Why Jose Mourinho becoming Manchester United manager could signal bad news for Everton fans

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Everton find themselves at a crossroads in their season; eight points off the drop zone and in no immediate danger of being dragged into a relegation battle in the same way they were 12 months ago, and remarkably only six points off the Champions League places.

The Toffees have looked impressive going forward this campaign with the youthful triumvirate of Romelu Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu and Ross Barkley formidable on their day, but the defensive weaknesses that spread uncertainty throughout the squad last term have resurfaced during a run of very winnable fixtures that has so far failed to garner a single victory.

Roberto Martinez was in the end happy to settle for a point at home to Crystal Palace in between wins chucked away at Bournemouth and Norwich, and then with the potential scalp of a weakened Leicester on offer, Claudio Ranieri’s men rolled up their sleeves and recorded another deserved away win.

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Sloppiness at throw-ins replaced frailties from crosses in the 3-2 loss at Goodison Park, and some of the Blues’ brightest stars will certainly be aware of the problems at clubs harbouring title-winning ambitions – one they batted off in the summer and one that has fared slightly better in the past.

Through sheer stubbornness, Everton held onto John Stones amid incremental offers from Chelsea in the summer, and the Stamford Bridge outfit’s toils this season have served to justify why the former Barnsley defender was so ferociously sought after.

Despite the loss to the Foxes being the first since the ageing Phil Jagielka has been out of the side through injury in late October, there is little indication that Martinez’s men can belatedly usurp the tranche of sides enjoying fine seasons in the European places, with the worst defensive record in the top half of the table.

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Meanwhile, the sacking of Jose Mourinho as Chelsea manager on Thursday afternoon, coupled with the emergence of Pep Guardiola being available from next summer has heightened speculation surrounding Louis van Gaal’s tenure at Manchester United.

United are without a win in six games – the club’s longest streak since 1998 – and with fans chanting Mourinho’s name midway through Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Norwich at Old Trafford, there is gathering momentum behind the prospect of the Portuguese making an immediate return to management in the Premier League.

Mourinho may have struggled to lure the crown jewel in Stones in the summer, but should he be appointed Manchester United manager, he may just walk away with the whole trunk.

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Arguably, a combination of United’s defence and Everton’s swaggering front three would be the perfect mix in this most unpredictable of seasons.

Van Gaal’s problems has far from been in the defensive third, with the side already having kept nine clean sheets this term, but should the Glazers spectacularly turn to the Portuguese to bring the disaffected off their seats in the Stretford End once more, he could do far worse than raid Finch Farm for eligible reinforcements.

The obvious riposte would be to call this Moyes Mk II after he made Marouane Fellaini his first major signing in June 2013, but the so-called ‘Chosen One’ had the right club, just the third best player, behind Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman.

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Lukaku and Barkley both underperformed last season, and would have rightly set themselves personal goals in order to be reconsidered as two of the finest players in European football.

With the pair now excelling, they have been let down by the more experienced members of the squad. The lack of leadership at crucial moments in recent games and a soft approach to killing off teams has led to a return of just three points from the last 12 available.

While Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy have been the headline acts at Leicester aptly served by a support cast that will keep those prized assets away from the clutches of clubs in need of desperate additions this January, Everton need to start delivering with the level of consistency expected from them to prevent the ‘golden generation’ that Martinez speaks of from disbanding.

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The problems at Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United have dominated the back pages, keeping the the sense of frustration among Evertonians flickering somewhat under the radar.

But with only one win in six,  a promising start that had seen a solid return from playing last season’s top eight in their opening 10 fixtures has been undone.

The shadow of Mourinho hanging over his old friend van Gaal is very real, and should the mediocre results continue at Everton, it is one that will loom just as ominously over the blue half of Merseyside.

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‘When Kevin Keegan’s England beat us, we knew something had to change’ – how Germany became the dominant force of world football

‘Before Klinsmann, we had a group of good players behaving badly. Now we have a team that is difficult to hate.’ – Ronald Reng

Raphael Honigstein spoke about his latest book, 'Das Reboot: How German football reinvented itself and Conquered the World' at the London Sports Writing Festival

Raphael Honigstein’s book, ‘Das Reboot: How German football reinvented itself and Conquered the World’ was discussed at the London Sports Writing Festival

Germany finished runners-up at the 2002 World Cup, but it was far from seen as a hard luck story.

Brazil, with Ronaldo on a personal mission to make up for his failure in France four years earlier, were worthy winners in South Korea and Japan.

For Rudi Voller’s side, it represented progress nonetheless, with the embarrassment of failing to emerge from the group stages of the European Championship finals in 2000 as fresh in the minds as the subsequent 5-1 loss to England in Munich towards the end of the World Cup qualifying campaign.

Germany had a rather gentle passage to the final, having beaten Paraguay, the United States and hosts South Korea in the knock-outs, but they were comfortably defeated by Luis Felipe Scolari’s side thanks to Ronaldo’s brace.

Had Germany prevailed against the Brazilians, it would have stood as something of a false dawn, resembling the manner in which Italy triumphed over France in the 2006 final.

The Italians had created a club mentality in the face of turmoil back home caused by the match-fixing scandal, and many of the players who excelled at the tournament were in the autumn of their careers.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought a stubborn approach to the German national team in 2004

Jurgen Klinsmann brought a stubborn approach to the national team in 2004

While Italy took the glory, something more profound had taken hold of hosts Germany, who would prove the greatest beneficiaries in the longer term.

Just as France used the 1998 competition to create a sense of unity between football and the nation as a whole that would spill over into the following decade, the wave of optimism sweeping back into German hearts and minds under manager Jurgen Klinsmann made their semi-final exit far from a disaster.

‘2006 was the real turning point for German football,’ Raphael Honigstein, author of Das Reboot: How German Football Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World, said at the London Sports Writing Festival on Thursday. ‘Germans started to feel good again about German football and Germany – those two things are closely linked. Everyone started to buy into what Klinsmann was doing.’

Honigstein says the move towards greater emphasis on club academies was a vital step

Honigstein says the move towards more emphasis on club academies was vital

Honigstein was joined at Lord’s by Ronald Reng – promoting his book Matchdays: The hidden story of the Bundesliga – who marked the point of transition further back, with the 3-0 defeat by a Portugal ‘B side’ at Euro 2000 representing ground zero during Erich Ribbeck’s tenure.

‘After that loss, there was a really uncomfortable press conference. The nation had gone out in disgrace, and Germany took a long hard look at themselves,’ Reng reflected. ‘Even Kevin Keegan’s England had managed to beat us!

‘We were playing a system that relied on man-to-man marking seen 30 years ago. As a boy growing up in West Germany, you were even embarrassed by the way we won. The physical approach has now been replaced with a focus on entertaining.  Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan in the mid 1990s really led the way with zonal marking that made Germany reconsider the need for a sweeper.

‘It was only then that the German FA realised we had a team full of defensive midfielders. Desperate attempts were made to find creative players across the world with German grandmothers!’

Kevin Keegan's highest point in international management was beating Germany at Euro 2000

Kevin Keegan’s highest point in international management was beating Germany at Euro 2000

The boost of being announced as the winning World Cup bid in 2000 was precisely what Germany needed given the extent of the malaise on the pitch.

‘We didn’t want to embarrass ourselves at our own World Cup,’ continued Honigstein. ‘We admittedly looked at the Premier League and French model and created a sense of momentum through the Bundesliga clubs working together. This was fundamental and money was also key.

‘The boom time of the ’90s in Germany was over at the turn of the century. Spending 10 million on an academy was seen as worth the investment. A major emphasis was placed on this.’

