Managers in trouble, even in turmoil. Managers as salient and celebrated as the Special One , Jose Mourinho. Managers who initially made such a great impact this season as Chelsea’s Antonio Conte, now suddenly enveloped in gloom. Managers such as West Ham United’s Slaven Bilic, whose team’s radical relocation from the comfortable closeness of Upton Park to the massive environs of the Olympic Stadium have so far seemed catastrophic. Not to mention the ignominy of letting in four goals at West Bromwich Albion, a team which for many months had found scoring a pitiful rarity.
Even Arsene Wenger at Arsenal has had a shaky start to the season. Some of the reporting of the Gunners’ 4-1 win at Hull City seemed to me curiously superficial. Mistaken emphasis being put on the fact that Arsenal away from home were so much more confident and effective than Arsenal at the Emirates where a somewhat lukewarm atmosphere was allegedly affecting the players.
This attitude, or if you like exoneration, taking no account of the feeble display of Arsenal in the Parcs des Princes in which Paris St Germain should have wiped them out and would have done had not their Uruguayan attacker Edinson Cavani have scored in 40 seconds not missed three or four chances to put the game out of Arsenal’s reach and had not David Ospina deputising in goal for Peter Cech not played out of his skin to thwart one strike after another.
What too of Spurs, whose first ever appearance at Wembley in a European game was disastrous, well beaten by Monaco, evoking memories of how uneasy a time their north London neighbourhood rivals Arsenal had for European games at Wembley when they deserted Highbury to play there.
Liverpool’s well-deserved victory at Stamford Bridge emphasised the importance of John Terry, watching no doubt with some alarm from the stands, injured.
Liverpool’s first goal was a defensive fiasco, a gaggle of Liverpool players left at the far post as a dead ball kick came over. You simply couldn’t imagine anything like that happening had Terry been there to marshall the defence as he has been doing for years, and still can at the age of 35. Chelsea in their folly having dithered about renewing his contract all summer, till Conte came along.
Did he really want David Luiz? That gifted but highly undisciplined centre back, recalled from Paris? A player whose tactical indiscipline is a byword, whose roving out of position was a crucial factor in Brazil’s seven goal humbling in Belo Horizonte in the last World Cup and who gave away a parlous goal in the third-place match against Holland.
Without Terry, Gary Cahill, who faute de mieux keeps getting picked for England, looks a vulnerable centre back.
But things look much worse for Manchester United, beaten three times in a week, suggesting that Mourinho has lost his once vaunted and indeed self-advertised hegemony.
The club has spent untold millions – well, told to the point of hyperbole – but what have they brought. £89m for Paul Pogba not long ago allowed to leave Old Trafford for a song. Losing to Manchester City in the local Derby was no disgrace – Pep Guardiola’s team is far the most impressive in the Premiership – but defeat by modest Feyenoord even if their winner looked offside was alarming, and still more so was the disaster at Watford.
Pogba has at least shown somewhat more effectiveness than Wayne Rooney, whose iconic status with both club and country now seems more that of a fallen idol. After England’s drab display in Slovakia we heard Sam Allardyce – emiting nonsense, could he have been serious – about allowing Rooney to play where he wished?
On current form he hardly deserved to play anywhere either for club or country. His pace has gone, his goal scoring record for England seems a great irrelevance, at Watford he was ineffectual to a degree.
Arsenal outplayed Hull who, for much of the game, played with ten men after what looked a harsh and perhaps even illegal sending-off, but their defence in Paris looked porous and though Sanchez got them a fine goal at PSG and a couple more at Hull, he isn’t a centre forward however much he fancies the position. Simply too small to do any damage in the air.
West Ham’s home defeat to Watford – after having gone two goals up – was surpassed in ignominy only by the wretched collapse at the Hawthorns where one of the goals came when two players strolled half the length of an unmanned and uncontested field.