Monday Soccer Insider: Sept. 2, 2013

Jose Mourinho’s second act at Chelsea is starting very much where his first left off with the manager’s comments becoming more a caricature of himself than anything deep and thoughtful. While I felt the almost universal skepticism in the British press upon the return of The Special One to Chelsea was out of place, I am beginning to see precisely why some well-respected writers had doubts about Jose Act II. Mourinho’s arrogance has never been in question but it appears he is beginning to engage in a certain amount of self-delusion about his side. Jose is a brilliant and talented manager of footballers and egos. But the biggest ego is that of Mourinho himself.  Juan Mata’s continued omission from the squad defies all reasonable logic as does the manager’s unwillingness to be ever questioned by the media on his tactics or squad selection.

Liverpool’s crisp passing, fluid movement, strong defensive shape and spacing on the pitch indicate Brendan Rodgers has gotten a strong “buy in” from the players to his system. It is early and I am not ready to anoint LFC a title contender just yet, but you can do more with less talent on paper when the understanding between teammates is as good as Liverpool’s appears to be at this early stage of the season.  Missing out on Henrikh Mkhitaryan was the only setback thus far this summer for Liverpool as they have bought well and not conceded yet in Premier League play. As for Mkhitaryan, his stellar play has shot Dortmund past Bayern atop the Bundesliga table.

Chelsea should have learned a harsh lesson two years ago when they foolishly loaned Yossi Benayoun to Arsenal and saw the Gunners finish three places above them in the table with the Israeli playing a key role in the run in. Now the Blues have done it again loaning Victor Moses, a potential game changing winger, to Liverpool.  Loaning out players surplus to requirement is fine but loaning players out to teams competing with you in the table is madness.

Arsenal is a title contender if fitness can be maintained at a higher rate than the past two seasons. I see fewer weaknesses in Arsenal’s ideal first XI than I do in any other squad. But then again the side lacks the clear difference maker that Manchester United has with RVP and Chelsea has — multiple players. The Gunners difficulty with finding a ball winner in midfield may have been solved with the signing of Mathieu Flamini, who like many Arsenal players has a history of injuries.  Now Arsene Wenger must address the lack depth particularly on the back line and at the striker position.

Manuel Pellegrini’s naivety about his Manchester City squad, which we discussed last Monday was again on full display this Saturday against Hull City. The Blues were unable to control the tempo in the midfield due to the inability of Yaya Toure, David Silva and Fernandinho to possess the ball effectively. The continued omission of Jack Rodwell and Gareth Barry means the club lacks a ball winner in midfield. Joleon Lescott’s performance was shocking, finding himself poorly positioned multiple times and unable to effectively mark Danny Graham.

Speaking of David Silva, Samir Nasri proved to be more creative towards the tail-end of last season and this preseason. I am surprised Silva continues to start ahead of the recently recalled French international.  Manchester City may have expensively assembled talent but the management change was ill-advised and perhaps based more on personality and style than results.  Pellegrini is a smart tactician but unless he quickly grasps what English football is like, City can be written off as a title contender even at this early stage.  With six sides possibly contending for the top four, Champions League qualification, though likely, is not assured either for the Blues.

It was so refreshing to see Crystal Palace manager Ian Holloway do a little jig at Selhurst Park after the Eagles 3-1 win over Sunderland. Palace’s former manager Dougie Freedman is leading Bolton towards disaster after not securing promotion last season. The Trotters sit bottom of the Championship table after a 4-1 defeat at Ewood Park to Blackburn.

West Bromwich Albion is struggling to even gain a foothold this season. The midfield duo of Claudio Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu, who were so effective in controlling tempo last season, have been ineffective this year.

Michu was simply brilliant for Swansea against West Bromwich Albion. Talk had begun to intensify that the Spaniard was going through a second season syndrome in English football but his Sunday shift should put to rest any such talk.

Burnley’s 3-0 win at Pride Park against Derby County was a statement of intent. Even after Charlie Austin’s sale to QPR, the Clarets can contend for promotion from the Championship this season.

In the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich‘s performance against Freiberg was unambitious and complacent. Perhaps the side had an eye forward towards the European Super Cup but the midfield seemed more content to knock the ball around than anything that was risky while leading 1-0. In the end Bayern was burned and drew 1-1.

Nuri Şahin’s play for Borussia Dortmund this season has been particularly surprising given his high-profile flops at Real Madrid and Liverpool. This begs the question whether Shinji Kagawa needs to go “home” to BVB to rediscover his form.

Monaco have gone to the top of Ligue Un with a surprising win in Marseille. The scuttlebutt at the beginning of the season was that Claudio Ranieri would be sacked relatively early in the season if things did not go well, but instead his side is already showing signs of pushing for the title. The loss drops Marseille a point back of Monaco heading into the international break.

Congratulations to the Portland Thorns who had goals from Tobin Heath and Christine Sinclair to help them win the inaugural NWSL Championship.

My local club the Fort Lauderdale Strikers are on a three game winning streak in the NASL taking them to within a point of the top of the table. In five matches this Fall Season, the Strikers already have more points (nine) than they did the entire Spring Season (eight).

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  1. Ken September 2, 2013
  2. Paul September 2, 2013
  3. Eplnfl September 2, 2013

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