Though broadcasters are keen to advertise the Premier League as a drama, in reality it takes the form of an episodic soap opera. Storylines have to be constructed on a week to week basis to supplement the real action that takes place on the pitch. By the time each week’s story arrives, you have already forgotten the story that raged throughout the previous week. On Monday morning, it was decided that the verbal flogging administered by Jose Mourinho to two of his medical staff, Dr Eva Carneiro and Dr Jon Fearn, was to be this week’s storyline.
As a story, the episode is not without its merits. Though Pep Guardiola was involved in a high profile rupture of trust between him and his medical staff at Bayern last season, to see a manager publically rage at members of his own staff as Mourinho did was pretty unprecedented. He was unhappy that having received physio treatment, Eden Hazard might have to leave the pitch and reduce Chelsea to nine men, albeit temporarily. Mourinho’s argument was that, knowing that the team were down to ten men already, Fearn and Carneiro should not have gone onto the pitch to treat Hazard.
The facts of the case are that the referee beckoned the physios onto the pitch, thereby making it an obligation of the medical team to treat Hazard. If Mourinho should be angry at anyone it should be Hazard, who knows that he has to leave the field if he receives treatment. If he wasn’t in pain, he should have made it clear that he didn’t need any further attention.
There was also the sub-text of sexism within Mourinho’s actions and words; his main reproach to the two Doctors being that they needed to ‘understand the game.’ It may say more about our own prejudices that many have assumed this criticism to be aimed at the female Carneiro. It is also alleged that he used the Portuguese equivalent of ‘slut’ in the tirade that was aimed in her direction. A few weeks ago, in his response to a jibe from Rafa Benitez’s wife, he suggested she should focus on her husband’s diet; a joke this may have been, but it contained the assumption that it is she and not Rafa who does the cooking.
Only those people who know Mourinho personally can attest to what his social attitudes are, so the ‘is he or is he not’ speculation about sexism can never be really answered. The saga is more instructive for the football follower regarding Mourinho’s managerial style. It reveals a trait that is both integral to his success as well as a cause of his demise at clubs. He is constantly looking for a fight.
Mourinho appears to relish working either in a state of conflict or in a conflicted state. Though Sir Alex Ferguson utilised spurious accusations of ‘agendas’ against Manchester United to create a siege mentality in the dressing room, he didn’t publically seek confrontation to the extent that Mourinho does. In fact, one of his most famous pieces of advice for young managers was not to go looking for conflict, because as a football manager it will almost certainly find you.
Mourinho is different. Conflict to him is a fuel, it is an essential component of his method of work. To the outsider, he is a superb coach and tactician in charge of an excellent group of players. The best coach added to the best players should be all that’s necessary for success, without the need for the extra-curricular carry on that Mourinho brings to every job. Clearly however, he doesn’t think this. Mourinho is constantly searching to add heat to the environment within a club.
A good analogy might be the way in which the best bands produce great music despite the fact that individual relationships within the band may be fraught. ‘Creative tension’ is journalistic shorthand for this idea. Mourinho likes a dose of creative tension within the club’s he is employed at. However like many of the great bands who thrive on this tension, the conclusion of Mourinho’s assignments is usually an acrimonious split at the end of a few short, successful years.
In his first era at Chelsea the fatal conflict was with the owner Roman Abramovich regarding the style of play and control over transfers. At Inter it was a fight with the Italian sporting press. At Real Madrid, Mourinho fell out with several of the senior players by the end of his time, most symbolically long serving goalkeeper Iker Casillas. This is not to mention the obiqutious conflicts with opposition managers, footballing authorities and referees. During his current tenure at Chelsea, he notably dug out Eden Hazard for neglecting his defensive duties at the back post during the Champions League semi-final defeat to Atletico Madrid in 2014. The positive effect this had on Hazard’s performances last season is evidence of the benefits such a managerial style can bring.
That Mourinho thrives on conflict is not just speculation on the behalf of the author either, it is something he himself has spoken about. In March of this year as Chelsea were heading towards the league title having already bagged the League Cup, Mourinho was asked what he thought confrontational leadership meant. He replied ‘I’d have to go to a university to make a speech. Basically, it’s when you are ready to provoke your players to try to create some conflicts with the intention to bring out the best of them’. An example of which might be to ‘criticise a player in the media. Try to provoke a reaction from him, of anger, of not being happy with his manager, of trying to show that I’m not right.’
In Mourinho’s eyes, just as his players are fair game to be visibly criticised so too are his medical and technical staff. They are viewed as one collective, working towards the supreme goal that is silverware. Any tactics that can assist him in achieving this goal are permissible, and that includes wrongly criticising the medical department for running onto the pitch to treat Hazard.
