Three Games In, Three Things About Mourinho

Will he adapt to Manchester United or will he expect Manchester United to adapt to him?

Jose

The above cliché is one of the many that precedes the arrival of a new manager and it certainly was one that applied to Jose.   Having had Mourinho at the helm for just over a season has delivered the compelling urge to finally string a few words together about some observations to date.

Here are three standout features of his tenure so far.

HE GETS THE UNITED PICTURE

The best coaches and leaders have a remarkable propensity for reinventing themselves and it appears that Jose is more than up for this. His early support of and use of United’s academy players dispels theories that this element of the club’s history is under threat.  Jose seems to understand that no one person is bigger than club and he totally gets the romance and history of the place, having constantly talked it up even before he joined United.  His appearance in full mega store kit against Chelsea last season was a tiny demonstration of a much deeper disposition.

ATTACKING APPROACH

Getting the season started with three wins at a 10-0 aggregate implies the developing of an attacking instinct not usually associated with the current manager, and this was also reinforced with his “let the horses run freely” comments after the Swansea game, in reference to the team having more attacking freedom after taking the lead against their Welsh hosts at the time. The Leicester game also showed an attacking threat with the scoreline still at 0-0 which was much less visible in the manager’s first campaign and it seems that the red devils have a desire to rekindle that fear factor of old. At minimum, there is a more balanced approach also with thanks to some astute signings in the crazy transfer market.   This might change after a defeat; however it is encouraging to see signs of transformation compared to the dark days of the pre-Mourinho and post-Fergie seasons, despite having an FA Cup to show for that frustrating time. (United fans are too spoilt to have won trophies during that period of perceived failure)

INSATIABLE AMBITION

One of the widely discussed qualities of Mourinho is his winning mentality. Evidence shows that the man is obsessed with winning; however, that is not really news to anyone.    This mentality is born out of his ambition.  And this begs the question as to where that ambition extends to. A useful conclusion to draw in this regard is that one thing is clear; he wants to be the best.  The only way he’ll ever be regarded as the best, would be to eliminate those who he competes with.  His current record is as good or better than any existing manager out there.    What to strive for then?  There is only one Sir Alex, and the achievements of the Scott is what Jose will have his eye on.  It has been said that SAF will never be eclipsed.  As things stand, Mourinho is likely to get close, and the sheer ambition of the man probably means that he is set on surpassing the greatest ever.  That spells a troublesome time ahead for his rivals, despite Mourinho having downplayed this.  Time will tell.

CONCLUSION

The answer to the cliched question then is that the Portuguese boss is doing more of the adapting to his club as opposed to the other way around.  We know that the first three games were wins last season and that form can change in a flash, but buckle up and enjoy what is likely to be quite a ride either way.  Anything worse than third place in the league will be an epic fail.  He’ll be hoping that the team he loves can keep the good start going on a cold away day at Stoke.

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9 Thoughts on the big Red Derby at Old Trafford

Finally the big match day has arrived. It’s only taken forever. The huge fixture at Old Trafford has a bit of a cup final feel to it & the usual hype has been rife, especially given the league positions of the Red Devils and their Merseyside rivals. Below are some thoughts on this tiny matter.

 
1. On current form, Manchester United should coast to victory. However, this fixture repeatedly renders form irrelevant and it thus provides no measure of what could transpire. United’s run has to end somewhere and ‘pool will be licking their lips for the prospect of ending it.

 
2. Liverpool will be wounded from their last three results and will consider themselves fortunate that all of them never came in the league. The two week league break gives them a chance to ensure that their poor form will not matter too much in terms of the bigger picture for the season. It’s been gloomy but they are still very much alive and kicking.

 
3. The above wounds will best be healed by a blistering performance so expect Liverpool to come out all guns blazing. The first 30 minutes will be vital and if United can survive that with no harm done, they’ll be most likely to knick a victory as the game goes on. The Manchester side will be most vulnerable early on & Liverpool will make their intentions clear from the word go.

