2018-19 EPL Match Day 22 Preview — Tottenham Hotspur (16-0-5) vs. Manchester United (11-5-5)

The first real measuring test of how far Manchester United have progressed under caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finally arrives Sunday when they face Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium.


Solskjaer has won all five of his matches in charge since the sacking of Jose Mourinho, but the opponents United (11-5-5) have faced have been, to use boxing parlance, tomato cans.

Three of the four league wins came against relegation threatened sides – Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town and Newcastle United. The fourth versus a Bournemouth team who take little more than a passing interest in defence.

The Red Devils maintained their 100 percent record under the former Norse striker with a 2-0 victory over Championship side Reading in a third-round FA Cup tie at Old Trafford on Saturday. Solskjaer was able to overturn nine of his starters from a 2-0 win over Newcastle, keeping centre back Phil Jones and midfielder Juan Mata.

Mata opened the scoring on 22 minutes with a penalty after he earned the foul, and Romelu Lukaku scored in first-half stoppage time for his third goal in as many matches since returning from compassionate leave. With the increased confidence in attack – and with good reason since United’s 16 goals since Solskjaer took over match the total from their previous 10 matches in all competitions – the interim boss has promised to try and stay on the front foot for this contest.

“You all know the best teams in the league and of course we have to be aware of their strengths. But I’ve been brought up in a way that we need to attack teams,” he told the club’s official website. “I think that’s our strength as well, going forward and attacking, as a team when you look at us now the way we’ve played.

“We’re not going to get as many chances to attack against these (Spurs) as we’ve had before, so we’ve got to be ready for when we get hold of the ball and play well with it to make sure we use the whole pitch because Wembley is a decent-sized pitch as well.”

Solskjaer confirmed in-form and rejuvenated midfielder Paul Pogba will be available for this match after spending last weekend in the Middle East receiving treatment for a knock suffered against Newcastle, but centre back Marcos Rojo is in his native Argentina receiving treatment for his injury.

Most of the starting XI from the Newcastle match will likely be restored in this encounter, with the centre back pairing of Jones and Victor Lindelof all but certain since Eric Bailly will complete a three-match ban for his straight red card given in the win over Bournemouth.

The lone sticking point is whether Lukaku’s form warrants his first league start since Solskjaer took over. In the current 4-2-3-1 set-up Solskjaer prefers, Lukaku would likely lead the line and push Marcus Rashford onto the right wing, perhaps at the expense of Jesse Lingard.

For Spurs (16-0-5), this is a huge match on many levels. Manchester City’s win over Liverpool also resulted in the north London side getting a lifeline back into the Premier League race as they are now six points behind the table-topping Reds and two back of the reigning champions for second.

It also marks the first opportunity for the Lilywhites to do the double over United since the 1999-2000 season, a chance squandered with a 3-1 loss at Old Trafford in May 2000. Tottenham have not accomplished the feat since the First Division days in 1989-90, but having emphatically thumped United 3-0 in the reverse fixture in August in Manchester to exorcise some of those demons, this is a prime chance for Tottenham show they can handle prosperity and not be “so Spursy.”

Tottenham put some of that talk to rest Tuesday with a 1-0 victory over Chelsea in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semifinal. Harry Kane’s penalty on 27 minutes separated the sides and made him the first player in club history to score 20 or more goals in all competitions in five straight seasons.

“We’re in a good stage, we’re in a semi-final (Carabao Cup) with a 1-0 lead, we’re in the FA Cup and Champions League and we’re not too far off in the Premier League, although there is a long way to go,” Kane told SkySports. “So far, so good, but it’s this stage of the season that we have just fallen behind in the past so it is important this year that we step it up, work even harder and go into these games and try and bring it home.”

Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino downplayed talk of how different this match would be compared to the victory in August, in which Lucas Moura had a brace after Kane opened the scoring with a professional header on 50 minutes off a corner from Kieran Trippier. Instead, the Argentine is expecting a typically tough contest from the fellow perennials.

“It’s going to be a very nice game. Always Tottenham vs Manchester, Manchester vs Tottenham, every time that we play are always exciting, very competitive games,” he said. “Of course this Sunday it will be a very nice game to watch. It will be tough, I think Manchester United arrive in a very good level, with very good momentum.”

This match provided yet another opportunity to link Pochettino with the United job, a position he has yet to offer a definitive answer regarding his interest. This time, though, the question was regarding Solskjaer’s motivation to win this match given he has already come out and said he wants to be the full-time manager of United.

