Why Manchester United could have a nightmare start to the Premier League in 2020/21

There has been a clear pattern with Manchester United since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over the club in December 2018, the Red Devils are either brilliant or poor. There’s been no in between and maybe that has cost the club a trophy or an extra league position.

The Norwegian manager and United great currently has a 54% win rate with the club, which is very decent. Jose Mourinho who Solskjaer replaced had a 58% win rate. So there is certainly room for improvement. However the way United finished last season left everyone slack jawed. It was a fantastic run that saw the club not only qualify for the Champions League but leap frog Chelsea and finish 3rd.

However new season and perhaps a new United. The club at home in their first game lost against Crystal Palace 3-1. The score felt like a big loss for the club, this was a game that was supposed to be made simple, they have the players and yet all that goal scoring talent in Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes could not pull them back into the game. True they did have 17 attempts on goal but only 4 shots on target at home is not good enough. Palace finished with more shots on target and the first surprise result of the season had been sealed.

United fans will be hoping that it is a one off and that the club will win their next few games and be able to move on. But that isn’t how Solskjaer teams have worked up until now. A blip quickly turns into a few games. Now when we look at the clubs upcoming fixture list it isn’t going to be an easy ride for them.

This weekend United will play Brighton who, like last season have started brightly. Even when they lost against Chelsea many observers said that they were the better team. Graham Potter’s side made amends with the defeat against the Blues by beating Newcastle away from home 3-0. That was a statement win and the club will be up for producing another upset.

After that game United will face the likes of Tottenham, Newcastle, Chelsea, Arsenal and Everton. Many tricky ties in there plus the beginning of the Champions League will kick off in October adding further games and travel for the club.

Could it be that United will start the campaign off poorly and lose touch to the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City so early on that they will have no touching distance and chance of a league challenge?

Of course it is still early days but their fixtures do not look to have piled up well for the club. History says they will come good, but only after they have gone through the ‘Ole’ struggle once again.

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West Ham internal fighting, playing poorly and they could have zero points by Halloween

At the end of last season which of course didn’t end until July there seemed to finally be a light at the end of the tunnel for West Ham. A team who looked one of the favourites to be relegated picked up 12 points in their last six games and easily survived relegation. One of those matches was beating Champions League hunting Chelsea, West Ham were for real and manager David Moyes had found the tactic to connect the players, or had he?

Was the back end of last season simply a group of players, us against the world, and us against dropping down to the Championship? Did the players unite together and show what they are capable of only to not get relegated? If so West Ham have more problems than they initially thought. That kind of team spirit usually leads to the sacking of the manager six months later and everything slowly falling apart. Players can’t win every game, granted, but there needs to be the want to play 100% for the team, throw in consistency and you a decent side.

Last season West Ham had dreams of being Wolves or Sheffield United but they played much like bottom club Norwich for the majority of the season. But those final few games did suggest that the team had turned a corner and yet they went and lost their first game of the season.

A 2-0 loss at home v Newcastle is not good, but of course it isn’t the end of the world. But it was the way the team played. It was as if this game was number 60 in a long hard season and not the Hammers first. Everything seemed off even Moyes final team selection. Leaving Felipe Anderson on the bench just seemed odd. The players played without heart in a game that on paper they could have won. There was nothing here, it reminded one of their first game of the season last August, against Manchester City they put in a dire toothless display. But then again this was Manchester City. But still he performance was a foreshadow of how the majority of their season would end up.

Then there is the in fighting. Thankfully this isn’t with Moyes, he’s seen as the good guy and the players are with him, though you would be forgiven for thinking that in the Newcastle game. This is all down to ownership,David Sullivan and David Gold need to go according to West Ham fans, enough is enough. Wasted money, too much bad recruitment and of course THAT stadium move, the fans have had enough. It’s hard to blame them, change is needed and fresh owners that can pounce on ideas and inject cash into the team would be a welcome change.

Possibly the final straw for the players, especially captain Mark Noble was when the board decided to sell Grady Diangana. He tweeted his disapproval with “As captain of this football club I’m gutted, angry and sad that Grady has left, great kid with a great future!!!!!” Diangana was sold to Premier League rivals West Bromwich Albion for just £18m which is a steal if as Noble suggested he goes on to have a great future. West Ham will counter that with the pandemic they needed to raise some money.

