Are Liverpool still suffering a confidence crisis? Plus, is the FA Cup Mourinho’s enemy, and the easiest job in world football are all discussed in this week’s Monday Verdict.
FA Cup was Van Gaal’s salvation; now it’s Jose’s enemy
With Manchester United’s FA Cup quarter-final at Chelsea on the agenda, much of the focus has been on how Jose Mourinho will line up his side in the midst of a grueling fixture schedule.
While it’s highly possible United will retain the three-man defence deployed in their Europa League clash against Rostov in Russia, it seems Mourinho’s main focus will be to nullify Chelsea’s effectiveness.
But is the system intended to ensure Chelsea’s menace is stunted, or to give United the best chance of progress? Certainly his major concern has to be to ensure they avoid a repeat of the hammering they endured on their last trip to Stamford Bridge back in October.
However, Gary Neville raises an interesting point – would United’s exit from the competition they won last season under Louis Van Gaal be a bigger help to their cause? Sacrifice one tournament to boost their chances of glory in others.
Progress through to the last four would not only complicate what looks an increasingly tough run-in, it would also offer little guarantee of success. With Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham also in the hat, United know that defending the trophy will be anything but easy….
There also lies the ‘problem‘ that winning the FA Cup doesn’t offer Champions League football. Success in the Europa League, or a top-four finish in the Premier League would; reasons enough to tell you where United’s focus should and will lie.
Assuming United complete the job against Rostov, the club would be just two rounds away from the final. Looking at the teams left in the competition, you’d also have to assume they stand a better chance of winning the Europa League than they do the FA Cup.
United are currently 15/8 favourites to win the Europa League. Roma, Borussia Monchengladbach and Lyon represent arguably their biggest threats to achieving that.
Their odds of FA Cup success are 8/1, and that’s little wonder given the quality of opposition that lie before them.
Whilst Mourinho will not want the embarrassment of a heavy defeat at Chelsea, expect him to name a relatively strong side for the occasion.
But make no mistake, the competition that proved Van Gaal’s salvation is proving little more than an unwelcome distraction for Mourinho.
And with the club arriving back from ‘deepest, darkest’ Russia in the early hours of Friday – together with an unwelcoming heavy pitch to negotiate – you can almost hear the ‘Mourinho beaten speech’ before the game has even kicked off….
Why does Wenger need to appeal for ‘pride’?
Arsene Wenger used his programme notes ahead of the clash with Lincoln to appeal for his Arsenal players to ‘show they cared’. It was arguably an obvious statement to make after a difficult few weeks for the club, but it left me wondering why footballers need to be asked to show ‘pride’ in their work? Surely showing they ‘care’ is the absolute bear minimum expected…?
Top-class footballers lead the most privileged lifestyles and don’t have to worry about the things your average man on the street does, so when your manager asks you to prove this, you know there’s a deep underlying problem at the club.
Granted, Arsenal put in professional display to ease past Lincoln and make the last four – but it’ll take far more than a bit of effort to win over the doubters and build some bridges with supporters….
Liverpool win ugly, but the cracks still show
Jurgen Klopp’s post-match interview following their come-from-behind 2-1 win over Burnley was somewhat of an insight into the attitude at Liverpool at the moment.
“Mentality issue? No, it is a question of confidence,” Klopp told the Sky cameras.
“We don’t live in a dark corner and not know about the things people speak about us.
“It is deja vu. You try everything before the game and then you concede nearly in the first situation.”
To the unsuspecting Liverpool fan, Klopp’s words about not hearing what the outside media are saying will be music to the ears. It implies complete focus, concentration and determination to tackle the task at hand; confirming a top four finish.
If you read between the lines though, you can tell that even the manager himself knows the problems that exist. Questions which no doubt get uttered on the Kop every home game, like “how can we cruise past Tottenham and Arsenal yet lose to Swansea here?”
Klopp alludes to a crisis in confidence, and to the eagle-eyed viewer of Super Sunday this will have been evident. As ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ boomed over the tannoys at Anfield, James Milner as captain was barking orders to the rest of the team.
His teammates looked blank and motionless. Some would say this is an example of the sheer focus; others would suggest it shows fear at yet another game with such high expectation in front of their own fans.
Liverpool fans, although some would refuse to admit it, now expect champagne football from their side; particularly at Anfield and particularly against (with all respect) sides like Burnley. The Clarets had picked up TWO away points all season, but any dreams of a proverbial cake-walk were dashed when the hosts found themselves penned in by the intelligent runs of Ashley Barnes and Andre Gray.
When the former was on hand to stab home at the far post, Anfield was subjected to familiar groans. Why must Liverpool always do it the hard way against “lesser” opposition?
That spell of losing three in five between 21 January and 27 February may have taken its toll on the Liverpool squad. Do they believe in themselves as much anymore? The performances from Nathaniel Clyne, Philippe Coutinho, Joel Matip, James Milner, Emre Can, Divock Origi etc. against such a poor away side in Burnley suggest that the belief is starting to fade.
Of course, we are told that the belief is in fact returning, but if you had told a Liverpool fan that after 40 minutes they’d have laughed in your face. The team lacked flair and tempo; they didn’t seem to tick without Jordan Henderson, while key cogs like Coutinho and Lallana struggled to make inroads.
