Back To Football For 'Cracking' Villas-Boas

If anything, Andre Villas-Boas didn't go far enough when confronting Neil Ashton. Still, a few more wins and those no-shirts, no-shoes wrestling matches won't be necessary...

Last Updated: 02/12/13 at 20:35 Post Comment

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Roberto Martinez
The Everton manager does not immediately strike you as being an especially vindictive or spiteful man, but even he would surely appreciate the comic timing if his side won at Manchester United, thus doing what David Moyes couldn't manage and winning an away game at one of the old 'big four' teams.

There are plenty of Everton fans already convinced they have traded up by replacing Moyes with Martinez, and success at Old Trafford may convert a few more.


David Moyes
Quite apart from that, Matthew Stanger raised an interesting selection question in Winners and Losers on Monday:

'With Rooney in such a ruthless streak as the man charged with leading the line, it almost seems that Robin van Persie's return from injury could be to the team's detriment. Unless Kagawa can truly apply himself on the left, then United's creative issues are set to continue.'

Van Persie might return for the visit of Everton, but if he doesn't, another option might be to use Danny Welbeck as Roy Hodgson does for England, operating largely from the left but supporting a centre-forward, with Kagawa playing behind Rooney. That set-up made brief appearances against Spurs on Sunday, and with Rooney in his current form, it might be the best way to deal with the absence of Van Persie.

Furthermore, it will be interesting to see if Rafael is on the bench again. The Brazilian has been missing since the start of November, but was only a substitute after regaining fitness for the Spurs game. There has been talk that Moyes is unconvinced by the full-back, which is frankly troubling, given his talent.

United have gone 12 games unbeaten, seven in the league, but that run has included disappointing draws at home to Southampton, at newly promoted Cardiff and an embattled and blunt Spurs. Those are six points dropped, and Moyes cannot afford to miss many more chances to pick up all three points.


Liverpool
The good news is Brendan Rodgers confirmed that Phillipe Coutinho will be fit to play some part in Liverpool's game against Norwich. The bad news is that Daniel Sturridge won't, and indeed he won't be until the new year.

Here's a stat for you, via freelance journalist Kristian Walsh: Since Luis Suarez returned to the Liverpool team, their strike partnership has been responsible for 14 of their 19 goals. The other five were from set-pieces.

Rodgers was right when he said that Liverpool's squad can't cope with injuries to players of the quality of Sturridge or Coutinho, and in fairness not many teams would look in good shape if they had lost two of their best three players, but that does rather draw attention to the money spent on Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto in the summer. In the region of £14million went on that pair, who at present don't look like they have any place in the Liverpool first team.

"If we get two victories in the next two games that will put us on course for the bigger picture of two points a game," said Rodgers.

"If we were going to lose a game in that run of five, I wouldn't have expected it to be at Hull. That's no disrespect to them but this was a game where we should come and do much better. But it's the bigger picture we need to reflect on. It's now a massive game against Norwich and we must focus to get the points in that game.

"Anfield has been a really good place for us this calendar year so we need to get over this and get three points on Wednesday."

Quite so, bigger picture or otherwise.


Andre Villas-Boas
If anything, Andre Villas-Boas didn't go far enough. If he really wanted to teach Neil Ashton a thing or two, he would have jumped over the desk at his post-Manchester United press conference, ripped off his shirt and challenged the Daily Mail man to a wrestle. That's the way men solve their differences. No shirts, no shoes, no eye-gouging and no fish-hooking.

Tiffs with the gents of the press aside, Tottenham's short trip to Fulham is a big one for Villas-Boas. A creditable performance against Manchester United yielded a draw, but that isn't enough to release the pressure on a manager undoubtedly showing the strain, whether or not you class mouthing off at a journalist as 'cracking'.

Away from the discussion with Ashton, Villas-Boas' assessment of the game itself was pretty sensible.

He said: "I think we deserved something. It was a good response to the heavy defeat that we took at Man City. Not perfect because perfect would have been to win the game but a good response from a group of players that want to do well.

"It keeps us in touch with the group at the top and gives us the motivation to go forward."

