Euro 2016 Predictions In The Form of #Narratives

So, here are my 2016 Euro predictions in the form of the media #narrative that I believe will emerge for each team out of the group stage. Essentially it will be the talking point and the go to “theme” for people like to me to bust out 500 words to at any point during the group stage and before the knock out round. Enjoy!

#Albania: Racism did Albania a favor in the sense that they were gifted 3 points during qualifying. Finish bottom of their group while possibly registering a point. “No Free Points Here”.

#Austria: WWI jokes will never stop. Until Austria smash Hungary. Austria makes it out of the group with wins against Hungary and Iceland, people are impressed by Arnautovic. “Plucky little Austria makes some noise”.

#Belgium: Absolutely loaded with talent, top to bottom. Hazard is the star of the show. Cruise though the group stage. “Golden Generation Destined For Silverware”.

#Croatia: The midfield dominates and comes up with flashes of brilliance, but and grind out results. Beat the Czechs, lose to Spain, draw with Turkey. “Possession Statistics Don’t Win Football Matches”.

#England: England don’t crack under pressure as Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy give defenses fits. Both score in the group stage in their particular fashion and England is through to the knockout rounds. Wayne Rooney annoyingly plays. “England buck trend, finals bound”.

#France: Not enough of a spine, pressure of hosting tournament is difficult. Make it through, but struggle along the way. “Leaky France, worriedly squeks through”.

#Germany: Older group, many similar faces from their world cup victory, will make it through the group but won’t dominate. “Germany older, not necessarily wiser”.

#Hungary: Teams like Hungary are what will make those upset with the expanded tournament upset. Hungary will limp through the group stage, perhaps drawing Iceland. “Expanded Euros Bad Idea”.

#Iceland: Will surprise many along the way, looked strong in qualifying. “Iceland Enjoying Their Summer In France”.

#Portugal: Same old Portugal, Ronaldo will be upset with his teammates and Pepe will do something stupid and get sent off. Will make it to the Round of 16, but no farther. “Pepe temper leaves Ronaldo Alone”.

#Italy: No Buffon, and Bonucci as the only “big name” defender. Strong in the midfield and exciting, but flaky attackers. “Problems at Both Ends As Italy Squeak Through”.

#Northern Ireland: Steven Davis is the only recognizable name on the list. ‘Nuff said. “What An Honor To Be Competing In Euro 2016”

#Poland: Some of the same names we’ve seen for quite some time, but one that we haven’t. Will be keen to get forward. “Milik Scores a brace”.

#Republic Of Ireland: Two MLS players in Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle representing their countires. Not enough quality to hang with Belgium or Italy. “MLS: Bad Career Choice”.

#Romania: Romania beat Albania and then lose to England and Switzerland. “Romania unable to draw Switzerland”

#Russia: Rough qualifying, not a ton of different goal scorers. If Dzyuba doesn’t show up, Russia will struggle. Also, managers last name is Slutsky. Just had to include it. “Russia Struggle To Score, Fail To Advance”.

#Slovakia: Hamsik and Skrtel are the only household names on the roster. Skrtel has a bad habit lately of giving away penalties. “Skrtel foul costs Slovakia”.

#Spain: Similar to Belgium, absolutely loaded with talent throughout the entire roster. “Will Spain Be Able To Up Their Game Against Quality Opponents?”

#Sweden: Seeing Zlatan at an international tournament will be fun. Too bad they won’t make it out of the group. “Ibra Golazos not enough to get Sweden out of Group”

#Switzerland:Shaqiri is going to be a cancer in the locker room, and spend a lot of the tournament shaking his head or throwing his arms in the air (but he will care). “Switzerland sneak Into knockout games”.

#Turkey: Qualified out of a very difficult group, assuming the Netherlands were a good team at one point. Finished third in that group, but were the best third place team. “Jury’s Still Out On Turkey”

#Ukraine: Don’t give up a ton of goals, not a lot of scoring either, outside of putting up three goals against Luxembourg and Belarus. Only six different goal scores during qualifying. Advance as one of the best third place teams. “In Difficult Group, Ukraine Impress”.

#Wales: Similar to Sweden, Gareth Bale won’t be able to carry the team very far. Could possibly get out of the group depending on how Russia turn out. “Strong Midfield and Bale Brilliance Fall Just Short”.

