Two Matches Into the Season
How many words have been written, professional and amateur, about “what we have learned” in the first 10 days of the Premier League season? Ultimately all of it is filler and fodder because we can’t have leaned much of anything we didn’t know, or think we knew, already. It is too early to know a new player or manager is a star or a flop; too early to say Chelsea, Arsenal & Man U are out of the running for the title and yet you can read each and every opinion from various individuals paid to write or talk about football.
The season is 38 matches long for each team and after every match their respective position will be assessed and eventually many of the proclamations made now will turn out to be true. Predicting who won’t win the title isn’t particularly difficult because 19 teams won’t win it but pretending that anyone knows any of last seasons’ top four is a “no hoper” is fatuous at best. Yet it is common practice, because such writings generate clicks, comments & traffic. I click, comment and so on because I still read the claptrap – well, except for bits about managers commenting on one another. Ugh.
Really the only story for the first week was the one around the Chelsea medical staff, a bizarre public session of shame and blame of the public side of a vital piece of the back room staff. Chelsea have had one of the best medical organizations for a number of seasons: when I was at Stamford Bridge in 2013 the tour guide mentioned some by name as being key to the success of the club. Until around 30 years ago the “medical staff” of a club consisted of a physio of wildly varied competence carrying a bag that appeared to only contain water, the “magic sponge” and “magic spray.” Now teams understand the vital role a medical team can play in keeping players fit as well as dealing with injuries.
That makes Mourinho’s outburst and demotion of the team doctor and physio even more curious. Why didn’t he handle it behind closed doors? Was it because of the draw? Would a win have meant a private word and no additional action? He is a manager known for taking the focus off the team regardless of the current place in the standings. Mourinho understands just how much is written about Chelsea and if he doesn’t direct the bulk of the focus elsewhere it might land on a player or issue that can’t stand scrutiny. Some people believe it is an issue with his ego: he wants the focus on him. I disagree.
I believe Mourinho understands that creating distractions is not only essential on the field and around the tactical plan but also around the club. Sir Alex Ferguson was a master of the distraction, Arsene Wenger is pretty good with it as well, but at this stage Mourinho has surpassed either of them at their respective peaks. This season has already produced a master class from Mourinho: week one it was the medical staff: week two it was Man City’s 3-0 “fake result” win over Chelsea on Sunday.
I watched the match and somehow find myself disagreeing with Mourinho. I don’t necessarily believe 3-0 was “fair” but City deserved the three points. When you fail to score a goal there isn’t much argument you deserved a win, even if City likely should have been a man down in the first half. When you can’t score against 11 saying they should have had 10 is weak at best and Mourinho knows that but he would rather the media discuss that than his halftime substitution of John Terry.
Judging John Terry solely on his on field play he is still a top notch centre half, slower than he used to be but a great reader of the game. Partnered with Cahill they are difficult to beat in most situations. More than the managers who followed his first & preceded his second stint in charge, Mourinho has relied upon John Terry to stabilize the Chelsea back line. According to various reports this was the first time Terry was substituted in 177 appearances for Chelsea: it took place at halftime and was for “tactical” reasons.
Fair enough but if that was the case wouldn’t the two additional goals against make the change potentially a “tactical mistake?” I thought City were better in the first half and deserved their lead but I didn’t see Terry being any more out of sorts than Cahill. City are a fast team, the way they played Sunday wasn’t anything new, so was Mourinho’s preparation or lineup at fault? His reasons for the substitution, putting in a faster player, make sense if you believe that was the problem in a first half that ended 1-0 to City: Terry’s lack of pace. Some media speculation posits that Mourinho made the move as a gesture at ownership. Yet another idea I believe, in the context of this match, is completely absurd. Mourinho wouldn’t make a change in a close match that he didn’t think would benefit the team.
The photo at the top from Upton Park has had no bearing on anything written to this point, and with few seasons left at Stamford Bridge before the next renovation cycle along with the bulk of the topic being Chelsea one might think…but no. This is Upton Park’s year, I have mentioned it before and will do so again. This was the last season opener for the ground, next season will begin at the Olympic Stadium, and the players didn’t show up until halftime. Somehow the squad that played a fantastic season opener to win 2-0 over Arsenal at Emirates looked confused for most of their home opener but because it is early in the season it is too early to get the weary dismays over any performance.
Last week the pundits told us Arsenal were doomed because West Ham played a solid away game and won 2-0; now we hear West Ham’s move to the bigger ground is “doomed” because they lost to a well trained Leicester squad and I can guarantee that next week another team will be declared to be on the road to doom. Nine more months to go so 36 league games plus national and European competitions means at least 55 “days after the game” for more analysis, observation and prognostication.