Premier League Playback: Five ways Mourinho can rescue Chelsea

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PIVOTAL JUNCTURE ARRIVES

Following their 3-1 defeat to Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on Saturday it is now six defeats in 11 Premier League games to open up the season for Jose Mourinho and Chelsea and a bad situation continues to get worse for the Portuguese coach.

[ MORE: Mourinho’s misery continues ]

Mourinho, 52, has quite simply never experienced a period like this in his career. Everything seems to be going against him and his team. He reached new levels of greatness during his time at FC Porto, his first spell at Chelsea, then at Inter Milan and in flashes at Real Madrid, but now is where he really earns his salary and protects his reputation as one of the greatest managers in history. The reigning PL champs are in ruins as we enter a crucial period in their season but despite all the losses they only remain 10 points off the top four.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The pressure of it all is getting to him. His star players are under-performing. He has just been handed a one-game stadium ban, and fined again, for Chelsea’s next game against Stoke City on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra) and the former team doctor who he demoted and publicly criticized, Eva Carneiro, has now launched legal action against him. Like I said, it has been a bad few weeks for Jose on and off the pitch.

How can he turn things around? Here’s five ways:

  • Stop talking – Deeming from the video footage below, he is getting the hang of this. With two FA charges heading his way this month which have resulted in his stadium ban this weekend and fines amassing over $150,000, Mourinho is being hammered by the authorities for claiming referees, the media and everybody in-between is against his team. It is all well and good creating a siege mentality within his group but at some point the endless complaints and finger-pointing becomes farcical. It’s time to let the results on the pitch speak for themselves and one of the big positives for Jose is that the players all seem to still be on his side. Cesc Fabregas has rubbished reports he’s leading a player revolt and John Terry says the players are 100 percent behind Mourinho.
  • Focus solely on the Premier League – This may be a tough pill to swallow for Mourinho, especially as the UEFA Champions League is the only trophy he has never won with Chelsea, but he has to simply forget about the UCL. If Chelsea get out of their group (not a forgone conclusion at this point) and go far then great, but he should focus all his energy on getting up to fourth, at least, in the PL. For a team of their quality, Chelsea can still make up the 10-point gap to the top four. Ahead of the UCL clash with Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday, Mourinho was seen laughing and joking with his players on the training ground. He needs to lighten things up and treat these European games as a bonus and a break from the PL.
  • Protect Hazard – The reigning PFA Player of the Year and the man Mourinho dubbed as being ready to join Ronaldo and Messi as the world’s elite players is having a torrid time this season. After being dropped and singled out for not doing his defensive work, Hazard slumped his shoulders and put his head to the ground as he was subbed out in the 58th minute of Chelsea’s defeat to Liverpool on Saturday. Pump this lad up. Play him centrally. Change something. Do all you can to get the best out of him because we’ve seen in flashes that the unbelievable ability he possesses is still there. He needs confidence from his manager. Now more than ever in a week where he missed a PK in a shootout and continues to have two or three players marking him every time he steps on the pitch.
  • Give youth a chance – This may seem like an odd time to chuck a few youngsters in, but if certain experienced pros aren’t doing it then why persist with them? Chelsea have invested huge sums in talented youngsters and have one of the best academy setups in Europe. Why not use some of the players they’ve cultivated? These youngsters will have no fear. Why shouldn’t Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Bertrand Traore and Kenedy be thrown in? What’s the worst that could happen?
  • Win dirty again – “Getting back to basics” is one of those terms in soccer which gets thrown around when teams are on a bad run. It is overused and not one that I like to say too often but it is exactly what Chelsea need to do. Look at how tough they were to beat in the second half of last season. They sat back, defended and then launched counter attacks. When you look at players like Hazard, Willian and Pedro in attack, plus Fabregas in midfield, it almost suits them to play on the counter and spring attack with long balls and using pace in-behind. So the Blues shouldn’t worry about entertaining their fans. At this point, only wins will do and as we know from the past, Mourinho has an incredible knack of grinding out results.

GARDE ARRIVES

Premier League Schedule – Week 11

Result Recap & Highlights
Chelsea 1-3 Liverpool Recap, watch here
C Palace 0-0 Man Utd Recap, watch here
Everton 6-2 S’land Recap, watch here
Man City 2-1 Norwich Recap, watch here
Newcastle 0-0 Stoke Recap, watch here
Saints 2-0 B’mouth Recap, watch here
Swansea 0-3 Arsenal Recap, watch here
Tottenham 3-1 Villa Recap, watch here
Watford 2-0 West Ham Recap, watch here
West Brom 2-3 Leicester Recap, watch here

Watching on from the stands on Monday night as Aston Villa lost 3-1 at Tottenham Hotspur, new manager Remi Garde was expressionless. The Frenchman, 49, signed a three-and-a-half-year deal on Monday to take charge of Villa but the former Lyon boss must have been pretty shocked with what he saw.

