Blues’ Ital­ian re­nais­sance will hurt Jose

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

TEN games into a sea­son usu­ally tell us the story. Le­ices­ter were the Ha­ley’s Comet ex­cep­tion but this time the top four look as if they could stay the top four. The man­agers are the stars and the story is still Jose Mour­inho.

If it were pos­si­ble for his week­end to get any worse af­ter be­ing sent to the stands, de­nied a plau­si­ble penalty, de­nied a goal by a su­per­hu­man keeper and sink­ing to eighth in the ta­ble be­hind Wat­ford, Antonio Conte’s Ital­ian re­nais­sance at Chelsea en­sured that it did.

Their 2-0 win at Southamp­ton was a clas­sic Mour­inho per­for­mance – old Mour­inho, with a few key re­fine­ments. Yes, the bus – or au­to­bus – was parked but Ital­ian style with three at the back. A highly mo­ti­vated team made the most of 45% pos­ses­sion, counter-at­tacked with pur­pose and was ruth­less in front of goal.

It would not have made pleas­ant view­ing for Mour­inho, en­sconced in the soli­tary confinement of his 5-star ho­tel. For this was es­sen­tially his team, his play­ers but play­ing for a Premier League rookie in a way they had re­fused to do for him dur­ing that fi­nal, muti­nous cam­paign.

The goalscorers, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, have been re­ju­ve­nated and are re­dis­cov­er­ing the form they showed dur­ing his ti­tle-win­ning sea­son – be­fore it all im­ploded. So, too, is Ne­manja Matic who is ben­e­fit­ting from hav­ing the re­lent­less N’Golo Kante along­side in mid­field to do the run­ning in­stead of a re­luc­tant Cesc Fab­re­gas.

And then there’s Vic­tor Moses, a player whom Mour­inho re­garded as no more than a spare part to be loaned out to lesser mor­tals, a rev­e­la­tion at wing-back while Pe­dro – an­other whose fires he failed to light – is show­ing his Barcelona form.

Mak­ing the trans­for­ma­tion of this Chelsea side even more re­mark­able is that it has been achieved with­out ‘Mr Chelsea’ him­self, John Terry. ‘The cap­tain, leader, leg­end’ had been the last man stand­ing of the old Mour­inho guard and when he turned his an­kle at Swansea on Septem­ber 11, you feared for the Blues.

Gary Cahill was not the same with­out the skip­per to hold his hand and no one could un­der­stand why the capri­cious David Luiz had been brought back. Ham­mer­ings by Liver­pool and Arse­nal duly fol­lowed.

At that stage, it looked as if Conte, like a cou­ple of his peers, had a big­ger job on his hands than he’d bar­gained for. Like Mour­inho, he’d been de­nied his first-choice signings in the trans­fer win­dow and three con­sec­u­tive lunches with Ro­man Abramovich pro­vided plenty of food for thought about his fu­ture.

But he has not won three Scud­et­tos for noth­ing and, af­ter learn­ing English in record time, showed fur­ther im­pres­sive adapt­abil­ity with his for­ma­tion and man­man­age­ment. Manic on the touch­line, mea­sured with the me­dia, he is an enigma who was ini­tially hard to read, but on the ev­i­dence of four straight league wins with­out a goal con­ceded, it looks as if he’s al­ready turned Mour­inho’s mu­ti­neers into ti­tle con­tenders.

Chelsea were the first love of the Spe­cial One’s life in Eng­land and ev­ery­one at Stam­ford Bridge al­ready ap­pears over their ac­ri­mo­nious di­vorce. Not so the man­ager in what he calls his “dream job”. Just as Sam Al­lardyce found with Eng­land, in foot­ball you have to be care­ful what you wish for and there hasn’t even been a hon­ey­moon.

In truth, Manchester United are do­ing bet­ter than Mour­inho – they are not play­ing that badly but are not get­ting the breaks. Burn­ley was one of those games when the ball simply re­fuses to go in, but the man­ager isn’t help­ing him­self. In­deed, there is a sus­pi­cion that he’s al­ready weighed down with the size of the club, the size of the task. The dream may al­ready be turn­ing into a bit of a night­mare.

