BPL Notebook Matchday 4: Guardiola’s supremacy over Mourinho ensures Manchester’s blue

13 Sep

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Manchester is blue.

The hype surrounding another chapter of the Jose Mourinho vs. Pep Guardiola rivalry was poised, but like several past encounters, the latter was filled with smiles at the final whistle.

They said he couldn’t do it at Stoke – albeit not being a cold Tuesday night – but Guardiola’s City mesmerized the Potters over lengthy spells. And at Old Trafford, they weren’t favourites. Despite the sensational passing moves, rejuvenated underachievers such as Raheem Sterling, and the weekly growth and understanding of Guardiola’s philosophy, City weren’t supposed to be this good in September.

Mourinho’s experience may still be the x-factor that guides Manchester United to another Premier League title, but Guardiola’s City displayed that they’re still the team to beat. Frankly, Mourinho’s past achievements and United’s stability was a non-factor – put simply, this was another outing where Guardiola out-coached his Portuguese rival.

If we base the result on performances this season, the result isn’t too surprising. United were unbeaten like City, but apart from the solid displays from the rarely tested back-line, Mourinho’s men were average. Though City showcased signs of vulnerability, their progress as a unit was evident with every game.

The first half performance at Old Trafford was their best yet, leaving Mourinho and his troops flabbergasted. City’s passing was breathtaking, the midfield was dominant, and when they pushed men forward there was an intended route to goal. Nolito and Raheem Sterling positioned themselves on the touch-line to maintain width, with the latter constantly running across Luke Shaw – it was clear Guardiola highlighted the left-back’s positioning as weakness in the United XI.

But more so, United were unable to cope with City’s counter-pressing, and their sloppy passing ensured Guardiola’s men constantly retained possession. The midfield duo of Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini’s positional awareness were exploited this season on a few occasions, and here, against genuine world-class stars in Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva, United suffered profoundly.

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Neither Pogba, nor Fellaini competently tracked City’s creative dynamos and it was unsurprising that De Bruyne, in particular, was involved in both goals. The Belgian easily received various passes in pockets of space behind Fellaini, and was unmarked when he poked the ball behind Daley Blind in the buildup to City’s opener. Kelechi Iheanacho’s winner witnessed Sterling easily drift past Pogba, whereas the City striker found space behind Fellaini to receive a pass that subsequently resulted in a simple tap in.

Tactically speaking, Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 is largely associated with Rooney’s inclusion in the XI, but even the United captain failed to negate Fernandinho’s passing from deep positions. In the past, Mourinho has often flipped his midfield to transition into a 4-3-3, which in truth, appears to be the ideal system for United – yet the Portuguese manager was reluctant to offer his defence proper protection and deploy Pogba in his preferred position.

The decision to retreat into two banks of four without pressing the centre-backs equally proved costly. Where John Stones may have been expected to be the catalyst from deep, Nicolas Otamendi was efficient on both ends of the field – the Argentine constantly located De Bruyne between the lines, and made several key interventions around the City box.

In many ways, the Guardiola – Mourinho spectacle spoiled the general viewer: even when the latter attempted to fix his initial error by shifting into a 4-3-3 to introduce Ander Herrera and Marcus Rashford, the former quickly negated United’s eight-minute spell of improvement by summoning Fernando for Iheanacho. Now City were effectively operating with De Bruyne playing through the channel, and Leroy Sane’s debut cameo ensured Guardiola could rely on a tricky wide player from the right.

United received opportunities to equalize via Rashford’s pace and Ibrahimovic’s aerial threat, while Pogba and Fellaini appeared comfortable in advanced positions, but the away side still posed several threats on the counter-attack. Even Mourinho’s traditional last-ditch substitution – replacing a defender for a striker and moving to back three – that welcomed Anthony Martial was countered by the arrival of Pablo Zabaleta, which saw Fernando drop into defence with City transitioning into a 5-4-1.

Guardiola simply had an answer for every option Mourinho relied on with hopes of salvaging a result. Perhaps this is a wakeup call for Mourinho and the Old Trafford faithful that believe they’re clear-cut favourites to return to the summit in May, as the big name signings, Mourinho’s experience, and stable core barely harmed City.

Oddly enough, while all the banter regarding Mourinho’s system change is focused around Rooney, the United captain produced one of his better performances in recent time. Rooney created Ibrahimovic’s fortuitous goal, and constantly charged forward to provide his teammates service in key areas.

Nevertheless, the dilemma with fitting Rooney into the XI sacrifices key facets that could make the difference between a title-winning team and top-four challengers, which suggests Mourinho must address his formation issue sooner rather than later. Like every manager in the league, Guardiola’s spent big this summer, but he represents a veteran Premier League manager opposed to a man attempting to find his way.

A true student of the game that always identifying various methods to defeat an opponent in the finest manner. Once doubters that the Spaniard solely required the best talent the sport has to offer will vanish quickly, as true greatness shines regardless of the circumstances.

