A stark contrast is appearing between Man United and Man City while Liverpool’s annoying habit and Giroud’s ‘scorpion’ are also discussed.
Don’t call it a comeback
Make no mistake about it… the real Jose Mourinho is here.
After the 2-0 victory against West Ham, ‘The Special One’ is now on his longest winning run in all competitions in three years with seven straight victories with the Red Devils.
Manchester United are now a completely different animal to the side that lost to Fenerbahce in the Europa League in November and Mourinho has to take a lot of credit, especially for their latest two wins.
On New Year’s Eve against Middlesbrough, we saw the re-emergence of a trademark made famous by Sir Alex Ferguson: late goals turning dropped points into victories.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s disallowed goal for an alleged high boot would have given Mourinho even more reason to instil a siege mentality at Old Trafford.
But, instead of him and his players feeling sorry for themselves, they remained patient and allowed their quality to shine through with Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba embodying the new-found arrogance and swagger under Mourinho.
Skip forward two days later and the Midas touch from Mourinho was clear for all to see again at the London Stadium, despite referee Mike Dean’s best efforts to steal the spotlight once again.
After West Ham were cruelly reduced to ten men early on, Manchester United could have been easily accused of being a little complacent (and tired) in their initial response to being given a numerical advantage.
However, Mourinho was quick to combat this with the introduction of Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford from the bench, who provided timely boosts for the Red Devils to ensure that a wounded West Ham did not come back to bite them.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) 2 January 2017
Mourinho’s decision to briefly move Michael Carrick back to centre-half gave him the depth of the pitch he needed to spray a wonderful ball out to Rashford, who gave Havard Nordveit a torrid time in an eye-catching 30-minute spell.
Rashford then provided Mata with the perfect pass to give Manchester United the lead, before Zlatan Ibrahimovic (albeit offside) made sure that another three points were in the bag.
Mourinho was spot on with his in-game decisions, showing that he is clearly getting to grips with his squad at just the right time ahead of their next Premier League encounter against bitter rivals Liverpool.
Guardiola clearly feeling the pressure
While Mourinho is getting back into the groove, a complete role reversal with Pep Guardiola is currently taking place down the road at the Etihad Stadium.
The Spaniard and his Manchester City looked a formidable force at the start of the season, but now Guardiola is running the risk of alienating himself barely six months into his tenure.
Before we even get onto his behaviour following the full-time whistle against Burnley, the comments he made after the 1-0 defeat to Liverpool on New Year’s Eve cannot go unnoticed.
Manchester City were dreadful against the Reds. The goalkeeper and defence still looked shaky, the central midfield was slow and one-dimensional, the attacking trio behind Aguero were wasteful and the Argentine himself was completely anonymous on his return from a four-match ban.
Yet all Guardiola had to really say was:
“It is what it is. In these kind of games the little details make the difference.”
The way he just brushed off what is probably going to be a decisive defeat like it was a piece of lint stuck to his suit would have surely rung a few alarm bells with Manchester City fans.
His rather non-plussed reaction here, though, was nothing in comparison to his antics after the hard-fought 2-1 win against Burnley.
Demanding the fans cheer louder for the victory, sarcastic responses to journalists asking genuine questions, and already talking about when the end of his managerial will be: it was highly unprofessional and very childish.
We all know the pressures that come with trying to entertain, but Guardiola has to improve his conduct or else his so-called revolution will be over before it’s even had a chance to begin.
Leaky Liverpool undoing own hard work
If you’re looking for this season’s Jeykll-and-Hyde team, then look no further than Liverpool.
One minute they bedazzle us with seductive attacking displays and the next they are the victims of their own downfall.
The 1-0 victory against Manchester City saw them emerge as the main title contenders to Chelsea this season and that performance in turn made the game against relegation-threatened Sunderland all the more important.
Klopp was hoping that Antonio Conte and his Chelsea squad were beginning to get annoyed by the Reds, yet after throwing away the lead twice at the Stadium of Light with two penalties, it is difficult to envisage that the league leaders will be too concerned with their competition at this stage.
