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she makes me feel something. everything.

Europa

Villas-Boas accentuates value of Europa League, ahead of Lazio opener.


After a galvanic performance at Reading, Andre Villas-Boas hopes three points over a tough-looking Lazio will set Spurs en route to “something special” in this season’s Europa League.

A decidedly disparate mindset to that of his predecessor, Harry Redknapp, Villas-Boas’ ambitions for Europe’s secondary competition are pleasingly novel. Anglo ambivalence, bordering overt derision, has been substituted for continental favourability. And all for it I am, despite the diluted kudos and far-flung away fixtures.

Panathinaikos and Slovenian side Maribor complete Group J’s foursome, both ties in which Villas-Boas will expect victory. Unbeaten domestically, Thursday’s opposition, Lazio, represent a stern start to a “hard and strenuous” campaign. The Portuguese’s alacrity to compete intently, however, is one fans should welcome.

Afforded ample opportunity, too, will be the young and fringe-residing - Andros Townsend, Tom Carroll, Yago Falque, and Adam Smith can expect minutes - but, positively, progression into the knockout stages is the unequivocal aim. One new signing, Mousa Dembele, shares: “This is a very important competition for us. I think we can do something in [it].”

Like Dembele, though, Villas-Boas acknowledges the renascent Biancazurri pose, in Miroslav Klose and Hernanes, a considerable threat. But after a disarmingly dominant show on Sunday, Villas-Boas, a post-game portrait of relief, will be sanguine about his side’s prospects.

Suffused with creativity and confidence, Spurs, conspicuously anaemic at home, know the importance Reading - and now Lazio - could have on their season. So too a moderately unchanged XI; one still finding its feet in a recently revised system.    

Despite the media’s childishly churlish proclamations, Villas-Boas will be given time. And with the unarguable talent at his disposal, the former Europa League-winning coach knows success on the continent is a definite possibility. But momentum comes first. Spurs will hope to maintain theirs at White Hart Lane tonight.

Five Things: Spurs

Villas-Boas needs time:

Platitudinous as it sounds, the (media-decreed) “under-fire” Villas-Boas needs time. Encumbering the Portuguese may be some injudicious transfer activity. Failure to land tailor made Modric replacement, Joao Moutinho, could prove costly. Summer-long pursuits of Emmanuel Adebayor (in, eventually) and Leandro Damiao (not in, where he’ll remain) took precedence over the pricey, but classy, Porto man. Temporal restraints and, presumably, unforeseen 3rd party ownership, the excuses. Arrivals are good, if, in some cases, nonessential. Levy knows that.

Michael Dawson deserves consideration:

Villas-Boas mustn’t simply defenestrate experience, like Dawson’s, for young, quick, high-line-suitable players. Steven Caulker is an exciting prospect, but, in Younes Kaboul’s absence, Dawson should partner the hitherto impressive Jan Vertonghen. An ebullient, consummate professional, Spurs would benefit incrementally from his inclusion.

Central midfield:

Worryingly devoid of central midfield creativity, Villas-Boas has no obvious solution. Luka Modric was the heartbeat of Redknapp’s side and, without him, no one looks especially eager to dictate the tempo. His exit, to Madrid, was all but unavoidable; Rafael Van der Vaart’s wasn’t. Ostensibly difficult to accommodate, the Dutchman’s intelligence and faultless distribution will be missed. Moussa Dembele’s arrival, however, is a pleasing one. Nimble and athletic, expect the Belgian’s influence to proliferate. Quite how Villas-Boas assimilates he, Clint Dempsey, and Gylfi Sigurdsson remains to be seen. Tough one.

Lloris:

A commanding, albeit slight, long-term replacement for Brad Friedel, Hugo Lloris, an £8m deadline day acquisition, represents something of a coup. Suitably sullen France coach, Didier Deschamps, however, revealed his captain’s disappointment with Villas-Boas’ post-Norwich disclosure that Friedel, 41, won’t simply cede his starting position, uncontested.

Levy’s brinkmanship almost scuppered this deal, Jean-Michel Aulas labelling it the most onerous negotiation of his 25-year presidential tenure. Villas-Boas, faced with an inescapable selection headache, must placate the gifted Frenchman. But the authoritative, ever-present Friedel deserves respect, too. Another tough one. Fans will hope Lloris’ frame is not as fragile as his ego.    

