Monday 24 October 2016

The Long Road to Eden for Mourinho

Looks like the long road to Eden for Jose Mourinho and that return to Stanford Bridge proved that much work needs to be done with The Reds. . Raising the question as to whether the Manchester United board will suffer while The Special One seeks to rediscover whatever made him great in 2005. Or lose patience not unlike Chelsea did when Mourinho returned last season from Real Madrid with little positive to contribute and eventually losing his job. The expensive and much touted moved to Manchester United was wrong from the start and a few months in to the season still looks a poor fit. With Antonio Conte proving the more astute manager on the day, winning by four gals and reviving Eden hazard from the dark place that he was under when manged by Mourinho. Who was keen to sell him at one point in his last stint at Chelsea. 

On Sunday, the Belgian international lived up to his surname and was nothing but a hazard for Mourinho, who on the side line looked almost a beaten man from the start and just hoping for the best. His team devoid of ideas and again a Paul Pogba who is playing like someone worth a quarter of the £89m transfer fee. Yet only months ago he was the main power with Juventus- the club he played at during four seasons. Ironically two of this were for Antonio Conte and were season that saw Pogba win the Biaconero with two Serie A in 2012–13 and 2013–14 and a Supercoppa Italiana. This season the trophy cupboard looks bleak and Pogba only half the player he was during EURO 2016. Indeed, Conte’s Chelsea looked like they had that proverbial extra man as they ran riot at Stamford Bridge scoring twice in the first half without reply. Then in the second succumbing to a Hazard goal and then Kate the latest recruit arriving from Leicester City. 

Antonio Conte
"I am delighted for the performance because we played very well with good intensity, good positions and we moved the ball very quickly and created many chances to score goals," he said.

"This is the third game we haven't conceded a goal and that is very important. This type of game, against a very strong team like Manchester United, increases our confidence about our work.

"We are working very hard, I see my players every day with the right commitment and work rate and they deserve this type of win and performance.

"When you work very hard it's important to win because then you trust the work."

"I asked my players to start the game strongly and to show our desire to win the game, not just to our fans but to our opponent," he added.

"We scored after 30 seconds. The most important thing is that we continued to play and to try to score the second goal, it happened and I'm very happy.

"Now we must continue because this is the right way but for me United is in the past.

"We must concentrate on Wednesday when we have another tough game against West Ham and it's important to recover and prepare for that game." 

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Thursday 20 October 2016

Mourinho Dilutes Power of Pogba

It was another one of those Mourinho epics this summer, which again seemed to be endless as he compulsively chased the signature of French International, Paul Pogba for his new club Manchester United. The MUST have player finally arrived and United paid in the process a record breaking fee with an additional tumultuous commission to the relevant agent. The latter at one point the most contentious part of securing Pogba’s services. So it was a world record by any measure and saw the return of a player that had come through United's academy and then sought a move to the Italian club Juventus. Now after re-joining The Reds for £89m the same player now seems the same misfit at Old Trafford - as he was under Sir Alex Ferguson – when only delivering three goals over a season and a half. 

With Mourinho at the helm this talented player from Lagny-sur-Marne still seems far from the force he was at Juventus for the past four seasons. Or the man who started much of what happened in the Italian team over recent seasons. Ably supported obviously by a cast of international stars playing around him. Not unlike his galloping runs that exemplified most of what was good about France during EURO 2016 only a few months ago that saw the host nation reach the final. But better players around you obviously make you play better and Pogba is finding his work at Old Trafford somewhat less straight forward than perhaps it might have been at a Real Madrid. For a player who with Juventus was a key force in reaching the Champions League final two seasons ago in Berlin where he lost to Barcelona. The summer defeat to Portugal in Paris adding to that misery as France had looked racing certainties to win the trophy on home soil.

These days at United that same rampaging Paul Pogba has faded and started to resemble what Eric Cantona once attributed to fellow countryman, Didier Deschamps, being a “water carrier”. His manager adding to the background noise complaining of his lack of attacking flair. Albeit some of that unfair as in the match against Liverpool in particular that saw the United team play with such a strait jacket even Zidane would have struggled to show any flair. Although Deschamps was more brawn and industry than silken skills, Pogba has a higher measure of both. And to see his role reduced to plugging holes in the middle of the park in Mourinho’s stifling tactics, raises the question of why buy him in the first place. But is not unusual for The Special One who has a history of struggling with talented players and found an ageing Inter Milan his ideal type of team. Taking them to the Champions League title in 2010 playing a very physical and oppressive style against Bayern Munich in Madrid. The same systems paying dividend against Guardiola’s Barcelona en route to that 2010 victory. 

Then at Real Madrid the same man who had played so well for him in Italy was surplus to requirements and so Wesley Sneijder moved on to Turkey. At Chelsea it was Juan Mata that made way for other selections. Yet there is some merit to the analysis that the graceful athleticism of Pogba has been much diluted at United. And whether it is by managerial design, team formation or issues on the player’s side is now becoming a topic of media conjecture. No doubt though the rigid systems so beloved by Mourinho also plays a role, as was seen at Anfield in that meeting with Liverpool. A match that oozed promise but became a violent status quo from the start with neither side able to play anything resembling attacking football. With United parking the bus on three halfway line as is the Special One’s want. Again the player who had romped the stadia of France over the summer was left chasing shadows under a manager whose more rent record saw failure at Chelsea last season, and left Real Madrid without fulfilling the touted promise of a Champions League title. But then again Mourinho has form in this regard in more recent times.

However, as attack is the best from of defence Mourinho felt Liverpool deserved more criticism than United for a 'cautious' approach and suggested the inclusion of Emre Can alongside Jordan Henderson stifled Pogba.

