With 10 minutes left to play, Old Trafford began to empty as Tottenham led the Red Devils 2-0. The years of confidence in United when, under Sir Alex Ferguson, the team could produce a couple of late goals to force a draw, is simply not there these days. Instead Tottenham added a third to rub salt into an already painful wound. As United Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward looked on from his executive soft cushioned seat, he was straight-faced and looked miserable. Spurs’ fans were chanting at Mourinho: “You’re getting sacked in the morning!” That isn’t going to happen but who would bet against it happening in a couple of months time if things don’t improve. The following morning, I can tell you exclusively, Woodward spoke for 20 minutes on the telephone to his bosses in America. He gave them the full picture of both the game and the situation inside the dressing room. He was told that United must carry on with Mourinho for now but both Woodward and the owners will constantly review their options and also have another managerial strategy in place should Mourinho leave or be sacked. That option would almost certainly include ex-Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane. When Harry Kane rose above Phil Jones to head in for Spurs, you could almost hear Mourhino thinking: “There you are Woodward, I told you I needed Leicester’s big Harry Maguire because he would have safely headed that ball away!” Jose looked up at the directors’ seats and he had a scowl on his face.
Keep your fingers crossed for Son Heung-min
My prayers go out to Tottenham’s Son Heung-min this weekend. He was given a great send off when he departed for South Korea to play in the Asian Games final against Japan. His teammates and training staff cheered the popular Korean when he said goodbye at the Spur’s training ground. If South Korea are victorious, Son will avoid his country’s compulsory National Military Service. If they lose he will face leaving Tottenham for two years at the age of 28 and not return until he is 30. His government gives exemptions to athletes who win gold medals at the Asian Games or the Olympic Games. Son is being fully supported by Spurs as they try and protect him and the five-year contract he signed last month. If South Korea lose he will continue his fight against joining the military and has been allowed by Tottenham to play in the Asian Cup being held in the United Arab Emirates next year. Keep a watch out for the result today because it means so much to both Son and Tottenham.
Toby stands tall
Before the game at United on Monday evening, I queried Tottenham about the inclusion of Toby Alderweireld instead of Davinson Sanchez at centre back. Mauricio Pochettino provided the answer by explaining that he needed someone capable of dealing with Romelu Lukaku. Someone who had the physical presence but would also not let Lukaku get behind him on goal side. Sanchez is still young and inexperienced and it is one of his faults to be ironed out. Toby did his job well and kept Lukaku quiet for most of the match. Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen marshaled their defence. The two do not socialise much outside of the club and Vertongen’s best friend is Mousa Dembele. However, the two former Ajax players grew up playing together and are perfectly natural in their partnership. United currently have no players with that kind of understanding.
Alonso and Azpilicueta struggling
I picked up an interesting story at Chelsea this week when I learned that Chelsea’s two star defenders Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta are struggling to deal with new manager Mauricio Sarri’s tactics. He is trying to establish ‘Sarri-ball’ a fast paced, possession-based, pressing style which made him famous in Italy’s Serie A. The manager prefers a four-man defence but under Antonio Conte Chelsea players were used to playing three at the back with Azpilicueta used as a right-sided centre back and Alonso as an attacking wingback. Under the new system both players look uncomfortable going forward because they are often caught out of position as they adjust to the new tactics. Former Liverpool and Tottenham player, now turned football pundit, Jamie Redknapp picked up on this point and said: “Normally in that situation the left wing-back knows that when he moves forward up the pitch, the left-sided centre-back in a back three would come across and cover that space. But when you’re in a four, you can’t afford to do that. You have to move together and that’s what they don’t do.” Certainly one for the manager to solve on the training pitch ahead of this weekend’s game against Bournemouth.
Bournemouth a Premier League side
Hands up all those who thought Bournemouth would be sitting in 6th place in the Premier League after five games? Not many I suspect. The south coast team, under manager Eddie Howe, regularly take big club scalps but they were pushed into a relegation fight last season. The club have a strong belief that they can win silverware this season. The Cherries are unbeaten so far but face a tough challenge this weekend at Chelsea but the main thing is that they are now established as a Premier League side. I spent some time there this week and was very impressed with the set up. They don’t have the big money of clubs like City or United but they spend wisely and Howe is a first class manager often tipped to be a future England coach. Whereas many managers rotate their stars, Howe prefers to keep the same team week after week. Their only big signing is Columbian midfielder Lerma who cost £25million, a club record, from Spanish side Levante. Left back Rico has now completed a three-match suspension and will start against Chelsea and Lewis Cook and the evergreen Jermain Defoe will probably feature. Howe said: “We have some very talented players and I am looking forward to watching Jefferson, who has impressed me in training. He’s been really good so that is mouth watering.” I don’t expect Bournemouth to win but they are formidable opponents and a draw might be possible.
The Hornets have a sting
The biggest surprise package of the season so far has to be Watford, affectionately known as The Hornets. This not so fashionable club have a 100% record so far and are in a Champion’s League place. Brighton, Burnley and Crystal Palace have all lost to Watford and goalkeeper Ben Foster believes that a victory against Tottenham this weekend will send out a message to the whole league. Foster said realistically: “The three games played so far we targeted to win. They’re were massive because if you beat one of the big boys it’s almost like earning bonus points but wins against the lower clubs are our bread and butter and it pulls us away from the mid-table or lower. If we can get something against Tottenham it will be a world class start to the season.” With nine points so far, they are neck and neck with Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea. Javi Gracia is the first manager to survive a summer at Watford in four years where the manager’s office should have been fitted with a revolving door as managers arrived and left! Foster said of Gracia: “He is a really good guy and the lads have bought into his vision of what we should be as a team and the football we should play. He’s calm, not a ranter or raver, he doesn’t shout and wave his arms and he knows that at this club, he has the player talent to do well this year.”
Sarri’s Chelsea master plan
Mauricio Sarri has been explaining how he intends to rebuild and retrain his Chelsea squad. He said: “If you have been used to defending by looking at the man, I now ask my players to defend by looking only at the ball. If you are 28 and for 10 years have played the other way it is not so easy to change. You are not depending on the opponent. If you are defined by looking only at the ball, you can stay very high up the pitch. In the other way, you rely on the movements of the opponent. The idea is to press the opponent for the full 90 minutes. I think we can press for 90 minutes; only if we have the right distances between the players. In the last part of the first half against Arsenal, we lost distances, so it was impossible to press and recover the ball. We were immediately in trouble. But I think we can play correctly for 90 minutes.” Chelsea have switched to the 4-3-3 formation as against Newcastle and that gives them many options when going for goal. Pep Guardiola thinks Sarri is the best coach in Europe and was deeply impressed by his intense work in Naples and that is the key to why Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich wanted to hire him.