Get Adebayor fit:


By Sunday the Togolese, sine qua non for Villas-Boas’ 4-2-3-1 formation, ought to be match-fit. Which should, incidentally, boost Gareth Bale’s modest early season output immeasurably. Villas-Boas will be keen to rekindle the pair’s synchronicity and, moreover, kick-start Spurs’ campaign at Reading this weekend. There’s work to be done.

Caveat

Spurs must preclude a feeble recent run, and rescue an otherwise impressive season.

This is largely uncharted terrain for Redknapp’s Spurs, a team lauded for its zippy, attacking exposition and new-found solidity.

The #Harryout calls are blithely gathering pace, despite their conspicuous prematurity. Then, of course, there’s the all but preordained Adebayor-Redknapp rift rumour. Next, some unsolicited not-so-constructive criticism from the interminably listless Vedran Corluka.

The FA’s revelatory, but conservative, approach for West Brom’s Roy Hodgson should, now, enliven a side fraught by speculation linking Redknapp, an overwhelming favourite, with the vacant England position. (Despite Hodgson’s discernible credentials, the decision has been met with a pointedly mixed response).

Blaming Spurs’ deleterious form on gossip would be foolhardy, but to summarily discount it would be, too. Besting an ill-assembled Blackburn made it three wins from eleven, post-Fabio Capello’s resignation. Redknapp, cleared of tax evasion the same evening, admits, “People who work with me definitely think it’s had an effect, but I’m not sure.”

Some decisions point to a man fatigued, not one of a pernicious preoccupation with England: 4-4-2 formations against Arsenal/United were naïve, bordering imprudent; Gareth Bale’s galling licence to roam; a patent creative void, too, perhaps a consequence of under-rotation.

Akin to the oft-injured Aaron Lennon, Redknapp’s been hamstrung by long-term absentees (Michael Dawson, Tom Huddlestone) and, perhaps, the frustratingly frugal Daniel Levy. Bale’s ominous admission that, without Champions League, “we’ll have to sit down and see what’s best for me”, should be a loud-and-clear caveat to Tottenham’s chairman. Echoed, one suspects, by the coveted Croatian, Luka Modric.

Four points adrift of Arsenal (with a game in hand), Redknapp must lift his side - and self - into the winnable, season-closing fixtures with renewed dynamism. And reapplied width. Recreating late 2011’s fluid, interchangeable system may be a stretch. So, too, convincing Bale and Modric of their futures. Champions League qualification, however, would be a good start.    

Masters

Five things we learnt from Augusta.


Tiger Woods isn’t there, yet:
Woods was disconcertingly poor. Unbefitting of recent form, his week was replete with ‘shits’, ’goddamnits’, & unpromisingly awful swings. A far cry from the imposing, renascent figure of March’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. He looked disoriented, uncomfortable, & mired by swing thoughts. Perhaps a temporary encumbrance, but worrying nonetheless.

Westwood must address putter:
Self-explanatory. Event-leading GIR stats matter not with such an infertile stroke. Augusta’s greens are, of course, perfidious things, prepared to penalise the slightest of slight mishits. But last week’s 32 putts-per-round average is, quite simply, not good enough. Achieving parity with Phil Mickelson, who’d putt 21 fewer times, is an astounding act.

Oosthuizen will come again:
The quiet, one-time Open champion’s performance won’t have surprised golf’s cognoscenti. Oosthuizen’s fluid, simple, long-hitting motion - & unruffled disposition - was a joy to watch. A seamless, gets-better-every-time-you-see-it albatross will be a great memory; a mental mistake in sudden death shouldn’t fester. Classy & gracious in defeat, Louis will come again.

Sergio Garcia mustn’t be downhearted:
Like Westwood, the major-less Garcia is beginning to, quite publicly, emit frustration over his inability to convert long-game precision into Ws. After a third-round 75, the Spaniard would avow, “I’m not good enough for the majors.” From a natural, excitable talent like Garcia, the admission’s quite disheartening. And at 32, with four successive top-12 major finishes, rather an unwelcome surprise. A jocular, self-deprecating hug with McIroy was one of the week’s highlights.  

Tournament of the year:
Not the billed Woods-McIroy showdown, but no less entertaining. Gather the world’s best golfers on a fast, fair, luminous Augusta Sunday, and try not being enthralled. The Masters is still very much the golfing event of the year.        

