported pay packet of £200,000 per match in extending him through 2024. Levy’s reported salary at £6 million per year in 2016-17 when it was revealed last spring raised some eyebrows internally among the players, almost all of whom have faced difficult negotiations with the club chairman when it came time for new contracts.

Those negotiations are why Dembele and Alderweireld are looking elsewhere, and defender Danny Rose joined that chorus last season in feeling underpaid. How Levy navigates this minefield as Tottenham chase a fourth consecutive podium finish in the Premier League will be one of the running sub-plots of the season off the pitch around White Hart Lane.

Between the nearly non-existent roster turnover in either direction and the high number of players who logged significant match time at the World Cup in Russia — Kane, Alli, Trippier, Rose, Alderweireld, Dier, Hugo Lloris, and Jan Vertonghen all participated in at least five matches for their respective countries while Eriksen and Davinson Sanchez reached the knockout rounds — Tottenham’s depth is going to be severely tested through at least the first four matches of the season ahead of the first international break.

Erik Lamela, Harry Winks and Lucas Moura will be asked to shoulder much of that playmaking burden early on, and Fernando Llorente is eager to atone for scoring just one league goal after a £15 million move from Swansea City last January.

All of the elite teams have these kind of problems, but while Spurs appear to have the same lack of depth as Manchester United when it comes to World Cup fatigue, champion Manchester City and Liverpool took steps to further re-tool their respective sides ahead of another dual-track season of domestic and Champions League responsibilities.

Pochettino is one of the best managers in the Premier League, and he knows his team inside and out. There are few worries about Spurs burning out on the pitch since he is more than capable as a man-manager, but the sacrifices he will have to make in the early part of the season likely will come with the unintended consequence of sacrificed points.

For a team desperate to end an 11-year drought when it comes to silverware as it moves into a new stadium, that is not an ideal situation. Tottenham, though, could be the darkhorse team in the run-in, and that match at the Etihad versus Manchester City in April could loom large for both sides in the title race.

PREDICTED FINISH

3rd place

PREVIOUS TEAMS’ PREVIEWS

July 18 — Fulham                                      July 28 — Newcastle United
July 19 — Cardiff City                               July 29 — Leicester City
July 20 — Wolverhampton                      July 30 — Everton
July 21 — Southampton                           July 31 — Burnley
July 22 — Huddersfield Town                 August 1 — Arsenal
July 23 — Brighton and Hove Albion    August 2 — Chelsea
July 24 — Watford                                     August 3 — Liverpool
July 25 — West Ham United                    August 4 — Tottenham Hotspur
July 26 — Bournemouth                          August 5 — Manchester United
July 27 — Crystal Palace                          August 6 — Manchester City

2018 World Cup Round of 16 Preview — Croatia vs. Denmark (Match 52)

After being one of the most impressive teams at the World Cup, unheralded Croatia look to take another step in repeating their 1998 run to the semifinals Sunday as they face Denmark in Nizhny Novogorod in the round of 16.

One of three teams to sweep their three matches in group play with Uruguay and Belgium, the Vatreni are in the knockout round for the first time since their maiden appearance in 1998, when they reached the semifinals behind Davor Suker. They had failed to get out of group play in three previous appearances, winning just two of those nine matches.

Croatia announced its intent with perhaps the most impressive win over a World Cup power, walloping two-time champion Argentina 3-0 as it completely neutralized Lionel Messi in its middle Group D contest and handed La Albiceleste their worst World Cup defeat in 60 years.

Zlatko Dalic’s side completed its sweep with a 2-1 victory over Iceland, getting a clinical strike from Ivan Perisic at the death for the match-winner. Milan Badelj had the other goal for the Vatreni, who still controlled large stretches of play despite introducing nine new starters for the match having already qualified.

Denmark is in the knockout round for the first time since 2002, finishing runner-up to France in Group C. Rather then play for the top spot, Danish Dynamite opted for a low-risk approach in the finale versus the 1998 champion, adding a fifth to the back line and playing out a dour 0-0 draw that stood as the only scoreless contest in group play in Russia.

Age Hareide’s team played well defensively, conceding just once in the three matches — a penalty kick in its draw versus Australia. The Danes, though, scored just twice as they continued to rely on the all-around skills of Christian Eriksen. The Tottenham Hotspur attacking midfielder assisted on Yussuf Poulsen’s winner versus Peru and scored in the draw against the Socceroos.

