Premier League Hangover: Jose Mourinho and Brendan Rodgers Under Real Pressure

Alex Dunn@@aldunn80Featured ColumnistSeptember 14, 2015

Jose Mourinho was philosophical in his post-match appraisal, but is he starting to feel the heat?
Jose Mourinho was philosophical in his post-match appraisal, but is he starting to feel the heat?Associated Press

Like everything in life, pressure is relative. There’s a pressure to fill this blank page with words, but it’s not the same pressure as hearing 35,000 people use the medium of song to predict how your job prospects will look in the morning. In turn, being sacked before breakfast would make for a truly blue Monday, but it wouldn’t hold a candle to the bleakness that lies in wait for many.

"Pressure is being a refugee," said Jose Mourinho, via the Observer, after watching his Chelsea side fall to a third defeat in five matches that leaves them trailing Manchester City by 11 points.

It was Ernest Hemingway who said, "courage is grace under pressure," and by all accounts, it was refreshing to hear a manager look beyond the dugout for a little perspective to contextualize their position.

What’s harder to decipher, though, is whether Mourinho’s attitude after a 3-1 defeat at Everton was a man acutely aware of his privileged status or rather genuine concern about his side disguised by words. On paper, they could be read as being impassioned, but in person, they were accompanied by wearied shrugs and the wryest of smiles.

Certainly, his declaration that he is still a champion had the feel of a bloated prized fighter after one too many drinks, declaring the same thing to a bar filled with patrons too afraid to catch his eye. Mourinho said the following to BT Sport (via the Sunday Times):

I am [a] champion, the players are the champions, the way they are playing is not as bad as the results but in every single game things are going against us.

I don't blame my players and I don't blame myself. I don't accept the results, I am responsible for the team, I am not happy with the situation and I am not happy with myself.

I am with the players, I cannot be against them, I cannot have a bad feeling with them, that's what makes me happy.

Mourinho may still be a champion, but he has as many issues as his side have conceded goals. Given that Chelsea are the first Premier League team to have racked up an unwanted dozen in the against column this season, there's plenty to put right. A Mourinho side has the worst defence in the entire league.

The most startling thing about Saturday's loss was how it didn't feel too shocking. Everton were excellent in spells, as pugnacious as Chelsea were languid, yet even Roberto Martinez, via the Liverpool Echo, was willing to concede his side can and will play better. "Good enough" genuinely seems to be good enough to beat Chelsea this season.

Week on week, game on game, an unwanted new fact or stat surfaces, with Chelsea having now lost as many times in the league this season as they did all of last campaign.

This is Chelsea's worst start to a season since 1986-87, the worst of a defending champion since Blackburn in 1995-96. They have now lost four of their last seven Premier League matches; in the previous 44 before this run, they lost the same amount. The league's creakiest defence has conceded 16 goals in the last seven league games—one more than they conceded in the whole of Mourinho's first season in charge in 2004-05.

This seismic shift has seen Mourinho lose successive Premier League games for the first time since May 2006.

Scoring a goal against Chelsea used to be like taking a chess piece off Bobby Fischer, a prize in itself. If Mourinho can't plug the most porous of defences, it will be checkmate in terms of the title before Christmas.

Having a collective issue in any one area of the field can be critical for any side. Chelsea have major problems in defence, midfield and attack. And their first-choice goalkeeper is injured.

Branislav Ivanovic has gone from being the best right-back in the league to arguably the worst, with the Serbian's failure to stop Brendan Galloway's cross leading to Steven Naismith's first goal of a perfect hat-trick, a header violent in its execution. Ivanovic's patented hands-behind-the-back method of blocking shots then gave the Scot an invitation to shoot he duly dispatched, doubling Everton's advantage from outside the box.

Central-defensive triumvirate John Terry, Kurt Zouma and Gary Cahill aren't faring much better, either.

Steven Naismith scored the goals, but John Stones was immaculate at the back for Everton.
Steven Naismith scored the goals, but John Stones was immaculate at the back for Everton.Jon Super/Associated Press/Associated Press

At the other end, John Stones was putting on a display so immaculate he could have worn a white suit throughout and still not needed a dry cleaners come full-time. Barely a minute had elapsed when he invited Diego Costa to take him on in the penalty area before easing Chelsea's raging bull off the ball with a matador's finesse.

Make no mistake, this was a showman's performance from Stones. Cruyff-turns were employed in his own box, but he was more Franz Beckenbauer in his elegance in playing out from the back. As Manchester United showed against Liverpool later in the day, when defenders who are uncomfortable on the ball are pressed high up the field, mistakes are forced and errors made.

Stones revelled when Costa and Pedro Rodriguez hustled and harried. His passing when put in a corner had more devilment and invention than Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard managed between them.

Expect Mourinho to challenge the Gwladys Street End's view that "Money can't buy you Stones" again in January. 