Lana Del Rey (bubblebathos)

bubblebathosbands:

carrying a prop copy of a minor Nabokov, Joseph Szabo photos, thinking it’s hot when a guy has a shitty phone, sourcing 90’s Bongo jeans on Etsy, recognizing Stranger Than Paradise from Tumblr .gifs, recommending Big L when anyone mentions Biggie, calling your dad “daddy”, wearing a veil, Reebok…

The Balotelli Show

We’ve all enjoyed the Mario Balotelli Show so far. But the plot, for all its inconstancy, feels increasingly banal and well-worn. Our protagonist, initially an inscrutable maverick, is developing into a thoroughly imprudent rogue, with few redeeming qualities.

The Italian’s latest indiscretion, an impetuous stamp on Tottenham’s Scott Parker, stretched beyond the, to date, comically egregious to the downright idiotic. While the off-pitch fireworks, chicken hats, and arbitrary charitable donations are entertaining enough, this episode was altogether more unsettling.

Balotelli’s second-half introduction came after an implausibly pulsating nine minutes. Samir Nasri, latching onto David Silva’s defence-splitting pass, struck first, before Joleon Lescott bundled home the former’s corner three minutes later. Jermain Defoe would capitalise on Stefan Savic’s poor clearance moments after, circumventing the advancing Joe Hart. And Gareth Bale would level in stunning fashion from 20 yards to complete an ephemeral comeback. 

Then, Balotelli, already cautioned for fouling Benoit Assou-Ekotto, drove into Parker, landing off-balance before taking an unnatural stab at the midfielder’s exposed head. It looked nasty and deliberate, though only Balotelli himself will know if insidious intent drove his descending leg.

Ledley King’s uncharacteristically gauche tackle brought down the striker, who would guide home the ensuing penalty with palpable poise. It was virtually the game’s last kick and, after Defoe’s open-goal miss seconds earlier, a nauseating finish for the impressive Spurs.

Amid expressing pride at his side’s riposte, Harry Redknapp was visibly seething over Balotelli’s “blatant backheel”. The 21-year-old wasn’t questioned on the challenge, but the game-winning spot-kick instead. A terse, taciturn answer followed.

The Balotelli Show is an expensive, grandiose production - with a terrific cast to complement its languorous “star“. Roberto Mancini knows the superlative Silva, Sergio Aguero, and Yaya Toure will negate Balotelli’s occasional profligacy. He, too, recognises the enigma’s considerable raw talent - and a, thus far, season-leading minutes-per-goal ratio.

With each episode, Balotelli’s unpredictable narrative risks becoming so commonplace it’s boring. The Parker incident was erratic and unprompted, but hardly surprising. A proper, rapturous goal celebration would, at this point, almost represent a plot twist.

The ceaseless Twitter conjecture won’t dwindle, but Balotelli’s fervent audience might, should such malice materialise once more. He would, ultimately, suppress Tottenham’s title charge on Sunday, though it could easily have been City’s. Mancini will now privately hope, come the campaign‘s close, he will be asking, “Why always you, Mario?” for the right reasons.

Back

Asked what the overriding emotion was after securing a final-hole ’W’ at the Chevron World Challenge, Woods’s response was typically terse. Only, for the first time in 700-odd days, accompanied by an indelible smile: “It just feels awesome, whatever it is.”

Though likely a potent concoction of joy & satisfaction, Woods’s post-victory sentiment was one of visible relief. After an inconceivably tumultuous few years, is he, then, finally back?

Woods’s title-winning putt was met by a brief, knowing glance from Zach Johnson to caddy. That exultant fist-pump-arms-aloft celebration preceded a warm embrace between the two, Johnson having proved himself a worthy adversary, once more.

But it was to be Woods’s day. It wasn’t exceptionally pretty: the Nicklaus-designed course, Sherwood, showed its bite in blustery conditions, and would punish an errant long-game.

Though there’s a patent reluctance to unleash the driver, Woods’s tee-ball is improving. And while they are a little too frequent, the misses aren’t so feral. The short-game is sharper, too, evinced by a deft greenside chip-in on Saturday.

A conscious, Jimenez-like pre-shot routine, however, prove it’s still not quite classic, exemplary Woods. A President’s Cup-securing point & 3rd-place finish in Melbourne do, though, suggest his defiant rhetoric is believable. And a victory over a small, elite field merely perpetuates that.

Europe’s virtual absence in California shouldn’t diminish Woods’s victory, either, but he must surmount a full-strength field if he’s to silence the ubiquitous naysayers (Hello, Donegan!).

His next appearance, in Abu Dhabi (January), will be a severe test of confidence and mechanics, as he lines up beside Kaymer, Donald, Westwood & McIlroy. The former quartet are indubitably talented, but none captivate quite like Woods. Or dominate. Or immediately double television viewers.