While Eriksen was doing yeoman’s work in attack, keeper Kasper Schmeichel was doing that and more in the back. The Leicester City No. 1 finished with 14 saves in the three matches, trailing only Memo Ochoa’s 17 for Mexico among all keepers. Denmark did not really live up to the Danish Dynamite moniker as they put only nine of their 25 shots on target.

Denmark has reached the World Cup quarterfinals just once in club history, losing to Brazil in 1998. The Danes’ last appearance in the knockout round was a 3-0 setback to England in 2002.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Croatia
June 16 — Croatia 2, Nigeria 0 (Etebo 32′ (og)Modric 71′ (PK))
June 21 — Croatia 3, Argentina 0 (Rebic 53′, Modric 80′, Rakitic 90+1′)
June 26 — Croatia 2, Iceland 1 (Badelj 50′, G. Sigurdsson 76′ (PK), Perisic 90′)

Denmark
June 16 — Denmark 1, Peru 0 (Poulsen 59′)
June 21 — Denmark 1, Australia 1 (Eriksen 7′, Jedinak 38′ (PK))
June 26 — Denmark 0, France 0

FORMATIONS

Both teams are expected to set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but what becomes interesting is how Eriksen tries to find space getting beyond Modric and Ivan Rakitic and attacking Croatia’s back four since the Vatreni did not concede an open goal in the three matches.

None of Denmark’s strikers distinguished themselves in group play, so the hedge is Hareide restores Nicolai Jorgensen to lead the line. Andreas Cornelius is the other option up front, but since Jorgensen had the assist on Eriksen’s goal, he appears the better choice.

In contrast, an example of how clinical Croatia has been is that while it has the same amount of shots on goal as Denmark, it has scored five more goals. Mario Mandzukic has had his chances, entering this contest second on the Vatreni with six shots, but the fact the shots on goal have been spread — no one has more than two on target — shows the effectiveness Croatia has enjoyed.

INJURIES AND INELIGIBLES

Croatia has everyone available for this match but has an astounding eight players on a yellow card. Of those eight, Rakitic, Mandzukic, Sime Vrsaljko and Ante Rebic are expected to be in the starting XI.

Poulsen returns to Denmark’s starting lineup after he served a one-match ban for his yellow cards in the first two contests — both of which resulted in spot kicks for opponents. Midfielder Willie Kvist remains sidelined with a rib injury and punctured lung suffered in the opener versus Peru.

Midfielders Thomas Delaney and Pione Sisto are on yellow cards hoping to emerge without a second to have them wiped away.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Croatia — Luka Modric (MF)

Smoother than a James Bond villain, Modric effortlessly pulls the strings in Croatia’s midfield, and as he showed in rope-a-doping Nicolas Otamendi for his world-class strike versus Argentina, he can pop in the occasional goal. It says something to his talent that Dalic can overturn virtually his entire lineup around Modric, and the Vatreni still maintained nearly 60 percent possession against Iceland.

Denmark – Christian Eriksen (MF)

Eriksen showed his 11 goals in qualifying were no fluke as he has factored on both goals for Denmark in Russia. The Spurs No. 10 is going to need a lot of support from his fellow attackers, especially Sisto and Poulsen on the flanks to force Croatia’s wide midfielders to retreat out of the final third and be available for passes to help force Modric into defending.

WORLD CUP HISTORY HEAD-TO-HEAD

This will be the first meeting between the teams in the World Cup, but they were placed in the same UEFA qualifying group to reach France in 1998. Denmark topped the group by two points over Croatia, playing the Vatreni to a 1-1 draw on the road and winning 3-1 in Copenhagen as the Laudrup brothers accounted for three of the four goals.

Kasper Schmeichel’s father Peter was between the sticks for Denmark in those matches, with both Croatian goals scored by Suker. Overall, each side has two wins and split the points in a fifth contest.

BETTING ANGLE

Per Ladbrokes, Croatia is a strong favorite at 5/6 odds, with Denmark checking in at 15/4. The odds of the match ending in a draw and going to penalties are 21/10. Despite failing to find the back of the net in group play, Mandzukic is still the favorite to score the first goal of the match at 9/2 odds, with Croatia reserve Andrej Kramaric a second choice at 5-1 and Perisic and Rebic joint-third at 7/1.