The dour and relentless manner in which Germany bulldozed teams into submission had become ineffective, but Klinsmann kick-started the process of change, bringing with him an American mentality whereby the national side was treated more as a club team.

Joachim Low learned from Klinsmann as his right-hand man at the 2006 World Cup

Joachim Low (right) learned from Klinsmann at the 2006 World Cup

‘He changed the attitude of German football,’ said Reng.  ‘Before, the players were just allowed to play, but now we weren’t just relying on ability. The squad woke up to the fact they had to work scientifically in order to succeed and they developed their own tactics.  Before, it was a group of talented players behaving badly. Now, we have a team that is difficult to hate.’

On the 2006 World Cup, Honigstein added: ‘Klinsmann really used the energy of the home crowd. He didn’t have the best players, but he brought a real professional approach. Things that seem totally banal nowadays, like eating the right foods, sports psychology and the shift in goalkeeper training, all started under him.’

Joachim Low took over from Klinsmann in 2006 having worked under him, but it was not until 2014 that the nation overcame a substantial mental block created by the fallow period without success dating back to 1996.

Runners-up to Spain at the 2008 European Championship finals, Germany lost by the same 1-0 scoreline to the same opposition two years later in South Africa, before Italy’s Mario Balotelli broke their hearts in the semi-finals of Euro 2012.

The ‘re-boot’ was 10 years in the making, the watershed moment in Holland and Belgium ending infamously with Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller taking apart Fabio Capello’s England in Bloemfontein. Much has changed in the way we now stereotypically view German football.

Mario Gotze stretches to score the only goal against Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final

Mario Gotze scores the only goal against Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final

When we think of Brazil last summer, we think of the surreal nature of the 7-1 crushing of the hosts, the way Manuel Neuer played like an outfield player against Algeria and of course Mario Gotze’s goal in the final.

But how difficult will it be for Germany to keep advancing? The Spanish model of possession football enjoyed plenty of success in a four-year period that brought three major honours.

But death by asphyxiation, wearing their opponents down through a breathless demonstration of tiki-taka, was brutally undone by Holland and exposed once more by Chile at the World Cup 17 months ago.

The danger is that if Germany stand still, they too will eventually come unstuck in half the time it took to rebuild, but the process of reform has already begun at club level.

German boss Jurgen Klopp is trying to impose a high-pressing game at Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp is trying to impose a high-pressing game at Liverpool

‘There’s a movement, headed by the Red Bull Leipzig manager (Ralf Rangnick), which is all about the high pressing game, but I think they’re trying to be too smart,’ added Reng.

‘It’s obsessed with pace and getting in behind teams. It’s full of running and they do point to numbers for its success. But I think this is a very dangerous movement as if you teach youngsters too much about a game based on pace, they’ll lose sight of technique.’

Honigstein disagreed. The high-pressing (or gegenpressing as it is known in Germany) is something Jurgen Klopp wants Liverpool to adopt in the Premier League, and he placed his concerns elsewhere.

‘Thomas Tuchel has shown at Borussia Dortmund that this system works and teams can adapt. I think it’s more that we are in danger of letting players have things too easy. Maybe they could prepare on poorer pitches, for example. Now it’s more about small steps to optimise the success, it’s not a change of model that’s needed.’

Ronald Reng's book Matchdays: The Hidden Story of the Bundesliga looks at how supporters have a say in Germany

Ronald Reng’s book Matchdays: The Hidden Story of the Bundesliga looks at fan-presence in Germany

England and the Premier League could most certainly do with making a few giant strides to catch up with their German counterparts, at least in terms of the relationship between clubs and their supporters.

It was a subject brought back into public consciousness during Bayern Munich’s recent Champions League visit to face Arsenal at the Emirates, with many visitors taking their seats five minutes into the game to protest against the £64 ticket price.

While many supporters of Premier League sides have campaigned for cheaper matchday experiences, the biggest sides in Germany are now struggling to control the hardcore contingent, and Reng believes there needs to be a balance between supporters being heard and clubs honouring the need for financial growth.

‘Fans are not treated as customers in Germany,’ said Reng. ‘Supporters now behave like a power base. Fans don’t care about the game anymore; it’s like they’re there to praise themselves. They sing throughout regardless of what’s happening on the pitch and they feel like they are the show. The fans have taken over.’

Bayern fans create an incredible noise but sometimes don't react to events on the pitch

Bayern fans create an incredible noise but often don’t react to events on the pitch

Honigstein added: ‘German clubs realise that despite all the commercial deals, the number one market is still the local market – they never lose sight of this. It’s taken time for success as things have been done organically and there’s been a few false dawns. But Bayern and Dortmund are good examples of how it’s worked.’

Klopp caused a stir last weekend when he expressed his disappointment at seeing huge swathes of empty seats at Anfield towards the end of his side’s 2-1 defeat by Crystal Palace, and while Germany is not entirely immune from the culture of fans leaving early, it is not something the Reds boss would have expected so soon into his reign.

‘I think he’s been a bit surprised by the atmosphere,’ said Honigstein. ‘You see even in Europa League games how German fans behave. Klopp has found Liverpool to be not quite as it was advertised. He came from Dortmund (with the famous Yellow Wall) and Mainz prior to that.

‘He’s acknowledged that he needs to change the atmosphere. He’s got himself heavily involved in the new stand and he’s got the ability to get players to play for him. Some managers don’t have his charisma. He has the ability to play players like an instrument. That’s what makes him the full package. He’s a great personality not just for Liverpool but for the whole of English football.’

Raphael Honigstein and Ronald Reng were speaking to Amy Lawrence at the London Sports Writing Festival. For more information on this year’s events, visit the website or via Twitter.

Michael Calvin: We’re dealing with human beings. If you praise them, they purr and if you criticise, they fight back

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Michael Calvin will be speaking about The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager alongside Henry Winter, Patrick Barclay and John Cross at Lord’s

Football management has become a bit of a cause célèbre. It’s the job many virtually assume via the popular computer game, the opportunity many former players are afforded while a few dedicate their lives to coaching badges in the vain hope they will work their way up to the top.

Once in charge of the most celebrated clubs in the land, they are there to be shot at, to be made accountable and sometimes be provoked into five-minute diatribes that land them with an FA fine.

People say they are paid millions of pounds, but at what price? That’s the question award-winning sports writer Michael Calvin explores in his latest book, ‘Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager,’ and the subject brought again to the fore during the international break.

David Moyes was sacked as Real Sociedad manager less than a year into the job

David Moyes was sacked as Real Sociedad manager less than a year into the job

Often seen by owners as a natural juncture to assess how the season is shaping, there has been five managerial casualties in the Football League in the past week, with Blackburn’s Gary Bowyer the most recent to be relieved of his post at the Championship club. The trend is not exclusive to England, with David Moyes being dismissed at Real Sociedad following a run of disastrous results in La Liga.

Ahead of speaking at the London Sports Writing Festival, Calvin revisits the months spent collating interviews with managers, and his motivations behind a book that has been shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award.

‘The real incentive was to try to humanize what is a pretty dehumanizing job,’ Calvin began. ‘Everyone knows that football managers are recognizable…their sound bites become pretty familiar. But who are these guys? Do people really understand them and know them?

‘One thing that was really interesting talking to them was that, okay, they understand the world in which they work, the modern media press conference is a bit of a coconut shy of their agendas, but they don’t actually say that much of real insight or relevance, quite simply because it’s not worth the aggravation.

‘The great thing about writing a book is that you can contextualize everything in about 100,000 words. One of the common themes is that judgments are made that are pretty instant, usually cruel and sometimes abusive.