So, is he back? Yes, in part, but the real examination - a full 2012 schedule - awaits.

Title Contenders?

With an almost disconcerting, un-Spurs-like ruthlessness in recent months, are Redknapp’s side now legitimate, if improbable, title contenders? After another victory - the ninth in an unbeaten ten - Spurs look incongruously like challengers.  

It’s with acute cautiousness that I’ll write any such statement. Beating West Brom at The Hawthorns shouldn’t, itself, induce such lofty ambitions. And nor does it, despite claiming all three points there, sans sick Modric & hamstrung Van der Vaart.

It was a tough, testing encounter &, after falling behind, one Redknapp will retrospectively enjoy. There’s a new-found grit about Spurs - thanks, in part, to the inexhaustible Parker - complementing the side’s natural, attacking drive. There’s a blistering pace throughout the XI, too, along with a willingness to track back.

Saturday was far from fluent. The defence looked permeable, & the midfield missing Modric’s artistry. Defoe’s late, trademark 20-yard strike would, however, hand Spurs a deserved lead, before Adebayor’s stoppage time sealer. Despite 20+ goal-bound efforts, a truism ordinarily reserved for gritty, title-winning sides sprung to mind: “winning ugly”.

Spurs did just that. It wasn’t the mellifluous, wave-after-potent-wave of attack Liverpool, QPR & Aston Villa faced, but a dogged display, full of heart, full of self-belief.

Pre-Redknapp, Tottenham may have yielded to West Brom’s pressure. They didn’t. The 64-year-old’s inculcated a confidence in his young, ambitious side. There’s healthy competition for places, too. Defoe, for instance, acknowledges the squad’s strength, despite a discernible frustration with his current, peripheral role. 

The pending weeks - swarming with fixtures - will be a telling test of Spurs’ title credentials. There’s a flagrant disinclination to declare them “contenders”, & understandably so - look, fleetingly, at the competition. Securing a top-four place, alone, is still a daunting assignment.

Linger atop the form table, however, & disrupting the status quo becomes a real, genuine, almost unthinkable possibility. A Champions League spot should, & will, remain the predominant focus, but Redknapp will quietly think, & believe, his side can achieve more.

Notes

Notes: Newcastle/Spurs

After an almost soporific opening period - brightened eventually by Van der Vaart’s well-dispatched spot-kick - Spurs & Newcastle would, thankfully, serve up a gripping, gruelling & open second 45. The result - a 2-2 draw - was a fair & satisfactory one, though Ameobi’s late leveller will have soured the south-bound side’s journey home.

On reflection, though, Redknapp ought to be quite content with Spurs’ durability, purpose & enterprise. Under Pardew, Newcastle are organised, resolute &, somewhat surprisingly, unbeaten. Albeit disappointing, Tottenham never reached full throttle. And without Lennon, Dawson, Gallas & Sandro, were sufficiently equipped to match (& very nearly surmount) an in-form, awkward opponent.

There’s sustained scope for sanguinity, then. An impressive four-game win streak moves to an undefeated five, & winnable ties against Blackburn (A) & QPR (H) await.

Ledley King’s premature substitution was an unfortunate, all-too familiar sight. Spurs’ central defensive partnership almost exudes equanimity when LK is healthy. Or at least partially so. King, himself, admits he’s some distance from full fitness - staggeringly, perhaps 30-40%.

With or without a crowded treatment table, Ledley’s presence is invaluable. An expiring contract, however, leaves Redknapp with a fast-approaching, difficult decision re: a renewal. The latest groin tear should, barring any unforeseen setbacks, sideline the 31-year-old for three-four weeks.

At this point King’s availability is a bonus, but with an ominously depleted central defence, he’s doubly important. Reaching Redknapp’s 20-game season target is, for all parties, a frustratingly tall order. And after four consecutive, injury-free games, the latest tear’s all the more disheartening.

A swift, simple recuperation would certainly alleviate Tottenham’s collective concern. Though King’s condition’s rarely an unproblematic one, a 20-game campaign’s still achievable.

As a fan, I’d hate to see Ledley leave. He’s the captain, a one-club man & a formidable competitor. But as a non-training big-earner, there’s an argument for his (regrettable) release next summer. At 31, though, with a medical record poorer than most OAPs, it’s difficult to envisage King anywhere else but Spurs.

she makes me feel something. everything.