Jorgensen is Denmark’s top option, also at 7/1, while Eriksen is a slightly longer pick at 9/1.

PREDICTION

While many expected Croatia to come out of what turned out to be a fairly well-balanced Group D, no one expected Argentina to be so dysfunctional they would be four minutes from going home early from Russia. The Vatreni have been cool, calm and collected in all three matches thus far, deserving winners in each contest, and turning ruthless when necessary while scoring four of their seven goals in the 70th minute or later.

Denmark will have a lot of work to do in this match, starting with keeping Modric off the ball. Its central defense pairing of Andreas Christensen and Simon Kjaer will have to keep Mandzukic under wraps, and the wide backs must get forward whenever possible.

Hareide’s other option would to use a five-man back like he did against France, but that also concedes possession to Modric outside Denmark’s final third. That, however, is a strategy simply courting disaster considering his quality.

Jorgensen likely will have to drop deep and help out in possession, with Denmark’s best option in the run of play is getting it ahead to him at midfield and giving Eriksen a chance to get a sprint going before getting a return pass to hit on the counter.

The only worry about the Vatreni is that they have yet to deal with adversity at this World Cup. They have yet to trail in Russia and yet to concede in open play. How they would respond to a shock goal from Denmark would be an interesting scenario that could prove difficult.

Denmark has also not conceded in the run of play, but it did suffer at points against both Peru and Australia. When Danish Dynamite get stretched is when they get themselves in trouble, and Modric has the vision to unleash a killer pass to do just that.

This will be a cagey game. If Croatia does not score in the first hour, there is a real chance this match will go to extra time and then the dreaded penalties. But the Vatreni have too much attacking quality to break down a determined Danish defense and will move on with a 1-0 victory that will be more comfortable on the field than the scoreline will show.

UP NEXT

The winner of this match will face the winner of the Spain-Russia match in the quarterfinals July 7 in Sochi.

 

World Cup Match 37 — Live Blog! France vs Denmark

FINAL: Denmark 0, France 0

The first 0-0 draw of the World Cup sees France claim Group C honors with seven points. Denmark is also into the knockout round as runner-up with five as Schmeichel claims his sixth clean sheet in the last seven matches. Though it’s not 100 percent mathematically settled, the Danes are all but certain to play Croatia on Saturday in Kazan.

Les Bleus, meanwhile, will play the Group D runner-up on Sunday in Nizhny Novogorod. They are also in the half of the draw in which the winner of their match faces the Portugal-Uruguay match in the quarterfinals.

As much as I want to do another live blog of the Iceland-Croatia game since I have adopted Strakarnir Okkar in lieu of the U.S. not being in Russia, I proved I am a jinx by live blogging the first scoreless draw of this World Cup. Therefore, I’m going to drink while watching that match. Thanks for reading along, and there will be more!

90+3 – The kickabout continues

France is kicking the ball around the perimeter looking for the perfect pass instead of the right pass. Denmark clears the ball down the field and Ricci mercifully blows the final whistle to end this contest. A point for France, a point for Denmark and both are through to the round of 16.

90 – Three minutes of injury time

The fourth official has signaled for three minutes of stoppage time, and Mbappe almost has a moment of magic as he nearly gets around three defenders before the ball is cleared from danger. Delaney, the first man Mbappe beat on the play, had to be attended to and is walking off the pitch and angry he’s being substituted for Lerager in the waning minutes.

89 – Mbappe tries a flick

Mbappe tries to flick a pass from Sidibe over his shoulder into the penalty area, but it miscues over the line for a Denmark goal kick. Points for the effort, young’en.

88 – All the whistles

The neutrals in attendance are whistling derisively because they are terrified of being the first fans to see a 0-0 draw. From a broadcasting note, it is still amusing to see people at the match started and geeked to realize they’re on television.

86 – Will there be a goal?

While you cannot say this game “has roared to life” per the Reuters cliche handbook, it certainly has picked up over the final five to 10 minutes. Whether that translates to a goal is yet to be determined.