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Fiorentina Part II.

So this is a weird feeling isn’t it? Two bad results back to back. We’ve been lucky this season in that we haven’t had to have this awful, terrible, no good feeling too much, if at all. So with that attitude I think we’ll be able to turn things around on Thursday against Fiorentina.

So talk about a real injury bug this time around, huh? This is the first time this is getting to us this year but I don’t think it’s time to panic about injuries just yet. It may mean a bit of a “punt” on the Europa League, but so be it. Prioritizing here is necessary.

So news is out recently that Lloris did participate in training yesterday, however I think it’s safe to say that Vorm has done a fine enough job backstopping the team in the time that he’s had to. Sure he doesn’t breed as much confidence as Hugo does, but with that in mind, it would be a wise decision to leave Lloris out for one more game to ensure his health coming into the weekend match against Swansea.

The back line will see the most changes from the weekend against Palace. With Alderweireld resting against the Eagles I’m going to say that he and Wimmer will get the start in the center of the back line. Again, the question always comes to who is going to be alongside them in the fullback positions. Hoping for a little more attacking options I predict that Pochettino will double up on the Rose/Walker pairing. I think they provide more going forward and more pace in defense. I can’t imagine Spurs will attempt to defend for 90 minutes and win on away goals, therefore I think they’re going to try and take the game to Fiorentina and dictate the pace. So look for Walker and Rose to be very involved in the attack.

In the middle of the park Eric Dier will resume his role as the defensive half of the pivot. Getting a “rest” against Palace playing center back was good, but now we’ll see him back to what has become his best and “natural position” this year. Things get tricky here. Because Demebele is out with a groin injury. Pochettino has a few options here. Mason could handle the duties, he offers a bit more direct play but sometimes struggles to find a decisive pass. Pochettino could again opt for the Nabil Bentaleb experiment (something I would prefer against), or he could slide Delle Alli back into the attacking half of the pivot where he started this year. None of those options are particularly favorable and with Carroll still out, the one that might make me feel the most comfortable would be the Mason/Dier pairing. It might force some of the passing and link up play on to Dier’s shoulders and he may struggle with that, but it makes me much more comfortable than having Bentaleb in the team or removing Alli from the attacking band.

Behind the striker (notice how I didn’t say Harry Kane) will be Alli in the number 10 role, Lamela wide right, and Eriksen wide left. Having Lamela back in the line up will go a long way to picking up some of the attacking slack that has been missing in the last two games. Expect Chadli to come off the bench late in the game if need be. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Josh Onomah come off the bench in front of Nacer Chadli.

Up front will most likely not be Harry Kane. Apparently he broke his nose during the match against Palace. Using recent form and starting line up selection as a gauge, I would expect Son to start up top as the lone striker. If we have a lead late in the game and are working to shore up defensively, I could see him coming off and bringing in Chadli to clog the midfield and prevent Fiorentina from getting through the middle and into our attacking third.

This one is going to be hard to predict. Three of our best players are out injured and the last two results haven’t gone our way. I expect this to be another scrappy one but again expect Spurs to win this one. Worst case scenario it ends in a 1-1 draw and we have to play extra football. I’m predicting a 1-0 Spurs victory and on to the round of 16. Come on you Spurs.

Ignore The Panic Button

If I had asked you at the beginning of the season what our main objective this season was to be, would you have said the FA Cup? No? Me neither. Good to know we’re on the same page. I’m pretty bummed about the loss to Palace too. Losing isn’t fun. Especially when it’s at home to another team in London. But it could have been worse. And you know that red, covered, button that says “panic”? Yeah, don’t press that yet. The sky is not falling.

So with that in mind, let’s not forget that we’re still in second place in the League and have a real, tangible chance to win that competition. Which is, was, and should continue to be our main objective. Again, losing sucks, but there are at least some things we can point to in order to help ease the pain of this loss and continue the optimism going forward. For the first time this season we have been somewhat hit by the injury bug: Vertonghen is out, Lloris is out, and (apparently) Lamela is still sick. It’s never good to be missing players, but if there was a “better” set of matches for these guys to miss, I couldn’t have picked it. So let Lamela get to 100%, let Vertonghen continue to miss “matches of lesser consequence” , and let Hugo rest that shoulder so he is every bit as good as he will need to be down the stretch. Missing these three guys certainly makes our team less good, but allowing for other, still capable players, to get first team minutes is a good thing. It will only help us in the long run with our primary objective.