Villa were 2-0 down at half time thanks to some mediocre defneding and although they improved in the second half, Jordan Ayew‘s strike gave them hope of a comeback but Harry Kane rifled home in injury time to put those notions to bed.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Garde will not be afford time to settle into this role. The former Arsenal midfielder is known for bringing an exciting brand of soccer to the pitch and worked wonders on a tight budget and with young players at Lyon from 2011-14. Villa is much of the same with American owner Randy Lerner eager to sell the club but given that all of their top class players have now been sold and a host of new players were brought in under Tim Sherwood, you get the sense that it will take a monumental effort to say Villa from relegation this season.

It does seem like a gamble to bring in Garde, a manager with no experience coaching in England and only three seasons as a player in the Premier League, but it has simply come to this point for Villa. They’ve tried the rigidness of Paul Lambert and it didn’t work. They tried the “up and at ’em” approach from Tim Sherwood and that had an initial impact to keep them up last season but failed miserably this season. Now, they have gone for a Gallic coach who seems to be cool, calm and sophisticated. With Villa going from one extreme to the next, you would expect to see a big difference in the results and performances one way or another. A man who knows exactly what to expect from Garde is his former teammate at Arsenal, NBC Sports’ very own Lee Dixon.

It was telling in Kevin MacDonald’s final game in charge on a caretaker basis on Monday that none of the summer signings made by Sherwood were in the starting XI. Perhaps it was a message as to how the new boys have failed to settle in to life in England. If there’s anybody who can get the best out of this plethora of new recruits then it is Garde. Villa signed four players from Ligue 1 with Idrissa Gueye, Jordan Ayew, Jordan Amavi and Jordan Veretout all arriving while another Frenchman Rudy Gestede joined from Blackburn. It is crucial Garde gets the best out of these players as Villa have made the worst start to a season in the club history with nine defeats from their opening 11 games. Sherwood’s Gung-ho approach didn’t work but Garde has to find a way of playing without such directness but still maintaining a threat going forward. Already four points off safety and rooted to the bottom of the table, Garde’s first six games in charge aren’t easy at all: Man City (H), Everton (A), Watford (H), Southampton (A), Arsenal (H), Newcastle United (A). Welcome to life in the Premier League, Monsieur Garde.

“DID THE REF JUST CELEBRATE SPURS’ GOAL!?”

Okay, so Mike Dean was just doing his job as he played advantage and Tottenham scored their first goal against Villa on Monday but it sure looked like the Premier League referee wheeled away in celebration among the players and punched the air with delight on several occasions. Take a look at the clip below after Spurs’ first goal and tell me I’m wrong. Go on.

As the Daily Mail points out, this is not the first time Dean has celebrated a goal as he previously looked to be willing Louis Saha’s shot over the line during a North London derby when Spurs played Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. Hmmm…

UNITED’S DROUGHT

Louis Van Gaal‘s Manchester United are currently on a goal drought of 295 minutes and the Red Devils boss is irking supporters with his defensive setup. United sit fourth in the Premier League standings, four points off the top, so it’s not all doom and gloom, but the Dutch boss has certainly seen his side put in plenty of dreary displays lately and another arrived against Crystal Palace on Saturday in their third-straight 0-0 draw in all competitions. During that game United’s supporters chanted “attack, attack, attack” during the game as they want more excitement. On Monday Van Gaal called for the fans to stay behind the team and help get them out of this slump.

Captain and talisman Wayne Rooney has bore the brunt of criticism as he has scored just four times in 900 minutes for United this season. Rooney, 30, has zero goals in his last four games for the Red Devils and with Anthony Martial shunted out to the left wing, many are calling for the French teenager to play centrally and Rooney to play deeper behind him. United face CSKA Moscow in the UEFA Champions League at Old Trafford on Tuesday in a pivotal clash and van Gaal is standing by his skipper.

“It is always Wayne Rooney and that is because he is a fantastic player and the expectation is much higher than another player in another club, I can imagine,” van Gaal said. “You have to give players also time to come back in a certain shape. That is what we are doing and I have confidence in his players but he is also more than scoring goals. He is our captain but also an example for the whole team. He has more critics than any other player and I have explained that to the group already one-and-a-half year ago. I still have confidence in Wayne Rooney.”