‘People make those judgments without actually knowing them, understanding their job and who they are, so a lot of what the guys in the book tried to do was provide an insight into not just their jobs but how they do it and who they are.’

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has found himself under increasing pressure this season with his side struggling for results

Jose Mourinho has found himself under increasing pressure at Chelsea

The modern football manager has myriad distractions to handle simultaneously when results are all that matter. Once the topic of the moment, every press conference is about his future.

The continual plight of Chelsea, for example, has even become a bit of sideshow itself to the on-going battle between the club’s manager Jose Mourinho, the English press and the Football Association. The Portuguese’s unwavering defence of his players, deflecting his venom onto the doctor, the referee, or even his peers, has become tiresome.

‘But he’s an interesting guy,’ Calvin notes. ‘He lives by the sword and dies by the sword. There’s someone who manipulates the media and most of his public announcements have an agenda of one sort or another.

‘There’s been a real disconnect this season at Chelsea right from the controversy involving the doctor (Dr Eva Carneiro) which was utterly disrespectful. It was surprising because dressing rooms are built upon professional respect.

‘Those players would have had a lot of respect for the doctor. Mourinho is someone whose behaviour and anger is very theatrical; a lot of managers use this.

‘Aidy Boothroyd once punched a wall at half-time in the dressing room and had a go at the oldest and youngest members of his team, but then when walking out for the second-half he was completely calm and rational. He did this for effect.

‘Perhaps the way modern management is going is that the younger manager is moving away from the teacup throwing spittle-flecked full-on frontal assault on players, verbally and occasionally physically.

‘It’s much more empathetic now. Managers have to understand they are working in a much more delicate working environment. Modern dressing rooms generally are multicultural melting pots so there are certain groups of players culturally who will not take kindly to being dug out in front of their peers.

‘Criticism can be administered now more subtly in private because southern Europe, South America, Asia – if you scream at someone in a dressing room situation they take that as profoundly disrespectful.’

Everton manager Roberto Martinez is someone who likes to treat his players like human beings

Roberto Martinez is someone who likes to treat his players like human beings

The whole nature of modern footballers is changing. At one end of the spectrum, young players at academies aged 11 years old are being courted by agents, have boot deals by the age of 14 and millionaires by the time they are 17.

Everton manager Roberto Martinez told Calvin, ‘I’m dealing with a footballer once or twice a week, when they play games. But actually I’m dealing with a human being seven days a week. The human side of management is a vital part of the job.’

Calvin wanted to get a really good feel for managers across the spectrum, speaking to Brendan Rodgers while he was still at Liverpool, right down to Micky Adams taking Tranmere out of the Football League.

Calvin spent the day with 25 bosses across the top four divisions in England, working with players whose wages ranged from £200,000 to £220 a week, watching them work not just in a training context but in all aspects of their job; that was the thing he says he felt most gratified about.

‘I was very lucky that some of the managers had read some of the other books I’ve done, so they understood what I was about in terms of providing a balanced piece in a way that was authentic, raw and real.

‘People in football don’t shy away from the realities of their job. The one thing they gave me, which is probably the one luxury they don’t have, is their time.

‘Having this was a huge privilege but it also gave me a chance to actually look at the big picture, rather than judging them on a five-minute press conference which doesn’t give much more than the superficiality of the job away.

‘We’re dealing with human beings. If you praise them they purr and if you criticise them they wince and their instinct is to fight back. It’s human nature that everyone likes to be loved, so they probably talk more when they’re doing well.’

Arsene Wenger has emerged the other side of a storm to still lead Arsenal

Arsene Wenger has emerged the other side of a storm to still lead Arsenal

Two managers who have stood the test of time are Arsene Wenger and Paul Tisdale. Wenger remains in charge at Arsenal having come through a trophy-barren run, while Tisdale is the second longest-serving manager in the English Football League having overseen two promotions with Exeter since taking over in June 2006.

‘Wenger and Tisdale have had time to bed into the job. The problem with the job is that it’s institutionalized impatience. The stats say the average time in management is 15 months; that goes down to eight or nine in the Championship, which is a complete drama house.

‘Rodgers I believe is what I call a survivable failure – he’ll get another job. He might need to reinvent himself in La Liga or somewhere like that but I think he’ll be fine.

‘But today there’s talk of Garry Monk (at Swansea City) going and he’s one of the most impressive guys I’ve met. It’s interesting how themes recur because the dispute at Swansea is the fact they want to impose a director of football above him.

‘It’s a bizarre one as Swansea have always come across as an exceedingly well-run football club, yet they appear to have made a strategic summersault because of the run of seven or eight games, where they feel Monk needs someone above him to give him a hand.

Garry Monk is reportedly under pressure with Swansea reassessing its structure

Garry Monk is reportedly under pressure with Swansea reassessing its structure

‘I can understand why he would balk at that as he is trying to develop his own style and I think he’s not naïve that if they don’t improve results he’s in trouble. But the fact they’re saying they’re going to do something completely different now with a director of football is problematic because who do you bring in?

‘I spent some time recently with Chris Ramsey at QPR, who had Neil Warnock almost hoisted upon him. Neil came in to help out in a position as director of football, and two weeks later he’s the interim manager while Chris has been sacked.

‘Football management is full of insecurities so if you’re a manager, and the club appoint a director of football above you and something tells you he still has managerial ambitions, there’s obviously going to be a fissure that opens up and there’s bound to be problems.

‘The one thing that struck me about Garry was his modernity. He comes from an old school background as a player but he really has a strategic approach to management. It’s right that he hasn’t become a bad manager overnight, but it’s the same with all managers; they all end up living a bit of a lie.

‘Eddy Howe is another one of the managers I came across in writing the book, who I captured on the way up and Bournemouth are now experiencing problems. Those problems inevitably reflect on you as a person because you live it 24 hours a day. As he says in the book, ‘I’m not superhuman, but as I manager I can’t be upset all week as my players look to me for strength.

Brendan Rodgers developed a closeness with the media when things were going well

Brendan Rodgers developed a closeness with the media during good times

‘Rodgers talked about viewing himself as a welfare officer who was ultimately gunned down by the fact that the team wasn’t good enough. No matter how good his sound bites were, they didn’t really protect him.’

Calvin writes of meeting Mark Hughes, when the Stoke City manager spoke of football as being a unique sport for magnifying failure.

‘Football managers are now a bit like matadors. They’re in the technical area, everyone’s looking at them. Their personalities are dissected much more nowadays than players. By and large, most players now have vanilla personalities; you can take them or leave them.’

Football management is now much more personality driven, with huge pay-offs when relationships break down midway through a lengthy contract. Rodgers walked away with £7million in compensation, a ludicrous sum of money, but the strain was what resonated with Calvin.

Martin Ling has recently made a managerial comeback at Swindon Town

Martin Ling has recently made a managerial comeback at Swindon Town

‘The book begins with Martin Ling undergoing chemotherapy in hospital. That’s a treatment that has echoes of the asylum really. He was desperate to get back in (to management). Speaking to Brian McDermott, his theory is that a lot people in football are depressed, but they don’t realize it because the game is so brutal anyway.

‘There’s someone in Brian who’s probably a lot happier now as chief scout at Arsenal, going around the world assessing players whereas at Leeds, his last managerial post, he was treated like dirt by an owner (Massimo Cellino) who has been very bad for that football club.

‘These are ordinary guys doing an extraordinary job with the same instincts and inclinations as most of us. They just happen to be good in that particular area of expertise.

