Well That Just Sums Up Chelsea's Season

Jose Mourinho's air of self-preservation is starting to become incredibly tedious, says Matthew Stanger. Manchester City top the Winners after a strangely surreal win...

Last Updated: 06/05/14 at 09:49 Post Comment

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Winners

Manchester City
Winners of a surreal game at Everton to return to the top of the Premier League owing to their enormous goal difference. Liverpool might have arguably the best strikeforce in the division but they are not going to catch City unless their rivals slip. A lead of nine goals is simply insurmountable in two matches when the Reds have to face a frugal Crystal Palace side in the first of those fixtures while City host Aston Villa and West Ham, who have kept three clean sheets combined in the last ten games.

City's nervous-but-professional performance against Everton rather defined their circuitous and incongruous route to top spot and seemingly the title. They were slow to get going, falling behind to a sublime strike from Ross Barkley, and made life difficult for themselves in the final 25 minutes by allowing Romelu Lukaku to cut the score to 3-2. Oh, and there was an injury to Sergio Aguero, just to emphasise that we were watching City's season in microcosm.

Aguero's fitness issues have played a key role in City losing momentum in the second half of the campaign and it seems strange that a drop in form is set to coincide with a second championship in three years. They are not the juggernaut they were at the start, with the 1-0 defeat to Chelsea on February 3 appearing to knock their confidence. City had won 18 and drawn two of their previous 20 matches in all competitions before that evening, but have won only ten of 17 since. In the Premier League, including the loss to Chelsea, their average goals per game has reduced from 2.96 to 2.15 - not the sort of shift in form we would expect from a side supposedly 'surging' to the title.

Defeat to Liverpool and a draw with Sunderland in the biggest week of their season has left a somewhat bitter taste about City's success that victory over an Everton side with (realistically) nothing left to play for fails to cleanse. City are likely to need five victories in a row to secure the title - normally no mean feat - but nonetheless an achievement somewhat tempered by those wins coming at home to West Brom and (probably) Aston Villa and West Ham, and away to two teams whose seasons have already ended.

This has been a title race to savour until its climax and there is a feeling that it has been thrown away by Liverpool rather than won by a City side who have been let off taking just a point in two matches against the Reds and Sunderland in mid-April. Combined with City winning just two of six matches against the rest of the top four - at home to Liverpool and Arsenal (of course) - their expected victory in a week's time will lack a little shine, however deserved it may be following a gruelling 38-game campaign.

It is a matter of perspective. Look closely at the run-in and it is unlikely that you will be terribly impressed by City's achievement. Only look at the table and you'll see the team with the joint-best attacking record and second-best defensive record sitting in first, having won the (joint) highest number of games and lost the (joint) fewest. City have scored more goals at home than 14 teams have managed in total, underlining the emphatic nature of their free-scoring form before Jose Mourinho came to visit.

The panorama reflects well on City, and so does scrutiny of Liverpool's results. If the Reds end up winning 16 of their last 19 matches (assuming they beat Palace and Newcastle), and 13 of the last 14, then imagine how strong City have been over the course of the season to withstand that remarkable challenge. Were it not for Manuel Pellegrini's side possessing games in hand for such a long period, the title race may have been viewed entirely differently, with City top and Liverpool and Chelsea chasing, knowing that they had to play each other only two weeks before the finale.

As it turns out, it feels, to an extent, that we are grasping at reasons why City's expected victory is more impressive than it initially seems. It might be claimed that Pellegrini won't care, but he should. His team bottled it in the two biggest matches in the Premier League - at home to Chelsea and away to Liverpool - and also limped out of the Champions League against a Barcelona side proven to be in their weakest moment for some time, as Mourinho suggested. City's rivals will be stronger next year, and they will need to ensure they rise to the challenge.


Sunderland
Certainly the greatest escape in Premier League history. West Brom's achievements in 2005 are greatly exaggerated while even Fulham's class of 2008 avoided the trials that Gus Poyet's team have faced in the run-in. For Sunderland to win at Manchester United and pick up four points away to Chelsea and City sides fighting for the title is an incredible feat. They are now almost certain to survive and, given the confidence gained on this remarkable run, we can expect them to kick on next year.


Arsenal
Fourth place secured for the sixth time in nine seasons. In the preceding eight campaigns, Arsenal failed to finish outside the top two, winning the title three times.

It may be difficult to compete against the financial might of Chelsea and City, but Arsene Wenger, who should soon sign a new deal, is fast running out of excuses. He now has money to spend, highlighted by Mesut Ozil's arrival for £46.5m, and he must invest early in the summer to avoid a title challenge being hampered by injuries once again. If he leaves it until deadline day, as we have come to expect, the mood at the Emirates is likely to be mutinous.

