EPL

Spurs boss Conte tests positive for COVID-19 but expected to take charge of Brighton game

By Sports Desk April 13, 2022

Tottenham have confirmed that head coach Antonio Conte has tested positive for COVID-19.

However, the club hopes the 52-year-old will be back in the dugout for Saturday's Premier League clash with Brighton and Hove Albion in North London. 

"Antonio tested positive for COVID at the weekend and has been appropriately distancing," read a statement issued by the club. 

"We expect him to be symptom-free and in charge of the match on Saturday".

The club also confirmed Conte will conduct his pre-match media duties remotely on Thursday.

The Italian saw his in-form side hammer Aston Villa 4-0 in their last Premier League outing, with Spurs' top-goalscorer Son Heung-min helping himself to a hat-trick at Villa Park.

Conte has overseen a dramatic reversal in the team's fortunes after taking the helm last November, with Tottenham eyeing Champions League qualification after winning four consecutive Premier League matches to move into fourth-place in the English top flight.

Spurs have scored 43 goals in their 20 Premier League matches under Conte to date, winning 12, drawing three, and losing five. Throughout the competition's history, the only managers to see their teams score more goals in their first 20 games in charge at a club are Carlo Ancelotti at Chelsea in 2009 (45) and Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City in 2013-14 (57).

Meanwhile, Saturday's clash will see Tottenham bid for a fifth win in five Premier League home games against Brighton. Having won each of the previous four meetings on home turf, Spurs' only better 100 per cent record in the competition is against Bournemouth (five wins from five).

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  • Malacia joins Man Utd: What do the numbers tell us about Ten Hag's first signing? Malacia joins Man Utd: What do the numbers tell us about Ten Hag's first signing?

    Manchester United certainly can't be accused of not supporting their new manager, Erik ten Hag, given the players they're going for in the transfer market.

    Granted, that's more about how United are primarily being linked with players Ten Hag knows or has previously coached rather than them targeting a host of renowned superstars.

    Whether that suggests a certain trust in Ten Hag or if it comes down to a lack of belief in the club's own scouting department is a discussion for another time, but clearly Ten Hag is being allowed to build a team in his image, and that's what many fans will have hoped for.

    The first one in through the door is Tyrell Malacia, who joins from Eredivisie side Feyenoord on a four-year   contract with an option for a further season.

    Netherlands international Malacia had apparently been close to joining Lyon until United came in at the last minute, but once the Red Devils' interest became apparent, there was only likely to be one destination: Old Trafford.

    But what sort of player are United getting? Stats Perform takes a look…

    Exit looming for Telles?

    When considering the areas United needed to strengthen ahead of the new season, left-back might not have been highlighted as a major cause for concern, therefore some are likely to feel Malacia's signing isn't necessary.

    But most would agree Luke Shaw endured a generally poor season, and his deputy – Alex Telles – seemingly wasn't good enough to fully dislodge the England international. Then you have Brandon Williams, who has returned from a loan spell at Norwich City but will in all likelihood be sold.

    One would assume Malacia's arrival will lead to another sale at left-back as well, and that'll presumably be Telles rather than Shaw, who will be expected to get back to the level he showed in the 2020-21 season.

    Shaw has responded well to competition before. In fact, his excellent 2020-21 campaign coincided with United's signing of Telles, but perhaps he took his foot off the pedal once he realised the Brazilian wasn't likely to be a long-term threat to his place.

    Malacia could be.

    At 22, Malacia is youthful and boasts a skillset that may make him a greater understudy – and challenger – to Shaw than Telles.

    Already a Netherlands international, Malacia is quick, comfortable on the ball and had an impressive output in attack last season. Telles, on the other hand, isn't especially fast and his final-third threat relies on crosses from deep.

    Full-backs performed an important function for Ten Hag's Ajax. Their underlapping runs make them potential threats in the box, while those at his disposal in Amsterdam possessed excellent technical abilities, helping the team to maintain control of possession even out wide, a little like at Manchester City.

    Such a role certainly shouldn't faze Malacia considering his pace and technique.
     

    A considered threat

    Malacia's technical ability and speed are probably his two most obvious attributes, though neither are especially easy to prove with numbers.

    Of course, it's difficult to accurately – and fairly – compare players across two hugely different competitions just using stats, but you can at least get an idea of what a player offers.

    Malacia's 1.1 open-play chances created every 90 minutes in the Eredivisie last season was the 10th highest among defenders (minimum of 1,000 minutes played). That was the same as Shaw's, though the latter was obviously playing in a league generally regarded to be a higher level.

    Despite that frequency not being especially remarkable, Malacia did lay on four assists, and his 6.0 expected assists (xA) was bettered by only four Eredivisie defenders.

    So although he wasn't necessarily creating a huge amount of opportunities, those he did craft had an average xA value of 0.16 – of the defenders with at least 18 key passes, only Daley Blind (0.27), Noussair Mazraoui (0.19) and Yukinari Sugawara (0.17) created better chances on average.

    Similarly, Malacia's xA output on a per-90-minute basis of 0.19 was higher than that of Shaw (0.14) and Telles (0.11).

    Both of the xA averages mentioned for Malacia highlight – and can be partly explained by – how he attacks. He recorded 2.7 touches in the opposition's box every 90 minutes last term (fifth among Eredivisie defenders), whereas Shaw (1.1) and Telles (1.0) were far less willing to get into that area.

