MOURINHO’S MIND GAMES DERAIL CHELSEA
After a turbulent week following medic-gate, it couldn’t have ended on a worse note for Chelsea and Jose Mourinho.
A 3-0 shellacking at the hands of title rivals Manchester City tells its own story, as the reigning Premier League champions have just one point from their opening two games. That equals the worst start by any defending PL champ, and Chelsea’s problems are mounting.
Most of them are self-inflicted. And most of them, predictably, all come back to the feet of one man: Jose Mourinho.
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Following his decision to publicly criticize and then demote two members of his medical staff — Eva Carneiro and Jon Fearn — after an incident late in the opening game against Swansea, Mourinho has been under pressure all week. It showed. After attending both his pre and post-match press conference around the City game, I could tell the strain of the situation was weighing Mourinho down. Sure, the usually stern Portuguese coach stayed defiant in the line of fire but with his agitated demeanor and attempts to walk out of press conferences, he’s in a bit of a bad situation.
That was made even worse by some of his decisions against Manchester City on Sunday. Not playing another holding midfielder alongside Nemanja Matic was a big mistake. Less than 20 seconds into the game Sergio Aguero was clean through but stand-in goalkeeper Asmir Begovic saved well. Aguero would have three more chances in quick succession before finally netting with a moment of individual brilliance in the 31st minute. At half time, with Chelsea reeling and their defense being shredded apart by Aguero, David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Yaya Toure, Mourinho made a big call: he subbed off captain John Terry for the first time in 176 games as Chelsea boss.
It was a huge call to take of the 34-year-old who has captained Chelsea to four PL titles in the past 10 years. Many believe Terry could become the next Mourinho scapegoat, as he decided that he had to have Kurt Zouma on the pitch due to the Frenchman’s pace over Terry or Gary Cahill. In the end he plumped to take off Terry and Mourinho explained the decision after the game as he acknowledged how he has resurrected Terry’s career since returning to Stamford Bridge for a second spell as boss in 2013.
“I don’t know if you ask many questions to [Rafa] Benitez, Andre Villas-Boas or Roberto Di Matteo, to the ones that never played him. I am the one you shouldn’t ask, because I am the one who played John every game, made him captain, recovered him from a difficult situation with other managers and have the right to say I want Kurt Zouma on the pitch.
“I have to decide who is the fastest player in our defensive line. So when you are going to play with a high line, your fastest player has to be on the pitch. We were defensively poor in the first half. But the point was not to take John out, but to put Zouma in. I want to have my fastest player on the pitch and not on the bench. I know they are going to play counter attack and long balls to [Sergio] Aguero, so I want my team to be dominant. It was clear for me Zouma has to play, then I have to bring one out and I brought my captain. He was on my bench and still the captain, because the armband is just the armband.”
Mourinho’s claims about the result being “completely fake” only added to the mood of delusion. He’s playing a dangerous game by taking Terry out, as it threatens to upset the balance of not only Chelsea’s backline but the entire squad dynamic. Terry is the glue that knits Chelsea’s notoriously strong team spirit together. Did his exclusion and subsequent arrival of Zouma make a big difference? In each of the first and second halves, City had nine shots with four on target. So, basically zero difference when purely looking at the stats. Another theory is that Mourinho was making a point to owner Roman Abramovich that Chelsea need to sign John Stones from Everton for upwards of $45 million. By leaving Terry out and showing their, in his own words, “defensive fragility” maybe Mourinho will get what he wants.
It’s too early to say Chelsea is unraveling and City will now run away with the title after two imperious 3-0 wins to open the season. However, it is also on point to say Mourinho has issues to address with not only his backroom staff and his playing staff, but also himself.
FIRED-UP CITY REGAIN HUNGER
We’ve focused on Chelsea, but we must take a moment to look at City. Manuel Pellegrini punched the air with delight as he walked off the pitch and into the tunnel, with the expanded Etihad Stadium (it now holds over 55,000 thanks to an expansion of the South Stand) raucous throughout as Aguero and Co. put on a show and at times embarrassed the reigning Premier League champions.
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In midfield is where City really bossed the game. After the game I asked Pellegrini his thoughts on Fernandinho’s display and the Chilean manager had the following to say as his defensive midfielder managed to shackle Cesc Fabregas, rile Diego Costa and he even spanked in a beauty for the third and final goal.
“Fernandinho is working very hard. Last season after the World Cup was not his best,” Pellegrini said. “He was very shocked after what happened in Brazil but this season, after coming back from the Copa America, he is the same as he was two seasons ago: he can play, he can mark, he can score.”
Alongside Fernandinho was David Silva buzzing around mischievously and Yaya Toure powering up and down, as once again he looked like the player who led City to the PL title in 2012 and 2014. Mourinho believed both Fernandinho and Toure should have been sent off, but maybe that was simply to mask an inept display from Fabregas who wandered around aimlessly while Matic dashed around like the Tasmanian Devil trying to put out fires on his own. There was a hunger and anger about City’s play. Captain Vincent Kompany said last week that they have a “point to prove” after finishing second last season. With so many of City’s best players purring in the opening two games, plus new signing Sterling slotting in well and the likes of Eliaquim Mangala settling down, all of a sudden you get the sense that it is City’s title to lose this year.
