MOURINHO: “I’M THE MAN”… BUT IS HE?
Chelsea is in freefall.
Suffering their third defeat in their first fifth game of the season away at Everton on Saturday, Jose Mourinho cut a forlorn figure on the sidelines as he watched his side concede more than two goals for the fifth game running to open the season as their defensive mistakes were punished ruthlessly by the Toffees and their hat trick hero Steven Naismith.
[ MORE: Has Chelsea already lost its PL title? ]
The Blues have now conceded 12 goals in their opening five games of the campaign, that’s the most goals conceded in that span by any defending PL champion in history. No other reigning champ has had a worse start than this, with just four points from their first five games and nobody has ever won the PL title with a start mirroring Chelsea’s. All of that is compounded by Manchester City’s perfect start of five wins from five to start the year, as they enjoy an 11-point lead over Chelsea already.
[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]
Mourinho, 52, is calm. He is trying to stay cool (but not actually succeeding) and he wholeheartedly believes he is the right man to rectify the situation. Speaking after the defeat to Everton, here’s what a defiant Mourinho had to say.
“I don’t blame the players and I don’t blame myself. They are the worst results ever in my career but I am comfortable with the situation,” Mourinho said. “I do not think there is a better manager than me to come to Chelsea and do my job. I am the man for the job. I have done so many good things for Chelsea. Now I am the man with the bad results but give me the responsibility and I will sort this out.”
Will you Jose, will you? When you look out and about, there are certainly no other managers who possess Mourinho’s pedigree and he surely deserves the chance to rectify this disastrous opening spell. But there’s a worrying trend that everyone has been whispering about over the summer and those whispers are now turning into a torrent of “I told you so’s.”
There’s been plenty of talk about history proving that Mourinho creates too many enemies among players and staff (the Eva Carnerio situation, anyone?) at his own club that by his third-year there’s a reoccurring theme of a situation unraveling. Has that really happened throughout his career? Are these questions about longevity at one particualr club true?
Let’s take a look at his resume for the clubs he’s been at for two or more years during his managerial career. Myth, or reality?
FC Porto – 2002-04: After taking over midway through the 2002-03 season, Mourinho had two-and-a-half seasons at Porto. He won the league in his two full seasons, and also won the Portuguese cup, Europa League, UEFA Champions League and UEFA Super Cup before departing for Chelsea. He had less than three years at Porto, but this is what put him on the map.
Chelsea – 2004-07: Mourinho won the Premier League in each of his first two seasons at Chelsea. He also won the League Cup and the Super Cup. In his third season they did finish second in the PL but won both the FA Cup and League Cup. A month into his fourth season at Chelsea — on September 20, 2007 to be precise, so right around this time of the season — he was fired by Roman Abramovich as things spiraled out of control. Fast. Those looking to link his methods to a break down of longevity after needn’t look further.
Inter Milan – 2008-10: Two hugely successful seasons at Inter Milan followed, as Mourinho delivered back-to-back league titles, the Super Cup, the Italian cup and then went out on top with the UEFA Champions League for the second time in his career. Many argue that Mourinho could’ve stayed at Inter and built at dynasty. Although the lure of Real Madrid was strong, were things already slipping away behind-the-scenes and following his experience of sticking around too long at Chelsea, perhaps “The Special One” didn’t want to risk that happening at Inter?
Real Madrid – 2010-13: Ah, this is where the “third-season syndrome” theorists perhaps get their most compelling evidence. Under immense pressure to succeed with Real’s superstars, Mourinho won the Spanish cup in his first season as boss, then wrestled the La Liga title from Barcelona in year two and grabbed the Super Cup in his third season. In year three however, it all went pear shaped. Huge fallout’s with Iker Casillas, board members, Cristiano Ronaldo and embarrassing antics on the sidelines meant that Mourinho was public enemy No. 1 at his own club. As soon he got wind that Chelsea wanted him back, he was out of the Santiago Bernabeu before you could say Adios…
Chelsea 2013-?: And here we are. Back at Chelsea and its been a mixed bag so far as Mourinho has returned to the club where he achieved god-like status among the fans, players and media in his first spell. In year one Chelsea struggled as Mourinho had to cull many of the veteran players who were still around from his first spell in charge with Chelsea finishing third. We all know what happened last season as Chelsea stormed to the title and won the League Cup with plenty of Mourinho smack talk along the way. In year three, he has already suffered three defeats in his opening five games. That’s as many losses as Chelsea had in the entire 38-game PL campaign last term. Mourinho has already verbally abused another manager, complained that “everything goes against Chelsea” and failed to add players of real quality (John Stones) in the transfer window as rivals like Manchester City and Manchester United strengthened considerably while Chelsea’s transfer policy seemed stagnant. It remains to be seen how things will go for the rest of year three as Mourinho insists he is still the right man for the job. Surely owner Abramovich, who had a rambunctious relationship with Mourinho in the past, will give him the rest of the season to turn things around?
NEW DAWN FOR UNITED
As Anthony Martial picked up the ball on the left-hand side of the box, there was nothing on. Liverpool had just pulled a goal back (though Christian Benteke’s absolute mind-boggling overhead kick) to make it 2-1 with five minutes to go and there was tension in the air at Old Trafford. But that changed as Martial slalomed effortlessly past one, two, then three Liverpool players and coolly opened up his body to roll the ball into the far corner. A new star was born, at least United’s fans and management hope, as Martial wheeled away to the corner of the Stretford End to celebrate a debut goal following his $55 million Deadline Day move from AS Monaco which made him the most expensive teenager in world soccer.
