Jose Mourinho was keen to bemoan the passion and attitude of his Manchester United players after their shock defeat to Huddersfield Town, and the manager’s diagnosis was spot-on. United have better players than Huddersfield in every area of the pitch, but were out-fought and far too comfortably kept at bay during the second half. United managed two shots on target in the 62 minutes after conceding the first goal.
Yet Mourinho might be less prepared to accept his own culpability for that downturn in form. Saturday may have been United’s first defeat of the season in all competitions, but it was their third passive attacking performance in succession. That began under Mourinho’s instruction to play for a 0-0 draw at Anfield. Are we expected to believe that this is a coincidence?
Mourinho cannot be surprised at the wave of criticism that he and his side will face this week. Manchester United’s remit was to win the league title, and Manchester City have so far dropped only two points. Hanging onto the coattails of Pep Guardiola’s team looks like a difficult task, but that only reduces the margin for sloppy errors and tactical missteps. Did Mourinho take the wind out of United sails at Anfield?
Eight games without a win for West Brom in all competitions. Craig Shakespeare might claim that he was sacked for similar.
The away supporters who made the long journey to Southampton and back on Saturday can hardly claim that they were surprised by the miserable fare Tony Pulis’ side delivered. West Brom have now scored seven goals in their last 11 Premier League away games and have won five of their last 38 games on the road. That’s two seasons of misery.
Most worrying for Pulis is that their miserable form (they are only two points above Bournemouth in 19th) has been endured despite a comparatively gentle run of fixtures. The opposition in their eight games without victory include Brighton, Stoke, West Ham, Watford, Leicester and Southampton. Every season brings the quasi-philosophical question of whether life as a supporter under Pulis can ever be truly fulfilling, but he at least he usually reaches 40 points first.
West Brom face Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham in their next four league fixtures. That question might soon be asked at a louder volume.
A team seventh in the league against all expectations. An owner finally agreeing to sell up after years of alienating supporters. An incredibly popular manager who is more likely to stay than ever before. A new signing scoring the winning goal. A young captain who has bought into the ethos of the club. One defeat in seven games. Newcastle United supporters might feel that they have earned a period of sunshine after the rain, but the clouds are certainly clearing over St James’ Park.
Sunday’s newspaper gossip columns brought talk of £300m and £500m transfer spends, but fans have never asked for that type of investment. Contrary to what Mike Ashley told Sky Sports in August, they don’t expect to compete with the Manchester clubs. They do expect to be proud of their club rather than apologetic. They do expect an owner who has the best interests of the club — on the field and off — at heart, and one who is prepared to delegate responsibility to those who know best. When a club of their stature and with their fanbase has that, progress is inevitable.
It is difficult to describe just how bad Michy Batshuayi was against Crystal Palace, but let’s try. Fifty-seven minutes, no shots on target (in fact, no shots at all), no chances created, 19 touches, two passes forward — neither reached a team-mate. This was a performance so wretched you assumed it would cause lasting damage.
A week later, Batshuayi was Chelsea’s hero. He was introduced for the struggling Alvaro Morata, much to the chagrin of Chelsea supporters, and changed the game in the home side’s favour when Antonio Conte needed him most. Batshuayi has eight league and Champions League goals for Chelsea; seven have been as a substitute.
It may not be Batshuayi’s ideal scenario, but perhaps he must accept this bit-part but-still-potentially-crucial Chelsea role. Rather than an adequate Plan B to start in Morata’s absence, maybe he is simply the extension of the Plan A, brought on in the last 20 minutes when defenders are tired. The contrast with Morata’s style is his greatest weapon; he forces opposition defenders to completely alter their style of defending. That’s a tough thing to do partway through a match.
Mesut Özil created more chances in the first half of the match at Goodison than the other 21 players on the pitch combined, so the notion that he has downed tools can probably be put to bed. Arsenal had their most shots of any first half in a league game for six years, and by full-time could have scored two or three more than the five goals they managed. The central midfield problems remain, and the patience in Granit Xhaka must surely be wearing thin, but Arsene Wenger will be much happier with Arsenal’s attacking threat.
It’s funny what happens when you pick your best players. This was the first time that Alexandre Lacazette, Alexis Sanchez and Ozil have started together, and all scored. The best strategy is often the most obvious one.