Tables turned on Jose

NOW Jose Mourinho knows how Brendan Rodgers and Manuel Pellegrini felt after his Chelsea team smothered and stifled Liverpool and Manchester City. Watching the Champions League semi-final second leg, I couldn’t help but think that Atletico Madrid were doing a Chelsea on Chelsea. And I had to smile as I thought: “Diego Simeone has done a job on you, Jose.”

Atletico, a team that does not sport many household names, but one which looks destined to do just that, swarmed all over Chelsea from the first whistle, just like the Blues did when they pulled off big wins at Anfield last week and, a few weeks earlier, the Etihad Stadium. It’s not good-to-watch football but it is effective, as Mourinho’s teams have proved so often down the years. Having said that, I don’t think Mourinho necessarily got it wrong tactically, it was his team selection that let him down.

It was a mistake to play both Ashley Cole and Azpilicueta. Cole stayed in his left-back position, where he has done well in the past two big games, and Mourinho put Azpilicueta into midfield, where he looked lost. The midfield holding zone was crying out for John Obi Mikel – the impressive Nemanja Matic was ineligible – and, though Fernando Torres scored the opening goal, he again looked a shadow of the player who terrorised defenders when he was at Liverpool. Mourinho put Torres in against his first club, in front of the fans who used to idolise him, but it was a mistake. The player who accelerated away from players when in a Liverpool shirt, last night went past one before running into another.

Mourinho brought on another striker, Samuel Eto’o, who gave away a penalty, before turning to the one centre-forward who looks Chelsea’s most potent striker, yet who hardly gets a start, Demba Ba. I would have had Ba in from the outset, along with Obi Mikel and I wouldn’t have played both Cole and Azpilicueta. Atletico, having matched Chelsea at their own “thou shall not pass” game, went on to show they can expand their play, that they can hold the ball and pass it, whereas, when Chelsea needed some guile in midfield, it wasn’t there.

I have to say the result should make the final in Lisbon a more exciting affair. Real Madrid certainly won’t shut up shop – how could they even contemplate it with Ronaldo and Bale in the side – and Atletico have not got this far, as well as within touching distance of the La Liga title, by playing negatively. The loss of Xabi Alonso, one of the Real playmakers, to suspension is a blow to them, though. What on earth was he thinking when he clattered so clumsily into a Bayern opponent, knowing he was one booking away from missing the final?

My best eleven

THE Professional Footballers’ Association named their Team of the Year this week, so I thought I’d tell you what my choice is. The players’ team is: Cech; Coleman, Kompany, Cahill, Shaw; Lallana, Gerrard, Toure, Hazard; Sturridge, Suarez. Here is mine, which has four changes: Marshall; Coleman, Kompany, Terry, Shaw; Lallana, Toure, Gerrard, Silva; Suarez, Aguero.

Had Chelsea’s holding midfielder Nemanja Matic played more than the 15 matches he has this season, he would have probably been in my team for he is an impressive figure who is going to be a big, big Premier League player in the coming years. I gave long consideration to Everton’s on-loan Chelsea striker Lukaku and to Everton centre-back Sylvin Distin, despite him being in his mid-30s. And another Goodison loan star, Gareth Barry, was a strong contender for a place. I would like to see him partner Steven Gerrard in the holding roles at the World Cup, for they would form a strong axis from which England could build. I don’t think it will happen, but I believe it should. Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge were knocking on my door, too.

I went for David Marshall in goal because the ever dependable Peter Cech plays behind a formidable defence at Chelsea, whereas Marshall does the opposite at Cardiff, who would most likely have been relegated by Christmas but for his heroics. Everton’s Seamus Coleman deserves his inclusion after a fantastic season during which he has cemented the right-back position and added more quality to the defensive part of his game. Vincent Kompany is the best centre-half in Europe. Manchester City haven’t found a regular partner for him, but if Chelsea’s John Terry, the best organiser in the business, was alongside him, I would be confident as their manager. Young Luke Shaw is the emerging player at left-back and it is only a matter of time before he makes the role his own for England.

Liverpool’s captain Gerrard has been immense in his “quarter back” role, starting everything from the back and hitting the deadly Luis Suarez with some fabulous passes. Southampton’s Adam Lallana, who is good on the ball, sees a pass and scores a goal, could well be in a Liverpool shirt next season. Along with these two in midfield I simply had to pick City’s dynamic duo Yaya Toure and David Silva. How the PFA could omit Silva is beyond me. He must be a nightmare to play against, a real Will ‘o the wisp. And Toure, well, the guy is a monster, on his day simply unplayable.

Up front I choose City’s Sergio Aguero, who would surely have rivalled Suarez in the scoring stakes had he not missed so many matches through injury. He has real pace and the ability to go either way, a hell of an attacker for a defenders to handle. I remain deeply disturbed by Suarez because of his distasteful diving habit – but I could not leave out a man who has hit 30 league goals in this ever more competitive league.