“Of course when you’re a manager or coach you cannot be focused on all the rumours. The most important thing is the motivation that we have to do our job in our best way,” Pochettino said during his Friday press conference. “Of course Manchester is going to come on Sunday trying to win. Of course for him it’s a massive motivation or challenge to manage Manchester United, like for me it’s a massive challenge to be in front for this football club, Tottenham.”

Pochettino does have some selection concerns with the availability of centre back Jan Vertonghen uncertain. The Spurs boss does not lack for options at the position to partner with Toby Alderweireld – whom Mourinho coveted for United this summer – but if Vertonghen cannot pair with his Belgian compatriot, Davinson Sanchez is expected to continue in the role.

This will be the final match for winger Heung-Min Son in the short term, as the South Korea international will join his compatriots for the Asian Cup. Spurs and South Korea worked out an arrangement in which Son would join them after this match, something that has been a massive benefit for Spurs as Son has been in blistering form with seven goals and five assists in his last six matches.

Tottenham are unbeaten in their last six league matches versus United (3-3-0), winning the last three on the trot. United, though, did beat Spurs 2-1 in the last meeting at Wembley in April in the FA Cup semifinals, getting goals from Alexis Sanchez and Ander Herrera to offset an early strike from Dele Alli.


Per Bet365, Spurs are 11/10 favourites to complete their first league double over United in 29 seasons, while United are 13/5 underdogs to maintain their 100 percent mark under Solskjaer. The odds of the sides splitting the points are just behind that at 27/10.

Oddsmakers are expecting another match over 2.5 goals between the clubs, with 8/13 odds compared to 13/10 for under that threshold. They also expect both teams to score in this match, with 8/15 odds United and the Lilywhites bag at least one goal compared to 11/8 odds either David De Gea or Hugo Lloris record a clean sheet.

Kane, not surprisingly, leads the list of first goal-scorers at 3/1, with understudy Fernando Llorente second at 9/2. Perhaps surprisingly, Lukaku rounds out the top three at 5/1, with Moura (6/1) and the in-form Son (13/2) just off that pace. United wingers Anthony Martial (7/1) and Alexis Sanchez (8/1) are next, followed by Alli (8/1) and then a quartet of players at 17/2 — Rashford and Pogba for United, Eriksen and Lamela for Spurs.

For goal-scorers over the course of 90 minutes, Kane is better than even money at 8/11, while Lukaku is the reverse at 11/8. In between is Llorente at 6/5. Moura is 13/8, with Son offering a slightly appealing return at 15/8. Martial is next at 2/1, with Sanchez and Alli again joined together, this time at 9/4.

As United’s usual penalty taker, Pogba is a 5/2 option, level with Rashford, Lamela, and Eriksen.


After five matches, the first clues of what United are going to be all about for the next five months will start being offered with this match. On the bright side, Solskjaer has done everything he should have done with this stretch of schedule: instill a can-do attitude in the offence, have them pour forward and let their attacking talents speak for themselves.

Pogba has been at the heart of this renaissance, finally free to be the attacking midfielder he wants to be with Matic and Herrera providing cover behind him. He is not lacking defensive responsibility, it is just easier to have him in a support role doing so as opposed to counting on him to be the guy who makes those plays Matic and Herrera make consistently.

While it’s fair to say there is pressure on Tottenham in this match, they have done a good job answering to the self-administered pressure they put on themselves as opposed to what the outside world puts on them. Yes, the Wolves loss was “so Spursy,” but on other occasions — most notably their final three Champions League ties and Tuesday’s match against Chelsea — Pochettino’s men have emphatically answered the bell.

United have yet to get punched in the mouth under Solskjaer. No one knows that United are like under him when they trail because they have yet to trail since he has taken over. In fact, there has been only one match in the five they did not lead after the first half-hour.

No one has forced Solskjaer to alter his tactics since arriving at Old Trafford, and how Spurs play this game — especially if Pochettino throws the diamond midfield at them — wil be the first offerings of the Norwegian’s tactical acumen.

Given that Spurs have recorded three consecutive clean sheets, the hedge is the central pairing of Alderweireld and Sanchez remain for this contest.

United’s attack has done well to camouflage their one primary weakness — the back four. Yes they have their first-choice central pairing together because no one else is available, but Lindelof and Jones are not going to get much help if Son Kane, Alli, Moura and Eriksen are all running circles around Matic and Herrera like they were practice cones.

There is little need to go wide on United when you can overflow the middle and force Jones and Lindelof into making decisions. Alli could wind up making the biggest impact of all if he is able to carry to the top of the penalty area.

