Personally, I think football should have ended after 30 minutes of Spain vs England last Monday. I mean, if you were following social media at that point you could have easily assumed football could never get better than that.
According to the average English fan, you may as well cancel Euro 2020 and the World Cup in 2022 (actually, that one should be cancelled) because Southgate’s men had just completed the game we call Association Football in that 3-0 win over Spain in a mere half-an-hour. Yes, I know the referee played another pointless hour of the match to let Spain try and catch-up but we all know the truth, right? Who needs Ronaldo and Messi when England have Rashford and Sterling, eh?
But, despite all the evidence suggesting they may as well not bother, the Premier League decided that the show must go on and the competition formerly considered ‘the greatest show on earth’ returned on Saturday lunchtime with a gentle little kickabout between old friends: Chelsea and Jose Mourinho.
Thankfully, the match passed without incident. Well, it did if you forget all the incidents. Where should we start with this one? Graeme Souness was a fine footballer who has turned into a grumpy prat of a pundit but he did make his first, and possibly last, valid point of these season with reference to Paul Pogba. At Liverpool, in the days when they used to win the First Division (so a very, very long time ago), there was a saying for when Liverpool used to get a corner. ‘Find the dope’ Bill Shankly and then Bob Paisley used to say, basically suggesting that someone in the opposition will forget who they are marking, fall asleep and give a Liverpool player a free run at goal.
Step forward Paul Pogba. Actually, that was the problem. He didn’t step forward. Instead, he stood there flat-footed as Antonio Rudiger got the run on him and headed Chelsea into the lead. And, of course, with that goal came the flood of #MourinhoOut chat that usually follows United going behind.
I’ve been known to perform one or two U-turns in this column over the years. And yes, I am about to perform yet another here. Jose is starting to grow on me once again. Here is a man so far down in the swamp he can barely breath and there is every chance it is bringing out the old management skill that I, and so many others, had believed to have died.
I’ve been quick to mock Jose for his treatment of players like Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw. Shaw got a new five-year deal during the week and Martial netted the brace that made it look like United were going to leave Stamford Bridge with all three points. Granted, first half United were slow and ponderous – the worst of a modern-day Mourinho team. In the second half, pam. They attacked with energy and verve and probably should have taken the maximum home with them ahead of the midweek reunion with Ronaldo.
The other thing that I liked about Jose on Saturday was his reaction to Maurizio Sarri’s assistant who made a couple of provocative gestures to the United bench following Barkley’s deep-into-injury-time equaliser. Had the stewards let Mourinho get to the guy in the tunnel goodness knows what would have happened. But, for once, Mourinho wasn’t the instigator and reacted in the same way many would have – maybe he is still human after all?
The game ended with the Chelsea crowd being reminded of how many titles had been hand-delivered by Jose during his two reigns at the club. Well, I am guessing that is what he meant and he wasn’t referring to which season normally ends in tears.
Chelsea’s slip opened the door for both Manchester City and Liverpool to open a little gap at the top of the Premier League table.
Considering it was infinitely more entertaining, let’s talk about events at the Etihad first. Joe Hart returned having had a training pitch named in his honour at his old club. I am sure there’s a joke in there somewhere but I’ve not been able to find it. I doubt Fernandinho even scored many against Hart in training over the years but he managed to spank one home on Saturday, one of the five conceded by the ex-England number one. Not that they were his fault, which makes a change. Sean Dyche, although admitting Burnley wouldn’t have necessarily gone on to win the match if the referee and his assistants hadn’t been so dopey, was understandably aggrieved to see that Kompany was still on the pitch after a minute. Seeing Big Vince leave a match after 60 seconds has become an all too regular thing over the years but normally for injury, not a shocking groin-high challenge on Aaron Lennon that should have seen red.
Now, there are a few basics drilled into schoolkids all over England the minute they start playing the beautiful game all over the country. One; how to take a throw-in properly. Two; never pass it across your own goal. Three; if in doubt, kick it out. And four; play to the whistle!