Europa

Villas-Boas accentuates value of Europa League, ahead of Lazio opener.


After a galvanic performance at Reading, Andre Villas-Boas hopes three points over a tough-looking Lazio will set Spurs en route to “something special” in this season’s Europa League.

A decidedly disparate mindset to that of his predecessor, Harry Redknapp, Villas-Boas’ ambitions for Europe’s secondary competition are pleasingly novel. Anglo ambivalence, bordering overt derision, has been substituted for continental favourability. And all for it I am, despite the diluted kudos and far-flung away fixtures.

Panathinaikos and Slovenian side Maribor complete Group J’s foursome, both ties in which Villas-Boas will expect victory. Unbeaten domestically, Thursday’s opposition, Lazio, represent a stern start to a “hard and strenuous” campaign. The Portuguese’s alacrity to compete intently, however, is one fans should welcome.

Afforded ample opportunity, too, will be the young and fringe-residing - Andros Townsend, Tom Carroll, Yago Falque, and Adam Smith can expect minutes - but, positively, progression into the knockout stages is the unequivocal aim. One new signing, Mousa Dembele, shares: “This is a very important competition for us. I think we can do something in [it].”

Like Dembele, though, Villas-Boas acknowledges the renascent Biancazurri pose, in Miroslav Klose and Hernanes, a considerable threat. But after a disarmingly dominant show on Sunday, Villas-Boas, a post-game portrait of relief, will be sanguine about his side’s prospects.

Suffused with creativity and confidence, Spurs, conspicuously anaemic at home, know the importance Reading - and now Lazio - could have on their season. So too a moderately unchanged XI; one still finding its feet in a recently revised system.    

Despite the media’s childishly churlish proclamations, Villas-Boas will be given time. And with the unarguable talent at his disposal, the former Europa League-winning coach knows success on the continent is a definite possibility. But momentum comes first. Spurs will hope to maintain theirs at White Hart Lane tonight.

Five Things: Spurs

Villas-Boas needs time:

Platitudinous as it sounds, the (media-decreed) “under-fire” Villas-Boas needs time. Encumbering the Portuguese may be some injudicious transfer activity. Failure to land tailor made Modric replacement, Joao Moutinho, could prove costly. Summer-long pursuits of Emmanuel Adebayor (in, eventually) and Leandro Damiao (not in, where he’ll remain) took precedence over the pricey, but classy, Porto man. Temporal restraints and, presumably, unforeseen 3rd party ownership, the excuses. Arrivals are good, if, in some cases, nonessential. Levy knows that.

Michael Dawson deserves consideration:

Villas-Boas mustn’t simply defenestrate experience, like Dawson’s, for young, quick, high-line-suitable players. Steven Caulker is an exciting prospect, but, in Younes Kaboul’s absence, Dawson should partner the hitherto impressive Jan Vertonghen. An ebullient, consummate professional, Spurs would benefit incrementally from his inclusion.

Central midfield:

Worryingly devoid of central midfield creativity, Villas-Boas has no obvious solution. Luka Modric was the heartbeat of Redknapp’s side and, without him, no one looks especially eager to dictate the tempo. His exit, to Madrid, was all but unavoidable; Rafael Van der Vaart’s wasn’t. Ostensibly difficult to accommodate, the Dutchman’s intelligence and faultless distribution will be missed. Moussa Dembele’s arrival, however, is a pleasing one. Nimble and athletic, expect the Belgian’s influence to proliferate. Quite how Villas-Boas assimilates he, Clint Dempsey, and Gylfi Sigurdsson remains to be seen. Tough one.

Lloris:

A commanding, albeit slight, long-term replacement for Brad Friedel, Hugo Lloris, an £8m deadline day acquisition, represents something of a coup. Suitably sullen France coach, Didier Deschamps, however, revealed his captain’s disappointment with Villas-Boas’ post-Norwich disclosure that Friedel, 41, won’t simply cede his starting position, uncontested.

Levy’s brinkmanship almost scuppered this deal, Jean-Michel Aulas labelling it the most onerous negotiation of his 25-year presidential tenure. Villas-Boas, faced with an inescapable selection headache, must placate the gifted Frenchman. But the authoritative, ever-present Friedel deserves respect, too. Another tough one. Fans will hope Lloris’ frame is not as fragile as his ego.    