"You know, I think like everybody else the defensive side of the game I think that the team was perfect," Mourinho said at his post-match press conference. "Even the goalkeeper was on holiday for 90 minutes but he had two big saves to do and he did.

"When we recovered the ball I was expecting the team to be more dangerous, in spite of having a couple of very important chances, but Liverpool did well too, they are a very good team. You like to say they are the last wonder of the world in attacking football, but they are also a team that defends and thinks defensively.

"And I think the fact they played Can and Henderson together controlled the position where Paul should be more in control because we thought they were going to play with only one player there but they played with two."

In statistical terms Manchester United had a 35% possession and with Pogba playing higher up the pitch, the world’s most expensive player attempted just 38 passes. Pogba also passed the ball fewer times than the Liverpool goalkeeper at Anfield. His woeful pass completion rate of 71.1% was worse than every single player on the pitch barring Daley Blind and Roberto Firmino. Also he had just 63 touches of the ball with James Milner having 74. Pogba’s average for the season is 89. Then he had one shot on target in his last two Premier League games. He then created one chance against Liverpool – though it was the header that should have been scored by Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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Monday 3 October 2016

Zidane Equals Rafa Real Record

There were whistles and some boos at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday afternoon as Real Madrid struggled to overpower La Liga midtable visitors, Sociedad Deportiva Eibar. Only wrestling the Basques to a one all draw. The visitors having earned a return to the top flight following Elche’s suspension after alleged financial irregularities. Although Eibar arrived in Primero the previous season they struggled and were relegated from the promised land in 2014. On Sunday they did not look out of place with a physical game based on speed and width that really tested Madrid many times. 

In fact, they played everything that Real Madrid dislike in their opponents given they prefer to defend by being compact and tight across the midfield. Relying on the neat and tidy footwork of Luka Modric and James Rodriguez to force gaps up front. Neither of whom were available for the Eibar clash this weekend. That early industry of the visitors earning that vital goal in the fifth minute - after a dink from Fran Rico at ten paces - when the Eibar player caught Rafael Varanne out of place. All leaving keeper Kaylor Navas with no chance at close range. 

The home side then struggling to create chances albeit fielding the BBC up front – Bale, Benzema and Cristiano. The problems though highlighted at the back where Daniilo, Varanne, and Pepe looked vulnerable to the speed of every Eibar attack, with only Carvajal really controlling the right flank. So Madrid notch up the third consecutive home draw and leave Zinedine Zidane facing some calls of crisis from the press and other Real watchers. 

After all the coach now equals Rafa Benitez’s bad start of last season with only fifteen points from 7 games and a balance that ended of the former’s career at Madrid. But the fact that Barcelona lost away to Celta de Vigo may spare him some of further pressure – which was heaped too quickly on Rafa – as he never the media’s choice. Clearly though when Ronaldo misfires the team does similarly and too often dragging the team down too. As is his want he demands the ball all the time, even if he is the worst option, and on days like Sunday he just seemed unable to get some of the clear chances away. At one time late in the second half it made sense to take him off. 

But as Ronaldo does not do substitutions it was Benzema who made way for Alvaro Morata at the start of the second half. Although also proving ineffective against an Eibar’s back four that were resolute and became firmer as the game dragged into the last quarter. The other change by Zidane being Nacho for Varanne and then late in the game Marco Asensio in the middle of the park. For once Tony Kroos looked inefficient and drifted to the right trying to seek openings up ahead. But with little success. His best move a long sweeping cross field ball to Bale on the right that ten found its way back to Ronaldo on the back post – only to go over the bar.

Clearly Bale plays within himself at Real Madrid, spending large parts of the game inactive and just tracking opponents. Against Eibar it was much of the same and to see the naturally left sided player battle on the right - is both magical and frustrating. He is much more effective in the game he plays for Wales. Or indeed at Spurs at left back before his move to Spain. But Ronaldo is an immovable commercial object at the Bernabeu and for him left means “left alone”. 

Ironically though it was the Portuguese striker’s cross to the far post that found Bale’s head about ten foot in the air with the Welshman easily nodding in the equaliser. But for that moment of magic however there was lots of water carrying for Bale, as Cantona would have described it. Particularly against a team like Eibar where he was operating under limited service. At times he must go home feeling he has worked only a half day compared to his workload at White Hart Lane in the past. Meanwhile on the other side Ronald tends to squander possession even if his goal records are off the charts. 

In coaching terms Sundays game was ninety minutes of frustration and for Zidane it places him with the unwanted comparison with his immediate predecessor. Albeit his former boss, Carlo Ancelotti, was in town for Champions League this week - against Atletico Madrid - that could only see the Italian squeeze a 0-0 from FC Bayern Muenchen. For Zizou though it’s a far cry from the glory of last season’s 11th Champions League win and so he now starts the usual squeamish period that affects this huge club when faced with dropped points. Yet the trickle of bad news will dissipate with the timely international break the next week with normal services resuming for the away trip to Betis on October 14th. 

Funnily enough the saving grace was that Barcelona lost away to Celta de Vigo on Sunday and as such reduces any further clamour for changes. Although the away win by Atletico at Valencia places their local rivals joint top on goal average. Meanwhile Eibar can celebrate their first ever point at the Bernabeu as well-earned after an efficient performance. Totally deserved against an out of sorts Madrid. 

Indeed, Ronaldo within hours of the whistle was in Lisbon opening his new hotel and Bale - who notched up his 50th goal for the club – was heading to Wales and then Austria with the Welsh national side. No doubt Bale will run off any of his frustrations quality at the Ernst Happel stadium at the weekend in Vienna.

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