Premier League Hangover: Rodgers Bids Farewell, Jose Loses It, Arsenal Run Riot

Alex Dunn@@aldunn80Featured ColumnistOctober 5, 2015

The Merseyside derby proved to be Brendan Rodgers' swan song at Liverpool.
The Merseyside derby proved to be Brendan Rodgers' swan song at Liverpool.Associated Press

Just when it was getting interesting, along comes an international break. An intermission in Premier League proceedings is usually a period for quiet reflection, a time to gather one’s breath, to take a drink safe in the knowledge the kids are at their grandparents'.

Clearly, this season's scriptwriters have a darker sense of humour after a weekend in which Dick Advocaat saved Brendan Rodgers the ignominy of being the first managerial casualty of the season—if only by a matter of hours—Sergio Aguero recorded a five-goal haul in the space of 20 minutes, Arsenal obliterated Manchester United in the same time period, Crystal Palace and Leicester City moved to within three points of the summit, and Jose Mourinho went on a rant he might just have finished by the time his players return from international duty.

Where better to begin than the scene of Rodgers' coup de grace, Goodison Park. Sunday's largely uninspired 1-1 draw was the sixth time in seven matches Liverpool and Everton have shared the spoils. The result had become a footnote within an hour of the final whistle. Liverpool smiling assassin Chief Executive Officer Ian Ayre (below) at least had the decency to dress according to the occasion, decked out as he was in full funeral regalia as he took his seat in the stand.

Rodgers proved remarkably prescient in his post-match press conference, per the Guardian, as he spoke of the need for the club to embark on a rebuilding mission: "Whether that is with me or someone else in the job."

When a man who has a giant portrait of himself hanging in his home starts to show self-doubt, it's time to tell the portly lady singing outside Anfield that her work there is done.

While Rodgers also reiterated how he felt safe in his job, there was little doubt that this was the rhetoric of a dead man walking.

A day earlier, Mourinho may have been more mad man talking, yet in delivering his sermon with a steely eyed conviction usually reserved for people shouting in car parks, he at least gave the impression he'd prise a salmon from the jaws of a mountain bear to keep his position at Chelsea. Either that or he'd talk it into a coma.

The timing of the announcement suggests the Fenway Sports Group had already made up their mind to dispense with Rodgers ahead of the international break, regardless of the result at Goodison.

There was nothing in Liverpool's performance at Everton to suggest his players had stopped playing for him, but likewise there was equally scant indication they possess enough collective quality to obtain the minimum requirement of a Champions League place come May.

Failure to beat Norwich, Carlisle and FC Sion at home has not sat well with FSG, yet it is performances away from Anfield that have been even more alarming.

Sunday's draw means Liverpool have now won just once in 10 games on their travels.

Rare is it that a manager loses his job on the back of a six-match unbeaten run. Five of those six matches were 1-1 draws, though, so it's hardly a golden return on the £80 million that Liverpool spent over the summer on new players. Heavy reinvestment of the cash generated by Raheem Sterling's sale took Rodgers' spending to almost £300 million since he joined the club from Swansea City in June 2012.

How much of that £300 million was spent on players of Rodgers' design alone is open to conjecture. The shadowy transfer committee at Anfield will forever cast doubt on whether it was a case of "live by the sword, die by (someone else's) the sword." Like so many facets of the 42-year-old's tenure, there is no straightforward answer.

Whichever way you cut it, though, he's been given more time and money than most to realise his vision.

Even taking into account the untimely departures of Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Sterling as mitigating factors, few will have watched Liverpool this season and feared "death by football" (h/t Daily Mail). The primary philosophy earmarked for his project upon striding through the Shankly Gates three years ago has been responsible for few known casualties.

The 2012 fly-on-the-wall documentary Being: Liverpool remains his nadir. That said, it's not hard to imagine him watching it back on DVD when he's got the house to himself and being quietly pleased with how he comes across. Expect the envelope test to resurface at wherever he pitches up next.

It is Rodgers' acute verbosity that makes it easy to forget he came closer to winning the league for Liverpool than either Gerard Houllier (seven points behind Arsenal in 2001) or Rafa Benitez (four points off Manchester United in 2009) managed before him. This is a manager who took Liverpool to within one win of the Premier League title in 2013/2014.

And for that reason alone, he almost certainly doesn't deserve to be cast as a parody of himself, shuffling out the back door at Anfield with a book of Shankly quotes and a Modern Management manual under his arm. He might not be as good a coach as he thinks he is, but he's almost certainly better than many give him credit for.

 

Reports: Mourinho still answering first question

It was a remarkable outburst that greeted Chelsea's loss, even by Mourinho standards.
It was a remarkable outburst that greeted Chelsea's loss, even by Mourinho standards.Frank Augstein/Associated Press

It was like a soliloquy stolen from Macbeth. For seven-and-a-half unbroken minutes, Jose Mourinho answered a single question from Sky Sports as if unaware there was an audience on the other side of camera.

It was the type of performance that is usually afforded a stage and spotlight—candid to the point it seemed almost intrusive to watch.

Mourinho's unsolicited outburst in the aftermath of his side's turgid 3-1 defeat to Southampton was a persecution complex unraveled live on air. It made for gripping television as paranoia dripped from his every word, a reservoir of self-righteousness pooling by his feet.

Referees as a collective were accused of being afraid to give Chelsea decisions, his players' mental strength not so much questioned as eviscerated, before Roman Abramovich was publicly challenged to sack him. If it was a dagger he saw before him, Mourinho was in grave danger of slitting his own throat.

Indeed, it was a diatribe so discursive in its subject matter, rattled off without missing a beat, it was hard to belief it was all off the cuff.