As for Noble most football media have said he was wrong to make his feelings public, but at the same time Noble isn’t stupid and did this to highlight the fact that Sullivan and Gold need to go. At the same time all of this came on eve of their Premier League game with Newcastle and with such a poor display Noble was made the scapegoat. But Noble would have told his teammates of his feelings behind the scenes anyway.

Despite a poor league performance West Ham did beat Charlton in the Carabao Cup which was a big boost for the club in their 3-0 win. It was telling that Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko who played with pace on the flanks both started, and yet in the league match remained on the bench.

Maybe there is hope for the side to bounce back quick, but they have a very tough schedule up until October 31st. Their next league game is away to Arsenal who have an abundance of confidence right now and that will be the Gunners first home game of the season. Then they will return home to play Wolves which will be a tricky game and Wolves controlled the last match played at London Stadium near the end of last season.

Leicester is up next and that is at King Power Stadium and with the way the Foxes have started this season they look just as good as last. Then it’s time for more London rivals as they take on Tottenham away from home, by then Jose Mourinho’s side could be in need of points themselves after starting the campaign with a loss.

What follows is a double whammy. Facing the last two Premier League champions. It’s Manchester City at home first up, in a fixture that ended 5-0 to City last season. And then on Halloween it could be a right horror story when the club face the champions Liverpool at Anfield.

It’s very possible that David Moyes team could be looking for their first point as we enter November. At the same time the Hammers have proven to step up in the face of tough fixtures before just look to last Christmas as evidence for that, and then again the last few games of last season. There is that burning desire in the team that somehow lasts, and that is to prove people wrong in the heat of it, but fail against teams in which they are expected to beat.

This will be an interesting few weeks then and will show the real character of the club. David Moyes winning percentage for them simply isn’t good enough though and the writing may start to get written on the wall as early as November. For West Ham it’s time to step up once more.

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Phil Foden, Mason Greenwood and Harry Maguire have embarrassed England and Gareth Southgate has a huge job on his hands

Nothing has changed from the England mental attitude of the 1970s, 80s, or 90s, and this is something that current manager Gareth Southgate learned in the most direct way in the past few weeks.

Players that are supposed to be upstanding professionals have let themselves down and let football down, and let Southgate down. So much so that even some sections of the press are wondering if Southgate is up to the job. Here is the man that led a very average England side to the semi-finals of the World Cup and the Nations League in its first edition. There is a lot of potential in this England side but Southgate ultimately might never get the chance to realise it, but he is not the major problem. The players are.

Not every player of course, but once one player makes off the pitch mistakes it just seeps into the squad. A laugh here, a jibe there. Harry Maguire the captain of the national side getting involved in a reported punch up in Greece with police, Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood arranging for two women to join them in a hotel, it all just harks back to tabloid heaven from the 1990s.

You don’t see continental and international players keep getting themselves in the headlines for the wrong reasons, scandal after scandal seems to follow England and football, if it isn’t the fans it’s the players- and they are supposed to be the role models.

Southgate has tried to play down what Foden and Greenwood did, and true they are young, 38 years between them, they will hopefully learn. But still. The problem that Southgate has is that they are two very good players and are important to the England set up. They will miss perhaps one game, like they did yesterday, the Denmark one.But Southgate should write them off for the next 3 games at least- punish them properly make them really think about what they have done.

Young players will make mistakes but it also showed a lack of respect for preparation for the Denmark game. Do they not care about the UEFA Nations League or representing their country? Would they have tried the same on had this been a knock out World Cup game?

Scandals followed the England team even when Southgate was a player, as a manager he is trying to advance the team and put them in a more professional light. But Maguire, Foden and Greenwood have sent his plans hurtling back to the drawing board faster than a janitor hitting the ground after being punched by the Rock. His plans are in tatters, and one suspects after next summers Euro’s Southgate could be departing early, sadly little has changed within the England set up, even on the surface that doesn’t look like the case, it seems as if the problems are very deep rooted.

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Does football need fans inside stadiums?

The Coronavirus pandemic has brought up many questions, indeed more questions than answers as the world tries to adapt to life with the pandemic. It is sadly a pandemic they may dissipate somewhat but could well never go away. Everything seems to have changed and that of course has affected the world of football.