‘They have really disconnected lives…someone like Ian Holloway moved home 33 times in his managerial career, and had to handle the deafness of his children, his wife having cancer. It is a problem that other people have to deal with as well – what I hope is that people can understand their job that little bit more.

‘On a Saturday, the instinct of some is to get on to Twitter and unload on a manager, but when you type those 140 characters that are full of bile, just pause for thought before you post it, because they have the right to be better understood.’

Michael Calvin will be appearing at the London Sports Writing Festival, Thursday to Sunday. For more information, please visit the website, or via Twitter.

Herald the brand spanking new home of European football… with all the same troubled home thoughts from abroad

England's recent troubles in the Champions League continued this week

England’s recent troubles in the Champions League continued this week

England has a new home for European football, but the scathing soundtrack of post-match pundits remains the same.

An embarrassing gaffe at half-time during BT Sport’s half-time analysis of Arsenal’s defeat to Dinamo Zagreb undermined a largely solid start from the broadcaster but the same could not be said of the strangers in the late-summer nights pervading the Premier league representatives.

The on-screen chemistry between Gary Lineker, Ian Wright, Rio Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard built over years of being in each other’s presence both in the media and on the football field was clearly visible, but the channel must have wished for a better set of results to herald the start of their £897million three-year deal.

Arsenal came unstuck at the Maksimir Stadium against Dinamo Zagreb

Arsenal came unstuck at the Maksimir Stadium against Dinamo Zagreb

Three of England’s four sides lost on the opening matchday, with only Chelsea emerging unbruised from their procession at home to Israeli side Maccabi Tel-Aviv.

Jose Mourinho’s slightly disingenuous comparison to Wayne Rooney only served to emphasise the point that seems to rear itself earlier each year: that British clubs, the old guard, are on the decline.

‘There are people who are not happy with so many successes,’ said Mourinho. ‘Wayne Rooney was a disaster, then he beats the record with England and he’s suddenly the best player in the history of English football. Rooney is a fantastic player when he is not scoring goals or when he is.

‘I’m a fantastic manager when I’m not winning matches and I’m a fantastic manager when I am. You like up and down, but it’s not like that.’

Jose Mourinho was given a welcome reprieve in Europe this week

Jose Mourinho was given a welcome reprieve in Europe this week

The truth is that Mourinho has been unable to build sustainable success at any of the clubs he has managed, and if one accusation can be levelled against English clubs in the past four years in which only three sides have reached the quarter-finals it is that there is a lack of cultural identity seeping into our game.

This is in many ways directly linked to the record-breaking summer in which over £850million was plunged by Premier League clubs on new signings.

The upshot of such a turnover of players is a clear lack of identity and direction among certain clubs, who appear to be trying to shoehorn millions of pounds worth of talent into a starting XI who barely know each other’s nationalities.

Chelsea were the only Premier League side to win on matchday one

Chelsea were the only Premier League side to win on matchday one

It is far cry from the days of regular semi-finalists between 2005 and 2010, but the decline has been gradual in the past five seasons, with only three sides reaching the last four between 2011 and 2014.

Between 2005 and 2011, none of the four English representatives lost in the opening matchweek, and with only a solitary loss in 2012 and 2013 followed by two defeats last campaign, the three suffered on the opening night this time around represents another blow to England’s tumbling UEFA coefficient.

The last time all four English teams won their Champions League group games in the same week was on matchday three in October 2011. Nearly four years ago, the four sides representing England’s hopes read like this:

For Arsenal against Marseille – Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Santos, Song, Rosicky, Arteta, Arshavin, Van Persie, Walcott.

For Chelsea at home to Genk – Cech, Ivanovic, Bosingwa, Ashley Cole, Luiz, Romeu, Meireles, Lampard, Torres, Malouda, Anelka.

Manchester City’s outfit versus Villareal – Hart, Kompany, Zabaleta, Lescott, Kolarov, Nasri, Silva, De Jong, Yaya Toure, Dzeko, Johnson.

And Manchester United’s winning team away to Romanian side Otelul – Lindegaard, Vidic, Smalling, Fabio, Evra, Anderson, Nani, Carrick, Valencia, Rooney, Hernandez.

Admittedly, all four wins represented different levels of difficulty, but can we honestly say these four teams are better on paper than the quartet of starting line-ups this week?

What has changed more drastically than the names on those team-sheets is the sense of short-termism that has plagued most clubs, with the possible exception of Arsenal, who appear to think they can win anything of note with the same core of players.

Olivier Giroud was sent off after 40 minutes in Zagreb

Olivier Giroud was sent off after 40 minutes in Zagreb

Arsene Wenger has been in the industry for long enough to know that were his side to stand any chance of emerging from the Maksimir Stadium with maximum points, he would need to be at full strength.

In spite of Dinamo’s travails in Europe – having failed to win a Champions League group game this century – Wenger will have known his side would be up against it versus a team unbeaten since November, a run of 41 matches.

His intentions were to leave it to chance, and to see if his side could essentially get away with one; but his decision to make six changes – including goalkeeper Petr Cech – only served to wave the white flag at Bayern Munich.

Arsene Wenger looks dejected after defeat in Croatia

Arsene Wenger looks dejected after defeat in Croatia

The German juggernaut now has a free ride until February, when the knock-outs kick in. So often have we seen complacency in the Gunners when they have appeared well set to finish top of their group, only to face a seeded club in the last 16; but surrendering to Pep Guardiola’s side so early on is unforgivable.

As for Manchester City, their defeat to Juventus boiled down to fine details, with the Italians scoring two well-crafted goals to cancel out a contentious opener as Giorgio Chiellini headed past Gianluigi Buffon under the considerable piggyback of Vincent Kompany.

But the fact remains that City’s complex at home in Europe has been exacerbated: five defeats, five draws and five wins in 15 home Champions League games shows that sides visiting the Etihad are at no disadvantage; even a more vocal home support on Tuesday night only seemed to play into the hands of Massimiliano Allegri’s impressive side.

Juventus ended Manchester City's 100 per cent record in all competitions this season

Juventus ended Manchester City’s 100 per cent record in all competitions

The missed opportunities from Raheem Sterling may have gone unpunished in the Premier League against sides with clipped ambitions, but against a side hurting from several losses in personnel having come so close to lifting the trophy in May, City ran into a train.

There is a sense with Manchester United that the Louis van Gaal years will be remembered for moments rather than medals. The euphoria of beating fierce rivals Liverpool on Saturday was shattered with Luke Shaw’s leg in defeat to PSV.

While Paul Scholes appeared encouraged by what he saw, there is no escaping the feeling that United are too big a club to be cast as a form of wildcard in any edition of this competition.

Hector Moreno celebrates his equaliser against Manchester United

Hector Moreno celebrates his equaliser against Manchester United

Oh for those famous Old Trafford nights. Can we truly hope for the decayed corporate culture of the Emirates, Etihad and Stamford Bridge to ever be anything but? Or are we suffering from an inflated sense of self-importance?

Slaven Bilic would appear to think so, having rubbished the consternation surrounding the plight of English clubs in Europe, claiming we should not be startled by this week’s results.

‘Why are people so surprised when Manchester United lose a game against PSV?’ he said. ‘United is a bigger club and has a better team but many clubs have lost at PSV. They were European champion [in 1988]. It isn’t a shock.

Slaven Bilic questioned whether United's loss at PSV was surprising

Slaven Bilic questioned whether United’s loss at PSV was surprising

‘You can lose in Zagreb. The whole of Croatia is surprised, but it can happen. They play football there as well. They are not naïve, but you have to know the other teams are also good.

