Jose Mourinho may need to be brave but has no need to panic after Manchester United’s derby defeat, while weekend results for Liverpool, Stoke and West Ham are also discussed.
‘Damaging defeat’ will hurt Mourinho – but there’s no need for panic
‘Someone’s O will have to go‘ may have been the tagline for Kell Brook’s superfight against Gennady Golovkin on Saturday night, but the same principle could have applied for Saturday lunchtime’s clash of the titans at Old Trafford in a game which did everything expected of its superstar billing.
And once again, in the 17th edition of the Pep Guardiola v Jose Mourinho rivalry, it was the Spaniard who claimed bragging rights over his Portuguese rival as Manchester City claimed a deserved 2-1 win at Manchester United.
The major talking points from the game on Saturday were analysed in this feature and even now, 48 hours after the event, the defeat will remain a painful one for the Manchester United boss to swallow. Mourinho might be the big cheese in Manchester, but Guardiola’s victory will leave a nasty, lingering taste!
But despite Mourinho admitting after the game that he was to blame for the defeat, it’s far too soon for the Manchester United boss to start panicking. However, he will have learnt one or two things about his players following the game, namely, that Jesse Lingard is a good squad player, but no more for United; Henrikh Mikhitaryan’s might have to be managed more carefully as he feels his way into English football; and that Ander Herrera can still play a part for the club this season.
But surely the biggest lesson learnt for Mourinho will be that he just cannot bury Marcus Rashford’s enormous potential any longer. The teenager came off the bench once again for Manchester United, with his direct running helping the hosts have much the better of the second half. Although he couldn’t prevent the defeat, how different might the result have been had Mourinho been brave enough to play him from the off?
Quite how he accommodates Rashford in the side remains the biggest puzzle of them all, however, though it looks increasingly likely that Wayne Rooney might be the odd man out in United’s brave new world. Criticism of the Man Utd captain, whilst way over the top, does seem understandable, given his place in the side now looks to be one single factor preventing Rashford from being classed as a first-team regular.
But if it’s a big decision that needs to be made, you can be sure Mourinho won’t be afraid of upsetting the establishment and making it….
Chris Waddle took to BBC Radio Five Live after the match to claim that, despite spending the best part of £150million this summer, Mourinho’s Manchester United are “no better than Louis van Gaal’s side last season”. That’s certainly a claim I dispute, and I think it’s evident that after five games, it’s safe to say this Man Utd side have already proven they’re a better bet than last year’s tedious collective, as this feature went about proving.
So, in spite of the Manchester derby defeat, let’s take a look at the facts: Four wins in five, the more exciting brand of football, a bigger and more competitive squad. Even in defeat, it’s safe to say the Class of 2016/17 give United supporters more reasons for optimism than they did this time last year.
United might have lost the battle against Guardiola and City, but the war is only just getting started….
City laid down a marker with win – but it’s too soon for title talk
Whilst City’s performance (how good were Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva by the way) was a strong statement of intent from the ‘Noisy Neighbours’, it’s certainly way, way too soon to start claiming the ‘Premier League title is theirs to lose’.
Whilst I doubt City will produce few better performances this season than the first 35 minutes they put in at Old Trafford, their fans can certainly take heart from the fact it’s still very early on in the Guardiola era.
And there’ll certainly be further cause for optimism, too, not least that the win was achieved without their two most established players: No Aguero, no Kompany, no problem.
Raheem Sterling’s improvement for Man City this season has been well documented, but Nicolas Otamendi also looks rejuvenated under the new City boss. His performance at Old Trafford was as good as I’ve seen him produce for the club.
City’s win, however, was not without criticism and debutant Claudio Bravo was quite rightly in the spotlight after a patchy display. But although understandable, the criticism of the Chilean was a little over the top. Yes, he dropped a high ball (under pressure from his own player) to present Zlatan Ibrahimovic with the chance to volley United back into the game, and yes, he was perhaps fortunate that his errors did not lead to further goals.
But make no mistake: this is a player who will only get better for City.
He’s come into the side and showed right from the off what Guardiola wants from his goalkeeper; his style of play being completely in line with what the Spanish manager would want from his goalkeeper.
A word of warning, however: Given the way City intend to play through their goalkeeper under Guardiola, it’s a safe bet that we may see more Bravo errors punished over the season.
But Bravo is Guardiola’s man and entirely synonymous with the way he wants City to play. It’s likely to be entertaining to watch…..
Liverpool: this season’s great entertainers
50 – @LFC have scored more Premier League goals in 2016 than any other team (50). Prolific.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 10, 2016
The above stat probably tells you all you need to know about what we can expect from Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp this season. At times the Reds were simply irresistible in their dismantling of Leicester as the new, expanded Anfield opened for business on Saturday evening.
But again, their Achilles heel is likely to prove their defence as a laughable error gifted Jamie Vardy a goal in front of the Kop towards the end of the first half.
Even without European distraction, Liverpool are unlikely to challenge for the title this season. But one does wonder had Liverpool’s moneymen been a bit braver and given Klopp the funds to strengthen his backline this summer, might we have seen the Reds as genuine contenders?
Our weekly Red Letter feature outlined Liverpool’s attacking armoury as their best hope of cracking the top four this season, and following Saturday’s win, it’s hard to disagree with the argument.
A colleague of mine, who shall remain anonymous, has staked a small personal fortune on Liverpool, at 33/1, to score in every Premier League match at Anfield this season. Obviously there’s a long way to go, but the early signs are good and it’d surely take one scrooge-like defensive display to shut down the waves of Reds attacks.
And while Liverpool are scoring for fun, who cares about the defence, hey Jurgen….
[of_poll name=’Are Liverpool capable of a title challenge this season?’ id=’1210932′]
Pressure on for Bilic and Hughes
Whilst most of the smart money remains on West Brom’s Tony Pulis to be the first man to lose their job in the Premier League this season, two of what appeared – in the summer at least – safer jobs already look vulnerable.
With just one point from their first four games, Stoke’s 4-0 home defeat to Tottenham will have Mark Hughes looking anxiously at the fixture list.
Although it’s never safe to start assuming, he’ll now hope his players can start getting some points on the board, and with matches against Palace (away), Hull (home and away) West Brom (home), Sunderland (home), Swansea (home) and Bournemouth (home) to come in their next eight games, now is as good a time as ever for Stoke to wake from their slumbers.
The Potters aren’t a club renown for making rash decisions and it’d take an mightily poor return of points in those games before the Stoke board start considering their options.
Another man who will be feeling the frustration this weekend will have been Slaven Bilic, after West Ham tossed away a 2-0 lead to lose 4-2 at home to Watford. Whilst the Hornets deserve credit for changing their shape and formation midway through the first half, Bilic will be cursing his players for letting such a commanding position slip away.
The struggles of Sam Byram at right-back will be one cause for alarm for Bilic. And whilst Michail Antonio proved once again on Saturday how effective he is in an advanced role, you can suddenly understand Bilic’s reasoning for playing the new England man as a wing-back.
But West Ham will be OK. There was always going to be a ‘period of adjustment’ for the Hammers at their new London Stadium home and I’m quite sure with Dimitri Payet back in the side and doing what he does best, West Ham will soon be upwardly mobile in the Premier League once again.
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