Episode Three: Winter. (Extra) Traffic. Fuel Scarcity. They are all hereeeeeeeeeee!!!!

Wow! December already? How time flies. Just yesterday 2018 begun, Manchester United were about to make a lucrative deal in getting Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal, the home-based Eagles were about to begin their adventure of getting walloped by Morocco at the CHAN final, Cristiano Ronaldo was still kicking it for Real Madrid, this column wasn’t up-to-date in Game of Thrones, and Lagos was swamped in traffic.

Now here we are, the final month of the year. Cristiano Ronaldo has swapped Spanish capital white for Italian old lady white and black, Monsieur Arsene Wenger is no longer Arsenal manager, Liverpool haven’t moved on from losing the Champions League final, England’s national team is actually made up of players, not white chess pieces, Thanos got all six stones, the Nigerian Professional Football League now has 148 teams, our president may be a counterfeit, and Lagos is still swamped in traffic.

But anyway, December also means a new month, which means we look back and give awards to those who deserve them the most, because no one else will…

Worst Goal of the Month

No matter how you do it, the ultimate aim of a football team in a match is to put the ball into the back of the net. Whichever way it happens, a 30-yard belter, a 12-yard penalty, a goalmouth scramble, or in the case the winners of this category, a goalkeeper making a mess of a back pass, and the ball is tackled into the net by the opposing striker, as was the case for Valladolid’s goalie Jordi Masip against Leganes’ Guido Carrillo.

Goal Buzzkill of the Month

Manchester City are nigh-on unstoppable of late, so much so that losing to the English champions by a single goal is almost a win. But one team that seems to have got their number are French side Lyon, particularly their forward Maxwel Cornet, who scored three of Les Gones’ four goals against Pep Guardiola’s side in the Champions League. Cornet’s second of those three goals looked a beauty, a curling shot that bent past Ederson and into the top corner at the Groupama stadium. Except, not quite, close look showing Cornet’s shot took a significant deflection on its way, rendering the praise given to him by commentators far too overblown, as overblown as the length of this particular category.

The Headline That Should Have Been of the Month

Chelsea at BATE Borisov. UEFA Europa League Matchday Four. The Blues managed a one-nil win in Belarus, thanks to Olivier Giroud. That gave the opportunity for this golden headline, but everyone decided not to do it. Bugger.

Biggest Reveal of the month

It was inevitable that Cristiano Ronaldo would score against Manchester United in the Champions League, and in early November he latched onto Leonardo Bonucci’s pass with a first-time volley against the Red Devils in Turin. As Ronaldo wheeled off in celebration, and showed off his abs, everyone missed the appearance of Steve Bruce, except this guy.

The Thank-goodness-for-the-offside-flag award for Miss that might have been

Yerry Mina for Everton at Stamford Bridge, who contrived to sky his shot from two yards out, and would have been relieved to see the linesman’s offside indicator.

How You Could Miss That of the Month

To paraphrase Andy Brassell’s line, how did Cengiz not put this Under the bar!

The Ted-Mosby award for Most romantic

Jose Mourinho, after Manchester United’s win over BSC Young Boys, quick to point out that of the 14 seasons he’s managed in the Champions League, he’s gone past the group stage in all of them, and the two seasons when he wasn’t participating in the Champions League, he was winning the UEFA Cup/Europa League, deeming it as a ‘message to my lovers’. While Jose Mourinho was blowing verbal air kisses and bringing verbal flowers to his heartthrobs, Ben Hayward summed up his de-evolution quite nicely.

Most Adrenaline Infused of the month

Still on Jose, over that win against Young Boys, taking his bit out on Gatorade bottles after Marouane Fellaini scored the late winner. But Jurgen Klopp ups that in the Merseyside derby, celebrating Divock Origi’s winner by running well into the pitch, before speaking about how he didn’t want to run into the pit... oh wait, this was December. Right. Carry on, Jurgen. See you next month.

Most Straightforward of the month

Hearts manager Craig Levein, explaining his team’s 5-0 hammering at the hands of Celtic, his first words being ‘the manager’s an idiot’. One for the Proper Football Men Association.

Most Thorough Description of the month

Sky Sports, who did their best to label Zeli Ismail. Top research, that.

Biggest Cop-out of the month

 

Ballybrack FC, an amateur football team in the Leinster Senior League in Ireland, got out of a match against Arklow Town by faking the death of their player Fernando Nuno La-Fuente. The match was postponed and there was even a minute’s silence for La-Fuente in every other LSL game, before league chairman David Moran dug deeper and found that the story was false. That’s one way to get out of a fixture, but what happens now, particularly after the minute’s silence? Does the league hold a minute of cacophonous noise in every game to even things out?

