The Mourinho magic returns to the Premiership, United take three steps back and Fulham quite simply look destined for the Championship …
Chelsea’s win at the Etihad was no doubt one of the performances of the season and represents a massive tactical win for Jose Mourinho.
The Blues were simply fantastic in Manchester, and the way that Mourinho’s team selection and tactics were tailored specifically to counteract any City threat is more than worthy of praise. In truth, Mourinho is still the one to beat in terms of tactical ability, and his ability to drill his teams for the big games is one that few in world football can match.
The best thing about this win was that it wasn’t done in the traditional ‘Mourinho way’. Chelsea have twice this season gone into big away-games with the aim of not losing, and whilst draws suited Chelsea at the Emirates and Old Trafford, there can be no denying the dour nature of the football on offer in both those encounters. Monday’s game was a whole different kettle of fish.
Mourinho’s side were rampant, and their forward quartet of Willian, Ramires, Eto’o and the fantastic Hazard attacked City with gusto for the whole match. What was most remarkable about this was the fact that the West Londoners were more than capable of doing this whilst still offering an impenetrable defence. In David Luiz and Nemanja Matic, Chelsea had two holding midfielders capable of nullifying the threat posed by Yaya Toure, and the dynamism of the pair allowed them to translate a defensive situation into an attacking one with immense speed.
Chelsea may well not go on to win the league, but what’s clear is that Mourinho is building a side that will genuinely compete at the top of the Premiership for the next few seasons. Given that they have rather been usurped by City as title contenders in the last couple of years, this represents a triumph for Mourinho. Even if you hate him, this cannot be denied.
Whilst Jose Mourinho will have been quite rightly delighted with Chelsea’s win at the Etihad, there’s another London-based manager who will have been almost as pleased. City’s first home loss of the season stopped Manuel Pellegrini’s side from leapfrogging Arsenal once again, leaving Arsene Wenger’s side two points clear at the top of the league. Considered by many to be third-favourites for the title, Arsenal are still in this contest.
They showed why on the pitch on Sunday, eventually overcoming a resilient Crystal Palace side. Plenty of Arsenal fans have bemoaned Wenger’s decision not to purchase a striker, but the marauding performance of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has perhaps silenced some of the doubters. Whilst the Englishman is not a striker, he possesses the pace and vision to weigh in with goals as he did on Sunday, and having missed him for quite some time, having the 20 year old back is akin to having a new signing.
I was highly sceptical of Sunderland’s decision to appoint the unproven Gus Poyet after the disastrous tenure of Paolo di Canio, but the Uruguayan’s achievements so far at the Stadium of Light suggest that this scepticism could well have been misplaced. Their win at St James Park took them into 14th place, and whilst their survival is by no means guaranteed, the manner of the win against their rivals suggests that they have every chance of surviving the drop.
A much-needed win over Norwich for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Cardiff City side saw them leapfrog Fulham and move off the bottom, and one of the most pleasing things from a Cardiff perspective was the impact that Man United loanee Wilfried Zaha had when he came off the bench. The 21-year-old winner proved to be the difference between the sides, and Cardiff fans will definitely be hoping that Zaha can have that sort of impact on a regular basis.
As an aside, based on his first Cardiff performance, one has to question the wisdom of David Moyes’ unwillingness to give Zaha gametime at United. Given that Moyes’ other wing options have not been overly impressive this term (Janujaz aside), one would think there would have been merit in keeping the youngster at Old Trafford and giving him a chance to shine.
Following the signing of Juan Mata there was a lot of buzz about how David Moyes would deploy his new record signing in a starting eleven also containing Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. On Saturday we got our answer, and it wasn’t exactly inspiring.
Mata was forced out onto the left wing to accommodate Wayne Rooney, and whilst I am sure Mata is willing to do this ‘for the good of the team’, to me it seems rather counterintuitive to spend £37 million on a player and then play him out of position. The Spaniard does have the ability to significantly improve the United attack, but for that to happen he needs to be deployed where he can be most effective.
As if it needed highlighting, United’s loss to Stoke made it clear that the signing of Mata does not suddenly solve United’s problems. Their performance against the Potters was no less insipid than many of their other games this season, and once again the question must be asked: are United genuinely prepared to miss out on Champions League football next season? The way things are going under David Moyes, this is a likelihood rather than a mere possibility, and for a club like United, it is surely unthinkable.
The champions now sit seven points shy of the top four, and with the window closed, this team is unlikely to improve to the extent where they can outperform Liverpool, Everton and Tottenham for the remainder of the season. The rumour last summer was that United have overlooked Jose Mourinho as a possible successor for Sir Alex Ferguson, but with Mourinho flying and Moyes looking every inch a beaten man, one has to seriously question the wisdom of this decision.
It seems harsh to put City in the ‘Not’ column, but quite frankly it is unavoidable. The juggernaut has been stopped, and whilst it could well click straight back into gear and move on, one cannot pretend that damage has not been done.
Not only have Chelsea eradicated the points difference advantage that City held over Arsenal and themselves, but Jose Mourinho has also provided a fine blueprint for how to nullify the City threat. With his high pressing front four and two imperious defensive midfielders screening his back four, Mourinho was able to stop City scoring at the Etihad for the first time in over three years, despite allowing them a generous 65% of possession.
Pellegrini will point towards injuries towards some of his key men, and whilst the Chilean does have a point, can a team with the resources of Man City really blame a loss on injuries to key players? The fact remains that Chelsea nullified City’s Plan A, and in so doing, showed the rest of the league that actually, City don’t have a Plan B. Whilst most teams will not have the personnel or the discipline to perform a similar job to Chelsea, Mourinho’s masterclass will have given other managers renewed hope that all is not automatically lost when one visits the Etihad.
Southampton are a good side, but let’s be clear, they’re not a great side. A 3-0 loss at home to Saints is an embarrassing result for Fulham and merely serves to highlight the serious predicament that Rene Meulensteen’s men are in. The Cottagers have to hope that their new signings bed in very quickly, as if this form continues, the bottom-placed side in the league will definitely be playing Championship football next season.
Events at Newcastle tend to swing from the sublime to the ridiculous, and it very much looks like we’re heading towards a period of the latter. Following the decision to cash in on star player Yohan Cabaye, the Magpies look utterly rudderless, and an emphatic home derby defeat for the second season in a row tells its own story.
Joe Kinnear – the man charged with recruitment at St James Park – has now tendered his resignation, and this points to things going sour behind the scenes. Whilst the Toon Army are in no danger of going down this season, one has to feel for their fans, who, despite supporting the team through thick and thin, have had to deal with an awful lot of nonsense over the last few years. Sadly for them, this shows no sign of abating.