The great paradox of the situation is that much of Chelsea’s success last season was built upon the consistent presence of six or seven key players in the team, thanks no doubt to diligent work behind the scenes by doctors and physios. Many a rival club wondered why they suffered more injuries than Chelsea.
For Mourinho however, there is still room for improvement on the medical side. He stated today in his press conference that improvements are brought about by disagreements. Due to the lack of major investment in the squad, another issue that is no doubt nagging away at him, Mourinho knows that Chelsea may have to be on the right side of the marginal factors in order to retain the title. These factors are the things than can make a 1 to 2% difference to a team, and the medical department could be one such area where incremental improvements can be made. This is especially important given that Chelsea are rather light on numbers, relatively speaking.
Those around and above him at the club however, could well grow tired of acts of psychological warfare such as the one we saw on the touchline on Saturday. If this is the case, the epitaph on the gravestone that marks Mourinho’s second stint at Chelsea could make for familiar reading; trophy laden but brief.
(Quotes Courtesy of The Daily Telegraph)
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Are Chelsea finally going to see the best of Alvaro Morata?
The Spanish international has been inconsistent since his £60 million move.
When Antonio Conte sealed the signing of Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid in the summer, many Chelsea fans lauded him as one of the signings of the window.
He was an instant hit at Stamford Bridge following his £60 million arrival, scoring on his debut off the bench in a 3-2 loss against Burnley on the opening day.
Morata has been most commonly used as an impact sub especially at Madrid, but at Chelsea, he was quickly given the responsibility of spearheading the Blues’ attack.
He repaid the faith Conte showed in him early, notching a hat trick away at Stoke in mid-September.
There was early talk of him being involved in a four-way battle for the golden boot alongside Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku and Gabriel Jesus.
Since then, it hasn’t worked out as well for Morata at Chelsea.
He went on a scoring drought soon after, although he did score a crucial winner against title rivals Manchester United in November.
He still received criticism, however, culminating in a poor performance against Arsenal in the Carabao Cup, where he missed several guilt edge chances to give Chelsea the advantage.
He then played 40 minutes in the FA Cup against Norwich, managing to receive two yellow cards in a matter of seconds, first for diving, and then for dissent.
The cold weather has been blamed for his lack of form, as well as a back injury which at one point Conte suggested could force him to miss the rest of the season.
The English climate is different to what Morata will have previously experienced in Spain and in Italy with Juventus, although whether that can be used as a real argument is debatable.
He proved that theory wrong today, finishing off a fine Chelsea move in one of the coldest games of the season.
The Spaniard has looked bereft of confidence in recent weeks and months, and it appeared that Olivier Giroud had overtaken him as Chelsea’s leading marksman until today.
Morata proved his class against a Leicester side that, had it not been for a late mistake, would have taken the current Premier League champions to penalties.
His well placed shot after an excellent Willian through ball opening the scoring before an audacious flick hit the crossbar.
Although not at the heights of the likes of Kane (24 goals) and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (28 goals), Morata has notched 10 goals of his own – a decent return considering he has missed a fair amount of games with injury in a team that is equally reliant on goals from wingers Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian.
With the cold weather subsiding, if that can be used as an excuse for some of Morata’s poor performances, and Chelsea’s chances of silverware increasing with an FA Cup semi-final, now is surely the time for Morata to produce some of his best form and lead Chelsea’s charge going into the back end of the season.
Tieumoue Bakayoko disappoints again for Chelsea against Leicester City
The Frenchman looked to struggle against his FA Cup opponents.
Tieumoue Bakayoko was one of the big-name signings for Chelsea during the summer as the club tried to push on under Antonio Conte after their Premier League triumph.
The Frenchman had been a standout player for AS Monaco during their surprise Ligue 1 winning campaign and cost the Blues a reported £40 million.
Although they are one of the richest clubs in the world, that remains a big spend and they would have been expecting a first-team ready player.
That hasn’t been the case as Bakayoko has struggled to adapt to English football and has found himself sidelined for Danny Drinkwater on several occasions.
The England international is an experienced Premier League player, but he was brought in to provide cover. It is a worry that he has been performing better than the player brought in to partner N’Golo Kante.
Chelsea managed to qualify for the semi-final of the FA Cup with an extra-time victory over Leicester City. However, Bakayoko was underwhelming once again after being brought back into the starting eleven.
He lasted until half-time before being replaced by Cesc Fabregas. During the first half, the Blues were too predictable in central midfield as neither player offered creativity from deep.
Wilfred Ndidi was arguably the best player in that area of the pitch as he dominated Bakayoko and Kante for the first-half.
The summer signing from Monaco was booked just before the break and didn’t re-emerge for the second-half. It was another disappointing performance from him as he failed to take the opportunity provided by Antonio Conte.
During the match, Bakayoko had a tackle success rate of 33% and he failed to make a single key pass to influence proceedings in the attacking half.
