This week’s Monday Verdict looks at why Jose Mourinho cannot be trusted with a summer warchest, Conte’s future and Liverpool’s goalkeeping situation.
MOURINHO CAN’T BE TRUSTED TO SPEND MORE OF MAN UTD’S MILLIONS
Jose Mourinho has made it very clear that if Manchester United want to challenge rivals City for the Premier League title next season then they will have to spend, spend, spend – yet again.
Wonder if it has ever dawned on him that if you sign the right type of players in the first place and work to make them better than it might just save the club a few quid and also – potentially – your job.
Mourinho came out fighting after United’s Champions League exit at the hands of Sevilla last week, going on an incredible 12-minute press conference rant that did not make a massive amount of sense, while he has also started digging out individual players for criticism.
Since arriving at Old Trafford in the summer of 2016, Mourinho has spent £295million to try and restore United to the Fergie ‘glory days’, and while trophies have been won the gap to City has grown even larger since Pep Guardiola arrived at The Etihad.
United have at least been more consistent in the league this season but the brand of football is getting more and more negative and it is becoming more evident that the players are not enjoying the way they are playing under the Portuguese tactician.
Mourinho has brought in seven players since his arrival and you can only really argue that two of them have been successful thus far – Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku.
The fall-out between Paul Pogba and Mourinho is there for all to see, but for the club’s record signing to say that he can only be truly effective in one specific midfield position seems crazy when the club have forked out so much to get him back to Old Trafford.
Mourinho has not managed that situation at all well but that one cannot all be thrown at the manager’s door.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been and gone without anyone really seeing how good a player he could have been – perhaps Arsenal will give us the answer to that conundrum, while Eric Bailly looked good when he first arrived but has been hit by injuries and also made some glaring errors at the heart of United’s defence.
The less said about Victor Lindelof the better. Let’s just leave it at £30million and just 12 Premier League appearances this season.
And finally Alexis Sanchez, who looks completely and utterly lost in Mourinho’s system and does not suit his style of play in anyway shape or form.
The Chilean has turned from one of the Premier League’s most dangerous attackers into a misfit who constantly gives up possession and now has virtually no threat to his game.
So why exactly would United trust Mourinho to spend another £200-300m this summer?
Not only that but from the outside looking in, would any of the world’s top talents be itching to play for Jose – especially when he has taken to criticising players on an individual basis again and is seemingly sending his team out to play safe rather than express themselves.
This is a testing time for United and for Mourinho himself, but the way things are heading it could all get very messy very quickly if he doesn’t wind himself in a bit and find a formula that will be keep everyone at Old Trafford happy.
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COULD THE FA CUP SAVE CONTE?
It wasn’t pretty, but they did it. Chelsea eventually got past Leicester in extra time on Sunday thanks to goals from Alvaro Morata and Pedro in what was not their most convincing of performances.
Morata scored for the first time since Boxing Day to give Chelsea a half-time lead, but Jamie Vardy equalised 14 minutes from time to force the additional periods at the King Power Stadium.
And Pedro headed in as the Blues ended a five-match losing streak away from home to reach the last four, where they were drawn to face Southampton.
Conte’s Chelsea of course succeeded Leicester as Premier League champions last term and also reached the FA Cup final, losing to Arsenal.
The competition represents the Blues’ final trophy chance of an at-times tumultuous season after their midweek Champions League exit at Barcelona.
The omens appear good. They had beaten Leicester in all five prior FA Cup meetings and the last three times – in 1997, 2000 and 2012 – they went on to lift the trophy.
As positive as that sounds, it has not been the best of campaigns for Conte’s side.
Constant speculation that the Italian will leave Stamford Bridge either by being removed from his position or simply because he favours a move back to Serie A or the Italian national team job haven’t helped the overall stability at the club after what was one of their more memorable seasons in 2016/17.
Chelsea sit in fifth place too, five points away from the top four, something which may be a result of the uncertainty surrounding Conte, or may simply be a reflected of the fact they over-achieved last season.
The Sun stated last week that there is a possibility that the Italian could still be at the helm at Stamford Bridge come next season.
However, their report claimed that it will only happen if he stops complaining to the club’s board about their transfer activity (or lack of).
Conte has caused friction with the Chelsea board after publicly questioning their commitment to bringing in top players.
Is there a chance that he could stay? Well, it likely won’t be his decision. Surely the bare minimum for him to keep his job, when considering his spending, would be to win the FA Cup and finish in the top four somehow.
Are either of those achievable? They should reach the FA Cup final, and who knows what could happen then, but can anyone really see them winning six more points than Spurs between now and the middle of May?
It has shades of when Louis van Gaal thought he could save his job at Manchester United by winning the FA Cup in 2016. Sure, it’s a nice theory to suggest that winning a trophy per season is enough to keep owners happy, but in practice we know that the biggest trophy is Champions League football.