If Liverpool can maintain momentum in the title race under Brendan Rodgers, then Wenger is struggling to explain why Arsenal's challenge fell flat so soon. Arsenal had European football to contend with? He should have strengthened adequately. The Gunners lost players to injury? Should have strengthened. The burden on Olivier Giroud was too great? Strengthen man, for God's sake, strengthen.

Arsenal have become boring, increasingly so as the campaign progressed. There have been times this season when they have played the best football in the league, but it has reached the stage where the result is king. This was all too predictable. When the time for pre-season predictions rolls around, we will tentatively scribble down the top three in pencil. 'Arsenal: Fourth' can be written in permanent marker.


Randy Lerner
It's easier to sell a Premier League club than it is to shift a team recently relegated to the Championship. Lerner and Paul Lambert have their work cut out this summer if Villa are to avoid another season circling the drain.


Stoke
It says either a great deal about Fulham's quality and desire or Stoke's commitment under Mark Hughes, or both, that the Potters thrashed the Cottagers in Saturday's battle of crap nicknames. Stoke are set to secure a first top-ten Premier League finish, and you all remember where you heard it first.


Hull
There's something inherently wrong about being able to lose 3-1 to a miserable Aston Villa side and qualify for Europe on the same day. Still, Steve Bruce won't mind as he now looks ahead to Hull's first European campaign. What a brilliant job he's done in such a short space of time.


Nick Miller
A soothsaying wizard with fabulous hair and the smile of a man less intelligent than he really is.



Losers

Chelsea
That rather sums up their season, doesn't it? A brilliant win at Liverpool followed by a dire stalemate against Norwich which prompted Jose Mourinho to express surprise over the visitors' approach - because it's not as though he should have learned from others questioning his tactics in the past two weeks.

Mourinho's game of self-preservation is starting to become tedious. When his strict counter-attacking tactics work, as they did at Anfield, he wants all the credit for himself. When they fail and Mourinho has no plan B, exemplified by the comprehensive defeat to Atletico Madrid and 0-0 draw with Norwich, it is the fault of the players; be it Eden Hazard for failing to sacrifice himself for the team; his three strikers; Samuel Eto'o for being too old; Oscar for his lack of form; Juan Mata, quickly sold to Manchester United; Ashley Cole, blamed through omission: or his defenders who couldn't even protect themselves from training dummies. Mourinho has constantly looked for scapegoats to disguise his own failures.

"We used to talk about loyalty, he doesn't know the meaning of the word," said Roy Keane when he was asked about certain revelations in Sir Alex Ferguson's autobiography. The same could be said of Mourinho.

Repeatedly demanding 'sacrifice' sets a very negative tone, and it seems Mourinho is struggling to convince his Chelsea squad to buy into his methods. Hazard's head may have been turned by PSG, and Oscar's by the World Cup, but if they are looking elsewhere, what does that say about Mourinho's ability to gain focus at such a crucial stage of the season? If his players are distracted it's because the manager isn't saying the right things. And for Mourinho, saying the right things matters more than most for his particular style of management.


Manchester United
A lack of cutting edge, an over-reliance on crosses, and some dreadful defending to result in a seventh home defeat of the season - United's worst record since 1973/74.

For those wishing to defend David Moyes, this might be seen as evidence of the players not being up to the task, rather than the failed manager. But no-one denied that the quality of the squad needs improving. Surely a more convincing explanation is that United's defeat to Sunderland is symptomatic of being instructed to play in a certain way all season, a loss of confidence and ideas because of that, and the absence of an experienced manager to correct things in the short term.

If United are to appoint Louis van Gaal, they need to act quickly. There is no reason the process shouldn't be expedited, and the sooner he is announced, the sooner he can begin discussing his plans with the squad, working out who should leave and who he wants to sign. If United leave it any longer, the first time van Gaal meets the players could be after the World Cup - potentially the middle of July, less than five weeks before the start of the new season.


Michael Carrick
Rapidly becoming less polarising as his poor performances continue to characterise United's season. It seems his World Cup hopes are over following Roy Hodgson's hint at the weekend.


Norwich
Too little, too late. Sunderland have picked up ten points in their last four matches, while Norwich have gained just 14 in 2014.


Fulham
Quick, sack Felix Magath! One more manager might sort it.


Cardiff
It's a lot easier to tolerate terrible owners when things are going well. Cardiff's rollercoaster ride with Vincent Tan has just taken its first big drop with plenty more sickness to follow.

Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.

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