It is time for Spurs to stand up and be counted. And the expectation is they do just that at Wembley to keep it a three-team race.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 3, Manchester United 1.


West Ham United (8-4-9) vs. Arsenal (12-5-4)
Brighton and Hove Albion (7-5-9) vs. Liverpool (17-3-1)
Leicester City (9-4-8) vs. Southampton (3-7-11)
Chelsea (13-5-3) vs. Newcastle United (4-6-11)

2019 Carabao Cup 1st Leg Semifinal Preview — Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea

Neither Mauricio Pochettino nor Maurizio Sarri have a trophy to their credit despite impressive coaching credentials. Both look to take a huge step toward that first piece of silverware Tuesday when Tottenham Hotspur host Chelsea in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semifinal at Wembley Stadium.


Pochettino’s Spurs, who are also one spot ahead of the Pensioners in the table in third place, bested three Premier League opponents to reach the final four for the first time since finishing runners-up in 2015. The League Cup was the last trophy the Lilywhites claimed, doing so in 2008 by defeating Chelsea 2-1 after extra time on a goal by Jonathan Woodgate in the 94th minute.

It was the first League Cup final played at new Wembley Stadium, which the Spurs continue to use as home grounds while the finishing touches are part on the renovated but overdue to open White Hart Lane, and Spurs would like nothing more than history to repeat itself with a first-leg win in this London derby.

As has been the case since the sacking of Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, the pre-match press conference again turned into reading tea leaves about Pochettino’s future, whether it is with Spurs, potentially at United or even possibly Real Madrid. The Argentine offered no clues about a potential direction, though a few eyebrows were raised with some of his comments.

“Daniel Levy [the Tottenham chairman] is creating a legacy that is going to be amazing for the club,” he said according to The Times, vacillating between wariness of staying too long at a club as Arsene Wenger did at Arsenal while also sounding hopeful he could be with Tottenham for a long run.. “I can see in the future Tottenham winning trophies.

“I don’t know if that will be with us, without us; in one year, in five years. But all the foundations are down for one day to start to win titles and be like other successful clubs.”

Tottenham have won back-to-back matches since their surprising 3-1 home loss to Wolverhampton on Dec. 29, with a 3-0 league victory at Cardiff City and a 7-0 hammering of League Two side Tranmere Rovers in the third round of the FA Cup on Tuesday. Pochettino was able to overturn eight of his starting XI from the win at Cardiff, with Heung-Min Son continuing to terrorise opponents with a goal and two assists.

The South Korea international, who will join his compatriots after Sunday’s game against Manchester United to participate in the Asian Cup, has seven goals and four assists in his last six matches across all competitions.

Chelsea have not lacked for trophies since losing that 2008 League Cup final, having won three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, one League Cup, and of course, the 2012 Champions League title. Sarri, a coaching vagabond who only rose to international prominence in his last two stops in Italy at Serie A with Empoli and Napoli, has never won a trophy in a coaching career that spans more than 30 years.

But what was on the Italian’s mind was the chastening 3-1 defeat to Spurs at Wembley on Nov. 24 in which Pochettino turned the match on its ear by using a diamond midfield that allowed his two attackers up front to isolate playmaker Jorginho in space and take advantage of his lack of pace.

Dele Alli and Harry Kane scored in the first 16 minutes of the game before Son tore around Jorginho for a third on 54 minutes as Sarri took his first loss after coming to Stamford Bridge in the summer.

“I saw my players in the dressing room after the match. They were destroyed,” Sarri told the club’s official website. “They needed only to realise why the match was so bad. It was very easy. The video of the first 15 minutes was clear. There was a big difference in mentality, aggressiveness, determination. It was clear for me and also the players.

“That match was really strange. It was after the international break, and probably we were not able to arrive to the match with the right mentality and focus. It can happen. Now we need to play another match.”

Chelsea have traversed the path to the semifinals by the slimmest of margins, winning each of the three matches by one goal. It took a moment of late magic by Eden Hazard to get by Liverpool at Anfield before defeating former Chelsea midfielder-turned-manager Frankie Lampard and Championship side Derby County in a peculiar match that featured Derby scoring two own goals in addition to two against Chelsea before Cesc Fabregas scored the winner.

In their most recent Carabao Cup match, it took another late goal from Hazard as the Blues saw off Bournemouth at home last month. Chelsea are unbeaten in their last four matches in all competitions (3-1-0) after getting a brace from Alvaro Morata — the Spain international’s first goals since Nov. 29 — on either side of halftime in a 2-0 FA Cup triumph over Nottingham Forest on Saturday.