There are no fans allowed in the major European leagues. So much has changed so fast because of the spread of the virus. Let’s go back to the summer when UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin was adamant that fans would be attending the Champions League final. He could not visualise that no fans would be able to witness the match live, even though domestic football had already been told that fans could not attend games. The Champions League final without fans, it was simply unthinkable. Even the knock out games seemed a stretch. The best teams, the best players, the sponsors, the spectacle all this going on, but no crowd atmosphere, surely the death of football was around the corner?

True the death of football is going over the top, but surely the game was going to miss something? And yet has it? One of the first major leagues to kick off again in Europe was the Bundesliga, did no fans really effect the outcomes of the games? True home wins dipped from 46% to 18% but that was only in the first few weeks. After that Bayern Munich played some incredible attacking football just like they would have with fans, and won the league in incredible style.

And the other leagues started up and the teams did what they do, they played. There were many incidents off the ball, yellow cards, sending offs, attacks, corners and goals. Perhaps the first few games were slow to start with especially in the Premier League when most of the early games goals were coming in the 2nd half of play. But still, the players just got on with it. There was no atmosphere in the stands but that didn’t stop the intensity on the pitch.

In the Champions League the quality of football was the same as a season with fans.There was the beauty in how Bayern played such incredible attacking football against Barcelona. The fans did not influence a game that ended with Bayern scoring 8 goals. There was also the thrills, PSG made it to the final, (their first one) but the French champions were going out at the quarter final stage after they were trailing Atalanta 1-0 on the 90th minute. They then did an infamous Manchester United comeback from the 1999 final and found not one but two goals in injury time to break Italian hearts.

One could see this in reverse of course. Look at West Ham in the Premier League, who looked like a different team with no fans especially at home. It felt as though the shackles and pressure from the fans was all too bearing on David Moyes side who before the season was paused in March looked like one of the favourite clubs to be relegated. But without the added pressure of critical fans, they played good football and easily stayed up. Of course no one at the club has admitted that it could be a key reason, but it is worth thinking about.

With television companies providing noise crowd and the cameras clearly angled at a certain position, as an armchair fan the fans at the games simply were not missed. And even though this wasn’t an experiment and was indeed needed, the result one has to wonder, is that perhaps fans are not needed to enhance a game of football.

At the same time revenue is of course lost, though for the most elite teams the bulk of the money comes through television. The lower league clubs would obviously fold and dissolve without the fans and of course especially for the smaller teams there is a sense of community when supporting your local team. In that case and even in the case of a fan attending a Manchester City game or Real Madrid one, it comes down to watching a live match, like a live concert, it is socially entertaining, and the game can be a fun way of relaxing and having a story to tell.

Still that doesn’t take away from what we have witnessed over the past few months, sure the biggest games ignite a special atmosphere, who could imagine Liverpool’s Kop stand empty during a classic European night of football? It simply isn’t the same. At the same time the players are professional and perhaps we have learned that when it comes down to winning games, fans make little to no difference, if in attendance or watching from home.

 

Can Harry Maguire keep his captaincy after arrest in Greece?

It’s been a terrible week for Manchester United and England player Harry Maguire who was arrested and then charged in Greece whilst on holiday, the question is now what will happen to him professionally?

Details are still sketchy about what actually happened when Maguire was on holiday but it seems that he was drinking and got into a scuffle or at least a shouting match with some members of the public. Soon after the police got involved and Maguire may have had a confrontation with them. After being taking to a cell reports suggest that Maguire told the police he was a very rich man and could pay them. That is of course bribery and seems to have back fired on Maguire.

This is a mess no doubt and just looks bad anyway you look at it. An Englishman abroad… but at the same time if Maguire was taunted in the first place this is not good. Can’t a famous known figure enjoy themselves without being verbally abused? Some would say that Maguire visited a tourist hot spot and should have known better though, that the life he leads means he will be a target. Well Maguire has found out the hard way.

There was a feeling that Maguire would be found not guilty but that hasn’t happened and the report has come back pressing charges on the footballer. This means in theory he could face jail time, although by Greek law that probably won’t happen and instead he will be fined- money he tried to part with a few days ago.