Rooney’s talent and goalscoring ability is proven domestically and on the international stage but he’s in a slump and United are not getting the best out of him. There seems to be a rigidness about their attack and with the likes of Memphis sitting on the bench, you have to think van Gaal will change things up to spark his offense back into life. One thing is clear, he’s not blaming Rooney.

A BREWING RIVALRY

Over the weekend I popped down to the New Forest to take in what has equally become one of the most confusing and intriguing rivalries in the Premier League: Southampton vs. Bournemouth. These two teams have never clashed in the top-flight before and Bournemouth’s fans really want this to become the true South Coast Derby, while Saints fans really don’t seem to care and only want to grab bragging rights from their historic rivals Portsmouth. That much was evident during the exchanges between both sets of fans during Saints’ 2-0 win.

Here’s an excerpt from my piece on “deciphering the rivalry” as just 30 miles separates theses two clubs but over the years, the gulf in size and stature of the teams has been vast. Now, they’re on a level playing field and it was intriguing to travel to the game among fans of both teams, witness the match and see how it all panned out.

Jumping into a cab to the train station, the taxi driver was a Saints fan. “The thing is, it is not really a rivalry. There is no hatred,” Mike said as he drove past a few ponies and tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. Some have dubbed this rivalry “The New Forest derby” but it is so embryonic that the tag has yet to catch on between fans.

At the train station, fans of both teams mingled on the platform. Friendly banter was chucked back and forth. On the train, the 14-minute journey was packed with fans of both teams heading into Southampton, the banter was getting a little livelier. One Bournemouth fan opened up his can of beer and it started spraying everywhere. “You didn’t miss your mouth did you? Surely not…” said a Saints fans sat down with his son a few seats away. Laughter. Friendliness. Not one of the fiercest rivalries that soccer world has ever seen. Bournemouth fans were asking which pubs were best to go to in Southampton and soon enough, they were about to find out which was the best.

Bonus: Before the game I also wrote this longform piece for SportsWorld on the complexities of this rivalry. Give it a read.

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. 

Manchester United: Solskjaer hopeful of new Paul Pogba contract

Paul Pogba contract
Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images
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Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is singing a new tune, hopeful that star midfielder Paul Pogba will stick around Old Trafford for the long term.

Reports say that United has an option to extend Pogba’s contract by an extra year beyond its 2021 expiry, but Solskjaer is thinking bigger. He has been praising Pogba plenty since the World Cup winner returned to the lineup.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

It’s a bit surprising given Pogba and his super agent’s constant time in the rumor mill, with Real Madrid often linked with the Frenchman. And that agent, Mino Raiola, has not been so nice when it comes to judging Solskjaer.

But Solskjaer is reportedly hopeful that Pogba can join Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, and others in building a new power.

“I can’t comment on discussions between player and the club but. of course, we want to keep the best players around the club,” Solskjaer said. “We want to build a squad for the future and Scott and Nemanja are a similar position but at different stages in their careers. One at the start, one really experienced one.”

Pogba leads United in key passes per game with 2.3, though his minutes have been severely limited by injuries this season. He had 13 goals and nine assists last season, and turned 27 in March.

The way United’s performed in recent weeks it would not be a surprise if keeping its main talents while adding another stalwart center back and wing would propel it into a more serious table discussion.

Do you buy the idea that Pogba could be with United well into the future?

Suarez goal gives Barcelona win, relegates neighbors Espanyol

Espanyol relegated
Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
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Seventh-place one season ago, La Liga mainstays Espanyol are being relegated from Spain’s top flight.

The final decision came at the hands of their Catalan neighbors Barcelona, who got a second-half goal from Luis Suarez to relegate Espanyol.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Espanyol are 11 points back of 17th place and can only capture nine more points this season following the 1-0 loss in a match where both teams had a player sent off.

Suarez’s goal was a nice one after Antoine Griezmann’s back heel pass to Lionel Messi saw the Argentine’s shot deflect onto the path of the Uruguayan finisher.

Espanyol had been in the top flight since 1994 and has only spent four single seasons outside La Liga since 1929. Leganes and Mallorca may join them soon.

Barcelona moves a point back of Real Madrid. Real has four matches left to Barca’s three and holds the tiebreaker.

Klopp reacts to Liverpool wins, says Henderson injury ‘not nothing’

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Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion was a bit more what we’re used to from the Premier League champions.

But that wasn’t the focus of the post-match despite a highlight-reel show from Mohamed Salah, as Reds boss Jurgen Klopp sounded an ominous note when asked about Jordan Henderson leaving the match with injury.

“I don’t know exactly but it was something with the knee I think. We know it’s not nothing.”

