theScore examines the most important developments and biggest talking points from Saturday’s slate of action in England’s top flight.
Conte’s talking himself out of a job
Antonio Conte said Thursday that he didn’t think there were any plans for Tottenham Hotspur to sack him before the end of the season.
That might have changed.
“They don’t play for something important. They don’t want to play under pressure. They don’t want to play under stress. It’s easy in this way,” Conte complained after Saturday’s 3-3 draw at Southampton.
“Tottenham’s story is this: Twenty years there is the owner (Daniel Levy) and they’ve never won something. Why?”
Tottenham’s collapse on the south coast was another miserable episode in a season that promised so much. Conte was backed with funds in the summer transfer window, but the Italian has sparingly used or ruthlessly criticized most of the new recruits. Or both. With the exception of Harry Kane, Conte’s pragmatic approach has dulled Tottenham’s attacking talent. The team is often reactive rather than proactive and – as the weekend’s draw demonstrated – can be guilty of losing its focus.
Southampton had scored 0.8 goals per game at home before Tottenham came to town. Spurs were cruising with a 3-1 lead with little over 15 minutes left. But then they cowered to a team with greater desire.
It was that simple, and Conte insisted the blame didn’t lie solely with him.
“The problem is that we are not a team,” Conte said, according to The Guardian’s John Brewin. “We are 11 players that go on to the pitch. I see selfish players who don’t want to help each other.”
To the surprise of very few, entrusting a rebuild project that requires patience and care to one of the most impatient coaches in Europe didn’t work. Ciao, Antonio.
Leicester trio crucial to survival bid
The Leicester City players deserved the applause from the corner of away fans after recovering from a dire first-half display to take a commendable 1-1 draw from Brentford. The hosts desperately tried to re-exert their authority, but none of Thomas Frank’s substitutions managed to make a positive impact on the game as Leicester dictated play.
So, with the spirited showing in last week’s defeat against Chelsea and Saturday’s second-half supremacy, are there signs of recovery for Brendan Rodgers’ outfit? The old adage of “too good to go down” is inherently false – West Ham United sunk in 2003 and Leeds United dropped in 2004 with strong squads – but Leicester have individuals who possess the quality to pinch crucial goals.
And three of those key figures combined for the Foxes’ equalizer.
Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall personified Leicester’s performance, putting a poor opening period behind him in an excellent second half. He twisted and ducked his way through three Brentford players before stabbing the ball inside to James Maddison. For the most part, Maddison was crowded out and frustrated in west London, but Dewsbury-Hall’s determined work created space for the playmaker. Maddison took one touch, peered at the gap between Brentford’s center-backs, and rolled a perfect pass through for Harvey Barnes.
Barnes confidently finished beyond David Raya.
Leicester have the third-worst defense in the league, but this should be corrected. January signing Harry Souttar won six aerial duels and bashed away eight clearances in a promising showing and will soon be joined by Jonny Evans (who’s set to return from a calf injury) and Wout Faes (who served a one-game suspension Saturday) in the backline. At long last, Daniel Amartey – an average midfielder who does a poor impersonation of a defender – will be relieved of center-back duties.
The problem with scoring doesn’t seem closer to being corrected, though. Kelechi Iheanacho, Patson Daka, and Jamie Vardy have combined for just eight Premier League goals this term, putting extra pressure on Dewsbury-Hall, Maddison, and Barnes to create and finish chances.
They certainly have the ability to carve out results for the club, but only with the assistance of their teammates. Leicester have struggled to play well for two halves all season, and that’s why they could be in this relegation scrap until the final day.
Time to trust Simms?
Ellis Simms’ development hit a snag. He was growing into his loan spell at Sunderland, cramming four goals into six Championship outings before former Everton manager Frank Lampard recalled him in January. The relegation-threatened Toffees needed goals, but Simms started just one match since returning to his parent club and could’ve been forgiven for wishing he stayed on Wearside. His late leveler in the 2-2 draw at Chelsea should hopefully change that. He surged into the area, impressively outmuscled Kalidou Koulibaly, and steered a shot underneath Kepa Arrizabalaga to give Everton a precious point in their mission to preserve their Premier League status. The first top-flight goal of Simms’ career puts him level with the full-season tallies of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Neal Maupay.
Leeds need Adams back
With six goals scored and four conceded over their last two matches, it’s fair to say that Javi Gracia’s early attempts to swap chaos for control at Leeds United is failing. With Tyler Adams is on the sidelines, it’s difficult to envision that control arriving any time soon. Leeds’ 4-2 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers was huge, but their lack of grip in midfield contributed to a 3-0 lead turning into 3-2 in the space of eight second-half minutes. Marc Roca has failed to impress since his summer move from Bayern Munich, and his casual touch of the ball inadvertently teed up Jonny’s wonderstrike. Pairing Roca’s seemingly distracted play with Weston McKennie’s energetic yet erratic approach creates a midfield base that’s both incredibly porous and criminally wasteful in possession.
Stat of the day
Kane is heading for another record.
Tweet of the day
Conte’s bags might already be packed.