Premier League Spotlight

Cool heads needed at Tottenham

December 20, 2013
By James Dall

Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.

Stubborn Villas-Boas paid the price

Tottenham protest red card SPOTLIGHT
PA PhotosWith the club just five points off fourth place, the time to panic is not now for Tottenham.

It became increasingly difficult to defend Andre Villas-Boas. Conceding five goals at home against a top-four rival has that effect. Quite literally, his Tottenham Hotspur tenure had become defenceless. It wasn't the crouching on the sidelines or a public spat with a newspaper journalist that did for AVB. Instead it was a repetition of errors -- it did seem from the outside he was a stubborn man. Only so much resistance to change can be tolerated before something snaps.

The decision to sever ties with the former Chelsea manager was made 24 hours after Liverpool had inflicted their humiliation, and it remains to be seen if we will be seeing him coaching on these shores again in the future. His reputation, built on one magnificent season at Porto, has been stained, whether rightfully or wrongly, by stints at two clubs with infamously ruthless men making the decisions. For Tottenham, such a reaction before a hectic festive schedule could prove an inspired or catastrophic one.

Former Spurs midfielder Tim Sherwood has an opportunity to perhaps make the vacant position his own on a permanent basis -- although Wednesday's Capital One Cup exit wasn't the ideal first interview. Having impressed with his work helping to develop the club's youngsters, Sherwood will make a significant step up when making his Premier League coaching bow at Southampton on Sunday. The opposition's boss, Mauricio Pochettino, is one of a handful to be linked with succeeding Villas-Boas, which makes for a nice subplot to the proceedings.

Sherwood's second team selection will be of note, as will his tactics. The midfield trio of Sandro, Mousa Dembele and Paulinho chosen by Villas-Boas versus Liverpool failed to control the match, let alone carve out goal-scoring opportunities -- not one shot on target was managed during the 90 minutes. Southampton, like Brendan Rodgers' team, are neat in position, and also utilise runners from deep with cute passes, so Sherwood might also be wise to drop his defensive line that bit deeper and perhaps ponder whether the 4-4-2 he used against West Ham United would be overrun by the Saints in the centre of the park.

Top spot within Liverpool's grasp

With Liverpool brilliant and Tottenham dross, it was the perfect storm for a 5-0 result that did not flatter the victor. If you were being churlish, it could be argued that Spurs' part in the shellacking smudges the gloss a touch. Yet as it is the festive season, let's not dwell on nit-picking and instead accept that the performance was the right way to ease fears that life in captain Steven Gerrard's absence, as well as Daniel Sturridge's, does not in fact look set to bring the Reds to their knees -- though three matches in seven days will test that doomsday theory further.

Instead, midfielder Jordan Henderson appeared to relish the extra responsibility granted to him without Gerrard, while of course any team with the devastatingly gifted footballer that is Luis Suarez has the potential to not just win, but to do so emphatically. With massive matches against Manchester City and Chelsea to come, Liverpool go into their meeting with Cardiff City on Saturday lunchtime knowing three points would put them top of the table until at least Monday night, which is rather an incentive.

Are Man City title favourites?

Manuel Pellegrini Manchester City shout SPOTLIGHT
PA PhotosIt has been said the title is Manuel Pellegrini's to lose, though he must first guide them into first place.

Manchester City are the favourites for the title -- this is the latest opinion. Their dismantling of Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium, where they have also embarrassed both Manchester United and Tottenham, coupled with a squad that has outstanding depth -- in the central defensive position aside -- means the Premier League crown apparently already hovers above Manuel Pelligrini's bonce. Yet, hold on one minute, a quick look at something called the "table" reveals City are fourth right now. Not first. They've also questions still to answer about their away form, continuing at Fulham this weekend. Until conviction is had regularly on their travels then maybe a pin should be put in the train of thought the title is presently theirs to lose.

West Brom roll the managerial dice

It seemed that West Bromwich Albion really wanted to justify their reasons for dismissing head coach Steve Clarke on Saturday, as if they knew the decision would cause some surprise and raise the hands of critics. The club cited "a 20 percent win percentage ... despite a substantial investment" after the Baggies finished eighth in the top flight last season. It's as if Clarke wouldn't miss scorer-of-17-league-goals-last-season Romelu Lukaku. Of course, six matches without a win makes the palms sweaty, but lest we forget this was a run that started unjustly at Stamford Bridge. West Brom will be crossing their fingers the decision goes down the Pochettino path rather than, say, that of Harry Redknapp at Queens Park Rangers.

Wenger vs. Mourinho

Strictly speaking this is a column about the weekend's football but let's allow some flexibility with just a few words on Monday night's game between Arsenal and Chelsea. Some sections of the press have a whiff of blood in their nostrils after the Gunners were battered and bruised at City. Indeed, Arsene Wenger's side face the prospect of a Christmas Day browse at the table that shows the club not top of the pile for the first time since the fourth game of the season. There can be no excuse of fatigue in this match, after nine days' rest, while Chelsea have had a League Cup departure at Sunderland to deal with. The truth is that all is not rosy at the Blues, with the side so far travelling poorly in the league this term and failing to convince even in victory. So what better time than now, then, for Arsene Wenger to record his first win over Jose Mourinho -- at the 10th time of asking.

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