The win came at a price, though, as Ruben Loftus-Cheek was forced off in the first half with an injury. Sarri is sweating out late fitness tests for both winger Willian and centre-forward Olivier Giroud though teenage starlet Callum Hudson-Odoi, who set up both of Morata’s goals, is expected to retain his starting spot for this match.

“I know for me he is a very important player, he‘s young and now he’s improving, especially in the defensive phase,” Sarri noted of Hudson-Odoi, who has been linked with a move to Bayern Munich. “I think he played really well in the last match. He was in trouble in the game at Watford but only because he had a problem in his hamstring. I’m really very happy with him, I don’t know the situation with the club but for me he’s an important player.”

Sarri, like Pochettino, was able to overturn eight players from the last league match, with Morata, David Luiz and Ross Barkley the holdovers.


Sept. 26 — D vs. Watford 2-2 in third round at Milton Keynes, advanced 4-2 on PKs
(Success 46′, Alli (PK) 81′, Lamela 86′, Capoue 89′)
Oct. 31 — W at West Ham 3-1 in round of 16
(Son 16′, 51′; Perez 71′, Llorente 75′)
Dec. 19 — W at Arsenal 2-0 in quarterfinal
(Son 20′, Alli 59′)


Sept. 26 — W at Liverpool 2-1 in third round
(Sturridge 58′, Emerson 79′, Hazard 85′)
Oct. 31 — W vs. Derby County 3-2 in round of 16
(Tomori (OG) 5′, Marriott 9′, Keogh (OG) 21′, Waghorn 27′, Fabregas 41′)
Dec. 19 — W vs. Bournemouth 1-0 in quarterfinal
(Hazard 84′)


Per Bet365, Tottenham are 5/4 favourites to hold serve with a victory at Wembley, while Chelsea are 9/4 underdogs to carry a victory back with them for the second leg at Stamford Bridge. The odds of the sides playing to a draw are 13/5.

Oddsmakers are giving the lean for over the 2.5-goal threshold at 4/5 odds compared to even money for the under pick. Both teams are expected to score for the second time in as many meetings, with 4/6 odds on that occurring compared to 11/10 for at least one clean sheet in either direction.

As expected, Kane leads the way for first goal-scorer options at 3/1, with understudy Fernando Llorente second at 9/2, pipping out Hazard (5/1). With the possibility of Giroud potentially shaking off an ankle injury and being available, the France international has 6/1 odds while Spurs’ Lucas Moura is 13/2 and Morata is 7/1 along with the very in-form Son.

Kane is the only player who is better than even money to score over the 90 minutes, offering a 5/6 return. Llorente has 13/10 odds, while Hazard is a 6/4 selection. Giroud is 15/8, with Moura starting the next level at 2/1. Morata and Son are both 11/5 options, with Alli at 5/2, Willian at 11/4, and Spurs playmakers Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela both 13/4.


Sarri hammered home the point to anyone who would listen about how bad Chelsea were in the first 15 minutes of their loss to Tottenham Hotspur and the need to play better. The good news is Chelsea could not conceivably play any worse as the 2-1-2 part of the 4-1-2-1-2 formation Pochettino unveiled created huge pockets of space Alli, Kane, Son, and Christian Eriksen tore through.

The loss also showed just how much of a perfectionist Sarri is because he leveled a stunning double-barreled criticism of N’Golo Kante after the match, which was all the more surprising considering Kante’s positioning in Sarri’s 4-3-3 is not his ideal place on the pitch given his prowess as a disruptive force in the midfield. The France international has since played better and to Sarri’s liking, but it did also reveal the Italian knew what he was talking about when he said he was in the early stages of rebuilding the 2017 Premier League title winners.

Both sides are expected to use fairly strong lineups for this first leg after being able to rest most of their regulars. Sarri probably wasn’t thrilled he had to use Hazard as an injury replacement before halftime, but that is the way things have been going for the Pensioners of late with regards to injury.

The last piece of curiosity with Chelsea comes with Cesc Fabregas, who was thought to have made his farewell this weekend in the win over Nottingham Forest. The Spaniard has a deal in place to move to Monaco, but Sarri wants a replacement to fill the role of Jorginho’s understudy — Fabregas’ role this season — before letting him move to the Ligue 1 side.

He is not expected to be among the substitutes for this match despite being at Cobham this week for training.