He now knows that four signings were not enough – es­pe­cially when one is al­ready per­sona non grata and an­other in­jured. His os­tracism of Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan is per­plex­ing – he paid £27m for him – while the way he ban­ished Ger­many World Cup­win­ning cap­tain Bas­tian Sch­we­in­steiger might have alerted Hu­man Rights Watch had Louis van Gaal not sanc­tioned a salary of £170,000 a week.

No one – least of all the two play­ers – seems to know what heinous crime they’ve com­mit­ted while adding to the mys­tery is that both are vet­eran in­ter­na­tional mid­field­ers – an area where United have lacked a lit­tle dy­namism in re­cent weeks.

Mour­inho’s touch­line de­meanour of Bud­dha-like sto­icism en­livened by oc­ca­sional ex­plo­sions sug­gests he is all too con­scious of be­ing on his best be­hav­iour only to lose the plot when the tip­ping point is reached. His com­plaint about a life of lonely lux­ury was surely an un­char­ac­ter­is­tic cry for help, while Satur­day’s be­hav­iour hinted at melt­down.

To an un­re­con­structed nar­cis­sist like the Spe­cial One, the praise for Conte and Jur­gen Klopp will have grated, es­pe­cially when it is be­ing claimed their modi operandi make him look “old school”. Just as galling will be that Arsene Wenger, the “spe­cial­ist in fail­ure”, might be on the cusp of rare suc­cess.

The Por­tuguese’s squan­der­ing of £150m sug­gests he may have lost his touch in the trans­fer mar­ket as well as in the dress­ing room. Nor does it help that Kevin de Bruyne, An­dre Schu­urle and Juan Mata are ex­hibits A, B and C in at­tack­ing mid­field­ers whom he let go, the first two for a song.

The loom­ing pun­ish­ments – par­tic­u­larly if he’s banned from the sta­dium – may give him time to sort out his suit­case but the United line-up would seem a more press­ing prob­lem. He has not had the best of luck but sym­pa­thy is hard to find as he doesn’t help him­self.

United won’t sack him as it just might cause a dip on Wall Street but the press won’t let go as he re­mains such an ir­re­sistible story: in a cruel world, noth­ing sells bet­ter than a brag­gart fall­ing on his own petard.

Af­ter Real Madrid and his sec­ond com­ing at Chelsea, we knew his bat­ter­ies had a short shelf-life and were prone to ex­plo­sion: now he must show that he won’t just be re­mem­bered as the Sam­sung Note 7 of foot­ball man­agers. BURN­LEY goal­keeper Tom Heaton, 30, could be in line to start Eng­land’s next two games – against Scot­land and Spain.

MID­DLES­BROUGH ENG­LAND striker Harry Kane, 23, could re­turn from in­jury in time to play for Tot­ten­ham against north Lon­don ri­vals Arse­nal on Sun­day.

BARCELONA SWEDISH striker Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic, 35, will soon end his goal drought, ac­cord­ing to Manchester United team­mate An­der Her­rera.

SUN­DER­LAND’S MANCHESTER CITY man­ager Pep Guardi­ola in­sists back-up goal­keeper Willy Ca­ballero, 35, is ready to take on Barcelona in the Cham­pi­ons League, with first-choice Claudio Bravo, 33, sus­pended.

Manchester United man­ager Jose Mour­inho ar­gues with the fourth of­fi­cial in the English Premier League match against Burn­ley on Satur­day. –

mid­fielder Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan, 27, trained alone, a day af­ter be­ing left out of Manchester United’s squad to play Burn­ley.

de­fender Ben Gib­son, 23, is an­other player who could be in line for an Eng­land callup.

are in­ter­ested in 16year-old Manchester United at­tack­ing mid­fielder An­gel Gomes.

on-loan Manchester United winger Ad­nan Januzaj, 21, says the Black Cats gave up too eas­ily in their 4-1 de­feat by Arse­nal.

Chelsea’s head coach Antonio Conte em­braces Diego Costa (L) af­ter the English Premier League match against Southamp­ton at St Mary’s Sta­dium yes­ter­day. –

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