This week’s Monday Verdict examines the style of football being played under Jose Mourinho at Man Utd, finds positives for Jurgen Klopp and looks at the mounting problems at Everton and Huddersfield.
Mourinho silences the critics
Jose Mourinho’s “shh” at full-time on Saturday was for those who had derided his negative tactics over the last month.
The Manchester United boss was labelled the “enemy of football” by many pundits and papers after the recent dour, goalless draw at Liverpool.
The Portuguese boss has never been one to let criticism influence his plans and his actions after the dire 1-0 Old Trafford win over Tottenham were another indicator that Mourinho will do it his way.
Mourinho said: “Some people speak too much, calm down, relax a little bit.
“Don’t speak too much, speak, speak, speak, relax. Relax a little bit, don’t be so nervous. Don’t be so excited.”
He may have spent over £300million since his arrival in May 2016, but Mourinho’s pragmatic approach will not wane as he bids to deliver a title within two seasons of arriving, just as he did at Porto, Chelsea (twice), Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
Whether or not he believes his expensively-assembled Europa League winners are an inferior side when going toe to tie with their rivals remains to be seen, but the predictable defensive approach certainly suggests Mourinho is not prepared to enter into a game of attack and defence against the big boys.
It worked to a degree at Liverpool, although as Jamie Carragher pointed out, the shock defeat that followed at Huddersfield then undervalued that Anfield point.
Mourinho was at it again this weekend as United finally ground down Tottenham with a goal in fitting with League Two, which did for Mauricio Pochettino’s men.
Tottenham had chances, Dele Alli wasting the best of them at Old Trafford and they will rue the way David de Gea’s long punt was flicked on by Romelu Lukaku to Anthony Martial, who bundled the ball home.
Alli thought Spurs were good value for the win, but they came away with nothing as Mourinho’s men came out on top, just.
Carragher was not critical of United for their recent approach away at Liverpool, and in fact admitted his Liverpool sides had employed similar reserved tactics in years gone by. But Carragher did suggest that their lack of ambition away from home against their rivals may well cost them the title.
Carragher labels Mourinho “a reactive rather than proactive coach” with his “philosophy working on the basis the opponent will make a mistake and then it is time to pounce”.
But that wasn’t true against Tottenham, albeit at home, as United’s route one approach, was unable to be prevented by a Tottenham side, who hammered Liverpool 4-1 the previous week.
But it’s not so much as Mourinho’s ambition that needs to change away from home, but the results. Mourinho is very unlikely to change his stance away, and next Sunday at Chelsea will prove that.
Paul Pogba will be missing again for United, but even with the marauding midfielder included, United’s plan away from home under Mourinho never deviates too much. United have never been an expansive side, dominating possession and chances under his tutelage.
Whilst in his second stint at Chelsea and now at United his record in his last 11 away games against his title rivals is appalling. He has failed to win a game, lost six and picked up five points with five 0-0 draws.
Mourinho has not won any of the last 10 matches his sides have faced away at Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham – and his team has not even scored in the last nine of those.
He will be well aware that results against their top-six rivals need to improve, but home or away his style will not change against the big boys.
Mourinho firmly believes that the pragmatic style he employs plays to United’s strengths and if they fail to lift the Premier League title in May it will be Mourinho who must carry the can for that. But he will also quite rightly point out that it’s his “non-football” approach that has got United back in the hunt for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson left in 2012/13. It may prove a very fine line…
Klopp tops Wagner as Liverpool show signs of progress
As Jurgen Klopp walked over to his best friend David Wagner at full-time and planted an almost apologetic kiss on his cheek, he possessed the expression of a relieved man.
The previous week had been somewhat understandably full of question marks surrounding the former Dormtund boss after they were torn apart by Tottenham at Wembley; another opponent that had highlighted and exploited the Reds’ defensive frailties.
The visit of Huddersfield to Anfield was being described by Liverpool fans as a definite banana skin; after all, there was the links between the two managers, a restless home crowd and an opponent that had just toppled Manchester United (deservedly) to climb within two points of them.
The first 45 minutes did little to cure the feeling of restlessness that was coming from the Anfield crowd. Wagner’s side allowed their hosts a lot of the ball, but Klopp’s men did little in terms of penetration and were restricted to half-chances. That was until Mohamed Salah had the chance – somewhat fortuitously based on replays – to give Liverpool the lead from the spot, but Jonas Lossl’s save kept the score level.
Perhaps Huddersfield just weren’t the right opponents to give the Reds another needed defensive inquisition, but Klopp made it very clear after the game that rumours of changing the back-line were just that.
“I thought it made sense,” said Klopp. “That’s the only reason. If something doesn’t work you can change everything or you stick to what you did before.
“I was convinced before the Tottenham game that these boys were the right ones. I will not change after one very bad performance. I am not that confused.
