Analysis Of The Weekend – What Did We Learn?

Jose Mourinho’s Running Out Of Excuses

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

Jose Mourinho has long been the master at deflecting attention away from his team when they have under performed. Whether it’s blaming the referee for “favouring the other team” or blaming his own medical staff for doing their jobs, the self-proclaimed Special One knows how to get the press talking about something other than the way his team have played if it hasn’t gone to plan.

This weekend Mourinho made the decision to substitute John Terry at half time in Chelsea’s game against Manchester City with the Blues 1-0 down. It was the first time in 177 games under Jose that the 34 year old has been removed by his Portuguese boss. After the game members of the press questioned Mourinho about the substitution and he said, “I don’t know if you asked questions to Rafa Benitez, Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo, to the ones that never played him”. In other words, “thank god you’re talking about that and not the dreadful performance of my players”.

Mourinho hoped that, if Chelsea went on to lose the match, the major talking point would be the half time substitution of the club’s captain and not the fact that his team was so comprehensively outplayed by a team that finished 8 points behind them last season. It didn’t work; everyone saw it as little more than a diversionary tactic and all those except for fans of the London club saw that Chelsea are not looking convincing thus far in the campaign.

Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea base their success on a strong opening. Last season it’s widely accepted that they had won the title by Christmas, if not by points then by mentality. That they have struggled to get going this time around will be of deep concern to their manager, even if he won’t publicly accept it.

The problem he has got is that he is running out of scapegoats. His decision to throw Eva Carneiro under the boss he’s normally so keen to park in difficult away matches has backfired, with the manager himself coming under criticism from all quarters and the doctor being given extreme support.

By substituting John Terry at half time, a fact that left the defender reportedly furious at the interval, the manager has risked driving a wedge between himself and one of his chief lieutenants in the dressing room. Of course it’s early in the season to make assumptions about the way things will go for the defending champions, but if Chelsea continue to struggle to get their campaign off the ground then don’t be surprised to see Mourinho starting to play political games with the club’s hierarchy as the season progresses – after all, he’s got no one else to blame.

Leicester City Are Going To Win The League

Ok, so that might be a slight exaggeration, but the fact the Foxes have started this season in the same manner that they ended the last one should be of real encouragement to their fans. Here are the club’s results from their last 11 fixtures:

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That’s 28 points from a possible 33. It’s also worth noting that they haven’t won easy games or dead rubbers during that period either. They played hugely important relegation battles against West Ham, West Brom, Burnley and Newcastle. They also beat Swansea and Southampton teams who had done anything but thrown in the towel at the end of the 2014-2015 season.

Admittedly they were well beaten by Chelsea during the run in, but even so Leicester supporters will be relieved to know that the sacking of Nigel Pearson hasn’t adversely affected their chances of remaining in the Premier League next season. It’s fair to say that plenty of Foxes fans were unimpressed by the sacking of Pearson this summer after he not only helped the club to avoid relegation when it seemed all but impossible, but also took them to a very healthy 14th placed finish in the top division.

As much as they were unhappy with Pearson’s removal from power, they were equally unsure about the appointment of Claudio Ranieri as their new boss. The Tinkerman, as he’s been known since his days as Chelsea boss, was sacked as manager of Greece following their home defeat to the Faroe Islands in November 2014. Ex-Leicester City striker and Match Of The Day presenter Gary Lineker called the 63 year old’s appointment “uninspired”. We imagine he’s feeling rather more inspired having seen the way the Foxes have been playing so far.

Kostas Koutsatfikis / shutterstock.com

Kostas Koutsatfikis / shutterstock.com

As always it’s very difficult to draw conclusions about the way the campaign will go based on just two games, but given they lost 19 games last season and won just 10 they’ll be more than a little relieved to have gotten 6 points on the board so early on. With games coming up against a Spurs team that haven’t impressed yet, a newly promoted Bournemouth side and a Midlands derby against Aston Villa Ranieri might be thinking he can move from being the Tinkerman to the Winnerman, winning over more than a few Foxes fans on the way.

Man City Will Take Some Stopping

West Brom’s 0-0 bore draw away at Watford this weekend perhaps suggests that Tony Pulis’ team isn’t the toughest opposition to face as the season is yet to heat up. That could lead some to question just how good Manchester City’s performance against them last Monday night actually was.

There can be no doubt about their performance against Chelsea, however, with the Sky Blues completely destroying the defending champions at The Etihad this weekend. Jose Mourinho suggested after the match that the result was ‘false’ and he was right. But whilst his quote was intended to give the impression that Chelsea were hard done to, the truth is that City could have been 3-0 up at half time and a 6-0 final score wouldn’t have flattered them.