Even the usually restrained Pellegrini — who just signed a contract extension at the start of the season — fired back at Mourinho’s jibes to issue a simple, damning line: “We always dominate Chelsea.”
SPURS’ OVER-RELIANCE ON KANE WORRYING
Mauricio Pochettino caused quite the stir on Saturday when he said that Harry Kane came off in the second half of Tottenham’s 2-2 draw with Stoke City because he was “tired.”
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Just 155 minutes into the season, Spurs’ only recognized center forward being “tired” is not a good sign. With Roberto Soldado sold to Villarreal in the week and Emmanuel Adebayor interesting West Ham United, even the signing of Cameroon forward Clinton Njie on Saturday did little to improve the pessimism around White Hart Lane surrounding their lack of attacking options. When Kane was replaced, midfielder Nacer Chadli went up top and Spurs squandered a 2-0 lead in the final 12 minutes. Credit to Stoke, they battled back superbly and after being high-pressed and totally dominated by Tottenham in the first half the Potters fought back valiantly and could have even won it late on.
For Tottenham, that’s one point from their opening two games and no goals for a tired Kane. Their over-reliance on the young Englishman who had a breakout season in 2014-15 is clear. Their lack of cover for him is even clearer and, extremely worrying if you’re a Spurs fan.
NEW BOYS ADAPTING WELL
Overall, it was a decent weekend for the new boys. Norwich City went up to Sunderland and were the better team from start to finish as Alex Neil’s side won 3-1 and perhaps got that little bit of luck which evaded them in their opening day defeat to Crystal Palace. The Canaries looked solid at the back and were dangerous on set pieces, plus the pace of Nathan Redmond and bullish play of Cameron Jerome gave them an attacking outlet. Another newcomer struggled in attack as Watford battered West Bromwich Albion in their first home game of the season but couldn’t break through and drew 0-0 with the Baggies. Quique Flores will be happy with two points from two games for the Hornets, but his side should probably have beaten Everton away and West Brom at home. Their next three games are against Southampton, Manchester City and Swansea, all tough games, but Watford will be happy with their start.
New offside rule for 2015-16 season – “A player in an offside position shall be penalized if he: Makes an obvious action which clearly impacts on the ability of an opponent to play the ball.”
Then, there’s Bournemouth. The Cherries just haven’t got the rub of the green so far, have they? On the opening day they dominated Aston Villa but were hit by a Rudy Gestede sucker punch late on, then against Liverpool they seemed to have a perfectly good goal disallowed from skipper Tommy Eplhick five minutes in at Anfield and were then undone by a controversial goal from Christian Benteke. That moment arrived in the first half as Henderson’s cross from the left went towards Philippe Coutinho in an offside position but even though the Brazilian lunged in and missed the ball, Benteke tapped home his first goal for Liverpool. It should have been disallowed. In the past, even if Coutinho didn’t touch the ball but was in an offside position, the goal would have stood. But that’s changed. Confusion over that rule change (see above) meant luckless Bournemouth suffered two defeats in a row to begin life in the Premier League.
CAUTION: RED-HOT FOXES
There’s no doubt about it, after their impressive 2-1 win at West Ham United on Saturday, Leicester City is the hottest team in the Premier League. Since April 2014 they have picked up 28 points with nine wins from their last 11 games, that’s more points than any other PL team. That is four more points than City have managed in that time-frame, seven more than Chelsea and eight more than Manchester United.
Claudio Ranieri’s side are one of just four PL teams to start this season with back-to-back wins (Liverpool, Man City and Man United the others) but the Italian manager must be careful complacency doesn’t set in. The Foxes look solid and with the addition of Shinji Okazaki, he adds real pace alongside Jamie Vardy up top. Riyad Mahrez is the PL’s top scorer with three goals in two games and everything is rosy at the King Power Stadium right now. In a slightly comical moment, Ranieri was asked afterwards about his thoughts on the perfect start to his reign as Leicester boss and reaching 40 points. Here’s the exchange.
Ranieri: “We want to achieve the 40 points — to maintain Premier League (status) is our goal. That is important for us. Now we have six points, 36 left.”
Ranieri: [laughs] “34, but I want a little more.”
USMNT UPDATE: MIXED BAG FOR GUZAN, HOWARD, GC
A trio of U.S. national team players had a mixed bag of results across the weekend as Brad Guzan and Aston Villa lost 1-0 to Manchester United under the “Friday Night Lights” at Villa Park. Guzan made a good sliding tackle on Memphis Depay in the first half and could do little about Adnan Januzaj’s winning-goal. As for his fellow USMNT goalkeeper, Tim Howard and Everton enjoyed a superb result at Southampton, winning 3-0 thanks to two goals from Romelu Lukaku and another from Ross Barkley. Howard kept his 127th clean sheet in England.
Geoff Cameron played the full 90 minutes at center back once again for Stoke City, as they rebounded to draw 2-2 after trialing 2-0 at half time.
Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.