Mourinho’s lack of ambition continues to hurt Manchester United – view from the Bridge

Chelsea did the usual at Stamford Bridge against Manchester United. A relatively straightforward victory, 1-0 flattered Manchester United. Bakayoko and Morata wasted wonderful openings as Chelsea, led by Cesc and Kante, dominated the United midfield and, by extension, the game. In losing, United fell 8 points behind City – things aren’t looking great for Jose’s men. We care – does he?

“8 points in the Premier League is not 8 points in Portugal, or in Spain, or in Germany” – Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge, 5 November 2017.

Having watched Guardiola’s Manchester City sweep Arsenal away earlier on Sunday, it’s hard not to think that. City, with their millions spent, and team clicking, will not run away with this league. They have won all but one of their league games so far (the one draw amazingly came against Everton at the Etihad). In fact, except for the Koeman-induced draw, they have won all their games this season. They have taken maximum points from fixtures against Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. The victory over the latter was probably the most impressive, picking the Champions apart with panache, confidence and control at the Bridge. In many ways, that victory, for the “other Manchester team”, shows why this 8-point lead may be more than just that. It represents a gulf in personality and ambition between two managers.

There’s a well-known saying – “fortune favours the brave.” If you are brave enough, ambitious enough to try to take control of your destiny, provoking situations to bend outcomes your way, you will, more often than not, be successful. If only someone told Jose. You couldn’t read any football website worth its salt in the last week without coming across comment/news/analysis around Jose Mourinho’s away record against Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham or Liverpool. He hasn’t won away from home with Manchester United against those teams. His team has picked up 3 points from a possible 24 in those games.

After the game on Sunday, Mourinho observed that “the team that scored first was going to win”. His team has scored 1 goal away to the other members of the “Big 6” since he came to power at Old Trafford. When you play for 1 point, there’s an obvious problem – 1 point is closer to 0 points than it is to 3 points. In a game like football, often dictated by random events, your opposition trying harder than you to score means that, more often than not, the randomness will favour them.

A friend trotted out an ideal line-up for Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Bailly, Young; Pogba, Matic; Martial, Mata, Rashford; Lukaku. To which I responded – “it does not matter.” No matter the line-up, ambition will often dictate the outcome. Jose Mourinho’s two previous jobs were tainted by his lack of ambition at key moments. Who can forget Cristiano Ronaldo playing doggie in the middle, chasing after a ball Barcelona’s midfielders and defenders were only too happy to pass around him, before he threw up his hands in a massive huff. For once, I felt sympathy for the man – he wanted to play, to be on the front foot, but his manager didn’t want to.

At Stamford Bridge on Sunday, as Mourinho stood by the tunnel and greeted his old Chelsea players, it didn’t take the eagle-eyed to notice that he and Eden Hazard exchanged neither shake nor glance. It was like neither existed for the other. Eden Hazard was arguably the most critical factor to Chelsea winning the 14/15 Premier League title (under Mourinho). Hazard is also one of the reasons Mourinho was dismissed from his job at Chelsea (again). Creating an environment that allowed his best player to work his magic really was an excuse to do the least in pursuit of victory. Who can forget the spate of single-goal margin victories that carried Chelsea to the title in 2014/2015? Hazard got frustrated with a manager who sets out his team to defend, and takes credit for your own magic. He wants to do the least for the most. It might have worked before, but it hasn’t worked for a while. As the Citys and Spurs of the game continue to rise, it becomes increasingly unlikely to work. The problem, for Manchester United, is that this leopard is not about to change his spots.

“There are 18 teams more worried than us”, he said, attempting to dismiss the gap between 2nd and 1st. Standard deflection, really – and it’s not working. However, more worryingly, who or what is he interested in? Others looking worse than he is by reference to a gold standard? Where are the standards, Jose? His problem now is that Manchester City is setting the standard of quality. And for the first time in his career, he’s sharing a city with a “better” club. 2nd place will not be enough for Manchester United this season (or next). It’s also unlikely any new signings will help, regardless of what Jose and Duncan Castles would rather you believe. Indeed, while he initially talked about being at Manchester United for many years to come, his comments about Paris a few weeks ago should not be taken lightly. In Paris, Unai Emery is a sitting duck, playing puppet while Neymar and co. run the team. The Qataris will never say no to Box Office Jose, even if he now treats coaching as a 9-5. That link up is loading…

