Azpilicueta the Unsung, contract offer for Yaya, Clement the saviour and goodbye White Hart Lane – our main talking points from Premier League week 37.
Premier League week 37 finally saw the Blues cross the finish line – with a couple of games to spare – as they take over the crown from Leicester as the reigning Premier League champions. Manchester City are reportedly set to extend Yaya Toure’s stay at the Etihad – a remarkable turnaround from last summer. Clement rightly a frontrunner for the manager awards at the end of the season. And what does Pochettino make of Tottenham’s Wembley prospects as they bid goodbye to White Hart Lane.
Let’s look at our main talking points from Premier League week 37:
1. Azpilicueta – the underrated gem in Conte’s back-three
Cesar Azpilicueta has hardly ever been one of the more celebrated men at the Stamford Bridge. He’s doubtless a fan favourite, and one unfailingly trusted by the line of managers he’s served under at Chelsea. But rarely has he ever been elevated to deserved heights of praise and recognition by those outside, much like Kante’ is this year or like Hazard in his pomp.
Azpilicueta’s metronomic consistency – whatever be his role set by his manager – has been one of the keys to Chelsea’s success. Certainly this season, and often in those past. Under Conte this year the Spaniard was thrown into a brand new form and style of football. And it would undoubtedly have been more than a little disorienting, closely following on the heels of last year’s debacle and a less than impressive start to the new season, under a manager still struggling with his surroundings.
Cesar Azpilicueta's Premier League season by numbers:
61 tackles won
5 through balls completed
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 16, 2017
But the 27-year old has, as ever, dug in and adapted magnificently. And his discipline and form has been a pillar in the team’s title-winning run. Conte summed it up better than most after their latest win over Watford on Monday:
“It’s been a massive season for him. Azpi played in a fantastic way. When you have this type of player it’s great for the coach. If I ask him to go and put on the gloves and stay in goal he’s ready.
“He’s a model footballer and able to play in different roles. Today he played as a wing-back, he scored one goal and could have had two or three. He’s having an amazing season.”
2. Perhaps not quite the end of the Toure at Man City
After last year’s tragicomic confrontation between Yaya Toure’s agent Dimitri Seluk and new Man City boss Pep Guardiola, few would have ever expected the Ivorian to make a comeback from the wilderness after being axed by the manager. Seluk’s stupidity in repeatedly undermining Toure’s future at the club – or honestly, anywhere – seemed endlessly horrifying and entertaining. But the midfielder did manage to somehow muzzle Seluk, and over the course of the season manage an unlikely return to the fold where now he remains quite firmly affixed, as if nothing happened last year.
Happy 34th birthday, Yaya Toure!
He's scored 61 goals for Man City; more than any other midfielder in the Premier League since he joined. pic.twitter.com/lcN5Txkndb
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 13, 2017
If the 34-year old has indeed been offered a new contract, it underlines this remarkable turn of events. Toure has been something of a talismanic presence in City’s rise under Sheikh Mansour. He’s contributed crucial goals in the run-up to titles, and transformed City through his rampaging presence at their heart. And while he may no longer be nearly as mobile as he was a couple or so years back, his new role remains important as a remoulded holding midfielder. Guradiola counts on his calm presence, technical ability and experience behind a rampaging group of young forwards. It may well turn out to be a good decision to keep hold of him.
3. Clement deserves the plaudits for keeping the Swans afloat
The odds would have been stacked against Paul Clement when he took over the reins after a stormy almost-three-months under Bob Bradley, with Swansea rooted to the bottom of the table courtesy of a painfully out-of-sorts defence.
Since then the 45-year old has patiently worked on restoring Swansea’s basics – fluent, intelligent passing, tactical discipline and awareness and a stubbornness that made them hard to corner. During his time in charge, the Swans have almost halved their rate of conceding goals. And while they’ve lost almost half their games since Bradley’s sacking, they’ve balanced it out with wins. Clement now has three wins, and a draw against Manchester United in the run-up to Premier League week 37. It’s been quite the rescue act from the Englishman.
Can we have a moment of appreciation for what this man has done since coming into our club.
— Swansea City Polls (@SwansPolls) May 14, 2017
He could just as easily have chugged under the safe stewardship of Ancelotti at Bayern. But he took on a major challenge, and delivered just as he promised, earning a deserved nomination for manager of the season.
4. Can Tottenham shake-off the curse of Wembley next season?
The Spurs’ title hopes ended the week prior against West Ham. But they had a fitting goodbye ready for White Hart Lane on Sunday as they dispatched Jose Mourinho’s side 2-1. The atmosphere at the ground was terrific from the start, with Spurs legends present as special guests, music and the homage from the supporters. But now with the stadium already demolished in the aftermath, Tottenham have to set their sights to next season. And to Wembley, which they’ll call home for a whole year.
It’ll be interesting to see how they take to it, especially after their disastrous run on the ground this season. They were dumped out of the Champions League at Wembley, going out with a whimper in an uninspiring draw against Genk. And in contrast, they’ve lorded it all season at White Hart Lane, remaining the only team undefeated at home at the end of Premier League week 37. But Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino has a different take on the Wembley transfer, which he believes won’t have as much of an impact as this season:
“When you are focused and you feel that your home is White Hart Lane it’s so difficult to change. One week we play at White Hart Lane, the next week we play at Wembley. It’s so difficult to change your mindset and be ready when you are so comfortable at White Hart Lane.
🙈 Tottenham at the New Wembley…
– Games: 10
– Won: 2
– Drawn: 1
– Lost 7
– Win rate: 20%
— The Sportsman (@TheSportsman) May 15, 2017
“But next season there’s no excuse. Next season it’s Wembley only. I’m sure that from day one next season we will be thinking about Wembley and it will be completely different.”
That may indeed be a factor as Tottenham adjust to Wembley. But it remains to be seen how well they adapt their game to the new size of pitch or the significant change in the atmosphere.