Liverpool ended match week six with an unblemished record atop the Premier League Table. They ended match week seven with a couple of blemishes at the hands of the Blues of Chelsea. Manchester United ended match week six with a draw at home against Wolves and a cloud of controversy hovering over embattled head man Jose Mourinho. They ended match week seven with that cloud becoming a full-fledged storm.
Chelsea makes a statement
Chelsea’s hot start to the 2018/19 season has been a bit surprising. Having replaced the acerbic and disgruntled Italian Antonio Conte with the relaxed and fun loving Italian Maurizzo Sarri, the Pensioners have undergone one of the most radical culture shifts in the league this year. Conte had fallen out with the stars of the championship team of two years ago, famously telling striker Diego Costa he had no future with the club by text. Over the summer the Blues were looking at a nightmare scenario of losing both Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante, but both players have stayed and thrived under Sarri’s new aesthetic.
This week that investment in culture change paid off. First they went into Anfield last Wednesday to face off with the Reds in the Carabao EFL Cup, the less prestigious little brother to the Emirates FA Cup. Still, silverware is silverware and both teams took it seriously. Daniel Sturridge, who had a good week as we will see, and Emerson traded scores in the second half, but it was Hazard who stole the show with a glorious strike in the 85th minute to send the Reds packing.
Liverpool looks failure in the eye, failure blinks
The Blues took that momentum into a Saturday rematch in their first Premier League tilt of the season, this time on the friendly turf at Stamford Bridge. This time Eden Hazard started off the scoring with a fizzing low liner to the opposite post past Alisson. Hazard already has six goals, halfway to matching his 12 from last year. They spent the rest of the day defending that lead, frustrating the vaunted Liverpool front three. After a visibly annoyed Mo Salah was subbed out in the 66th minute, it seemed like the Blues might have sealed the game. But in the 89th minute, a mere 180 seconds after entering the game, Daniel Sturridge almost casually curled a left footed shot from outside the penalty box into the right hand corner, stunning the London crowd.
The cup loss and Saturday’s draw were the first stumbles on Liverpool’s road to glory this year. The Reds now look up at last years champions Man City based on goal differential and look forward to the champs visit to Anfield next Sunday. That’s after a Champions League trip to face Napoli Wednesday. It will be an interesting test of Liverpool’s stamina and character. For the Blues, the draw was disappointing, but the week proved that their hot start was no fluke. They are playing loose and fun football, and that makes for loose and fun following.
Manchester United Crashes, Burns, and Crashes Again
Manchester United are not having fun. After looking revitalized in their 3-0 dispatch of BSC Young Boys, the Red Devils sank back into their funk, letting a pesky Wolves team to level them at Old Trafford in week six. This was just the prologue to a disastrous week seven.
A visit to Old Trafford by Derby County, 9th place in the Championship League, seemed a perfect tonic for United’s doldrums. It turned out to be a bitter pill, and United choked on it. With Pogba stripped of his vice-captaincy and watching from the box seats, United took the lead on a lovely goal from Juan Mata five minutes in. It was the Spaniard’s first tally in almost a year. For the opening fifteen minutes, United dominated, but were unable to pull away. Derby County refused to roll over though. Liverpool loanee Harry Wilson scored from a free kick and Jack Marriot headed one in from close range late in the second half. Only a surprise score from Fellaini in stoppage time kept United alive. In a grueling penalty shootout, the Rams finally put United away after 15 saves.
West Ham Hammers it home
For their week seven fixture, United traveled to London Stadium to face a West Ham squad mired in the mid-table. It was a disappointing beginning to new boss Manuel Pelligrini’s tenure with the Hammers, especially after a summer spending spree that topped a hundred million pounds. But with a win over Everton and a draw hosting Chelsea the Hammers were showing signs of life. Just what Mourinho’s team needed, to visit a scrappy underdogs home turf while their most expensive player openly feuds with the boss and captain Antonio Valencia apparently not even on speaking terms with the boss after the loss to Derby.
United was never even in the game. Felipe Anderson kicked off the scoring around five minutes in with a brilliant flick in after a nifty feed from Pablo Zabaleta. Then as the first half closed Victor Lindlhof added to Mourinho’s complaints about his defenders as Andriy Yarmolenko’s shot caromed off the center back for an own goal. Marko Arnautovic sealed the deal with a third goal minutes after Marcus Rashford had put the Devils on the board with a tap-in of a Luke Shaw corner. The Hammers looked exciting and fun, with Arnautovic seemingly all over the field and defenders refusing to allow United to hold the ball, registering 24 tackles in the match.
If you have NBC Sports Gold Premier League package I recommend watching this game again. It’s a perfect window on the unfolding disaster on the red side of Manchester. Overstretched center backs left alone as the fullbacks bomb forward. Expensive and disgruntled Alexis Sanchez glowering from the sidelines, his 24 goal campaign for Arsenal in 2016/17 fading from memory. Lukaku forced to stray wide to collect errant passes. And what looks on paper to be a world-class midfield of Serbian veteran Matic and World Cup winner Pogba drifting up and down the pitch without direction.
You can’t fire the players
Jose Mourinho probably isn’t the biggest or only problem at Manchester United. He insisted that he needed a world-class center back and upper management told him to make do with what he had. The addition of Sanchez last January has paid zero dividends, in fact, the move has stunted the development of Anthony Martial, who has been the lone bright spot after forcing his way into the lineup recently.
But Mourinho is the easiest of the problems to fix. He has obviously lost faith in his players and they have largely returned the favor. He doesn’t have the right players to do what he wants and has not shown the flexibility or ingenuity to adjust to what he does have. He has not been fired as of this writing, but I will not be surprised to hear it happen soon.
“From our Haus to Yours”