As for my Player of the Year, I’m waiting until the title has been decided to name him, as I feel he should come from the champion team.

 

 

 

Mourinho master class

YOU have to take your hat off to Jose Mourinho, who delivered another tactical and psychological master class as Chelsea stopped the Liverpool title charge in its tracks on Sunday. Okay, Chelsea did “park two buses” as they stifled Suarez, Sturridge and Co, but they probably had more chances than Liverpool – and, as we know, they scored from two of them to stun Anfield.

Chelsea may not stir the blood like Liverpool, Manchester City or Arsenal do, but they don’t lose to their rivals, either. They are a big, strong, athletic team and, at Anfield, they didn’t make the mistake that City did a couple of weeks ago, namely of standing off Liverpool’s fast-raiding players. Instead, Chelsea were in the faces of Luis Suarez and his team-mates, chasing, harrying, smothering them all over the pitch. Steven Gerrard’s slip, which let in Demba Ba for the opening goal, was unfortunate for the Liverpool skipper, but Chelsea  went on to dominate an increasingly desperate Liverpool, the team that has been sweeping all before it in the past few months.

Mourinho is not everybody’s cup of tea. He can be arrogant and he has done things, like sticking his finger in the eye of an opposing coach in Spain last season, that leave you unimpressed, to say the least. But he is one of the best there has ever been at getting results, at setting out his teams to frustrate and overcome the most dangerous opponents.    If he gets in a couple of strikers he likes this summer – though heaven alone knows why he  hasn’t played the excellent Demba Ba more often – then Chelsea will be even more formidable next season.

One player Mourinho couldn’t possibly improve upon is Nemanja Matic, my Man of the Match at Anfield and by a country mile. This guy, back for his second spell at Stamford Bridge, is the best holding midfielder I have seen in a long time. Matic has been a big player, in every sense of the word, in so many important wins for Chelsea – and he will no doubt have another major role to play in the Champions League semi-final second leg against Athletico Madrid on Wednesday.

 

 

Tremendous Toure

IF Manchester City are to capitalise on Chelsea’s stunning victory at Liverpool and clinch the Premier League title by winning their last three matches, then Yaya Toure will almost certainly prove to be the inspirational figure. I have drooled over the performances of the big Ivorian many times since his arrival at City from Barcelona three years ago and my admiration for the guy was merely reaffirmed by his display at Palace on Sunday.

City went into the match buoyed by Chelsea’s win, which meant the title pendulum had swung back in their favour – provided they win their remaining matches. Palace have been really impressive as they have come from the brink of relegation to mid-table comfort under the superb management of Tony Pulis. But they couldn’t handle a re-energised City, and Toure in particular. His pass to set up Edin Dzeko for the opening goal was sublime and his power, pace and composure as he scored the clinching second goal was awesome. The guy is Usain Bolt in football boots and he can yet lead City to a title triumph they probably thought was beyond them after that defeat at Liverpool the other week.

 

Hot Cole

ASHLEY COLE has given England manager Roy Hodgson a big poser after his sensational return to the fold at Chelsea. The left-back who has won 100 caps for his country has been overlooked for most of the season by manager Jose Mourinho, but he has shown in  his comeback for the massive matches at Athletico Madrid and Liverpool that he remains the best defensive left-back in the country.

The two other left-back candidates for Hodgson’s World Cup squad are Everton’s Leighton Baines, who is undoubtedly better than Cole going forward, and Southampton’s brilliant youngster Luke Shaw, who is wanted by Manchester United and, no doubt, several other top clubs. One thing is for certain, Hodgson won’t take three left-backs and, if Cole’s continued absence from first team football had put him out of the picture, his fabulous displays over the past week will, surely, have put him right back in it.

 

Barry a big loss

EVERTON face an intriguing situation on Saturday, when they face Manchester City at Goodison, clinging to the fading hope that they can qualify for the Champions League by finishing fourth. If Roberto Martinez’s boys shake off the disappointment of defeat at Southampton last Saturday and beat title-chasing City they may still have a chance of fourth place – and they would give Liverpool’s title hopes a massive boost in the process, following the Reds’ stunning home defeat to Chelsea on Sunday. It would be a case of mixed feelings for Evertonians!

Much will depend upon whether Phil Jagielka and Sylvin Distin – both missing at Southampton, where Lukakau and one or two others looked a little jaded – are fit to play. These two are not far behind John Terry and Gary Cahill, at Chelsea, as the best centre-back pairing in the Premier League. Everton’s cause won’t be helped by the absence of midfielder Gareth Barry, my nomination as the club’s Player of the Year – who is not permitted to play against the club from whom he is on loan.