Mix of the month

Charlie Austin made the rounds last month, his outburst over Southampton having a goal disallowed against Watford making quite the impact, almost single-handedly bringing forth VAR. But that was little compared to the effect his rant gave to Parklife. Terrific.

Most Opinionated of the month

After that Southampton draw against Watford, manager Mark Hughes was quick to point out how the referees are costing them, and how VAR has to be implemented as soon as possible. After Southampton’s defeat to Leicester in the Carabao Cup, in which the Saints had a goal disallowed by VAR, Hughes hinted at how the technology might be hampering the game. Pick a side, Sparky!!

Stat of the month

A.) Alexis Sanchez has less Premier League goals in 2018 than Patrick Van Aanholt, as well as Chris Smalling, the latter two are defenders if you didn’t know, and have less than six goals.

B.) Manchester United ended November with a negative goal difference.

C.) Paco Alcacer has nine Bundesliga goals in two starts.

But the winner is undisputedly: D.) Chesterfield, who are winless in 19 league matches, their worst run in history. Yet in that run, The Spireites are also unbeaten in 12 games in all competitions, their best record in almost a decade. ‘It is confusing’, said coach Martin Allen, whose reaction on discovering the stat was just gold.

The It-has-to-be-Sergio-Ramos Award for shithousery

It is said that some elements of shithousery are so shithouse, they should be called ‘shithotel’, ‘shitmansion, or ‘shittowers’, just like this!

In Conclusion:

Bayern Munich won’t win the Bundesliga by 200 points this season, nobody wants to win La Liga, Serie A has just one team in it, and the next Avengers movie is likely to be out before the new NPFL season begins.

Now, get a coat and a helicopter, this will be a lonnnnnnggggg month.

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Published in International Watch

Man United players lack characters

Friday, 23 November 2018 14:51

Young United players need to show more characters, Mourinho

Ahead of the Red Devils game against Crystal Palace on Saturday, the Portuguese singled out four young players for lacking characters.

Jose Mourinho believes quartet - Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Jese Lingard are full of potentials but lack characters.

The 55-year-old, whose team are 12 points behind league leaders Manchester City publicly critise the players in an interview with Univision

“They are lacking maturity," Mourinho told Univision (translated by Goal)."I wasn’t a player, obviously, but when I say maturity I mean on a personal level.

“We had more men, we were more mature, we were more prepared for life, we were less protected.

"In English, they call it ‘spoilt’, ‘spoilt kids’. Our kids are more spoilt than we were by our parents. We are more mature, we are better prepared. For young people now, it’s a different life on a social level compared to ours.

“The people who surround the players, who protect them too much, who give them - in my opinion - too much care, too many excuses. There’s always an excuse for everything.

“Luke Shaw, who is the left-back of the national team, who arrived there [at United] two years before me. He didn’t know how to compete. He had great potential, yes, but he didn’t know how to compete

“We’re talking about Luke Shaw, Martial, Lingard, Rashford – young, big potential.”

 

 

 

Published in International Watch

Mourinho is having a problem at United because of his defenders, says Townsend

 

Andy Townsend believes Jose Mourinho’s struggles at Manchester United is as a result of the caliber of defenders at his disposal.

Townsend, a former Chelsea player believes with the way the Portuguese set-up his past team that has won him trophies, it will be nearly impossible to replicate such success with the set of defenders at Manchester United.

United are eight in the league, seven point behind Spurs, who sit fourth, and twelve points behind league leader, City.

Having suffered a 3-1 defeat to arch-rival on Sunday, Townsend said on SkySport’s debate that the former Chelsea manager has been let down by his defenders.

"Jose doesn't have a back four he can trust," Townsend said.

"The type of game he plays he needs that.

"If you look at when he was very successful at Chelsea, Inter Milan or Real Madrid, any of his teams have always had very solid, competitive and durable defenders in those teams.

"I know he's spent a lot of money and people will say he's bought Bailly and Lindelof. However, he can't get the best out of himself or Manchester United without a back four that he can lean on. He just doesn't have it."

 

 

 

 

 

Published in International Watch

Episode Two: *Puts Music Player on shuffle play*. Not this song…not this song…not this song…

Throwback memories: Come back from school on a weekday. Hurry through the irrelevances like bathing (who cares), eating (meh), and not doing homework, then you put to the television to Channels Television, for some delightful Tom and Jerry. But midway through the probably sixth episode in a row, with suspense building in, the people in charge at Channels cut you off, the ‘pa ram pam pa pa ram’ sound signifies news, so that’s the end of it, and you’ll probably never get to see the end of that episode. So, do you: a) develop eternal hate for Channels TV (yes), or b) blame yourself for not just watching Silverbird Television instead.