Get Adebayor fit:


By Sunday the Togolese, sine qua non for Villas-Boas’ 4-2-3-1 formation, ought to be match-fit. Which should, incidentally, boost Gareth Bale’s modest early season output immeasurably. Villas-Boas will be keen to rekindle the pair’s synchronicity and, moreover, kick-start Spurs’ campaign at Reading this weekend. There’s work to be done.

Caveat

Spurs must preclude a feeble recent run, and rescue an otherwise impressive season.

This is largely uncharted terrain for Redknapp’s Spurs, a team lauded for its zippy, attacking exposition and new-found solidity.

The #Harryout calls are blithely gathering pace, despite their conspicuous prematurity. Then, of course, there’s the all but preordained Adebayor-Redknapp rift rumour. Next, some unsolicited not-so-constructive criticism from the interminably listless Vedran Corluka.

The FA’s revelatory, but conservative, approach for West Brom’s Roy Hodgson should, now, enliven a side fraught by speculation linking Redknapp, an overwhelming favourite, with the vacant England position. (Despite Hodgson’s discernible credentials, the decision has been met with a pointedly mixed response).

Blaming Spurs’ deleterious form on gossip would be foolhardy, but to summarily discount it would be, too. Besting an ill-assembled Blackburn made it three wins from eleven, post-Fabio Capello’s resignation. Redknapp, cleared of tax evasion the same evening, admits, “People who work with me definitely think it’s had an effect, but I’m not sure.”

Some decisions point to a man fatigued, not one of a pernicious preoccupation with England: 4-4-2 formations against Arsenal/United were naïve, bordering imprudent; Gareth Bale’s galling licence to roam; a patent creative void, too, perhaps a consequence of under-rotation.

Akin to the oft-injured Aaron Lennon, Redknapp’s been hamstrung by long-term absentees (Michael Dawson, Tom Huddlestone) and, perhaps, the frustratingly frugal Daniel Levy. Bale’s ominous admission that, without Champions League, “we’ll have to sit down and see what’s best for me”, should be a loud-and-clear caveat to Tottenham’s chairman. Echoed, one suspects, by the coveted Croatian, Luka Modric.

Four points adrift of Arsenal (with a game in hand), Redknapp must lift his side - and self - into the winnable, season-closing fixtures with renewed dynamism. And reapplied width. Recreating late 2011’s fluid, interchangeable system may be a stretch. So, too, convincing Bale and Modric of their futures. Champions League qualification, however, would be a good start.    

Masters

Five things we learnt from Augusta.


Tiger Woods isn’t there, yet:
Woods was disconcertingly poor. Unbefitting of recent form, his week was replete with ‘shits’, ’goddamnits’, & unpromisingly awful swings. A far cry from the imposing, renascent figure of March’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. He looked disoriented, uncomfortable, & mired by swing thoughts. Perhaps a temporary encumbrance, but worrying nonetheless.

Westwood must address putter:
Self-explanatory. Event-leading GIR stats matter not with such an infertile stroke. Augusta’s greens are, of course, perfidious things, prepared to penalise the slightest of slight mishits. But last week’s 32 putts-per-round average is, quite simply, not good enough. Achieving parity with Phil Mickelson, who’d putt 21 fewer times, is an astounding act.

Oosthuizen will come again:
The quiet, one-time Open champion’s performance won’t have surprised golf’s cognoscenti. Oosthuizen’s fluid, simple, long-hitting motion - & unruffled disposition - was a joy to watch. A seamless, gets-better-every-time-you-see-it albatross will be a great memory; a mental mistake in sudden death shouldn’t fester. Classy & gracious in defeat, Louis will come again.

Sergio Garcia mustn’t be downhearted:
Like Westwood, the major-less Garcia is beginning to, quite publicly, emit frustration over his inability to convert long-game precision into Ws. After a third-round 75, the Spaniard would avow, “I’m not good enough for the majors.” From a natural, excitable talent like Garcia, the admission’s quite disheartening. And at 32, with four successive top-12 major finishes, rather an unwelcome surprise. A jocular, self-deprecating hug with McIroy was one of the week’s highlights.  

Tournament of the year:
Not the billed Woods-McIroy showdown, but no less entertaining. Gather the world’s best golfers on a fast, fair, luminous Augusta Sunday, and try not being enthralled. The Masters is still very much the golfing event of the year.        

