#1. Jose becomes the humiliated one
I think it’s safe to say that aside from Jose’s first 5 games in charge at United, things haven’t gone as he or the fans would have wanted so far this season. Last Monday was the start of a tough week and a half for United starting with a tricky away trip at Liverpool that saw a tactical plan delivered almost to perfection by Jose. This was followed by a great 4-1 victory against Fenerbahce which saw Paul Pogba perform as was customary at Juventus scoring a cracker of a 2nd goal.
So on to super Sunday, 2 games down in this difficult patch, and Jose returning to Stamford Bridge was sub plot of the weekend. He would have gone into game really wanting to win, to show Chelsea and the fans what they were missing and what a mistake they made sacking him last season. But that plan was scuppered within 30 seconds by an early Pedro goal.
Jose continued with the defensive 4-2-3-1 formation, coupled with Fellani’s inclusion over Michael Carrick, no Luke Shaw once again and an out of form 35 year old Zlatan leading the line, it all fell apart quicker than you could say special one. Jose got his selection wrong from the outset. What Carrick had proven on Thursday night was he needs to play to get the best out of Pogba. Why Jose reverted to Fellani is beyond me. Man United also lacked pace not helped by the fact that Zlatan is playing up top alone. Defenders are finding it very comfortable to deal with him and lack of pace up top. In fact Zlatan has been in awful form. In his last 5 league games he has had 23 shots, committed 17 fouls but created no assists and more importantly hasn’t scored, with a fair few sitters amongst the 23 chances. If Zlatan isn’t giving you goals Jose really needs to look at Martial or Rashford whose pace will play on the mind of waiting defenders. Mata was also not included in the starting XI, another decision that seems bizarre. In the league games Mata has started, United have won 13 out of 15 points. The 4 games he hasn’t started has seen only 1 point. Jose needs to pick his best, in form players and stick with it. I think a change in formation could also be beneficial.
But it was the defending that really compounded the United misery, Chris Smalling rolling back the years to 4 years back where he played like Bambi on ice, it was a true off day for the Red Devils.
Jose has been battered in the press, calling him the ‘humiliated one’ after such a slovenly performance. Only 1 win in the last 6 league games really looks bleak for United. But he can’t lick his wounds for long as another Manchester Derby awaits on Wednesday night in the EFL cup, a game he (nor Pep) can really afford to lose.
#2. Reality of the Premier League has finally hit Pep
Football can be a very fickle world. If we cast our minds back 3 or 4 weeks, no one had anything other than exemplary things to say about Pep Guardiola whose Man City side were looking unbeatable. They had pundits already tying the light blue and white ribbons onto the Premier League trophy. They were leading a 1 horse race, and Pep must have been thinking what’s all the fuss about the Premier League?
But the last 5 games in all competitions has seen the unbeatable Man City not pick up a single win and included a humbling dissection at the Nou Camp midweek.
Saturday had seen both Arsenal and Spurs not want to stretch their legs at the top of the league, the 2 North London clubs known for ‘choking’ doing just that against teams they should be beating. So it was a game at home for City to once again assert some dominance, yet they could only muster a 1-1 draw against an in form Southampton side. Man City have now only picked up 2 points from the last 9, a run matched by West Brom, it is a crash back down to Earth for Pep and the realities of managing in the Premier League. Whilst Cliché, there are no easy games in the Premier League (Chelsea may disagree with that). Pep will not find English football easy with more and more teams able to beat the top 4 or 5 clubs which makes the Premier League so exciting and leaves bookies with wide grins on their faces as week in week out there’s at least 1 ‘coupon buster’.
Pep himself could be going through a minor crisis, nothing like the neighbours but no win in 5 games is an odd thing for him. Add in the Yaya Toure and Joe Hart debacle and rumours of parting ways with Aguero, things could start to get on top of him.
As with Jose, Pep needs to win on Wednesday night, the thought of 6 games without a win unimaginable 3 weeks back. It was add much needed interest into the League cup on Wednesday night now with both teams desperate for a win.
#3. All tight at the top
The opening few games of the Premier League season have already confirmed some things to us fans. Firstly Sunderland are in huge trouble, Leicester will not be retaining their title and club owners are just as trigger happy as ever to sack underperforming managers.