The West Ham manager’s Tottenham counterpart Mauricio Pochettino flagged another issue at stake, which is that the increasingly competitive domestic league is making the scramble to find quality throughout a 25-man squad challenged by a new quota of homegrown players all the more desperate.

‘Manchester City and Manchester United lost because the Premier League is a very tough competition,’ said Pochettino on Wednesday. ‘When you see Sevilla play against I-don’t-know-who in Spain, may be they can rest the week before they play in the Champions League.

‘But for Manchester City it was a very tough game against Crystal Palace. It is not a very easy competition the Premier League, so you suffer a lot in Europe.’

But you will find no better summary in assessing the reasons why English clubs appear to be rolling down a cliff on the continent than in the words of Martin Samuel on a recent appearance on Sky Sports’ Sunday Supplement.

Pellegrini found Juventus a tougher proposition to his domestic opponents thus far

Pellegrini found Juventus a tougher proposition to his domestic foes thus far

The Daily Mail Chief Sports writer, whilst observing the more open playing field of the Premier League, spoke for the difficulties of the English elite in the broader sense, in attracting the same calibre of players as before to reign over their European contemporaries.

‘The very top [Premier League] clubs cannot get the elite players, out of the top two or three teams in Europe,’ Samuel began. ‘You can’t get Real Madrid or Barcelona players if the clubs want to keep them, and you can’t get Bayern Munich’s first team players.

‘But because of the new television deal, everybody below them are now getting closer. Chelsea, City and United can’t pull away in the same way they could’ve done before, but actually half of Barcelona have come to Stoke.

Dimitri Payet shone for West Ham against Newcastle on Monday

Dimitri Payet shone for West Ham against Newcastle on Monday

‘Suddenly, that middle rump of the Premier League are harder to beat. Chelsea can’t get the type of players that are going to take them to the next level, and the players that they are buying are not too dissimilar to the likes Everton are able to afford.’

It is worth remembering the blissful week of one of those ‘middle rump’ teams, West Ham – basking in the glory of a handsome 2-0 home win over Newcastle on Monday – may well have been checked by a defeat away in deepest darkest Russia on Thursday had the Hammers chosen to commit to a European adventure.

The return of home comforts this weekend for the vanquished among the Premier League elite will be welcomed with open arms, but the melancholic melody for a transformative result in Europe still lingers, a collective yearning that shows no signs of being answered.

EXCLUSIVE: Emmanuel Adebayor has allowed himself to get distracted by matters outside of football, says former team-mate Louis Saha

Emmanuel Adebayor has finally been released by Tottenham

Emmanuel Adebayor has finally been released by Tottenham

Louis Saha believes Emmanuel Adebayor must put his off-field problems behind him in order to get back to becoming the unstoppable striker he thinks the striker can still be on his day.

Adebayor, who reportedly turned down the chance to join Aston Villa in the summer due to a sign from God, was released from his contract at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday by mutual agreement, following his omission from Spurs’ 25-man squad this season.

Saha – who played alongside the estranged Togo international at White Hart Lane in 2012 – has sympathy for the former Arsenal and Manchester City frontman, insisting that once he manages to overcome issues that have derailed his career in recent years, he can get back to enjoying his football.

Adebayor found opportunities at White Hart Lane limited last season

Adebayor found opportunities at White Hart Lane limited last season

‘There has been a lot of issues with Ade that have got in the way of him becoming a top player, consistently,’ Saha said. ‘I’ve always been a big fan of his because on his day, there’s no-one quite like him.

‘He can take the mic out of any defender, he really can be an amazing player. But for him it’s all about containing issues away from the football pitch, that I believe he gets distracted by.

‘I’m sure that he can still do a good job somewhere, but I think it’s really up to him.’

The Togolese striker posted a message thanking Spurs fans on social media

The Togolese striker posted a message thanking Spurs fans on social media

Adebayor – whose 18 goals for Spurs in the 2011-12 season earned him a permanent move the following campaign – found himself unfancied by Mauricio Pochettino over the past year, in the same way that he was overlooked by Andre Villas-Boas prior to a brief resurgence under Tim Sherwood.

Now 31, and without a club, the 2008 African Player of the Year is at a major crossroads in his career.

His problems at home have been well-documented if not precisely understood, and while it has been rumoured that disputes over his wage demands have stood in the way of previous exits from north London, his message of thanks to Spurs fans on Sunday reflected the good relationship he built with them over the past four years.

Adebayor scored 35 Premier League goals in 92 appearances for Spurs

Adebayor scored 35 Premier League goals in 92 appearances for Spurs

Saha – who left Tottenham for Sunderland in the summer of 2012 following the departure of Harry Redknapp – believes the Togolese striker still has the hunger to achieve great things in the game, feeling that he can act as an example to younger players aspiring to reach the top of the profession.

‘It’s about him getting opportunities to reach another level, and he has shown me that he’s got the commitment when he goes to the training pitch, every morning, and he works really hard. That’s not an issue.

‘He’s the type of player who when his eyes are on a certain project, and he decides what he wants to do, he will succeed for sure.’

Time will tell if Adebayor decides to pursue the seventh club of his career

Time will tell if Adebayor decides to pursue the seventh club of his career

Adebayor initially rejected Tottenham’s offer to cancel his £100,000 a week deal as the player reportedly wanted the length of his remaining contract paid to him in full.

In a bizarre but not unsurprising twist, the controversial striker then signed the pay-off agreement only to have a change of heart, opting to stay with the Lillywhites irrespective of the club’s wishes to terminate his contract.

Despite Spurs being seemingly short on centre forwards, Adebayor’s subsequent omission from the Premier League squad made it palpably clear he would never play for the club again, but with his severance package signed, he will now not be able to play for another club until January.

EXCLUSIVE: Wayne Rooney still needs support at ‘predictable’ Manchester United, says Louis Saha

Wayne Rooney looks up to the sky in celebration of his first goal

Wayne Rooney looks up to the sky in celebration of his first goal

Wayne Rooney proved once more why it is foolish to question his scoring prowess with a hat-trick against Club Brugge on Wednesday night.

The Manchester United striker set his side on track for the Champions League group stages with a treble that places him just 16 behind Sir Bobby Charlotn’s club record of 249 goals.

Rooney has been much maligned for the 878-minute wait for a goal dating back 10 club matches to a 3-1 victory over Aston Villa in April, but Louis Saha believes criticism of his former Old Trafford team-mate had been unwarranted.

Rooney returned to his best form against Club Brugge

Rooney returned to his best form against Club Brugge

‘It did surprise me,’ Saha said. ‘He is a player with great strength who never doubts himself. But what the start of the season has shown is that he needs support.

‘United’s style of play has been perhaps a little bit predictable. The whole set-up of the club for many years has been about having wingers who are very fast who bring a lot of problems to the opposition.’

With just over five days remaining in the summer transfer window, United are perceived to have lacked penetration in the three Premier League fixtures thus far.

Louis Saha scored 42 goals in 76 United starts between 2004 and 2008

Louis Saha scored 42 goals in 76 United starts between 2004 and 2008

Slender victories over Tottenham and Aston Villa preceded a pedestrian display in the stalemate at home to Newcastle, and Saha believes Rooney would thrive off manager Louis van Gaal adding pace to his attacking options.

‘Wazza would benefit from this as he is a very clever player,’ Saha added.

‘I think Van Gaal is trying to find a balance between great defenders and midfielders, but it’s obvious that now he will be looking for a support striker for when Wazza is either injured or not in great form.

Saha believes United need more than Memphis Depay to support Rooney

Saha believes United need more than Memphis Depay to support Rooney

‘I think that a good balance of options up front is important in order to win trophies and you must have a striker who is capable of scoring 20 goals if you are to stand any chance of winning the Champions League.’