Lana Del Rey (bubblebathos)

bubblebathosbands:

carrying a prop copy of a minor Nabokov, Joseph Szabo photos, thinking it’s hot when a guy has a shitty phone, sourcing 90’s Bongo jeans on Etsy, recognizing Stranger Than Paradise from Tumblr .gifs, recommending Big L when anyone mentions Biggie, calling your dad “daddy”, wearing a veil, Reebok…

The Balotelli Show

We’ve all enjoyed the Mario Balotelli Show so far. But the plot, for all its inconstancy, feels increasingly banal and well-worn. Our protagonist, initially an inscrutable maverick, is developing into a thoroughly imprudent rogue, with few redeeming qualities.

The Italian’s latest indiscretion, an impetuous stamp on Tottenham’s Scott Parker, stretched beyond the, to date, comically egregious to the downright idiotic. While the off-pitch fireworks, chicken hats, and arbitrary charitable donations are entertaining enough, this episode was altogether more unsettling.

Balotelli’s second-half introduction came after an implausibly pulsating nine minutes. Samir Nasri, latching onto David Silva’s defence-splitting pass, struck first, before Joleon Lescott bundled home the former’s corner three minutes later. Jermain Defoe would capitalise on Stefan Savic’s poor clearance moments after, circumventing the advancing Joe Hart. And Gareth Bale would level in stunning fashion from 20 yards to complete an ephemeral comeback. 

Then, Balotelli, already cautioned for fouling Benoit Assou-Ekotto, drove into Parker, landing off-balance before taking an unnatural stab at the midfielder’s exposed head. It looked nasty and deliberate, though only Balotelli himself will know if insidious intent drove his descending leg.

Ledley King’s uncharacteristically gauche tackle brought down the striker, who would guide home the ensuing penalty with palpable poise. It was virtually the game’s last kick and, after Defoe’s open-goal miss seconds earlier, a nauseating finish for the impressive Spurs.

Amid expressing pride at his side’s riposte, Harry Redknapp was visibly seething over Balotelli’s “blatant backheel”. The 21-year-old wasn’t questioned on the challenge, but the game-winning spot-kick instead. A terse, taciturn answer followed.

The Balotelli Show is an expensive, grandiose production - with a terrific cast to complement its languorous “star“. Roberto Mancini knows the superlative Silva, Sergio Aguero, and Yaya Toure will negate Balotelli’s occasional profligacy. He, too, recognises the enigma’s considerable raw talent - and a, thus far, season-leading minutes-per-goal ratio.

With each episode, Balotelli’s unpredictable narrative risks becoming so commonplace it’s boring. The Parker incident was erratic and unprompted, but hardly surprising. A proper, rapturous goal celebration would, at this point, almost represent a plot twist.

The ceaseless Twitter conjecture won’t dwindle, but Balotelli’s fervent audience might, should such malice materialise once more. He would, ultimately, suppress Tottenham’s title charge on Sunday, though it could easily have been City’s. Mancini will now privately hope, come the campaign‘s close, he will be asking, “Why always you, Mario?” for the right reasons.

Back

Asked what the overriding emotion was after securing a final-hole ’W’ at the Chevron World Challenge, Woods’s response was typically terse. Only, for the first time in 700-odd days, accompanied by an indelible smile: “It just feels awesome, whatever it is.”

Though likely a potent concoction of joy & satisfaction, Woods’s post-victory sentiment was one of visible relief. After an inconceivably tumultuous few years, is he, then, finally back?

Woods’s title-winning putt was met by a brief, knowing glance from Zach Johnson to caddy. That exultant fist-pump-arms-aloft celebration preceded a warm embrace between the two, Johnson having proved himself a worthy adversary, once more.

But it was to be Woods’s day. It wasn’t exceptionally pretty: the Nicklaus-designed course, Sherwood, showed its bite in blustery conditions, and would punish an errant long-game.

Though there’s a patent reluctance to unleash the driver, Woods’s tee-ball is improving. And while they are a little too frequent, the misses aren’t so feral. The short-game is sharper, too, evinced by a deft greenside chip-in on Saturday.

A conscious, Jimenez-like pre-shot routine, however, prove it’s still not quite classic, exemplary Woods. A President’s Cup-securing point & 3rd-place finish in Melbourne do, though, suggest his defiant rhetoric is believable. And a victory over a small, elite field merely perpetuates that.

Europe’s virtual absence in California shouldn’t diminish Woods’s victory, either, but he must surmount a full-strength field if he’s to silence the ubiquitous naysayers (Hello, Donegan!).

His next appearance, in Abu Dhabi (January), will be a severe test of confidence and mechanics, as he lines up beside Kaymer, Donald, Westwood & McIlroy. The former quartet are indubitably talented, but none captivate quite like Woods. Or dominate. Or immediately double television viewers.

