The beginning of October cannot win you the Premier League title. Manchester United, however, can lose the title at this stage of the season and have already said goodbye to being Premier League champions. I watched their match against West Ham and the old Mourinho magic just isn’t there. His teams were always well organised and controlled despite being cautious. The team I watched lacked desire, fight and passion. During the entire match they registered only 59 sprints and Lukaku registered only four. West Ham substitute Michall Antonio recorded the same number in seven minutes. United’s inability to break down West Ham’s defence with front running football was quite obvious. There was no cohesive strategy, no plan to attack the Hammers at the back and the forward line were virtually asleep for much of the match. It appears all the squabbling and in-fighting behind the scenes has finally filtered down to the entire team, who showed no heart for a fight despite Mourinho claiming the opposite. But there is one thing, more than any other, which will sink Mourinho if he allows it to happen. The players are expected to perform because they earn huge salaries. The fans, however, do not have to support Mourinho and I can tell you that they are getting tired of him. The proof was obvious in the midweek Champion’s League match against Valencia. United were well below their best but there were not the usual amount of fans there to witness it. Red Devils’ favourites David Beckham and Ryan Giggs were there but the upper tiers of the stadium were empty. The fans have put up with losses, in-fighting between manager and players and poor performances for far too long this season. Gone are the days of swashbuckling attacking football in the era of Sir Alex Ferguson when getting an entry ticket was like gold dust. Instead, the drab, boring football of Mourhinho (that is how the fans are describing United’s play strategies) has turned many of them off and they stayed at home. If Mourinho loses the fans, he is finished. It is one thing to take on a superstar player who needs disciplining but it is quite another if the fans turn against you. Mourinho should be very careful and if results don’t improve and there is no end to the in-fighting, I cannot see Mourinho being manager after the new year.
Liverpool v Manchester City
Tomorrow’s match between Liverpool and Manchester City pitches the two Premier League front-runners head-to-head. In-form City striker Sergio Aguero has been speaking about his desire to end his Anfield goal drought. He has never scored at the home of the Reds. City captain Vincent Kompany said on Tuesday that his team are ready for the challenge and the midweek Champion’s League win over Hoffenheim will not affect their focus for the Liverpool game. He said: “These are games you want to win. They are a team in-form and at Anfield, we know it will be a difficult game for us but I think our City side has shown in the past that we are always up for these games.” All supporters’ eyes will be on the strikers but the eyes of Brazil and their scouts will be on the two goalkeepers… each competing to be their national keeper. Brazilians Alisson and Ederson will have to be on top form against some of the world’s most lethal strikers and each knows that a mistake could cost them personally. City’s David Silva is in brilliant form and he has won two European Championships and one World Cup but the Champion’s League is the one that drives him forward. He is 32 years-old now and does not have many more chances but this week he got City’s European assault back on track with a great goal to beat Hoffenheim and this weekend he will be looking to do the same against Liverpool. Pep Guardiola said in a lavish appraisal of Silva, “He is one of the very best players I have ever trained. I’ve had a lot of talent at Barca and Bayern and David is up with the best.”
Sarri complains about fixture clashes
When I was at Chelsea this week manager Maurizio Sarri said he is likely to rotate his players more because of the Europa League when teams play on a Thursday evening. Mauricio said that the Italian system was better because teams who played in Europe on a Thursday are then scheduled to play a major Serie A match on a Monday evening and thus giving the players time to recover. In the Premier League the FA’s governing body schedules a club’s next match on a Sunday which, says Sarri, is not enough time to recover and gives their opponents a decisive advantage. Chelsea face Southampton in a testing game on Sunday and the last time the Saints played was seven days before which is five days more rest than the Chelsea players.
Huddersfield lack bite up front
Huddersfield are propping up the rest of the Premier League as they sit at the bottom of the table. I haven’t heard a bad word said against manager David Wagner who is very popular within the game. But Huddersfield have a real threat of relegation hanging over them even at this early stage in the season. They have a strong defence but lack bite up front. Wagner said this week, “We know where our problem is. We have a goal shooting problem.” With only two recognised strikers in Laurent Depoitre and Steve Mounie it seems that Huddersfield’s spending in the summer transfer period was perhaps not focused in the right areas. The January window could put that right.
Hart showing what he is made of
I am very pleased for goalkeeper Joe Hart. After several seasons when the former England No1 was unwanted by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, loaned out to Italian club Napoli and then to West Ham. Joe finally found a new home at Burnley. After an horrendous start to the new season Burnley have now won back to back games and can thank Joe Hart. At Cardiff last Saturday the home fans taunted Joe with chants of “Joe Hart, Joe Hart, England’s No4”. Joe took it all in his stride and pulled off a series of wonder saves including an incredible diving finger tip save from Josh Murphy which even had the Cardiff manager Neil Warnock applauding! As Murphy was convinced he had scored Joe brushed the ball over the top of his goal. To demonstrate just how effective the goalkeeper was, Cardiff had 19 shots on goal and only one went in which set up Burnley to win 2-1 thanks to Joe.
No problem between Mane and Salah
Given that Liverpool are the team to beat at the moment, the critics have been looking for cracks in their team. It was Mane and Salah who came in for rumour scares with certain people saying they weren’t getting along and the fact that Mane went a whole game recently without passing to Salah proved it. But they are wrong! In fact going through the stats (I am never sure who assembles these amazing game by game statistics!) they prove that Mane and Salah have so far created 10 more chances for each other than any other pairing in the Premier League. No worries then.
Deeney and Arnautovich lead by example
In an age where footballers roll over at the slightest touch and pretend they are injured, Watford’s Troy Deeney is a giant. Following a training ground clash he ended up with two broken toes and he also suffered ankle ligament damage because of a shocking tackle from Fulham’s Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Did Troy cry off sick? No, he told his manager Javi Cracia that he was fit for duty against Arsenal. The Hornets talisman said, “It will take more than a couple of broken toes to stop me playing against Arsenal away.” Another player leading by example is West Ham’s Marko Arnautovich. He scored in the 3-1 win over Man Utd despite being advised by the Hammer’s medical team not to play with a knee injury. He said, “I have to say this week I was not 100 per cent, I still feel my knee. I did just two training sessions but I wanted to play. I have pain but you can overcome that. The medical team say don’t play but I think just forget the pain and play and help the team.”
The penny drops for Sane
Manchester City’s Leroy Sane appears to have turned the corner in his attitude problem. He has been recalled to the German national squad after missing out on the World Cup and behind closed doors at City even Pep Guardiola and his team had worries about the young man’s lack of respect for those around him. Sane was left in no doubt about his attitude when he was left out of the City’s pre-season first team squad and was left on the substitute’s bench. Then, at the beginning of the Premier League season Riyad Mahrez was picked instead of Sane for the first four league games. Finally Sane seems to have understood that at the level he is playing, for big teams and high profile managers, such poor behaviour is unacceptable. During the last four games Sane has been outstanding and Pep Guardiola has personally complimented him for his contributions to City’s excellent performances.