All of the talk in the summer was about Manchester City’s signing of Raheem Sterling. There’s no doubt that Liverpool’s ex winger gives the Sky Blues an added dimension to their attack. Yet the most important thing that has happened to the club during the break is the rejuvenation of Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure.

lev radin / shutterstock.com

lev radin / shutterstock.com

The club’s captain and their dynamic midfielder had mixed campaigns last time out, with the former getting dropped for a time and the latter rumoured to be on his way out of the club after yet another turbulent time filled with complaints and aspirations to go somewhere else during the transfer window.

For this game, though, Kompany looked focussed and Toure looked to be at his lung-bursting best. The defender helped his team to keep a clean sheet, despite being on a yellow card for the majority of the match, and the midfielder helped to set up Sergio Aguero’s goal as well as dominted the middle of the park.

It’s a long road ahead, of course, and only Arsene Wenger’s invincibles have ever gone a full season without a bad day at the office, but two games in and Manchester City have hit 6 goals without reply. Plenty of people thought Manuel Pellegrini’s contract extension was an attempt by the Abu Dhabi group that owns the club to stop any talk about the manager’s future with the spectre of Pep Guardiola lurking on the horizon. Maybe, though, Sheikh Mansour and his cronies have immense faith in the Chilean – and now they’re seeing that faith rewarded.

United Need To Find Their Rhythm

Two games in and six points on the board, Manchester United’s season seems to have started in the best possible way. An opening day fixture against Tottenham Hotspur, a team with aspirations for a top four finish, and an away match versus a rejuvinated Aston Villa side weren’t the easiest of games for Louis Van Gaal’s Red Devils to play. Yet they won them both and have a 100% record at the start of a difficult campaign.

Anyone who watched either match, though, knows that it isn’t quite that simple. They were uninspiring against Spurs, failing to register a shot on target during the first half and being dominated by the visitors until they took the lead. Even then it was by luck rather than judgement, with Wayne Rooney taking too long to make up his mind about what to do with the ball before Kyle Walker stole in and put it into the back of the net.

Against Aston Villa they were equally insipid, with Wayne Rooney again disappointing in attack. Indeed, the striker that Van Gaal feels will be able to lead the line for the club this season only had one touch inside the opposition penalty area and that wasn’t until injury time.

Laszlo Szirtesi / shutterstock.com

Laszlo Szirtesi / shutterstock.com

During 180 minutes of Premier League football Manchester United have mustered a mere 3 shots on target. The fact that 2 of those shots came away to Aston Villa, a team they haven’t been beaten by at Villa Park in 20 matches – the last time Villa won was in August 1995 – speaks volumes in itself. The results may look good on paper, but that paper is currently just being put over the cracks.

United continue to make noises about possible moves in the transfer market without actually doing anything. There is still time for them to make those moves, but if they don’t then it’s going to take a lot of togetherness within the squad to get them through.

It’s rare for teams to play well at the start of the season, which is why Manchester City’s exceptionally good play in their first two games has made such headlines. But the fact that United’s own fans – notoriously loyal to the point of delusion – rated Wayne Rooney at 3.7 out of 10 for his performance in the Villa match whilst Matteo Darmian was rated at 7.9 and Chris Smalling received 8.1 should be causing some alarm bells to go off in the United camp. When defenders are being rated the highest in a team that is traditionally well known for its attacking flair, you know something isn’t sitting right.

With games coming up against Newcastle, Swansea and Liverpool, United’s early season start might come under a little bit more pressure than it has so far been subjected to. If they can make it through those games unscathed then they might hope to add some solid performances to their good results. At the moment, though, it looks more like they’re getting away with one without having the other.

Sunderland Are In Serious Trouble

When Leicester beat Sunderland 4-2 at The King Power Stadium last week, most of the talk was about the fact that the Foxes played as well as they did. Being 3-0 up after just 25 minutes certainly helped the stories about Leicester’s dominance, but it also might have distracted from just how poor Sunderland were.

There was no distraction this time around, however, with the Black Cats going 2-0 down at home to newly promoted Norwich City after only 37 minutes and being 3-0 down before the hour mark. What was most worrying for Sunderland fans was not the result as much as it was the performance, with most hoping for a reaction to the misery of the week before. There was no reaction, though, with the Sunderland defenders looking like they were sleep walking through most of the game.

Dziurek / shutterstock.com

Dziurek / shutterstock.com

The upshot is that any optimism Sunderland fans might have felt before the season began, with Dick Advocaat changing his mind about retirement in order to manage the team for one more year, has all but evaporated. The season suddenly looks like being a long one, with Advocaat calling an emergency meeting in the aftermatch of the game in order to clear the air and hope that he can get the Black Cat players firing again.

Most Sunderland fans would have been hoping for a year without a relegation dog fight and judging by the first two games of the season it looks as if they’re going to get their wish. The problem is that it seems more than likely that the team is going to go down without a fight, and that is far more depressing than anything else.