Champions League Match Day 2 preview — Barcelona (1-0-0, +4, 4-0) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (0-0-1, -1, 1-2)

Last year, Tottenham Hotspur announced their intentions to be a player at the continental level with their stellar play against Spanish power Real Madrid in Champions League group play.

This time around, the injury-ravaged north London side will need another such performance just to make sure they don’t dig too deep a hole for themselves to get out of Group B on Tuesday when they face leaders Barcelona at Wembley Stadium.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Tottenham endured their first downswing of the season, recovering from three losses on the bounce in all competitions with a pair of league wins around advancing in the Carabao Cup on penalties over Watford. Harry Kane appears ready to kick on for the season after his stellar World Cup for England, recording a first-half brace in Spurs’ 2-0 victory at Huddersfield Town on Saturday.

Kane, though, will be receiving service from a midfield significantly thinned through injury. Playmakers Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen are sidelined, along with defender Jan Vertonghen. Barcelona’s potent trident of ex-Liverpool strikers Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez along with Lionel Messi means Erik Lamela’s creativity might be anchored to the bench as Harry Winks and Eric Dier soak up pressure until he becomes vital to potentially rescue a point.

“Tomorrow we do not win or lose because players are out,” Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino told The Times. “We win or lose and take responsibility. If we don’t win, it is because we do not deserve to and it will be my responsibility. I don’t want easy excuses. Of course I prefer everyone to be available but I am not going to say we don’t have a chance because this or that guy is out.”

Still, it was Winks who was a revelation for Tottenham last season with a spectacular effort in their 1-1 draw at Real Madrid that doubled as the London side’s coming out party to the continent en route to their eventual round of 16 finish. His distribution forward could be the swing vote in this game that determines just how much work the Spurs have left in their final four group matches.

One guy expected to be back in is No. 1 keeper Hugo Lloris, who missed six games due to a thigh injury on the heels of his drink-driving arrest in August, including Tottenham’s 2-1 defeat at Inter Milan to open group play a fortnight ago in which No. 2 Michel Vorm conceded twice after the 85th minute. He was then injured, forcing Pochettino to turn to Paulo Gazzaniga for the last three contests.

Lloris has not played since posting a clean sheet in the Lilywhites’ most complete performance of the season, a 3-0 victory at Manchester United on Aug. 27.

Barcelona are atop Group B after a comprehensive 4-0 thrashing of Dutch side PSV Eindhoven two weeks ago as Messi recorded his 48th career hat trick and raised his Champions League goal haul to 103 in 126 matches. The Argentina international opened the scoring in the 32nd minute before adding his other two in the final 13 minutes following a marker by Ousmane Dembele to start the final quarter-hour.

Messi has not been as proficient outside the Nou Camp in Champions League play, though his 41 goals in 64 away matches cannot be simply binned and ignored. He has also factored on six of Barca’s last eight goals in all competitions over the last four matches, but the defence has not been up to snuff as they have recorded draws at home versus Girona and Athletic Bilbao around a 2-1 defeat at Leganes.

Attacking midfielder Ivan Rakitic, no stranger to an England-laden Spurs side after he tormented a good portion of them in leading Croatia to victory in the World Cup semifinals, said that Barcelona are in good spirits despite the recent run of disappointing results.

“Defending Barça is the greatest thing there is,” he told the club’s official website. “Two games shouldn’t affect us and the important thing is to be all together. We must improve, but we are calm because we are preparing well.”

Manager Ernesto Valverde has been forced into one change for this match, with centre back Samuel Umtiti serving a one-match ban for his two bookings against PSV. That puts Clement Lenglet squarely in Kane’s cross-hairs as he will try to form an airtight tandem with Gerald Pique. That, however, has not happened as Barcelona have yet to record a clean sheet in the two matches they have started together.

One of the interesting sidebars to this contest is Valverde was the manager who ended Pochettino’s playing career while at Espanyol. The Spurs boss said there are no hatchets to bury since they spoke to each other during their tour of the United States in the summer, though Pochettino did admit in his book Valverde’s decision was “hard to accept.”