 
4. I don’t follow too many Liverpool information sources and that might be why it seems like United have been most vocal. Perhaps Jürgen Klopp is the only exception there as he has been quite bubbly, but many of the Manchester camp has been quite expressive and they will do well to ensure that is reflected on the pitch. This reminds me of a famous quote: “Not arrogant, just better” – The league table defies that quote at the moment so the red devils need to put their money where their mouths are.

 
5. The big players on each side will be critical to the final outcome. Can Zlatan and Pogba keep their good form and assert themselves? Will Rooney influence the game at the end? Coutinho’s lack of match fitness showed when he came on against Southampton, will he do better today? If not he is still a threat from dead ball situations so his return is a big boost. Lallana has had a couple of bad games after a string of amazing performances, so a return to form for him could spell trouble for United.

 
6. The goalkeeping departments of each team are in total contrast. De Gea needs to live up to his excellence and can’t afford an off day. Only Spurs have more shots at goal than Liverpool. Surprisingly, United are third on the shots log so Mignolet or Karius (most likely the former) need to be free of their occasional demons.

 
7. If United can be considered a bogey team then they definitely are that to Liverpool. No team has beaten the red Mersey siders more than Manchester United. Klopp though, has the best head to head record versus Mourinho, having won 3, drawn 2 and with only one defeat. One of those wins include beating Chelsea with ease last season. Those two facts cancels each-other out then.

 
8. In recent memory, Liverpool has been the team to win by big margins. When United’s won, its been via tighter games. Going into this one the Man United defense has been marginally the more stable of the two and Liverpool’s attack has been on fire which makes for a tasty contest. On this evidence, Sunday’s match will probably be another close one. Nail biting moments ahead.

 
9. Mourinho & co has made no bones about the importance of the fans. That is normally a tactic that Klopp uses well & the Old Trafford faithful could be an influence if they heed to Jose’s call. Needless to say the refereeing performance will be key & one hopes that the game will be decided by the brilliance of the talent on show rather than by Michael Oliver.

 
As the cliche goes, anything can happen. My Manchester red tinted glasses predicts a 2-1 United win. Rio Ferdinand thinks it will be the fairy tale Rooney record ending. Time will tell.

The Sizzling Race For A Premier League Top Four Finish

Things have continued to heat up at blistering temperatures at the top of the Premier League table.  This applies more to the battle for 3rd and 4th place which is gathering monumental momentum with the race wide open.   Before getting into that, a quick throw back to the top three worked out mostly as predicted.  Liverpool went onto beat Manchester City in a surprisingly low scoring game.  And Chelsea’s continued winning run was slightly easier to foretell than Pep Guardiola’s meltdown, which to some extent has been blown out of proportion by the press as usual.  That’s their job I suppose.

Back to the fourth place saga.  It looks like a three-horse race at the moment between Arsenal, Spurs and United, although City could be drawn into that if their form does not improve.

ARSENAL

Arsenal did an amazing job of coming back from 3-0 down against Bournemouth and in doing so; they will have restored some belief in pursuit of their title ambitions, although that ambition looks like a bridge too far.  It has been a case of business as usual for the Gunners.  A blitzy start to the season after the scare of an opening day defeat was followed by the same old questions about their resolve and ability to win the league.  Little to nothing has to be said about that.  Defensive problems has crept in which is ironic given the signing of an established centre half in Mustafi which their fans craved.  Their away form has been dismal as of late and if not for Bournemouth’s inverting intensity as the game carried on at Tuesday evening, coupled with their red card, it would have been 3 away defeats on the spin for the London outfit.

Hardly title winning form, and worryingly for them, not quite top four form either, an unthinkable reality for the Arsenal.  On current form, they look most likely to lose out on an honour that they have monopolised over the years.  They are ranked 17th in defensive blocks and have the lowest number of clearances in the league.  With Giroud firing on all cylinders, Wenger needs to consider a more direct approach to their style of play and get more crosses into the box especially away from home.  They are currently fourth from bottom in the crosses table and this might be an opportunity worth exploring if they are to stop the rot away from home.  Wenger probably won’t do that.  At the current rate, they look nailed on to finish outside the top four for the first time in what feels like forever.  They have always found a way to make this happen, and that is the saving grace that makes one feel that they can’t totally be written off.   Interesting times ahead at the Emirates then.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

