Brendan Rodgers became the first managerial casualty of the Season on Sunday afternoon and the subsequent reactions have been mixed. But it was evident that Rodgers could do no more to motivate his charges after a mediocre performance in the Merseyside Derby.
Liverpool are presently a beleaguered team, reflecting on a dour run of just one win in eight games, but the Reds are not the only wounded giant in misery. Reigning champions Chelsea are on an equally poor run, and José Mourinho – the so called “Special One” – must now feel as though the sands of time are also running out for him.
The manner of Chelsea’s defeat on Saturday evening was reflective of a team with neither direction on the pitch nor spirit in the dressing room. However, poor as Chelsea were, an energetic and merciless Southampton side must be given full credit for the 3-1 victory at Stamford Bridge, masterminded in full by the incorrigible Ronald Koeman.
KOEMAN v CHELSEA – 3 Points
Super Sub/Key Players: Sadio Mané
Enterprising, young and productive – there is little sign of the dreaded ‘second season syndrome’ affecting Ronald Koeman’s side, which continues to attack with verve and produce results. The Saints have now hit an astonishing fourteen goals in their last three games, and this statistic is no fluke.
The introduction of James Ward Prowse for the booked Oriol Romeu may have been partly forced, yet Koeman’s decision to make a like-for-like swap without disrupting the formation was a true masterstroke. Ward-Prowse is known for his ability to attack from deep which, in turn, provided Sadio Mané to better utilise his pace against the sluggish, aging John Terry.
Tip: Use FLIP Sports’ statistics to see which midfield combinations convert passes into attacking opportunities quickly. This is effective against older (and slower) defences as no amount of experience can stop a quickfire through-ball.
WENGER v MANCHESTER UNITED – 2 Points
Super Sub/Key Players: Alexis Sanchez
Very little intervention was needed from Arsene Wenger, whose side could be relied upon to render United’s possession meaningless. The emphasis on counter-attack was ‘classic Wenger’, with the trio of Sanchez, Walcott and Ozil showing great linear cohesion to exploit gaps and swap positions dynamically. This enabled several cutbacks which further unsettled the United defence.
Arsene Wenger also knew the dangers posed by opposition striker Anthony Martial, and the man-marking from Arsenal’s back line was exemplary.
Tip: Study heat maps to see which midfield groups get into the most advanced positions when in possession and exchanging passes.
BILIC v SUNDERLAND – 1 Point
Super Sub/Key Players: Victor Moses
The West Ham team was in disarray after Sunderland’s second goal on 22 minutes and though a goal was pulled back three minutes before the break, there can be no doubt that some choice words were uttered by Slaven Bilic in the dressing room.
When a team that picks itself is in a losing position, motivation becomes the principal concern of the manager. Whatever Bilic said at half time was clearly effective, and although Moses created the first West Ham goal, Bilic proved headstrong enough to bring him off for Nikica Jelavic.
Tip: Deficit-halving goals that come after the 40 minute mark change the complexion of the game. If the conceding team is in the relegation zone, consider maxing out on the opposing team’s most dangerous players. Teams at the foot of the table are less likely to withstand the upcoming pressure.