Premier League Week 8 – An Analysis

The Premier League constantly throws up surprises; from Spurs beating Manchester City 4-1 through to Chelsea losing 3-1 away at Everton, barely a week goes by without something slightly crazy happening. Has there ever been a weekend in which two managers have left their posts and one other has been given the dreaded vote of confidence before, though? We’re not too sure.

Regardless, this week in the Premier League saw both Brendan Rodgers and Dick Advocaat leave Liverpool and Sunderland respectively. It also saw Jose Mourinho…unwind? We’re trying to think of a nice phrase for how the Chelsea boss responded to his club’s fourth loss in the league so far this season and the second loss at Stamford Bridge. We’re looking at all of the big stories from the weekend gone by and we’d love you to get involved, either by commenting at the bottom of the blog or else by tweeting us @blogoftwohalves. The choice is yours!

No Suitable Advocaat

The first managerial change this weekend came at The Stadium Of Light where Dick Advocaat decided to call time on his second season in charge of the Black Cats. He said before the game between Sunderland and West Ham that it might be his last if his team failed to beat the Hammers, and he was true to his word.

Indeed, Advocaat told Studio Voetbal on Sunday evening, “I already made my decision last week. But the club asked me to do the match against West Ham and I really wanted to finish in style. I think it was time for someone else to take over at Sunderland. I became negative and that didn’t feel like myself”.

It makes sense for Sunderland to have asked him to stay in charge for the game against West Ham given that the international break gives everyone a bit of time to take a breath and regroup. It’s also a remarkably selfless act from the Dutch manager who realised that he doesn’t have the fight to keep going at The Stadium Of Light. He said, “The struggle against relegation is not my cup of tea”.

It was telling that the Sunderland fans chanted Advocaat’s name in the game against West Ham, as they realise and understand that the work he did there last season was the reason they are still in the Premier League. The Black Cats have seemingly had more than their allotted nine lives in the country’s top division and Advocaat is the main force behind their current status.

Dziurek / shutterstock.com

Dziurek / shutterstock.com

He originally only signed on for one year and had no intention of carrying on at the end of it, even officially walking away at the end of last term. Yet the Sunderland board wasn’t ready to give up that easily and hoped to be able to persuade him to sign on for one more year in order to give the club a bit of stability. He did just that, but was it the best move for manager or club? It seems not in the cold light of day.

Sunderland have had a dreadful start to the season, failing to notch up a league win thus far. Even more concerning for Advocaat was the fact that it wasn’t just the good teams that were getting points against his team; Bournemouth, Norwich and Leicester were all teams he might have felt his side should have been able to get some points off, yet all three of them took all of the spoils on offer.

The Black Cats have notched up just three points so far this season, with draws at home to Swansea, away to a struggling Aston Villa side and in Saturday’s home draw with West Ham. The Dutchman didn’t feel things were right at the club, though, despite spending over £25 million in the summer. He said, “Our squad was simply not good enough. The club knew that we had to strengthen ourselves, but the chairman never told me how much we could spend”.

Where exactly does that leave the North East team, then? In truth they looked impressive versus West Ham and were thoroughly deserving of their two goal lead. Jeremain Len’s lobbed goal was spectacular, though the Dutch forward then became the villain of the piece when he was sent off for two easily avoidable yellow card offences.

It was a game that summed up not only Sunderland under Dick Advocaat, but the team in general. Exciting, attacking play bolstered by a raucous support but ultimately let down by stupidity, poor finishing (Fabio Borini had a glorious chance to make it 3-0) and dreadful defending.

With Sam Allardyce, David Moyes and even Patrick Viera linked with the vacant managerial position it’s safe to say that Sunderland’s boardroom have got some options moving forward. For a club that’s had three managers in two years, though, it might be that the problems run deeper. Roy Keane said as much during an interview with Sky Sports, suggesting that if the club had been run better he might still be the manager. At the moment there are dark times at The Stadium Of Light. Will this finally be the season that the Black Cat’s lives run out?

Rodgers Gets The Chop From The Kop For Klopp?

No sooner had Sunderland confirmed the departure of Dick Advocaat from The Stadium Of Light did Brendan Rodger’s number come up down the road at Anfield. A 1-1 draw with Liverpool’s neighbouring rivals Everton might not have been the straw that broke the camel’s back in and of itself, but it was symptomatic of the problems Liverpool have faced under the Northern Irishman.

