Since I last wrote something, the football world it seemed has gone into upheaval! The Mourinho saga at United (one of my primary focuses) has been creating new headlines for hungry reporters by the day. Cristiano Ronaldo has been accused of rape and is looking, in my opinion, a little guilty as a hush payment usually means there’s something to it – but that’s all I’m going to say on that, without evidence or anything there’s nothing I can really say. In any case, this blog is football related, it’s not for commenting on what footballers do behind closed doors and in terms of footballing action this weekend has been a juicy one! Mourinho was certain to be sacked, then was confirmed to be sacked before receiving the backing of the board, then there was the HUGE game between two of the leagues most exciting teams and, finally, Arsenal were looking to continue their dark horse comeback into, potentially, a title challenge.
Mourinho Shows The Board He Can Hang Tough
To be honest, after a 4 game streak without a win, I was getting pretty frustrated having to read about what might or might not be going on behind the scenes at United. I even had to write about it last week, something I wouldn’t normally do, but the press were making mountains out things smaller than molehills that they’ve heard on the so-called rumour mill that was coming out of the club. In my opinion, it was all just a total farce, created by Ed Woodward and the board’s weak spines in the summer and then lapped up by the press that are baying for Mourinho’s head! (Gary Neville got it spot on, Scholes did not)
So then, onto the actual game, with the backdrop of all that was happening and everything I was reading, it’s fair to say I wanted, nay, NEEDED a performance to come out of Manchester this weekend. On the first half, I literally had to turn it off after half an hour, we looked less like a team and more a collection of 11 men learning how to play football for the first time. There was no communication and no fight in what I saw from us, after the second goal for Newcastle went in after 10 minutes, I text a mate after 22 almost slightly proud that it was our best twelve minutes so far in the game! Marcus Rashford was one player I was particularly disappointed with, when I looked at our team sheet and saw him and Martial lining up, I thought we might get a performance from two players dying to show the manager what they can do.
After about 28 gone, Rashford was competing for a ball in the opponents half and it went out for a throw, I was screaming that it was ours as the assistant gave it Newcastle’s way but all Marcus could offer was a shrug of the shoulders and it was then that it hit me. Were our players really giving their best? I couldn’t tell at this point if we had poor communication between our players on the pitch, if we had a poor setup and poor tactics going out there, or whether maybe a couple of them just didn’t want to impress a man they wanted out. This got me really fired up, we are a team that, historically, backs the manager and doesn’t allow player power to take hold into the dressing room and it’s something I quintessentially disagree with. If players stop playing and trying for the club on their chest, why don’t they get fired instead of letting the man trying to win the games leave?
With 30 minutes gone, I had switched the game off and gone to make my dinner, I couldn’t take any more of the rubbish that was on display and I started wondering: would Jose even make it to the second half, let alone Saturday evening? Well, cometh the hour, cometh the man (or 45 minutes in this case, but that doesn’t sound so good). The second half started and we looked like a new team, between 50 and 60 minutes, we peppered their goal, the keeper made a multitude of saves and Matic skied a ball over the bar. But, we had the belief in us again, FINALLY! This was the football that fans have been dying for, it’s just a shame it only came out in the second 45 against a team that had only 2 two points to their name. Cue the hour (45 minutes) of the under-performers (and Juan Mata, who showed again, like against Derby, that he probably deserves a start right now), Martial played a beautiful one-two with Pogba and slotted it in the corner before Sanchez had me out of my seat screaming for gaining 3 points against joint-last, that put us up to 8th place. What a day! I’m hoping that, now, we can put in some good performances, maybe use the same tactics as that second half and come out relatively unscathed in a huge set of fixtures next that includes City and Chelsea away and two games against Italy’s undoubted best. What a time it would be to finally have sorted our team out eh?
City And Liverpool Ensure Close Race Becomes Closer
So then, after that whole polava, now we can finally move on to the real huge fixture of the week and the one I actually booked off from spending time with my girlfriend to watch! Two of the three teams who were actually still unbeaten in the league so far, this is the one that everybody was looking forward to as a climax of footballing excellence to finish off the weekend. In fact, I have rather enjoyed the other half of footballing news this week, whatever wasn’t dedicated to the United situation was usually talking up this fixture between two geniuses of the modern game. Under the microscope was their past meetings, of which Klopp was top, their trophy cabinets, of which Pep was best. Something I was rather unaware of was the fact that City’s history at Anfield has been horrendous, only winning once there since 1981, which says it all about maybe their inability to come here and compete against such a notoriously boisterous crowd. All in all, it was looking to be a highly promising fixture that neutrals could use to forget about whatever was going on at their club and dig in!