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Henderson’s not exactly a player to hit the deck unless he’s feeling pain, and Klopp removed him for James Milner with 10 minutes to play.

That’s about the only bad news from the win, as Liverpool became the first team this season to breach the 90-point mark and saw Salah’s brace move him within three goals of the Golden Boot lead.

Salah would only say, “Let’s take it game-by-game,” but it’s clearly on his mind.

Trent Alexander-Arnold says the Egyptian is hungry to get a share of a third-straight Golden Boot.

From the BBC:

“He has his targets, he’s around the Golden Boot and it’s something he wants to retain,” Alexander-Arnold said. “He’s a world class player who scores so many goals for us and we try to get him on the board as much as possible.”

As for the match, Brighton almost as missed some big chances as Liverpool before the game was out of reach. Klopp admits that it was a challenge.

“We started really well,” Klopp said. “We had to adapt a little bit as we knew what they wanted to do but it was a little bit hard to defend. We left one or two players in a position where if we won the ball we had players in the counter-attack position. We got the first two goals with super balls but we could have scored more. I said to the boys at half-time they could have been 2-2 too. It was a nice game to watch.”

The Reds finish with Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Newcastle United.

Liverpool march continues with 3-1 win at Brighton

Brighton - Liverpool recap
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Mohamed Salah had two goals and an assist in the first eight minutes of Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium on Wednesday.

Salah is now three goals behind league leader Jamie Vardy, and Liverpool’s 92 points are 23 more than Man City. Jordan Henderson also scored for the Reds.

BRIGHTON – LIVERPOOL FULL MATCH REPLAY

Leandro Trossard scored for Brighton, whose 36 points are nine clear of the bottom three with four matches to play (The 18th and 19th place sides do have a match each in hand).

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Liverpool’s 30 wins through 34 outings is a Premier League record and Jurgen Klopp’s men are chasing several PL records. The Reds finish with Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Newcastle United.


Three things we learned

1. Salah somehow under the radar: Look, the Egyptian star’s 32-goal league season was an outlier. Not a lot of guys consistently hit 25, let alone the 30 mark in the Premier League. But Salah has rather quietly put together another amazing season with 19 goals and nine assists in PL play plus another four and three in cup competitions. Salah is one assist of joining the a small group of players to get double digit league goals and assists in a top five European league this season.

While it’s become sexy to praise Sadio Mane as the Reds’ top winger, Salah has been just as good. He could’ve had another goal in the 53rd but Mat Ryan made a fine intervention at close range. If Salah is under the radar, it’s because Liverpool has spread the wealth this season and had so many heroes in close matches. But boy, oh boy, is he their best weapon.

2. Lamptey shows glimpses, then youth: The sample size is very small, but 19-year-old Chelsea outcast Tariq Lamptey has played well at right back in most of his outings for Brighton since the return from the coronavirus pause. Lamptey was at blame for Liverpool’s third goal in both the chance conceded and actual finish from Salah, but the $4 million January buy looked well worth the price tag in a terrific first half at the Amex.

3. Seagulls still missing final ball: Brighton produced four big chances in the game to Liverpool’s two, but only put one in the back of the net (SofaScore). That’s sadly been par for the course this season, as Brighton’s style has been worthy of a top half place. Brighton entered the day with seven fewer goals than its expected goals total. Only Everton, Watford, and Norwich have been less fortunate.

Man of the Match:

Salah.


Brighton – Liverpool recap

Salah had a goal and an assist within 500 seconds of kickoff.

The Egyptian took a feed from Naby Keita to score off a Davy Propper giveaway and then set up Henderson’s second to have the Seagulls’ heads spinning early.

Brighton found a chance in the 19th but Neco Williams recovered with a slide to block Leandro Trossard from slotting a point-blank goal.

The Seagulls pulled within one just before halftime when in-form youngster Tariq Lamptey swept a cross into the mix for Trossard to punch home.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Salah could’ve had it 3-1 at one end but Brighton’s Dan Burn asked the Egyptian to hold his drink with a butchered wide-open shot at the back post in the 60th minute.

Jurgen Klopp didn’t like the close score, and brought on Fabinho, Andy Robertson, and Sadio Mane in the second half. One of the players he removed, Naby Keita, had a strong hour before departing the contest.

Henderson almost produced a third Liverpool goal after a rare Lamptey error spring a chance that took a wicked turn off Dale Stephens.

The Reds made it 3-1 off the ensuing corner, Salah’s clinical header in front of Lamptey. Henderson limped off for Liverpool late in the contest.

Ryan denied Salah a hat trick in stoppage time and the Egyptian headed over the bar at the final whistle. He could’ve had five.