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Fulham must show fighting spirit
LONDON, Nov 22, (RTRS): It has been quite a month for Tottenham Hotspur’s 20-year-old Argentine defender Juan Foyth.
So assured was he in a 3-1 League Cup victory at West Ham United, his first appearance of the season, that he was rewarded with a first Premier League start a few days later and conceded two penalties in a 3-2 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Retained for the game against Crystal Palace, he was outstanding on a wet night in south-east London, scoring a headed winner. He then flew off to make his Argentina debut against Mexico and was named man of the match in the first of two consecutive games between the sides.
With Jan Vertonghen still injured and question marks over Davinson Sanchez’s hamstring ahead of Saturday’s home clash with Chelsea, Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino would have no qualms about thrusting Foyth into the derby.
The only sticking point could be his late arrival back from Argentina, along with team mates Erik Lamela and reserve keeper Paulo Gazzaniga, but whether or not he plays, Foyth’s breakthrough says much about the club’s philosophy.
Much was made of Tottenham’s failure to sign a single player in the last transfer window, yet they are fourth in the table despite playing eight of their opening 12 games away.
If they inflict a first league defeat on Chelsea this season they would move above Maurizio Sarri’s side into third spot.
Once again, Argentine Pochettino, deprived of the huge transfer kitty available to the other clubs battling for the top four, is proving adept at unearthing gems.
Full back Kieran Trippier, signed from Burnley as understudy to Kyle Walker, now at Manchester City, and midfielder Harry Winks have become England internationals on Pochettino’s watch.
Lamela has blossomed into an outstanding attacking midfielder and Gazzaniga has looked impressive when called upon to understudy France international Hugo Lloris.
Pochettino has built his career on trusting young players and Foyth’s emergence is the latest example of why the former Espanyol and Southampton manager is so valued at Spurs, who are juggling the costs of a yet-to-be-completed 800 million pounds ($1.02 billion) stadium and staying competitive on the pitch.
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni praised Foyth after the 2-0 friendly win over Mexico on Friday and acknowledged the part Pochettino had played in the defender’s development in London.
If selected, Foyth will face a stern test against a Chelsea side who have made a mockery of a so-called two-horse title race between champions Manchester City and Liverpool.
The only other Chelsea team to start a Premier League season 12 games unbeaten were Jose Mourinho’s 2014-15 title winners.
Despite that, and the sizzling form of Eden Hazard, Chelsea are still challenging just under the radar, although a win at Tottenham’s temporary Wembley home might even convince the understated Sarri that his side can make a run for the title.
Manchester City, leaders by two points from Liverpool, have not conceded an away league goal since August and will expect to come away from their visit to a struggling West Ham side unscathed, having won 4-1 at the London Stadium last season.
Liverpool, also unbeaten, are at seventh-placed Watford while Arsenal, in fifth spot three points behind Tottenham, face a trip to the south coast to face Eddie Howe’s impressive Bournemouth side on Sunday.
Eighth-placed Manchester United have had two weeks to stew over their derby defeat at Manchester City and will be eager to make up ground when they host lowly Crystal Palace.
Claudio Ranieri worked a sporting miracle at Leicester City when he took them to the Premier League title in 2016 and will need the old magic again after taking over at bottom club Fulham.
The charismatic Italian takes charge of his first game on Saturday with Fulham at home to fellow strugglers Southampton.
Six consecutive league defeats, a run in which they conceded 18 goals, ended the reign of Slavisa Jokanovic and Ranieri said the first ingredient he wanted to see was “fight”.
“Today I spoke with the rest of the players, I repeated my ideas about philosophy and they understood very well,” Ranieri, who only had his whole squad together for the first time on Thursday after the international break, told reporters.
“My message is the team is a good one, but now we must show fighting spirit. It’s not easy to change direction but we must do our best and be with good spirit.
“Saturday is important, the mentality is good and I want to see the right mentality and strong body language.” Ranieri said an improvement would not come overnight, but called on his players to see Saturday’s clash as a fresh start.
“Clean everything and restart,” he said. “Forget the past.
“It’s important they follow me 100 percent and getting better with their ambition.
“I am ambitious and I want ambitious players.” While Fulham have played some attractive football this season they have been exposed as having a soft centre and Ranieri’s first task will be to tighten up the worst defence in the Premier League.
Jokanovic has used five different central defensive partnerships in 12 league games this season and Ranieri will look to establish a settled formation.
Leicester’s title-winning defence virtually picked itself with Christian Fuchs and Danny Simpson at fullback and Wes Morgan and Robert Huth in the centre, while Ngolo Kante patrolled the spaces just in front of the back four.
“I need to choose who is in a good moment now, good form,” Ranieri said. “At Leicester I started without (Ngolo) Kante, Simpson and Fuchs, and slowly slowly it was good.” Despite Fulham’s position, Ranieri said he was confident the Londoners could turn it around.
“It’s important, but we must be calm and continue to work because it’s not possible to change everything in one night,” he said. “It’s important to get points but it’s important to maintain our mentality, never give up.
“We will be safe, I am sure.” Leicester City boss Claude Puel believes the international break helped his players come to terms with the death of club chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha last month and they are ready to fully focus on soccer again, the Frenchman said on Thursday.
Vichai, 60, and four others were killed when the helicopter they were travelling in crashed outside their King Power Stadium after a Premier League game against West Ham United.
Leicester fought off emotions to defeat Cardiff City 1-0 seven days later and played out a goalless draw with Burnley at home before going into the international break.
“It was a good thing for us, for some players, for their bodies, their minds and for the international players … it was important to have this,” Puel told a news conference ahead of Saturday’s league trip to Brighton & Hove Albion.
“During two weeks, they can forget a little and have their mind with other thoughts … the international players come back with a smile and are happy to come back. The others they work a lot with quality and focus and it was a good thing.
“We have to restore all our focus onto football. This is the most important thing … It’s not pressure, it’s a responsibility to continue Vichai’s vision. I was very proud of my team in the last two games.” Midfielder James Maddison has returned to training after recovering from a knee injury and will be assessed before the match while striker Jamie Vardy is a doubt due to a knock.
Leicester are 10th in the table with 17 points, two places above Brighton.