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Mourinho, Pogba and the Premier League's five biggest disappointments this season

9:00 AM GMT 24/12/2018
Jose Mourinho, Paul Pogba, Man Utd
The now former Manchester United manager and the French midfielder have both been complicit in an underwhelming start to the club's league campaign

The festive season is upon us, and the Premier League is inching towards its halfway point. And while there is still a long way to go at both ends of the table, the English top flight has already thrown up some early winners and losers.

While the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City have been in imperious form so far, not every team will look back on the first half of the 2018-19 season with such joy. Indeed, Manchester United's torrid league form has already produced one high-profile casualty.

Jose Mourinho, however, is not alone in finding these first few months rather difficult to negotiate.

Joining 'The Special One' are a host of characters that have been well below-par. Unlike Jose, however, they may still yet have time to turn things around after Christmas...


Jose Mourinho


Third-season syndrome struck once again for the Portuguese, who was unceremoniously relieved of his duties as Manchester United boss on Monday. And this time Mourinho only has himself to blame.

He came into 2018-19 with plenty of credit to his name thanks to a second-placed finish last year and a collection of cup victories. But the cracks began to show even before a ball was kicked as he made a series of public transfer gripes that were not well-received by those in the Old Trafford boardroom.

On the pitch, meanwhile, things just kept getting worse. While United's rivals continued to harvest points, the Reds stumbled from setback to setback, losing four of their opening 16 games to lag behind those early pace-setters.

A 3-1 defeat at the hands of Liverpool sealed his fate, amongst rumours of serious rifts in the dressing room with some of United's senior players.

It remains to be seen how the redoubtable Mourinho will bounce back from this embarrassing failure.


Racist Fans


There is no denying that English football has taken great strides in the battle against racism since the nadir of the 1980s, when offensive attacks on black players were commonplace. Nevertheless, a disturbing return to these incidents show that plenty of work still needs to be done on this front.

Raheem Sterling led the charge with a poignant letter published on Instagram after he was barracked from the stands at Stamford Bridge.

"Regarding what was said at the Chelsea game, as you can see by my reaction, I just had to laugh because I don't expect no better," he stated, turning the focus back on certain sectors of the UK media, who stand accused of "fuelling" racist behaviour.

Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has also suffered this season at the hands of moronic supporters, when a Tottenham fan hurled a banana skin at the forward during the north London derby.

It is only fair to mention that in each of those cases the offenders have been identified and banned from the stands by their clubs. But the fact that such mindsets still exist and are allowed to raise their ugly head in 2018 is damning in itself, a call on all teams to remove such poisonous elements from their stands and warn others such behaviour will not be tolerated.


Mesut Ozil


Another supremely talented midfielder who has seen his stock drop spectacularly in the few short months of this current season. Ozil has even been linked with leaving Arsenal after losing the favour of Unai Emery, a fitting end to a difficult year for the player.

Ozil began 2018-19 in the worst possible fashion, licking the wounds caused by Germany's World Cup collapse and engaged in a bitter struggle with his nation's FA over a visit made to Turkish president Erdogan that quickly escalated into accusations of widespread discrimination suffered by players of mixed heritage. 

That controversy has seemed to seep into his form on the field, while the former Real Madrid man is also reportedly uncomfortable with Emery's heavy pressing style and seen as something of a liability in physically demanding matches. While he began the season as a starter, first-team opportunities have become fewer and further between as the term has progressed - with injuries also holding the player back.

Ozil has been a great servant for the Gunners, but it seems that with Emery on the bench his future - at least in the medium to long-term - could be in question. A star showing against Burnley, however, might have just have bought him some time to impress in the coming weeks...


The Underdogs


For a division that extols like none other its unpredictability in those endless 'which is the best?' battles, the 2018-19 Premier League has been something far short of competitive so far.

Liverpool and Manchester City have been almost too dominant in these opening fixtures, the former going unbeaten almost to the halfway stage while City have been beaten just twice, with mid-table and lower sides regularly getting rolled over.

Indeed, of the entire Premier League top five, only two teams, City and Arsenal, have suffered defeat to a side from the lower reaches of the table.

This compares unfavourably to La Liga, where both Barcelona and Real Madrid to name just two have dropped points against relegation contenders; and the Bundesliga, which has proved full of hazards for Bayern this season.

If the Premier League is to maintain its reputation as Europe's most competitive, the underdogs must do a lot better in the second half of the campaign.


Paul Pogba


While Mourinho has rightly been held up as the source of all evils at Old Trafford, he cannot be held entirely responsible for this early season debacle. After all, no matter who is in charge at the bench it is the players who are ultimately charged with scoring goals and winning games.

Pogba, in particular, has done little of either, proving a huge disappointment as his fights with Mourinho grabbed more attention than anything he managed on the pitch.

The Frenchman's troughs are particularly galling considering his heroics over the summer in helping deliver a World Cup title for his nation, showing the form United fans must have hoped would transfer over to the club sphere.

First indications were certainly positive, with two goals in the opening two games of 2018-19. But he has since gone off the boil, scoring just once since then, playing just 15 minutes off the bench against Arsenal earlier in December and not making the field at all in that Liverpool defeat.

With Mourinho gone, will United finally see the best of their enigmatic midfielder? First impressions under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were positive, with Pogba looking a new man and back to his usual assured self.