Tottenham is a curious case.  Mostly because Pochettino is a young manager and does not have much from the past to indicate a clear trend from a management point of view.  What we can tell is that as a boss, he keeps improving, and doing better at every club that he has gone to, although Spurs are the best resourced club of the three that he has managed.  He has done a good job and Sir Alex was not far off when he retorted that Poch is the best manager in the league.  He took a mediocre looking squad and got more out of them consistently, to the point that the former term of “big 4” no longer exists, and it is now more of a big six.  The use of this term alone gives an indication of what the North London club is about under their Argentinian coach.  Without winning much in the form of trophies they have crept into being categorised alongside the traditional big clubs.

The team has also developed a thick skin in terms of their ability to avoid losing.  They are joint with Liverpool and Chelsea where defeats are concerned, only having dropped all three points twice this season.  A flurry of early season draws has not helped them but if they can continue to avoid defeat a top four place is well on the cards, and they also have St Totteringham’s day to motivate them.  A finish above their North London rivals is a huge incentive given that it last happened 21 seasons ago.  You feel that if it is to happen then this must be the time for that.  Spurs face Chelsea on Wednesday and it will go a long way to reinforcing or undermining their credentials.  They were the first team to halt Man City early in the season with a display of real intensity and impressive pressure, and they’ll need to repeat that to stand a chance against their rivals from West London.

They will also have learnt from their experience last season where their title push came to naught against Chelsea in the face of what looked like a calamitous collapse, although in truth a win against the Blues back then would probably not have thrown Leicester off course.  Finishing fourth at the expense of Arsenal though will be Spurs’ biggest achievement for as long as they can remember, even if it is just for banter purposes.

MANCHESTER UNITED

Manchester United is having a season of what ifs.  What if Carrick and Mkhitaryan played regularly from the beginning of the season?  What if the referee gave the nailed on penalty against Arsenal?  What if Heaton never had the best game of his career in the United vs. Burnley game? What if Stoke and Everton were wins instead of draws?  Indeed, things could have looked very different, but they are what they are and the red devils has done amazingly well to match their longest winning run since Sir Alex left the club.

Fans have been patient, because of the improving football on show.  All eyes have been on Jose Mourinho since he took charge of the red Manchester club and after some teething problems, he seems to be delivering.  It has been classic Jose for much of the season, especially during the more challenging times.  When the results were not forthcoming, all the talk and attention was on Mourinho, not on the poor results.  Touch line bans, bottle kicking, referee outrage, etc.  The man who promised box office gave exactly that and during the turmoil United has recovered remarkably well.  The good vibes are back at Old Trafford, as promised by Robin Van Persie and Ryan Giggs.  One defeat though and there will be a melt down from some quarters, especially if it comes in the cross canal derby against the Mersey siders in red.

United have it all to do if they are to salvage anything from the season and they can’t afford to stutter along the way.   The Europa League might present a get out of jail card however to prioritise only that would be a bit of a lottery as anything can happen in those cup games.

Zlatan has been everything he promised to be and Paul Pogba is finally coming good after taking some time to adjust to his “new” club.  Furthermore, chances are he’ll only get better which bodes well for United.  The red devils gave themselves too much to do though and their only chance of a top four finish is sustaining the winning run, along with more dropped points by their rivals.  In other words, plenty has to go in United’s favour for their league position to improve.  They’ve done well to narrow the gap, but a gap it still is. The return of Patrice Evra in any capacity will also liven up the place a tad more during this spell of recovery and re-establishment.

To sum these few sets of paragraphs up – current evidence suggests the following top six at the end of season table:

Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs, Man City, Man United, and Arsenal.

It can all change of course and that is what makes this season the most exciting yet, in addition to an amazing cast of management and players J

 

A Take On The Premier League Top Three At Christmas

It looks like the most exciting premier league season ever is underway and the hype that preceded it thanks to the glittering array of fine managers on show has not been without merit. Here is a look at how the top three are shaping up so far along with a peak at what the next few months may hold for them.

