So this is what tactics look like. No matter your thoughts on Frank Lampard and his time at Chelsea, it’s now nigh on impossible to believe they would have been better off sticking with him over Thomas Tuchel.
The German has won seven of ten games, conceding just twice with a defence roundly criticised for the majority of the last two seasons. Chelsea are now well placed to knock out the La Liga leaders and make the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2014. They’ve beaten both Tottenham and Liverpool away from home to turn fading hopes of a top-four finish into a probability, with both United and Leicester looking over their shoulders at the second-best team in the division.
He’s done this with no experience of managing in the Premier League, in the middle of a pandemic, with ten games in 36 days and just over 24 hours to prepare for his first in charge.
Asked about Chelsea’s target for the rest of this season, Tuchel said it was “impossible” to close the gap on Man City, but added that they “were in trouble this season and nobody took advantage of it.” With Tuchel in charge, you get the feeling they won’t miss such an opportunity again.
The tide of popular opinion has now surely turned. Thinking Mason Mount is anything other than an incredible footballer makes you the weird one.
Lampard’s tryhard is now Chelsea’s most important player, arguably their best, perhaps N’Golo Kante aside.
He’s gone from someone who’s ‘got everything’ to someone who’s really bloody good at everything. His first touch, awareness of space and ability to keep the ball have all improved dramatically this season and with the confidence placed in him first by Lampard and now by Tuchel – who quickly realised Chelsea aren’t Chelsea without him – he’s at the centre of everything that’s good about his side on the front foot.
His desire to get on the ball when Chelsea are in possession is matched by his tireless desperation to win it back when they’re not, and his execution in the final third is moving ever closer to being on a level with his near-faultless decision-making.
Spurs got lucky. Mario Lemina’s hand – pinned to the side of his body by the ball – was adjudged to have unfairly given Fulham the advantage to score what they thought was the equaliser. But that’s not the rule, you say? Well it goddamn should be.
Anyway, it was just lovely to see Harry Kane, Son Heung-min, Gareth Bale and Dele Alli on the pitch together. They’re the reason I selected the Spurs game as the TV option with Everton v West Brom demoted to the second screen. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
With them, Spurs are a team worth watching; one of few in the Premier League right now. As we know, Jose Mourinho couldn’t give a sh*t about our entertainment, but thankfully he also seems to be coming round to the idea that they also represent their best chance of making the top four and winning a trophy.
It looked for a long time like Spurs had traded joy for success that wouldn’t arrive. They couldn’t be about to experience joyous success, could they?
“If he doesn’t like me as a manager, it doesn’t matter, he will stay here!” Carlo Ancelotti said with a smile when asked about the future of Richarlison, who he describes as a “complete striker”.
By mid-February he was a complete striker with just two Premier League goals to his name, but he now has six after four in four, including winners against Southampton and West Brom.
Having praised Richarlison’s movement, versatility and finishing, Ancelotti did say he needs to work on “controlling the ball”, which is both amusing and a bizarrely accurate assessment of a very good footballer – he’s really not very good at controlling it. Which is obviously an indictment but also suggests quite the mastery of other skills.
A player who can’t control the ball remains an absolute necessity for a team in the race for a top-four finish? How good must he be at the other stuff? Well, very good.
Who will replace Sergio Aguero? Erling Haaland? Harry Kane? You’ve got to feel a bit sorry for Gabriel Jesus. Bought seemingly as another option, he was preferred briefly to Aguero before playing second fiddle over the next three seasons, presumably thinking he would simply have to bide his time. But now, without doing anything wrong and a lot of things right, it looks as though Jesus’ watching brief will continue with a major striker signing expected this summer.
His brace against Wolves means he’s scored 79 goals and contributed 33 assists in 180 games for Manchester City, with many of those appearances coming from the bench and rarely with the benefit of a consistent run in the team to find any sort of rhythm. That’s a very solid record.
But then it’s not City’s fault they want a new striker; Aguero’s perennial injury problems make reinforcements in that area a necessity this summer. It’s not fair on Gabby, that’s all.
He became something of a joke for Sheffield United last season. Not because he wasn’t appreciated as a very good footballer, but because of his rotten – often comical – misfortune in front of goal. McGoldrick eventually ended his streak of stellar, goalless Premier League performances with a brace against Chelsea towards the end of last season – his only goals of the campaign.
How frustrating then that his relative free-scoring exploits this term have coincided with Sheffield United’s demise. At least his goal on Wednesday was the winner. His other five – including a double against Man United – were all in losing causes.
An over the shoulder volley? Yes please.
Kelechi Iheanacho – that is outstanding. 🔥
What a finish to bring #LCFC level! 🦊
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) March 3, 2021
“The individual quality of Mason Mount in that moment made the difference,” Klopp said after Liverpool lost at home, again.
Objectively, he’s right of course – Mount’s goal was the difference. It is that simple, but also absolutely not that simple. It’s a cop-out statement from a manager testing the patience of those waiting for him to do something different.
Klopp can dress up the performance of his team however he likes. But his claims that “everything was really good until the final pass” and that Timo Werner’s arm being offside was an example of “good defending” are not sentiments shared by the majority. It’s getting more and more difficult to pick out any positives in Liverpool’s displays; in their absence, it’s best not to make them up.
There’s great stock placed in managers – like Klopp or Pep Guardiola – who have non-negotiable styles of football. It’s a stance which means they’re lauded more highly than others when they’re winning but also get off lightly when they’re losing. Until of course, they lose too frequently.
It’s at that point that the criticism for being unreactive and stubborn finally arrives; Klopp is at that point and then some. If the way the table is set isn’t working, turn over the table.
Talking of managers underplaying poor performances, Manchester United were more than “a little bit off” against Crystal Palace. They were dreadful.
Only Luke Shaw and Dean Henderson – for his Mata moment – emerged from the gloom of Selhurst Park with any credit. It was as though in Anthony Martial’s absence the rest of the forwards were attempting their best impression: not moving; not looking bothered. On top of that they were miscontrolling the ball, overhitting passes and blaming each other.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer urged those predicting a United title challenge back in December to leave that discussion until “March or April”.
There’s no need.
It took SAF 16 years to lose 5 PL games at Anfield.
It’s taken Thiago Alcantara 6 weeks.
— Jay Motty (@JayMotty) March 4, 2021
Sheffield United was the first of three big opportunities for Villa to accrue crucial points in their bid for European football, with seven of their last ten games against teams above them in the table.
One chance missed; two more to go against Wolves and Newcastle. They should have Jack back, at least.
Is it happening again? All that time in third place last season and pipped to a Champions League spot on the final day.
Brendan Rodgers has again worked miracles at the King Power Stadium this season, rotating his squad expertly to deal with lengthy and wide ranging injuries. And up until now, those absences have barely affected results and performances.
But with a draw at Burnley following defeat to Arsenal, a stretched squad now appears to be feeling the collective pain of those individual injuries. And just at the wrong time, once again.
Will Ford is on Twitter