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Barcelona are firm road favourites with 19/20 odds, while Spurs are 5/2 underdogs. The odds of the teams splitting the points are slightly longer than a home side victory at 13/5.

Oddsmakers are expecting there to be goals at Wembley, with Barca getting 7/4 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals scored, while Spurs are getting 4/1 odds on the high side of goals scored. The odds of a 0-0 draw or 1-1 draw are 17/4, slightly shorter than a 1-0 or 2-0 Barcelona win (19/4). There is not much confidence in a low-scoring Spurs victory, which shares the longest odds with a 2-2 draw or higher at 8/1.

Messi leads the list for first goal-scorers at 16/5, edging out Kane and Suarez — who are joint-second at 4/1. Munir El Hadaddi, who has played all of 72 minutes this season for Barcelona, is a curious fourth option at 5/1 ahead of Spurs reserve striker Fernando Llorente (13/2) and Dembele (7/1).

Messi has better than even money to score during the match at 19/20, with Kane not far behind him at 6/5. Suarez lurks behind the pair at 13/10, with Coutinho and Spurs counterpart Heung-Min Son further back at 12/5, just ahead of Lucas Moura (13/5).

PREDICTION

While Pochettino is correct in moving on past the lament of who is not available for him in this game, getting Lloris back — as expected — is a huge bonus for Tottenham. A better shot-stopper than Gazzaniga, Lloris will also command the penalty area batter than the third-string keeper, something that was vitally missing late in the Lilywhites’ defeat at the San Siro when Inter came at them in waves.

Missing Vertonghen, though, will be a huge negative and one that may result in Pochettino playing more of a five-man back at times similar to what they did at the Bernabeu last season. The wide backs’ discipline will be especially important on the left, where Ben Davies will be tasked with making sure Rakitic doesn’t make overlapping runs and various other offensive feints in tandem with Messi.

Messi, Suarez and Coutinho have accounted for 70 of Barcelona’s 150 shots on target thus far and 13 of their 22 goals. Suarez, though, has a spotty track record on the road in Champions League play, going 13 matches without a marker since netting at AS Roma in 2015. In his abbreviated run with Liverpool last term before joining Barcelona and having to watch knockout round play, Coutinho totaled five goals and three assists in five group matches before getting an assist versus PSV.

How Tottenham go in the midfield is how this match will likely go. If Dier and Winks can disrupt passes and hold possession, the Spurs can find themselves in a position to potentially steal three points. If they wind up chasing ghosts amid the rapid-fire passing of Rakitic, Arthur, and Sergio Busquets and leaving open patches of pitch for Messi and company, it will be a long night at Wembley.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 2, BARCELONA 3.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 2 PREVIEWS:

Napoli (0-1-0) vs. Liverpool (1-0-0)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 4 Preview: Watford (3-0-0) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (3-0-0)

Perhaps there was a method to Tottenham Hotspur’s madness of inactivity in the summer window.

Owning the maximum nine points, the Lilywhites look to open a season with four league victories for the first time in nine years Sunday when they face upstart Watford in an unexpected clash of top-four sides.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Much continues to be made of the Lilywhites’ decision to stand pat in the summer transfer window, an unprecedented stance by a Premier League team in the 15 years of its existence. Yet even coming off a World Cup summer, club chairman Daniel Levy and manager Mauricio Pochettino have been validated by their decision early, the latest evidence provided in an emphatic 3-0 rout at Manchester United on Monday.

Harry Kane scored his first league goal at the “Theatre of Dreams” five minutes after the restart with a perfectly placed header off a corner from Kieran Trippier, and Lucas Moura added a brace as Spurs (3-0-0) made a statement of intent they intend to challenge reigning champions Manchester City and Liverpool for league honours.

Both Kane and Moura have scored in each of Tottenham’s last two matches, with Moura scoring three goals after producing just one in 12 following his move from PSG in January. Kane, meanwhile, has 61 in his last 70 league matches and furthered the proficiency that warranted his new £90 million contract signed in June.