CHELSEA

Superlatives are running dry on the quality that has been on show by the Blues this season. Antonio Conte was a serial winner at Juventus where they obliterated the opposition at will before he took on the prestigious role of Italy’s national team coach.

It was by no means a foregone conclusion that he would be as effective in the Premier League however he has defied the notion that first time PL management is near impossible. With a 6 point lead at Christmas, and Chelsea’s trend showing that they’ve always been crowned champions when they’ve led at Christmas, it seems unlikely that there will be any relenting by Conte and his team.  

One felt that their means of coping without Costa would be a key moment in establishing certainty about their title credentials and they’ve showed that losing him was not as big a deal as many may have thought. Abramovic made a good move for the Italian and if Chelsea goes onto win, it would only be Conte and a certain Jose Mourinho who has adapted so seamlessly to what many regard as the most difficult league in the world.  

Conte’s win percentage at Juve in his last season there was a staggering 87%. The ex Azzuri coach now sits on 81% with Chelsea, so if they end up doing the business, it would be a remarkable show of consistency. The worst news for fans of other clubs is that Conte got better at every season with Juve, and if he does that now, Chelsea won’t only win this league, but a few more afterwards. It would be surprising if this bunch ends anywhere other than first. Conte’s winning experience and habit seems set in stone.

LIVERPOOL

The experience that Liverpool endured in 2014 is likely to ensure a more thoughtful approach to the title tilt this time around. Losing out to Man City by two points after blowing a lead big enough to ensure that fans were singing premature champion songs would have hurt the club and everyone there will be out on a limb to show that there’ll be no slipping finish to the season, again.  

As Chelsea has done regarding the case of Costa, Liverpool has demonstrated that the Coutinho injury blow made minimal impact and they’ll get a confidence boost by that. Their huge concern will be the goalkeeping issues that have plagued them up to now and they’ll be hoping that it does not hamper them too much. Every title winning side has had a world class ‘keeper and Liverpool will need to buck this trend if they are to win.  

Their attacking play has been consistently breath-taking in 2016 and coach Klopp has built this team in his image, even though it was still Rodgers’ team last year which was the resounding cry from fans and media. There have certainly been shades of his Dortmund teams in how the Anfield crew has been playing. Relentless redness running opponents ragged in almost every game. This has forced opposition into errors and LFC has racked up the points. An important take out from that second place finish would also be the realisation that a 6 point lead can be overhauled. In fact, Newcastle blew a 10 point lead and Arsenal caught up with a 13 point lead over Manchester United in 1997, so Liverpool would do well to know this and they’ve more than a chance of walking in on Chelsea’s parade.  

Lastly, Klopp with previous back to back title wins in the Bundesliga 4 years ago has been there before, another key difference compared to Liverpool in 2014. The German league was won by 7 and 8 points in those years so his experience under pressure situations will come in handy and reduce the risk of the red men running out of steam (They woke up the Bayern sleeping giant though). Having said that, Jurgen’s win rates in those campaigns were 68% and 74%, this season in the premier league it sits on 67%. On that evidence, Liverpool still needs improving, which Klopp himself has said. That little gap might just be where the keeper and defence come in. 14 more wins is likely to see them in with a shout but as implied above, it would be thanks to an uncharacteristic Conte slump and therefore it looks like a fight for second between Liverpool and Man City.

MANCHESTER CITY

This bunch of lighter blue has been a bit of a mixed bag, but that is only relative to pre-season expectations. The arrival of who many regard as the world’s best coach ramped up expectations from fans, rivals and the media at large. The question on everyone’s lips was about how Pep Guardiola could adapt to the different demands of the Premier League. John Stones has been somewhat of a symbol for the Pep era so far. Lauded as a standout young defender promising much, he has been erratic at best, showing early glimpses of what his talent can produce, but glaring inadequacies at the other end of the scale. Pretty much a little Pep in some ways, given that his team has mirrored this inconsistency.  