Pochettino also used this match for some quality rotation. I think Josh Onomah is a Premier League first team player, but he is certainly not in our “best 11”. However, he has appeared in all of our FA Cup matches and started in the first match against Leicester City. So it is not a massive surprise that Onomah was given the green light here against Palace. And to be fair to him, he did well. On top of that, Bentaleb has not played a ton of minutes since coming back from injury and is still in the process of getting fully up to speed. Any competitive time that he can get against quality competition is a good thing. We also need to remember how important resting Alderweireld is. The man has played in all 26 Premier League games, the first FA Cup match against Leicester City, and all of the Europa League matches. He needed a rest. And having recently rested Eric Dier, it made sense to play him at center back and to give Alderweireld the day off. Therefore, if this was a match (and a competition) that needed to be sacrificed in order to have a more interchangeable, fresher Premier League starting 11 for the final push, then I guess that’s something I can live with.

This was a match that Palace could, and did get fired up for. Adebayor playing against his old team allowed for a #Narrative to be created and provided some good chalk board material for Alan Pardew. However much you want to buy into that is up to you, but for a team currently struggling in the Premier League, any extra motivation is a good thing. This match also saw the return of Yannick Bolasie for the Eagles. Having been injured since December 19th, Crystal Palace have experienced a terrible run of form, including one win in their last 8 matches. That one win coming in the FA cup. The #Narrative, the return of Bolasie, and the only competition bringing them any success in the last few months all came together to create an almost perfect storm too much for Spurs to deal with on the day.

So after back to back not so great results at in Florence and at home, we as a collective fan base need to take a deep breath, remember our priorities, and prepare to play Fiorentina on Thursday, and Swansea on Sunday. Both of these matches are winnable and necessary for continued success this season.

And to remember an old conversation, if I would’ve asked you at the beginning of the year if you’d be happy being in second place in February, remember your answer, and then look the current Premier League Table.

Preview and Predictions Against Palace

So it’s an FA Cup weekend! Hooray? I don’t know, similar to my feelings about the Europa League, I’ve always held a grudge against the FA Cup. I thought that it somehow held us back in the league. Maybe it’s because this year we are already farther than I have ever seen Spurs advance in the FA Cup. Add to that it’s the fact that we have a pretty solid draw (no disrespect to Palace). Maybe it’s just because things have been so rosy around White Hart Lane this year that everything seems ok. Regardless, Spurs play tomorrow and I’m excited to watch them.

On to predictions!

I’m going to run through this essentially the same as I did last time, starting at the back and moving forward. So, in goal is obviously going to be Michel Vorm. It’s terrible that Lloris is injured, but in all honesty, he could not have picked a better time to get himself injured. With no league matches until next weekend, this is a perfect opportunity to let Vorm get some time and to give Hugo some much deserved time off. Even if it is time off to fix an injury. Moving into the back line, I’m honestly not sure. Davies and Trippier both went 90 minutes so it would stand to reason that Pochettino would go back to the Walker/Rose pairing. But considering this is an FA cup match I could see there being some sort of combination there. Palace do have Zaha out wide to the right so Spurs are going to want some pace to deal with that. Therefore, after all of that stream of conscious writing, I’m going to say that Pochettino goes back to the Walker/Rose pairing. Not a blazing hot take, but it’ll do. In the middle of the back line will continue to be Wimmer and Alderweireld. They simultaneously have been playing very well together while also needing more minutes to get a great partnership going. This game is just another opportunity to keep that going.

In the midfield, Eric Dier finally got rested against Fiorentina so I expect him to be in the defensive half of the midfield pivot combining with Dembele. Dembele came on at half time against Fiorentina so he is also relatively rested. Considering that Mason captained the squad and played 90 minutes on Thursday I couldn’t be surprised if he came on at some point (depending on the situation) in an attempt to get him more minutes and to get him up to speed.

