Premier League Review: Mourinho’s Blame Game
We had been led to believe that Jose Mourinho’s appointment at Old Trafford would have some sort of medicinal effect on two distinctly tainted Premier League brands. Mourinho’s partial operating system failure during the first half of last season at Chelsea and Manchester United’s failure to track down a post-Ferguson footballing identity beyond playing stultifying football and not winning as many matches as the club’s supporters have come to expect were, it was widely assumed, expected to vanish into the night with this coming together, and there were early signs that a corner might have been turned for both during the early weeks of the season.
Over the eight days to last Sunday, however, cracks have started to show. The weekend before last’s Manchester derby was an exceptional event, and there was nothing to panic about in losing narrowly to a team that has exploded into life in the way that Manchester City have done this season. This loss did, however, offer a slightly hollow tone to the proclamations that the Europa League didn’t matter. A one-nil loss to Feyenoord may well turn out to be inconsequential in terms of the short-form story of Manchester United’s season in years to come, but it felt like the wrong result for this team at the wrong time, a feeling only accentuated by a shambolic performance and toothless defeat at the hands of Watford on Sunday lunchtime.
In the aftermath of this loss, a familiar cast of characters was deemed by Jose Mourinho as being to blame for this defeat. The referee (of course), the players (who can’t handle the pressure, apparently), but, as per what we have come to expect over the last ten or twelve years or so, not the manager himself. It’s still too early to say where this chapter in the Manchester United story ends, but three successive defeats in eight days in an era of an impish media and supporters who expect instant gratification doesn’t particularly augur for a happy ending, especially when we consider that Manchester City continue to purr along like a perfectly-tuned engine. Not even Smokin’ Jack Wilshere could prevent a four-nil defeat for Bournemouth at the City of Manchester Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The weekend had started on Friday night with another incidence of that most modern of football phenomenons, the rivalry between Chelsea and Liverpool. As so often happens in these matches, the eventual determination of the three points was determined by a moment of magnificence, a superb goal from distance to cap an accomplished performance from Jordan Henderson, but this was a win that Liverpool thoroughly deserved, one which marks them out as being, on the basis of what we’ve seen so far, one of the few that may be capable of giving Manchester City something approaching a run for their money this season, and their start to the season looks all the more impressive when we consider that their ten points so far this season have come from a home win against the champions Leicester City, away wins at Arsenal and Chelsea, and an away draw at Tottenham Hotspur. Chelsea, meanwhile, still have a patchwork feel to them, as though they remain for now a work in progress.
Now that the evenings are starting to draw in, of course, European matches will start to wreak their own havoc upon weekend Premier League schedules. Saturdays fixtures came replete with goals – twenty in five games – but few genuine talking points. We do, however, need to talk about West Ham United’s defence. At West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, they shipped four goals with a defensive performance that veered wildly between self-destructive, uncoordinated and just plain old incompetent, this was not something that could be explained away by teething pains from the increasingly fractious move to the Olympic Stadium. This is the responsibility of the manager to put right, one wouldn’t have wanted to be a West Ham player turning up to training yesterday morning.
The issue that mattered on Saturday was the continuing good form of Everton, who rained in three goals upon Middlesbrough with one in reply in the evening match, all of which included one for Gareth Bareth, on his six hundredth Premier League appearance. Everton have now won four in a row and sit in second place behind Manchester City. Ronald Koeman is currently dismissing the possibility of a championship challenge as “crazy” (and it might well be), but considering what happened last season, that talk will continue to grow until they do fall away. Elsewhere, Leicester City seem to have regained a bit of their composure, with an excellent Champions League win during the week and a comfortable swatting aside of an inferior Burnley on Saturday afternoon, whilst Arsenal missed a penalty and played fifty minutes against ten men following the first half sending off of Jake Livermore for Hull. It’s difficult to say what this win does or doesn’t say about Arsenal. It was a stroll in the park by the end, though.
The lord giveth, the lord taketh away. There were thirty minutes between the return of a goalscoring Harry Kane and an injury that may keep him out for up to two months. His goal did, at least, earn three points, the only goal from a one-nil win against a moribund looking Sunderland which may easily have been won by a wider margin. Southampton only required a sole goal to beat Swansea City too. For Stoke City, though, a miserable season continued with a four-one defeat at Crystal Palace, the second match in a row (and the third in total) in which they have conceded four goals. Mark Hughes is a wizened old pro in the managerial stakes, but something has to change in the Potteries, and soon.