That City is third in the league despite the above should be encouraging for their followers, fans and media alike. The love in was James Bond like upon his arrival and needless to say they expected better, and this is the almost unfair backdrop that surrounds their current plight. A further extension of the current microscopic focus on them is due to their great start to the season, which for all intent and purposes delivered to these high expectations. With a convincing victory against their bitter red rivals, especially thanks to a really stunning first 40 minutes, the Citizens suggested that they’d be all over their other title challengers. However Manchester United was abject and allowed the sky blues to dominate. Up until that point and for some time later, the Etihad Stadium inhabitants were predominantly unchallenged until Spurs’ intensity blew them away. At the time it was wondered whether Tottenham showed the way to others on how to play against City, and it turns out to have been exactly the case. Guardiola implied that the long balls of English football was the top cause of there mini slump. If that is the case, it must be a specific tactic employed against his team, because the average long balls per game in the premier league as a whole is 68.32. In the Bundesliga where Pep came from, it is higher, at 68.94, and believe it or not, the La Liga’s average is 68.11. They’re basically the same in all 3 leagues. So that opens the door to some interesting ponderings.

As suggested above though, for them to have stayed closely in the hunt amidst probably higher expectations than they’ve ever had in the club’s history, shows that more might well be on its way from Manchester City. They seem to have found more flow to their game lately and their win against Arsenal was of sound quality. Their experience of winning the league from a losing position might also come in handy (although Kompany and his defensive brilliance combined with Leadership had a lot to do with that). The safer bet is that the winner of their match against Liverpool on New Year’s Eve will finish second come the end of the season. If it’s a draw, City will finish second and Liverpool third.

There’s a little take then on what the guesses are for the top three places in the Premier League.

Stay tuned for a glimpse of Arsenal’s battle with their London rivals Tottenham and former arch rivals Manchester United for their customary champions league berth.

 

 

 

 

Faf Can Be A Destroyer

On radio cricket commentary on Day 3 of the SA vs England Test, Alviro Petersen & Neil Manthorp made some noteworthy points. One of the few that stuck with me was the chat about Faf Du Plessis as a test batsman.

It is known that he is Protea T20 captain and even has a hundred in T20 cricket. Do people see that in Faf when he plays in tests? I don’t. I have inadvertently seen him as someone who digs in without even knowing.

Alviro & Manners were talking about how players get labelled & said that this could have happened to Faf since his heroics on test debut where he batted & batted & batted against the Australians. The label could also have stuck with the player himself, whether he agrees or not.

Labels stick in life & in sport, so I felt their views were sensible & even encouraging in the sense that it brought the reality to the fore that there is more to Faf than knuckling down & digging in, the lad can play and can be devastating on his day. When he masters shifting through the gears at test level, then fans might be in for a treat.

FA Cup Match-day, Yeovil Town vs Man United

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For some,  match day is just an ordinary day,  another one in a string of thousands where life goes on as normal.  For others,  it is a source of joy, the one thing they look forward to amidst the day to day drudgery of life, although results can turn that joy into it’s opposite. Things that transpire on match day, even the most mundane matters, sometimes conclude with different significance just because it happens on match day. It’s just the way football fandom works.

The FA Cup  has turned many ordinary days,  into glorious ones for countless amounts of football fans from all walks of life.  It does that today for Yeovil Town FC, who match up against Manchester United in the third round tie on Sunday.  Irrespective of the result,  the lives of everyone connected to the club based 100+ miles from London will never be the same.   

A town with a population of 40 000 will come to a complete standstill and the eyes of the world will be on them.  Yeovil took 108 years to join the football league where they have been since 2003 and now play in league one, the third tier of English football.  The last time they played United was in 1949 where they were defeated 8-0.  That was in front of an 80 000 strong crowd in Man City’s old Maine Road stadium, borrowed to United after Old Trafford was bombed in the war.

