MOURINHO'S SECOND COMING IS STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS
It is rare to see Jose Mourinho as introspective and self-critical as he was after his side’s defeat at Newcastle on Saturday.
Sometimes the Chelsea manager tries to send a message to the players or the supporters with his post-match musings, but he seemed to be genuinely chiding himself as he complained of making “11 mistakes” at St James’ Park.
Mourinho, not for the first time, was suggesting he had selected the wrong starting lineup for the match. “I’ve been in this game many years and I was smelling what was going to happen,” he said. “I did not like my team today.”
The problem for the Portuguese is that he does not know his best team, despite acknowledging he would ideally have settled by now on a preferred starting XI for Premier League matches. And that is reflected in the players’ performances. They are too nervous and tense over their places in the side.
Samuel Eto’o was dropped last month the game after scoring his first Chelsea goal. Gary Cahill found himself on the bench this weekend having been the club’s best central defender so far this season. Juan Mata has flitted in and out of the side to the extent that he fears for his place in Spain’s World Cup squad and is considering a January transfer.
The chopping and changing has left players uncertain, nervous and unable to relax on the pitch, according to sources at Stamford Bridge. And you could see it in the timid display at Newcastle, where they buckled under pressure in the second half.
Mourinho’s criticism of his team selection includes old favorites who started, including John Terry and Frank Lampard. So he is sticking to his principle of operating a meritocracy. And Chelsea is second in the Premier League table, five points behind leader Arsenal with the only 100 percent home record in the division.
But Mourinho has not settled as quickly as he did in his first spell in charge, and the teething problems with the squad have manifested in some poor results on the road. You sense from his post-match comments that Mourinho has now decided to stand by a fixed starting lineup in the Premier League.
That could be a cause of concern for the likes of Mata and Eto’o, but it is without doubt the best way to correct the issues as Chelsea faces a run of six eminently winnable games - against West Brom, West Ham, Southampton, Sunderland, Stoke and Crystal Palace - before it faces Arsenal on Dec. 23.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PROVIDES MOYES WITH A CHANCE TO STEP OUT OF FERGIE SHADOW
I was in the presence of David Moyes on Saturday for the first time since the humiliating Manchester derby defeat in September.
Suffice to say he was in far better form, exceedingly more relaxed and in a bullish mood after United had brushed away Fulham to extend its unbeaten run to seven games.
The comparisons with Sir Alex Ferguson will endure for a while longer, but Wednesday’s Champions League clash at Real Sociedad offers Moyes the first chance to really make his mark at the club.
Victory in Spain would take United to 10 points in Group A - traditionally seen as enough to qualify for the knockout stages - and would represent a significant step toward the last 16 from a tough group.
Ferguson’s one major disappointment from his 26 years at Old Trafford was his failure to win more than two Champions League titles. Moyes now has a real opportunity to step out of Ferguson’s shadow and answer those questions over whether he is a high enough caliber coach to mastermind victories against Europe’s best.
As terrible as Fulham was defensively Saturday, the relationship between Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney was particularly encouraging for the Scot. He will no doubt be looking toward his strike pairing to send United a step closer to the next stage Wednesday.
HODGSON MUST LOOK TO ALTERNATIVES AFTER HART'S CITY AXE
Roy Hodgson will be feeling a little twitchy after reading that Manuel Pellegrini plans to leave Joe Hart on Manchester City’s bench for the foreseeable future.
Given the goalkeeper’s shocking form, it’s hard to see how Hodgson can possibly play Hart in the November friendlies against Germany and Chile if the 26-year-old is not even playing for his club.
Pellegrini made absolutely the right decision in ditching Hart for Costel Pantilimon after one too many costly mistakes this season. The Chilean had backed him earlier in the season, but you can’t afford almost weekly howlers from a goalkeeper if you have aspirations to challenge for the Premier League and Champions League.
Or if you want to win the World Cup. Hodgson has publicly supported Hart, too, but it would send entirely the wrong message to start him in the friendlies later this month.
Fraser Forster must be given a chance in both games. Not least so he can build up some vital international experience in case Hart fails to rediscover the form that once made him one of the world’s best goalkeepers.
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