[ MORE: 3 things we learned from United’s win ]
There’s a lot of pressure on the shoulders of the 19-year-old French striker dubbed “the new Thierry Henry” but alongside Memphis Deapy and Luke Shaw, United boss Louis Van Gaal now possesses three mercurial talents under the age of 21. LVG insists Martial will be shielded from the spotlight, but after his incredible poise and ability to rise to the occasion on his debut, he may not get the chance to ease himself into life in the PL.
From my seat at OT on Saturday, here’s the reaction from United’s fans as they celebrated his goal.
Maybe more important than Martial’s superb late clincher was the return of David de Gea in goal.
His move to Real Madrid collapsed on Deadline Day and the Spanish international goalkeeper last week ended the six-month long speculation regarding his future and signed a new four-year deal, with an option of another year, at United. De Gea, 24, made two fine saves in the second half and apart from some slight rustiness with the ball at his feet, his return seemed to bring calm to United’s defense who only succumbed to Benteke’s brilliance. More importantly, the fans’ reaction to DDG’s return was incredible. His name was intentionally left last on the roster by the stadium announcer, and when it was finally read out, a deafening cheer (it really made my ears hurt) was let out by the 75,000-plus crowd who had turned up for the derby against Liverpoool. De Gea’s return to the fold has given everyone at United a boost, there’s no doubt about it, and it was the perfect tonic before a huge rivalry game against the Reds. He may still move to Real next summer, but for now, De Gea is back among the good books of everyone at United. It’s early days but after three wins and only one defeat in their opening five games, it seems like the dawn of a new era is being ushered in at Old Trafford. The opposite can be said for Liverpool.
RODGERS’ TIME RUNNING OUT?
Talking of the Reds, is time running out for Brendan Rodgers as their manager? We spoke earlier about Mourinho’s longevity and things unraveling, and it seems that Rodgers, in his fourth full season at Anfield, must now deliver or he will be out of the door if not at the end of the season, then before that.
Rodgers’ soccer philosophy and methods are widely admired. His ability to produce silky soccer and get his players entertaining saw Liverpool come agonizingly close to winning the title in the 2013-14 season. Last season, with Barcelona signing Luis Suarez and the injured Daniel Sturridge missing for large chunks, you could understand why Liverpool regressed. After selling on Raheem Sterling for $75 million this summer, many Liverpool fans expected the money to be invested wisely and Sterling would seem like a distant memory. Now, it seems like Rodgers’ Liverpool is slightly rudderless, especially after he was forced to bring in a new backroom team to work around him. With Colin Pascoe replaced by Sean O’Driscoll and Gary McAllister behind-the-scenes in the summer, for me, the alarm bells were already ringing for Rodgers.
With new attacking signings Roberto Firmino, Danny Ings and Benteke settling in, the latter has scored twice but Liverpool only has three goals through its first five games and on Saturday against United, Ings and Firmino barely touched the ball in wide positions. Before the game, the feeling I got from being in and around Old Trafford was that Liverpool’s players, management and fans would gladly take a 0-0 draw from a trip to play their fierce rivals. Therein lies the problem as Rodgers’ outlook has changed considerably. That panache, swagger and attacking unpredictability has been replaced by solidity. Sure, with additions such as James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne, Liverpool look less likely to ship three or four goals every game (even though they conceded three on Saturday) but their lack of adventure is the most worrying thing. Last season at Old Trafford they lost 3-0 but could have easily won 5-3 if it wasn’t for the heroics of De Gea in goal for United. They had the pace of Sterling to get in-behind and stretch teams, but now with Beneteke as the focal point of their attack, they seem predictable and most PL teams are eager to let the opposition play the ball around in front of them rather than being turned towards their own goal. When you think back to the team that almost won the title in 2013-14, you had Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling all making runs in-behind opposition defenses. You can’t defend that. Now, Firmino has struggled, Benteke is more of target forward and creative midfielders Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana, although full of inventive flicks and passes, aren’t known for their pace. Times have changed at Liverpool and sooner than most people think, Rodgers’ time at Anfield could be up.
THE SACK RACE BEGINS
Not to end this weeks Playback on a negative note, but plenty of other PL managers will be feeling the pressure as the dreaded “sack race” has begun.
The bookmakers have already slashed the odds on several managers getting the boot, with the odds on the following five managers being the first of the PL’s 20 bosses to leave are the following:
- Brendan Rodgers – 13/8 favorite
- Dick Advocaat – 21/10
- Jose Mourinho – 5/1
- Tim Sherwood – 18/1
- Steve McClaren – 18/1
Rodgers is the favorite and as we mentioned above, there’s good reason to suspect he’ll be out of the door first given the money spent at Liverpool and their failure to retool successfully this summer. As for the others, Advocaat and McClaren have yet to win this season as the two North East clubs are propping up the standings without a win between them. Mourinho, as we said, has a history of unraveling in his third season and Sherwood has seen his Villa side collapse away at Leicester City in embrassing fashion as he admits he “has never felt this bad” in his soccer life. Well, those are the five favorites for the “sack race” so far. Will any, or more than one, of the aforementioned names be out of a job before the festive season arrives?
You can bet your bottom dollar on it. The only question is, who will go first?
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.