As for this match, it will likely be a cagey one, though the expectation will be for Chelsea to be wary of pouring forward too many bodies out of fear of being exposed like they were in the first meeting. Son could be the X-factor in this match given his scintillating form, with Spurs being able to find offence easier than Chelsea in this match.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 1, Chelsea 0.


Manchester City vs. Burton Albion

2018-19 EPL Match Day 20 Preview — Tottenham Hotspur (15-0-4) vs. Wolverhampton (7-5-7)

In blistering form and now the primary stalkers to table-toppers Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur look for their sixth league win on the bounce Saturday when they host Wolverhampton at Wembley Stadium.


Spurs (15-0-4) have run riot on opponents the last two matches, smashing six past Everton at Goodison Park last weekend and then adding another five at home against Bournemouth on the short turnaround for Boxing Day. Heung-Min Son continued his scintillating form with a brace on either side of halftime while Harry Kane moved into a tie for the league lead with his 12th goal as the Lilywhites overtook Manchester City for second in the table and are six points back of Liverpool.

The 45 points at the halfway mark are the most accumulated by Spurs in the Premier League era, topping the previous standard of 42 in 2011-12. As impressive as Spurs have looked over their last 180 minutes, manager Mauricio Pochettino was quick to manage expectations for his side as they have now become the hunted by pipping the reigning champions for the moment.

“It is going to be tougher than before now,” Pochettino told The Times post-match. “Now you start to show your face and everyone wants to kill you. We must keep humble, working hard.”

Son embodies both of those characteristics as the South Korea international is enjoying the best form of his career with the Lilywhites. He has recorded back-to-back two-goal games and has eight goals in as many league starts. Kane raised his overall goal haul to a team-best 16 this term and has notched 71 in his last 86 league contests dating back to the start 2016-17.

“There’s a buzz around the team at the moment, we’re winning games and everyone is confident,” right back Kyle Walker-Peters told the Spurs’ official website after the 21-year-old became the youngest player in Premier League history to record a three-assist game since Jermaine Pennant accomplished the feat for Leeds United in 2003. “When I step on that pitch I have that confidence as well.”

The quick turnaround once again leaves playmaker Dele Alli’s status in limbo after he was held out due to a knee injury that forced him off at halftime versus Everton. Perhaps with an eye on this match, Pochettino rested Erik Lamela as a potential straight-up swap for Christian Eriksen in the middle of his three across in Spurs’ usual 4-2-3-1 set-up.

While Spurs pour in goals from every angle, Wolves (7-5-7) continue to graft their way to the first goal of a promoted side – safety for a second straight season. Wolverhampton bounced back from their loss to Liverpool with a 1-1 draw at Fulham on Boxing Day, snatching a late point through Roman Saiss’ goal on 85 minutes.

Still, there are some concerns for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side as they again struggled to deal with the second ball from set pieces. That led to Fulham’s goal in the 74th minute, and they were somewhat fortunate to salvage the point after centre back Conor Coady cleared a shot by Cottagers striker Aleksander Mitrovic off the line in stoppage time. Nuno, though, was pleased with his team’s fight in the second half despite failing to produce a clean sheet for the 10th time in 11 league matches.

“We had a lot of the ball and moved the ball around, but Fulham were so organised and there was no space. It was so tight, so compact, which made it difficult,” the manager explained to the club’s official website. “When they scored I really felt it was unfair because we had so much of the ball. Even though we didn’t have clear chances, we were closer to achieving a goal. I think we were rewarded when we scored, but it was tough, a tough game.

“I think it proves, that as the season goes on, these kind of games will be more and more likely because the results mean so much to the teams. The football is not so open and well played.”

Nuno will likely restore Ruben Neves to the starting XI after resting him Wednesday, and it is also likely Ivan Cavaleiro, who helped set up Saiss’ equaliser, will get the start this time in place of an ineffective Adama Traore at left wing in Wolves’ 3-4-1-2 formation.

Another key tactical decision will be whether he again uses Morgan Gibbs-White in a three-quarters role underneath the strikers against a high-quality Spurs side or reverts back to the 3-4-3 he used in the reverse fixture in which Raul Jimenez led the line and was flanked by Cavaleiro and Helder Costa.

Spurs looked to be easy winners at Molineux in November after Kane’s goal on 61 minutes provided a 3-0 advantage, but Juan Foyth – making his Premier League debut in central defence – had a meltdown with two fouls that Neves and Jimenez converted from the spot to draw Wolves within one by the 79th minute.

Tottenham, though, saw the match out to improve to 5-2-2 versus Wolves in the Premier League era. The Lilywhites are 2-1-1 at home against Wolverhampton in Premier League play, and the sides played to a 1-1 draw in 2012 in the last top-flight meeting in London.