United achieved their fourth clean sheet in their opening five games in the 7-1 aggregate victory over Brugge – a positive sign given the uncertainty over goalkeeper David de Gea’s future.

The swashbuckling United seen in the Champions League play-off blitzing of the Belgian club has contrasted with the underwhelming attacking displays domestically so far, but Saha maintains that the Red Devils are slowly clicking into gear.

Last season's stats show United cannot rely on Rooney alone for goals

Last season’s stats show United cannot rely on Rooney alone for goals

‘The objective with United will always be to try and win the Premier League, and this season is no different.

‘The thing is that there are so many teams now that can compete for the title. When you look at the Spanish or German league, it is always the same teams who you know are going to win it.

‘You have Chelsea, Manchester United or City and Arsenal who can all win the league this year, and then there’s sides like Liverpool, Spurs and Everton who will be looking to break back into the top four.’

Saha: Everton should focus on long-term stability in handling ‘world class’ John Stones

John Stones has handed in a transfer request at Everton

Speculation over John Stones has grown after he handed in a transfer request

Former Everton striker Louis Saha believes the club must not lose sight of its long-term goals in deciding whether to bow down to John Stones’ desire to leave Goodison Park.

Stones handed in a transfer request on Tuesday amid speculation that Chelsea were about to table a fourth bid for the coveted 21-year-old centre-back.

Despite making just 89 starts for the Toffees since his £3million arrival from Barnsley in 2013, Everton have turned down three offers from the Premier League champions, with the latest bid to be rebuffed reportedly worth £30m.

Saha – who scored 35 goals in 115 appearances for the Merseyside club between 2008 and 2012 – believes his former club should not make an emotional call on the sought-after Stones, remaining focused on their own best interests moving forward.

Louis Saha can understand the pressure his former club are now under

Louis Saha can understand the pressure his former club are now under

‘When you talk of John Stones, you are talking about one of the most talented players in England – not just at Everton – so it’s understandable why there’s a lot of speculation around him right now,’ Saha said.

‘The main focus for Everton must be where they want to be at the end of a certain period of time. If you only focus on the short-term, you can understand the pressure the club is under [to hold onto Stones].

‘Sometimes, it is about money and the financial position…certainly, as a fan you always think, ‘how can we get to a better position than last year? How can we can into the Champions League?’

‘It’s difficult to know how far off Everton are from the top four places and those teams that compete for those positions.

‘But you see how even Manchester United have struggled to get into one of these spots, so you can imagine what it’s like for a team with a smaller budget like Everton to keep world class players in the side.’

Roberto Martinez must now decide whether or not to keep Stones at the club

Roberto Martinez must now decide whether or not to keep Stones at the club

Saha believes that Stones is destined for the very top, but in now dealing with the player’s transfer request, the 37-year-old Frenchman – who retired in August 2013 – hopes Everton use the remaining days of the transfer window to find the best solution for themselves.

‘For many clubs, not just Everton, this stage of the transfer window is all about getting the right players in while allowing those in the academy to grow.

‘A club can have all the spirit and stability in the world, but sometimes it’s not enough. You need investors and sometimes different ideas [in the boardroom] make the difference.

‘It’s up to Everton to now decide [on the Stones situation] in order to reach their overall target.’

Lambert: Having a core of British players is vital

Believing in British: Paul Lambert has never looked too far for his recruits

Paul Lambert has always believed in having a core of British players at his club

Former Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert has admitted that having a core of British players is vital to his managerial approach – a viewpoint that is in stark contrast to the current incumbent of the Villa Park hotseat Tim Sherwood.

Villa have failed to build on a opening day victory over Bournemouth, with successive defeats to Manchester United and Crystal Palace leaving them in need of a confidence-boosting victory in the Capital One Cup second round at home to Notts County this evening.

Lambert, who looked visibly refreshed from his six-month managerial hiatus while speaking on Sky Sports Now on Tuesday morning, believes that while ushering in players of the right quality is paramount, having a British core has always been at the forefront of his managerial decisions.

Matthew Lowton was one of several British players bought by Lambert to leave Villa this summer

Matthew Lowton was a British player bought by Lambert who has left Villa

‘I think that’s vital, if you’re a British player, you’ve got to have a core of British lads who know the club, the country and the culture, and you build around it,’ said Lambert.

‘I think that it’s important you don’t take away the identity of your club. A core of British players know exactly what’s expected, and for me that’s important. I had it at Norwich, where it was predominantly British lads who were playing and doing ever so well.’

Lambert’s admission is noteworthy given the comments made earlier this summer by Sherwood, who has signed no fewer than six players from abroad since arriving at the Midlands club as Lambert’s successor in February.

Tim Sherwood is not bowled over by the current value of British players

Tim Sherwood is not bowled over by the current value of British players

While the likes of Micah Richards and Scott Sinclair have also joined, the former Tottenham Hotspur head coach stated that he was not fussed by the nationality of those in his squad, even stating that the current market value of British players means he naturally levitates towards overseas talent.

‘I’ve looked at the English talent to see what’s out there. If it was better than the foreign talent I would have gone down that route,’ Sherwood said. ‘But the value for money is elsewhere.

‘Some of the foreign boys we have gone for over the English boys are better. They’ve played a lot of games at a very young age.

‘You look at the English boys and they have played five or so games and they cost the same as a guy who has played over 200 games in France. It doesn’t add up.’

The clash between Sherwood’s stance and that of Lambert’s would appear to reflect the lack of stability and progress at Villa in recent seasons, becoming embroiled in relegation battles against the backdrop of owner Randy Lerner’s attempts to sell the club.

Siege mentality will awake a wounded Chelsea at the Etihad

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How Jose Mourinho must’ve wished the opening question had been about another bid for John Stones.

How mundane those monosyllabic words on everyone’s lips barely a week ago would have sounded among the regulars of his pre-match press conference, 19 days before the end of the transfer window.

Alas, once the innocent Roberto Martinez had skirted the subject during a guest appearance on Monday Night Football, the Everton defender has been somewhat cast aside by a new darling of the British media.

To the trained refreshers of the Barclays Premier League, Eva Carneiro’s profile among Chelsea’s backroom staff has been well-known, but only now has her name been printed in bold letters across the back pages of national newspapers.

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Mourinho’s decision to publicly criticise his club’s medical staff took the focus away from a very impressive Swansea at Stamford Bridge, who were thoroughly deserving of their 2-2 draw.

With beads of sweat still glistening on his forehead, Mourinho was quick to take aim at club doctor Carneiro and physio Jon Fearn for entering the pitch based on referee Michael Oliver’s insistence, temporarily reducing the Blues to eight outfield players.

Some cynics would argue that Mourinho called upon an old playing card of his in deflecting the attention away from his inability to beat Garry Monk’s side last Saturday in his public dressing down of the aforementioned pair.

After all, had the numerically superior Swans gone and scored, he may have sounded like any other rueful manager in those circumstances, with whom anyone who ‘understands the game’ would share a modicum of sympathy.

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But as the cars lined up outside the club’s training ground on Friday morning would indicate, his heated utterances on an ultimately non-consequential act have only placed more pressure on his side heading into this weekend’s trip to Manchester City.

Whilst player safety should always come first, he had a point. The argument that medical staff should overrule managers based on life-threatening incidents seen previously on the football field is utterly redundant. Of course this should be the case but, for heaven’s sake, read the signs.

The studious Mourinho certainly had, and his post-match script was written. All that was left was for us to take the bait, which we gleefully took given the scope for national outrage.

