One for the Road
The big news in English football this week has been the dismissal of Jose Mourinho as Chelsea manager. While not exactly unexpected, his side having lost far too many games recently, it still seems harsh. Just last May they were crowned champions of England and the Special One was hailed for working his magic once again. He’d bought two players, Fabregas and Costa, who had transformed them from also-rans into unstoppable certainties. Not for the first time, player unrest has done for a Chelsea manager. Andreas Villas-Boas also got the push after the players decided they didn’t like him trying to reshape the squad. Now Fabregas and Costa have both been misfiring recently and there are rumours the dressing room is unhappy, though it’s unclear precisely what they’re unhappy about.
Managing a losing side and turning things around is a different job entirely to tweaking a dominant side and keeping them performing consistently. This is the first time Mourinho’s been faced with this kind of problem and he hasn’t been able to come up with any answers. Many’s the time I’ve heard someone say “Jose Mourinho couldn’t get that lot playing well” and for the first time ever I think I’m persuaded it may be true. Even so there will be no shortage of suitors for his services. With him available and Swansea apparently close to tying up Marcelo Bielsa to succeed Gary Monk, there will be a lot of clubs wondering if they can punch above their weight in attracting a new boss too.
New Kids on the Block
Mourinho’s last game in charge at Chelsea was a defeat at Leicester who are tearing up the division under their new coach, another ex-Chelsea supremo, Claudio Ranieri. People still seem to assume their bubble will burst but they are still top, it’s Christmas and they aren’t involved in European competition so any squad deficiencies may not get exposed before May. You have to hand it to them, they made an imaginative choice of manager in the summer, one many thought wouldn’t work and their team has blossomed. Ranieri has an attractive public persona, their team works hard and have plenty of skill at their disposal. What’s not to like?
In a season when so many of the usual top teams are underperforming, maybe they have a chance of staying if not top in the end then very close to it. We’ve been as guilty as anyone of falling into the trap of underestimating them, considering our 0-3 defeat at home to them as one to a side we should be beating. They are the team in form however and instead of bellyaching about it we should be looking to them for inspiration.
Two wins on the trot, for the first time in a year. It couldn’t have happened at a better time for us, just as we were threatened with getting stranded in the bottom 3. Even more impressive than the points was the calibre of opposition, Liverpool and Tottenham, both sides in form when we came up against them. Of course this being Newcastle United, and us playing bottom club Aston Villa at home next, many of us expect a perverse response from us with a return to our previous lacklustre ways and a frustrating defeat.
This is a real opportunity to put together a good run though, one which could be enough to keep us up by itself at worst and transform our season at best. Villa are struggling badly and if we could pick up the points against them we have another home game the week after, admittedly against a good Everton side but with the confidence of a 3rd straight win on our side we’d definitely have a chance. In our final game of the year 2 days later we’re away to WBA. Imagine where we’d be after a good set of results in those games.
Today’s game also has the possibility of preventing Villa from picking up momentum of their own, just as important perhaps, and opening up a 13-point gap between us. If we can do that it’d take a huge turnaround for them to catch us by May. To be blunt about it, we’d only then have to outstrip two other sides to be safe, and once that’s done we can start looking up the table instead of downwards, which is how we want to be approaching our football. This is a big game for us, pivotal perhaps. With the right performance and result we’ll be a big step closer to enjoying our football again.