Premier League Preview: why Spurs can challenge for the title

kane

Harry Kane – www.theguardian.com

Here are The Football Lab’s predictions for the weekend’s Premier League games. Swansea City look to end their bad run of form when they host Leicester, who are still, remarkably, second in the table. Tottenham are still unbeaten since the opening day and travel to the Hawthorns, where West Brom picked up a valuable win over Arsenal last time out.

Swansea v Leicester

This is crunch time for Garry Monk and Swansea City. Supporters want Monk to be the man that leads the club forward, the man that becomes an icon for the club over the next few years. There are some Swans fans that want Monk to stay in charge come what may, even if that means going down. He has been part of the club since their time in League Two, he cares passionately about the club and is part of Swansea City’s identity. The task for the board now is to balance those, perhaps sentimental, desires, with the need for instant results.

The short-term reality is that the Swans have been in poor form since the end of August, when they beat Manchester United. Monk, while loved by many of the fans, is not infallible and has made mistakes this season. He has stayed perhaps too loyal to established first team players, Gylfi Sigurdsson among others, who were not performing as well as they did last term.

However, the fact that striker Bafetimbi Gomis has been dropped to the bench for the last two matches suggests Monk is now prepared to be more ruthless. It might benefit Gomis to spend a few games watching from the sidelines, because it will give him some respite and enhance his hunger to work for a place in the team. Gomis’ replacement, Eder, worked hard in the game against Liverpool and clearly has some pace, even if he is yet to prove himself as a natural Premier League finisher. Although Swansea lost 1-0 at Anfield, the goal they conceded was a dubiously-awarded penalty and a lot of players showed their desire to play for Monk by putting in a workmanlike performance. If Swansea can find the creativity they showed in the early weeks of the season, there is potential for results to improve drastically, because the team has conceded fewer goals than Leicester City, who are joint-top.

In many ways, Jamie Vardy’s incredible form has perhaps papered over the team’s defensive cracks. They have been poor at defending set pieces this season while the likes of Craig Morgan and Robert Huth have at times been exposed for their lack of pace.

So far, teams have not shown Leicester the respect they deserve and they have been able to use their counter-attacking tactics. However, the fact that Manchester United came to the East Midlands unwilling to open the game up, when in the same fixture last season they were wide open at the back, would suggest that teams may learn how to play against Leicester.

Vardy and Riyad Mahrez are two players who would walk into a top four side, but the quality of those players alone can only carry Leicester for so long. Because the visitors are such heavy favourites for this game, there is no excuse for any Swansea player to go away from the game plan or abort their defensive duties. Therefore, this blog predicts a draw at the Liberty Stadium.

West Brom v Tottenham

‘Tottenham will be in the Premier League title race in May’ – a statement I made following Spurs’ 4-1 victory over West Ham. The reason for this is that Mauricio Pochettino’s troops look the most complete side in the Premier League. City are defensively unreliable, United do not score enough, Arsenal suffer from injuries, Liverpool struggle break teams down and Leicester… are Leicester. Tottenham have not lost in the league since the opening day and seem to have all the ingredients required.

They are defensively much stronger than last season. Right-back Kyle Walker has improved hugely since the previous and his goal against the Hammers was a very powerful, impressive strike. Walker seems to have benefited from the added competition created by the summer signing of Kieran Trippier, similarly to the way Danny Rose improved once Ben Davies joined. Spurs have conceded just 11 goals this season, yet this has not come at the cost of exciting football. They stop opposing teams attacking at the earliest possible opportunity and that, in turn, gives them a great advantage when they do attack, because teams have to re-discover their defensive shape very quickly.

Harry Kane has been in superb form for Spurs and the West Brom back-line will be wary of his goalscoring ability. Heung Min-Son and Erik Lamela have given Kane good support in recent games and both have been rightly praised for their hardworking displays. Dele Alli was ineligible for last week’s draw with Chelsea due to suspension and Spurs missed his energy and dynamism in midfield. Against a team such as West Brom, who will sit deep, Tottenham need a player like Alli who has the adaptability to move quickly to different areas of the pitch and create a numerical advantage whilst keeping the tempo high.

West Brom’s Claudio Yacob is out for this game and that could prove a big loss. The Argentine has been something of an unsung hero for the Baggies, in terms of the way he attacks the ball in midfield. Tony Pulis’ sides play, effectively, with four centre-backs who will stay disciplined. Therefore, it is important to have players in midfield who will offer a bit more aggression and show a willingness to snuff out attacks. Yacob did that brilliantly and without him, West Brom could struggle.

There have been times this season where the Baggies’ defensive approach has gone against them. The team can sometimes invite too much pressure onto themselves, as was the case against Everton and Leicester and without an effective ball winner as Yacob, they could miss that extra bit of bravery out of possession. Away win.