 

 

 

Well done the Latics

LET me add my sincere congratulations to Oldham Athletic, their young manager Lee Johnson and their wonderful, loyal band of followers following the team’s excellent, League One status-saving form of the past few weeks.

I spoke to Lee last week and, yet again, was impressed by him. He is a bright young manager, a man who already has a pretty clear picture of what he’s looking for next season, and he’s a guy who recognises the reality of the situation he is in at Oldham and who works damned hard to make the best of it. Dare I say it, he reminds me of a young Joe Royle, out in all weather, several nights a week, watching junior league and Sunday league football in a never-ending search for talented players who come on the cheap.

Lee lost two or three of his best players early in the season, when financial factors at Boundary Park dictated that the club take the money on offer. That was the harsh reality for nine of the 12 years I was manager there. All credit to Lee and his players for overcoming the problems they face and securing their status. They got three clean sheets in a row and look in good shape for the challenge of next season.

And what a reward for their faithful little band of fans, many of whom I know, like my friend, barrister Pat Buckley, who goes as far south and north as it is possible to go in his unshakeable determination to watch his team through thick and thin. I passed the supporters’ coaches on their journey to Carlisle on Saturday and gave them a honk or two on the car horn. I’m chuffed to bits for you all.

Roberto rumours

EVERTONIANS will be getting nervous about rumours linking manager Roberto Martinez with Arsenal, Barcelona and other unnamed top clubs. In a bid to ease their minds, let me emphasise what a solid relationship Roberto has with Goodison chairman Bill Kenwright, while stressing that these links are purely rumours.

Rumours regarding a manager’s position surface only when you are either successful or unsuccessful. In Roberto’s case, we can assume it is the former. He has done a really impressive job at Everton this season and, naturally, that has been noted by clubs here and abroad. But let’s not worry about what we read in the newspapers regarding the manager. Instead, let’s focus on the exciting climax to the team’s bid for fourth place – in the hope that Roberto is leading us into the Champions League next season.

 

Mind games, Mourinho?

THERE is much talk of Jose Mourinho fielding a second string at Liverpool on Sunday, when victory for the home side will as good as guarantee the Premier League title goes to Anfield for the first time. Well, I expect to see a much-changed Chelsea side, though, as so often at Manchester United in the past 10 years or so, it would be difficult to make a case for it being a “weak” team because virtually every player, if not all of them, will be an international.

The most interesting comparison will come when Mourinho names his team to face Athletico Madrid in the Champions League semi-final second leg three days later. Certainly, the injured Petr Cech and John Terry and suspended Ramires will not be at Anfield and there is no denying that everything is falling into place for Liverpool in their quest for the crown.

I don’t say that as a bitter Blue – I’m delighted with the season Everton have enjoyed and take nothing away from Liverpool’s exciting progress under Brendan Rodgers – but Manchester City and Chelsea’s slip-ups against bottom club Sunderland have eased the Reds’ path to the title, which they can all but clinch on Sunday. As for Mourinho, you never know if he is playing mind games. But, after getting a third misconduct charge of the season from the FA following his post-Sunderland match remarks about referee Mike Dean, you might think he would do well to choose his words carefully!

 

 

United ripe for rip-off

WHEN the dust settles on the sacking of David Moyes – and that will take some time, I know – Manchester United will face another grim reality: Namely, that the club is ripe for exploitation in the transfer market. Rumour has it that the owners, the Glazer family, are prepared to pump in £200million worth of transfer market money this summer in a bid to restore the team to recent former glories. Believe me, they will need all of that – and maybe some more. For the fact is, the football world knows United are desperately in need of new players and the clubs who employ top quality players will be rubbing their hands, while the agents are licking their lips.

The unfortunate Moyes took over a team of champions, but, as I’ve said so often this season, last season’s title triumph was a master class in management by Sir Alex Ferguson, for it was obvious even then that United’s squad needed upgrading. The inflationary danger signs were there when United paid way over the odds for Marouane Fellaini, £27.5million, last August and for Juan Mata, £37million, in January. Imagine how much worse it could become now! Emerging Englishmen like Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana, at Southampton, will not be allowed to leave until the highest price possible has been extracted and targets such as striker Edinson Cavani, of Paris Sain-Germain, and Cesc Fabregas, Barcelona, will have price tags that have “you are Manchester United, pay up or forget it” stamped all over them.

Returning to the manner of Moyes’s exit, the facts of the matter will emerge slowly, with the people responsible for his demise being identified to David as time goes by. I know from personal experience that that’s how it works. Certainly, United have been left looking undignified, though I can imagine how awkward these situations must be when financial institutions like the New York Stock Exchange – necessitating the need for due diligence – are involved. The bottom line is what’s done is done and David, whose stock will still be high, will move on, as I did after the disappointment of my departures from Everton and Manchester City.