A final point must be made. Before he left the post-match press conference on Sunday, Mourinho said he had a special mention – for Marouane Fellaini. In short, he was injured for a few weeks, was only in the squad the day before, but came on, in difficult circumstances, and fought for the team and the club. Fellaini was not useless, no. He created some difficulties for Chelsea in the box, and had a decent opportunity saved by the relatively idle Thibaut Courtois. However, he was a liability in midfield and in possession. We all know he’s barely “Manchester United quality” (whatever that means these days). More tellingly, it’s standard divide and rule from Jose Mourinho, an expertly placed passive-aggressive subliminal intended to elicit some sort of desire in the unmentioned players to please him. At Real it was Arbeloa, at Chelsea it was Willian. The problem is that he never picks key players. Why? Because those are nearly always the ones that want to play. To express themselves, to go to the home ground of a big rival and play them off the park. Basically, they want to do what Mourinho does not want to do.

After the defeat at Huddersfield, Mourinho, in no uncertain terms, called out his players for playing with little attitude and desire. But they reflect him and his caution. He loves Marouane Fellaini because the best the player can give to Jose is loyalty and a steadfast dedication to carrying out his destroyer tactics. Mourinho allows him to justify his presence at Manchester United. That is Marouane Fellaini. Jose Mourinho should know that pinning his mast on players like Fellaini will get him nowhere, but one should ask this – does he really care anymore? And it’s the lack of care (a relatively new phenomena) coupled with the steadfast refusal to engage with his peers as peers (except in the media pressroom) that may make his presence at Old Trafford toxic sooner rather than later. He landed in England as The Special One. He left, was Perez’d and came back as The Happy One. He will leave England again, this time as The Disinterested One.

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Yet again…

 

Englasnd disappointment

“Another one…”

Courtesy of BBC

Death, taxes and England to choke on its own victory champagne.  Football is a funny game indeed.  In the blink of an eye, success can give way to crushing disappointment. Perspectives change – the swaggerific becomes the crushed, the crushed becomes the jubilant.

As the whistle went a few minutes ago, England fans were probably left reeling in stunned silence.  Not necessarily anger – the performance served up by Spurs + 6 others was very much in-keeping with the tempo and intensity we saw of Pochettino’s men for most of 2015-2016 (forget last day…St James’ Park…).  The football was electric and vibrant, very similar to that against Italy in Brazil (2014).  The difference here was balance.  In Brazil, Sturridge lined up ahead of Rooney, Welbeck and Sterling with an ageing Gerrard expected to shield the defence while Gerrard wannabe Henderson went gambolling ahead.  Chances were created, the play was slick and England looked a modern version of itself, not a pretend version of some folks in the Iberian peninsula.  However, defensive frailties abounded and alas, a beautiful performance was sourly enjoyed as an aftertaste to defeat.

This time, Hodgson, after endless chopping and changing in warm-up friendlies went with a team that made a lot of sense.  The only doubt in selection was captain Wayne.  His selection in midfield would require not just a lot of discipline from him, but humility – Dele Alli showed in the last season that he’s most effective being allowed an advanced role.  And Rooney went about justifying not just his selection, but his place in midfield.  For the first time in an England shirt, he looked like he belonged.  The value of having  round pegs (not a nod to Rooney’s history of girth) that seemed to sort of fit in round holes almost told in England’s first opening game victory at a European Championship (in it’s history). Almost…

A brilliant Eric Dier free-kick (more on that later) gave England the lead they deserved for a quite frankly thrilling performance.  Russia deserved zero for playing so much turd (if there’s a team in a deeper identity crisis than England, introducing Russia…)  but football does not always work that way.  The equaliser, deep into injury-time, was beautifully executed; a looping header which dropped in at the far post.  My cousins, both die-hard England supporters (it’s really the only thing they know, bless them) lay back and couldn’t talk for a while.  The frustrated reaction will come later…

A few observations from the game…

Team Selection – Spot on 

No, Jamie Vardy should not have started.  Steven Gerrard recently, in a rather frank and ironically honest exposition, observed that it was high time England stopped picking the best eleven players and picked the best xi.  He would know a lot about that.  For years, England tried to shoehorn Lamps and Gerry and frankly, it was ‘ard (forgive me).  Meanwhile, Paul Scholes, tiringly touted as the best midfielder of his England generation was forced to the left where he frankly was uncomfortable.  He retired not long after Euro 2004 – England suffered nearly another decade of ‘we know Lampard and Gerrard are shit together but we have to make it work!’