But we digress. It’s the second edition of the load of gobbledygook, the awards people deserve and need, but don’t know it yet; yes, that’s how we’ll console ourselves that whatever this is has relevance, and we begin with (no, not this song either…):

Father of the Month

Luis Suarez grabbed a hat-trick in Barcelona’s Clasico demolition of Real Madrid, five days after welcoming his third child, and when congratulated on his treble afterwards, he asked ‘which one?’. Iago Aspas was in hospital to see his wife give birth, spent the night in a couch, then the next day bagged a hat-trick of his own, for Celta Vigo against Eibar. But our winner is the man who showed he’s the kind of dad who’s got your back. After Julen Lopetegui got sacked by Real Madrid, his father, Jose Antonio talked about the injustice his son suffered at the Bernabeu, in terms of the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo, his words being ‘they have stolen 50 goals from my son’. Speaking of his son…

The I-Can’t-Come-and-Kill-Myself Award for Putting things in Perspective

Before Lopetegui received the sack, ahead of the Clasico defeat, the (former) Real Madrid gaffer was asked about life after the Clasico for him. His reply? ‘I expect to keep breathing whatever happens’.

Best Delivery

Soccer Nation on Julen Lopetegui getting canned by Real Madrid.

Seems-about-right Award for Best Timing

Kylian Mbappe, reprimanded by PSG manager Thomas Tuchel for turning up late for training, signs a deal to become brand ambassador for Hublot Watches about 24 hours later. Nice.

The How Could You Miss That of the Month

This is hard to explain.

The Thank-goodness-for-the-offside-flag award for Miss that might have been

Edinson Cavani’s gobsmacking miss from five yards for Paris St. Germain against Napoli in the Champions League. The offside flag didn’t quite save him from complete scrutiny, though.

The Raymond-Reddington award for Fugitive Not on the Run

Jose Mourinho; the Manchester United manager speaking, after his side’s win against Newcastle, on how there’s a manhunt about him. For a man supposedly under a manhunt, he seemed comfortable knowing the world knew his location at the time.

The Headline That Should Have Been of the month

In the Nigerian Nationwide League One this month, Fortune FC suffered a 4-3 defeat at the hands of Barrier FC. The game went unnoticed, so everyone missed out on the headline ‘BARRIER BEAT FORTUNE’. That was sitting right there.

The Lasema-Response-Unit-becomes-LRU Award for most Redundant title.

Barcelona v Real Madrid is called The Clasico, or EL Clasico, not ‘The El Clasico’, please.

Best Substitution

Not the best substitute to come in, but the best substitution to be made. Nicely done Atletico Clube Goianiense.

The Boyfriend Award for  Thoughtful Gift With Bad Execution

Queens Park Rangers' gesture on wishing Angel Rangel a happy birthday on Twitter was nice, if not routine; except Rangel's birthday wasn't for another month. But you can't beat Romanian Dunarea Calarasi, who made a thoughtful choreo for manager Dan Alexa. As thoughtful as it was awful.

The Hunter-Zolomon award for Creating Time-Remnant

Bruno is a Brighton legend in more ways than one, as the Spaniard managed to watch and play in the Seagulls’ win over West Ham at the same time.

Most absent-minded

Thierry Henry to his translator in his first press conference as Monaco manager.

Stat of the month

At the middle of October, Paco Alcacer had seven Bundesliga in 106 minutes for Dortmund. Absurd. Here’s another: Paul Pogba took longer in his penalty ‘run-up’ for Manchester United against Everton than Usain Bolt takes to run 100metres. But our winner is: Gibraltar have won more competitive games in two months than Germany have in the whole of 2018.

The Federal-Government award for Most Reasonable Defence

Tottenham v Cardiff. October 6, 2018. Spurs win by a an Eric Dier goal to nil, but the talking point comes when Cardiff’s Joe Ralls is sent off for a wild tackle on Harry Kane. Cardiff manager Neil Warnock didn’t see it as worthy of a red card, though, his claim being Ralls didn’t endanger Kane’s life. Indeed. Well Warnock does have a refereeing license.

The Not-Lauren-at-Eastlands Award for Ludicrous Own Goal

Perhaps this should be the Juninho Bacuna award. Either way, look away now Jayden Bogle.

In Conclusion: This column doesn’t like Channels TV, Arsenal are back back back, and Solari will win three Champions League titles in a row with Real Madrid. Now to anticipate the relegation battles to come in the UEFA Nations League.

Not this song…not this song… Ha, Finally!

Published in International Watch

Ola Fadahunsi

 

Putting it straight, if Jose Mourinho were to be a Nigerian, there is no way he would escape Buhari’s anti-corruption war – either by being locked up by the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or being labeled in the media as being corrupt.