“But then we had to change. You could see Raggy (Klavan) needed it a little bit to find the game. But it was really difficult for him – it was not even two minutes before we went in with the squad. There was not a real warming up for him.”
In truth, the visitors gave Lovren, Gomez, Moreno and Matip very little to do, while Mignolet in goal had one of his quieter games. This is perhaps where Wagner will be disappointed in his team.
However, from his best friend’s point of view, Daniel Sturridge’s anticipation and composure to capitalise on a Tommy Smith mistake will have been just the tonic to ease any fears of dropping points at home.
Roberto Firmino’s header from a corner was evidence that Liverpool can score smart set pieces, not just concede them, while Gini Wijnaldum’s thundering effort will provide a much needed confidence boost for the midfielder. Beyond that, the whole manner of their performance showed there is still life in Liverpool. The fluid, one-touch pass and move was back in sight – and that will please the manager after a tough start to the season.
Looking at the Terriers, there must be an element of concern from Wagner, who saw his side blanked for the fourth straight away Premier League game. They haven’t scored on the road since an opening day win at Crystal Palace, and have bagged in just four of their 10 Premier League games.
After an organised first half, it was a harsh lesson for Wagner’s side in how to be clinical and make the other team chase the ball. The lack of a Plan B meant that as soon as Sturridge’s opener went in, the three points were almost certainly staying at Anfield.
Liverpool host Maribor in the Champions League in midweek, before travelling to West Ham and returning home to play Southampton. If they are to mount a serious challenge for the top four, it has to be six points from the latter two games.
Saturday wasn’t the most challenging 90 minutes that they will face, but it was a test nonetheless, and they passed it.
Toffees sticky patch may continue until January
Everton’s 2-0 defeat to Leicester on Sunday highlighted how much trouble they are in – and it may not get any better until January comes around.
The Toffees – once a beacon of stability and managerial consistency during the days when David Moyes wasn’t a total plonker – look an absolute mess right now.
They have an abundance of number 10s with none of them boasting any real pace, no strikers of any proven pedigree at all, and ageing Leighton Baines, and precious little mobility at the centre of their defence.
In fact, for now Everton are looking slow, old, and laborious all over the pitch, and it’s no wonder they are struggling to break teams down.
They have been unlucky to an extent given the injuries to Yannick Bolasie and Seamus Coleman. They are perhaps Everton’s most dynamic players and their absences have certainly been felt.
However, it’s difficult to envisage this set of Everton players getting them out of this mess at the moment, and they are certainly not too good to go down.
The right new manager will help, but it’s January that will likely make the real difference to their hopes of salvaging something from this season.
Profiling England U17s’ emerging stars
England came from 2-0 down to beat Spain 5-2 and win the Under-17 World Cup to add to England‘s success in this summer’s Under-20 World Cup.
Here, we look at some of the players who have been involved in this latest impressive tournament showing from an England youth outfit.
Age: 17, club: Liverpool, position: forward
Brewster followed up hat-tricks in both the quarter-final against the United States and the semi-final win over Brazil with England‘s crucial first goal just before half-time in the final and his eight goals earned him the Golden Boot as tournament top scorer. He moved to Liverpool after being with Chelsea between the ages of seven and 14. Brewster is yet to make a first-team appearance but was an unused substitute for the Reds’ Premier League clash with Crystal Palace in April.
Age: 17, club: Manchester City, position: midfielder
Foden scored twice in the final to wrap up the Golden Ball award as the player of the tournament, having shone in the semi-final and scored in the group stage. He has been with City since under-nine level and made the bench for last season’s home Champions League match against Celtic without getting on. Foden earned considerable praise from Pep Guardiola following his display in a friendly against Manchester United in Houston over the summer, with the City boss saying: “He’s a gift for us.”
Age: 17, club: Chelsea, position: midfielder
McEachran has been at Chelsea since the start of his under-eight year and helped them win the FA Youth Cup last season. He is the younger brother of Josh McEachran, who made 11 Premier League appearances for the Blues before joining his current side Brentford.
Age: 17, club: Fulham, position: defender/midfielder
Another player with a well-known sibling in the game, Sessegnon is the twin brother of Fulham team-mate Ryan Sessegnon, the full-back who has already made over 30 appearances for the club and is an England Under-19 international. Steven overcame a shaky start to the final to set up England‘s first two goals and clear a Spanish effort off the line. He made his Cottagers first-team debut in August, playing the full 90 minutes of a Carabao Cup victory against Wycombe.
Age: 17, club: Borussia Dortmund, position: winger
Sancho scored three times in the group stage of this tournament but was not involved thereafter having been called back by Dortmund, whom he joined from Manchester City on transfer deadline day in August for £8million. Wearing the number seven shirt at the German side that was previously in the possession of Ousmane Dembele, he made his Bundesliga debut last weekend, coming on as a late substitute in a 2-2 draw at Eintracht Frankfurt.