Monday Moan: Jose out-thought Rodgers

Mark Holmes hails Chelsea's approach at Liverpool, points out the real hypocrites regarding defensive play, and welcomes Phil Dowd's decision.

Last Updated: 28/04/14 at 16:27 Post Comment

Jose Mourinho: Got his tactics right at Liverpool on Sunday

Jose Mourinho: Got his tactics right at Liverpool on Sunday

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Better a hypocrite than a fool

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini claimed earlier this month that "it would be very disappointing" for football fans if Chelsea were to win the Premier League this season.

"I think the most attractive football, the more goals you can score, should be rewarded, he said. "I think big teams must play as big teams."

It was a somewhat disingenuous comment - it is not as if Chelsea exclusively play defensive football - but it was thought-provoking nevertheless. While the lesser lights in a league can be excused for deploying defensive tactics in search of a positive result, do the best teams have a duty to play attacking football?

Brendan Rodgers certainly struggled to find praise for the way Chelsea went about beating his Liverpool side at Anfield on Sunday.

"I don't think it's a tactic," he said. "Anyone can ask a team to just sit back and defend on the edge of the box.

"It's the nature of how Chelsea play. They've got some wonderful players but they play a defensive game and hope to hit you on the counter-attack or with a mistake."

Jose Mourinho has been accused in some quarters of hypocrisy given his criticism of West Ham's tactics after a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season but the Portuguese was honest enough to admit after that game he might have set up himself exactly as Sam Allardyce did in that situation.

The reality is that he most definitely would have done as, unlike Rodgers, he is a pragmatist that will happily sacrifice style to get results. He is not burdened by any principles about the way the game should be played. He cares only about winning.

Perhaps Pellegrini was right. Perhaps most football fans would prefer to see the attacking styles of Manchester City or Liverpool prevail over Chelsea's pragmatism. Any true neutral is bound to take more pleasure from watching a team trying to outscore their opponents than a team whose main focus is to prevent their opponents from scoring.

However, a manager is paid to win games, and there was only one that achieved that at Anfield on Sunday. And, attractive football or not, only one set of supporters left the stadium with smiles on their faces. Chelsea's performance entertained their fans, and that is all that matters.

Yes, Mourinho may want to think twice about criticising the next team that sets up to nullify Chelsea at Stamford Bridge but football is full of hypocrites and there may well come a time in Rodgers' career at Liverpool, quite possibly in the Champions League next season, when he too acknowledges that attacking too much would play into their opponents' hands.

Consider the way Arsenal set up against Bayern Munich for example. Even Arsene Wenger, the original bastion of attacking football, is happy to temporarily abandon his principles when he has to.

Does it make him a hypocrite? Perhaps, but it is better to be a hypocrite than a fool, and to stick by principles at the expense of results is undoubtedly foolish.

Rodgers' comments about Chelsea were fuelled by frustration, of course, and one would hope he spent his evening not complaining still about the Blues but instead considering what more he and his side can do to prevail in similar situations in future. And there will undoubtedly be some.

Apart from Bayern and Barcelona, there is not a team in Europe that can hope to win titles playing with only one, ultra-positive, style. Is Pep Guardiola the best manager in the world or simply the most fortunate to have worked with the two best squads? Unless he takes on a lesser team, we may never know.

Rodgers is certainly not as fortunate as Guardiola - even with a raft of absentees, Chelsea's XI at Anfield was still a match for Liverpool's - and so, ahead of next season, he must work on new ways to break down stubborn opponents.

The Northern Irishman deserves an enormous amount of credit for the amount of times he has changed the shape of his side to get the better of opponents this season but on Sunday, for the first time in 12 games, the game plan of his opposing manager was better executed. For anyone to criticise Mourinho for that is, for me, quite ridiculous.

Chelsea frustrated Liverpool to the extent that Steven Gerrard, obviously keen to atone for his earlier error, spent much of the second half trying to create another Olympiakos moment. The patient, aware, vastly improved Gerrard was reduced to pot shots.

On the break, meanwhile, the visitors looked a threat - Demba Ba had a marvellous game as a lone striker - and the fact that the crucial goal came from a mistake only highlights what a good their defence did not to make any themselves. That did not happen by coincidence; it happened because of good coaching and because every Chelsea player did exactly what was asked of them.

In fairness, Mourinho and his side have received plenty of praise from those in the media since the game. There does seem an acceptance that it was not at all easy, as Rodgers hinted, for the Blues to keep out this Liverpool side, so full of pace and incision, no matter how they set up.

However, if it was a 'tactical masterclass' from Mourinho at Anfield, then what does that make it when an Allardyce or Tony Pulis side keep out a Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester City? Ah yes, anti-football.

Dowd decision a lesson for all refs

After West Ham's Matt Jarvis missed out on a penalty at Arsenal recently, there was yet another debate about diving in football.

That Jarvis was not awarded what most felt was a definite penalty, many argued it was justification for the swathes of footballers that fall to the floor having felt the slightest touch from a defender to make the referee aware of an impediment and win their side a penalty.

My stance has always been that I don't blame players for doing so but would prefer better-trained referees that understood when a player had genuinely been impeded without them having to hit the deck.

There are simply too many soft penalties given in the modern game because of the amount of theatrics and the ever-growing feeling that any sort of contact in the penalty area is a foul.

However, the likes of Jarvis will tell you honesty is rarely rewarded and that you simply cannot rely on a referee to punish an impediment if you strive to stay on your feet in an attempt to score anyway.

Perhaps it was a one-off or perhaps we are on the verge of a long-awaited and much-needed change of approach from referees, but Phil Dowd's decision to award Sunderland a penalty against Cardiff was wonderful.

Although Connor Wickham never lost control of the ball during Sunday's incident, he was undoubtedly impeded by a tug from Juan Cala and, having therefore failed to get away from the defender and score, Dowd was absolutely right to brandish his red card.

And, as Cala still had hold of Wickham as he entered the area, the rules state Dowd was absolutely right to award the penalty kick, too.

It says a lot about the failings of referees in this particular area that the decision is being so widely hailed but hopefully it will serve as a reminder to Dowd's colleagues that a player doesn't have to fall over to have been impeded.

If more penalties like this are awarded, more players will follow the lead of Wickham and attempt to score even after being impeded, confident the referee will award the foul if they do not.

And maybe, just maybe, attitudes will start to change about the players that go to ground after the slightest of touches claiming a penalty. Maybe the football world will wake up to the fact that contact doesn't necessarily equate to a foul and maybe we will start to see more players punished for trying to deceive referees in the box.


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