October 8, 2013

Is Europa League burning Spurs and Swans?

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Should we call it the Curse of Europa League? Because something is definitely up with teams coming off Thursday games against continental opponents.

This weekend we saw both EPL Europa League combatants lose on British soil, Tottenham at home to West Ham and Swansea at Southampton. A bit of a shock, no?

The more concerning result was the Spurs defeat, considering this a side that many touted to finish in the top four and had looked solid in defence so far this season. Who could have expected they would allow West Ham’s first three away goals of the season?

To capture a Champions League spot, you need to be rock solid at home, not blowing games like this.

But can you really blame Spurs for looking so lackluster, considering nine of the 14 players that saw action Sunday also played against Anzhi Makhachkala on Thursday? The real key: The game was in capital of Russia’s Dagestan region – only about an eight-hour flight from London. How could you be ready for an London derby game after flying 16 total hours and playing against a tough side in the past few days?

The Welsh Barcelona, Swansea, hasn’t been up to snuff for the entire season, currently sitting with seven points from as many games and just a single goal out of a relegation spot. Granted, Southampton is currently fourth in the table, but the Swans haven’t looked like their potent selves, despite keeping up with their solid possession and passing numbers.

The easiest answer to why Swansea is slumping is that it doesn’t have enough quality in depth to compete on two tough fronts, something that could be addressed in the January window if the Swans make it to Europe’s knockout stages.

So, maybe it’s not the best thing to get into Europa League. Year after year we see sides falter in the EPL because their heads aren’t in it. That’s why the smart English teams use sides fit for Cup games – full of young players and squad rotation guys. Just look at how Chelsea won last year’s title.

WHERE’S THE DRAMA?

Juan Mata has found his way back in Jose Mourinho’s side and it doesn’t seem to be that big of a news item. It’s not like he was overshadowed by a bad performance or a player scratching an opponent either.

It looks like the Spaniard has proved that he can adapt to his manager’s style and co-exist with the Blues No. 10, Oscar – who scored the opener on Sunday.

Granted, Chelsea did score the two crucial goals after Mata was subbed off, but the point has been made that last year’s top Chelsea player should be getting regular starts from here on out.

MOYES’ GAMBLE PAYS OFF

Manchester United had to do something to pull out of its skid and pick up a much-needed win at lowly Sunderland, so David Moyes looked down the bench and turned to Adnan Januzaj.

Truth be told, had he not picked the 18-year-old midfielder, this post could have been leading with Moyes’ actual firing.

For stretches of the game, especially in the first half, the Black Cats actually looked like the better team against the defending champions. Sunderland even scored the opener and went into the half leading.

Well, Moyes must have said something while serving some orange slices, because that’s when it turned around.

Januzaj got into great positions and finished with skill for his brace. He has shown promise when getting a chance to play and now even faces the question of which international squad to play for, reportedly turning down Belgium’s invite for this coming break’s games.

As long as he plays and continues to develop, United may have found another gem.

AROUND THE PITCHES

Sunderland and Crystal Palace are falling way off the pace early and will be stuck in the relegation zone for a while to come. With one and three points respectively, they’re both four points out of it already. Good luck with that … Palace was completely outplayed by Liverpool, but that’s really no surprise. The surprise of that game was that Liverpool didn’t score more. Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge – the New SAS – were unstoppable yet again and are putting the league on notice … The last undefeated team has fallen. Manchester City looked great in its 3-1 home dismantling of Everton.

FANTASY TIDBIT

How odd was that penalty situation featuring Sergio Aguero and Tim Howard? The Everton goalie actually benefitted from being credited with an own goal. You see, the five points for “saving” the penalty outweighs the minus-2 for the own goal. The two guys that got shafted were Aguero and Zabaletta. The defender would have had an assist for drawing the penalty, while Aguero had to settle for just one point on the tally (minus-2 for the penalty miss and 3 for the “assist”).

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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