Before this game, I voted on a twitter poll which basically asked whether or not excluding Vardy from the xi was the right decision.  Nearly 70% of voters thought not – nearly 40% thought it a right f**king crazy decision to exclude him.  But it was the right call and irrespective of the result, the performance proved it.  Yes, he’s a great finisher but he’s not a left winger and that is the role he would have had to play.  Once Hodgson rightly recognised that playing a 3 man midfield is the best way to get his team playing optimally, England’s best striker, Kane, was going to get the spot.  Brazil was not forgotten – playing Kane and Vardy looked (and still looks) tasty on paper but it’s gung-ho.  His squad selection also seems to have been made with a 4-3-3 in mind, which then makes his decision to take 5 strikers look a bit odd.  But it’s what it is.  Throw in Vardy’s inferior technical and tactical attributes as compared to a ‘seasoned’ winger of Sterling’s ability and it makes more sense.  Sterling, even with a few questionable decisions, was a threat throughout and deserves his spot on that showing.

King Eric (Not Cantona!)

Eric Dier started 2015-2016 as the Portuguese-speaking thatch-haired Spurs defender who was not quite sure what he was doing at Spurs.  Tonight, he shielded England’s defence at the Euros with distinction, and then added a cracking free-kick for good measure.  I have to admit, I never saw that one coming.  It was brilliantly hit (maybe not well placed but with just enough power to beat Akinfeev in goal for the Russians).  That said, the Russian goalkeeper was not entirely blameless.  The shot was fairly central, he was not completely unsighted and his attempt to save was frankly pathetic.  Someone mentioned Van Persie v Ivory Coast as a similar, turbo-charged whistler of a strike from pretty close in, but the beautifully named Tizie was certainy unsighted and BLOODY HELL, it was Van Persie at his hammerful best!  But back to Dier.  Best compliment to him is that nobody’s crying about Carrick (they never were, but the guy’s got a new contract at United – let’s not rain on his parade, eh?).  As an aside, maybe Dier should be taking England’s corner-kicks after that strike…

Kane kicks Corners and I Can Understand Cane on Corner Kicks

That’s almost as repetitive as the tiresome queries on my Twitter timeline as to why Kane was taking corner kicks.  “He’s a striker – he should be in the box”…”His corner kicks are shit anyway”…”Hodgson is Van Gaal’s geriatric twin!” (okay, I made that one up).  Harry Kane (forgetting Dier’s strike for a second) is easily England’s best striker of a ball on the pitch.  They’ve been in training long enough to have established PLUS it’s not rocket-science – just watch him over 2014 to present.  His contact is clean, he can get whip on a ball and is accurate.  Yes, he overhit a couple tonight but bloody hell, who doesn’t?

Addressing the point of him being in the box, here’s my logic for why it’s almost redundant – Joe reported, about a year ago, that there is roughly a 3% chance of scoring from a corner kick in the Premier League (in 2014-2015).  Kane, from a rough viewing of his goals for Tottenham, has scored one goal direct from a corner kick for England.  Throw in goals from flick ons from corners and the number swells to 4.  He’s hardly John Terry in the box, guys.  If you want to make the best of your 3% chance of scoring, why not having your best deliverer of the ball take the corners and have his targets (Smalling, Cahill, Dier, Dele Alli – not dwarves) be ready to maximise the 3% chance of scoring (forgive my use of 3% – it’s not directly transferable because they are different competitions and levels but I can’t imagine the variance would be anything more than minimal).  Rather than quibble about who takes corners, because BLOODY HELL (again) it’s not Phil Jones on them, worry about finishing those chances you’re creating in open play.

Onto the next one

England’s not in a terrible place at all.  It goes without saying but I’m going to say (type) it anyway – next week’s derby against Wales is a must-win.  Fail to win and you’re crapping yourselves against a Slovakia team that really isn’t that bad.  It is also important that Hodgson maintains the line-up and perhaps of greater importance, that the players go into next Thursday’s match with the same tempo, aggression and discipline.  Wales are led by Gareth Bale but eminently beatable.

I could make more observations but I think motivational fuel has just about run out.  I haven’t blogged in a while so my apologies.  If you’ve got any observations of your own, get the comments going!  Or tweet me @mundus1010.  Happy reading!