EPL

Tottenham's top-four hopes do not rest on Everton clash, insists Mourinho

By Sports Desk April 15, 2021

Jose Mourinho insists Tottenham's hopes of a top-four Premier League finish will not be over if they fail to beat Everton on Friday. 

Sunday's 3-1 home defeat to Manchester United left Spurs in seventh, six points adrift of fourth-placed West Ham. 

That result meant Tottenham have dropped 18 points from winning positions in the Premier League this season, with only Brighton and Hove Albion (20) losing more. 

They will hope to bounce back from that disappointment against an Everton side who are also in the hunt for a Champions League qualification spot, with Carlo Ancelotti's men just a point and a place behind Spurs, having played a game less. 

Mourinho acknowledged it is an important game for both sides, but the Portuguese believes there is ample time for Spurs to claw their way back into top-four contention if they do not return to London with all three points. 

"We are very close, but there are more clubs around, with a few more points, some others with a few less," he said.

"With more than 20 points on the table, it's still open. The winner gets the points and stops the loser. 

"Understandably, I don't think anything is going to be decided but if one of the two teams wins and gets an advantage that can be important in the direct duel, not in relation to all the others around.

"This match is very important as the distance between the two teams is very short. Of course, they have one match in hand. 

"The distance is short. They have similar objectives. They are going to fight with us to try and get the best possible position and see if we and them can get a European position. It's an important match."

Tottenham are unbeaten in their last seven away league games against Everton (W3 D4), while the Toffees have won just one of their last eight Premier League home games (D2 L5).

Despite this, Mourinho is well aware of the threat they pose to his side. 

"They are going in the right direction," he added. "They've got a big coach; one of the best in the world. They've got important players and they've got a very good squad. It's just the beginning for them. 

"Of course, this Everton is different from previous seasons. Nobody better than Carlo. I see a very good future. They have everything. They didn't play in Europe, they had complete weeks to work and develop. 

"They can play in different systems. They have talent in attack. Quality in midfield. Physicality behind. They have a tactical culture. They have a very good combination."

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    Gareth Southgate has been England manager for five years and says the memories of the Three Lions' Euro 2020 campaign will stay with him "forever".

    The former Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace defender replaced Sam Allardyce on November 30, 2016, having held the post of Under-21s manager since 2013.

    Southgate was initially appointed on an interim basis, but was handed the reins permanently after four games and has since led England to a World Cup semi-final in 2018 and the final of Euro 2020 in July.

    England secured their spot at the World Cup in Qatar next year by topping their qualifying group, going unbeaten and conceding just three goals in 10 games in the process, leading to a new contract for the 51-year-old that runs until 2024.

    "To take a country to a first final in 55 years, for everybody involved, for all the staff, all the players and for all the fans, some of those memories of Wembley through this summer will live with me forever," Southgate said to England's official website.

    "[At the 2018 World Cup in] Russia, we brought a connection back with the fans. There were probably several generations of fans who had not been to a semi-final. This year was unique, really, when you think we had been locked away for so long and everything we had lived through.

    "There is an important place for international football. It does bring everyone together. When you feel like you are there with 50 million people behind you, it is an immense feeling.

    "People used to say 'well, nobody cares about international football anymore' but they did. I think everybody had just been hurt and disappointed a lot, and you almost don’t want to get hurt anymore and you withdraw from it.

    "Now we have some generations of fans who think it has always been this way. Well, let me tell you, folks, it hasn't!"

    Southgate gave some insight into the process of rebuilding a team that was low on belief and turning them into a side capable of challenging at major tournaments.

    "Confidence was low [when I first took the job]," Southgate added. "This was not a group which was disunited, but there was a lack of confidence because of the last couple of tournaments and two changes of manager in a couple of months, so we needed to stabilise things to begin with and we needed to qualify for a World Cup.

    "That was the priority but of course what we knew in the background was there was a younger generation of players coming through to support the guys who were already there that could provide real competition for places, with some good experiences of winning at junior level. 

    "[They were] technically really good players that could maybe play in a slightly different way to traditional England teams of the past, where I was in tournaments with England where we couldn’t keep the ball enough.

    "Now in the biggest games we have a step to go with that because we have managed that for long periods in tournaments but under real pressure, we still need to be better at that.

    "You have to have continuity. You need a real clear sense of direction for everyone who works at St. George’s on the football and for everybody at the FA.

    "I think it is a credit to everybody, the different chairmen and chief executives I have worked with here, that they have put football more at the forefront of their thinking and there has been a plan."

  • Merseyside derby: Benitez desperate for a win in Liverpool reunion Merseyside derby: Benitez desperate for a win in Liverpool reunion

    Liverpool have two reunions with fan favourites coming up in the space of 10 days.

    While Steven Gerrard will bring his Aston Villa team to Anfield on December 11, Liverpool first make the short trip to Goodison Park to face the manager under which they enjoyed their best spell of the 21st century prior to Jurgen Klopp's arrival.

    Rafael Benitez was a contentious appointment, to say the least, when he replaced Carlo Ancelotti at Everton.

    After a strong start to his tenure at Goodison Park, a combination of injuries to key players and questionable tactical decisions have left Benitez under pressure.

    Everton are on a seven-match winless run in the league, their worst run since 2016, and a streak of just one victory in 10 matches across all competition. 

    It does not look pretty, the mood around each club could hardly be more different, and the last thing Benitez needs is a reunion with a fanbase that once idolised him and may well be singing his name again on Wednesday.

    Where did it all go wrong?