Full-time celebrations featured the City players joining together in a group huddle and their manager congratulating the players individually for their impressive performance. Where Mourinho and his troops suffered that long walk towards the Old Trafford tunnel in defeat, the scenes on the pitch captured a significant moment in Manchester history.

For the first time since the Abu Dhabi Group United Group took over the club, City finally appear to be a team.

And that’s what makes Guardiola great.

Swansea punish Conte’s profligate Chelsea

It would be very difficult to identify how Chelsea didn’t maintain their 100% record to start the season at the Liberty Stadium. The Blues were dominant for majority of the match but failure to build on Diego Costa’s 18th minute opener proved costly.

Chelsea’s discipline out of possession has been one of the few factors that have improved under Antonio Conte, and here, they comfortably coped with Swansea’s three-man backline. Oscar and Nemanja Matic harried Leroy Fer and Ki Sung-yeung out of possession while N’Golo Kante’s consistency ahead of the back-line has been a revelation.

The away side persisted with sitting off Swansea’s centre-backs, and they also avoided pressing Jack Cork in deeper positions, yet the hosts were unable to pose a threat from open play. However, several wasted opportunities from Hazard and Costa kept Francisco Guidolin’s men in the match, and two defensive errors from Thibaut Courtois and Gary Cahill – the latter was actually fouled despite is mental lapse – witnessed the Swans score two goals in two minutes.

Although Costa walked a tightrope throughout, he remained a constant goal threat by dropping into space behind Cork, and running towards goal. Once again, the Blues required Conte’s timely substitutions to earn a point, though, as the Italian turned to Victor Moses and Cesc Fabregas. The latter ignited two Chelsea moves in a three-minute span, thus resulting in Costa’s acrobatic equalizer.

Top teams tend to struggle in the initial match following the international break – due to the vast amount of players travelling around the world to compete – but this was about Chelsea’s poor finishing opposed to fatigue. Guidolin’s formation switch prior to half-time did lead to a slight improvement in the home side’s overall play, but they still failed to create quality chances apart from that freakish two-minute spell.

In a title race consisting of the best managers in the world, Conte is aware that his Chelsea side can’t afford to concede points due to mental/defensive lapses within their half. Although Costa’s start to the season provides room for optimism, Conte requires goal contributions from the likes of Hazard, Oscar and Willian to mount a legitimate title challenge.

Liverpool’s cruise past Leicester with sheer speed

Liverpool may not lift the Premier League title in May, but similar to a Chelsea side playing no part in European competitions, the Reds should be a difficult outfit to overcome. Despite Jurgen Klopp’s side possessing a few weak areas going forward, on their day, Liverpool can compete with the best sides in the league.

The Reds weren’t keen on applying their energetic press from the front due to Leicester’s threat on the counter, which therefore witnessed the champions struggle to cope with the hosts’ pace upfront. Klopp’s men dropped into a 4-5-1 out of possession and occasionally attempted to squeeze when the opportunity presented itself, whereas Claudio Ranieri instructed the champions to prevent Liverpool from playing out the back.

Still, Leicester’s main issue revolves around Kante’s departure leaving a massive hole in midfield, and Ranieri relying on their main strengths from last season. Liverpool instantly exploited Daniel Amartey’s positional indiscipline in central areas through Firmino, who drifted from the left flank into pockets of space behind the midfielder to test Kasper Schmeichel.

Minutes later, the Reds exposed Leicester weak points – Riyad Mahrez’s unwillingness to track full-backs, and space behind Amartey – to open the scoring as James Milner received a pass behind the Leicester winger and located Firmino between the lines, as the Brazilian ran across the edge of the box to beat Schmeichel.

Meanwhile, Sadio Mane and Daniel Sturridge’s inclusion in the XI offered pace, which could explain why Liverpool were reluctant to press from the front. The former doubled the Reds’ lead but it stemmed from Sturridge breaking beyond the Leicester centre-backs, while Henderson and Firmino combined in central areas.

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Ranieri’s side encounter difficulties breaking down opponents due to the lack of a creative passer, Mahrez’s poor form, and the fact that teams have now designed defensive methods to cope with Vardy’s pace and runs into the channels. Lucas Leiva succumbed to Leicester’s high pressing to provide the away side a lifeline, but apart from one moment of brilliance between Vardy and Mahrez, the Foxes failed to pose a threat in the final third.

Firmino was the catalyst behind Liverpool’s key moves throughout, and his influence improved when he moved into a central position following Sturridge’s departure. The Brazilian’s outside runs into half-space led to key chances for Henderson and Mane, and when the latter rounded an onrushing Schmeichel, Firmino coolly doubled his goal tally.

While Leicester’s inability to evolve this summer currently coincides with their issues, Klopp’s astutely outwitted Ranieri. Firmino’s movement, the decision to retreat into their base shape, and the speed of Sturridge and Mane were the key elements to the perfect performance. Often capable of raising their level against the superior sides in the league, the Reds must identify ways to replicate performances of this stature on a weekly basis.