Exasperation at referee Robert Madley's failure to award Radamel Falcao a penalty at 1-1 was a hollow complaint given Southampton had two legitimate appeals of their own rejected.

A fanciful conspiracy theory will almost certainly see him charged and fined by the Football Association, but as a diversionary tactic to take the glare off his overwrought players, it was so far, so Mourinho.

"I think it's time to be a little bit honest and to say clearly the referees are afraid to give decisions for Chelsea," he told Sky Sports, relayed via the Independent.

"The result was 1-1 when it was a huge penalty, and, once more, we didn't get one. And, I repeat, if the FA wants to punish me, they can punish me. They don't punish other managers, they punish me, but it's not a problem for me."

Mourinho is, of course, no stranger to courting controversy, but that's precisely the point. He courts what he wants and rolls his eyes at that which he can do without.

Even in a crisis, and that's what Chelsea are in having lost half of their league matches in what is the worst start to a season in 37 years, what followed seemed to be brinkmanship to the point of self-sabotage.

Below documents Mourinho surmising his points, but there was not a word wasted during his screen time. You could stick a pin at random into a transcript of the interview, per the Independent, and almost certainly land on a line worthy of a back-page lead:

I want to make it clear. One, I don't run away.

Two, if the club wants to sack me, they have to sack me because I'm not running away from my responsibility and my team. To be champions will obviously be very, very difficult because the distance is considerable, but I am more than convinced that we will finish in the top four. And, when the season is so bad, if you finish top four, it is OK.

Three, even more important than the first and the second, I think this is a crucial moment in the history of this club. Do you know why? Because if the club sacks me, they sack the best manager that this club has, and secondly, the message is again: bad results and the manager is guilty.

Mourinho has now lost five of his last 10 Premier League matches; before that he had lost five of the previous 59. Abramovich was at Stamford Bridge on Saturday in the Gods of the West Stand, and while according to the Daily Mail he was disgruntled enough to call a board meeting after the game, there is reportedly no immediate chance of Mourinho being relieved of his duties.

He's not a man known for his patience, though, and it seems unlikely he will have enjoyed Mourinho's post-match performance any more than he did his team's capitulation to an admittedly excellent Southampton side.

Self-doubt is rampant in this Chelsea side, and it appears now to have spread to the manager too. If it reaches the owner before results improve, it won't just be Liverpool on the lookout for a new coach.

 

Super Sunday for Wenger and Arsenal

Alexis Sanchez put in a superlative display as Arsenal swept aside Manchester United.
Alexis Sanchez put in a superlative display as Arsenal swept aside Manchester United.Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

On any other weekend, in any other season, Arsenal's luxurious demolition job on Manchester United would lead this column.

In an opening 20 minutes that will forever now be stitched into the Premier League's rich tapestry, Arsenal's forwards tore into their opponents with a physicality that was matched with a touch so dexterous it was as though they were driving tanks wearing silk pyjamas. Mesut Ozil could have played in a white smoking jacket, while sporting a monocle.

As an attacking triumvirate, Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Ozil were as perfect as Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger were pedestrian as a midfield trio.

In no area of the field could United match their hosts, and that extended to the dugout too where Louis Van Gaal endured an afternoon very much to forget.

Arsene Wenger's spiky denouncement of boring journalist questions in Friday's press conference, reported via the Telegraph, felt less prickly and more pertinent with each passing minute. 

Van Gaal's instruction to Schweinsteiger to hunt Santi Cazorla deep was an unmitigated disaster. The German is still in north London now looking for the Spaniard.

Why Rooney wasn't asked to stand on the toes of Arsenal's conductor-in-chief will go down as one of life's great mysteries, with Schweinsteiger's laboured pressing upfield leaving acres in behind him to which Arsenal exploited with a ruthless efficiency that so often evades them.

Sanchez's improvised first, a Cruyff-like flick at the near post from Ozil's clever cutback would have had the Dutch master on his feet applauding its execution. It was a thing of rare beauty, and Arsenal's second just 33 seconds later, in both its conception and conclusion, was in its own way equally as exquisite.

A touch from Sanchez that was so stylish it deserved its own catwalk gave Ozil possession, and after he played in Walcott, the England man showed an appreciation of what was going on around him that at times has been his Achilles' heel when operating through the middle. A perfectly weighted ball rolled back to Ozil was dispatched into the bottom-left corner from just inside the box with only seven minutes on the clock. 

Matteo Darmian failed to reappear for the second half and, in truth, it wouldn't have been cruel had he been replaced on 20 minutes after Sanchez's second, a missile of a strike, gave Arsenal an unassailable three-goal lead. Allowing the Chilean to cut inside on to his right foot is nothing less than criminal for an international-class defender. 

In the second half, Arsenal were content to sit deep and pick off their visitors on the counter-attack. United dominated possession in spells, but it was largely sterile as the Gunners conjured just as many chances and went closest to threatening the scoreline when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain struck the bar with a lovely dinked effort in injury time.

Watching Rooney pick up a booking for the clunkiest of fouls on Ozil after he'd been exiled to the left wing recalled the effervescent schemer leaving Gareth Barry for dead in Bloemfontein for Germany's fourth goal against England at the 2010 World Cup.

Rooney's form is diminished to the point few would argue it would not be a case of being cruel to be kind were Van Gaal to pull him out of the firing line.

 

Five-star Aguero sends City back to the summit

Is there a better player in the Premier League than this man?
Is there a better player in the Premier League than this man?Jon Super/Associated Press/Associated Press

On any other weekend, in any other season, Sergio Aguero's five goals for Manchester City in 20 remarkable minutes either side of half-time in their 6-1 defeat of Newcastle United would lead this column.

As it is, all we've got room for is a five-word review: the Premier League's best player.