We question the price of Manchester United success under Jose Mourinho in this week’s Monday Verdict, and also have thoughts on Man City, Pochettino and Chelsea’s bright young hope.
MANCHESTER UNITED KNEW WHAT TO EXPECT WITH MOURINHO….
The goalless draw between the Premier League’s two biggest teams at the weekend was, as usual, a major disappointment. The hype before the game was, as per, far bigger and better than the actual event itself, while afterwards you were left with that unerring fear that you’d just wasted the last two hours of your life!
But should we surprised? No, not really….
With Jose Mourinho, you know exactly what to expect during these tricky sort of away games.
Ironically, the phrase “parking the bus” was coined by the United boss during his Chelsea days after Spurs had come to the Bridge back in March 2012 and eked out a 0-0 draw. But yet the Portuguese has, more than most, become the absolute master of this dark art of the modern game.
Some call it unattractive; some say it’s anti-football; occasionally others accuse it of killing football; others simply settle on the fact that it’s the Jose Mourinho way.
However, surely we should come to expect more from Mourinho, and especially more so given the fine start United had made to the season?
There are those who will counter that had Mourinho played more expansively, then United simply would have been beaten by Liverpool. Yet that belies the fact that United have both the weapons and the confidence to hurt a Liverpool side, who have looked desperately short of those key attributes themselves in recent weeks.
More importantly, is this truly fitting in with the Manchester United way?
Their key stats from the clash at Anfield were not pretty.
There’s very few managers United would trade Mourinho for these days, and the two trophies he delivered in his first season at the club are testimony to his methods.
Yet traditionalists will argue that United should see better. It’s both unfair and unkind to compare Mourinho, or any United manager, to the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. But one thing the Scot always did was to try and build a team that provided entertainment. Even when they weren’t winning, they were at least great to watch. The Manchester United way, some would say….
Mourinho set his side up to, first and foremost, ensure they weren’t beaten. And for the second straight season, the masterplan paid off.
And while the point could prove vital come the end of the season, it was for the similar anti-football that eventually contributed towards his downfall at Real Madrid. Just one year before his exit, Mourinho had delivered a first La Liga title in four years for Los Blancos. But the style with which they did it frustrated many.
While Mourinho is clearly a manager who delivers, at what price should that be sacrificed?
The master of the dark arts, yes; the master of fine football, only sparingly….
SEXY CITY NEED TO DELIVER ON THEIR EARLY PROMISE
Napoli defender Raul Albiol has claimed that Manchester City as ‘the best team in Europe’ at the moment.
City continued their impressive league form with a 7-2 demolition of Stoke on Saturday, extending their lead atop the Premier League table.
Their next fixture sees them up against a fellow free-scoring side in Serie A leaders Napoli, and Albiol has admitted that they enter the game in good shape.
The Spain international told Mediaset Premium: “We are happy to have won a tough game, as it’s always difficult away to Roma.
“There’s a long way to go yet, we must stay calm and focus on recovering our energy to face the best team in Europe right now, Manchester City.”
But is he right?
Just two Premier League teams in history have ever scored more than 100 goals in a season, and City are currently on pace to rack up 137 if they keep up their current quota.
So far, the idea that pragmatism is the most important ingredient in a potential title success has been blown out of the water. Pep Guardiola has said, simply, that his team will score more than any opponent.
Looking at the players at the Spaniard’s disposal, it is easy to see why. Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Kevin De Bruyne, David and Bernardo Silva, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling highlight a fast and hard working attack full of skill and intelligence.
As has already been proven, there are few teams (if any) in world football who could handle this City side on their day. An average of 3.625 goals per league game already is a testament to that.
Their win at Chelsea showed that the Sky Blues are ready to topple the big guns too and not just pick off lesser sides. Essentially, it all appears to be falling into place thanks to a combination of patience and a ruthless game plan.
But what does this all mean? Well, it means that Pep has no excuses any more. The City owners have invested heavily once again and the manager has the squad at his disposal to wreak sheer havoc.
The end result quite simply has to be trophies, be it the big one in the Champions League, the Premier League or both. The time is now for Guardiola to deliver some silverware into that trophy cabinet.
ABRAHAM A CHELSEA STAR IN THE MAKING
Chelsea’s youth system has again been in the news this week after Charly Musonda used social media to criticise the club’s failure to significantly hand first-team chances to their youngsters.
Since Roman Abramovich took charge at Stamford Bridge in 2003, the Blues blooded plenty of young stars in their side; sadly very few of them have made the grade and gone on to establish themselves as regulars.
The likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku have been cast aside without being afforded meaningful chances to prove themselves; both players going on to command £130million worth of transfer fees between them and becoming vital cogs in their title rivals’ sides.
But are there finally signs that the mould at Stamford Bridge is changing?
Andreas Christensen, who impressed during his two years with Borussia Monchengladbach, has been afforded opportunities this season, while you’d not rule out Ruben Loftus-Cheek returning from Crystal Palace to play a part in the Blues’ long-term plans.
However, it young striker Tammy Abraham who perhaps provides the biggest hope….
The young striker may only have two Chelsea appearances under his belt to date, but his form at Swansea (and before that Bristol City) is already leading to some suggesting he deserves a shot at Stamford Bridge.
“His movement and workrate is first class,” Ian Wright told Match of the Day, who then suggested the 20-year-old was a better option for Chelsea than Michy Batshuayi during the absence of Alvaro Morata.
That was followed up by Swansea midfielder Leon Britton, who has witnessed at first hand the brilliance of the England U21 striker.
“Tammy is a very good finisher. If you give him those chances, he will score the goals,” Britton said after the weekend win over Huddersfield, in which Abraham netted a double.
“He has come here to prove that he can do it in the Premier League with a team who are not the standard of Chelsea. If he does that, I don’t see any reason why he can’t go back to Chelsea, break through and have a long career there.”
And the stats back up the bluster around Abraham too. Five goals in 10 games for Swansea so far is a fine return – and sits nicely with his career record (31 goals from 60 games) which currently reads just about better than a goal in every other game.
Chelsea will continue to monitor Abraham’s development closely, but with or without Chelsea, Abraham looks capable of enjoying a long career in the Premier League.
After Lukaku and De Bruyne, it’ll be interesting to see if lessons be learnt at Chelsea? Time will tell, but Abraham looks as capable of anyone….
POCHETTINO NEEDS TO QUIT WITH HIS PERSECUTION COMPLEX
Mauricio Pochettino is a fine manager – easily one of the best in the Premier League – but good lord he needs to give the persecution complex a rest.
Last week, he blasted Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola for ‘not being a gentleman’ by insinuating Spurs are a one-man team due to Harry Kane’s exceptional form.
“I think it’s a sad comment because the players laugh about that,” he moaned. “If you’re a manager you must show more, no? To be above this type of comment.
“It’s sad and it’s not right in football. Today we want to show respect, fair play and everything.”
It’s not the first time, either. Over the summer, he demanded more “respect” from Chelsea’s Antonio Conte for him questioning Tottenham’s ambitions following a lacklustre transfer window that even had their own fans in relative uproar.
But football is not really about respect, is it? Certainly not at the level Tottenham are now at. It’s about winning.
Perhaps, then, Pochettino would be well-advised to learn from his colleagues and drop the nice-guy act? Maybe it’s time he started to drop a few needles himself and wind up his rivals ahead of big games?
After all, for all Pochettino is a fine manager, he is not a proven winner of trophies – unlike those from whom he is making a habit of demanding respect from.