Forget Kevin, the person we really need to talk about is Fabregas. On Saturday, John Obi Mikel, who one suspects resides in a Stamford Bridge broom cupboard with only an abacus and gold bars for company like Cyril Sneer, was given his first start of the season. This, in turn, afforded Fabregas a more advanced role. Going off his performance at Goodison, it's not his position that is the problem.

It would be churlish to suggest the World Cup and two-time European Championship winner is disinterested, but in terms of body language, he wears the look of a tortured artist. 

For a player whose infectious enthusiasm bordered on the obnoxious in his Arsenal days, this current model has about as much life as a pint of milk left on the step in the sun. According to WhoScored.com, he recorded zero shots, aerial duels won, dribbles, tackles and blocks combined. It's a wonder the board didn't flash "0" when he was hooked for Willian with 15 minutes left. 

Nemanja Matic's arrow of a strike was of such beauty it should have been put in a frame and presented to him at full-time, but it was out of keeping with all that preceded or followed it. Mourinho's claim, via the Guardian, that "we deserved a better result at Everton, and after coming back from two goals down we were controlling the second half, then the first time they crossed the halfway line they score another," if nothing else, reassures that the Portuguese hasn't lost his sense of humour. 

Were it not for the modern phenomena of the Internet obsessively telling the rest of the world where we are all located from one minute to the next, it would be tempting to point out that Diego Costa has scored just four times in his previous 18 league games. As it is, I'm too terrified he'll turn up on my doorstep to show anything like journalistic integrity. The Spaniard, then, is very much at the top of his game—and not at all angry. 

More Misery for Rodgers at Old Trafford

When Mourinho does his "I am Spartacus; I am champion" routine, it grates on many, but it is a confidence borne from a managerial record as imperious as any in the modern game. When Brendan Rodgers shows a similar cast-iron belief in his methods, it becomes a little more problematic, even for those who buy into his philosophy and like to see Liverpool more as a "project" than a football club.

Rodgers looked (even if he didn't say it) willing to accept Liverpool were ranker than a burned Sunday roast in his post-most appraisal. The opening period was best summed up by the Match of the Day highlights edit. Essentially, it was made up of the kick-off and a Simon Mignolet throw out that hit Juan Mata to fall fortuitously into the path of Manchester United's makeshift striker, Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian's lobbed effort was like watching someone attempt to paint the Sistine Chapel wearing boxing gloves.

The first half was a ghost of a game, a study in inertia and lassitude that had those watching arguing for the right to make a tea or to go to the bar to buy a round. To get off a perpetual Ferris wheel of sideways passes was the common goal for all watching, except the two touchline generals nodding sagely at football in its purest/dullest form. United had over 60 per cent possession, per WhoScored.com, but they registered not a single shot on target. The processes were good, though. 

After half-time, apropos of nothing, it all went a bit "football, bloody hell," as Old Trafford was awoken from its collective slumber. Substitute Ashley Young stuck two fingers up at the prospect of 40 lashings by taking on his man to win a free-kick, which after being rolled into the path of Daley Blind, was, for want of a better word, spanked gloriously into the top corner.

The genie was out of the bottle, as Ander Herrera first drew a foul from Joe Gomez before dispatching the resulting penalty high and handsomely in a manner that recalled Alan Shearer. Not bad for a first ever professional spot-kick, as the Independent noted. 

Off camera, in the Sky Sports studios, Graeme Souness and Jamie Carragher were partaking in an arm wrestle to decide who could rip into Rodgers' 4-3-3 obsession first. Thierry Henry was making a point about how he'd have marked Blind for United's first, but no one was listening. 

Rodgers didn't help himself with the fact his lineup suggested he was willing to break out from a self-imposed straitjacket by employing a proper front two in Christian Benteke and Danny Ings. It's not exactly Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, but it's a starter for 10. Even at the point of his substitution on 74 minutes, it was hard to pinpoint exactly where Ings had been asked to play. To be fair to the player, he looked as bemused as those watching.

Roberto Firmino was equally underwhelming again too, with the Brazilian perhaps hopeful his compatriot Coutinho's suspension would open the door for 90 minutes as a No. 10. Like Ings, however, his furtive wide forays were unproductive. 

Given the service he received was so bad it looked as though Basil Fawlty and Manuel were playing either side of him, it's to Benteke's credit he managed to pull a genuine goal-of-the-season contender out of the bag. His overhead kick was one of those rare goals that looks better each time you see it.

The last word, though, belongs to Anthony Martial, who in a 25-minute cameo allowed sub-editors across the world to exhaust every conceivable dodgy pun on his surname before he's even started a game for Manchester United.

As even Louis van Gaal was willing to concede, his goal wasn't bad, either. Has anyone made a comparison with Thierry Henry yet?

Sorry, Martial, the Last Word Actually Belongs to Leicester City.

Marvellous.

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