Premier League Review: Swept To One Side
The fetishisation of the football manager is a very modern phenomenon. This season so far has been all about the men on the sidelines who patrol their technical areas like caged tigers, from the fawning over Pep Guardiola to the character assassination of David Moyes to the extent that the players have seldom been able to get a word in edgeways, but this weekend’s Premier League matches demonstrated the shortcomings of becoming over-dependent on the apparent wisdom of such a small group of elders. For the media, yesterday afternoon’s match between Chelsea and Manchester United was all about one man. What tactical masterpiece would Jose Mourinho come up with in order to show his former employers what they were missing?
It took roughly thirty seconds for us to find out, as Manchester United’s defence opened up in front of Pedro, who swept through to give Chelsea the lead. If there was a tactical masterpiece that had been imparted to United’s players, then either they hadn’t read it or couldn’t be bothered to implement it. A second goal followed, thanks to some haphazard defending which allowed Gary Cahill to score from close range. Things got no better for United in the second half. Eden Hazard slid a third goal wide of David De Gea just after the hour, and N’Golo Kante breezed through a by this time non-existent central defence to add a fourth, at which point Chelsea took their collective foot from the pedal and ran down the clock to the unbridled delight of a Stamford Bridge crowd that was by this time oleing every sustained spell of possession as their opponents chased the spot that their players had been in several seconds earlier.
The obvious – and, for some, dare we say satisfying – thing to do at this point is to deem Mourinho “past it” and start work on his managerial headstone, but there should probably be a greater spread of blame for Manchester United’s performance on Sunday afternoon. There comes a point at which the players have to accept responsibility for such a lifeless performance whilst, at a higher level, the club’s policy of making “Hollywood” signings while apparently paying little heed to a great deal beyond the marketing potential of the players that they are buying also seems like reasonable grounds for questions to be asked. Sometimes a result is so bad that to pin the entirety of it on one man doesn’t make any sense, no matter how strong the cult of personality surrounding him may be. Defeat on this scale surely requires collective responsibility on the part of all concerned.
There will certainly be other Premier League managers who will be relieved at Mourinho’s headline-grabbing capabilities at the moment. Manchester City have now gone five games without a win in all competitions following their stuttering one-all draw with Southampton on Sunday lunchtime. There was more sloppiness on display, this time from England’s apparent defensive saviours John Stones, whose undercooked backed pass gifted the opening goal of the match to Southampton’s Nathan Redmond, but again this was a pallid performance for which the shortcomings of one player do not provide a full explanation. Kelechi Iheanacho levelled things up for City, but this team is barely recognisable from that which was sweeping all before it just a month or so ago. Still, though, Manchester City do at least stay top of the table thanks to Iheanacho’s goal.
It wasn’t a terribly thrilling weekend for the other teams that made up the top five in the Premier League at kick-off on Saturday afternoon, either. Tottenham Hotspur could only manage a goalless draw at Bournemouth when a win would have put them at the top of the table, with substitute Moussa Sissoko earning himself an FA charge for elbowing Harry Arter in the face, Erik Lamela hitting the crossbar and two decent performances from the goalkeepers, Artur Boruc and Hugo Lloris, keeping the scores goalless, whilst, a little later in the afternoon, Arsenal’s run of six successive wins came to an end with the same result against struggling Middlesbrough. Not quite the result that Arsene Wenger would have wanted on his birthday.
Only Liverpool could muster a win, in the late match on Saturday afternoon. They looked comfortable when Saido Mane and Philippe Coutinho gave them a two-goal lead at half-time against West Bromwich Albion, but they failed to build on this lead and a goal from Gareth McAuley with nine minutes to play cost them a place at the top of the table – a two goal win would have put them top overnight – and they ended up hanging on a little in a match that they should, perhaps, have won more comfortably. The result of all of this is that the top of the Premier League table looks a little congested this week, with just a solitary point separating Manchester City at the top of the table from Chelsea in fifth place. For the record, Manchester United now sit in seventh place, five points shy of the top five teams.
At the other end of the table, Sunderland are now well adrift at the bottom after a very, very late goal gave West Ham United a one-nil win against them at the Olympic Stadium. They were four minutes into stoppage-time at the end of the match when Winston Reid scored the only goal of the match for West Ham. The three teams in the relegation places couldn’t manage a goal between them, this weekend. Swansea City are still chasing their first win under new manager Bob Bradley following a goalless draw against Watford, whilst Hull City have now lost five in a row and seem to be living down to pre-season expectations after a two-nil home defeat at the hands of Stoke City, who are now starting to click into gear after a very slow start to the season.
Another team that seems to finally be finding its feet a little is Leicester City. Leicester had gone their previous three Premier League matches without a win, but their Champions League form has been excellent and they finally found a way of tranferring that into the league with a comfortable three-one win against Crystal Palace, who had been in reasonably good form but have now lost two matches in a row. The return of Shinji Okazaki seems to have had a restorative effect on Leicester. He scored their second goal, the others coming from Ahmed Musa and Christian Fuchs. In the division’s other match of the weekend, Everton failed to keep up with the top five with a surprise two-one defeat at Burnley. An error from the Everton goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg had allowed Sam Vokes to give Burnley a first half lead, but Yannick Bolasie’s second half equaliser came to count for nothing when Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s shot hit the crossbar in the last minute and Scott Arfield pounced to snatch all three points for Burnley. This weekend, though, the headlines were being written elsewhere.
You can support independent football writing and grab a free copy of our monthly e-magazine by supporting Twohundredpercent on Patreon.