Having seen his side get easily defeated by Juventus on home soil on Tuesday night, Mourinho’s post-match address posited that he needed to spend more to be at the level of the likes of Juventus, Manchester City, Real Madrid, and Barcelona level. No one will fight the Portuguese over what he believes should move the club forward, but the question to ask him how much more will he need to spend to take United to where they ought to be?

Mourinho has spent £388.89m since taking over the helm of coaching affairs at Old Trafford in May 2016. This falls short of that of neighbours City, who have spent £543.17m on recruiting players since the same period, level with Liverpool and Chelsea, both on £388.89m.

But unlike United, who generated just £85.3m from the sales of players from 2016, the trio of Manchester City, Chelsea, and Liverpool have generated £144.46m, £277.65m, and £289.65m respectively. But let’s put all these aside, and take a look at how rational Jose’s belief that United still need to spend more.

Spotkick takes a look at the 11 players Mourinho has signed since joining United since 2016, and how rational or irrational he’s with his stance that the club needs to spend more.

Paul Pogba (£94.5m): The most expensive of Mourinho’s recruitments. Expected to lead the ship of United’s new era when he was signed back to the club from Juventus in the Portuguese manager’s first season at the club, Pogba instead turns up once in five weeks. So much can be – and has been – said about Pogba, but surmising everything in Scholes words, “Pogba needs to use his brain a little more to become a top footballer.”

Romelu Lukaku (£76.23m): The Belgian has scored 31 goals in 64 appearances since joining the Club last summer, but his inability to score in big games, appalling first touch and a run of poor form of late has seen his ability as a player being questioned by many. And in the words of Scholes, “I’m not sure if you are ever going to win the league with a goal-scorer like him.

Nemanja Matic (£40.23m): The only thing you can take a jibe at Matic for is his failure not to unlock Pogba. Signed from rival Chelsea last summer, Matic, arguably, has been the most decent of all Mourinho’s signing.

Eric Bailly (£34.2m): Showed some early good signs when he joined the club last season, but injury has kept the Ivorian in and out of the team. His form this season hasn’t done himself any justice, though.

Victor Lindelof (£31.5m): Let’s just leave Lindelof.

Fred (53.1m): With Matic’s failure to unlock Pogba, Fred came. Has he unlocked Pogba? He needs to find himself a place in the starting X1 first.

Diogo Dalot (£19.8m): Had an impressive debut against Young Boys in the Champions League, but he has been unavailable since then. Too early to judge the 19-year-old old; hopefully, he will be a good buy for the future.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan (£37.8m): He was the reigning Bundesliga player of the year when he moved to United in 2016, he could not replicate the same form for the Red Devils, and in the winter of 2017, he was used for the swap deal that brought Sanchez to the club.

Lee Grant (£1.53m): Brought in as the No.3 goalkeeper for United. He had his debut when Romero was sent off in the Carabao cup game against Derby, could not save United as they lost out to the Frank Lampard’s led boys on penalties. Why spend over £1m on a 35-year-old goalkeeper, whose surprise appearance against Derby might be the last competitive game for the club, when you can promote a young goalkeeper from the academy?

In between these nine signings are Zlatan Ibrahimovic (now with LA Galaxy) and Alexis Sanchez, who came in on free and swap deals respectively. Though United did not pay to sign any of them, they were both offered a stratospheric contracts just to satisfy Mourinho. Scholes has a word to describe almost everybody at United presently, and in the case of Sanchez,”… I never saw him as a United player. I saw him as a bit selfish, someone who played for himself sometimes.”

Two things have helped Mourinho keep his job – he has built a relationship with some important ex-internationals, most notably, Gary Neville, who always throws his weight behind the 55-year-old, but blame the management for United’s woes. Secondly, the ex-players that are critical of him, he has decided not to pull a MOU at them – these are virtues that might have kept his predecessor Louis Van Gaal in the job.

With Mourinho’s persistent outcry over lack the of signings at United, it looks like it will be a game of who goes first between Ed Woodward and the former Chelsea manager.

Five windows, 11 players, and £388.89m spent, in the Woodward’s interest, send Mourinho to Nigeria, he needs to visit the EFCC office.

Published in International Watch

Jose Mourinho had said he wouldn’t go overboard celebrating Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, a sign of respect to his former side. And on Saturday lunchtime, he was hardly noticeable at the beginning, as he almost invisibly took his seat in the dugout. The manager may have been quiet in the dugout – until the final minute, that is – but on the pitch, his side were full of noise, responding from a setback once more, and very nearly getting a win at SW6 for the first time in five years.

‘The team played very well’, said the Portuguese. ‘As a team, we played very, very well. Individually, in the second half, they (the players) raised the bar, especially the attacking players who brought the game into a different dimension.’ That latter part was the area in which United’s first half was very much far from satisfactory, the only attempt they made was when Romelu Lukaku headed a cross wide from close range.

