6 Truths: PL rubbish and brilliant; Mourinho has lost the United way
The weekend's big Premier League talking points broken down by Tom Adams, Desmond Kane and Alex Chick.
The most entertaining league in the world... but not the best
No football fan with a pulse could fail to have enjoyed Manchester City’s draw with Liverpool. The barnstorming challenges, the unwavering commitment to attack... but above all the distinctly amateurish approach to it all. You had both sides leaving themselves wide open on the break. You had some truly, truly awful defending headlined by Gael Clichy’s hapless penalty concessions. And you had a series of astounding misses that proved far more exciting than the routine strikes we might have seen from more composed finishers than Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling and even Sergio Aguero.
In short – it was a bit rubbish, but in the best possible way. Proof positive that all the ‘super coaches’ Europe has to offer can’t quell the Premier League’s shambolic spirit. Don’t go changing.
Jurgen Klopp embraces Pep GuardiolaAFP
Mourinho loses the United Way, but wins three points
What, precisely, is The United Way? No doubt it can be located if you stroll down Sir Matt Busby Way, or Sir Alex Ferguson Way – just make sure you avoid the David Moyes cul-de-sac. Whatever this conception of a club is, it certainly isn’t playing with six defenders as you try and close down a match against relegation-haunted Middlesbrough. But by the end at The Riverside, Jose Mourinho had flooded his box with bodies in a bid to suffocate the home attack, which was focused on hitting long balls to Rudy Gestede and Alvaro Negredo. It just about worked, even if it did invite more pressure, and United broke to make it 3-1 late on.
It was widely pointed out that Moyes or Louis van Gaal would have been absolutely pilloried for using such a tactic – and the Van Gaal comparisons were out in force after half an hour when Marouane Fellaini headed in from an Ashley Young cross in a tribute act to the sadly departed King Louis. It is true: they would have. But the difference is that while Jose Mourinho doesn’t ascribe to United’s best traditions, he does satisfy one major one: winning big trophies. Not this season, admittedly, where United are too far off the pace to challenge in the Premier League, but successfully managing games isn’t something to be derided, even if does seem like a basic contravention of your club’s very soul. Moyes would probably have done the same and drawn the game.
Manchester United manager Jose MourinhoReuters
Dele Alli is putting up some extremely good numbers
Britain is in turmoil. The Union is threatened. Brexit is coming and all we have planned to mitigate its impact is the building of a new royal yacht. But fear not. There is some hope. His name is Dele Alli. Okay, so he only scored a penalty as Tottenham beat Southampton on Sunday, but that’s four games in a row the 20-year-old has scored in, and a tally of 13 Premier League goals and 17 in all competitions this season.
His figures are quite astonishing for a player of his age. In the corresponding season in his career, Wayne Rooney scored 14 league goals to Alli’s 13, but he was playing as a striker; Frank Lampard wasn’t putting together numbers like that until he was almost 27. When the England group was announced by Gareth Southgate earlier this week it had the look of a squad put together for a League Cup third-round tie by a top-flight team with only vague aspirations of winning the trophy. That is, apart from Alli, who is now comfortably the best thing about England. Well, certainly when Harry Kane is injured at least...
Tottenham's Dele Alli celebrates scoring their second goal with Mousa Dembele and Victor WanyamaReuters
Conte’s behaviour reflects Chelsea’s terrific winning mentality
Antonio Conte has a healthy attitude to his work. We have seen this at Juventus and Italy as a player and manager, and we are also seeing Chelsea reap the benefits of the Italian’s dedication to becoming one of the world’s most erudite coaches. Chelsea went to the death to extract three points from Stoke on Saturday afternoon, but so too did their manager.
When Gary Cahill’s winning goal found the net for a 2-1 win on 87 minutes, Conte could be discovered hanging off the roof of his technical area. Chelsea are 10 points clear of Spurs with ten games remaining. They say that if you enjoy your job, you never have to work again. Perhaps unusually, Conte does not have a job in the Premier League, he has a pleasure.
A Wenger replacement will struggle to emulate Conte
While Chelsea are willing to strain every sinew for success under Antonio Conte, Arsenal’s players appear to have given up the ghost under Arsene Wenger. It is the perfect contrast in the Premier League of what you get from desire, hunger and attitude. Since Arsenal flogged Chelsea 3-0 in September, the London foes have headed in dramatically opposite directions with 19 points the gap suddenly between first place and sixth. A squad that was so disunited under Jose Mourinho is suddenly on the cusp of a second Premier League in three years.
Many have pinpointed the work of Conte in the transformation wondering if a change in management would have a similar effect on Arsenal? Anything is possible, but if a man like the Juventus coach Max Allegri washes up at the Emirates he will need to undertake major remedial work to burn out Arsenal’s shortcomings. Arsenal’s insipid 3-1 loss to West Brom was their fourth defeat in five games. Ray Parlour has estimated it will take more than £150m to rectify the ills with or without Wenger. There is a marked difference here: Conte inherited a team of champions who had clearly gone on strike due to their discomfort with the ‘Special One’. Arsenal’s players have been failing under Wenger for several seasons. A new coach will help the symptoms, but won’t provide the cure without proper resource.
Big Sam’s escapology skills have given Palace real hope
You tend to get what you pay for in this world. When Crystal Palace decided to make space for Sam Allardyce to replace Alan Pardew after one win in 11 matches in December, it was viewed as a calculated gamble with the club one point above the relegation spots. Hiring Big Sam is rarely a gamble for a club in the Premier League. Since losing 4-0 to Sunderland in early February in what was a troubling loss, Palace have enjoyed a 1-0 win over Middlesbrough, a 2-0 success at West Brom and a 1-0 win over Watford.
Three straight wins has allowed Palace to rise to 16th place, four points clear of trouble. It has been quite a season for Big Sam. In and out of the England job, providing Palace with Premier League status would an enjoyable way to soothe his mind. History suggests Big Sam doesn’t do going down even after falling so sharply with the national side.