But Maguire’s professionalism will surely need to be questioned after this incident. Some of the accusations against the player are not befitting of someone who also leads his team. For England manager Gareth Southgate named Maguire as his starting captain for England’s next international games a day before the guilty verdict and it will be interesting to see if Southgate keeps that decision.

It has been reported that United manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer is having talks with Maguire about his captaincy and he could be stripped of it even if Solskjaer supports his player he may need to act on the guilty verdict.

If anything this has been a learning curve for Maguire and his next holiday will surely be more private. Overall Maguire has had a decent season with the club and he should be able to recover from this controversy- he will at least have a chapter for his future book wrapped up.

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After his first season with Manchester United is Harry Maguire really worth £80m?

There was heaps of pressure put on England international Harry Maguire when he joined Manchester United at the beginning of last season for £80m. For one that figure broke the world transfer record for a defender. For two you could have been forgiven for thinking that the star defenders over Europe were looking at the transfer and thinking Harry who?

Of course Maguire by the transfer had put in some brilliant performances for both Leicester City and England where he had broken into the national team. But Maguire had not been seen in Europe due to not playing in either the Champions League or Europa League, so the transfer seemed like a scratch your head moment.

However those in the Premier League knew of Maguire’s strengths, and sometimes it’s not the overall quality that you have that counts in the league but the experience you have. Imagine for example taking a world class defender from Serie A and pitting them in the Premier League- they may get to grips with the pace of the league after a while, but already having that experience you hit the ground running. This is what United were buying and then of course there is always going to be a premium price when your new signing is an England international.

One of the other negative points about breaking transfer records was that Maguire hadn’t justified his price tag, no matter if he had put in some reliable and solid games with club and country. How does one justify spending £80m on a player who has won zero trophies? The problem lies in the fact that the player has no winning experience, still age is on his side. At 27 and in his position he could well have 10 years at the top of the game where he will be hoping to become a legend at Old Trafford.

How has his debut season fared then with the red devils? Maguire started decent enough but did make a few errors as the winter months kicked in. However at the turn of the year he really started to find his rhythm on the pitch and formed an excellent partnership with Victor Lindelof.

Do you have Maguire in your fantasy team? If so you will be interested to note that he came out on top of all the defenders in the side gaining 52 points. He only scored 1 league goal this season but that isn’t so important, it’s not his job to bang in the goals, though he would have liked to have created some and he didn’t. However he did help the club to 13 clean sheets when he played.

Ultimately then after a shaky start Maguire looks to have had a solid season with the club and that isn’t easy with such a step up to a club like United and what it means. He has helped them into a 3rd place finish and that will mean Champions League football for next season which should further enhance his reputation.

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Antonio Rudiger left frustrated at a lack of evidence after he says he was racially abused

Chelsea player Antonio Rudiger has reacted after the FA have come back and said that they couldn’t charge anyone in the game with Tottenham as there was no evidence to suggest that Antonio Rudiger was racially abused when the clubs played each other at Tottenham’s new ground a few weeks ago.

Rudiger had said that he had heard monkey chants aimed at him and a full investigation was then launched. In other incidents within the grounds there were 6 arrests but none were directly linked to Rudiger’s claim.

Tottenham have said that they have video equipment which can follow every fans face and even lip reading techniques and there has simply been no evidence to suggest that Rudiger suffered racist abuse. Of course this doesn’t mean that he didn’t.

It’s been a very difficult season in the Premier League for racist chanting and abuse and it does look like it is on the rise sadly once more. Although clubs zero tolerance policy of handing out life time bans for fans, is a fantastic measure and really is the way to go, one would hope that other leagues would follow suit.

Rudiger was understandably feeling down at the FA’s findings and he had this to say. “I’ll always raise my voice but in relation to this, I’m alone. Racism has won. The offenders can always come back to the stadium, which shows these people have won. It’s a disaster.”

Rudiger added: ”I became a father last Thursday and you start thinking society hasn’t come far enough in fighting racism, so my kids will probably suffer as well. If nothing changes, if kids don’t get good education and parenting, we’ll lose.”

