Liverpool were too quick to write off Christian Benteke, Manchester United’s player departures and regrets at Tottenham and Leeds are all discussed in Monday Verdict…
Manchester United’s transfer blunders make season finale ultra tough
A routine win away to Burnley on Saturday suggests all is well in the Manchester United camp and the squad are geared up for a strong finish to the season.
However, with just 20 players available to Jose Mourinho for the clash at Turf Moor, there will be a lot of strain placed on what is an unnecessarily small pool for a tricky climax to the season.
Quite simply, Manchester United must look at their decision making back in January when they deemed both Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay surplus to requirements – a poor decision when you consider Bastian Schweinsteiger would soon also be following the pair out the door.
Granted, they weren’t to know Zlatan Ibrahihovic and Marcos Rojo would suffer season-ending injuries – but there has to be serious questions asked why the club left the squad so exposed. Granted, most of the problems lie around the defensive unit, but players are versatile and the more options open to Mourinho at this key stage in the season, the better…
Yes, they may have eased the financial situation by relieving themselves out a around £1m a month in wages – but the strain placed on the rest of the squad for the run-in – and what that could cost them – will be felt far harder.
With the club nicely positioned for to challenge for a top four spot AND for Europa League glory, I’m sure Mourinho would have liked to have as many options available to him as possible to ensure maximum chance of glory on two fronts.
If they fall short in either the chase for the top four and / or the Europa League, serious questions need to be asked. If United made the decision to sell the trio, then more fool them. If Mourinho decided the pool of players he had at his disposal could see the job through, then that’s poor management from him.
Of course, all could work out fine and the season will be looked back as a successful one. If it doesn’t though, the winter exits of three valuable squad men must be held accountable.
Pochettino’s decision-making costs Spurs a cup final spot
Tottenham may have have dominated their FA Cup semi-final on the stats sheet but there can be no arguing that Chelsea chief Antonio Conte got the better of counterpart Mauricio Pochettino in the managerial stakes as the Blues ran out 4-2 winners at Wembley on Saturday.
Yes Spurs were the better side. They had a lot more of the ball, they played some eyecatching football and at times they actually looked like they wanted it more than their London rivals, but Chelsea were everything Conte wanted his team to be: compact, well drilled, a threat on the break and devastating from the bench.
It turned out to be a masterclass from the Italian, albeit one that could well have backfired, but unfortunately for Tottenham, Pochettino has to shoulder most of the blame for defeat.
The only way he could get the returning Victor Wanyama back in the side was to revert to a back three, to accommodate Eric Dier’s excellent form, which then meant the in-form Heung-Min Son had to play as a wing-back. Mistake number one and a classic case of trying to get all your best players on the pitch whether it affects the balance of the side or not.
The South Korean has been brilliant this season but there is no way he should be making reckless sliding challenges in his own box, whether he made any contact or not, and that cost Tottenham in a game they had gotten by the scruff of the neck after Harry Kane’s equaliser. By the way is Ben Davies, who has been filling in for Danny Rose for the last two months, really that bad that he couldn’t be trusted in a game of this magnitude?
After Dele Alli had drawn them level again, sweeping home one of the passes of any season from Christian Eriksen, it looked as if a dominant Spurs side would go on to reach their first FA Cup final since 1991 but then Conte looked to his bench and turned the game on its head.
Bringing on Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, having surprisingly left them out, gave Chelsea even more threat on the counter – although try telling that to two-goal hero Willian, who was hauled off for Hazard and headed straight down the tunnel. Got your money on the Brazilian being at Old Trafford next season!
Having gone behind to Hazard’s drilled effort, Pochettino then compounded his selection error by bringing off Son and sending on Kyle Walker – switching Kieran Trippier over to the left. This unbalanced Tottenham and took away the fluidity they had shown throughout the game.
Nemenja Matic’s stunning strike sealed the win but this was a massive missed opportunity for Spurs to put down a marker, for Pochettino’s men to show they are better than Chelsea and get inside their heads for the rest of the title run-in.
To be fair to Pochettino you can probably count the number of mistakes he has made in his time as Tottenham boss on one hand, but on this big occasion the Argentine got his selection wrong and Chelsea were the beneficiaries as they booked a date with Arsenal on May 27.
Christian Benteke could have been a star for Liverpool
‘He can only do it for a side battling relegation’ is a common phrase dragged up by some fans and pundits to describe the reasons why Christian Benteke was unsuccessful in his time at Liverpool.
That notion is pretty hard to disprove considering the clubs he has played for in England and the respective goal tallies for those sides.
He scored 42 goals in 89 Premier League appearances for Aston Villa and another 14 in 31 this season for Crystal Palace but in contrast he scored nine in 29 for Liverpool.
So that’s one in two for the sides typically trying to avoid relegation and one in three (not catastrophic) for the only ‘top’ club he has played for.
However, given the fact that he played under Brendan Rodgers – the man who signed him at Liverpool – for only three months before being forced to play in a formation that didn’t suit his style shows he made a good fist of it.
It’s fair to say his confidence took a hit from the pressure of playing for a big club and the criticism that comes with it, but was one season on Merseyside enough to settle on the opinion that Benteke can only do it at the bottom?
Definitely not. It would be interesting for example to see him plying his trade in a similar role to Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Old Trafford, with his comparable frame and the amount of chances he gets for the Red Devils.
The Belgian came back to haunt his former club on Sunday, scoring two goals that saw Palace come from a one down to beat Liverpool and almost secure their safety for another season.
Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge may fit into Klopp’s system, but they have been fairly blunt for most of the season and Benteke proved over the weekend that Liverpool might be missing out after all.
The Reds did well to recoup their money for the striker but he could have been a star if they had persevered.
Leeds will have huge regrets
Back on Friday 3 March, Leeds underlined their promotion credentials with a 3-1 success at Birmingham. Although the win saw the club have to suck up long periods of Birmingham pressure, the result firmly entrenched the Whites in the play-off spots and gave them an 11-point buffer on the side in 7th.
Just six weeks later and Leeds have completely seen that lead wiped out to the point where their play-off chances now only look distant. With two games left, their hopes of finishing in the top six are now out of their hands after a run of results that has seen them take just four points from the last 18 available; all of which has coincided with their two nearest challengers, Sheffield Wednesday and Fulham, both chalk up numerous successive wins.
If Leeds do, as expected, now miss out, fans and media will point to what has still been a good season and about how Garry Monk’s side has over-achieved.
While an element of that will be true, there’ll be nothing short of huge disappointment and frustration at all associated with the club over how they’ve let their promotion chance slip away.
In the event of missing out, the club now faces their most important pre-season for years. Monk is only on a one-year deal, while the likes of Pontus Jansson and Chris Wood have been linked with moves away. Doubts also surround the futures of Charlie Taylor and loan defender Kyle Bartley; all of whom could find themselves playing Premier League football next season.
It’ll certainly be a test of the club’s intentions and whether, like Brighton this year who narrowly missed out on the play-offs last term after a late collapse, they can build on their progress next season…