Another weekend passes by and the Premier League remains as strange a place as it was the week before. Leicester City continue to prove the doubters wrong, with Jamie Vardy quietly doing the work necessary to be declared the best player in the entire world. The Manchester derby was a predictably quiet affair, Jose Mourinho tried to get dressed up as a referee for the second half of Chelsea’s game against West Ham, and Tim Sherwood finally got the boot from Aston Villa.
With Liverpool not knowing how to win a game, the defending champions wondering how they can avoid a relegation dog fight and Spurs always capable of ‘doing a Spurs’ and imploding, could there be a genuine surprise in the top four spots come the end of the season? There’s still a lot of football to played and we’re only just a quarter of the way through the campaign, but it really is all to play for with 10 games gone.
Here, as always, we look at the weekend’s major talking points and ask all of the big questions. Well, some big questions and some entirely irrelevant ones that might be pointless this time next week. As usually we’d love you to get involved so if there’s a story you think we’ve missed or you just want to tell us we’re wrong then leave us a comment or give us a tweet.
Tim Sher Wood Like To Be Foreign
So, Tim ‘tactics’ Sherwood has been sacked by Aston Villa and the English manager’s union shake their heads in anger and disappointment. ‘It’s all these foreign owners’, they shout. Or ‘a bloody good manager let down by lazy foreign players’. Neither of those statements are true, of course, but that’s irrelevant as far as the solid football people are concerned.
There is an arrogance about Aston Villa as a club and their fans in particular. ‘We won the European Cup!’, they declare, failing to realise that it was about 300 years ago. Many people remember when Rafa Benitez was linked with the vacant manager’s position when Martin O’Neil got the boot, with reports on Sky of the Spaniard boarding a helicopter to go and speak to Randy Learner about the job. The Villa fans protested, ‘we’re too good for that fat Spanish waiter’, the decried.
That ‘fat Spanish waiter’, of course, is one who has also won the European Cup alongside countless other European trophies and league titles in Spain. That Villa fans were more willing to listen to a xenophobic British press than look at a manager’s accomplishments serves them right, with Benitez now managing Real Madrid and Villa locked in a relegation dog fight they seem destined to lose. Perhaps that was the moment that their American owner realised he was dealing with a load of complete and utter morons and decided to sell up as soon as he could.
Rather than opt for a manager with a genuine pedigree the Villa decided to bring in Alex McCleish, a British manager that had just got their rivals, Birmingham City, relegated. What a genius move that was. Not dissimilar to when the Midlands club decided to listen to the press once more and go for another British manager in Tim Sherwood. Never mind that he’d achieved precisely nothing and that Tottenham got rid of him as soon as someone more qualified than the janitor showed an interest in the job at White Hart Lane. Yes Sherwood’s Villa side dumped Liverpool out of the FA Cup in the semi-final at Wembley, but is that really an accomplishment any more?
Tactics Tim might feel hard done by and he’ll no doubt claim that he wouldn’t have been given such shoddy treatment if he he was from Spain or Portugal, but it’s the naive and simplistic claim of someone who really, really doesn’t understand football. Sherwood wasn’t sacked because he is English, nor was he let go because foreign managers don’t understand the game. He was fired because he’s rubbish.
During his entire career Tim Sherwood’s win percentage according to Wikipedia is 42.9%. At Aston Villa he won 10 of 28 games, losing 16. Let’s not pretend that’s anything other than a disgrace. We’re not part of the mainstream media so we don’t have to buy in to the notion that Sherwood deserved more time because he’s English. He didn’t; if anything he got more time than he deserved. Villa spent a not insignificant amount of money during the summer and Sherwood will have given the go ahead to most of it, if not all. Why did he choose to buy 23 central defenders? When Christian Benteke was sold to Liverpool did Sherwood really believe that a bit part player from the lower divisions would be good enough to replace him?
Sherwood’s win percentage at Aston Villa was 35.7%. That amount is remarkably similar to Harry Redknapp’s career win ratio, which is remarkably similar to Roy Hodgson’s career win ratio, which is remarkably close to Sam Allardyce’s career win ratio which is… Well, you get the idea. Not all British managers are rubbish, but they are also not good just by virtue of being British. The sooner we abandon the notion that these people deserve automatic respect merely because of where they’re born and ask them to actually prove themselves in the lower leagues then the sooner we’ll approach a time when they might actually be able to achieve something.
Aston Villa are now being linked with a Frenchman called Garde. It’s ironic, of course, because it will be the first time all season that anyone has been on guard at Villa Park. Hopefully he can not only help turn things around for the Villains but also help rid the Midlands club of the ludicrous notion that they deserve to remain in the Premier League because they once won a European Cup. It didn’t work out for Nottingham Forrest, so it provably won’t work out for them, either.