For much of the first 45, United were listless up front; the only area in which they were lacking. Their defending was very much better than the one in the first half at home to Newcastle a fortnight ago, although their defending of the corner that led to Antonio Rudiger giving Chelsea the lead would have caused the manager irritation, as it did Paul Pogba, the principal culprit.

‘We conceded a goal from a set-piece, but we were in the game so the distance between the first and second half was not as big as it was against Newcastle’, Mourinho added. And the first half was nowhere near as shoddy and hapless as it was against the Toon at Old Trafford, but Chelsea still looked comfortable, Eden Hazard not getting as much room as he has had this season, but the Blues were still in control. ‘…for 60 minutes we played our football’, said Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri. ‘Then after it was 1-1 we didn’t play our football, only long balls and we didn’t win the second balls. In this type of football United are better.’

And in and around the time United got their equaliser, they had started to look like the better side, a sustained spell of pressure arrived, Chelsea goalie Kepa had to parry away an attempt from Juan Mata seconds before Anthony Martial found the net. Then United were on top, Chelsea, as Sarri said, took their foot off the gas, even though David Luiz headed an attempt wide and Ngolo Kante forced a fine save from David de Gea.

Paul Pogba had taken control of the game, Mata was getting the freedom to roam, with Hazard and Jorginho’s influences for Chelsea subdued, and when Martial rifled home his second left, the goal seemed inevitable, and from there on it looked like there would be only one winner. Chelsea looked shorn of ideas, the passes were no longer coming off, and a first defeat at home to United since 2013 looked on the cards.

But at the last minute, something would come. With the clock running, the time for patient build-up had passed, and the Blues had to go for it, and after Luiz hit the bar with a header and De Gea saved the rebound from Rudiger, Ross Barkley popped up with the leveller in the final minute of stoppage time. ‘I’m really pleased with everything apart from the result, which is an awful result for us’, said Mourinho.

Mourinho was also at the heart of some handbags right after Barkley equalised, with one of Sarri’s assistants, Marco Ianni, celebrating the goal right in front of the United gaffer, in what seemed like a taunt. ‘…I’m not annoyed with anything’ replied Mourinho when asked about it. ‘What happened was with Sarri’s assistant and Sarri was the first one to come to me to say he would resolve the problem internally with him and, after that, his assistant came to me in Sarri’s office to apologise to me.’

Mourinho said he accepted Ianni’s apology, but most importantly, there’s a level of acceptance to United’s performances of late. There’s still enough room for improvement, but the Red Devils’ new-found knack for responding to adversity should be taken seriously.

  • Terriers show fight even if win and goals remain elusive

Another home game, another scoreless outing for Huddersfield, who haven’t celebrated a goal at their own ground since April. But unlike most performances in that time, here at home to Liverpool, the Terriers played with intent and intensity, and were very unlucky to lose to the Reds. ‘We don’t have luck,’ said manager David Wagner, and it’s hard to argue with that, on the evidence of this game, where they had more than 10 shots, but one on target, would feel they should have gotten a penalty, and also struck the post via skipper Jonathan Hogg.

‘The most important thing is that the group is mentally strong, they have shown today they are tight and that they have the willingness and desire to perform in a Huddersfield Town kit’, added Wagner, who as well as midfielder Alex Pritchard, has expressed belief that the wins will come. If they keep this up, it’s surely just a matter of time.

As for Liverpool, it was another unconvincing display, as Jurgen Klopp himself noted, but Mohammed Salah’s goal keeps them level on points with leaders Manchester City.

Elsewhere:

  • Speaking of Manchester City, the champions weren’t at their sparkling best, by their lofty standards, but still went on to put five past Burnley. City have a goal difference margin of 10 more than any other side at the moment, and there was also another moment of joy in seeing Kevin de Bruyne back in action.
  • Cardiff are finally up and running, as Neil Warnock’s side came from behind at home to beat Fulham, scoring four goals in a single game for the first time in Premier League history. As for Fulham, another defensively slapdash day sees them drop into the bottom three. If they keep conceding at this rate, they’ll end up shipping 103 goals.
  • Still at the bottom, Newcastle have dropped to the foot of the table, after losing to Brighton, a fifth successive home loss. There were boos again at fulltime, most of which were probably directed towards Mike Ashley, but surely Rafa Benitez has to start coming under pressure for losing some winnable games on home soil.
  • It was a trip back down to earth for Wolves, who were victims of Watford’s quickfire form, conceding twice in 58 seconds, for a first home defeat of the season.
  • Another game, another narrow win for Spurs, who 1-0’d their way victory again, this time at West Ham. Mauricio Pochettino’s side remain far from convincing, but are still only two points from the top.

