The Big Four in the English Premier League was supposed to be a Big Five. With all the spending and dealing done by Tottenham last summer, the London club had the look of a potential powerhouse.
So much for the best-laid plans.
Tottenham manager Juande Ramos, a man synonymous with silverware, is feeling the walls close in as his Spurs are sitting at the bottom of the EPL standings, managing just two points from eight games.
Luiz Felipe Scolari isn’t having as much trouble. The Chelsea manager is dealing with a myriad of injury issues but his team just keeps on rolling, all the way to the top of the EPL table. Considering Chelsea and Tottenham are both in London it is amazing to see just how far apart they are in terms of quality these days.
SBI EPL correspondent James Tyler of The Unprofessional Foul compares and contrasts the vastly different starts for Chelsea and Tottenham in this week’s look at the English Premier League.
A Tale of Two Clubs
By JAMES TYLER
There are two emerging truths from this season, both exhibited and displayed in full this past week: Chelsea are winning the league, and Spurs will soon be exiting it.
Chelsea put 5 more goals a garden variety ‘Boro defense, and there exists such a casual playfulness and fun to their on-field exploits that one can’t help but catch the fever (I am resisting comfortably, by the way). Headed goals from Lampard? Check. Swerving right-footed goals from 30 yards that leave the keeper helpless (and struck by a backup right-back who was deputizing in midfield due to injuries, nonetheless)? Check. It didn’t matter that there were 11 players on the field for poor Middlesbrough, as they had simply no answer for the product currently wowing the league. Scolari’s managed to remove the sense of cold joylessness and workmanlike graft that plagued the Blues under Avram Grant. Now, the charisma of its manager off the field is matched by his players on it. Kalou and Malouda look far more potent than they have to date in the Chelsea kit, and Bosingwa is a revelation at right-back.
The reward for casual supporters is a match-up with this year’s grateful benefactors of Lady Luck’s smile, a Liverpool side that would be more Tottenham than title contender if it weren’t for their scrapping and goalscoring in the last 15 minutes of every matchday. Of course it helps when they’ve had opposing players sent off in their last 3 EPL fixtures (all for tackles on poor Xabi Alonso, the Basque punching bag), but their knack for getting results out of nothing has them 2nd in the league only on goal difference. They can’t keep winning like this (on Saturday, it was 2 yellows in 3 minutes for Antonio Valencia and then goals from Riera and Kuyt in the last 10 minutes to win 3-2 at home), but then again, Chelsea can’t keep bagging goals by the truckload, and something will give this Sunday. Will it be Scolari’s video game style of pass-and-move, or will it be Rafa’s lucky rabbit’s foot?
Meanwhile, in the bottom 3, we still don’t see Stoke or West Brom, but Newcastle and Spurs, easily two of the proudest clubs in Association Football’s history. The Toon toiled with ten men for 77 minutes and won a well-deserved 2-2 draw at home to Manchester City, and their performance Monday night suggests that they’re up for the battle ahead. Spurs, on the other hand? A much different story. They play for themselves and not for each other, and all the complaining about the referee for dismissing 2 Spurs players (Bale was perhaps unlucky, but thuggish sub Michael Dawson deserved an early bath) is rendered moot against their impotent play. Stoke took their chances well and were a constant menace, whereas Spurs lucked out on their equalizer as Darren Bent was a yard offside and was still able to bundle the ball into the net via shin and toe.
Ramos looks lost on the sideline, unsure of just what to do. Picking a regular XI might help, as well as having the balls to try Pavlyuchenko and Bent alongside one another for more than 45 minutes. Zokora can’t atone for the defensive shortcomings of whichever center-back pairing gets picked, and this week saw another key injury, this time to Vedran Corluka. The gifted right-back ended up at center-back, and was wounded twice in a minute by his own goalkeeper. The first blow was a flying knee to the ribs while Gomez flapped to defend a set piece, and then the goalie finished the job kneeing him in the temple while trying to clear a corner.
It’s one thing when you’re struggling at full-strength, but when your players are putting each other out of commission, then Ramos must wonder if their on-field petulance is akin to mutiny and sabotage. Woodgate simply shrugged when he conceded the second penalty, and more than once on Sunday did Spurs players show off their best Berbatov impressions, standing around the field, hands on hips, sighing heavily.
They face Bolton this weekend, and it’s nigh-on impossible to envision anything other than a draw. After all, the situation is dour, but one gets the sense it’s going to get much, much worse before it gets any better.
Two vastly different fortunes are playing out in London: Juande Ramos is staring at the salida while Big Phil Scolari gazes at the stars. The teams and managers in-between are simply dazed by both.