Arsenal In Contention?
Let’s be honest, not even Arsenal fans went in to this season thinking that they had a chance of winning the league. Most Gunners have now accepted that they’ll creep in to the top four every year until Arsene Wenger either retires or dies in the job. It’s fine, it’s what they do. Piers Morgan is the self-declared voice of Arsenal fans and he was fuming when Jurgen Klopp signed up to manage Liverpool, leaving his team with the Frenchman in charge for the rest of time.
Yet Arsene himself has quietly gone about his business, refusing the opportunity to sign a striker during the summer and instead feeling as though Alexis Sanchez, Oliver Giroud and Theo Walcott would have enough in their locker to keep the Gunners firing until January at least. Two FA Cup wins on the bounce have instilled in the young Arsenal players a taste for winning and a will to do so. The experience of lifting a trophy can never be under-estimated, with many at Anfield feeling Liverpool could have won the title in 2008-2009 and 2013-2014 if the majority of their squad knew what it took to cross the line.
Ten games in to the season and the North London club are the only ones that look capable of offering a half serious challenge to Manchester City’s runaway leaders. So good is their challenge, in fact, that they’re even on points with the league leaders, even if they’ve scored less goals then them and sit in second place by virtue of goal difference.
Everton didn’t offer much competition at The Emirates, with Tim Howard in terrible form between the sticks for the Blues. Roberto Martinez said after the game that his goalkeeper would have disappointed with his performance and the Spaniard was grossly underplaying how poor the American shot stopper has been lately. Around a year or so after receiving congratulatory phone calls from the President of the United States for his peerless performance in the World Cup, Howard seems to now be jumping the wrong way when faced with shots. It’s embarrassing, and Arsenal took full advantage.
Ross Barkley pulled one back for the Blues, finally getting involved in a game and influencing it in a way that people have expected from him for some time, but he looked apologetic about his goal that took such a huge deflection that Petr Cech stood no chance. If Everton are to fulfil the promise that many think they’re capable of then Barkley is going to have to be significantly better and stronger in the games that matter.
Back to Arsenal, though, and the North Londoners seem determined to take advantage of the collapse taking place at Stamford Bridge. Wenger and Mourinho have had their fair share of fallings out, with the latter’s recent punishment by the Football Association made all the more galling to him because of the fact that Wenger has got away with similar misdemeanours scot free. So rattled is the self-proclaimed Special One, in fact, that he used Arsene Wenger’s words of ‘weak’ and ‘naive’ to describe the referee in Chelsea’s recent Champion’s League game. An official who doesn’t come under the same governance as the ones who Mourinho feels is treating his team badly during as competition that Chelsea don’t yet have to worry about their London rivals in.
Wenger will have lifted a glass of wine and allowed himself a wry smile at the implosion that appears to be taking place at Stamford Bridge. He’s been accused of losing it several times himself, but he’ll have no sympathy for his smug adversary who has accused him of being a ‘specialist in failure’.
Having won the FA Cup in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 are Arsenal now ready to go one better and lift the Premier League trophy at the end of the season? There’s a long way to go and a lot of football still to be played, with Manchester City and possibly even Manchester United keen to have their say before it’s all over. But Arsenal shouldn’t be ruled out of the running just yet, nor allowed to be forgotten by the other runners and riders in the top flight of the English leagues.
Slow Return To The Klopp
It really is a sign of the times that after just three games, and with Liverpool still undefeated since his arrival, some Reds fans are already losing their patience with Jurgen Klopp. The German wunderkind of the management world arrived to the sound of a fanfare and with Liverpool fans convinced they could still win the league this season. Three games in and reality has bitten hard.
Whether Jurgen Klopp, Brendan Rodgers or even Bill Shankly himself are at the helm of modern day Liverpool there seems to be a theme of taking the lead and then throwing it away at Anfield. Ok so Rubin Kazan went one nil up before the Reds came back into the match, but the principle is the same. Liverpool are hard to beat but also difficult to lose to.
The return of Christian Benteke is a timely one, and Liverpool looked significantly more threatening with the big Belgian on the pitch than they do with his younger understudy for both club and country, Divock Origi. Threatening is exactly what Liverpool need to be; or more specifically what they need to be is clinical. Across Liverpool’s last five 1-1 home draws against Norwich, Carlisle, Sion, Rubin Kazan and Southampton they’ve taken an incredible 150 shots, with a disturbingly poor five goals in return.
