Beauty in football can take many forms. For some, Spurs’ declarative victory over Man City was not attractive. Four shots on goal for 22, only 33 percent possession and all 11 players spend most of the 90 minutes in their own half.
For many others, including this author, this was an exquisite football pitch in a season where defense, game management and basic solidity have been neglected to the utmost.
It was vintage Mourinho, a refreshing reminder that game plans still exist and is a vital item in the Premier League. It will have hurt Pep Guardiola and worried many others in the Premier League.
It’s no surprise that both Spurs and Chelsea have closed the shop in recent weeks and will meet next week as two of the most in-form teams in the Premier League.
Fatigue, planning, and the absence of fans to keep you honest will mean that teams that favor solidity over attractive, free-flowing football must succeed this season. Mourinho has drilled Spurs to suit this type – Heung-Min Son was a right back in much of the game, Harry Kane showed the extra layers to his armor and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was monstrous in midfield. Even Tanguy Ndombele is back in the manager’s good books.
Mourinho went into a movie studio at Spurs and made it to the Jose Show. Just look at his Instagram account.
If he succeeds in the Spurs this season, against the odds, it could be his biggest achievement yet.
“The Man City patterns are the same as before, but the punch is different,” Sky Sports’ Gary Neville said shortly after the break as Manchester City withered at Tottenham. “They have to find that blow.”
Forty-five minutes or so later, the City players looked out and their hopes of regaining the Premier League are on the ropes. Just two days after putting pen to paper on a new contract, Pep Guardiola finds himself with perhaps the most difficult moment of his City career because it is far from clear where they are going from here.
Where’s their lead? Where is their fear factor? The problem, to extend Neville’s point, is that teams are no longer worried about what City can do against them. Their focus is now on what they can do for City. The heavyweight in the Premier League over the last half decade is vulnerable, precisely because teams now believe City’s lack of punch means they can soak up their pressure and then hit them hard at the break.
That, of course, is exactly what Tottenham did, just as Leicester did a month ago. By the end, City had been made to look predictable, and their creativity was almost entirely dependent on Kevin De Bruyne’s genius. It was a difficult and discouraging clock.
Which raises the question: Has Guardiola chosen an odd time to commit to City again? Maybe, but also maybe not. First, there are the Lionel Messi links you need to keep in mind. Second, Guardiola’s new deal could possibly be the first signal City are resetting. He certainly can not enjoy this season or this moment. The suspicion therefore hangs that he, unlike his team on Saturday night, is ready for the match. If this City team doesn’t pull off the canvas, it could be a brutal summer.
Frank Lampard insisted that Chelsea would “remain humble” for what he was determined would be “a long, long run” at the top, but his smile after the match did not hold up surprisingly.
Newcastle were well-known toothless in this comfortable 2-0 win, and before the international break, Sheffield United easily sidelined, but the Blues lost points in both respective matches last season; this time there has been an ominous air about their business.
Chelsea went to the top of the table for the first time in Lampard’s reign – at least a couple of hours – after a fifth successive victory, which was proof of how the rookie manager, albeit with big money, has brought about improvements at both ends of the pitch and fast-paced players old and new.
The result line should have been larger, Timo Werner twice wasting, but the Germans’ partnership with an effective focal point in Tammy Abraham pleased Lampard, as Kurt Zouma’s no-nonsense work and the reintegrated Antonio Rudiger in defense would also have done. In front of them, N’Golo Kante spread calmly, broke the game and reused the ball easily, but also played vertically with good effect. So leaky last term, the Blues’ expected goal against the column is more favorable than anyone other than Burnley.
Six of their first nine games have been against sides who are currently in the bottom half, while the next nine include Tottenham – ahead Sky Sports next weekend – Manchester City and Leicester. It asks for perspective. But given Chelsea’s own improvements and depth of talent – combined with their rivals’ challenges in a compressed season – also plenty of optimism.
Nine games into the new campaign and there’s a sense of deja vu around St James’ Park.
After an unprecedented summer of spending and an undoubtedly promising start, Magpies fans were well within their right to believe that things could be different this season.
They could still be different, but Saturday’s defeat to Chelsea – a team that has only won once on their previous six trips to Tyneside – left an all too familiar feeling that they will not.
Newcastle simply could not show up. From the first whistle, Chelsea were superior in every division and grew in confidence undisputed, creating menacing after threatening attacks that another day would have yielded a far more convincing victory than the one achieved.
Steve Bruce can point to injuries to key players or late returning players from international duty, but these excuses simply cannot be washed away for any club looking to reach the next level, nor can it record five defeats from their last seven home games.
There is a lot of work to be done for Newcastle – how many times have we said that?
Aston Villa were victims of a bad omen when Ross Barkley was taken off within five minutes. He twisted the hoarding and was soon replaced by Bertrand Traore, but Villa never really recovered from his absence.
First, the staff change is so early that it may throw you off, but Barkley has flourished in Villa’s midfield. He brings the creativity and link-up play that has been of great benefit since his arrival, and takes the pressure off Jack Grealish. So often, Villa have relied on him too much in the past, and Barkley has helped share that burden.
But on Saturday, once again, Grealish was the man they approached. He had a busy international break and needed the extra hand to help him, sometimes looking frustrated and tired towards the end. Traore delivered some good dead balls but didn’t bring much else while Ollie Watkins seems to be stranded up front, especially in the second half. They needed Barkley’s presence.
Aston Villa may also have begun to feel the effects of the empty stadium. Their defeat against Brighton was their third consecutive home loss and against a side that had never won before at Villa Park. One of the historical reasons for English football has always been known for its atmosphere, but Villa seem to be fighting without their 12th man at the moment.
All in all, it was a bad day for the usually speedy Aston Villa. But if their recent form has taught us anything, it’s a bad idea to bet against them, and hopefully this is a minor blip after a strong start to the season.
Despite playing good football this season, Brighton have only won once, but picked up an important three points at Villa Park – a pitch where they had never won before Saturday afternoon.
In their 12 visits, they had drawn three and lost nine matches, with Aston Villa unbeaten in their last eight league meetings. But it all stopped when Solly March curled up a sweet strike in the second half, despite the midfielder surviving a late VAR scare when he was penalized – and then not – for a free kick at Trezeguet inside the area.
There was also a first Brighton goal for Danny Welbeck and a good performance to start. It was like a feedback to a simpler time as the striker jumped forward before lifting a wonderful chip over the goalkeeper. On the whole, Welbeck continued the pressure in attack and made some important clearances as Aston Villa put down Brighton’s box.
For a striker who has never hit double figures in the Premier League – his best peaks were nine goals in the 2011/12 and 2013/14 seasons at Manchester United – it could also be Welbeck on his way to surpassing the total. Brighton fans certainly hope so.