United are expected to win, and Louis Van Gaal was smart to revive the value of the cup somewhat for United fans by highlighting that it is United’s most realistic chance of silverware this season.  The absence of European Football at United also means there will be more interest in a cup run run this year, considering a third round exit to Swansea last season.  LVG also knows that United can’t go through based on the opponents name alone.  They’ll have to put in a professional performance. Phil Neville in an interview with the Guardian gave some great insight into the psychology of lower league teams and if that applies on Sunday when minnow meets giant,  the Red Devils will be in for some game.   I hope this is not the case.  I last saw Man Utd play in an FA Cup final in 2007, which was lost to Chelsea.  Strangely,  I watched from Colliers Wood in London and it was quite a festive day with good friends, although a certain Didier Drogba put paid to United’s hopes of lifting the trophy for a record 12th time.  Another cup disappointment that stands out is a semi-final exit to Everton on penalties, and on the other side of the scale, I vividly recall a stunning winner by Eric the King Cantona against Liverpool scored in about the 86th minute, which was met with derision and cheer, demonstrating that cliched magic of the cup feeling.

The FA Cup used to be a special competition,  the whole aura surrounding it was glamorous and worthy of making time for.   Current holders Arsenal were substantially energized by their win last season, having collected their first trophy in all competitions for nine years,  only to have many of their fans calling for the club manager’s head in this campaign.  So perhaps on that evidence the perceived worth of the competition has waned somewhat.  For Yeovil Town FC and many other lower league teams, it will be the biggest day of their lives up to now.  

Here’s to a hopeful United win,  and a memorable match day for all concerned for all the right reasons.  Yeovil is likely to enjoy the moment win or lose,  in fact,  they’d revel in a replay at Old Trafford as the best possible outcome.  John Aldridge said his heart predicts a 6-0 win for the league one  outfit.  It would be decent if he is wrong. Share your match day thoughts in the comments section below.

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Health – It’s All A Bit Sick

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If you think health is simply about not being sick at a point in time, then think again. The meaning of the term “unhealthy” just got extended by as much as the increase in the fuel price over recent years, and that’s plenty. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) that is.

The truth is, it hasn’t increased just now. In 1946 WHO defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”, the latter is what many of us consider healthy, i.e., not being sick as we know it, is considered good health. A demonstration of that can be found on many a CV, next to “health”, applicants normally say “excellent”. So according to WHO that is clearly not the case. The definition is fairly fascinating and disconcerting at the same time, as it suggests there are many sick people around. Consider your own physical, mental and social state right now. Are you healthy according to that definition? Needless to say, the absence of any physical or visible illness doesn’t mean that you are.

Taking it a step further, the same organisation defines mental health as follows: “a state of well being in which the individual realizes his own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Goodness me, that is quite a definition and cause for concern in light of what many of us observe in our daily lives. Once more, in this context, mental health is not just the absence of mental illness. It is an all encompassing concept that clearly indicates that the general state of health all around us is somewhat muddled, to use a lenient term. Perhaps all of this has given rise to the ease with which we refer to some people as “sick”. Has “healthy” people been referred to in that way?

A resounding yes, and probably quite often too. Guilty as charged.

A recent Sunday Times report highlighted that a third of South Africans have a diagnosable mental illness, such as bipolar, anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, etc. Shockingly, the same report said that 75% of these will not seek help or reveal their conditions. If the average house hold has a family of three as an example, one of them is a sufferer.

Scary.

The securing of the above information was prompted by a rather insignificant health setback and during this time a one liner was stumbled upon, “You can’t lead people if you are unhealthy.” To take that further, ignoring substandard health deprives others of a significant contribution that every person is born to make. We can all do something that another can’t. Furthermore, every aspiration you will ever have is underpinned by the need for good health.

According to the above, there are some serious realities to consider. If our physical, emotional and social well being is anything less than “completely” in check, then unhealthiness reigns. To avoid a long list of examples, a simple and popular one here is stress, the complaint one hears most often in the modern world. If stress (the bad kind) is a constant, then it is an illness. Something to think about. All other examples are scarier, but feel free to think about some. Spiritual health is a notable absentee from WHO’s definitions, a conversation for another time maybe.

The good news is that choices and action controls the conclusion of our state of well-being and health. All illness starts there, with the self. What action can we take individually and collectively to improve the state of our health, or that of another? We are either one of the three that are unhealthy, or one of the two next to us is. What will you do about that?

Tell me in the comments or tweet me via @fergs24.