Chelsea football club added their thoughts to the situation also via a club statement. ‘As Tottenham’s statement makes clear, a lack of evidence does not mean an incident did not take place. It is vitally important we continue to encourage all players, whatever shirt they wear, to report racist abuse without fear of doubt or reprisal.’

This is an incredibly controversial moment within the league because it is very probable that Rudiger heard something, and yet with all of the technology that the clubs have at their disposal they were not able to find the evidence to get the section of fans.

Rudiger though shouldn’t feel too down about what has happened. If it has, then it is disgusting and no one can make any excuses about that. But he is fortunate to play in a league that does take racism seriously and for that the Premier League despite its faults is heading in the right direction.

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The fallout from Manchester City’s 2 year Champions League ban

There was more controversy in the Premier League with VAR, namely in the Chelsea-Manchester United game where it seemed clear as daylight Harry Maguire should have seen a red card. But nothing was even looked into, and the inconsistencies of VAR really need to be looked at.

However VAR seems to dominate the pages when it comes to controversial moments but off the pitch the story that could change English football’s greatest superpower was doing the rounds and that is Manchester City being banned by UEFA for 2 years in the Champions League.

There is no proof of course that City have done any wrong doing, and we can’t say they have because the club have appealed UEFA’s decision. But after a thorough investigation UEFA seem fairly confident that they have a case against City, and together with the ban they have fined the club £25m. City can deal with the fine, even though that is huge compared to say, the fines that UEFA dish out for racism, but that is for another day and another story. But City can’t deal with not being in the Champions League.

The FFP is one of contention too- so City may have overspent and UEFA do not like how clubs can be run. At the same time the flip side to that argument would be how were City ever going to be able to catch up to Manchester United their eternal rivals? How were they going to be a force in Europe? FFP seems to target clubs who want to make investments and challenge the bigger teams. Are UEFA trying to stifle the progress of new clubs and just keep the Real Madrid’s, Barcelona’s and Bayern Munich’s happy?

Of course in an ideal world the FFP rules would make sense. But ideal and football doesn’t go together, at least in the top tier’s, it really doesn’t. When TV deals are being negoitated in one country to show live football for upwards of £3 billion over a 3 year period, that is off the ball in itself and makes no sense the money being talked about so TV can show a games of football. For this UEFA look out of their depth even if their initial plans was to make football fairer, it actually is doing the opposite. Maybe that is why we are seeing the same teams win the Champions League?

But City may not have a leg to stand on if they have done wrong and it is proven. Even if you don’t agree with the FFP rules surely every club had to sign up for it? City must have and if those rules have been broken, then what would be the excuse? Still there is so much power in football and City will certainly fight their case, one thing is sure we will learn just how much power and influence UEFA have in today’s game, and if City win the appeal it would seem that they would have fairly little.

There’s quite a fall out to be had too. Have UEFA shot themselves in the foot for example? If Europe’s most powerful clubs feel stifled by their budgets and spending, could they be banned in the future? Will the clubs simply form a breakaway from UEFA or create a Super League which has been touted for years? Do the big clubs need UEFA if they don’t like their rules?

Also for City if they are banned surely that will mean the end for Pep Guardiola. He has hinted he would stay, but really would he, when he is going to leave in the summer of 2021 anyway? Some of their stars could leave too, and whilst City would still remain a quality team and powerful one, if the appeal loses one suspects it could knock the club back a few good years.

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Toulouse are down and out but did VAR make the right decision?

Picture this if you will, down in bottom place of Ligue 1 and 14 points from safety, lost 18 games this season and conceded 51 goals. Nothing is going right for Toulouse and that was underlined at the weekend when playing at home they lost to Nice 2-0.

But there would be a couple of controversial moments during the game that certainly affected it for a club who prepared for this one. They had known that Nice do not have the best away record and that they have been a club when needed to win or expected to win against a bottom three side have done a great job in the past of messing it up. Toulouse knew they would be the outsiders- although curiously the bookmakers had matched up the sides with the same price and chance of winning. There was something in the air.

Toulouse look doomed in Ligue 1, but before the weekend, they looked doomed but had a small chance, a win here would have created a buzz missing in the club, and with no wins in the last four months, it was something that they needed. But the game was over before it had really got going after Nice took a 12th minute lead through Pierre Lees Melou. The balance was still there though and Toulouse were not about to give up. But fifteen minutes later the towel was thrown in with the help of VAR.

