This week’s Monday Verdict finds the answer to Man Utd’s stuttering form, praises Pep Guardiola for sticking to his guns and laughs at Paul Merson.
ZLATAN-LUKAKU PARTNERSHIP ON THE CARDS
It seems Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho gave his attacking players a little reminder on Saturday that a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic lurks in the wings at Old Trafford.
Zlatan again took his place on the bench in the 1-0 win over Brighton, but the indications are that the Swede might be nearing a start after Mourinho took a swipe a three of his attackers after a stinking performance at Old Trafford.
Romelu Lukaku escaped criticism and Mourinho recently claimed the Belgium striker was “untouchable” after he was criticised during his recent barren spell in front of goal, but others were not quite so lucky.
M0urinho admitted the trio were well below par in Saturday’s lucky win.
“Today our creation was poor. The three players who played with (Romelu) Lukaku, they didn’t get the ball, they were not successful in the one against one. Marcus (Rashford) did not have a happy match at all,” said Mourinho.
All three – Mata, Martial and Rashford got the hook in the second half with Ibrahimovic replacing Mata with 62 minutes on the clock.
The 36-year-old has played just 56 minutes of football in three appearances since returning early from a serious knee injury in April, but he looks primed to get a run in the No. 10 role behind Lukaku in the near future.
The pair have never played together before, but Mourinho is a believer that good players can play together and a Zlatan-Lukaku front pairing might be the dream ticket as United aim to keep pace with Man City.
DO MAN CITY DESERVE MORE CREDIT?
18 straight wins. 18! Just stop and think about that for a minute. Surely it’s time Pep Guardiola and his Man City side were given far from credit for what they have achieved this season.
OK, so the prizes are not handed out in late November, but City’s displays have been so good so far this season, that they’re merely expected to steamroller all who come before them…
That was obviously not the case on Sunday as City were forced to grind down and show a new side to their game. Ironically, a scrappy 2-1 win at Huddersfield will probably answer more about their title credentials than 5-0 home wins over the likes of Liverpool will. After all, this was a ground where nearest rivals Manchester United had lost their unbeaten run this season.
City’s wins have also been achieved with Guardiola staying too true to his principles. There were times last season when things started to go pear-shaped and there were some who questioned whether Guardiola and his tactics are adaptable to the English game. So far this season, those doubters have been emphatically silenced.
The signings of the full-backs and a new goalkeeper have made a huge difference to their style – but so too has the improvement shown by Raheem Sterling, John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi, who have all become fixtures in Pep’s side.
The title may not have been decided yet, but on this evidence, it’s going to take something pretty darn special to stop City.
HAZARD NEEDS STRIKER ROLE TO PROGRESS
Whether it was Dries Mertens comments that persuaded Antonio Conte to play Eden Hazard up front is open to debate, but it certainly paid off an Anfield.
Hazard’s Belgium team-mate Mertens likened Hazard to Lionel Messi over the weekend: “Eden has something special. You know the ease with which Messi turns away from his opponents? Well, Eden has that too. I can really enjoy his skills in training. Wow.”
Hazard was played as a striker off of Alvaro Morata in the 1-1 draw with Liverpool and he was in scintillating form and was a thorn in the side of Jurgen Klopp’s men all afternoon.
He produced nine successful dribbles in the game – a league high this season, produced an impudent shoulder pass and was man of the match in a game which Chelsea edged, despite the draw.
Afterwards Conte said: “The start of this season was full of trouble with Eden because he had an injury with the national team and we started the season without him.
“Now I think Eden is in really good form and I think he likes to play as a striker. There is a good link with Alvaro and for me also it’s a great opportunity to play with two different systems.
“Against Qarabag we played 3-4-2-1 and here we started with a 3-5-2. It’s important we don’t lose our identity in both cases.”
It’s not before time that Hazard started in a more central, advanced role where he can do more damage. At 26 the Belgium star is coming into his prime and if he is to rival the likes of Messi, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the world’s best then he must up his goal output.
Playing centrally as a striker will give him the chance to use his explosive pace and tight control to break back lines and score more than 19 goals he grabbed in his best season for Chelsea in 2014/15.
Goals are the only thing missing from Hazard’s game and if he is to significantly improve on his six so far this season, then Conte must continue to play him further forward.
FOUR MONTHS IS A LONG TIME, ASK MERSON
Marco Silva’s reputation continues to flourish after his Watford side took Newcastle apart on Saturday.
They won 3-0 on Tyneside, but such was there attacking gusto that a 6-0 scoreline would not have been harsh on Rafa Benitez’s men, who could not cope with Watford’s sharp, incisive movement.
Rewind the clock to the start of the year and you would be forgiven in thinking Silva, 40, had arrived from the Dog and Duck. His appointment at Hull was derided by Sky Sports Soccer Saturday’s chuntering panel.
Paul Merson asked: “What’s he know about the Premier League? What’s he know?” Before his views turned xenophobic with Merson pleading for British coaches to be given a chance and claiming: “I’ve nothing against foreign coaches.”
Silva, who has taken charge of Olympiakos and Sporting Lisbon, ultimately could not stop Hull going down, but such was the change in style he was handed the job at Watford after leaving Yorkshire.
Merson then claimed in August that Silva was overrated and he would not be able to keep Watford up.
But now with Watford flying high in the Premier League and labelled ‘special’ on Match of the Day by Jermaine Jenas, he has been linked with Everton and he would not answer questions about their interest at his press call on Friday.
Instead Silva would only talk about the Newcastle game, and with Watford believed to be ready to take legal action over an illegal approach from Everton chief Farhad Moshiri, he may well have been advised to keep quiet.
His time at Watford will surely be limited though if he continues to make progress with the Hornets. He was even tipped to get the Arsenal job this week when Arsene Wenger leaves in 18 month’s time.
Who said that you might ask? No other than Merson on Sky’s Debate show. Yes, four months is a long time in football. Silva has been transformed into a manager not fit for Watford to the man entrusted with following Wenger at The Emirates.