“It’s massive, just what we needed,” Kane told Spurs’ official website. “We need to kill teams off, especially away from home. “As a club, we want to stay top of the league and the only way to do that is by coming to places like this and getting results, so (Monday) is a huge statement.”

Kane has 142 goals with Tottenham, one shy of tying Jermain Defoe for fifth on the club’s all-time list.

The win also quieted the talk around keeper Hugo Lloris, who turned in his first clean sheet of the season less than 72 hours after being arrested for drink driving. The backstop of France’s World Cup-winning squad retained the captain’s armband and came up with a pivotal save on Romelu Lukaku shortly after Kane’s goal that preserved the slim margin before Moura struck on 52 minutes.

“Hugo knows he made a big mistake,” Pochettino told the BBC after the match. “We will support him, knowing it cannot be justified. He has apologised to fans, us, the whole country. He is punishing himself. He feels so bad.”

Spurs have not opened a season with four league wins on the trot since 2009-10 under Harry Redknapp but faded to a fourth-place finish. Pochettino is understandably pleased with the start but is not getting ahead of himself as Spurs will start gearing up for Champions League opponents Barcelona, PSV Eindhoven and Inter Milan after the international break.

“The most important thing is to keep calm,” he said. “If at the end of the season with 10 games to go and we are in a good position then we have already shown we can fight.”

Twenty-four kilometres to the west just outside London’s city limits, Watford (3-0-0) are the unexpected team out of the four on nine points alongside Liverpool, Chelsea, and Spurs. Javi Gracia’s team has confounded pundits who thought the selling of Richarlison to Everton would result in a fast track to relegation.

The Hornets found a more than adequate replacement on the left wing in Roberto Pereyra as the Argentina international has bagged three goals. An underrated summer acquisition in bringing keeper Ben Foster back to Vicarage Road also has paid dividends — the Hornets are seeking their second four-match winning streak in Premier League play in club history and first 4-0-0 start at any level since 1988-89 in Division Two.

The Hornets continued their bright play Wednesday, advancing to the third round of the Carabao Cup with a 2-0 victory at Championship side Reading. Isaac Success and 18-year-old Domingos Quina scored on either side of halftime for Watford, who sport enough depth they overturned their entire starting XI from last Sunday’s 2-1 win over Crystal Palace for the cup tie.

“The atmosphere in the dressing room is incredible, we’re all prepared for the next challenge,” Success told Watford’s official YouTube channel after scoring his first goal since October 2016. “I’m happy for the team, it was a good win for us. It will make us concentrate more, and we will be ready for Sunday’s game.”

Nathaniel Chalobah and Stefano Okaka made their season debuts after recovering from injury, with Chalobah the more likely of the two to be on the bench for this match. Team selection has become a pleasant headache for Gracia as players are competing for spots throughout the side.

“It is a difficult situation for me,” he said. “I try to choose the best options for the next game and I know my decisions are not fair with some players, but I can only take 18. I would take more players if I could, but it is not possible.”

Watford have yet to beat Tottenham in the Premier League era, claiming three draws in 12 overall matches. All three draws, however, have come at Vicarage Road, including last term’s 1-1 stalemate. The Hornets were aided by Spurs defender Davinson Sanchez being sent off in the 52nd minute.

The teams will also face off in the third round of the Carabao Cup on Sept. 24, but Spurs have asked it be moved to Stadium MK – 80 kilometres from White Hart Lane. Their new stadium is still under construction and Wembley is hosting the Anthony Joshua-Alexander Povetkin heavyweight boxing fight two days prior and is unavailable.

The EFL board which oversees the cup will review the request next Friday.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Spurs are solid 6/10 favourites to continue their perfect start, and Watford are 9/2 underdogs to pull off a surprise and continue theirs. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 3/1.

Oddsmakers are liking a Spurs victory over 2.5 goals as those odds lead the pack at 27/20. A 1-0 or 2-0 Lilywhites win returns on 16/5 odds, while a 0-0 or 1-0 draw are slightly longer at 21/5. For those thinking Watford can get their first Premier League era win over Spurs, it’s 15/2 odds on over 2.5 goals and 11/1 on under.