It was obvious that he was lacking in confidence as he often chose the simple pass and wasn’t as aggressive as the Leicester midfield players that he was competing with.
As the season has progressed, central midfield has emerged as an area of weakness for Chelsea. They often play with two defensive-minded midfielders and that makes them predictable to play against.
Last season, Nemanja Matic was more dynamic in central areas and he wasn’t afraid to step into the attacking half to contribute to attacks. The decision to sell him to a rival club now looks a huge mistake as the Blues are less effective in the middle of the park.
It was hoped that Ross Barkley would provide more energy to that position, but he has struggled with injuries since moving to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have a difficult task to save their season, as they must finish in the top four and lift the FA Cup to restore pride.
Bakayoko needs to have a strong end to his season if he is to prove himself worthy of another chance next season. There is likely to be a new manager at Stamford Bridge with Antonio Conte’s position looking more untenable by the day.
A managerial change will lead to a squad overhaul and the 23-year-old will be one of the first to go. He doesn’t offer anything different to Kante and his compatriot is far superior in every area.
His most ardent supporters will allude to his inexperience and suggest that he needs to be given more time. However, when watching him against the 21-year-old Ndidi, it became clear that he isn’t good enough for a club like Chelsea. He was outclassed and outbattled by his younger opponent.
Since Roman Abramovich bought the club, there have been several mistakes made in the transfer market. The decision to sell Matic and sign Bakayoko was another.
Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea: Three talking points from the Etihad
Manchester City managed to beat Chelsea for the second time this season as they continue their march to the Premier League title. The contest was far from entertaining, as the visitors showed no interest in playing football and instead to soak in pressure.
Pep Guardiola’s team didn’t have to get out of second gear and it was a more comfortable victory than they would have been expecting. The Citizens are now 18 points clear at the top of the table and remain on target for 100 points, which would be a superb achievement.
Meanwhile, Chelsea sit outside of the Champions League places and are now five points behind Tottenham in fourth position. They will need a near perfect end to the season if they are to avoid missing out on qualification for next season’s competition. Here are three talking points from the Etihad Stadium…
David Silva showed his class
The 32-year-old has been at Manchester City for the majority of their journey from Premier League also-rans to elite super club and he remains a crucial player for them under Pep Guardiola.
If he had been in the team for the entire campaign, he would be running Kevin de Bruyne close for the PFA Player of the Year award. He is a classy operator who seems to get better with age.
He got the important assist for the winning goal with a superb piece of play and that is becoming par for the course for the Spanish international. Silva completed 95% of his passes and made three key passes during the contest. Meanwhile, he was very good out of possession as he made three ball recoveries.
It has been incredible to watch Pep Guardiola get all of his attacking talent on the pitch at one time, but the improvement of both Silva and De Bruyne off the ball has helped achieve that.
They are now complete midfielders and capable of thriving in both halves of the pitch. The midfielder is a club legend and supporters will be hoping that he has a few years left in him.
Antonio Conte continues to make puzzling decisions
Last season, the Italian was lauded every week as his side won the league title comfortably, but he has failed to follow it up with a good second campaign. There have been a lot of problems for Chelsea this season including recruitment, tactics and player performance.
They have been reliant on Eden Hazard and as the campaign has progressed, the team have lost their intensity, which suggests they no longer believe in Conte.
Their 3-4-2-1 formation was revolutionary, but they have moved away from it frequently this season and haven’t been able to settle on a first eleven. That was one of Chelsea’s strengths last season. Gary Cahill and David Luiz have been sidelined, while Alvaro Morata has failed to replace Diego Costa sufficiently.
On Sunday, Conte chose to field Hazard as a lone frontman, but he struggled to impact the game in that role. He is best when having space in front of him to run into and he didn’t have that against Manchester City.
The Belgian international was isolated and touched the ball only 31 times. It was a tactical error and one that blunted Chelsea’s attack before a ball was kicked.
Ilkay Gundogan is flourishing in the middle of the park for Manchester City
The former Borussia Dortmund midfielder has had his problems since arriving in the Premier League.
He has suffered a few injuries and that has seen him struggle to secure a regular starting berth, but he has featured prominently in recent weeks and is perfect for the system. Gundogen recycles possession effectively and that is required, especially when the opposition team sits deep.
Gundogen touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch with 181 touches and was very good at distributing the ball quickly. He finished the match with a 96% pass success rate, which shows his role.
He wasn’t taking any risks and he didn’t have to. City have a lot of attacking talent and the German international isn’t required to try risky passes to influence the game.
Although Chelsea didn’t get on the ball much, Gundogen broke up the play when required with four ball recoveries. Fernandinho’s absence could allow the 27-year-old to secure the place on a permanent basis and he does offer more in the role, especially in possession. It was a strong performance and one of the standouts in a dull affair.
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