Why Jose Mourinho should never have been sacked as Manchester United manager

Since Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United in 2013 it has been quite a nightmarish ride for the fans who were so used to seeing multiple successes, good players and great games at the club.

It’s been a shock for United at how many plans have failed since Ferguson left. David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and current manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have all tried to put United back on the map. But the club are certainly going backwards albeit with a certain glimmer of light, which just about still shines in the halls of Old Trafford.

In the 6 years since United have won 3 trophies, 2 of them the Europa League and League Cup were won with Jose Mourinho in charge, and he also led the club to 2nd place in the league- their best ever finish post Ferguson. One wonders if United made a huge error sacking Mourinho? Of course at the time it did look like the best option. United were losing every week and misery seemed to be engulfed with the club. For reasons we will most probably find out in a players book Mourinho had lost the dressing room, but how is that different from the other coaches who have managed at the club.

When David Moyes arrived at Everton, then defender Rio Ferdinand admitted that he had no respect for the ex-Everton manager, this before Moyes had properly overseen his first game. Van Gaal seemed like an odd appointment, a brilliant one had it been the 1990s, but in 2014? The Dutchman was well past his sell by date, he lost some games you would have expected United to win but he did win the FA Cup as a parting gift. Solskjaer started well but has been a nightmare coach for the club, some of his buys have been inspired and he wants to do his best, but he simply looks like a small fish in a vast ocean.

Mourinho needed a clear out of players if he was to stay, and the one negative you could say about him is the special one is pretty useless at rebuilding teams and leaving some sort of legacy for the next manager. But what he does deliver are trophies, he just needs the sort of players that will train hard and work hard for him, that wasn’t going to be the case at United.

Records of Manchester United managers since Sir Alex Ferguson:

David Moyes win rate= 52.9%

Louis van Gaal win rate= 52.4%

Jose Mourinho win rate= 58.3%

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer win rate (so far) = 51.1%

Will January additions ease Man City’s defensive crisis?

As soon as Aymeric Laporte hobbled off injured during Manchester City’s 4-0 home win over Brighton in late August projections were made over how it would affect the defending Premier League champions. Amid all the doom and gloom, nobody expected that Laporte’s absence would be so costly.

Only eight games of the 2019/20 Premier League season have been played, but Liverpool already hold an eight point lead over Pep Guardiola’s side. City have suffered collapses against Norwich City and Wolves with their defence especially vulnerable following the injury to John Stones.

Guardiola has so far failed to find a suitable solution to ease Man City’s problems at the back. The Catalan has used Fernandinho as a centre back in Laporte and Stones’ absence. This is designed to keep the link between City’s defence and midfield intact, with the Brazilian key to bringing the ball out from the back.

However, Fernandinho isn’t a defender and that has been obvious in the games he has played at centre back. And so talk has started over who City could target in the January transfer window. The Etihad Stadium outfit might spend their way out of trouble.

Ruben Dias has most recently been linked with a move to the Premier League champions. This isn’t the first time that the Benfica defender has been linked with a move to England, with Manchester United also reported to be interested in the Portuguese international. He would be a shrewd addition for either team.

Guardiola does have a centre back that he has only used off the bench during this injury crisis. Eric Garcia is highly rated as a young defender, but the Man City boss has so far been overlooked in favour of square pegs in round holes. Another expensive signing like Dias would only underline how Guardiola hasn’t yet held up his end of the bargain as an advocate of youth.

However, it’s true that City needed a new centre back before the injuries to Laporte and Stones even hit. Vincent Kompany left them short of options in defence, leaving the Etihad Stadium for Anderlecht. Nicolas Otamendi isn’t a player Man City can depend on, as has been demonstrated over the past few weeks. Rather than fixing new problems, the signing of someone like Dias would patch things up that date back to the summer.

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Phil Foden must demand more game time from Pep Guardiola

Phil Foden was given the grand total of one minute of game time at the end of Manchester City’s Champions League group stage game against Dinamo Zagreb, but that’s all he required to make an impression, finding the net to cap a comfortable, if uninspiring, win on Tuesday night.

The 19-year-old must have felt a burning sense of vindication. Foden has found himself on the peripheries of the City first team so far this season, making just one substitute cameo in eight Premier League games. In fact, his only start this season came in the Carabao Cup win over Preston North End.

After the Champions League win over Dinamo Zagreb, Guardiola was keen to apologise to Foden for not giving him more time on the pitch. “He deserves to play. I want to give him minutes. Every time I don’t play him, I am in front of him saying I’m sorry,” said the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss.

“But it’s Kevin de Bruyne there, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, David Silva, Ilkay Gundogan, I’m so sorry. I know the best way to grow up is to play minutes, but he’s so young. I don’t know how many players that age play have played more minutes in the recent past, the minutes he has played the last season with us, but he’s going to be an incredible player for us in the future. We trust in him a lot. But it is what it is.”