84 – Giroud has a penalty shout

The France striker has a penalty shout as he tries to turn in the box while being defended by Kjaer and goes to the turf. Ricci is unmoved, and VAR appears to agree.

82 – Fekir shot stopped by Schmeichel

Fekir continues to be a lively presence as he tests Schmeichel with a curling short-hopped shot from 18 yards that Schmeichel has to parry away from his left post. Best shot of the game so far, thus the best save of the match as well.

81 – Lost in the non-excitement of this match

Is that if Denmark score an unlikely goal, it would win the group. Right now, another 81 minutes may be needed for the Danes to do that.

79 – Mbappe in, Dembele off

Deschamps final roll of the dice sees teenager Mbappe enter for Dembele. Giroud has a moment of ambition as he chest traps the ball and swivels to try a left-footed shot from the top of the penalty area, but it loops well over the bar.

78 – Denmark trying to build something

For the first time, Denmark has sustained possession in the France half of the pitch, and no sooner than these words are typed, the Danes lose the ball when no one runs onto Stryger’s pass forward.

75 – Dolberg in, Cornelius off

Denmark makes its second change as the youngster Dolberg enters for Cornelius.

72 – Delany hyperextends elbow, Giroud goes wide

Denmark tries to create something in the France final third, but Eriksen’s backheel pass into the penalty area gets pinged over to Delaney on the left, but a challenge by Sidibe forces an awkward landing by Delaney, whose right arm absorbs the brace of the fall. On the other end, Mendy is able to pick out Giroud with a cross from the left, but the Chelsea man can’t get enough steam on his header as it spins well wide of the right post.

70 – Fekir goes wide

Fekir has a moment of his ambition shortly after coming on, and his curling left-footed shot from 20 yards fails to get inside the left post to challenge Schmeichel as it rustles the side-netting. Still, that qualifies as a moment of excitement in this contest.

68 – Fekir in, Griezmann off

France’s second substitution sees Griezmann come off and Fekir enter. Whether this opens up space underneath Giroud to target him better remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Denmark midfielder Stryger Larsen is being attended to after Dembele threw a wicked shoulder on the sideline that sent him flying.

66 – Another half-chance for Denmark

That has been the story of the match, half-chances. Cornelius did well to shake a defender and send in a cross from the left that goes begging. Giroud takes a knock to his ankle tracking back for a challenge and is walking around gingerly. He is starting to trot and get back to full speed and may be in need of the magic spray… for his ankle, not his hair.

64 – Observation on France

While Les Bleus supporters are notoriously demanding, this match should serve notice just how much they need Paul Pogba to pull the strings in the midfield. France has done most of its work going forward on the flanks in this match, and with Denmark playing a five-man backline in addition to sitting deep, there is little to no service for Giroud like there was in the victory over Peru.

62 – Denmark corner

It’s the fourth corner for Denmark, all on the right, and Eriksen is there to whip another outswinger into the mixer. Mandana sends it out with a convincing punch and crisis averted.

60 – Fischer on, Sisto off

Denmark makes its first swap as Fischer enters for Sisto, who successfully navigated an hour while on a yellow card and will be available for the round of 16 match against the Group D winner, which is all but certain to be Croatia.

58 – Denmark try to create half-chance

Denmark is starting to ask more questions of France’s defense as Sisto’s cross trying to pick out Brathwaite is cleared. The ball pings around and finds its way to Eriksen, whose 20-yard shot is wide left, but it also likely wouldn’t have counted since Brathwaite was well offsides and would have affected the outcome if it was on frame.

55 – Meanwhile in Sochi, part II

Peru has doubled its advantage through Paolo Guerrero, which has all but ended Australia’s chances of advancing to the round of 16. Denmark can breathe easy, and perhaps go back to a four-man backline and press forward and inject some offense into this match.

54 – Denmark free kick

Cornelius earns Denmark a free kick 40 yards straight on and causes a moment of panic as Mandana spills it after it short-hops the France keeper, but the No. 2 falls on it before Cornelius can get to the rebound. That is the first shot on goal for the Danes.

52 – Griezmann should have done better

Griezmann’s dawdling prevented a potential shot from the top of the penalty as Mendy sent a pass in from the left that Giroud dummied to let it get to the Atli man.