What a difference a year makes.
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LIVERPOOL MUST MAKE EARLY MOVE FOR ALISSON
Avid Serie A viewers will have taken some pleasure in seeing Roma join Juventus in the last eight of the Champions League this past week.
While the capital club lack the experience and class of Juventus, they have proved a tough side to beat having eased through a group that contained Chelsea and Atletico Madrid. Having just edged Shakhtar to reach the quarter-finals they were paired with Barcelona…. many will feel this will be the end of the road for Roma, and while that may well prove the case, the clash will be far from the forgone conclusion many are expecting.
In many ways, the Roma side can compare to Manchester United. Second or third best in their respective top leagues, but with one very familiar thing in common: one of the world’s best in goal.
If David De Gea is lauded as the world’s best (and who are we to argue), then the Roma custodian cannot be too far behind.
Aerially dominant, a fine shot-stopper, good distribution – Alisson has it all – as his whoscored observations point to.
And it’s no surprise to see Liverpool repeatedly linked with a move for the keeper, with reports on Saturday suggesting the Reds are preparing an early €80million offer to Roma.
It certainly makes sense for Liverpool to get the deal done early if they can. While any move for the Brazilian is likely to represent a world-record fee for a keeper, getting it done now could save them millions. With a clash with Messi and co on the horizon and a World Cup just months away, Alisson has a real chance to raise his profile even higher. So agreeing a deal for him now – before that fee escalates a little more – makes perfect sense.
Aside from rival interest from PSG and Real Madrid, the biggest danger to Liverpool tying up an early deal might be themselves and the shrewd move they made last summer in tying up the Mo Salah swoop early in the window.
Roma obviously won’t want to be stung by the same club twice – and that could ultimately prove their downfall. An alleged €80million offer for the keeper might seem like a huge offer now, but might we see his fee higher if Roma can hold out…?
Liverpool will certainly hope not, but get this deal done and we may just see the Reds transformed into genuine title contenders next season.
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SEXY FULHAM HAVE IT ALL – BUT KEEPING PRIZED ASSETS COULD PROVE TOUGH
It’s now 17 Championship matches since Fulham last lost – and while their first 45 minutes against QPR on Saturday showed exactly why they’re the league’s form side, it will feel very much like two points lost as the visitors fought their way back to draw 2-2.
Yet despite Saturday’s setback, sexy football is most definitely back at Fulham.
During their unbeaten run, the Cottagers have dispatched of fellow promotion contenders Wolves, Middlesbrough, Cardiff, Derby and Aston Villa with relative ease – and, but for their slow start to the season, would surely be sure-fire bets to go up now. It’s that kind of form that made Saturday’s collapse – the Cottagers had led 2-0 after 42 minutes – even more surprising.
Nonetheless, you’d back Slavisa Jokanovic’s side to overcome this and it’ll likely take something special to prevent this particular corner of south-west London celebrating a Premier League return this season.
Beaten in the play-off semi-finals last season, it seems last season’s heartbreak has galvanised Fulham. There’s a steel about this side, but in the mix there’s also some huge talents of whom they’ll do well to hang on – regardless of whether promotion is achieved or not.
The talents of Ryan Sessegnon have been well documented and despite his tender years, must be considered an outside bet to earn a call-up to the England squad this summer. Earning his corn as first a left-back, then a left wing-back, the player – this week called up by England U21s for the first time, now operates on the left side of Fulham’s attack. He’s a talent, make no mistake, and the £35million links to Man Utd, Spurs and Liverpool look fully vindicated. The boy will only get better and already looks a polished performer despite still only being 17.
In midfield, Tom Cairney has used the disappointment of early rejection by Leeds to blossom into one of the division’s finest performers. He has a wand of a left foot and it’s easy to see why Newcastle tried – and failed – with a £20m bid last summer.
If Fulham don’t go up this season, we will certainly see Cairney, now 27, in the top flight next season.
In attack, Aleksander Mitrovic’s arrival from Newcastle in January has reaped fine rewards – and the goals he has scored have proved vital. Signing him on a permanent deal in the summer will be of top priority to the Cottagers.
But while these three grab the headlines, the likes of Ryan Fredericks, Lucas Piazon, Tim Ream, Stefan Johansen and Marcus Bettinelli have all been solid and consistent performers.
But the one asset they’d arguably be most loathe to lose would be Jokanovic. The Serbian was cruelly dispensed of way too soon by Watford where he impressed and led the Hornets to promotion. After the heartbreak of last season’s play-offs, Jokanovic and Fulham look well placed to go better this time around. He’s tactically astute, has good contacts, plays football the right way, and most importantly gets results. With or without Fulham, Jokanovic will be Premier League bound before too long.