They’re still here.
We may not quite yet be in the “Why Not Us?” area yet, as the Premier League season only just passed the quarter-over mark (not the quarter pole, as my horse-handicapping family would be very eager to point out should I screw that up), but we’re quickly getting there. And Tottenham Hotspur are still top of the league, and looking pretty tasty.
Friday saw them make the trip across London to Crystal Palace, which has been a pretty tricky place for just about everyone in the past to get out of. And they played a pretty sticky first half, creating exactly nothing while the vociferous Palace crowd started to believe they were going to be a roadblock yet again for more illustrious opponents. Title challenges aren’t always destroyed at the homes of one’s fellow challengers but at the least expected places. Arsenal’s last year not only came undone at Man City or at Anfield, but also at Nottingham Forest. Selhurst Park can turn into a very noisy crucible.
And this was a match that felt for all the world that previous Tottenham teams would have withdrawn from and come out with a dour 0-0 draw at best, and more likely a dumbass 1-0 loss, likely giving up a goal off a corner that bounces around off three different defenders, or something equally stupid.
Not this one, though. A couple subs, bringing on Emerson Royal at half for Ben Davies, and eventually Brennan Johnson for Richarlison, and Spurs found two goals after being close to dire in the first half. Whereas most of Spurs’s previous matches have been glorious free-for-alls that they’ve come out on top of and ordering another drink at the bar while panting and bleeding and laughing wildly, this one felt like the first that they’ve just ground out. Maybe the previous week too when they had to survive a half with 10 men at Luton, but that’s also Luton.
Does it still feel pretty thin? Yes. Any injury that would see Heung-min Son, James Maddison, or Micky van de Ven miss a chunk of time feels like it would be crippling. And van de Ven is starting to feel like the most important piece, as his speed can get Tottenham out of any jam they find themselves in, and is vital to the high line they play. Any cock-up is erased by his ability to chase down any striker that shakes free.
Except, what if that doesn’t happen? Spurs don’t have any European commitments. They’re already out of the League Cup. Even if they max out in the FA Cup in the new year, that means they’ll play a max of 45 games this season. Get a couple easy draws in the FA Cup, or bow out early, and those players only have to worry about league games.
We’ll have to circle back to this in the middle of December after Tottenham go through Villa, City, and Newcastle in the span of four games. But it definitely feels like there’s a steel here that wasn’t before, which only gets stronger with each passing week, and each passed test. Belief can take a team farther than you think. Mix it with a little luck and suddenly you’ve got a stew goin’.
What else went down in Round 10?
4. Man United just don’t have enough dudes
As has been the case for a good portion of the last calendar year, the talk was dominated by discussion of what the hell Manchester United actually are after they got their ass kicked up to their ears by a team they’d like to pretend are their peers but are actually their superiors, and significantly so. This time it was in the Manchester Derby, where City barely registered a Strive Score to get a 3-0 win.
And while everyone’s got a theory about what Erik Ten Hag is trying or isn’t trying to make them, the upheaval in the boardroom and perhaps yet another clearing out of the football side, and all the money spent, it might not be all that much more complicated than looking at the lineup, and asking yourself, “Who on this team is a dude?”
Marcus Rashford? Ok, probably. And that’s it, and he’s not playing like one at the moment. Rasmus Hojlund might be one someday, but it is not this day. Anytime an opponent makes life in any way difficult for Bruno Fernandes, he pouts, whines, and disappears only to come up for air when it’s time to kick someone and dare the ref to send him off so he doesn’t have to finish the match. The backline was Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Jonny Evans, and Diogo Dalot. No dudes there. Christian Eriksen was a dude five years ago. Not now. Sofyan Amarabat? Go sit down. They didn’t bring anything off the bench except an alleged serial domestic abuser who can’t do anything but a rough Bruno Fernandes impression, whatever’s left of Mason Mount after Chelsea ran his odometer until the numbers peeled off, and Anthony Martial who can’t shout any louder that he can’t possibly care any less for multiple seasons.
The lack of dudes is on Ten Hag and the board, because a lot of these are the guys they bought. You know who’s got more dudes? Aston Villa. They’ve got a manager who turns guys into dudes. United’s tactics may be indecipherable, the whole club may be pulling in eight different directions, but at the end of the day, they just don’t have the dudes, nor any clue how to find, or develop them.
3. Everton may survive the penalty
The big news heading into the weekend was the Premier League recommending to the independent council that’s going to hand down the penalties to Everton for their FFP violations, i.e. being too stupid to not blow $500 million dollars on a team that can’t do anything, that the club be docked 12 points. Most in the know will tell you the Premier League asked for that knowing it’ll likely turn into six points, which is what they wanted in the end anyway.
If it ends up being six points…Everton probably still survive? Losing six points would have them in 18th, and if they averaged the point per game that they have been would get them to 32 for the season. Does anyone see Luton, Burnley, or Sheffield United getting to 32 points?
And in reality, Everton probably get above the point-per-game rate that they have. While their match with West Ham on Sunday was a on the level of a snuff film in terms of enjoyment, they certainly were fair value for their three points. They also got a goal from Dominic Calvert-Lewin finally, and a real striker’s goal:
As we’ve harped on, Everton have a plus expected-goal difference and have been undone by a lack of finishing. Trusting Calvert-Lewin to put a run of health together is “buying a bridge” territory, but should it come to pass they’ll get the goals.
It’s if that -12 actually hits that they’d be in trouble.
2. Eddie Nketiah is awfully good for not being good enough
Most of the time, we Premier League observers think that Eddie Nketiah just isn’t quite good enough to lead the line for a title contender. He’s good enough to get that team through a few weeks to a month when the real guy is hurt. And then he has a touch like this one on his first of three goals against Sheffield United:
Or this dinosaur-killer:
Put it this way, if Nketiah played for Chelsea right now they’re probably nearing the Champions League places now.
1. Something in the water this weekend, right around the halfway line
If I’m allowed to borrow from the Bundesliga, when was the last time we saw two goals like this in one weekend around Europe? First Harry Kane:
And it was only a few minutes later that Philip Billing did this for Bournemouth:
Must have something to do with the clocks changing.
Oh, and VAR:
Can’t leave this week without more VAR discussion! While there was a lot of mishegas around Hojlund’s foul on Rodri to give City a penalty, it was a foul if not a tad harsh. That can be called on almost every set piece, and there’s an argument that it should be to get it out of the game. Hojlund made it obvious by simply standing still and grabbing instead of at least attempting to look like he was running with Rodri. He made it clear he was beaten.
The truly galling VAR happening this week was at that game in Bournemouth, where Burnley had an equalizer by Jay Rodriguez ruled out for offside. The problem was that it took a full four minutes to come to that conclusion, as viewers at home were treated to the replay officials repeatedly zooming in, and out of a still frame without ever producing the lines we’ve become accustomed to. The fans in the stadium wouldn’t have even had that.
At this point, it’s important to remind everyone that the Premier League didn’t even bring using automated offside, what you’ve seen in recent World Cups and the Champions League, up for a vote for this season. It’s not great, but it also only takes slightly less than a minute. That alone makes it better than various refs trying to figure out how the zoom option works for four minutes.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @Felsgate.bsky.social
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