Just focus on the more important prizes

Ah. Jose Mourinho.

While he may not have admitted that at the press conference, to the one member of the media – pulling another quick media conference, after the Bristol City boss Jose Mourinho may be the next happiest person. Why? Because it leaves him free to concentrate on the things that matter. Such as:

  1. The Premier League race
  2. A top four position
  3. Champions League football
  4. Catching Man City

Jose Mourinho may not be under any illusions that the Premier League title is going to swing the other way to Manchester Red but believe me, he is going to go all out to make the gap respectable. This is what he meant when he said he would be on holiday if he were conceding the title. While the other football teams may be hearing the Manchester City fans chant “We beat you to the title” or words to that effect, United fans are going to be hearing “We beat you to the title by XX points.” The gap does matter. At least, in Manchester it does. And for the fickle football fan it may be a reason to switch sides from Red to Blue. So it does matter.

So it may be relief for Manchester United that they are out of the competition. Let City, Arsenal and Chelsea fight for that title. Maybe they may get a few injuries in the process, like Olivier Giroud and his hamstring injury last night. Jose Mourinho is probably thinking that any injuries picked up in the Carabao Cup may impact on the Premier League race, and that can only work to his advantage.

Does winning the Carabao Cup mean anything?

Well … you get to be the notable winner of a competition that:

Paired Charlton with two opponents, Exeter City and Cheltenham;

Messed up some first round draws and opponents;

Had problems with feeds;

Made you watch a pre-recorded video for a draw in one of the rounds;

Selected a match to kick off at 4:15am.

Yep, no one should win the Carabao Cup. It is a laughing stock of a trophy.

Mourinho would be delighted to let his adversaries squabble over it.

Counting down the days

Is Arsenal’s Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez merely counting down the days to the transfer window? Former Gunners legend Ian Wright seems to think so. The former striker said of the current striker that he appears to have clocked off, and is not putting a shift in for the Gunners.

At this point last year, Sanchez had already scored twelve goals, but this year he has only scored four.

Wright, whose scoring average was around 0.666, believes that mentally Sanchez has switched off and is not giving of his best. This is in contrast to what Arsene Wenger has always said of Sanchez, that he is professional, gives of his best, and honours his contract.

Why is Sanchez so keen to leave? One reason may be that he sees the Gunners as a top-four team, and nothing more than that. The only competition they appear to be winning and aiming for is the FA Cup, but at the current rate they may soon be dropping that and aiming for the Carabao Cup instead. Owner Stan Kroenke appears to be satisfied with merely qualifying for Champions League football, while Sanchez, accustomed to winning with Barcelona, may not want to stall his career by merely finishing in the top four and semi-finals of the Champions League. He wants a Champion League winners medal, and with Guardiola and Manchester City, he sees a potential winner.

Would it affect his sales potential as Wright suggests? He is already on the shopping list, and has been since the summer. His supposed poor form is not going to put them off. He really is caught between a rock and a hard place. Play well and Arsenal refuse to release him. So maybe he has to pitter patter his feet a little bit to see if he can actually make Arsenal release him out of disgust.

And what about his counterpart in contract renegotiation? Long ago it was suggested that the agents of both players were banding together and trying to leverage Arsenal management into giving them enhanced contracts. It was said that Sanchez’s agent would discuss the proposed terms his client had received with Ozil’s agent, and vice versa, and both were driving up the weekly wages.

And if Sanchez and Ozil do go, they would find themselves on the opposite side of the Mancunian spectrum, with Sanchez to City and Ozil to United, both reunited with former managers. But who would that leave Arsene Wenger with to lead the strike line? Lacazette, Giroud, Welbeck and Walcott? The latter two have not exactly been their best – Welbeck flourished in his initial move from United, but injuries have taken his toll and he and Walcott are currently the number 5 or 6 strikers.

Who knows what goes on in the minds of the Arsenal strikers? Sanchez is definitely not accepting being the leader of a top four team and is hungry for more. He only has a few more Xs on the calendar to mark.

 

What Chris Froome could learn from Jamie Vardy

Ah. Chris Froome missed out on the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Did it come as a surprise? Unfortunately in the week leading up to one of the most important sports awards of the year, the cyclist had a bad week in the press, savaged for his use of medicine in his sport … and the BBC of course could not risk giving him that kind of prestigious award under that kind of ominous cloud.

So Mo Farah got it instead.

Rewind back to 2016 in Leicester City’s magical season where they emerged champions. When the short list for the PFA Footballer of the Year was announced, it looked like this:

Dmitri Payet

Harry Kane

Jamie Vardy

Mesut Ozil

N’Golo Konte

Riyad Mahrez

Given that three of the six nominees were from Leicester’s team, it was a sure sign that one of them would win it.

But which one? If defense is your thing, then you would have voted Konte, now protecting the back four at Chelsea. But surely the award seemed destined for Jamie Vardy, in a fairy tale era where an Englishman set scoring records by scoring in consecutive matches and breaking the record long held by Dutchman Ruud van Nistelrooy.

BBC. English corporation. English talent. Jamie Vardy. You might argue that Harry Kane was also in the running, but if you read the signs well, Leicester’s incredible season was not going to be overlooked. Harry Kane winning it over the three Leicester men? Unlikely.

Vardy seemed a shoo-in for the award, of which the ceremony was to be held on 24 April 2016.

