on the weekend's talking points...
There were some pundits who remarked last weekend that Chelsea had showed some fight by beating Huddersfield 5-0 at Stamford Bridge, but they took one step forward and many more back. There is no disgrace in losing to Manchester City, but there is plenty to be ashamed of in being blown away without putting up a fight.
Sarri has already called out his squad twice in public, blaming their mentality and their inability to learn to grow accustomed to his style. But that is not the sort of thing you get to do thrice. Chelsea are a club that has founded themselves upon managerial short-termism. That requires every new manager to hit the ground running. Antonio Conte won the Premier League title in his first season. Maurizio Sarri’s minimum expectation was to take the club back into the top four.
If Chelsea’s league position and points total is hardly disastrous, they have suffered humbling defeats away at Tottenham, Arsenal, Bournemouth and Manchester City. With Champions League football necessary to keep hold of star players, don’t rule out Chelsea making a change this week.
Losing to Manchester United is no mark of Claudio Ranieri’s misery, but Fulham supporters are getting rather restless. The Italian has now had 15 matches in charge of Fulham, but won only three and drawn three more. If Slavisa Jokanovic was fairly accused of significant underperformance after promotion, Ranieri has only taken Fulham closer to immediate relegation.
The supposition was that Ranieri would make Fulham more solid defensively, inevitably reducing some of their attacking invention, but he has managed the latter without the former. Fulham have now gone seven games without a clean sheet, conceding 17 times in the process.
Just as worrying is the style of Ranieri’s football. Fulham supporters are not demanding champagne football, but they are acutely aware that Tom Cairney and Ryan Sessegnon are two of the most talented players in the squad. Both have been pushed to the fringes as Ranieri has gone for long, direct passes that bypass a midfield that represents Fulham’s strongest suit.
On Saturday, Fulham fans at Craven Cottage turned on Ranieri. They demanded Sessegnon and Cairney, booed the substitution of Andre Schurrle for Cyrus Christie and chanted during the second half that Ranieri didn’t know what he was doing. Their team is sinking with a whimper.
All the evidence you need that man management is crucial to the form of a superstar footballer. If some people might tut and grumble and mutter the word “snowflake”, think about how motivated and enthused you are to do your job if you believe your manager trusts and cherishes you.
From the Premier League’s most underperforming player to its most in-form midfielder. It is not just that Pogba is suddenly contributing to so many decisive Manchester United moments, but that he is playing with the swagger that we associate with wonderful footballers with peak confidence.
Those Manchester United supporters who wanted Pogba to be sold and backed Jose Mourinho in that clash need not feel too stupid, because all has worked out well. But never again should they underestimate the extent to which a toxic sergeant major manager can suck out all of a player’s joy. Let’s face it, Pogba isn’t the only one.
If we are likely to be treated to one of the best Premier League title races in years, and the battle for fourth place also looks intriguing with Manchester United resurgent, the fight to stay in the Premier League is no less enticing.
Southampton have improved under Ralph Hasenhuttl but are back in the bottom three. Newcastle United made signings but still have plenty of work to do. Brighton are in freefall having taken six points from their last 33 available. Cardiff have responded to adversity and clawed themselves above the drop. So too have Burnley.
With 12 rounds of matches left and with Fulham and Huddersfield Town surely gone, six clubs currently separated by three points are desperate to avoid being the one that bites the bullet. This is Premier League Russian roulette.
It appeared that Sean Dyche had lost his magic touch. For the first four months of this season, Burnley were shambolic at the back and inefficient going forward.
A team that finished seventh last season and had remained largely the same were sinking towards the Football League.
At that time, Dyche issued a missive that Burnley had to go back to what had worked before. He urged for even more effort, even more resilience and even more grit. He brought Tom Heaton back into the starting XI.
Now, Burnley are booming again. They have taken eight points from their last four away league games, two more than they had taken in the previous 12. The defence is far from perfect (they have only managed two clean sheets in their last ten league matches), but they have at least stopped conceding shots at record levels. Dyche’s side are now unbeaten in seven matches.
Only Manchester United have a longer streak in the Premier League.