But Guardiola needs to stop apologising to Foden and start giving him the game time he deserves. This is a player who has been billed as a one in a generation talent. A player Guardiola has gushed about time and time again. But the Catalan’s team selections paint a very different picture.

It’s time for Foden to start demanding first team football or start plotting a route out of the Etihad Stadium. Now 19 years old, the midfielder must start developing week-on-week. Guardiola has previously said that he wants Foden to be more vocal, to find his voice. Well, now is the time for the teenager to knock on the manager’s door.

There is no denying Foden’s talent and there is some weight in the theory that he is in the best possible place for his development. He is a City academy product and Guardiola has a track record in bringing through players of his type. But that theory falls down if he’s only being given next to no game time.

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Manchester United’s fall from grace will be underlined by a lack of quality strikers

When Manchester United lost to West Ham, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was asked about his lack of strikers, especially if one of them gets injured like in the case of Anthony Martial. He responded diplomatically by suggesting that on the strikers department there isn’t a problem and seemed happy with that statement. His eyes seemed to say something else though and a few days later in his own press conference he mentioned that the club will be looking for a striker to come in for January.

It is hard to think of a United side who have looked so average up front. At the end of the day Anthony Martial who came from Monaco ended up being the striker that could have been and the one that got away from United was actually the other youngster coming up the ranks in Kylian Mbappe who now plays for PSG.

Marcus Rashford is a quality striker when on form and has got some important goals for the club. However he is 22 and maybe more would have been expected of him given that he has never scored more than 10 league goals in his career, and he has spent 5 seasons with the club. This isn’t to say that Rashford doesn’t deserve his place because he does and plays off well in the team.

Daniel James can attack too and he looks one for the future, and the three attackers have scored 8 of United’s goals from 9 this season. But at the same time United not only have young strikers and no stardust if you like, but also players that can perform on their day but simply aren’t consistent enough, and that will be key in thinking United may not even finish in the top six this season. At this rate top 4 looks very distant too.

It’s hard to think that this situation would have been allowed under Sir Alex Ferguson and that was to sell Romelu Lukaku for over £70m but not replace him, that seemed like an odd choice. Instead United went for defence and brought in Harry Maguire for £80m, but the club need to be in a situation where they could have afforded both targets. If one looks at Mauro Icardi for example, a goalscorer that was bought by PSG as they believed Neymar would be sold and they had injuries up front, instead of resting on their laurels the club knew they had to bring in quality, and they did.

United seemed to have taken their eye off the ball and even if they can navigate themselves until January, that is a month where traditionally the best players are not available. A penny for your thoughts, Ole?

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West Ham- the surprise team of the Premier League so far

Not many pundits or fans would have predicted that West Ham would be in 4th position in the Premier League after 7 games but that is exactly where they are, and they still have room for improvement.

It started off so badly in the league for the Hammers, who were literally hammered at home by champions Manchester City 5-0. Sometimes you have to hold your hands up against the champions and a loss is a loss. But it was the manner in which West Ham gave up and complete with a toothless performance which led many to think that Manuel Pellegrini’s team could struggle this season, not so.

That loss has been the only one so far for the Irons who have gone on to win 3 and draw 3. They have now gone 6 games unbeaten, with the best of the bunch result arguably being against Manchester United where the club won 2-0.

The winning feels great but any fan will tell you they have seen much better, even in recent seasons and there is a sense that the Hammers aren’t playing great football, but are getting the positive results.

This is all fantastic news for a club that usually have to step back into the shadows when it comes to the big London teams of Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham. But as it stands West Ham are proving their worth.

A lot of credit needs to go down to manager Manuel Pellegrini, who has taken his time with a squad that have faced many long term injuries last season. One such player was Andriy Yarmolenko who missed almost the entire season. Well he has already bagged a few goals this term and is turning into somewhat of a cult hero. Good times are here at West Ham, and perhaps they deserve it after all of the problems they have been through.

The club play Crystal Palace at home next weekend and then Everton away followed by Sheffield United at home. One could expect at least 6 points from those games.

There are still the question marks, like for example how can a team who dream of finishing high up and then to play in Europe justify losing to Oxford United 4-0 and get knocked out of the Carabao Cup. True Pellegrini did make 9 changes but even so, there was plenty of quality on the field.

It was a huge loss, and maybe the only way to chase those demons is to watch again in a few years. Finally Pellegrini seems to have the team he wants and he is implementing perfectly. The game should be a classic.