So, is he back? Yes, in part, but the real examination - a full 2012 schedule - awaits.

Title Contenders?

With an almost disconcerting, un-Spurs-like ruthlessness in recent months, are Redknapp’s side now legitimate, if improbable, title contenders? After another victory - the ninth in an unbeaten ten - Spurs look incongruously like challengers.  

It’s with acute cautiousness that I’ll write any such statement. Beating West Brom at The Hawthorns shouldn’t, itself, induce such lofty ambitions. And nor does it, despite claiming all three points there, sans sick Modric & hamstrung Van der Vaart.

It was a tough, testing encounter &, after falling behind, one Redknapp will retrospectively enjoy. There’s a new-found grit about Spurs - thanks, in part, to the inexhaustible Parker - complementing the side’s natural, attacking drive. There’s a blistering pace throughout the XI, too, along with a willingness to track back.

Saturday was far from fluent. The defence looked permeable, & the midfield missing Modric’s artistry. Defoe’s late, trademark 20-yard strike would, however, hand Spurs a deserved lead, before Adebayor’s stoppage time sealer. Despite 20+ goal-bound efforts, a truism ordinarily reserved for gritty, title-winning sides sprung to mind: “winning ugly”.

Spurs did just that. It wasn’t the mellifluous, wave-after-potent-wave of attack Liverpool, QPR & Aston Villa faced, but a dogged display, full of heart, full of self-belief.

Pre-Redknapp, Tottenham may have yielded to West Brom’s pressure. They didn’t. The 64-year-old’s inculcated a confidence in his young, ambitious side. There’s healthy competition for places, too. Defoe, for instance, acknowledges the squad’s strength, despite a discernible frustration with his current, peripheral role. 

The pending weeks - swarming with fixtures - will be a telling test of Spurs’ title credentials. There’s a flagrant disinclination to declare them “contenders”, & understandably so - look, fleetingly, at the competition. Securing a top-four place, alone, is still a daunting assignment.

Linger atop the form table, however, & disrupting the status quo becomes a real, genuine, almost unthinkable possibility. A Champions League spot should, & will, remain the predominant focus, but Redknapp will quietly think, & believe, his side can achieve more.

Notes

Notes: Newcastle/Spurs

After an almost soporific opening period - brightened eventually by Van der Vaart’s well-dispatched spot-kick - Spurs & Newcastle would, thankfully, serve up a gripping, gruelling & open second 45. The result - a 2-2 draw - was a fair & satisfactory one, though Ameobi’s late leveller will have soured the south-bound side’s journey home.

On reflection, though, Redknapp ought to be quite content with Spurs’ durability, purpose & enterprise. Under Pardew, Newcastle are organised, resolute &, somewhat surprisingly, unbeaten. Albeit disappointing, Tottenham never reached full throttle. And without Lennon, Dawson, Gallas & Sandro, were sufficiently equipped to match (& very nearly surmount) an in-form, awkward opponent.

There’s sustained scope for sanguinity, then. An impressive four-game win streak moves to an undefeated five, & winnable ties against Blackburn (A) & QPR (H) await.

Ledley King’s premature substitution was an unfortunate, all-too familiar sight. Spurs’ central defensive partnership almost exudes equanimity when LK is healthy. Or at least partially so. King, himself, admits he’s some distance from full fitness - staggeringly, perhaps 30-40%.

With or without a crowded treatment table, Ledley’s presence is invaluable. An expiring contract, however, leaves Redknapp with a fast-approaching, difficult decision re: a renewal. The latest groin tear should, barring any unforeseen setbacks, sideline the 31-year-old for three-four weeks.

At this point King’s availability is a bonus, but with an ominously depleted central defence, he’s doubly important. Reaching Redknapp’s 20-game season target is, for all parties, a frustratingly tall order. And after four consecutive, injury-free games, the latest tear’s all the more disheartening.

A swift, simple recuperation would certainly alleviate Tottenham’s collective concern. Though King’s condition’s rarely an unproblematic one, a 20-game campaign’s still achievable.

As a fan, I’d hate to see Ledley leave. He’s the captain, a one-club man & a formidable competitor. But as a non-training big-earner, there’s an argument for his (regrettable) release next summer. At 31, though, with a medical record poorer than most OAPs, it’s difficult to envisage King anywhere else but Spurs.

Europa
Five Things: Spurs
Caveat
Masters
The Balotelli Show
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Title Contenders?
Notes

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