50 — Mendy in, Hernandez out

Deschamps has made his first swap of the game, introducing Mendy at left back for Hernandez. Griezmann has another go from distance, but Schmeichel sees it all the way and slides to collect it inside the right post.

50 – Denmark’s formation decision

The decision by Denmark coach Age Hareide to go five at the back has paid dividends thus far, but it also has sacrificed much of Eriksen’s creativity because France can send multiple bodies at him to pressure and dispossess.

48 – Foul on Giroud

The second half has started almost identical to the first, with France making sure its entire backline gets a touch on the ball. Kante tries popping a cross into the penalty area, but Giroud is whistled for a foul as he and Jorgensen each have a handful of the other’s jersey as they vie for position.

Back to action

Ricci has blown his whistle, there have been no substitutions and we’re back to action. How about a goal, any goal will do here, fellas.

Players coming back on the pitch

We’re close to restarting here in Moscow, with Giroud and Lemar walking out and obviously talking about Giroud’s spectacular hair care products.

An aside, part III

Another day, another report Wayne Rooney is closer to joining MLS side D.C. United. The rate this has progressed leads me to believe Rooney has actually walked from Merseyside across the Atlantic Ocean to the nation’s capital.

HALFTIME: Denmark 0, France 0

Denmark is 45 minutes closer to qualifying after a scoreless first half in Moscow, and scoreboard watching has also been good to the Danes as Peru leads 1-0 in the other Group C match. France has had the majority of possession but failed to find link-ups in the final third to fashion a quality chance on goal. Les Bleus also have done a solid job in preventing Eriksen from finding threatening positions in open play save his half-chance in the box Mandana wiped out.

45+2 – Denmark wins late corner

Denmark claims its third corner as Eriksen’s blast from distance is deflected over the line, but the corner gets knocked down in the penalty area. Griezmann collects it at the top of the box and dashes forward like a bat out of hell, getting into the middle of Denmark’s half of the pitch before Jorgensen finally hauls him down with a professional foul that earns him a yellow card.

Ricci, however, feels stoppage time has expired during that impressive sprint and calls for halftime.

45 – Dembele sends out a souvenir

Some buildup on the right allows Dembele to come out in space on the right side, but he fails to get over the ball on his left-footed effort from 25 yards and it sails into the Danish fan section behind goal.

43 – Time to jinx this

This match currently has the feel of the first 0-0 draw of this World Cup, which is quite a statement given the attacking quality of France and Eriksen. As I’m typing this, Griezmann tried to time a diagonal run through Denmark’s back line, but Lemar hesitated a half-step and played him offsides when he hit the pass late.

39 – Griezmann has a go

Griezmann tries a shot from the right elbow of the penalty area, but Schmeichel comfortably catches the shot that comes right at him.

35 – An aside, part II

So my girlfriend became a football fan courtesy of Olivier Giroud. One Sunday morning (I live in Chicago, so matches come with breakfast) I woke up to watch an Arsenal match at her apartment, and Giroud had entered the game with his finely coiffed hair and rugged French good looks.

I’m sure my girlfriend was not the first and is not the last to notice such alluring features, but she stopped dead in her tracks and purred, “Who is that?” upon seeing Giroud fill her screen. After explaining who he was (Arsenal and France forward, handsome, handsome man, etc.), she says, “I’d climb him like a jungle gym.”

To quote John Oliver… “Cool.”

Anyway, this has now become a running gag because I will text her updates when he plays, starting the text with “Your boyfriend…” I got her an Arsenal Giroud jersey to further the joke, a jersey she never wore before he signed with Chelsea. That may be the birthday present this year.

33 – Dembele goes wide

Dembele takes a curling right-footed shot from 20 yards on the right, but Schmeichel has his far post covered well and dives without making an attempt to touch it as he knows it’s going wide of the left post.

32 – Lemar takes a stamp

It’s not the souvenir you want from Russia, but Thomas Lemar will have a nice bruise on his left ankle after having it stamped by Dalsgaard. No foul but much ouch.

29 – A near-chance for Denmark!

Denmark strike on the counter as Cornelius did well to chase down Delaney’s pass on the left sideline and carry before sending a grass-cutting cross into the penalty area. Eriksen made a lung-busting run to try and get on the ball as Mandana charged off his line late. There was contact, but Mandana appeared to get their a split-second before Eriksen, getting to the ball as Eriksen tumbled over.