Into the attacking band we go. Alli wasn’t great on Thursday (and probably should’ve been red carded) so I could see him taking a rest and sliding Eriksen into his that role. If that happens, expect to see Chadli and Lamela on either side of him. That leaves Son as an available substitute.

Up front will be Harry Kane all by himself. He was able to get himself at least a little bit of a rest against Fiorentina and will be looking to get things going again after a tough outing at Manchester City in his last start.

Now for a score line guess. Considering Spurs had an ugly game on Thursday in Italy, I think they will look to right the ship against, with all due respect to Crystal Palace, a weaker opponent. Therefore I think Spurs can win this one 2-0. Goal from Harry Kane. Come on you spurs.

Spurs Aren’t Dirty. Just Mean and Smart.

By now we’ve all probably seen some variation of the headline saying that Spurs are the “dirtiest” team in the Premier League. First off, I disagree with the idea that Tottenham are considered a dirty team based on the number of fouls they have committed. Secondly, I’m of the opinion that if teams do feel something strongly about Spurs, then that’s a good thing.

Committing fouls does not equal dirty. There are different kinds of fouls that happen all over the pitch throughout a 90 minute game of football. The vast majority of fouls committed by Tottenham are not what most reasonable fans would consider “dirty”. Spurs play a high tempo, high pressing, attacking brand of football. This means that often times players are moving very quickly, high up the pitch, in an effort to win the ball back in a position that will allow the attack to continue. Not to say that professional footballers are not well rounded, all around players, but to expect your “attacking band” to tackle as well as your more defensive players is unfair. On top of that, I think a lot of the fouls committed are what some would consider “professional fouls”. By that I mean they are fouls that players commit on purpose in an effort to slow the play down and allow the team to reset. This again is the result of the high pressing football that Pochettino has brought to White Hart Lane. Everyone on the pitch understands that Spurs have committed lots of players forward, often including both fullbacks, and in order to avoid an odd man rush going the other way, somebody commits a foul and everyone is able to reset themselves. Again, I wouldn’t consider this “dirty”. Sure, some of those fouls might be heavy, but heavy does not always equal dirty.

It’s also finally nice to have other teams in the Premier League actually feel something about Tottenham. In full disclosure, I have only supported this team for about 4 years. Not that I supported other teams, that’s just when I got into the Premier League. But I’ve supported the team long enough to understand the perceived personality of the club. I was watching one of the football chat shows on bein sports the other day and Michael Owen was telling a story about how when he played for Manchester United, Sir Alex would essentially say, “Come on lads, it’s Tottenham”. As if to say that all they had to do was pick up the physical play a bit, and Spurs would crumble. That is certainly not the case now. Players like Eric Dier, Erik Lamela, and Dele Alli all give Spurs that extra edge that quality teams need. Being able to put in a heavy challenge, to put opposing players under pressure, and to force opponents to move quicker than they would like to, all create a different, stronger personality for the team.

So I don’t think it’s fair to call Spurs a dirty team, or to say that we have some of the dirtiest players in the league. I think it’s the tactical set up that lends itself to a higher number of fouls. And maybe even more than that it’s a team that is willing to play hard for each other, and for the first time in a long time isn’t scared of anybody they come up against.

Why the Europa League Matters. This Year.

The Europa league for some time has been one of my least favorite things in the world. I blamed it for our underachieving in the league and often found myself hoping that Spurs would essentially punt on the Europa league and punt on the premier league if it meant a chance of finishing 6th instead of 5th. Thursday night football, while great for the NFL, was less good for the Lilywhites.

I’ve had somewhat of a change in heart this year. Maybe its because we not only have our hopes set on the top 4, but are actually locked in a title race with 12 games to go. I can’t believe I actually just typed those words. Maybe it’s because we finally have the squad depth to compete on several fronts. But I think most of all it has been an opportunity for Pochettino to express his philosophy and show why his philosophy works.

