It may sound strange to campaign for one of the world’s most highly regarded football managers to be given more credit, given how highly fêted he is, but there are still plenty of “Einstein’s,” to quote his great rival José Mourinho, that are looking to discredit the Catalan. Following a couple of poor results – a 3-3 draw at Celtic Park in the Champions League, and a 2-0 reverse at White Hart Lane – people were eager to stick the knife in and proclaim him a charlatan.
Snappy Spurs stun Citizens
Tottenham deservedly won at home against league leaders Manchester City this weekend. Seemingly inspired by the way Celtic caused City problems in midweek with high pressing and direct attacking, Spurs used both masterly to outplay their visitors and condemn them to their first defeat under Pep. Something that was lost in most summaries of the game, despite a fleeting acknowledgement of Wanyama’s excellent display on MOTD2, was the effectiveness of Spurs’s frequent, snappy fouls. The high press and the quick passing was vital, but so was their niggling ability to physically impose themselves onto City without the referee ever dishing out real punishment. This has been an under observed hallmark of Pochettino’s Spurs, whose end-of-season meltdown at Chelsea was in part due to the ever present physical bite being pushed into overdrive by the situation and a provocative opponent. Perhaps City’s greatest failing on Sunday, rather than being outplayed, was failing to return the home side’s highly-strung physicality.
Klopp’s turned corner
Dyche-iola channels inner Allardyci
Sean Dyche’s comments about ‘own-brand’ jeans may have quickly become one of the quotes of the season. In the wake of Burnley’s win over Liverpool last week, he was reveling in the role as Allardyce’s heir: the English manager with a massive chip on his shoulder bemoaning how his ‘own-brand’ skills are overlooked by bigger clubs in favour of ‘designer’ (read ‘foreign’) managers that are actually no more brilliant than he. He may have a point. He has done a very decent job with a side lacking huge resources. He may yet get a chance at a bigger domestic club.
Antonio makes history and strengthens national claim
Scoring the last goal at an iconic English stadium would be plenty enough for most English players to retire on. Not content however, West Ham’s Michail Antonio then proceeded to score the first league goal at the new London Stadium, and in the process bagged his side a win in their dour match with Bournemouth. While the game was one the Premier League will want to bury far from its ‘best league in the world’ reputation, the Hammers’ versatile midfielder – a signing from lower in the English leagues – continued to impress. He is the blend of muscular, composed and direct play that fans across the country love, and has showcased decent flexibility in a West Ham career that has often had him playing away from his preferred wide-right position. The arrival of ‘Big Sam’ to the England job has many clamouring for more ‘common sense’ squad inclusions to counter the supposed past generations of pampered ‘softies’. Both on his skill set and tactical flexibility, few deserve a ‘common-sense’ call-up more than this man.
Klopp already dividing Kop?
Stones and Sterling impress; Pep with work to do
After a summer filled with new arrivals and all the hype surrounding the new manager, Manchester City kicked off the new season with a surprisingly familiar sort of victory against a dogged Sunderland side. True, there were innovations. Outlets such as Match of the Day were hypnotised by the formational twists, with the fullbacks coming inside and many of the side constantly flitting between different positions in a fluid tactical system. Also, two of the players under the biggest pressure impressed. Stones looked composed having been thrown into the first team days after signing, while Sterling hopefully began to put a miserable last few months behind him with one of his best ever City performances.
Following in David Moyes’ footsteps, Jose Mourinho opened his “competitive” account as Manchester United manager by winning the traditional season curtain raiser at Wembley, the Community Shield. Mourinho was presented to the press a month earlier, as he embarked on an epic one hour press conference which included thinly veiled digs at Louis Van Gaal and Arsene Wenger, as well as a Rafa Benitez-esque rant about his history of developing youth team players. If anything, Mourinho’s press conference proved one thing: Manchester United are still the biggest draw in town, blowing Pep Guardiola’s unveiling a day prior out of the water.
With under a fortnight left until the recommencing of the new Premier League season, it has almost been lost that Manchester City have had a summer of major change. The recent drama surrounding their local rival’s pursuit of Paul Pogba could give the impression that it is only United that have undergone an off-season of significant transformation. This may have come a lot from how City, much like when Pellegrini replaced Mancini, did much of their big business early on in the summer. Before the Euros began, and bringing to a close one of the most obvious will-he-won’t-he sagas in recent sporting history, Pep Guardiola was announced as the club’s new manager. City’s owners and former Barcelona board members have long expressed their interest in recreating Catalonian success in East Manchester, and had been courting Pep for years before he eventually signed at the end of last season. And now, with such a short time to go, how much has changed? The short answer: it’s unclear.
Tales from the Top Flight, Chris Darwen’s third book, is a review of the 2015-16 Premier League season in a diary format. Anyone familiar with the author’s first two books, the fictional series following the career of “Johnny Cooper”, manager of Mansfield Town in Chris’ Championship Manager saves, will be aware of the format as it follows a similar pattern.
The saga surrounding Ryan Giggs’ future has gone on longer than an Eastenders Christmas special, but finally we all received a little bit of closure over the weekend. Giggs announced, after almost 30 years association, that he would be leaving Manchester United in search of pastures new. Following his role as assistant to both David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal, and having completed all of the necessary badges and qualifications, Giggs felt he was ready for the top job. The club’s hierarchy, reeling after the disastrous spells of the two aforementioned managers, obviously felt otherwise and plumped for the “guaranteed” success offered by José Mourinho.
Louis Van Gaal has been a dead man walking since before Christmas, and now it appears his appeals have run out and his execution date is set in stone. According to most sources, the worst kept secret in football will soon be out of the bag and the Dutchman will be replaced in the Old Trafford dug out José Mourinho. Even with things at their worst, speculation still mounted that Van Gaal would keep his job and see out the final year of his three-year contract. It now appears that won’t happen.