27 – France in the ascendancy

France is ratcheting up the pressure as Lemar takes a good free kick from 30 yards on the left that Denmark had to concede a corner. The ensuing corner from the right is cleared out as the already large Giroud climbed Kjaer in his bid to get to the ball but failed to make contact.

24 – France handball shout

Now it’s France’s turn to appeal to Ricci for a handball in the penalty area after it appears Zanka played the ball with his hand after Sidibe tries a cross. Replays show it hit Zanka’s shoulder first in a natural position. No pen.

22 – Denmark corner

Denmark has worked out another corner as Eriksen will approach from the right. His outswinger gets headed out and pinballed around before Denmark is forced to recycle and restart its attack.

21 – An aside

If you have a Netflix account and you’re a footy fan, Sommeren ’92 is a breezy way to pass two hours re-living Denmark’s stunning 1992 run to the European Championship. The Danes originally failed to qualify for the tournament but were a last-minute after the violence in Yugoslavia earned the Balkan country a ban. There’s a couple of sub-plots, though the biggest sports takeaway was not realizing Michael Laudrup wanted no part of coach Richard Moller Nielsen, who was able to convince his brother Brian to return to the team.

19 – Peru takes lead over Australia

Meanwhile, in Sochi, Peru is helping out Denmark by grabbing an early 1-0 lead. If the results stand, Denmark would be through anyway, but the Danes now have a margin of error since Australia would remain on one point.

15 – Giroud stopped by Schmeichel for France corner

France gets the first shot on target as Schmeichel bats Giroud’s looping left shot from 15 yards angling for the upper left corner behind goal for a Les Bleus corner. Hernandez worked a 1-2 with Giroud in the left side of the penalty area. Varane met the ensuing corner kick but planted his header well wide of the right post.

11 – France out of sync early

As expected with a team that has made six changes to a starting lineup, France’s movement has been slightly off, though the teams are playing at a slower pace knowing a draw would see both teams through. Giroud has yet to get a serious touch on the ball as Denmark’s back four have done well locating the Chelsea target man.

8 – France seeking second World Cup win over Denmark

The teams have met twice previously in the World Cup, with each claiming one win. Les Bleus capped group play in 1998 with a 2-1 victory courtesy Emmanuel Petit’s goal in the 56th minute after Youri Djorkaeff and Michael Laudrup traded penalties. Four years later, France’s disastrous World Cup title defense ended with a 2-0 loss to the Danes as Dennis Rommmedahl and Jon Dahl Tomasson scored on either side of halftime.

6 – Denmark earns corner

Brathwaite is proving to be an early nuisance for Denmark as he carries into the penalty area before having Kante knock it over for a corner on the right. Eriksen’s in-swinger from the right is sent well over the bar by Kjaer, and it’s a France goal kick.

4 – Denmark with a penalty shout

Brathwaite is able to sneak into the penalty area to chase a bouncing ball, but it unable to get it under control and goes down with pressure from Kimpembe without taking a shot. Ricci is unmoved by Denmark’s penalty claims and neither is VAR.

2 – France dominates possession

Denmark just got its first actual possession of the ball as France played kickabout to get introduced to the match. The sequence ended with a Griezmann cross no one bet followed by the Atletico Madrid man fouling Sisto.

Underway

Ricci blows his whistle and we are underway in Moscow. Denmark going from left to right in traditional red with white shorts, France from right to left in white with blue shorts.

Denmark Lineups

The Danes have made three changes to the starting XI that drew Australia 1-1. One was out of necessity as Yussuf Poulsen is serving a one-match ban for his yellow cards accrued in the first two matches.

The new players are Mathias Jorgensen, Andreas Cornelius and Martin Brathwaite. Braithwaite will lead the line instead of Nicolai Jorgensen while Brathwaite replaces Poulsen. Mathias Jorgensen replaces Lasse Schone.

France Lineups

Having already progressed to the round of 16, France manager Didier Deschamps has made six changes to his first 11. Keeper Steve Mandana defenders Samuel Umtiti, Presnel Kimpembe, midfielders Stephen N’Zonzi, Thomas Lemar and forward Ousmane Dembele will all be on the pitch at kickoff with holdovers Raphael Varane, Lucas Hernandez, N’Golo Kante, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud.