Unfortunately for Vardy, in a match against West Ham on 17 April 2016, he was sent off. Not just sent off, but sent off for a theatrical dive with the intention to deceive the referee. He basically ran over his opponent’s outstretched leg and did his famous half-twist in mid-air. If you watch him now, he’s still doing it on the pitch. He must have had a lot of practice at that, the form’s almost always the same.

Vardy’s red card at a time the FA was trying to crack down on diving meant that it was impossible that he would receive the award. His subsequent protest and disrespect for the referee meant that if he were won the award, the FA would be endorsing a whole generation of disrespect towards referees.

So Vardy’s great season was undone by that one game close to that award.  It went to Mahrez instead.

Mo Salah won the recent African Footballer of the Year and impressed in the games leading up to it. But one wonders if he had slipped up in the run-up, whether he would have received it.

And Sadio Mane? While he may have been on the shortlist for the December announcement, he wouldn’t have been remembered for his outstanding play. It would have been remembered for the souvenir he gave to Man City keeper Ederson earlier in the season.

The lesson here? If you are nominated for any award, don’t do anything silly in the process.

Saturday Round-up

Can anyone stop Manchester City? This is the question that everyone seems to be asking after the City train steamrolled Tottenham Hotspurs, pretenders to the throne, and all but showed them that if they ever want to be possible Premier League Champions, they still have a long way to go.

Remember when it was not long ago that everyone was gushing over Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen? No one seems to be speaking about them now.

Dele Alli seemed to have cottoned on to something though, something that Manchester City’s past opponents didn’t seem to have registered. If you want to stop Manchester City, you have to stop Kevin de Bruyne. Stop Kevin de Bruyne. Don’t double team him, don’t man-mark him, don’t zone him. Just stop him.

It’s fairly predictable that the three-man panel will give Dele Alli a retrospective ban for the first class stamp on de Bruyne.

Does Manchester City’s fine run mean that Alexis Sanchez’s stock has gone down? Four months ago he was touted to be off to join Pep – maybe as the backup to Sergio Kun Aguero? – but now City have gone on their brilliant run without him. If he does go over in the transfer period, wouldn’t it be said that he merely transferred over to the Premier League champions without doing anything to help them earn it?

In fact, this is what Arsene Wenger should be selling Sanchez. Wenger should tell him, “You want to be recognised for your contribution, sign a new contract with us. Over here the fans recognise you are one of the pulling powers of the team. Over there you are one of many stars. If Tottenham is a Harry Kane team, Man City are a Kevin de Bruyne team. But Arsenal is the Alexis Sanchez team.”

But wait a second, I hear you say. What about Alexandre Lacazette?

Presumable Wenger persuaded him to sign for the Gunners by telling him he could make them the “Lacazette team”. But having spent a fortune signing him and then not playing him in the big games, he is really the £52.6m bookmark. Pretty much like Fernando Torres in the Chelsea days.

“This is my team now. Take a hike.”

“I might hitch a ride on the Wenger Out plane to Man City.”

 

Was Mesut Ozil’s strike against Newcastle one of his last few for Arsenal? Wenger insists Ozil and Sanchez will not be sold to rivals, especially top four ones who could do Arsenal out of a Champions League place.

It’s all shaping out to be an interesting transfer window.

“I’m going to off-load that whinging Sanchez. What the heck, Man City are going to win the league anyway. But if you stay, Arsenal could be known as the Mesut Ozil team.”

And did you see that goal by Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucoure? That is going to win the next Goal of the Month competition.

“I predict that Arsenal are going to be known as the Olivier Giroud team …”

Now everyone dares to Zlatan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has always cast himself as a strong lion.

When he was out with his latest injury, he mentioned that “lions take longer to recover”.

But speculation is rife that while his mental fortitude is there, his body may be letting him down.

 

And because of that, now everyone dares to Zlatan. Especially the Manchester City team who reportedly had a dig at him, provoking the post-match brawl.

 

It seems Zlatan is now playing the part of the hurt tiger in the commercial, being provoked – but unable to do nothing about it.


 

The ex-Barcelona man, who once said “If Mourinho lights up a room, Guardiola draws the curtains”, may soon find the sun setting on his career.

Oh well, there’s always the Chinese League for a big payday. And someone of Ibrahimovic’s reputation will always have a team willing to take him, not so much for his on-field prowess, but for his commercial value.

But considering his decline, maybe even the Chinese players may dare to Zlatan.

Ozil to Manchester United

As I mentioned previously, Ozil’s ex-Madrid links are too strong.

If he joins Barca, can you imagine him being booed by the Madrid fans, as well as the Barca fans if he has a bad game?

For a player sensitive to criticism about his body language, that would probably affect him too much in the big games.

A creative player like Ozil, with defensive cover from Matic, and all the youngsters around him … He should really join Mourinho at United.

Besides, the boss has big enough a persona to deflect the criticism away from him, allowing him to do his best and focus on the game.

Slap in the face

Big Sam Allardyce claims to have been baffled by the poor defending at the club he took over.

To be fair though, he can claim to have tightened up the defence. In the four game he has taken charge of, they have only conceded one goal.

But while Allardyce claims credit for his work, he should not forget that the person he replaced, caretaker manager David Unsworth, used to be a player for the club.

In fact, Unsworth was a defender.

Oh well, maybe Unsworth unfortunately doesn’t get enough respect from the club management. After all, he wasn’t aware of the club’s progress of his successor’s appointments.