Per Bet365, Spurs are 2/5 favourites to continue their roll and pick up another three points. Wolverhampton are 17/2 underdogs to pull off a shock upset and consolidate their top-half status, and there are 19/5 odds on the sides splitting the points.

Tottenham’s form has made the over pick for the 2.5 goals threshold a more likely outcome with 8/11 odds compared to 11/10 to finish with two or fewer goals. Oddsmakers do not seem all that convinced Wolves will find a goal at Wembley, however, with 4/5 odds on a clean sheet being posted compared to 19/20 for both teams scoring.

Kane leads the line for first goal-scorers at 9/4, with the in-form Son third at 5/1 behind Fernando Llorente (4/1). Moura is 11/2, while Alli rounds out the top five at 13/2 despite the possibility he will start this match on the bench. Eriksen and Lamela both have 7/1 odds, and Mexico international Jimenez is Wolves’ top option at 10/1.

Kane has 8/13 odds to put one in the back of the net over the course of 90 minutes, with Llorente (6/5) and Son (6/4) close to even money. Moura is also a strong selection at 13/8, with Alli at 2/1 and Lamela and Eriksen together again — this time at 21/10. Jimenez is a 3/1 selection for Wolves, with Leo Bonatini at 7/2 while Cavaleiro and Costa are 9/2 options.


If Nuno is true to his word and will not change his style, then there is evey reason to believe the only three changes he will make is across his midfield to restore Neves for Saiss and Costa for Moutinho while ending the Traore experiment and putting Cavaleiro up front on the right.

That also means keeping Gibbs-White as a pivot in the midfield, which could prove beneficial against what could be a young Spurs pairing in defensive midfield with Harry Winks and Oliver Skipp.

All that noise, however, will matter little if Wolves’ back three of Boly, Coady and Bennett cannot find a way to deal with a rampant Spurs side that has two players in dynamite form in Kane and Son. Tottenham actually had to make an adjustment in the reverse fixture after Mousa Dembele was forced off after just seven minutes due to injury. Son entered the game, assisted on a goal by Lamela on 27 minutes, and then Spurs added a second through Moura on the half-hour and should have cruised were it not for Foyth’s youthful indiscretions in the second 45.

The Lilywhites are simply too irresistible to believe in any other outcome other than a win for the hosts, though Wolves have acquitted themselves well against the Big Six all season. Nuno’s team also showed plenty of fight in making a match of the reverse fixture, but this is a contest that could pay dividends in March and April when Wolves are securing their top-flight status for next season and Gibbs-White is pulling the strings with more confidence in that three-quarters role.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 3, Wolverhampton 0.


Watford (8-3-8) vs. Newcastle United (4-5-10)
Liverpool (16-3-0) vs. Arsenal (11-5-3)
Southampton (3-6-10) vs. Manchester City (14-2-3)
Manchester United (9-5-5) vs. Bournemouth (8-2-9)

World Cup Recap Match 42 — South Korea 2, Germany 0

Germany became the latest reigning World Cup champion to make a shocking exit in group play trying to repeat as champion, paying for its sins of poor finishing with a stunning 2-0 loss to South Korea to close Group F play Wednesday in Kazan.

There will be many questions asked of Die Mannschaft, who failed to advance out of group play for the first time in 17 World Cup appearances since being banned from the 1950 edition. Manager Joachim Low, who was overseeing his fourth World Cup and had reached at least the semifinals or better in the previous three, will be grilled for leaving pacy attacker Leroy Sane off the roster as well as a slew of personnel decisions over the three matches.

The European power became the third straight defending champion and fourth in the last five World Cup tournaments to be eliminated in group play, joining France (2002), Italy (2010) and Spain (2014). Trying to leave it late for a second straight match after Toni Kroos’ sublime stoppage-time winner versus Sweden, Die Mannschaft were instead left to rue their missed chances while being thwarted by an inspired performance from South Korea goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo, who finished with six saves.

To add further insult, the result lifted South Korea into third place in the group over Germany on goal difference as Sweden and Mexico progressed to the knockout round. It was the second time the Taegeuk Warriors recorded a third-match result to help a CONCACAF side reach the round of 16, with their 1-0 victory over Portugal as co-hosts in 2002 letting the United States advance.

Low made five changes to the starting XI that beat Sweden, most notably restoring Mesut Ozil as an attacking midfielder over Julian Draxler and debuting a new pairing in central defense with Mats Hummels and Niklas Sule to replace the suspended Jerome Boateng and the ineffective Antonio Rudiger.

