Chelsea will find next season much harder after their splendid title triumph, while Liverpool should take a look at Yaya Toure and Jose Mourinho’s Europa gamble are all discussed in the Monday Verdict.
CONGRATS CHELSEA – BUT NEXT SEASON WILL BE UNQUESTIONABLY HARDER
Make no mistake, Chelsea are deserving champions this season. Antonio Conte deserves huge credit for the way he has transformed the Blues’ fortunes this season and engineered a success that few would argue with…
Hell, the Italian may even have brought some very rare likability factor to Chelsea this season – and how often have we been able to say that over the years?!
I’ve seen a few commentators observers, however, try claiming that Chelsea’s success has come about more due to the failings of others, rather than their own brilliance.
Granted, there was an element of Liverpool fading away, Man Utd being distracted and the likes of Manchester City and Tottenham (not quite) being consistent enough….
But while I certainly won’t be one of those to discredit their achievements, I will adhere to the adage that the ultimate measure of champions is how you defend your title.
The Blues themselves know all too well how heavy the champions crown can feel. Their pathetic title defence under Jose Mourinho very quickly cost the Portuguese tactician his job, while Leicester this season also found their status as England’s finest a mantle too heavy to bear….
Amidst that too, there is the ‘distraction’ of being in the Champions League. Premier League sides have stuttered and stumbled among Europe’s top table in recent years, but Chelsea and Conte will be expected to make a good fist of their return to the competition.
England might not expect, but certainly the little Russian with all the rubles will….
Add into the mix that many of the sides that did falter this season, will almost certainly come on stronger next year.
- Can Liverpool repeat their form against the top six against teams in the bottom half?
- Can Pep Guardiola finally get his ideas across at Man City and find new energy and width from the two expensive wing-back signings we’re expecting?
- Can Jose Mourinho cure Manchester United’s insufferable home curse that has seen them draw 10 of their 18 home matches to date this season?
- Can Tottenham maintain their consistency all season and negotiate a move to their new Wembley surroundings?
- And can Arsenal, well, simply stop being their usual flakey and frustrating selves…?
All in all, the Premier League promises to be bigger and better next season (well, that’s what Sky Sports will tell you anyway…!) and the challenge that awaits Chelsea will undoubtedly prove harder than ever.
It’s way too early to suggest what can and can’t happen to Chelsea next season, but one thing you can be sure of is that the Blues won’t make as big a pickle of being English champions as they did last time around….
LIVERPOOL COULD DO WORSE THAN SET SIGHTS ON YAYA TOURE
Pure grit and determination was required as Manchester City overcame Leicester City 2-1 on Saturday afternoon with the Foxes searching for an equaliser late on.
Normally it’s the Citizens’ flair players such as Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva or Leroy Sane who steal the show when City are victorious, but not at the weekend.
Saturday was not a day for those players as they struggled to find the right ball in the final third, Saturday was a day for Yaya Toure.
Saturday 13th May 2017 also marked the day that the Ivorian turned 34 but on this performance you would’ve thought he was in his prime at 27.
Toure had the energy to win the ball back for his side time after time before releasing City’s attacking players to do their business, he was everywhere, winning balls on the edge of his box and having attempts on goal at the other end.
His recent performances are even more remarkable if you consider he wasn’t even in contention for a place in the starting line-up at the beginning of the season.
A bust-up with Pep Guardiola earlier in the campaign – following quotes from Toure’s controversial agent Dimitri Seluk – meant that the midfielder had to wait until November for his first Premier League start of the season.
However, Toure ended up apologising and now the event is behind them with reports suggesting that he will get a fresh deal under Guardiola.
“I think my future is all about Tuesday’s match,” Toure said after the match with Leicester. “We have another game then. You don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. I appreciate playing and age is only just a number. I feel younger than Raheem now. I hate birthdays.”
His display against Craig Shakespeare’s men not only emphasises his importance to the current City side, but also shows that he would be a huge asset to any other Premier League club interested in his services.