Results

Huddersfield 0-1 Liverpool

Bournemouth 0-0 Southampton

West Ham 0-1 Tottenham

Cardiff 4-2 Fulham

Chelsea 2-2 Manchester United

Newcastle 0-1 Brighton

Wolves 0-2 Watford

Manchester City 5-0 Burnley

Everton 2-0 Crystal Palace

Monday Night Football: Arsenal v Leicester

Published in International Watch

Wenger can give Man U a fresh start- Merson

Monday, 08 October 2018 18:49

Wenger's 22-year reign with Arsenal ended at the end of last season – and the French manager has been without a job since then.

With the future of Man United boss Jose Mourinho being cast into doubt in recent days – with reports emerging on Saturday morning that the Portuguese manager would be sacked irrespective of the outcome of the game against Newcastle, Paul Merson believed Wenger could give United a fresh start.

The former Arsenal player believes with Wenger, United don’t need to spend much in the transfer window – as the Frenchman’s gem could be the deciding factor.

Ahead of the Saturday game, where United came from a 2-0 goal down to defeat Newcastle 3-2, Merson said on Skysports: Seriously, that’s not the worst idea in the world.

“You’ve got to look at what Wenger did. You don’t have to go out and buy £70m to £80m players with some of the gems he’s got over time.

“It’s not bad shout. Sometimes you just need a fresh start.”

Published in International Watch

‘You’re getting sacked in the morning’ chants came Jose Mourinho’s way early on from the Newcastle fans at Old Trafford, but this was one of those times when that overused line of words had some justification. The morning before the game against the Toon, news had started circulating about the Portuguese manager’s impending dismissal, with UK’s Daily Mirror bringing out an ‘exclusive’, which, after supposed information from ‘top sources’, stated that Mourinho was getting the sack irrespective of what happened against Newcastle. Manchester United’s board were quick to dismiss such reports, but given how the two previous managers had been dismissed, many would be forgiven for thinking there was an element of truth about the rumour.

And things looked to be going even more south on the pitch on Saturday, less than 15 minutes had been played when United found themselves two goals down, strikes from Kenedy and Yoshinori Muto from Newcastle, courtesy of some atrocious defending, seemed to put Mourinho on the brink of a p45. That the goals were easily avoidable, as well as the overall play of United in the first, once again raised the issue of whether the players were playing for the manager. At fulltime it seemed like they were, a remarkable fight-back turning a nightmarish afternoon into the stuff that’s made United so reputable and historically formidable.

Not that the manager was prioritising the players playing for him over winning for the club. ‘If the players play just for the manager, they are not good professionals because, one day, they like the manager and they play for them, and the next day comes a manager they don’t like and they don’t play for him…’ said Mourinho post-match. ‘So I think it’s ridiculous talk’.

From Mourinho’s demeanour on the pitch, it seemed like he knew a lot- if not everything- was on the line. His usual sulk of resignation when United concede bad goals lately wasn’t there, instead there was yelling, bellowing, gestures of obvious displeasure, and the tactical move of taking off Eric Bailly after 20 minutes and bringing in Juan Mata.

That was one of the changes that showed United were out to risk it all on the day, as well as the removal of Scott McTominay for Marouane Fellaini before the second half began, which meant Paul Pogba played as something of a false centre-back. ‘Of course we had some tactical touches, of course we risked a lot, of course we went in different directions’ said Mourinho, while forward Romelu Lukaku also echoed his manager’s point risking it all. ‘We thought let’s just go for it, give everything we have got’.

And it did look like United were going hammer and thongs for it, especially in the final 20 minutes, wave after wave of attack, roared on by the Old Trafford faithful, before Juan Mata and Anthony Martial dragged them level with two goals in six minutes. ‘I think, at halftime, we had a good conversation’ said Mourinho. ‘We didn’t promise each other that we are going to win the match, because we couldn’t promise that. We promised each other that we were absolutely going to give everything without any fear...’ I think the boys they deserve (the win), but even if the game ends with 2-2, even if we don’t score the last goal, the feeling would be a positive feeling…’

But they would score that last goal, an Ashley Young cross was met by the head of Alexis Sanchez, who hasn’t had the best time since swapping Arsenal for United in January. The Chilean started this game on the bench after his poor run of form, and his goal was only his fourth for the goal, but it says something that it was one of the players who has quite underperformed lately that would complete their turnaround on Saturday.

So, the question: Is this a turning point for Mourinho and United or a stay of execution? United’s kitchen-sink final 20 minutes, as pleasing and rewarding as it turned out, left holes that other sides would have capitalised on, just as other teams would have taken even more advantage of that dire first half. They travel to Chelsea next, after the international break, and whether sets the tone for their season to get back on track under Mourinho, or is just a mighty gesture of defeating defiance, remains to be seen. But at least there’s defiance in them. For once in a long time, they simply left it all on the pitch.