    As such, of his 5.0 passes into the box each game, only 3.0 were crosses. Those respective figures for Shaw (5.9/5.7) and Telles (7.6/7.3) show a far greater reliance on hopeful crosses.

    Again, specific coaching instructions may explain the figures of Shaw and Telles, so the data isn't suggesting any one is better than the others, but it's still easy to see why Ten Hag might feel Malacia is a good fit as one of his underlapping full-backs.

    Malacia also tallied more tackle attempts (2.7), tackles won (1.8) and duels (11.0) compared to Shaw (1.1, 0.7 and 8.2) and Telles (2.4, 1.3 and 9.8).

    As before, these don't necessarily mean he's a better defender because the context of the two leagues and the respective teams' playing styles make it difficult to draw such conclusions, but Malacia's figures do at least point to a certain level of tenacity off the ball.

    Regardless of the numbers, it seems clear United are taking a bit of a gamble with Malacia. Although obviously talented, he is young, inexperienced and joining a team that cannot claim to have much stability.

    Nothing about United over the past decade has suggested it's a club that successfully nurtures young players anymore. Even when you look at the success stories such as Marcus Rashford, he's not appeared happy for a while.

    The fact Malacia has seemingly been signed upon the request of his manager – rather than a glorified accountant on the board – is undoubtedly a tick in the pros column, but only time will tell if that trust in Ten Hag is well-placed.

  • Mainz 'didn't expect' fan fury ahead of Newcastle friendly, still playing Saudi-backed club Mainz 'didn't expect' fan fury ahead of Newcastle friendly, still playing Saudi-backed club

    Mainz will push ahead with plans to face Newcastle United in a pre-season friendly despite backlash from their supporters.

    Newcastle will face German clubs Mainz and 1860 Munich in Austria ahead of the 2022-23 season.

    But the scheduled matches have not been welcomed by supporters of those clubs due to the identity of Newcastle's owners.

    The consortium that bought Newcastle last October includes Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), which owns 80 per cent of the club.

    Saudi Arabia's human rights record is of major concern, along with its role in the war in Yemen.

    But Mainz insist they cannot afford to cancel the Newcastle friendly, both because of the need to prepare for the Bundesliga season and due to contractual obligations.

    "A friendly against a big English club is first of all a really good test for us," said chairman Stefan Hofmann in a statement in which Mainz confirmed they had held further talks with Newcastle and would plan to meet with fans. "It's also important for our team’s pre-season preparations.

    "After weighing up our options and not having an appropriate alternative opponent of this standard available, we agreed to play this game.

    "We didn't expect the reaction we got from some fans. We respect them and regret that these concerns have arisen because it's our responsibility to start the new season as one big unit together with our fans."

    Mainz board member Christian Heidel added: "From a footballing perspective, we can't afford to miss out on this friendly.

    "A one-sided cancellation of the fixture, as has been demanded by some fans, is not feasible, because were we to not honour our contractual obligations, this could have serious legal and economic consequences for us, and so we're going to stand by the contractual agreement."

    Mainz coach Bo Svensson had already addressed the concerns, saying as reported by Bild: "On the one hand, I can understand the arguments.

    "[But] whenever it comes to football, things get very inflated and become huge issues."

    Referring to the PIF's shares in Disney, Svensson added: "How far are we going? Will we then also forego Disney films with our children?"

    1860 coach Michael Kollner said to db24: "You always have to be a bit careful when conducting a moral discussion. I find that difficult. You can find something in everyone.

    "We haven't done everything right in the past either – and teams are still playing against us in preparation.

    "Newcastle was bought by someone with the money he has. I don't know if we are always entitled to evaluate things – especially in times when we have completely different issues in Europe.

    "Unity looks different. I'm responsible for the sport – and I'm glad we got this test match."

  • Man Utd sign defender Malacia from Feyenoord Man Utd sign defender Malacia from Feyenoord

    Tyrell Malacia has signed for Manchester United from Feyenoord in a deal that is reportedly worth up to £15million.

    The Netherlands international becomes the long-awaited first signing of the Erik ten Hag era at Old Trafford, following a slew of exits under the Dutchman.

    Malacia will now join up with his countryman at United and is expected to offer competition to England defender Luke Shaw and Brazil's Alex Telles in the left-back role going forward, having signed a four-year contract with an option for a further season.

    The 22-year-old was reported to be moving for a £13m (€15.1m) fee, with just shy of £2m in add-ons. Reports in the Netherlands claim Feyenoord will receive a percentage of any future sale, too.

    "It's an incredible feeling to have joined Manchester United," Malacia said. "This is a new chapter for me, a new league with new team-mates and a tremendous manager leading us.

    "I know from playing against his teams in the Eredivisie, the qualities that he has and what he demands of his players.

    "Whilst I know that I am still young and will continue to develop, I can promise the United fans that I will leave everything on the pitch every time I pull on the red shirt.

    "I'll always be thankful to Feyenoord for all they have given to me and my family.

    "None of this would be possible if it wasn't for them. Now I'm ready to focus on the future with United and help my new club achieve success."

    Malacia came through the Feyenoord academy, having joined the club as a nine-year-old, and broke into their senior set-up as an 18-year-old in 2017.

    He was an unused substitute in their KNVB Beker and Johan Cruyff Shield wins in 2018 and featured in their Europa Conference League final loss to Roma earlier this year.

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