Jury still out on Sherwood at Spurs
Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.
Can Sherwood's Spurs turn effort into end product?
It's difficult to know what to really make of Tim Sherwood, Tottenham Hotspur's head coach and chief gilet-wearer when he's not getting too angry. We've heard a great deal from him since he succeeded Andre Villas-Boas, because there have been significant defeats to give him cause to run his mouth off. The southern English twang to his soundbites has led to him being filed in the pigeonhole marked "Harry Redknapp's clone," suggesting Spurs felt inclined to go full circle after being burnt by the decision to turn to a chap who preferred a tactics board to a red-top tabloid.
This jumping to a stereotypical conclusion has perhaps skewed the ability of some to dissect Sherwood as a manager -- and, besides, managers tend to bear too much of the responsibility when matters turn sour, for the issues at White Hart Lane, as at Old Trafford, run deeper than the bloke who picks the starting XI.
His results have been mixed: nine wins, three draws and eight losses from 20 matches in charge. The performances have also been varied, as the onus on "systems" was counterbalanced with a more simplistic approach -- perhaps too simplistic for some. There have been unconvincing wins against lowly opposition meshed with a couple of comprehensive wins against teams of that ilk; there have also been significant blemishes in the shape of the kind of hidings that ultimately cost AVB his job.
Sherwood was aggrieved after losing last time out against Arsenal, having got the "guts" he had desired but not the result. Yet the same technical problems remained: a lack of cunning to play that final eye-of-the-needle pass, and someone to take the weight off Emmanuel Adebayor's shoulders when he could huff and puff no more. Tottenham host Southampton this weekend, the side Sherwood earned his first victory against. That was away from home, though, where Spurs have actually accrued more league points. They then travel to Liverpool, mind, so Sunday would be as good a time as any for Tim to do his talking on the pitch.
Is the pressure getting to Jose's Chelsea?
Just possibly Chelsea are going to fulfil their manager Jose Mourinho's prophecy they are not yet ready for the title, after a genuinely surprising loss against Aston Villa indicated that he and his players are feeling the strain of being the division's leaders. There was the usual diversion tactic from the Portuguese postmatch, with his comments regarding referee Chris Foy surely intended to draw focus away from an under-par display at a Villa side that had previously won just four league fixtures at their own stadium this season. The fact is that Mourinho, at least boosted by little effort exerted in a European stroll against Galatasaray on Tuesday, will face Arsenal without Willian and Ramires, both key players in Jose's pressing game.
Could this be Moyes' penultimate match in charge?
David Moyes is apparently under pressure and the sky is apparently blue. Sir Alex Ferguson, the man who recommended Moyes to be his replacement, cut a disconsolate figure in the Old Trafford stands against Liverpool as the defending Premier League champions' performance was added to a lengthening list of, erm, listlessness.
The victory over Olympiakos may now have strengthened his position, but speculation had suggested that a defeat in Tuesday's Manchester derby could see Moyes walk the plank. Whether that is actually the case remains to be seen, but what can be deduced is that yet another indication he is out of his depth when United travel to West Ham United on Saturday evening would leave the ex-Everton boss little room for an escape.
Can Monk save Swansea from the drop?
The change of manager, replacing Michael Laudrup with Garry Monk, has so far failed to jump-start Swansea into lasting life. After a heady 3-0 victory over rivals Cardiff City in Monk's debut, the Swans have failed to win any of their four games, most recently suffering the indignity of losing at home to West Bromwich Albion, who had not previously managed three points under boss Pepe Mel. With the club now out of all cup competitions, the focus is on getting over the survival finishing line, as four points separate them from the bottom three with nine fixtures remaining. Next up: Everton at Goodison Park. Yikes.
Will Pulis finish the job at Palace?
The ever-on-his-feet Tony Pulis has done an impressive job by guiding Crystal Palace off the foot of the table and out of the relegation zone to boot. Yet recently the results have not been so encouraging, with one triumph managed in six outings. A point last time out at Sunderland did neither side any real favours, but what works in Palace's favour is that there are so many other clubs struggling for momentum this season, so few with genuine quality. Indeed, Pulis said after the draw on Wearside: "We are in the frame with 10 other teams -- it's remarkable, really, how many people are down there and how many clubs are involved in it." Newcastle, sans Alan Pardew and off the back off a loss at Fulham of all places, are up next.
Can Norwich halt another slide?
Norwich are a peculiar side that seem to usually come up with the goods when their backs, in particular manager Chris Hughton's, are against the wall. "We have been very inconsistent," Hughton acknowledged after their 4-2 loss at Southampton last weekend, which is a fair assessment.
After their last win ended a five-game search for success and their one before that a seven-game spell, their current three-game drought needs nipping in the bud early, as they host fellow basement-dwellers Sunderland on Saturday. Time is running out for the Canaries before their run-in from hell against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and then Arsenal.
Are Hull distracted by the FA Cup?
It has been widely accepted among the football fraternity that Steve Bruce has so far done a good job at Hull City this campaign, keeping the club out of the bottom three since the opening weekend. However, with three defeats suffered in their previous four top-flight matches, and a FA Cup semifinal on the horizon, there is the threat they could take their eye off the competition that lines clubs' pockets with sweet, sweet cash. They need to halt the slide when welcoming a West Brom team that will have its tail up following a first win under boss Mel.