In many ways Brendan Rodgers’ Anfield reign sums up the problems facing modern day football managers. On the one hand he left the club with the second best win percentage of any Liverpool manager in the Premier League era and with an above average points per game ratio too. Yet on the other hand his Liverpool team has only won seven of the last twenty two matches in all competitions and has only scored more than one goal on three occasions during the same period.

almonfoto / shutterstock.com

almonfoto / shutterstock.com

The question that really needs to be asked is: are Liverpool fans’ expectations fair?

The club has the fifth highest wage bill in the Premier League, the fifth most expensive squad, the fifth highest commercial income and, once the stadium expansion is complete, they will have the fifth largest capacity ground in the country too. Last year Brendan Rodgers quite correctly made the observation that fifth is par for Liverpool Football Club.

During his time at Liverpool Brendan Rodgers’ team amassed a grand total of 219 points. Man United got 239 during the same period, Arsenal amassed 243, Chelsea 252 and Manchester City 261. Meanwhile Spurs only managed to get 218, Everton 195 and Southampton 169. Meaning, of course, that Liverpool have the fifth largest amount of points amassed during the three and a bit seasons that Rodgers was in the Anfield hot seat.

@behnisch on Twitter tweeted out this graph showing how many points Liverpool have been away from the team that finished top each season:

Despite this, however, Brendan Rodgers was expected to compete at the top end every single season. FSG reportedly made the decision to axe Rodgers as they believe the Premier League is still a winnable feat this season and felt that the Northern Irishman had lost the faith of the Liverpool supporters as well as the squad. Is this a realistic aim, or a sign of the type of delusion that Reds’ fans are accused of suffering from by their rivals?

The reality is that the league is pretty poor at the moment; an opinion reinforced by the fact that a dreadful Manchester United team were able to make it to the top of the table before receiving a hiding from Arsenal. Liverpool fans will tell you that you don’t win the Champion’s League from 3-0 down to AC Milan without believing the impossible is possible.

360b / shutterstock.com

360b / shutterstock.com

If, as expected, Jurgen Klopp takes over the Anfield hot seat will he be able to give both the players and the fans the sort of lift they need in order to challenge at the top of the table? If Chelsea continue to struggle under Jose Mourinho then a spot in the top four could be up for grabs, so a passionate manager could indeed be the one to help the Merseyside club achieve it. We’ll leave the final word to former Liverpool midfielder and Klopp countryman Dietmar Hamman: “The place has been like a morgue for a long time now and it has needed a lift from somewhere. [Klopp] can create that spark, that emotion and give people hope again”.

Mourinho Is Starting To Lose It

Football really can be such an incredibly fickle mistress. Jose Mourinho was the toast of West London in May, having guided Chelsea to their third title under his stewardship and their first since he returned to the club after a sojourn to other parts of Europe. He could have walked into any bar in Chelsea and been bought a ridiculously overpriced pint of lager as thanks for the success he’s brought the club.

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

Fast forward five months and it’s all change. Four losses in the Premier League, with two of them coming at Stamford Bridge, has seen Mourinho’s London fortress collapse and the defending Premier League champions booed off the pitch after their game against Southampton at the weekend. Given that the Portuguese maestro’s speciality is in getting his team to start quickly out of the blocks in order to build up a solid points tally before their rivals have even tied their boot laces, it’s going to be tricky for the self-proclaimed Special One to get his team back on track.

As well as starting quickly, the other thing the manager is brilliant at is diverting attention away from his players after a poor performance. In the opening game of the season the Blues were lucky to escape Stamford Bridge with a draw after Swansea had been the better team for ninety minutes. Mourinho promptly made the post match story about the work of his medical team in order to make sure more searching questions weren’t asked – a tactic that has resulted in Eva Carneiro walking away from football. Classy stuff, we’re sure you’ll agree.

This weekend, though, as Chelsea remained resolutely in the bottom half of the table and sat in 16th place in the Premier League, Mourinho turned on…well…everyone. Here’s his post match interview in full:

So just to be clear: Jose has realised that rival teams might want the team to finish at the top of the table to lose; referees won’t give decisions to Chelsea (even though Falcao dived and Southampton had two far more blatant penalty shouts turned away too); it’s the fault of the press and critics that Chelsea aren’t winning; the Chelsea team is a bit sad at the moment so referees should help them out more; he’s the best manager Chelsea have ever had; the manager isn’t guity for bad results; everyone’s to blame from the players to ‘other people in the club’; oh, and he really wants you to know that the referees are afraid to give Chelsea decisions – the team deserves to be given a break.