How many supporters would seriously be expecting their club to compete in all competitions when they’ve managed just five goals from 150 shots? Not many, in truth, yet Liverpool fans are cut from a different cloth and they’re hoping their new manager can achieve something impossible in the coming weeks and months.
For the manager himself, though, a reality check is far more important than the results. He wants to win, of course, and he felt they were achingly close to doing so against Southampton at the weekend. But he also wants the fans and players to ‘be cool’ as much as possible and to relax moving forward. He reminded the Anfield faithful that his Dortmund team had 15 draws in his first season at the Westfalstadion, meaning they were hard to beat but not always great at winning – which team does that remind you of?
The excitement surrounding Klopp’s arrival at Anfield was understandable. After all Four Four Two magazine declared him to be the most eligible manager in Europe in July. He’s obviously going to be a brilliant fit for Liverpool and a welcome addition to the Premier League, but if anyone thought he was really going to be able to turn around Liverpool’s ailing fortunes in just a couple of weeks then those people are idiots. Whether the Liverpool fans want to hear it or not, it’s a rebuilding job in the extreme on the Red half of Merseyside and Klopp needs time and patience to bring the Liver bird back to the top of the table like a Phoenix from the flames.
Jose On Borrowed Time
If Tim Sherwood is an example of a manager given a ludicrous amount of leeway in spite of his achievements then Jose Mourinho is the archetype of a boss who is given a touch too much respect because of his accomplishments.
There can be no arguing with the Portuguese boss’ trophy cabinet. His win percentage is also up there with the best in the game. Across his career his win ratio is 66.36%, with is first spell at Chelsea seeing him win 67.03% of his games and his second spell thus far bringing home all three points 60.32% of the time.
Does that excuse his constant moaning and sniping at Arsene Wenger, however? We’ve already mentioned his comment that the Arsenal manager is a ‘specialist in failure’, but what of the time that he declared his rival to be a ‘voyeur’ who likes to ‘watch other people’? Are we supposed to forget about the fact that he attempted to gouge out the eye of Tito Villanova? Or he made such disgraceful accusations about the referee Anders Frisk that he caused him to retire from the game and go into hiding?
That’s a list of some of his past misdemeanours, but what of this season alone? His comments against Eva Carneiro, the Chelsea club doctor who he castigated for doing her job, were barely disguised sexist snipes that shouldn’t easily be forgotten. His treatment of her resulted in her deciding to leave the club, even though she did exactly the right thing in the circumstances. How was she supposed to know that Eden Hazard was rolling around on the floor and looking like he was in extreme pain because he was wasting time at the end of the game? The answer, of course, is that she should have known because that’s the way Jose Mourinho likes his players to behave.
Perhaps it is an intelligent tactic to attempt to create a sense of everyone being against his club. Maybe some of his players will respond well to the notion that there is a siege mentality going on at Stamford Bridge. The flip side of the coin, however, is that the players may not take on any responsibility when it is clearly they who are at fault. Nemanja Matic is a very, very good footballer who is experienced enough to know that if you’re on a booking you probably shouldn’t pull back an attacking player right in front of the assistant referee. Maybe he thought it was ok, though, because his manager would blame the officials anyway.
Jose Mourinho is a good manager, but make no mistake he should be – during his career he’s spent more money than any other manager in the history of football. As Roberto Martinez said when Mourinho was snippy towards him after Everton had beaten Chelsea during the Premier League recently, he’s a nice man when he wins. When he loses, though, he’s the opposite of nice. He’s a rude, disrespectful disgrace of a man who should be given short shrift by the press and everyone associated with football.
His recent decision to refuse to speak to the press after Chelsea’s loss to West Ham is a mark of the man; he is a sore loser in the extreme. Of course there’s an extent to which you want the manager of your club to be a sore loser, but most people manage to do it with significantly more respect for their fellow professionals and the people in the middle of the park who do a very difficult job as well as they are able to.
Roman Abramovich is an owner who is not know for his patience. If Mourinho wants to continue pretending the problems taking place at Chelsea are everyone’s fault but his own then he may well find that he’s asked to find a different club to manage sooner rather than later. At the moment it seems as though he’s still in a job because there’s no one else that can do it better. That’s not a particularly healthy place to be in, and if either Carlo Ancelotti or Pep Guardiola feel that it’s a job they’d like to either get back to or take on for the first time then Jose Mourinho might be out on his ear. If that happens he really will have no one to blame but himself. Wise up Jose, it’s time to give the people that deserve it a touch more respect. Do that and you may just find that you’ll be given some respect of your own. At the moment the postscript to his career will likely be that he’s a top manager who let himself down time and time again.