Liverpool’s long title wait a warning for Manchester United

Manchester United’s manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gives directions to his team. (AP)
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Updated 19 January 2020

Liverpool’s long title wait a warning for Manchester United

  • The problem for United is Solskjaer’s rebuild is just the latest of many that have so far failed since Ferguson retired in 2013

LIVERPOOL: Thirteen months on from the match that finally drew the curtain on Jose Mourinho’s time in charge of Manchester United, the Red Devils again find themselves living in Liverpool’s shadow ahead of their return to Anfield on Sunday.
A 3-1 defeat for Mourinho’s men last December that left United 19 points behind Liverpool at the top of the table was the final straw for the club’s decision-makers.
But over a year on, little progress has been made under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Defeat on Sunday will see the gulf between the teams grow to 30 points with Liverpool also having a game in hand to come over fifth-placed United.
As a player, Solskjaer was used to having the upper hand in the rivalry between English football’s two most successful sides.
The Norwegian won six Premier League titles in the Alex Ferguson era as the pugnacious Scot delivered on his promise to knock Liverpool off their perch.
Ferguson won 13 league titles in total, but the first of which in 1992/93 ended a 26-year drought for United.
At that time, few would have believed that Liverpool, English football’s dominant force in the 70s and 80s, would go at least 30 years without winning the league.
That three-decade wait looks certain to come to an end this season with Jurgen Klopp’s men 14 points clear at the top of the table, but Liverpool’s long route back to the top is a warning for United of what could lie ahead if they do not move fast to arrest their slide. “We are working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. Let that be a lesson for us,”
said Solskjaer.
“We can’t let ourselves go another 24 years till we win the league and I’m sure won’t because I believe in this club. We started the rebuild now that I believe is going to take a little bit of time, but we’ll get there.”
The problem for United is Solskjaer’s rebuild is just the latest of many that have so far failed since Ferguson retired in 2013.
United are now onto their fourth permanent manager in that time and are now pursuing a policy of signing young, emerging talents after being burned on splashing big money on players past their prime like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexis Sanchez and Bastian Schweinsteiger in recent times.
Liverpool have spent far less in the transfer market of late, but it is the right structure in place above the German allied to Klopp’s ability to inspire and improve players that has made the Reds Champions League winners and English champions in waiting.

BACKGROUND

A 3-1 defeat for Jose Mourinho’s men last December that left Manchester United 19 points behind Liverpool at the top of the table was the final straw for the club’s decision-makers.

“Klopp has moved Liverpool so far ahead because rather than buy a team of superstars, he has made a team of superstars,” former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher wrote in The Telegraph this week.
“What Klopp is achieving at Anfield is more a triumph of coaching and management, aided by skilled recruitment, than the flexing of financial muscle.”
Liverpool are unbeaten in the league in over a year and have taken 104 points from their last 38 games compared to United’s 59.
Klopp’s galvanizing effect shows the difference having one of the world’s top managers can make, and one is now on the market should United decide to change course again.
Mauricio Pochettino was United’s primary target when Mourinho was sacked just over a year ago, but the Argentine was contracted to Tottenham at the time.
Solskjaer needs a strong end to the season if he is to be given another campaign to right the United ship.
And there would be no better way for him to prove that progress is being made under his watch than ending Liverpool’s unbeaten run at Anfield in the Premier League stretching back to April 2017.


Tottenham look to seize on Chelsea’s Premier League slump

Updated 21 February 2020

Tottenham look to seize on Chelsea’s Premier League slump

LONDON: Jose Mourinho had almost reached the end of his lament about the current situation facing his weary Tottenham players when he turned his attention to their next Premier League game against a team he knows so well.

“The Chelsea players were watching this game on TV,” Mourinho said after Tottenham’s 1-0 home loss to Leipzig in the Champions League, “with nice sparkling water, with lemons and biscuits, enjoying the game.”

If only the outlook at Chelsea were so rosy.

Indeed, recent results suggest the predicament of Mourinho’s old club is more concerning than Tottenham’s.

Chelsea, somehow, find themselves still holding onto fourth place in the league heading into Saturday’s London derby against their nearest rivals in the race for Champions League qualification. That’s despite collecting only 15 points from its last 14 games, a dire run stretching back to the end of November.

At that time, Chelsea were on a six-match winning streak — its best since the team’s title-winning season of 2016-17 — and wasn’t too far behind Liverpool, the current runaway leader. Youngsters like Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori were regular starters, given their opportunity by an up-and-coming manager in Frank Lampard who is eager to promote youth. US winger Christian Pulisic was in his best form since his move from
Borussia Dortmund.

Fast forward three months and injuries are starting to bite, the kids are starting to feel the pace in a grueling season, and Lampard — a bright, eloquent and engaging manager — has been grumbling about the club’s failure to add numbers to the squad in January and his players’
wastefulness in front of goal.

“I must sound like a broken record,” a clearly frustrated Lampard said after seeing Chelsea get picked off in a 2-0 home loss to Manchester United on Monday.

Lampard’s main gripe is the team’s inability to finish off chances, which has become more pronounced with Abraham — a scorer of 13 league goals this season — currently out injured.

With Callum Hudson-Odoi and Pulisic also missing against United, Lampard played a front three of Willian, Michy Batshuayi and Pedro Rodriguez — a throwback to a few years ago and an era Chelsea fans probably thought they’d seen the back of.

Key midfielder N’Golo Kante joined Abraham on the injury list after going off early against United, while Lampard is still playing 38-year-old Willy Caballero in goal after dropping Kepa Arrizabalaga — signed in 2018 as the world’s most expensive goalkeeper.

It’s an uncertain period for Lampard, who is still a rookie in managerial terms, and Chelsea’s recent slump has seen as many as seven teams move within seven points or closer in the standings.

In that three-month period, Tottenham have won 29 points — a haul second only to Liverpool. That coincided exactly with Mourinho taking over as manager from Mauricio Pochettino.

The issue, now, is whether Spurs can keep it up, and Mourinho clearly has his doubts. With attackers Son Heung-min and Harry Kane out potentially for the rest of the season, Mourinho likened his team to someone “going to fight with a gun without bullets.”

Amid a hectic schedule that has seen his team play two FA Cup replays since the turn of the year, Mourinho said he has been forced to start with the same group of players for matches every three of four days. Erik Lamela and Tanguy Ndombele came off the bench against Leipzig having barely trained.

“I try to manage the pieces that we had,” he said.

Throw in the fact that Tottenham has a tight turnaround after the Leipzig match — Wednesday night to Saturday lunchtime — and Mourinho will feel he has genuine cause for grievance.

Yet, he is managing to scramble together results and a win at Stamford Bridge, where he previously enjoyed two separate trophy-winning spells as coach and was once revered, would see Tottenham climb above Chelsea.

Outmanoeuvring Mourinho, his former coach, in a 2-0 win at Tottenham in December was one of the few bright spots for Lampard in recent months. 

Doing so again would give him and Chelsea some much-needed breathing space in what is suddenly a bunched chase for Champions League qualification.