Jose Mourinho’s tactics at Liverpool will tell you all you need to know about the man, Granit Xhaka still has lots to learn and why Mauricio Pochettino could be the Premier League’s best manager.
Liverpool v Man Utd – the game Jose Mourinho dare not lose
There’s been plenty of column inches dedicated to Liverpool’s clash with Manchester United on Monday, and such is the gravity of England’s best two supported sides going head to head, it’s impossible to ignore.
Billed as Red Monday by Sky Sports’ marketing people – let’s face it, they need some decent viewing figures to avoid what they hope won’t be a Red-faced Monday – the match is quite simply the biggest of the Premier League campaign so far.
But it’s not just North-West pride at stake at Anfield on Monday evening, nor is it the small matter of Jose Mourinho going back to face his old foes (and the club it’s claimed he wanted to manage). It’s not even just about the points at stake. Well, OK, you’ve got us on that one….
Whatever your thoughts are on Monday night’s game, it’ll be interesting to see what sort of side both managers put out: the bluster and swagger of Klopp’s Liverpool vs what might likely be a defensive-looking Mourinho side.
Cast your mind back to Mourinho at his best with Chelsea and you’ll recall a master tactician who relished these kind of battles. The big contests, where big decisions and bigger hearts need to come to the fore. If there is a brave tactical decision to be made – Mourinho will make it.
So how he will set up his side to tackle Liverpool on Monday night will, for me, be the biggest indicator of whether Mourinho, as some people claim these days, is a manager whose ideas and managerial style is ‘outdated’.
Will he be brave, catch us by surprise and set his side up to attack Liverpool? Or will we see a defensive XI, with the likes of Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick offering protection to the back four? The Mourinho of old, some might say, vs the Mourinho of new….
After just one win (vs Leicester) in their last four Premier League games, the trip to Liverpool is certainly one Mourinho dare not lose, so I’m pretty much expecting his side to set up in a defensive manner.
The position in which Paul Pogba starts will certainly be of interest. The player has complained that his current role – in the left side of a two in a 4-2-3-1 formation (albeit with a certain licence to roam) – has cramped his style at Old Trafford so far.
Surely Mourinho won’t dare drop him? Now that would be some statement and firm reminder about who the big cheese at Old Trafford really is….
Or does he move him further forward – the No 10 role – and switch the in-form Juan Mata to the flanks, or even the bench?…
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If I was Mourinho, that’s exactly where I’d play Pogba in this one: right up behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a bid to occupy both Liverpool’s backline and limit Jordan Henderson’s effectiveness. That way, you could bring Michael Carrick into the side – a must for this type of game – alongside Ander Herrera, who has done nothing wrong since coming into the base of midfield.
If Pogba is pushed further forward, it’s Mata who most likely looks destined to make way. Does he move to the flank – or will the industrious – though not always effective – Jesse Lingard keep his place?
Whatever he decides to do, this is one match that Mourinho dare not lose – and his team line-up before hand will tell you whether he intends to play Liverpool at their own game – or select a side he hopes will be primed to keep it tight at the back with the aim of nicking one at the other end….
Xhaka must curb his enthusiasm
Manchester City’s slip at home to Everton allowed Arsenal to move joint-top alongside Pep Guardiola’s men with their sixth successive Premier League win, but a certain £35million midfielder threatened to ruin it all.
Granit Xhaka’s latest dismissal against Swansea may have seemed harsh, but ultimately his ill-discipline turned what was a comfortable afternoon for the Gunners into a very lucky escape with a 3-2 victory.
The Swiss international now has the unwanted statistic of being the most red-carded player in Europe’s top five leagues with a whopping eight reds in the last two-and-a-half seasons and has also been given his marching orders more times than Roy Keane did in his entire career. Some going for a 24-year-old.
4 – Since the start of last season, Granit Xhaka has been shown more red cards than any other player in the top 5 European leagues. Mist.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 15, 2016
Xhaka recently admitted that he is finding the Premier League tougher than the Bundesliga, where he spent four years playing for Borussia Monchengladbach.
“The tempo is higher and there’s lots of pressure, especially here at Arsenal, where there’s a lot more expectation than at Monchengladbach,” Xhaka said.
He could probably be forgiven if he was a relatively squeaky-clean player before his move to England, but the fact that his disciplinary problems are far from a new trait means you can only put his poor record down to terrible decision-making.
In a Twitter Q&A with fans, Xhaka named Patrick Vieira as one of his inspirations. But if he is wants to emulate the influence Vieira had on Arsenal’s midfield, then he needs to quickly realise that not all of the Frenchman’s characteristics need to be absorbed.
“Intelligence means you don’t make the same mistake twice, and I hope he learns from that,” Arsene Wenger said when questioned about Xhaka’s mentality.
“Before in Germany he had some [disciplinary problems], but I think he’s not a dirty player at all.
“Sometimes he makes some clumsy tackles because he’s not a natural defender, he is a guy who likes to go forward. But I will speak to him.”
And when Wenger speaks, Xhaka must listen. He was just beginning to emerge as Arsenal’s first-choice midfielder to play alongside Santi Cazorla, but now he gives Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny the opportunity to wrestle the spot back off him as he sits out the next three domestic games.
Not only can Xhaka consider himself lucky that he was the not the sole man to blame for Arsenal dropping what would have been two crucial points, but he is also very fortunate that the matches he will miss are three very winnable games against Middlesbrough, Sunderland, and an EFL Cup tie against Reading.
Xhaka, who is an Arsenal captain in the making, has to show a willingness to adapt his game before he causes any lasting damage to the Gunners this season.
Underrated Pochettino potentially Prem’s best boss
After a few years of the world’s best talent appearing to shun the Premier League, last summer saw something of an influx of talent to English football.
In terms of players, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining Manchester United were the headline acts, but the real coups were in the dugouts, where Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, and Antonio Conte were all appointed at top English clubs.
With Arsene Wenger and Jurgen Klopp already here, suddenly the Premier League began looking like the place to be to watch the world’s best coaching and managerial talent.
However, there is a man who tends to be overlooked in such discussions and he’s someone who, for my money, quite possibly eclipses them all – Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino.
That’s a big claim to make, I know, and it’s even tougher to back up if I’m completely honest. Nevertheless, I’m going to stand by it.
Granted, Pochettino, unlike the others mentioned, is lacking in silverware. That is undeniable. The others have all proven they can deliver trophies and can do it on a regular basis. Their pedigree is undeniably greater. No arguments at all from me on there.
But I’m not talking about pedigree here. Pedigree is often borne of opportunity as much as anything else. The others were generally granted easier paths to top jobs with greater chances of competing. You can’t take anything away from them but pedigree is a tough metric upon which to judge achievement.
Pochettino, though, has been nothing short of faultless since arriving in English football. He transformed Southampton into a side of genuine energy, hunger and menace and now he has done the same with Tottenham slightly further up the ladder.
That’s consistency – not only in terms of result she but being able to translate his methods into an easily-identifiable product on the pitch. Consult any coaching manual you want, and it’ll tell you that’s the coaching holy grail.
All he needs to do now is show he can take that final step and deliver trophies like the rest have done, and that looks a highly realistic target now that’s he’s at a club like Tottenham.
Last season, his side ran out of legs but it probably highlighted a lack of depth in the squad, particularly in the central midfield area, rather than raising questions over Pochettino’s methods. This time around, there can be no excuses.
Should he manage it, though, Pochettino would be rated among the very finest coaches the Premier League has to offer, and quite possibly the best of the lot.