His rant was nothing short of astonishing when you break down what actually happened in the game. Chelsea were out fought, out thought and out played at home by a Southampton team that haven’t exactly been on tremendous form so far this season. They had two legitimate penalty claims turned down when Van Dijk’s shirt was pulled in the box by Ivanovic and Mane was tripped inside the area. Saints manager Ronald Koeman, when asked about his counterpart’s complaints regarding the penalty suggested he was right, “it could have been 5-2”, he said.

Mourinho’s suggestion that someone inside the club needs to take on their share of responsibility for what’s going on this season won’t go down well with the powers that be. Despite issuing a statement in support of the Chelsea manager there was no questioning that they feel he is on thin ice, making clear that they have already given him the tools do be doing significantly better than 16th. They said, “…we believe that we have the right manager to turn this season around and that he has the squad with which to do it”.

Given that Jose Mourinho has spent more money on players during his career than any other manager in the history of football, it shouldn’t really be such a shock that when his club limits his spending he suddenly doesn’t look quite so Special. Yet for the man himself and those that will forever blindly support him it isn’t his fault, it’s because the referees are scared to give decisions against his club.

Whatever the reality of the situation, Jose Mourinho finds himself in a position he isn’t used to and isn’t sure how to get out of. Despite the fact that there are still thirty games to go before the end of the season, it’s difficult to see how Chelsea get themselves back on top and there’s a very real chance that the London club could miss out on the top four if there isn’t a dramatic change in their fortunes before too long.

Chelsea have lost their fear factor and virtually every team they face feel they can get a result against them. It’s highly unlikely that the Blues will suffer against Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa, a team that has relegation fodder written all over it. But if they don’t notch up a convincing win then there’s no telling how much longer Jose Mourinho will remain in his post – a length of time that is bound to be shortened if he chooses to keep attacking Roman Abramovich.

Newcastle Face A Real Battle To Survive

Poor old Steve McClaren; to many he will always be the ‘wally with the brolly’ no matter what he does in his career. He arrived at Newcastle believing that it wouldn’t take much to revive the fortunes of the struggling North East footballing powerhouse. Yes the endured a terrible spell under John Carver, but he was never good enough to have been made the manager in the first place. A strong hand, some new faces and a good start to the season and the Magpies would be looking at picking up some shiny things in no time at all.

Ten games later and the only victory the Geordies have had to celebrate came over Northampton Town in the second round of the League Cup. Even that wasn’t particularly long lived as they then crashed out on the third round against Sheffield Wednesday, despite playing at St. James’ Park.

In some senses McClaren can consider himself unlucky. His team played well against Manchester United at Old Trafford and held them to a 0-0 draw, a result that would be respectable at any other time of a manger’s career. They probably should have beaten Southampton at home on the opening day of the season and they held on well against Arsenal despite going down to ten men early in the second half.

He might also wonder how his team only managed to score one goal against Manchester City at the weekend, with the Premier League leaders suffering a number of moments of defensive jitters and handing Newcastle’s players numerous attempts at Joe Hart’s goal. Yet question must also be asked about how a player was allowed to score five goals in a single match.

SueC / shutterstock.com

SueC / shutterstock.com

Of course Sergio Aguero isn’t just any player, he’s one of the best strikers in the Premier League. Still, though, someone in Newcastle’s defence should have been asking how they could stop him getting the freedom of the pitch during the game and what exactly could have been done to stop him finding the back of the net virtually every time he touched it the ball.

Newcastle’s next four matches are against Norwich, Sunderland, Stoke and Bournemouth, meaning they have a real chance to notch up a few points or, at the very least, the club’s first win of the season. The game against Sunderland could be the equivalent of two bald men fighting over a comb, but Newcastle really need to be the ones that emerge with the brush if they’ve got any hope of surviving.

Fail to win any of the next four games and, despite Steve Howey’s insistence that sacking him would be madness, the ex-England manager could find that he is on the way out before he’s even had a huge amount of time to settle.