Is this exactly what is holding Liverpool back from taking the next step to becoming serious contenders? Their home games between now and the end of the season will tell us.
Is being a scout for Real Madrid the easiest job in football?
Another day, another predictable Real Madrid transfer rumour. Sunday saw the Spanish giants linked with two Premier League stars and you’ll never guess who…
That’s right, Manchester United keeper David de Gea and Chelsea winger Eden Hazard were both ‘targeted’ as the next ‘Galactico’ to grace the pitch at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Speculation has been rife for at least two years that De Gea could make a return to Spain at Los Blancos, with the latest reports indicating that Real have given De Gea until the first week of May to decide his future. Good! We might finally be able to stop talking about it.
Which goalkeeper are Real Madrid most likely to sign this summer?
While Eden Hazard has been ‘contacted’, ‘rejected’ and ‘eyed’ so many times by Real Madrid over the last year or so that we’ve lost count, with Sunday’s newspapers claiming he is now the subject of a swap deal involving cash and Alvaro Morata.
With De Gea one of the best goalkeepers in the world and Eden Hazard one of the oustanding attacking players in the Premier League, it does beg the question just how hard is it to be a scout for Real Madrid?
The majority of football fans could reel off the top 30 to 50 players in global football if asked and the chances are those will be the players at the top of Real’s wishlist.
Barcelona stars aside, Real could get just about any player on the planet if they paid enough money, with stars such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Dele Alli understood to be on their radar.
Do the Real scouts really have to go and watch them? Do they not just know their abilities like we do from watching them on the television each week? We’ve all seen the potential of Alli and the ridiculous scoring record of Aubameyang.
No doubt there will be tricky assignments for the scouting department as they are tasked with beating other big clubs to the best toung talent.
But with Real Madrid on top of the world as a club, there is only a small pool of players that would improve their first-team squad. Just give me the job now, lads….
The greatest ever comeback or an unforgivable collapse?
Barcelona produced an astonishing finish to book their place in the Champions League quarter-finals last week, but was it really the greatest comeback of all time or the worst capitulation in the history of the game from PSG?
Having led 4-0 from the first leg, the French champions even managed to grab an away goal to give them a 5-3 aggregate advantage with 88 minutes on the clock but it was there that the drama really began.
The magnificent Neymar’s free-kick and penalty was followed by Sergi Roberto’s stunning 95th-minute winner that sealed the most unlikely of victories and sent the Nou Camp delirious. Fans were hugging, screaming and grown men were crying – it was utterly remarkable and unbelievably emotional.
Barca have been rightly lauded for the way they kept on believing but just how can an experienced European outfit such as PSG, with 60-cap Brazil international Thiago Silva leading them from the heart of defence, collapse so appallingly.
There was no backbone, no urgency to defend, they were rushed and they dropped so deep they might as well have all joined keeper Kevin Trapp on his goal-line. Don’t even get me started on Thiago Silva’s central defensive partner Marquinhos. Yes he’s only 22 but what the hell!
Okay there were also some antics from the home side but when you are that desperate you will try anything to give your team an advantage.
We all know that these sort of results can happen in the beautiful game from time to time but surely not at the very highest level of the club game.
Hang your heads in shame PSG, congrats Barca. Yes I’m afraid it’s in that order for me.
What next for Steve McClaren?
As a late edition to Monday Verdict, we take a look at the unfortunate recent managerial career path of former England boss Steve McClaren.
On Sunday evening Derby County announced they had sacked McClaren, with the team sitting comfortably outside the playoff places and heading for another season in the Championship.
Derby were the ones, let’s not forget, who took the plunge and re-hired McClaren after their not-so-amicable parting at the end of the 2014-15 season, a season when the former Twente boss had lead the Rams from first place at the end of February to 8th by the end of the season.
In between those spells in the East Midlands, McClaren took his “talents” to Tyneside, and managed to effectively relegate Newcastle before Rafa Benitez stepped in (even he couldn’t save the sinking ship). With the only good managerial reign on English soil being Middlesbrough over 10 years ago, surely Steve can’t get another good gig in this country any time soon.
Sure, winning a title with FC Twente is all well and good, but he has proved in recent spells in England that he has fallen out of touch with the modern game. Derby Chairman Mel Morris delivered a pretty damning assessment of the carnage McClaren leaves behind:
“Since the turn of the year we have experienced a significant, unexpected and persistent decline in results, team unity and morale.”
If that doesn’t scream “I have no idea what I’m f**king doing” I don’t know what does. For a squad like Derby to be at best flirting with sixth spot in this Championship season is ludicrous, and that comes down to consistency and self belief.
Fans on social media claim that McClaren’s reputation has “taken another hit”; my question would be if he even has any reputation left, or indeed if that reputation has just become one of ruining clubs in seemingly stable positions.
Still, for a man who over his whole managerial career has a 44.9% , he perhaps delivered exactly what was expected, leaving Derby with a win percentage of 44.8% in his second (and most recent) spell at the club.
For all you Championship fans out there, pray that your club isn’t the next to take a chance on Steve McClaren.