For first goal-scorers, Kane leads the line at 12/5, followed by Fernando Llorente (4/1), Christian Eriksen (13/2) and Dele Alli (7/1). Moura is joint-fifth with Erik Lamela at 15/2, just ahead of top Watford option Troy Deeney (17/2).

Kane has 7/10 odds to run his goal-scoring streak to three matches, while Moura is further back at 23/10. Llorente is 13/10 to find the back of the net, and at 21/10, Eriksen edges out Alli (11/5). Deeney is the top option for the Hornets at 13/5, with Pereyra checking in with 7/2 odds. Gerard Deloufeu is also sporting 7/2 odds to score, which is intriguing since he has yet to play a single minute.

PREDICTION

This is a step up in class for Watford after three wins to start the season turned everyone’s head. Gracia’s 4-2-2-2 set-up has given his wingers room to roam on the flank, with Pereyra taking full advantage of the opportunity offered to him with Richarlison’s departure.

The Hornets have shown they have the potential to be a mid-table team with the victories over Burnley and Palace, now they can show whether they will be a team with potential to make a run at something bigger.

Tottenham have looked the part of a well-oiled machine, though the listless stretches of play that came in their wins over Newcastle and Fulham again were evident against Manchester United before breaking them down early in the second half and taking advantage of a back line bereft of confidence.

This will be an intriguing challenge since Watford’s back four have conceded just twice in the three league wins while playing all 270 minutes together. Spurs are always going to be the more likely of the two teams to leave it late for all three points, but the hedge here is Watford plays over their heads and grab a point.

Predicted final score: Watford 1, Tottenham Hotspur 1.

Other Match Day 4 previews:

Leicester City (2-0-1) vs. Liverpool (3-0-0)
Chelsea (3-0-0) vs. Bournemouth (2-1-0)
West Ham United (0-0-3) vs. Wolverhampton (0-2-1)
Manchester City (2-1-0) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-2)

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

Breaking down the FIFA All-World Cup tournament team (July 17)

So FIFA released its World Cup team of the tournament. They broke it out in a 4-2-3-1 formation as follows:

GK — Hugo Lloris, France
LB — Ashley Young, England
CB — Dejan Lovren, Croatia
CB — Raphael Varane, France
RB — Kieran Trippier, England
MF — Luka Modric, Croatia
MF — Paulinho, Brazil
LW — Neymar, Brazil
AM — Antoine Griezmann, France
RW — Eden Hazard, Belgium
ST — Kylian Mbappe, France

Straightaway, Ashley Young is the biggest head-scratcher of this bunch, especially when comparing his play to compatriot Kieran Trippier, who may have had the best tournament of any outfield player on England’s squad.

Harry Kane also had a strong tournament and won the Golden Boot, yes, but Trippier was seemingly everywhere for the Three Lions and through no fault of his own nor lack of industry, Kane was too often starved of service as the opposition got tougher.

Young did not played poorly, but was he better than Croatia’s Ivan Strinic? No. Better than France’s Lucas Hernandez? Again, no.

That N’Golo Kante is not on this list and Paulinho is borders on ridiculous. In fact, you can make a better argument for Casemiro over Paulinho when reviewing the tape of Brazil’s loss to Belgium given how awful Casemiro’s replacement Fernandinho played in that defeat. The fact Kante reportedly played the final while suffering through a stomach bug only adds to his legend on top of the long list of accolades he has accumulated in a three-year span.

Neymar is a questionable inclusion, especially at the expense of for four-goal scorers Romelu Lukaku of Belgium or Denis Cheryshev of Russia. The latter’s goal rate of one per 76 minutes was the best of the tournament.

I have a minor quibble with Lovren because I felt there were times he got away with a foul that warranted a booking. I also think, however, there are only three central defenders you can make an argument for in replacing him — England’s John Stones, Sweden’s Andreas Granqvist and Colombia’s Yerry Mina.