Referee

Brazil’s Sandro Ricci is the man overseeing the action at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Varane and Simon Kjaer are the talismans for France and Denmark, respectively. And in what may be a rare collaboration between archrivals, the VAR crew is being headed by an Argentine.

Hey there! Being that I am finally awake enough to watch the early match from kickoff, I’ve decided to entertain myself (and hopefully, you, the reader) with a live blog of today’s match between France and Denmark to determine the winner of Group C.

So follow along, won’t you?

World Cup Match 21: Denmark 1, Australia 1 (June 21)

Mile Jedniak converted a match-tying penalty for the second straight match, and this time Australia held on for a share of the points Thursday and remained in contention to reach the knockout round from Group C of the World Cup with a 1-1 draw against Denmark in Samara.

VAR again played a pivotal role in a match involving the Socceroos as they got the benefit of a review that confirmed referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz’s call Yussuf Poulsen handled the ball in the penalty area deflecting a header by Mathew Leckie in the 36th minute.

It appeared to be a harsh decision against Poulsen, who also committed a foul in Denmark’s opener against Peru that led to a try from the spot Christian Cueva missed in the Danes’ 1-0 victory.

After pointing to the spot, Denmark keeper Peter Schmeichel tried to get into Jedniak’s head with trash talk before Lahoz stepped between the two. The Leicester City shot-stopper continued his verbal barrage while backpedaling to the goal line, but it failed to faze Jedniak in the slightest as he put his attempt slightly inside the one he converted against France while Schmeichel guessed wrong.

It was the first goal Schmeichel allowed in 571 minutes dating back to Denmark’s second-leg playoff win over Ireland to qualify for the World Cup.

Jedniak’s goal canceled out a superb strike in the seventh minute by Christian Eriksen that opened the scoring. The draw leaves Denmark temporarily atop Group C with four points pending the outcome of France’s match against Peru. The Socceroos are third on one point with two goals and a minus-one goal difference.

Australia had the first quality scoring chance in the fifth minute when Leckie sent Aaron Mooy’s outswinging corner over the bar from six yards, and Eriksen promptly punished the Socceroos pay. Nicolai Jorgensen did well to lay the ball into the path of the on-rushing Tottenham playmaker, who made no mistake by lashing a rasping 15-yard left-footed volley Mathew Ryan had no chance to stop.

It was Eriksen’s 13th goal in his last 15 matches for the Danes and 23rd overall.

Jorgensen should have doubled the margin in the 24th minute, but his unmarked bullet header from six yards on a cross from Henrik Dalsgaard on the right went wide of the near post. Robbie Kruse had an excellent chance to equalize on the half-hour, but a heavy first touch on a pass from Leckie allowed Denmark’s defense to crowd him into a deflected shot from eight yards.

Poulsen also picked up a yellow card for the handball and will miss the match against France with his second caution.

It was also the 12th time in as many attempts Jedniak has converted a penalty for Australia. Jedniak has accounted for the Socceroos’ last five goals in competitive matches, with all but one of them coming from the spot.

The Socceroos stepped up their play in the second half, with Leckie and Joshua Risdon creating problems on the right side. Denmark fashioned a chance through Poulsen, with Lahoz playing the advantage as the ball went to Pione Sisto as he put a curling effort wide.

Schemichel was pressed into action in the 68th minute when Andrew Nabbout challenged after a scramble. Aaron Mooy came narrowly close to putting Australia ahead, ripping a 20-yard shot for the upper right corner that whistled wide in the 71st minute.

Rogic then let fly with a curling left-footed shot from 20 yards straight on that Schmeichel did well to collect going to his right. Then it was Sisto’s turn to raise Denmark’s hopes in the 63rd minute, but his curling effort skipped just wide of the right post.

Nabbout was forced off at 75 minutes with what appeared to be a dislocated right shoulder on a fall following a fair challenge, but by this point teenager Daniel Arzani was making his presence felt for the Socceroos. In the 78th minute, he sent a cross to Leckie, who could not get enough power on his header to trouble Schmeichel.

Arzani had Australia’s last quality chance finishing a counter, but his fierce right-footed shot from just above the six-yard box was parried by Schmeichel in the 88th minute.