Southampton frontman woes surface at the Emirates

Another positive away display against a top side saw Southampton drop points against an uninspiring Arsenal side. Failure to replace Mane and Graziano Pelle lingered throughout the Southampton XI to start the season. They were highly impressive at Old Trafford, and here, once again, the Saints failed to capitalize on a positive performance.

The overall pattern of the match was predictable, yet extremely tame with all three goals created via set-pieces. Arsenal dominated possession with debutant Lucas Perez’s penalty box presence fairly non-existent, and Southampton’s narrow 4-5-1 limiting space within central areas. Unfortunately for the Saints, they lack a centre-forward capable of holding up play, nor were they capable of putting together enough passes to mount counter attacks.

Likewise, Arsenal’s buildup play was extremely frustrating: the crosses from wide areas were over-hit, while Mesut Ozil endured a quiet outing by his standards. Claude Puel’s decision to introduce Shane Long pushed Redmond to the right and Tadic upfront, thus ultimately leading to the former squandering two 1v1 chances with Petr Cech from point-blank range.

Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud were summoned shortly after the hour mark, but besides the contentious penalty call for Jose Fonte’s slight pull on the latter, neither attacker influenced the match. Perhaps the decision to award Arsenal a stoppage time penalty was harsh, but this was further evidence that justifies the notion that Southampton desperately require a goal-scorer upfront.

The midfield is young and talented and the back-line remains solid, but Puel’s men will struggle to win games if they don’t address their inadequacies upfront.

Everton newcomers make their mark in Lukaku goal-fest

Ronald Koeman’s appointment at Goodison Park went under the radar, but his influence on a Toffee side that underachieved last season is gaining prominence. Romelu Lukaku’s 11-minute hat-trick will rightly dominate headlines, but Idrissa Gueye and Yannick Bolasie’s direct dominance was the catalyst behind Everton’s triumph at the Stadium of Light.

David Moyes’ Sunderland adopted a deep defensive block to fluster an Everton side still deprived of a genuine creator in advanced positions, and courageously coped with the away side’s first half territorial dominance. Ross Barkley barely found space to exploit beyond Jan Kirchhoff, Bolasie’s role from the right meant he could only deliver crosses into the box, whereas Lukaku was unable to roll his defender around the box to test the keeper.

The one evident change in Everton’s overall game is the direct power and dribbling from Bolasie on the flanks and Gueye’s dynamism in midfield. Sunderland couldn’t cope with either player in their respected position, and when Koeman opted to replace Barkley for Gerard Deulofeu, and swap Bolasie to his preferred left flank, the Black Cats were overwhelmed by Everton’s pace.

Bolasie’s threat from the left persisted in the opening 15 minutes of the second half, but a rapid second half counter involved Gueye clipping a far post cross for Lukaku to nod Everton into the lead. Gueye also contributed to Lukaku’s quick snapshot off the crossbar prior to Bolasie driving past Javier Manquillo to create the Belgian’s second goal from a far post cross.

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Mirallas and Deulofeu combined to complete Lukaku’s hat-trick, but Everton played to last year’s strengths by breaking swiftly on the counter-attack. Nonetheless, Bolasie’s presence and ability to evade challenges, create chances and score goals, along with Gueye’s drive in central areas, offers an additional element to Everton’s game.

With 20 minutes to spare Everton comfortably humbled their former manager in a devastating manner. Lukaku offers Koeman the non-existent goal-threat witnessed in Everton’s opening three games, but in terms of penetration – without a creative passer around the final third – Gueye and Bolasie’s direct play may suffice.


Manchester United 1-2 Manchester City, Bournemouth 1-0 West Brom, Middlesbrough 1-2 Crystal Palace, Stoke City 0-4 Spurs, Burnley 1-1 Hull City, West Ham 2-4 Watford, Arsenal 2-1 Southampton, Liverpool 4-1 Leicester, Swansea 2-2 Chelsea, Sunderland 0-3 Everton

Weekend Stats

  • Ronald Koeman is the 1st Everton boss since Thomas McIntosh in 1919 to win his first two competitive away games in charge of the Toffees.
  • Romelu Lukaku recorded the first hat-trick of the 2016/2017 Premier League season, and it was the 12th quickest scored in the division’s history (11 mins, 37 secs).
  • Thibaut Courtois has received more red cards (2) & given away more penalties (3) than any other GK in the PL since August 2015.
  • Liverpool have scored more Premier League goals in 2016 than any other team (50).
  • Harry Kane has become the fourth Spurs player to score 50 Premier League goals (after Sheringham, Defoe and Keane).
  • Jose Mourinho has won just one of his last ten meetings with Pep Guardiola. (drawn four and lost five).
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Posted by on September 13, 2016 in EPL, Published Work


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