Toulouse defender Ruben Gabrielsen was adjudged to have made a professional foul but it did look 50/50 as both him and striker grappled for position. A straight red just seemed harsh in the circumstances but that’s what happened and when you are the bottom club, 1-0 down and now have 10 men in under 30 minutes it is literally game over. The home support voiced their frustrations but there was nothing they could do about it.

In the second half Toulouse had another player sent off, and this time VAR got it right. Steven Moreira kicked out but the referee only saw that as a yellow card until VAR intervened and changed it to a red card, and it was fully deserved. The icing on the cake ended with Toulouse missing a penalty to make it 1-1 and then Nice going down the other end to get their 2nd in a game that finished 2-0 to the away side.

Toulouse will look back at what looked like a controversial sending off, and one wonders unless a player is being very violent or comes in with a ‘leg breaking’ tackle if they need to be more lenient so early in games. After all having 11 players play 10 it just seems to end the contest before it has really got started, and no one wants that.

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Immaturity still the enemy of Dele Alli as he faces possible FA charge

The most controversial moment in the Premier League over the past few days did not take place on the pitch but off it when Dele Alli joked about the recent coronavirus disease which has spread in China.

Alli was spending time off as the winter break took hold in the Premier League and Tottenham had no games planned. Predictably flying to Dubai Alli posted a video on social media app snapchat, and one really has to wonder what was going through the Tottenham players mind when he did so?

The video posted by Alli showed him wearing a face mask in an airport lounge, before moving the camera to show a man of Asian appearance, and then zooming in on a bottle of antiseptic hand wash.

Looking at both sides of the argument to try and understand why Alli did this, one can see a young man trying to have a laugh about a world story, and perhaps his one big fault is that he made a video of it. Alli isn’t a spiteful and hateful person, but a lot of people would have been offended by his video which came across as being rather stereotypical.

Alli quickly took down the video presumably after reading some of the negative comments and possibly getting contacted by his agent that he had messed up and gone too far. He then had to issue an apology. Alli said: “It wasn’t funny and I realised that immediately and took it down. I let myself down and the club. It isn’t something that should be joked about. I’m sending all my love and all my thoughts and prayers to everyone in China.”

Whilst Alli did apologise there was something in his response that just seemed very generic and it is worrying that Alli a professional football player who millions of fans around the world would look up to would make such a child like error.

Alli has shown to be immature before, on the pitch, and this is something that ex-players have also noticed and spoken out about. Paul Ince did so in 2016 saying: “He’s still got a lot to learn and it’s important that we don’t get too carried away about him. Some of the stuff Dele does is very immature. He makes some silly tackles and he can kick out at people. That’s where he’s got to learn and improve.”

That word immature has followed Alli around and when it is being spoken of you when you are 20 is one thing, but when you are making very silly jokes and posting videos 3 years later it is quite another. Of course Alli is only 23 and most 23 year old’s are making far worse mistakes in life, the difference again is that Alli doesn’t always seem to understand the important public role he is in.

Just a few months ago TV pundit and ex-Liverpool legend Graeme Souness criticised Alli saying: “He needs to ask why Harry Kane has kicked on and handled all the peripheral stuff that comes with being a top player, and he hasn’t. Can he honestly say he’s been fully focused on his football or has he forgotten what made him kick a ball in the first place?”

All of these are very interesting comments by different leading pundits in the media and whilst they may seem negative there is an underlying reason why pundits in England are ready to speak about Alli in this way. That reason is because he is Alli is a superb player when he wants to be. He is the player that can make the difference and take Tottenham and England up to another level. Professionals can see this in him, and so when he lets himself down on or off the pitch it feels like watching wasted potential.

The FA have written to the player asking him to explain his actions and if he is charged he could well be suspended for at least 1 game and be fined. It is likely with the FA having a zero tolerance on social media posts that are deemed to be ‘unhealthy’ that he will face a charge.

Hopefully Alli can kick on and realise that posting jokes about serious issues in the world isn’t what professional sportsman do. And hopefully he can become a consistent enough player for Tottenham too.

In reality his harshest critics are actually his biggest fans.

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