One thing we can’t tell so far however is who is going to win the league. The Premier League is tighter than ever. Now a quarter of the way through the season, there is only 1 point separating the top 5!
Arsenal and Liverpool have been the 2 in form sides at the top, winning 5 of their last 6 and drawing 1. Spurs who started so well have had a minor wobble recently, drawing the last 2 games that on paper you’d expect them to win.
City haven’t won in the last 3 league games and Chelsea have seen a resurgence in form following 2 defeats on the bounce, have since won 3 in a row taking them up to 4th place.
This sees a little breakaway group at the top of the table separated by 1 point, but let’s not forget for the awful form Man United have been in, they are still only 6 points off the top of the league which with 29 games remaining is absolutely nothing.
It is proof once more, if needed, why the Premier League is such a draw to worldwide audiences. Its competitive nature means that each week we can and probably will see a jostling of places in the top 5 making it very hard to call who will go on to be eventual winners and long may it continue!
#4.Stoke start their resurgence
Stoke City have a good squad a good manager and had a decent transfer window. So coming into the season, expectation was they would take their place amongst the top 8 or 9 comfortably playing the season out whilst pushing for a Europa league place. But they certainly didn’t start that way.
In the first 5 games, Stoke took a measly 1 point, an opening day draw with newly promoted Middlesbrough. They then went on to lose 4 in a row including two 4-1 defeats at the hands of Man City and Crystal Palace, as well as a 4-0 pasting by Tottenham.
After 5 games in the league, they had only scored 3 goals yet conceded 14. I think most people who watch football agreed that Stoke were too good to be in that position, had too much quality in their squad to be languishing in the bottom 3, and they would be correct.
Stoke took their second point of the season in a 1-1 draw with West Brom at the end of September, which has kicked started a decent run of form. A very good (but lucky) draw at Old Trafford saw the Potters take their 3rd point, Joe Allen scoring for the 2nd game in a row and was a massive morale booster for the club. They have won the 2 matches since. Compared to the first 5 games, the last 4 has seen a completely different team as if they just flicked a switch and remembered how to defend. Stoke have scored 6 goals in the last 4 games but only conceded 2, a stat that will please Mark Hughes. Even more impressive is how their shot accuracy has increased from the first 5 games, where a lowly 28% shot accuracy was registered. The past 4 games however has seen an impressive 61% shot accuracy, helped in no small part by Joe Allen who is Stoke’s top goal scorer with 4 goals.
Stoke are now out of the relegation zone up to 16th place, but on 9 points, a win in their next game against Swansea next Monday could see them jump to 11th dependant on other results.
It seems their assent is in full swing.
#5.Wilshere can complete 90 minutes
Jack Wilshere’s move to Bournemouth on transfer deadline day was one of the stranger deals that people didn’t really see coming (only to be trumped by Chelsea’s re-acquisition of David Luiz).
Injuries have blighted Wilshere’s career, a player with great technical ability seen years lost due to being on the medics table. A move to Bournemouth was Jack digging his boots in and showing he’s not scared of the hard work and wants to play his way back into the Arsenal team. Many a player would have been happy to sit on the bench at Arsenal but Wilshere taking the loan deal to Bournemouth when many other bigger clubs were interested is both refreshing from his part and complimentary to Eddie Howe.
Wilshere had found it a little hard to adapt to begin with and would probably admit he wasn’t particularly happy with his first few games, but that was all about fitness and relieving some of the match rust. 9 games in however he has Bournemouth’s highest pass completion rate at 89%.
Bournemouth themselves have been in good form picking up 8 points from a possible 12 of late that sees them 10th in the league. But it was the 0-0 draw against Tottenham on the weekend that saw Jack Wilshere complete the first full game for Bournemouth this season having been subbed in all 5 games prior. In actual fact it was his first full 90 minutes in 771 days, over 2 years ago.
At 24, he is still young enough to fashion a good career for himself at club and for country with England still looking for a long term replacement from Big Sam, Wilshere has every chance of being in the England plans if he can keep fit and this is just the start. Wilshere only completed 17 league appearances for Arsenal in the past 2 seasons so playing at Bournemouth who don’t have the strain of European football could turn out to be a very good move for Wilshere.
One thig is for sure, a fit Jack Wilshere can only be beneficial to the England team and will hopefully get his confidence back to believing he can mix it with some of Europe’s best midfielders.
By Michael Thatcher