There are no prizes for guessing who topped the bill in terms of press conferences over the weekend. Given that Saturday’s Manchester derby had been treated to a build up bigger than the league season itself, it seems only right to pore through the lamentations of the loser. And lamentations there were.
Following a surprising display of tactical inadequacy, Jose Mourinho decided to avert the gaze from his own shortcomings and fix it instead upon the players tasked with doing his bidding. Visibly hacked off (as you would be) by the goals his team conceded in the first half, the Portuguese wondered aloud whether several of his players possessed the speed of thought necessary to make an impact on a game of such magnitude. We didn’t have to wait long for him to answer his own question; too many of them didn’t, he concluded. That is fair enough, especially when you look at how sluggish United were in ushering City to a 2-0 lead. If Bailly was stuck in treacle when Iheanacho won the flick that sent Kevin de Bruyne clear for the first, Daley Blind was in fast setting concrete as he played the visitors onside for the second. So far, fair enough from Mourinho.
However, once more Jose went further . “Honestly, I had two or three players in the first half who, if I knew what I know now, I don’t play them. But this is football. Sometimes players disappoint managers. Sometimes they give great surprises.” Well I don’t think it will be any surprise to anyone who those players are that he was referring to. Hauling Lingard and Mkhitaryan off at half time pretty much sealed their fate as the subject of his post-match ribbing. What did he expect though?
Leaving an undisciplined Pogba and an unsuitable Fellaini in a midfield two against City’s three was asking for trouble. Combine that with giving Mkhitaryan his first start, after the Armenian FA claimed he was carrying an injury that would keep him out for 10-12 days, and you can begin to see why United struggled so much in that first half. Yes, the team looked off the pace and players have a responsibility to be sharp and on the ball, but Mourinho’s tactical set-up simply didn’t give them the best chance to compete with City. Although Mourinho did admit his own mistake in playing certain players, the overwhelming criticism was of his team despite the fact that his tactics clearly played such a big role in the final outcome. It remains to be seen whether these comments will galvanise the players but what is for sure is that the former Chelsea boss will have to sharpen up his act tactically if he is to have a chance of clinging onto Manchester City’s coat-tails.
From one man fighting to win the title, to one who’s probably just content with having won it last year, Claudio Ranieri is having to get used to ever more challenging press conferences this time around. The champions’ dismantling at Anfield this weekend led the Italian to admit that, “This season, we know is completely different.” Of course it is. Leicester were outclassed by a Liverpool team that will destroy many more defences before the season is over but, if I were a Leicester fan, or the manager, I wouldn’t be throwing my toys out of the pram. Last year’s title success was thoroughly deserved, but The Foxes took advantage of a league in which a plethora of the major clubs were in turmoil or transition. This year those big fish are much stronger and Leicester now have the Champions League to contend with. I don’t think it’s belittling to say that Leicester fans should be happy with mid-table and a Champions League campaign this year. In, fact, I think Mr Ranieri would be quite content with that. The only danger lies with the more fickle fans, for whom the Italian’s habit of playing situations down in interviews may be a little harder to stomach now they are not winning games every week.
A man who has never knowingly played anything down however, is Alan Pardew. Encouraged by an away victory at Middlesborough, the Palace manager went the all-American hero on us . “We have some big players back at the ranch and hopefully we can get them fit,” drawled Pardew as his stetson slipped over his eyes. The ‘ranch’. For the love of God. What are we going to be treated to next? Well, Cabaye is a shoe-in for that pitiful ‘quarterback’ reference and Palace do have cheerleaders on at half time, lest we forget. If I know Pards, that could well be just the tip of the iceberg for the South London Eagles fans. Good luck with that.