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The pictures did the rest, with new, unseen footage of the confrontation drip-fed by the media each day this week, as though it were the world premiere of a Hollywood production. Virals were born, the 10-month theatre season was open for business again.

While the Portuguese manager’s press conference unfolded in front of an abnormally packed Cobham media room on Friday, Sky Sports News reporter Andy Burton took it upon himself to be the ringleader among his peers, opening the discussion by offering Mourinho the stage to produce some sort of statement, even an apology.

It didn’t arrive in so many words, but Mourinho heaped praise on his medical team, whilst revealing his decision to remove Fearn and Carneiro from the front-line of his esteemed medical staff was not for the indefinite future.

‘First of all, I want to say I have a fantastic medical department led by Doctor Paco Biosca, I have a good relationship with them,’ said Mourinho. ‘They tell me they have never been praised as much as they have done by me in the last couple of years.’CMYMerOWwAE6PUd

At home with the media gaze, the self-proclaimed Special One didn’t shirk his duties, nor did he feel forced into a corner by Burton’s attempts to fish for an ounce of regret at the second attempt.

Mourinho was right in his stance that six days in management ahead of a potential season-setting fixture at the Etihad involves far more besides worrying about how the outside world would perceive his decision to juggle who he shares the touchline with.

Mourinho, alongside those football journalists who shared his company on Friday, is too long in the game to expect any such form of backtracking at this juncture, when seizing an early initiative is paramount in a title race that will be won by whichever side makes the least mistakes.

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Only last season, we saw Mourinho revisit his comments regarding a ‘campaign’ against his side, months after he had first raised the suggestion following Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at Southampton in December.

Within a few days, City were level on points with his side, but come April, the Blues were cantering to the title.

Furthermore, what precisely should he feel regret towards? Questioning the integrity of match officials is one thing, but the manner in which he has faced a backlash over the type of decisions he is paid to make this week is a nonsense.

Just because there is a hearty crowd who have criticised Mourinho for his ‘treatment of a dedicated professional doctor’ – led by Bolton Wanderers head of medicine Mark Leather – there is no obligation on the manager to explain to the public the reasons behind the demotion.

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While Mourinho reiterated the strong bond between himself and the support staff in his opening monologue, there is clearly more than meets the eye about his decision to make changes.

After all, very little else has changed at Chelsea this summer.

A ‘re-tasking of duties’ does sound like the kindest way of saying someone has been removed from a more established position of power, but Mourinho’s decision to have a shake-up was only confirmed after Carneiro had taken to social media with an ill-advised post on Facebook thanking the public for showing support, a move that clearly irked the manager.

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Given that Fearn has also lost his front-row seat, this cannot be viewed as carrying too much weight in the overall call, but certainly had Mourinho not acted so swiftly, little more would have been made of what is still viewed by some as a non-story.

They now head to face last season’s nearest rivals and a reinvigorated City with hardly a word spoken on the game itself, but Mourinho has shown the type of ruthlessness he now needs to see in the mentality of his players, so evidently off the pace in the opening weekend.

It would be naive to discount the potential for disquiet from within the Chelsea camp – as Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger mischievously surmised in his own pre-match mutterance – but similarly, it would be far too blinkered not to expect a reaction from a club used to being cloaked in villainous robes in recent times.

Premier League Preview 2015-16: Bournemouth will be a breath of fresh south coast air, but is this finally Arsenal’s year?

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It was little over 10 weeks ago, on May 24, that one of the longest and most one-sided Premier League title processions came to an end.

Didier Drogba was afforded a hero’s departure at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea sealed yet another victory over Sunderland before being anointed as champions.

In truth, it was all a bit tedious, the manner in which Jose Mourinho’s side had sewn up the club’s fourth Premier League crown at a canter, even with their most potent striker Diego Costa struggling for much of the second half of the season with a hamstring injury.

The sense of excitement that surrounds the start of the new campaign this weekend is due in part to the growing belief, however, that we now have an open title race.

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Chelsea are vulnerable

Chelsea’s sale of Petr Cech was viewed by some as Roman Abramovich showing his human side, allowing a long-running servant to leave the club in the pursuit of first-team football without having to relocate.

But not only have Chelsea strengthened a direct rival, but they have shown signs of sluggishness during pre-season that would suggest they are a weaker outfit to the one that finished eight points above Manchester City last term.

The chasing pack

But where is the threat coming from?

It’s a perfectly valid question, when you consider the fallibilities of the other genuine contenders.

Arsenal have looked good in pre-season, with Cech adding greater assurance to their defence, and both Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain showing great promise in a trophy-laden month for the Gunners.

The loss of Jack Wilshere is becoming less of a blow with each fresh flair-up, but Wenger may live to regret his decision not to strengthen his defensive midfield options, as good as Francis Coquelin was after his return from a loan spell at Charlton.

Questions marks still linger over Walcott as an able deputy to Olivier Giroud, and with Arsenal not finishing inside the top two in 10 years, there is reason to argue that a 12-point swing to overtake Chelsea is unlikely.

While there might be an air of ‘as you were’ for those two foes, there is greater intrigue regarding last season’s runners-up, Manchester City.

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Manuel Pellegrini remains in charge, but you get the sense he is keeping the seat warm for someone else.

Both Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola have been sounded out as potential replacements before a ball has been kicked, with the latter reported to have agreed to take over at the Etihad next season.

Pellegrini has far from been a disaster at City, having won the club’s second Premier League title in 2014 and finished as its top-scorers in the last two seasons, but his approach to tackling an ageing squad this summer suggests he is building for his successor’s future.

Despite the options simply not being there for the City board to make a change in management this summer, the club still have an extremely good side on their day that has been improved by the signings of Raheem Sterling and Fabian Delph.

A club with the likes of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and – when fit – Sergio Aguero running through its spine has already garnered two Premier League titles, but doubts remain over the defence.

Pellegrini has seen his side concede four goals on two separate occasions during pre-season. He had no option but to give youth a chance as Cameron Humphreys and Jason Denayer both played against Real Madrid.

His faith in Eliaquim Mangala to repay the astronomical outlay last summer seems misplaced, while Martin Demichelis is now 34. Their title quest may again centre on whether or not they can outscore the opposition.

The intrigue comes further up the pitch, where the arrival of Delph should help prevent the defence from being so brutally exposed against better opponents, while the departures of Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic will finally allow Wilfried Bony to flourish.

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Manchester United have been dealt a major blow with Louis van Gaal announcing that David De Gea will not be starting the season in goal against Tottenham.

For all the sense of optimism at Old Trafford generated by the £80million spent on a brand new midfield, it was De Gea who was largely responsible for the side’s return to the Champions League.

While Cech may, as John Terry predicts, win Arsenal 15 points this season, the sale of the Spaniard may have the opposite effect for the Red Devils, however explosive Memphis Depay may prove to be.

The intrigue continues in the shape of Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool, whose line up against Stoke on Sunday will be in stark contrast to the one that was humbled 6-1 on the final day of last season at the Britannia Stadium.

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The arrivals of Roberto Firmino, Christian Benteke, Divock Origi and Danny Ings provide much-needed firepower, while the acquisition of James Milner may prove to be not only the perfect replacement for Steven Gerrard but the shrewdest piece of summer business.

The Reds’ transfer committee would seem less persuaded to part with another sizeable sum on the defence following the signings Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren in recent times, but Nathaniel Clyne is a considerable upgrade on Glenn Johnson.

We will know soon enough just how good this Liverpool side is, with several of their nearest rivals hosting them in the opening few months, but the early indication is that a return to the Champions League will be dependent on how well Benteke adapts to life at Anfield.