In my opinion, when a game comes up between two of the big teams, what promises to be a slobberknocker will usually never reach expectations. Liverpool, however, don’t normally stick to this rule in their recent history, just look at their recent fixtures against Arsenal and what they did/had done to them by City last season! Therefore, before this one kicked off, I had a mixture of excitement and apprehension about just what was about to take place. The opening half had Liverpool start well then pull back a little, before City looked to have the better of the ball then both teams seemed to get a bit nervous as the game started to take it’s toll before the end of the half. They went into half time still level but with everybody knowing that anything could happen at any time. Last season, after that huge 5-0 drubbing in September, I think Pep Guardiola could be a little guilty of underestimating Liverpool and ended having their arses handed to them – not this time.
City looked organised defensively, they weren’t pushing too far forward, wary of the Liverpool counter at speed, but not sitting back and accepting a 0-0 would be best. It has been said that Guardiola relishes showing everyone exactly how good a manager he is and there’s no better way for him to do that than beating the manager who’s got the better of his side time and time again. The second half was a lot more reserved from both sides with neither of them really throwing their all at the other and going for broke. I was really very surprised that Aguero was taken off when it was still 0-0, and that was actually vindicated when Mahrez blasted the ball over the bar after arguing with several others. That could be a crucial point of this season in terms of momentum right now, with Arsenal and Chelsea scoring big wins and playing well, instead of having to go through what was, overall, a rather drab affair. At points, City were passing it around the back and, while the Liverpool line was high, the home team looked fatigued. Mo Salah didn’t have the calmness in front of goal he had last year, and it was usually slow City attacks that were the prevailing piece of play, without committing too many men forward. The draw that resulted meant another surprise stat that I hadn’t noticed came into play – Liverpool are now four games without a win, they need to turn that around before the international break or their momentum may slip and fast.
Still, the game left three teams on 20 points and means that the title is still open for anyone who wants it enough to step in and make it their own. Hell, United are only 7 points off top spot now, Bournemouth are only 4, I mentioned it once before and, a thrashing by Burnley aside, they are not going away!
What happened To Arsenal?
After a tough opening two fixtures, one a demolishing again against City and the other a pointless comeback against Chelsea, I have to admit I had kind of discounted Arsenal from my thoughts about Premier League title challengers. I definitely did not pick up on what they were doing, starting a six game (yes, SIX) winning streak in the league that has now left them breathing down the necks of the leaders. I had probably been so focused on United’s torments that I just wasn’t taking not of it, but my lord did they catch my eye this weekend, absolutely taking Fulham to the cleaners! Ok, so Fulham aren’t a team of title contenders but a 5-1 win away in the Premier League is something that anybody would bite your hand off for!
At the start of the season in my preview and my various other critiques of Arsenal, I’ve said that they have a rather strong squad and, if Emery could get them gelling together in a new style of play, maybe they could make some movement and ruffle a few feathers this season. To be honest, although I respect Arsene Wenger’s reign as something we’re unlikely to see again for a long time if ever, I think perhaps his tactics had got a bit stale and perhaps he wasn’t ready to change his stance and mix things up. Now, Emery has come in and he has got players like Aubameyang and Lacazette firing on all cylinders, and never was that more true than this weekend. Fulham may have equalised, but they never really looked like they were ready to take this Gunners side on, they were absolutely deadly! Like I said, if Arsenal can continue playing together like a team, they have a classic combination up front with the 2 big strikers and talent galore behind them, Guendouzi getting a special mention for some good performances in my view, they could maybe be the dark horses in the title race.
They’re two points off Chelsea who have to face (hopefully) a United team on a high after the last game while Arsenal’s next big one is at home to Liverpool in a month. A couple performances there and by the time that game comes up, they could find themselves in a very nice position with the confidence maybe to take the game to a Liverpool side not blowing the teams away really like they did last season. If they can get their defence sorted out perhaps (conceding two against Cardiff a particularly poor note), then I really believe they have a chance of doing Jurgen Klopp’s side at the Emirates!
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