South Korea made four changes as it looked to buck the long odds against qualifying, which required a victory in this game as well as a lopsided victory by Mexico in the other match. The first quarter-hour was a feeling-out process, with Jung Woo-young getting a yellow card in the eighth minute for steamrolling Ozil.

South Korea had the first scoring chance in the 19th minute when Germany keeper Manuel Neuer spilled a free kick by Jung from 30 yards, but he recovered to slap the ball away before a sliding Son Heung-min could get his foot to it.

Son had another chance in the 25th minute, lashing a volley from 12 yards following a poor Germany clearance high and wide of the right post. Die Mannschaft created a half-chance off a corner in the 39th minute, with Jo needing to dive on top of the ball after Hummels had a shot from the top of the six-yard box.

The 0-0 scoreline after 45 minutes meant Germany failed to score a first-half goal in its three group matches. Yet Low’s team was still in good shape to advance since Mexico and Sweden were also scoreless.

Die Mannschaft started the second half with more urgency, with Leon Goretzka forcing a diving save from Jo on an unmarked header following a cross from Joshua Kimmich in the 48th minute, and Timo Werner lashing a volley wide of the left post after a smart cutback pass from the end line by Jonas Hector three minutes later.

Meanwhile, Sweden had grabbed a 1-0 lead shortly after Jo’s save, adding another chapter of misery for Germany. Low introduced Mario Gomez right before the hour, replenishing the attacking energy as Kroos went wide in the 61st minute after a layoff from Ozil.

The Blagult doubled their lead, throwing Germany a lifeline as they now needed just one goal to advance. Thomas Muller came on for Goretzka as Germany tilted the pitch further, and Son was booked for diving by referee Mark Geiger in the 65th minute.

Gomez headed straight at Jo in the 68th minute, and South Korea’s defenders were doing all they can to help the cause by throwing themselves in front of shots. As Die Mannschaft kept pouring numbers forward, they were becoming increasingly exposed at the back, with the Taegeuk Warriors trying to send balls over the top for Son to race after.

Jo got down low to stop the ball after Kimmich curled in a cross in the 79th minute, while Muller and Marco Reus spurned chances by going wide. Ozil laid off a pass for Kroos, whose shot from 20 yards blazed over the bar. South Korea continued to get forward without making any scoring chances, raising the anxiety levels of both Germany and Mexico.

The champions’ best chance came in the 87th minute when Hummels made a total mess of a perfect cross by Ozil as his unmarked header from eight yards straight on hit his shoulder and went well wide of the right post.

South Korea finally found its breakthrough on a goal-mouth scramble following a corner as Kim Young-gwon poked the ball past Neuer in the 92nd minute. The linesman raised his flag saying Kim was offsides, but Geiger consulted VAR and noticed that Kroos had played the ball back to Sule, which also played Kim onside and reversed the call for a good goal.

Now it was desperate times for the four-time champion as Neuer pushed forward as an extra attacker as Germany now needed two goals to advance. The Taegeuk Warriors, though, dashed those dreams in the sixth minute of a seemingly interminable amount of stoppage time as Son chased down a long clearance by Ju Se-Jong and rolled the ball into an empty net to secure South Korea’s most famous World Cup victory and an infamous loss for Die Mannschaft that will likely result in a roster makeover ahead of qualifying for the 2020 European Championship.



2018 World Cup — Group F Sweden vs South Korea Match Preview

With Group F wide open following Mexico’s shock win over reigning champion Germany, Sweden and South Korea look to take full advantage Monday as they try to join El Tri atop the group in Nizhny Novgorod.

Sunday’s 1-0 victory by Mexico means everything is to play for as all four teams now have a chance to advance. Sweden is making its first World Cup appearance since 2006, having missed out on South Africa and Brazil.

South Korea is making its ninth consecutive appearance in football’s biggest tournament, but its only two progressions out of group play came with its fourth-place finish as co-host in 2002 and round of 16 exit eight years later.

There is already a hint of controversy to this match as Taegeuk Warriors coach Shin Tae-young admitted his players have been swapping jerseys to keep their strategy under wraps for this contest and made no efforts to hide his reasoning at the press conference.

“In my opinion, I think when the Europeans look at us Asians, I think it could be one of the reasons,” Shin said. “I think we wanted to confuse the Swedish team. That’s why we did that.

“We swapped them around because we didn’t want to show our opponents anything. Ki Sung-yueng is probably known, as is Son Heung-min, but for the other players it might be a little bit confusing.