Spurs are an improving side, armed with last season’s breakthrough act Harry Kane and a nice blend of youthful, technically gifted players, but news of De Gea’s likely departure from United will provide added intrigue to the opening game of the new campaign.

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Tottenham travel to Old Trafford for the early kick-off sensing an opportunity to catch United during a time of transition, with Van Gaal unlikely to know his best side, but his admission that De Gea will not be playing turns the spotlight on Hugo Lloris’ status at White Hart Lane.

Mauricio Pochettino’s own preparation for the curtain-raiser have been affected by a delay in return flight from the Audi Cup in Munich this week, but it has otherwise been a fruitful summer for Spurs.

News of the new £400m stadium aside, much of the deadwood that the Gareth Bale money was wasted on have been sold and the arrivals of Dele Alli, Kieran Trippier and of most immediate consequence Toby Alderweireld should shore up a defence that conceded 53 goals last term.

It is what Spurs do between now and the end of August that will prove pivotal to whether they can improve on fifth place and a Capital One Cup final appearance. Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor are heading for the exit, after which point Pochettino must look to bring in another striker to help the 22-year-old Kane shoulder the burden.

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The Europa League candidates

The battle to avoid the Europa League will be fiercer than ever, with the likes of Stoke City and Crystal Palace showing signs of greater ambition, while Everton surely cannot be as bad as they were last season.

With West Ham already unable to take their Fair Play pass in European competition beyond the start of the domestic campaign, it is only Spurs, Liverpool and Southampton who will be playing Thursday night football, although there is still time for United to join them should the Champions League play-off against Club Brugge prove unkind.

The Saints were impressive in their 5-0 aggregate win over Dutch club Vitesse in their opening qualifying round, and Ronald Koeman’s side look well-equipped to go far in the competition, despite the loss of key players for the second consecutive summer in Morgan Schneiderlin and Clyne.

Their progress in Europe may well come at the cost of a few places in the Premier League, but don’t expect them to be drawn into a skirmish with the relegation candidates in the same way that Roberto Martinez’s Toffees were last time around.

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The relegation candidates

Those who may well be looking nervously over their shoulder are Aston Villa. The statistics make grim reading for Tim Sherwood’s side heading into the new campaign, with 19 of the 31 goals scored last season having departed for pastures new.

Tom Cleverley and Andreas Weimann joined Delph and Benteke in heading for the Villa Park exit, and the manner in which Sherwood has hastily assembled his squad with the addition of no fewer than five French-speaking Premier League unknowns headed by the £12m purchase of Rudy Gestede from Blackburn Rovers suggests a scatter-gun approach.

Micah Richards has been installed as team captain, while his former Manchester City team-mate Scott Sinclair will also have a point to prove, but even the promise of Jack Grealish cannot convince many against forecasting a long 10 months ahead for the Midlands club.

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Their regional rivals Leicester City finished last season as the form team, winning an incredible seven of their last nine games to lift themselves to the relative comfort of 14th position.

But the departure of Esteban Cambiasso shortly after manager Nigel Pearson had been dismissed for his irreconcilable differences with the Foxes’ Thai owners has undoubtedly jolted the level of buoyancy at the King Power Stadium.

The likeable Claudio Ranieri has his work cut out in winning over a squad that had played for Pearson during his drawn-out and often ugly relationship with the media.

The pressure is on 24-year-old Frenchman N’Golo Kante to take on the Cambiasso role with the steeliness that saw him make more successful tackles than any other player in Europe’s top five divisions last season for Caen.

If the Foxes are to once more escape the drop, then it is Sunderland who will be most fearful of the Premier League newcomers.

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Dick Advocaat performed the first of the summer’s U-turns when the experienced manager opted for a prolonged stay at the Stadium of Light after successfully steering them clear of relegation at a late juncture last term.

Advocaat’s was the most important recruitment of the close season for the Black Cats, given the acute need for stability in these parts, and the respect for the Dutchman in the Sunderland dressing-room could be felt through television screens as safety was secured amid tears of joy at the Emirates in May.

His pedigree has enabled the North-east club to lure Advocaat’s compatriot Jeremain Lens, whom the 67-year-old worked with at AZ Alkmaar for one season in 2010, from Ukrainian side Dynamo Kyiv. But Sunderland’s problems last season stemmed from a lack of goals, which has hardly been remedied by the £9m sale of Connor Wickham to Palace.

The rediscovery of Sebastian Coates as the defender who helped Uruguay win the 2011 Copa America during an impressive points return when it mattered last time around will be needed over the course of the season, otherwise the Black Cats – who have managed under 40 points in each of the last three campaigns – may find themselves out of lives.

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Indeed, of the last 57 teams to come up from the Championship, 32 have survived in their first season in the top flight (56 percent), meaning there is plenty of cause for optimism among fans of Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich City.

Eddie Howe will be looking to continue Bournemouth’s incredible rise through the ranks, emulating the surge of Swansea – and with a defence that kept 18 clean sheets in last season’s second tier bolstered by club-record signing Tyrone Mings and the wily Sylvain Distin, the south coast club will upset a few established top flight teams along the way.

Callum Wilson and Matt Ritchie are worthy of their place at this level, with the former playing League One football for Coventry just 15 months ago, and the latter having rebuilt his career after being let go by Portsmouth, first at Swindon before moving to the renamed Vitality Stadium in 2013.

Given the historic chaos among clubs in the nether reaches of a Premier League campaign that will only be made more frantic by the dangling carrot of the new television deal next season, the Cherries appear ripe to remain above the drop zone.

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Watford, by contrast, are a minefield. Like Bournemouth, the club boast a natural goalscorer in Troy Deeney, but that is where the similarities end.

The experiment in 2012-13 that nearly saw the Hornets promoted to the Promised Land with 15 loanees – 12 of whom came from owner Gino Pozzo’s other business ventures Udinese and Granada – has to a degree paid off.

Slavisa Jokanovic’s basic salary demands led to his unprecedented departure from Vicarage Road having secured promotion in the summer – becoming Watford’s fourth managerial casualty in under a year – and the high turnover doesn’t bode well for new incumbent Quique Sanchez Flores, who has brought no fewer than 10 new arrivals in his bid to stave off an immediate return to the Championship.

While Watford have chosen to twist, Norwich have made as much change to their squad as there is between the club’s three kit offerings this coming season: not a great deal.

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The make-up of the squad that was relegated from the top division in 2014 remains largely intact, with John Ruddy hoping to put in the sort of performances in goal that could lead to an England call-up in time for the European Championships in France next summer.

Alex Neil took over from Neil Adams as manager at the turn of the year, and guided his side through the play-offs having lost only three of his 25 games in charge, but the former Hamilton Academical manager – who started his 2014-15 campaign in front of under 500 fans just over a year ago – will find the Premier League a whole different animal.

A packed Carrow Road each fortnight will help the Canaries’ cause, but the arrivals of Andre Wisdom, Graham Dorrans, an already-injured Youssouf Mulumbu and an over-priced Robbie Brady doesn’t inspire too much confidence in their survival hopes.

Predicted Premier League Table 2015-16

  1. Chelsea
  2. Manchester City
  3. Arsenal
  4. Manchester United
  5. Liverpool
  6. Tottenham
  7. Everton
  8. Stoke City
  9. Southampton
  10. Crystal Palace
  11. Swansea
  12. West Ham United
  13. West Bromwich Albion
  14. Newcastle United
  15. Bournemouth
  16. Aston Villa
  17. Sunderland
  18. Leicester City
  19. Norwich City
  20. Watford