Indeed. This week they face a Fulham side who, while at something of a low ebb, have a new manager. Or head coach. Even though that was his title before. The difference now being that Rene Meulensteen doesn't have Martin Jol technically above him, although Jol basically spent the last few weeks of his tenure doing a passable tribute of Paul Sturrock, whose spell at Southampton was supposedly swiftly halted after being spotted kicking back and eating fried egg baps on the training ground.

Anyway, a win for Spurs and those critical pieces in the Mail will be built on much shakier ground. Which of course will stop them being written...


Hugo Lloris
How many more times can a commentator describe an 'uncharacteristic error' before it becomes, well, characteristic? Lloris is obviously a fine goalkeeper, but while some may question Danny Welbeck's role in Manchester United's penalty on Sunday, Lloris did at the very least 'give the referee a decision to make', as they say.


Rene Meulensteen
"I totally disagree with that because it has been a quite long process of me bringing myself into Fulham and I spoke numerous times with people at Fulham," said Rene Meulensteen this week when asked whether he had anything to do with Martin Jol's departure from Fulham.

"I have known Martin for many, many years and my departure from Manchester United took some time but eventually I felt it was the right thing to do to come to Fulham and to help Martin at Fulham Football Club.

"It was definitely not something that I was anticipating. We wanted to turn this corner together."

If Meulensteen genuinely didn't see this dismissal coming, he either had a huge opinion of Jol's powers of recovery, or he is naïve in the extreme, or had just not looked at the league table very closely.

The good news is that the latter explanation is hugely unlikely, and that Meulensteen has a very good idea of what is going wrong at Fulham. Which is good news because plenty is currently going wrong at Fulham. They have lost nine of their 13 games thus far this season, and the last five in a row, leaving them in the relegation zone as we approach the stage of the season when that starts to become both relevant and serious.

Whether he knows how to fix what is going wrong is another matter entirely, and we're unlikely to find out against Spurs, with only two days as the top dog under his belt. However, Meulensteen will hope this gig goes a little better than his last, when he spent 16 days as Anzhi manager.


Southampton
Defeats at Arsenal then Chelsea are obviously not proof that the bubble has burst, but a win against Aston Villa is required to ensure the mini-blip doesn't become a full-blip. Which can then of course graduate to a slump, then a crisis, then a full-blown crisis, then...armageddon?

Anyway, we're getting ahead of ourselves - the basic point is a win would be splendid. Thanks.


Tony Pulis
Two home games against West Ham and Cardiff, before a tough run that includes Chelsea, the inexplicably in-form Newcastle, Manchester City and Spurs.

Pulis really must hit the ground running if his new side are to avoid being truly cut adrift before Christmas.


Mark Hughes
If you look in the right places, you can get 20/1 on Mark Hughes being the next Premier League manager to leave his job. Considering the weekend shanking at Everton leaves them only three points above the relegation zone, and with just one win from the last ten in the league, that's not a bad price.

That their three wins this season have come against Sunderland, Crystal Palace and West Ham, three of the worst teams in the division this season, should also be slightly troubling.

Hughes talked about addressing the weaknesses in the Stoke squad in January, but unless results between now and then improve, the Potters' board would be forgiven for not trusting Sparky with too much money when the transfer window opens again.

That improvement must start at home to Cardiff on Wednesday evening.

Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter

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may well get slated by other United fans for this, but out of the three contenders, I'd far prefer Liverpool to win the title. Yes some elements of their fanbase can be a bit OTT, yes they're our biggest rivals and yes it will make our poor season feel even more like the end of an era (Fergie's gone, Liverpool are back on top). However I just have to applaud Brendan Rodgers and the way he's turned Liverpool around in just a couple of seasons. It...

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ooray! We are all excited now, we beat a very mediocre team! With all due respect to WHU supporters, not winning that game shouldn't even be a consideration. This is the problem, there is no winning mentality at the Emirates - we're all congratulating ourselves beating a team that we have a winning record against.

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s this meant to be an aspiration for United supporters? Moyes mediocrity strikes again. I see the Bayern boys don't want to sign for him, and his reputation amongst the senior European coaches make other key signings unlikely.

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