The opportunity to move to within three points of Chelsea at the top of the table may not come around too often again this season and this result could be the one we all look back on as where the title was won and lost.
And just to add to Liverpool’s woes, a potentially serious injury to Daniel Sturridge will only enhance that deja vu feeling.
With Philippe Coutinho still sideline and Sadio Mane heading off to the African Cup of Nations, the names of the attackers on Klopp’s transfer wishlist may have just got that little bit bigger. Mario Gotze anyone?
Fine-tuning needed for Chelsea
Chelsea are yet to play again after New Year’s weekend and it still looking very rosy for them at the top.
A tough encounter against Tottenham stands in their way of matching Arsenal’s record of 14 consecutive Premier League wins, but we all know what we would choose between this record and winning the title.
After Liverpool failed to apply any strong pressure with their 2-2 draw at Sunderland, it leaves the Blues at least five points clear after the busy festive period comes to a close on Wednesday.
It will also leave Conte in a position where he feels he will only need to make minor tweaks to his squad in the transfer window, but one area in particular has to be the priority.
The £60million departure of Oscar and the imminent exit of Jon Obi Mikel has seen a whole raft of quality midfielders such as James Rodriguez and Arturo Vidal linked with a move to Stamford Bridge.
However, it is the wing-back areas where Chelsea needed to strengthen most.
Marcos Alonso has been a solid signing so far and a resurgent Victor Moses has provided the quintessential example of the effect that Conte has had on the squad in such a short space of time.
Yet an injury to either of these two could leave Chelsea short in a vitally important area of Conte’s 3-4-3 system.
Branislav Ivanovic can no longer be a considered a strong option and it would be less than ideal having to move Cesar Azpilicueta from a centre-back position that he has made his own.
At least one new wing-back option should be added this month if Chelsea want to really make sure that the Premier League title is coming back to them.
Giroud no Plan B
We have barely entered 2017 and already the best goal we will see all year has been scored by Arsenal’s ‘Plan B’ option Olivier Giroud.
While the debate wages on as to whether the Frenchman’s ‘scorpion’ kick was better than Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s effort against Sunderland, there is a wider point to made on Giroud’s role within the Arsenal squad.
The outstanding form of Alexis Sanchez in the lone striker role has restricted Giroud for much of this season and he has been resigned to being labelled as Arsenal’s ‘Plan B’ when the game isn’t going their way.
We are already well aware that Sanchez can be just as effective on either flank or behind the striker and as a result it is puzzling to see why Giroud has not been given more starts when the likes of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are going through their usual rough patches.
‘Plan B’ strikers do not score goals of that unbelievable quality and he has made an absolute mockery of that tag when the ball clanged in beautifully off the bar against Crystal Palace.
The finish has slightly overshadowed the fact that Giroud’s work-rate within the move was also very impressive as Arsenal went from their own area to scoring within 13 seconds.
It is great to see the spotlight shining again on a criminally underrated striker and now started and scored in his last two starts for the Gunners, it is time for him to shake off the ‘Plan B’ tag once and for all.
Swansea waving the white flag
After Bob Bradley’s ill-fated 88 days in charge of Swansea, Paul Clement will be the man with the unenviable task of keeping Swansea in the Premier League.
The former Derby County manager will be keeping a watchful eye on his new team in the crucial trip to Crystal Palace tonight, where a defeat could for the Swans could leave seven points adrift of safety.
Clement’s CV looks incredibly impressive when you consider his close connection with Carlo Ancelotti has seen him assistant manager roles at Chelsea, Real Madrid, PSG and Bayern Munich.
Yet his relatively short managerial spell with the Rams – even though he had guided them to fifth in the Championship table before he was given the chop – has still acted as his fly in the ointment.
The appointment of Clement comes across as a signal of defeat from Swansea’s American owners, who are already looking beyond the end of his current (and more than likely disastrous) season and are planning for an immediate return next year.
The reported two-and-a-half contract is further evidence of that, as Clement will certainly need more than one transfer window to even attempt to sort out the mess at the Liberty Stadium.