Burnley showed complete and utter contempt for number four as City scored their second. Yes, it was offside. Yes, Sane dived. Yes, the ball was out of play. But you must always, always play to the whistle. At 2-0, the game was gone and Peppy G decided to give us all a glimpse of young Phil Foden and, more importantly, gave Kevin de Bruyne a 30-minute run out to get some life in the old legs. The game ended with Riyad Mahrez showing he is a damn sight more lethal on his left foot from 25-yards than he is from the penalty spot.
Up in Huddersfield, many fools like myself considered Liverpool’s visit to be a nailed on away win. It did end up being an away win but not in the manner expected. Mohammed Salah shockingly and surprisingly recovered from that muscle injury that ruled him out of most of Egypt’s international break, opened the scoring early with a finish that suggests the lights might be coming back on. From there, it felt like it was all Huddersfield and they can be very disappointed to have finished their sixth home game in a row without scoring. They hit a post, had a goal dubiously ruled out for offside (though it would have been more controversial had it been given) and categorically should have had a penalty after James Milner practically caught it in the area.
Still, Liverpool found their way out of there with the points and sit top with City second on goal difference.
It says here Tottenham have had their best ever start to a Premier League season. But how can that be? They are in crisis, are they not? They didn’t buy anyone in the summer. Their new stadium might not be ready until next season. Their team is somewhat tired and generally playing badly. Yet, they are winning football matches and isn’t that the point?
I think Tottenham fans might be forgetting a couple of things considering their moans this season. I’ve seen Spurs many times over the last era or two play some lovely football and win absolutely nothing. Maybe this is a new approach? Maybe they are trying to play badly and win in the hope of not totally Spursing it up later in the season? I mean, let’s be realistic here. If Sissoko is crossing and Erik Lamela is heading it home then something is either going very, very right or very, very wrong. Hugo Lloris seems to be turning a corner as it was he and he alone that stopped West Ham winning a match they probably deserved to win comfortably.
Neil Warnock went into the weekend saying that 4/1 was about right for Cardiff to be relegated and, being the little trickster that he is, he then led Cardiff to a resounding 4-2 win over Fulham. I think we can all agree that Fulham have a weaker defence than Saudi Arabia currently and if they continue playing like that then they will be a Championship side next season. It was Cardiff, for crying out loud. Managed by Neil Warnock. Come on!
Foolishly, I had Wolves down as an easy home win against Watford but I forgot one vital rule of the Watford stereotype. They will always come up with the surprising win once in a while even when they’ve started to down tools for the rest of the season. And this weekend was one of those. Personally, I am taking the credit as I finally got rid of Roberto Pereyra from my fantasy football team last week meaning he was always going to score the all-important second at Molineux.
There aren’t many managers in world football that are as fire-proof as Rafa Benitez and the Newcastle manager has now led his team to five defeats in a row at St James’ Park. Better managers than Rafa have lost their job for less, haven’t they Chris Hughton?
Southampton probably should have beaten Bournemouth but due to Manolo Gabbiadini’s ability to head it over from two yards out, they didn’t.
It must be a great feeling when, as a manager, you make three substitutions and they all have a part to play in scoring late on to win the side a game. It must be far better than watching your side who struggle to score goals get a penalty and then miss it. Welcome to the worlds of Marco Silva and Roy Hodgson. Uncle Roy saw Zaha win a penalty, which is as rare as rocking horse doodoo, and then saw it promptly saved by Jordan Pickford. Silva threw on Lookman, Calvert-Lewin and Tosun and will have been delighted to see Lookman cross to Calvert-Lewin for the opener and Tosun gallop clear moments later to wrap up the win.
This season’s relegation battle could be where it’s at with plenty of teams looking like they’ll be involved. It’s going to be a long season for fans of Palace, Newcastle, Huddersfield, Fulham, Cardiff… actually, I’ll leave it there.