 

 

Alisson injury has underlined Liverpool’s strength under Jurgen Klopp

When Alisson Becker was withdrawn through injury midway through Liverpool’s opening game of the Premier League season against Norwich City a sense of dread set in around Anfield. The Brazilian goalkeeper was key to the Reds’ success the season before, providing a sense of stability that had been so desperately lacking before his arrival. Everyone remembers Loris Karius’ performance in the 2018 Champions League final.

Indeed, Alisson’s early season injury was seen as a big blow to Liverpool and their chances of winning a first Premier League title. Adrian was thrown into the first team just weeks after he was signed as a free agent during the summer and there were some initial signs of shakiness from the deputy. Since then, however, the dread has ebbed away.

Liverpool have barely missed Alisson. The Brazilian might have helped his team to one or two more clean sheets, particularly in the Champions League group stage defeat suffered away to Napoli, but the Anfield side currently sit top of the Premier League table, five points clear of defending champions Manchester City, with six wins from their opening six fixtures.

Alisson could make a return to first team action this weekend with Jurgen Klopp’s side taking on Sheffield United on Saturday afternoon. However, in his absence Liverpool’s strength was underlined. While Man City have struggled without Aymeric Laporte, with the Frenchman ruled out for five to six months through injury, Liverpool absorbed the injury to their starting goalkeeper.

Liverpool’s depth has been questioned. It’s true that City have greater options from front to back, left to right. Pep Guardiola has the likes of Leroy Sane, Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden in reserve, Klopp has players of a lower calibre. But it might just be the case that Klopp’s philosophy as a coach and the way it keeps his team playing in the same manner no matter who is on the pitch is sustaining them.

City over the past two seasons set a new precedent at the top of the Premier League table. Guardiola’s side might well be the best team in the division’s history. But Liverpool have started extremely strongly and it’s difficult to envisage where they might stumble. While many feared that Alisson’s injury would expose any weaknesses they had, it actually served only to highlight and demonstrate just how strong they are.

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Liverpool can’t get comfy… they have defensive problems too

Five games played, five points clear at the top of the table… Jurgen Klopp must be privately smug about Liverpool’s start to the 2019/20 Premier League season. The German must have watched with a trademark Cheshire Cat grin painted across his face as defending champions Manchester City suffered a shock loss in East Anglia last weekend.

However, that grin might have been wiped away by what Liverpool suffered themselves in Italy on Tuesday night, with Napoli exposing the defensive vulnerabilities of Klopp’s team to claim a 2-0 victory on opening night of the new Champions League campaign.

In isolation, the defeat to Napoli is nothing to worry too much about. Carlo Ancelotti’s team also beat Liverpool in the Champions League group stages last season and it didn’t stop the Reds from going on to win a sixth European crown. But the result and performance must serve as a warning to Klopp and his players.

Indeed, Liverpool can’t afford to get comfy in their current position. They might have won their opening five Premier League fixtures, but there have been signs in their performances over the past few weeks that defensive vulnerabilities are starting to creep into their game. The lapses made against Napoli didn’t come completely out of the blue.

Norwich City troubled Liverpool on opening night of the 2019/20 Premier League before they toppled Man City a month later. The 4-1 scoreline somewhat flattened the Anfield side. Southampton also gave Liverpool something to think about and perhaps should have taken points off last season’s Premier League runners up. Even Newcastle United manager to take the lead against the Reds on Saturday before eventually succumbing to defeat. They could have scored a second as well.

For all that Liverpool’s attacking potency makes them the team they are, it was their defensive record that last season provided a basis for a challenge both in the Premier League and Champions League. Virgil Van Dijk has made a profound impact since arriving at Anfield from Southampton 18 months ago.

But cracks are starting to appear in that basis. So far, Liverpool have been able to absorb this, as demonstrated by their current position at the top of the Premier League table. But Klopp must recognise the recent shortcomings of his team, what the defeat to Napoli signified and how Man City’s troubles could also afflict them.

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Why isn’t Raheem Sterling being mentioned as a potential Ballon d’Or contender?

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City doesn’t really have a face. This is somewhat unusual for a team at the elite level of the sport. Barcelona, for instance, are Lionel Messi’s team. For the best part of a decade, Real Madrid revolved around Cristiano Ronaldo. City don’t really have a figure upon which everything is built.

Kevin de Bruyne is perhaps the closest thing Man City have to this kind of player, but the Belgian missed the majority of last season through injury. If Guardiola’s team had a face last season, it was Raheem Sterling. He was the one who pushed them forward with great consistency over the campaign.

Indeed, Sterling had a very successful season, scoring 27 times for club and country in 2019. When he arrived at the Etihad Stadium as a £49 million signing from Liverpool, he was far from a finished article. Sterling lacked an end product, sometimes flattering to deceive. That is no longer an issue. Far from it.

Under Guardiola’s stewardship, Sterling has become a hardened goalscorer. Once a mercurial winger, he is now playing as a striker, albeit starting from a wide position. Note how many times Sterling now rushes into the six-yard box to get on the end of crosses or loose balls. That’s something that has been eased into his game over the past few seasons.