There is reported interest from a number of sides including promoted teams Brighton and Newcastle, while Liverpool could do a lot worse than sign Toure to solve the problem in their engine room and give them that winning mentality and ‘know how’ against some of the lesser lights they’ve struggled against.
Whatever happens with Toure this summer, it is clear that the 34-year-old still has a lot to give football.
JOSE MOURINHO’S EUROPA LEAGUE GAMBLE
He has held up the white flag and been telling us for weeks now how he will make changes to his teams for Premier League games and he has, albeit not the wholesale changes many expected.
The greatest league in the world, so we’re told, and Jose Mourinho has treated it like the JPT Trophy. But big jobs require big decisions to be made and putting the Europa League ahead of the Premier League is certainly that and unheard of in recent times.
It’s a huge gamble and one if it pays off will make Mourinho look like the genius many believe him to be. It’s open to debate what targets were laid out for him last summer when he took over from Louis van Gaal, but if we assume a return to the Champions League was the top priority then a return of that, plus two trophies will be mission accomplished.
If he fails and Ajax do the business against United in the Europa League final on May 24 in Stockholm, then Mourinho’s six-man backline and surrender at Arsenal earlier this month and yesterday’s spineless defeat at Spurs, will look pretty lame.
His team at Arsenal, which was probably one of the most defensive approaches United have taken against their one-time big rivals in recent times, was embarrassing.
Only Axel Tuanzebe was an unknown in the starting line-up but the inclusion of Wayne Rooney, Matteo Darmian, Phil Jones and Michael Carrick made it a distinctly second-rate United. And their tactics were clear early on as United defended for their lives and offered very little threat at the other end. The end result was no surprise and probably one of Arsenal’s most straight forward wins of the season.
Similarly the line-up at Tottenham, which included eight changes from the side that scruffily edged out Celta Vigo, was also second rate. Rooney, Carrick, Jones, Tuanzebe, Anthony Martial, Juan Mata and Chris Smalling getting a run-out and Eric Bailly only included because he is banned for the Europa showpiece.
And just as they were a few weeks ago down the road at The Emirates, Mourinho’s men were second best all afternoon as they attempted to keep the score down in the White Hart Lane finale. It was a similar backs-to-the-wall performance from United to the one they put in at Arsenal – they were never in the game and looked like a side, like Mourinho has made clear, had nothing to play for despite the narrow 2-1 scoreline.
It’s that approach which places huge pressure on him and his side against Ajax later this month. The bookies have them as heavy 4/9 favourites with Ajax’s emerging young side 2/1 to lift the trophy and they’re expected to win.
The Dutch outfit just missed out on the Eredivisie title on Sunday, with a team with an average age of just 20 years and 139 days and it remains to be seen how they react to that.
Mourinho attempted to ease the burden last month when he explained that United did not need Champions League football.
“We don’t need because Manchester United’s history is so big and Manchester United is so much bigger than many other clubs that are playing Champions League that if Manchester United do not play Champions League for four years that doesn’t affect the prestige, the dimension and history of the club,” said Mourinho.
But try explaining that to the Glazers when you have spent £160million on three big signings and opted to write off your Premier League hopes with four games to go.
That certainly does not reflect well on his squad, which is largely the one left behind by Louis van Gaal. The fact that he ultimately did not believe he had the depth of squad or that he could trust the players to compete on two fronts speaks volumes.
Instead he has decided to put all his eggs in one basket. If he pulls it off then the respect gained from the players and the club will be monumental – a masterstroke; fail and he will look like the ageing tactician he was accused of being earlier in the campaign.
Surely summer departures galore await at Old Trafford with Rooney, Carrick, Darmian and Luke Shaw likely to head the list of players being moved on as Mourinho tries to assemble his own team.
But his sole focus at the moment is glory in Sweden on Wednesday week – everything hinges on it.