This week’s Monday Verdict looks at why Jose Mourinho had every right to be angry after a less-than switched on Manchester United performance, as well as Spurs’ shortcomings and the brilliant job Roy Hodgson has done at Crystal Palace.
STRUGGLING TOTTENHAM PACKED UP ON APRIL 1
Since recording a first win at Chelsea in 28 years, Tottenham appear to have shut up shop for the remainder of the season thinking Champions League qualification was a done deal.
At that stage Mauricio Pochettino’s men were 8 points clear with 7 games to play but now the gap is down to 2 with 2 games left and Antonio Conte’s men are well and truly breathing down their necks.
Two wins and two defeats in their last five games, plus a draw at Brighton has seen Spurs go completely off the boil at the wrong stage of the season – and it would appear that mentally that big win at Chelsea ended their campaign on April 1 and they can’t get that ruthless streak back.
Even the two wins were far from convincing as they edged out now relegated Stoke 2-1 at the Bet365 and then beat Watford 2-0 at Wembley in a game in which the visitors missed some glaring opportunities.
Players that were on top form leading up to and during that win in west London appear to have completed switched off, while Harry Kane still doesn’t look like the same player since he rushed himself back from injury early as Mo Salah began to run away with HIS Golden Boot.
A massive chance to win their first silverware in 10 years also passed them by as they failed to turn up in the second half of an FA Cup semi-final defeat against Manchester United at a Wembley Stadium they have been able to call home all season long.
What is surprising is that Pochettino has made this Tottenham side far less ‘Spursy’ over the last few years but they seem to have reverted to type over the last few weeks.
Several factors may be playing a part in their recent struggles, including major doubts resurfacing over Pochettino’s future at the club, but perhaps that win at The Bridge gave them such a high that ever since then they have only had one way to go and that slide has been difficult to stop.
Still, with two home games to go – against Newcastle and Leicester – things are still very much in their hands and Wednesday’s clash with the Toon has now turned into one of their most important of the season.
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FOR ONCE, JOSE IS RIGHT TO RANT
To say Manchester United will likely still finish second in the Premier League, reached the knockout stages of the Champions League and stand on the verge of silverware with an FA Cup final to come, some might say Jose Mourinho has been a bit on the moody side this season.
If he could be accused of being tetchy throughout his tenure at Old Trafford, on Friday night that sense of irritancy turned to straight up, unfiltered anger.
United arrived on the south coast knowing a win would all-but seal second place for them, but a desperate disappointing display means they will have to wait to secure the runners-up spot.
Pascal Gross scored the goal which sank United 1-0 to guarantee Premier League football for Brighton next season.
“It was not good enough. The players that replaced others did not perform at a good level and when individuals do that it is difficult for the team to play well. Maybe now you will not ask me why A, B and C do not play so much,” Mourinho told BT Sports after the game.
“I wouldn’t say disappointed. I know them. I thought that the possibility to start the game and give reason would give them something.
“You have the answer now when you ask ‘why always Lukaku?’. We are probably not as good as people think we are individually.”
It is not difficult to see – as much as he tried to mask it – just who those comments were aimed at. A front three of Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial failed to carve out any real clear opportunities.
Once again, the Red Devils were reduced to hitting and hoping from set pieces, plus looking occasionally threatening on the odd occasion that Jesse Lingard showed urgency in behind an otherwise out-of-place looking trident ahead of him
If this was an audition for the aforementioned players to prove that a) they deserve more minutes and b) they deserve to be considered as long term options by Mourinho, then they failed absolutely miserably.
Take Martial as a perfect case study of why Mourinho may not have been wrong after all. It would be fair to say that some Manchester United fans have been baffled by the treatment of the young Frenchman. His minutes have understandably suffered since the arrival of the £500k-a-week Alexis Sanchez, and despite reports in the press that Jose wants to keep him, Martial’s future looks incredibly uncertain.
If Martial took to the field at the AMEX Stadium looking to impress his boss and maybe even nudge Sanchez out of a starting berth, then the 90 minutes he showed on the south coast did little to suggest that.
Marcus Rashford deserves an ounce of sympathy. In the chances he has had to impress this season, he has often looked promising, and there is an element from Mourinho of trying to protect a player who has played a lot of football for someone his age prior to this season. But, like Martial, his performance was utterly bereft of any individual or collective spark.
As for Juan Mata, he was utterly anonymous, and he is surely just going through the motions in what should be his last few games at Old Trafford.
Mourinho’s comments after the game were bold, accusative and very thinly veiled, but for once he is right to be angry. His side needs four more points to get over the line and finish second, and then focus on picking up silverware in their FA Cup final against Chelsea.
Instead, the Portuguese is left to face an unrelenting media and pick up the pieces after another sluggish display against an opponent where Manchester City would have surely flexed their strength in depth. United have lost away at all three of last season’s promoted Championship sides this season – a record that is a huge indication of where the problems line.
For all the times Jose is unnecessarily grumpy, or sees the cynical side of everything, we have to give him this one. He was let down badly, and it may just be the catalyst for wholesale change that Reds fans are crying out for.
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FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM PREM’S PENULTIMATE WEEKEND
On the same weekend as Sir Alex Ferguson battles for his life in hospital, the reception afforded Arsene Wenger on his final home game as manager of Arsenal was a poignant reminder of how the true greats of the game can rise above traditional enmities. Only last week Ferguson put their old rivalry aside to make a presentation to Wenger on the Old Trafford pitch. On Sunday, just as the football world has come together to issue its best wishes to Ferguson, so it also acclaimed Wenger as his historic tenure draws to a close.
You can hardly blame Liverpool for having one eye on the upcoming Champions League final. But Sunday’s defeat to Chelsea maintains the remarkable but very real prospect that Jurgen Klopp’s men could still fail to figure in Europe’s elite competition next season. Klopp now faces a tough juggling act as he attempts to preserve a lead over the fifth-placed Blues which has now been trimmed to just three points, whilst protecting those superstars upon whom he is counting to sink Real Madrid and gain access the easier – and much more glorious – way in Kiev in around three weeks’ time.
BAGGIES KEEP BOUNCING
Even amid the tumult of Jake Livermore’s injury-time winner on Saturday, no-one at The Hawthorns can seriously believe the most miraculous of all relegation escapes is on the cards. But despite their side’s impending demotion, Baggies fans have every right to feel buoyed about the immediate future following the remarkable success of club hero Darren Moore in restoring some pride. The Baggies hierarchy now faces a difficult decision as it prepares for a Championship campaign: an experienced head (Alan Pardew, anyone?) or a man the whole town is guaranteed to get behind?
Sensible football people always sat uncomfortably with the widespread ridicule which greeted Roy Hodgson’s respective exits from Liverpool and England. To a large extent a victim of circumstance, Hodgson nevertheless took over a seemingly hopeless cause at Crystal Palace in the knowledge his illustrious career was likely on the line. The manner in which Hodgson has proceeded to steer the Eagles to safety surely puts him right up there as a manager of the year contenter alongside Pep Guardiola and Sean Dyche.
PUEL PAYS THE PRICE
Flash back barely 10 years, when Leicester were extricating themselves from English football’s third tier, and the prospect of appointing a manager who would lead the Foxes to the Premier League’s top 10 would have provoked talk of statues and freedoms-of-the-city. Claude Puel, however, may find himself out of a job come the summer . Defeat to West Ham on Saturday took their winless streak to five and proved that, post-Ranieri, expectation levels have risen exponentially at the King Power Stadium.