Sweden ended its 12-year World Cup drought in surprising fashion. The Blagult finished runners-up to France in Group A of UEFA qualifying and then held Italy scoreless over the two-legged playoff, with Jakob Johansson’s goal in the first leg standing as the playoff winner.

When Sweden does qualify for a World Cup, it usually makes it a point to stick around. It has reached the round of 16 in its last two appearances, and before that, finished third in the United States in 1994. The Blagult’s best finish was a runners-up showing as hosts in 1958 when they lost to Brazil in the final.

After storming through second-round qualifying in Asia by winning all eight of its matches by a 27-0 scoreline, South Korea had a tougher time of it in the final round but still directly qualified for Russia by finishing second to Iran in Group A.

The Reds totaled just 11 goals in their 10 qualifiers and lost at both 2022 World Cup host Qatar and China during group play. They barely claimed the automatic berth, drawing Uzbekistan on the final match day while third-place Syria, needing a win at Iran to overtake South Korea, could only get a draw.

South Korea has won just four matches in group play in its eight previous World Cup appearances, with two coming as co-host in 2002. The Reds finished last in Group H in Brazil four years ago, claiming a draw with Russia in their opening matches before losing to Algeria and Belgium.


Both teams are expected to use 4-4-2 formations, but Sweden’s offense has failed to catch since the retirement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from international play. Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen continue to be his best options, but the Blagult were shut out in both of their most recent friendlies against Denmark and Peru and scored three goals while going 1-3-2 in the calendar year.

Sweden’s back line is its best asset with Mikael Granqvist and Victor Lindelof teaming in central defense, though Lindelof did have an uneven season at Manchester United. Sebastian Larsson, who is the only player with 100 caps on the squad, will patrol the midfield, and Emil Forsberg will try to use his pace to create opportunities for Berg and Toivonen.

South Korea has a dynamic midfield with captain Ki Sung-Yueng flanked by Lee Jae-Sung and Lee Sung-Woo. Up front, underrated Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-Min leads the line and is coming off a solid season in England in which he had 18 goals in all competitions. He also has 21 goals in 67 international appearances for the Reds.

Ki is the only centurion on South Korea with 102 caps, while Son is one of five other players with at least 50 appearances.


Sweden – Emil Forsberg (MF)

Though Sweden is in need of a goal-scorer, Forsberg will be counted on to at least create the scoring opportunities that lead to goals. The Leipzig midfielder had 21 assists in the 2016-17 season but struggled through an injury-plagued campaign that saw him total four goals and four assists. Forsberg did have four goals in qualifying for the Blagult, so he can force the issue if Berg and Toivonen are misfiring.

South Korea – Son Heung-Min (F)

Often hidden behind the large spotlight afforded to Harry Kane and Dele Alli, Son has an impressive work rate and has a knack of popping up in the right place at the right time to score goals. He scored seven goals during South Korea’s qualifying process and scored a pair of match-winners in friendlies over the past eight months.


Forsberg is rumored to be in the middle of a bidding war as Arsenal, Atletico Madrid and Juventus are reportedly lining up for his services and pondering the £50 million valuation Leipzig have put on the Sweden international.

With Swansea City relegated from the English Premier League, Ki has already declared he will leave the Wales side, with West Ham and AC Milan reportedly among those showing interest.


Per Ladbrokes, Sweden is listed as a 21-20 favorite, while South Korea gets a return of 3-1 to win. For those who think the match will end level, the odds are 2-1. For first goal-scorers, Berg gets top billing at 7-2, and compatriots Isaac Thelin and John Guidetti are 11-2 while Toivonen is 6-1. Son is South Korea’s top choice at 13-2 odds.


Both teams sputtered in their World Cup run-ups, with South Korea winning just once in its last six matches and being shut out by both Bolivia and Senegal in its final two. While Son enjoyed success in Tottenham, his club teammates are light years better than his country ones, which means he will have to try and win one-on-one battles to find chances to score.

That will be a tall order against Granqvist and Lindelof, and it may mean he plays behind Hwang Hee-chan in a three-quarters role to better link up with Ki in the midfield.

Sweden has the same offensive issues, though its lack of star power is more glaring since Berg and Toivonen are not on Son’s level. Forsberg is going to have to put in a stellar performance and help draw fouls in the final third to make use of his dead-ball skills.

This will be a tight match that will see its share of spurned scoring chances, even if they are of half-quality. But with a chance to move three points clear of Germany before playing them, someone is going to emerge a winner. And it will be South Korea through Son.