Cherries keep going

‘It was an incisive, efficient performance and we dealt with the physical contest really well’, said Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe after his side’s 4-0 at Watford. The comfortable victory, after which Howe said his side could still play better, puts the Cherries in sixth-place, and in the top four in terms of league goals, only Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea have found the net more often this season. The side from Dorset have 16 points after eight games this term, it took them 17 matches to reach that much in the last campaign.

Goalless at Anfield (!!)

Well congratulations and nice going to us all, our salivation over the Liverpool v Manchester City game jinxed it, as it produced only goalless game of the weekend. There was no shot on target until the 56th minute, just one overall in the first half, and there was even a penalty miss from City’s Riyad Mahrez. Absurd!

Elsewhere

  • Nine wins in a row for Arsenal, up into fourth place, braces from Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and a cheeky finish from Aaron Ramsey to boot. Only Man City has scored more league goals than Unai Emery’s side so far. It’s all coming together nicely for the Gunners.
  • So it’s a trio of twenty at the top, with City, Chelsea and Liverpool all locked on 20 points. Before Liverpool and City contrived to play a goalless stalemate, Chelsea made light work of Southampton at St. Mary’s, Eden Hazard getting on the score-sheet, as is customary, while Ross Barkley got his first for the club.
  • For Southampton, they could look back at a glaring three-yard miss from Danny Ings with the score still goalless, as their woeful run of form continued, despite the positives on show. They’ve now lost their last 31 games against top-half opposition, and since December, haven’t won as many games on their own turf as Leicester City. Yes, really.
  • It looks to be coming together for Marco Silva and Everton as well, who grabbed a second successive win, away at Leicester, thanks to a gorgeous piece of finishing from Gylfi Sigurdsson, who has three goals in two games, and looks to be hitting form for the Toffees. Leicester, for the second time in four league games, had Wes Morgan sent off.
  • Two goals in three games for Huddersfield. Don’t make it a familiar feeling, lads!
  • Crystal Palace didn’t win at home. But you knew that already.

Results

Fulham 1-5 Arsenal

Brighton 1-0 West Ham

Burnley 1-1 Huddersfield

Manchester United 3-2 Newcastle

Leicester 1-2 Everton

Liverpool 0-0 Manchester City

Crystal Palace 0-1 Wolves

Southampton 0-3 Chelsea

Watford 0-4 Bournemouth

Tottenham 1-0 Cardiff

 

Published in International Watch

It seemed too good to be true. After the pre-season build up to Jose Mourinho’s third season at Old Trafford, then the two defeats in the opening three games, three away wins in a row to repress the growing sense of discord was supposed to be perceived as a false dawn. This was Jose Mourinho’s third season at the same club after all; the house of cards are supposed to fall, the ticking time-bomb expected to go off anytime soon, and successive victories at Burnley, Watford, and Swiss side Young Boys are just gestures of defeating defiance.

So, three successive games without a win since that victory in the Champions League seem more like it, first a draw at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers, then a penalty shootout defeat to Derby County in the League Cup, all mixed with off-field chaos. First Paul Pogba pointed out that United need to attack more, after the draw with Wolves, then Mourinho announced that the Frenchman would never captain the side again, and, after the League Cup exit at the hands of Championship side Derby, footage appeared of a supposed hubbub between the player and manager.

And the week was capped off with a hapless defeat at West Ham on Saturday. There was general bafflement at Mourinho’s system at the London Stadium, the decision to play Scott McTominay in a back three, the apparent game plan of trying to sit back and exercise caution away at a West Ham side, who had beaten United once in the last 21 meetings, and had one won of their last 12 home league games before this encounter.

United look second-best from the get-go, and only five minutes had gone when Felipe Anderson scored for West Ham. ‘We were a team that comes with that mental fragility of a bad result (that Derby match)’ said Mourinho. ‘Coming here and after five minutes we were losing 1-0, which is not the best way to start’. Mourinho also pointed out, and rightly so, that Pablo Zabaleta was offside in the build-up to Anderson’s opener, but the linesman was given cause for hesitation after McTominay failed to keep in line with the rest of the defence, highlighting his exoticism in that position.

The Red Devils did grow into the game, putting West Ham on the back foot, Romelu Lukaku hitting the outside of the post with a header, yet when the next goal came, it was into the back of David de Gea’s net once more, Andriy Yarmolenko’s shot ricocheting in off Victor Lindelof. Mourinho noted the lack of aggression at West Ham’s second goal, and to be fair, the aggression was lacking all-game, the Portuguese manager citing flaws in United’s ‘mental approach in certain duels’. Even in United’s best spells, they could barely fashion out anything, despite the fact that Marcus Rashford halved the deficit before Marko Arnautovic put them out of the picture. 