The big thing about Pochettino that everyone seems to go on and on about is his use of younger players and his faith in the youth system. Looking at our six Europa League games so far and the personnel involved, they break down as such:

The first game against Qarabag, Wimmer, Trippier, and Carroll all started. Winks and Clinton came on as substitutes. Now look at Tom Carroll coming on as a defensive option against Manchester City over the weekend. Against Monaco only Trippier started, but Carrol and Clinton came on as subs. Anderlecht saw Clinton, Trippier, and Davis get starts with Josh Onomah coming on as a substitute. In our second match up against Qarabag Davis and Trippier both got the start, with Carroll, Onomah, and Clinton all coming on as subs. And lastly, in a game against Monaco in which we had already qualified for the knockout rounds, Wimmer, Trippier, Davies, and Onomah all found themselves in Pochettino’s starting 11. Chadli, Bentaleb and Alli all came on as subs.

At the very least you could look at this and say it was a good opportunity for quality full back rotation. Look at the job Davies and Trippier did against Watford the other day. At the most, however, you could say that Pochettino knew exactly what he was doing and was placing specific people in specific, manageable roles for them to get a taste of the big time. A chance for people who may not get into the line up every weekend to feel part of a team that could accomplish something special. A chance for every member of the squad to feel valued and essential, and to build a winning team spirit that for so long has been desperately lacking at White Hart Lane. And lastly, to build that desire and that faith in one another that championship must have in order to claim England’s most valuable trophy.

Spurs vs. Manchester City Predictions

I think the obvious place to start is, well, at the back. Hugo is in goal, that’s a given. The two centerbacks are Kevin Wimmer and Toby, also a given. But then, what happens with the fullbacks? I know this is a pointless argument and one that really is just useful to fill word limits for a press release, but its my first fan post so it’s what I’m going with. In my humble opinion, Trippier comes out on the right. However the question mark is what to do on the left. Do you bring in Danny Rose to attempt to cover the pace of Sterling, or do you leave Davies in to try and be the more defensive of the two full backs? In all honesty, I would feel more comfortable with Davies at this point. I thought he had a well played game against Watford, and isn’t going to take any unnecessary risks. It’s not that the jury is still out on Danny Rose, its just more the fact that I’d like to take less risks at the back against City. Therefore, I think Walker and Davies at the back. That’s my fiery hot full back take for the day.

Obviously, Eric “I never sit” Dier will play in the more defensive half of the pivot, paired with Moussa. This is a pretty easy slam dunk in terms of personnel choices, but I think this match (and this weekend) can answer a lot of questions about teams’ title shots. Therefore I’m not taking any risks and think Poch will put out what could be considered to a “best 11”. And that is a Dier/Dembele pivot.

Lastly (and most fun-ly!) is the attacking band. I think the not starting of Alli was part rotation, part flu recovery. Therefore, I think he starts in the number 10 spot. Its been pretty clear in the last 2 games that when he has come on, the game changed immediately for the positive. So, with that in mind he starts and tries to take it to City right out of the gate.

Out to his right I think will be Lamela, although he will probably be the first to come off. I’ve always been a fan of Lamela ever since he’s gotten here, and he has really found his form this season, but things have been slightly less good the last few weeks. I’m not saying Lamela has been bad, but he just hasn’t been as great as he was earlier. And with all that being said, Son has continued to impress enough. He hasn’t been a world beater and the best thing ever coming off of the bench, but he is without a doubt a sufficient replacement late in games and a good starter when needed. But with that, I still think it’s Lamela who starts over Son.

Out to Alli’s other side will be Eriksen. He still is in the undropable category for me and will continue to stay there unless things drastically change for the worse.

Up front is Harry “the workhorse” Kane. He’s young, he’s hungry, he’s unstoppable. With a full week of rest there is no reason he can’t go another 90 minutes.

Now for the prediction time. I think all Spurs fans have a similar feeling right now. I think its pretty clear who has been playing better lately and for most of the season, and it’s the team in Lily White. However, I’m still absolutely terrified. What if my hopes and dreams are crushed? What I’m sad? I live in the Middle East and it’s a 7:15 PM kickoff, so what if we lose and I can’t sleep? But on the flip side, what if we win? And I’m happy. And everything good that I believe in the Universe is confirmed. There are so many emotions. I guess that’s why we love the football. But, through all of that, I’m going to semi pragmatic here and say that we draw this game 1-1. Our defense is For Real, we have the attacking options going forward, but I think this still going to be one of those games where yes, we do drop points, but I can’t be angry or upset if we go to the Etihad and come back with a draw. But oh boy if we win…..