“I know the special qualities of the player, the consistency, physicality, the finishing…” Guardiola said about Sterling after his opening day performance against West Ham. “He is in his first days playing as a striker but for me striker will be an incredible position for him, but he can play in three positions up front.”

So given the success enjoyed by Sterling last season and over the last calendar year why isn’t he being mentioned as a potential candidate for the 2019 Ballon d’Or? After all, Virgil Van Dijk is being tipped for world football’s biggest individual prize. Roberto Firmino has even been mooted as a challenger, with the Brazilian currently the third favourite with the bookmakers.

In fact, going on the bookmakers Sterling is just as likely to win this year’s Ballon d’Or as Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Hugo Lloris. The 24-year-old might be suffering from Man City Syndrome, a condition which seems to affect all at the Etihad Stadium and shield them from collecting individual awards. Sterling deserves a mention.

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The winning mentality of Liverpool looks unstoppable as they go top of the Premier League

Who is going to stop Liverpool winning their first league title since 1990? Everyone would say Manchester City, but it’s probable that not even Pep Guardiola’s stars are going to be able to do that. The reason is that they won the title last season and not Liverpool.

Liverpool ran out 3-1 winners at Anfield against a very good Arsenal side who had their chances too, but yet again it felt as if the Reds did not break out of second gear in order to do it.

Liverpool have started the season with 3 wins from three games, beating Norwich 4-1 and then Southampton 2-1 and this game and inbetween that they popped over to Turkey to win the Super Cup from Chelsea. There is just this incredible winning formula with the club and with Jurgen Klopp in charge he has so many winning qualities that Liverpool have the perfect manager.

But one wonders how and why Liverpool have started so strongly. Yes they are a great team after all let’s remember they are the European champions but after such a taxing season you could have wondered if the players would have felt at least some psychological damage. It has never been known for a club to get 97 points and not win the league, and also they lost just 1 game all season which was ironically against Manchester City.

But there is a massive hunger and passion from within the club to simply continue their journey. Their nearest rival City are a brilliant team with one of the best coaches in the history of football, but at the same time they have won the league two times in a row. What is their motivation? To win a 3rd title in a row? Well that is a good one which has only in modern history been won by Manchester United, and of course City would love to replicate that. But one could wonder if the motivation of not winning the league for 30 years is a bigger one- of course it is.

The irony of last season was that City ended up winning what Liverpool really wanted and Liverpool won what City really want. Also the quality of Liverpool and a never say die attitude is evident also. Look at the 2018 Champions League final when they lost against Real Madrid, they came back the year after and won it. Can they do the same in the Premier League? There only have one realistic challenger and make no mistake City will push them, but when the league gets down to the business end where these two teams rarely drop points don’t be surprised if it is Liverpool that find that second wind.

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Pep Guardiola must give Benjamin Mendy another chance to prove himself

At the time, Manchester City’s signing of Benjamin Mendy was seen as a major upgrade. Pep Guardiola had suffered a tough first season in the Premier League and the full back areas were prime for strengthening. Mendy was seen as the left Guardiola needed.

The Frenchman had, after all, impressed as Monaco made a run to the semi finals of the Champions League. And yet a serious injury in his first season in England derailed Mendy’s Man City career before it could even get up and running properly. Almost two years has passed since then and Mendy still hasn’t found his feet at the Etihad Stadium.

Injuries have been a problem, but there were suggestions towards the end of last season that Guardiola holds concerns over Mendy’s commitment. The French full back was pictured in a nightclub in Manchester and this coincided with a period of exile from the first team. Guardiola insisted it didn’t bother him, but in a way that hinted he wasn’t being entirely candid.

“If Benjamin is fit, he will have success,” Guardiola said in a recent interview when asked to provide an update on Mendy’s injury. “He has a special quality. I am happy [with him] but I don’t want to say too much. But I am satisfied because it has been two weeks and his recovery after training has been good. He doesn’t feel any pain and that is good.

“These kinds of traumatic injuries are a bit unlucky. One after another. He couldn’t take the rhythm for a season for even half season or a long time. That is a concern but he’s now training good. The people from Barcelona are telling me that he is working incredible like an animal and hopefully he can maintain that because it is not about one day or one week it is about every day doing that.”

If Mendy is indeed on the road to recovery Guardiola should give him another chance. Man City are close to being the complete team, but they have a weakness at left back. Oleksandr Zinchenko has made great progress over the past two seasons, but he remains unpolished. City can do better.

A fully fit and firing Mendy would be better. There’s a reason Man City paid £52 million for the Frenchman in the first place and if Guardiola can unlock the potential of that player then he would address the one weakness his team has.

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