So, who’s to blame? Who’s been to blame all season? The players, for looking so off the pace, and performing nowhere near their best? The manager, for constantly talking down the club’s chances all-season? The vice-chairman, for keeping hold of players Mourinho seemed to be happy to let go, and for not backing him enough in the summer window?

Either way, a split for Mourinho and United looks inevitable, like the players are waiting for it, the manager is waiting for it, the media are waiting for it, and it’s almost a matter of ‘how soon’. To paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson as Augustus Gibbons: checkmate in three, Jose. You should see it coming.

Elsewhere:

  • Not that United’s current state of tartness should take the shine off what has been a positive couple of weeks for West Ham. Seven points from three league games for Manuel Pellegrini’s side, after none in the previous four. The Hammers have finally got going.
  • Stat attack: Manchester United conceded their 12th league goal of the season at West Ham. It took them until December 17th to concede that much last season.
  • It seemed like there would be no breakthrough for Liverpool, who fell behind at Chelsea to the in-form Eden Hazard, as they headed for a second defeat to Chelsea in four days. On Wednesday, in the League Cup, it was a moment of brilliance from Hazard that decided the game in Chelsea’s favour. This time, it was Daniel Sturridge who produced a bit of magic late on, to drag the Reds level. Jurgen Klopp’s side no longer has a 100% league record, but they showed another form of persistence and quality to fashion out a point at the Bridge.
  • Two minutes. Two goals. Just like it was for them at home to Everton, Arsenal delivered quickfire strikes to see off Watford. Alexandre Lacazette was lively again, despite not scoring, but questions remain on how the Frenchman’s form and presence lessens the influence of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Gunners were still far from convincing in an end-to-end game, but most importantly, have garnered five league wins in a row.
  • There were boos at the end at St. James Park, after Newcastle lost at home once again, their fourth league loss on their backyard in four games this season, at the hands of Leicester. A trip to Manchester United up next means things are unlikely to get better soon.
  • That looked more like it for Everton at Goodison Park, who scored three without conceding against Fulham, a double from Gylfi Sigurdsson, who initially missed a penalty, for only a second league win of the season for Marco Silva’s side.
  • Harry Kane looked quite sharp at Brighton a week ago, and he certainly looked just as strident at Huddersfield this weekend, as his double led to Spurs’ second league win in a row at the John Smith’s Stadium. Huddersfield remain just as hapless as they are winless.
  • And Southampton lost without scoring. Would you believe it?

Results

West Ham 3-1 Manchester United

Manchester City 2-0 Brighton

Huddersfield 0-2 Tottenham

Wolves 2-0 Southampton

Newcastle 0-2 Leicester

Arsenal 2-0 Watford

Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool

Cardiff 1-2 Burnley

Everton 3-0 Fulham

Monday Night Football: Bournemouth v Crystal Palace

 

 

Published in International Watch

Pogba is not as good as he thinks he is

The former Liverpool defender said he has grown tired of people making excuses for the highly rated France midfielder.

Jamie Carragher has said Jose Mourinho had his backings over the Portuguese manager row with Paul Pogba, who Mourinho announced on Tuesday that he would no longer wear United’s captaincy armband anymore.

The duo of Mourinho and Pogba endured strain relationship for the latter part of last season, but fury was re-ignited of late when Mourinho criticised his team after last Saturday 1-1 draw at home against Wolves.

Pogba, on Monday, speaking to reporters launched attacks on his coach tactics – saying United needs to attack more when playing

Carragher said on Sky Sports Football that Pogba “is not as good as he thinks he is.”

“He’s got talent, but his big problem is his understanding of the game. It has been a problem since he came, and it hasn’t changed now.

“You can sum Paul Paul Pogbas Man Utd career up in the last two games. He scored a great goal against Young Boys, showing his quality, but then gets robbed of the ball on the halfway line, falls over doesn’t break his neck to get back against Wolves and there’s an equalizing goal.

“That sums it up.”

The 38 capped English international went further to discuss the Mourinho-Pogba feud.

“People are saying Mourinho is causing problems, taking the captaincy off him, but he’s not really a captain, is he, in terms of how he plays? He’s letting his agent speak negatively about the club, how can that happen if he’s that man for Man Utd, fighting for the club, fighting for the manager.

“Jose Mourinho has got his problems in terms of the end of the season… But in terms of this confrontation, I’d be with Mourinho before I’d be with Pogba.

“… People talk about Matic coming in, Fred coming in to help Pogba. Help yourself! I’m sick of excuses for big players and managers not getting the best out of you.”

 

 

Published in International Watch

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