    Benitez has inherited a mess and Everton's director of football Marcel Brands and majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri must face scrutiny. The Spaniard, however, must ultimately shoulder part of the blame for the current malaise.

    Of Everton's Premier League managers, only Howard Kendall (in his ill-fated third spell at the club) and Walter Smith took fewer points than Benitez's tally of 15 across their first 13 league games.

    Everton went unbeaten in their three league derbies under Ancelotti, albeit they did suffer a 1-0 loss to very much a second-string Liverpool side in the FA Cup in January 2020.

    However, Ancelotti oversaw Everton's first derby victory since October 2010 when the Toffees beat Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield in February, ending a winless run at that ground stretching back to September 1999.

    That win at an empty Anfield inflicted a fourth successive home league defeat on Liverpool for the first time since 1923 and left the Merseyside rivals level in the race for Champions League qualification.

    Since then, Everton have won just nine of their 27 Premier League outings, losing 11, with Liverpool winning 17 of 26, only suffering three defeats. The Reds have scored 62 goals, 36 more than their city rivals, while only Chelsea's defence is stingier of sides to have been in the top tier for the entirety of that timeframe.

    If Evertonians hoped a corner had been turned in February, Klopp's team have proved they are still worlds apart.

    Similar derby records... differing approaches

    Speaking of Klopp, he has won seven Merseyside derbies since joining Liverpool in 2015, drawing five and suffering that solitary defeat. 

    Benitez will be the sixth Everton boss Klopp has faced, and the German holds an impressive record over his Liverpool predecessor, winning four of seven meetings, losing just once, when Napoli beat Borussia Dortmund 2-1 in the 2013-14 Champions League group stage.

    Liverpool also won their last three league games against Benitez's Newcastle by an aggregate score of 9-2. 

    This game will take Klopp onto the same amount of Merseyside derbies that Benitez managed as Liverpool boss. The former Real Madrid coach oversaw 14 meetings with David Moyes' Everton, winning eight and losing only three times. The Toffees' failures in this fixture have not been limited to the past decade.

    Across the last seven matches, Benitez's team rank 17th for possession (39.5 per cent), joint-18th for shots on target (21) and joint-20th for goals (four), albeit they have underperformed their expected goals (xG) value (7.58) – the absence of Dominic Calvert-Lewin has not helped this.

    Liverpool, on the other hand, have scored a league-leading 24 times in that time. Their xG of 16.4 also tops the competition, though it does suggest their finishing is above the standard that would be expected based on the quality of the chances.

    Their high press has been back at its best, with no team producing more high turnovers (sequences that start in open play and begin 40 metres or less from the opponent's goal) than the Reds' 145. Everton's 78 ranks above only Watford (74) and Tottenham (72).

    Another concern for Benitez will be Everton's tally of 101 high turnovers against. This ranks 11th in the league, but an issue for the Toffees all season has been an inability to keep the ball for sustained spells, even if it has been their aim to counter-attack. Their number of sequences of 10+ passes stands at 63 (16th). Liverpool's total is 220, placing them behind only Manchester City (283).

    Everton had just 22.7 per cent of the ball in their recent 3-0 defeat to Manchester City, allowing 17 shots. It is hard to imagine Wednesday's statistics turning out much differently.

    Injuries giving Toffees the blues

    Mohamed Salah came seventh in the Ballon d'Or voting but if he continues his current form into 2022 then he could be a shoo-in for next year's award. He has been sensational, scoring 17 times in 18 appearances across all competitions, and also leads the league in assists (eight). 

    Salah scores every 92 minutes, on average, while Sadio Mane has bounced back from his struggles last season with seven league goals.

    Mane has played in 14 derbies, contributing to seven goals, scoring five himself, while Salah has netted twice across five appearances against Everton.

    While Liverpool's talismanic duo head into Wednesday's fixture in fine fettle, Everton are in the midst of an injury crisis that has exposed their weak squad.

    Richarlison should return from suspension and Abdoulaye Doucoure played at Brentford, but Calvert-Lewin and Yerry Mina remain out.

    Calvert-Lewin has been a huge miss but the influence of Doucoure and Mina should not be understated.

    With the pair playing, Everton have won three of six league games, averaging 1.8 goals for and 1.3 goals against, picking up 1.8 points per game. Without at least one of them, Everton have won just one of seven and averaged 1.7 goals against and 0.7 goals for. Their points per game drops to 0.6.

    Liverpool's last league win over Everton came on December 4, 2019, a 5-2 thrashing at Anfield marking the end of Marco Silva's tenure.

    Eight of Liverpool's last nine top-tier trips to Goodison have finished level but, unless Benitez can pull off an unexpected result, his fate may be similar. 

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    Kennedy, whose death was announced on Tuesday, was a major figure in English football in the 1970s and 1980s as he won almost every trophy there was to win.

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    Health issues ultimately led to Kennedy being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in the mid-1980s.

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    "The thoughts of everybody at Liverpool Football Club are with Ray's family and friends at this sad and difficult time."

    Arsenal said in a tribute: "For Arsenal fans fortunate enough to have witnessed Ray Kennedy in action, the image will remain of a teenage striking colossus, dominating opposition defences as his goals led the club to one of the game’s greatest achievements and something his name will always be associated with – the double.

    "Our thoughts and prayers are with Ray’s family and friends."

    The Football Association issued its own salute to Kennedy via the England national team Twitter, saying: "We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Ray Kennedy at the age of 70. Ray won 17 caps for the Three Lions between 1976 and 1980, scoring three times. All of our thoughts go out to his family, friends and former clubs."

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