In the FA Cup semi, Chelsea beat Spurs 4-2 in an exhilarating match, where Tottenham once again showed resilience but made elementary defensive errors that can only be attributed to their inability to handle the pressure of expectation. Although they’ve done magnificently well to close the gap on Chelsea to just four points, you get the feeling that should Chelsea falter again and an opportunity present itself, Spurs will not take advantage.
Whether on the pitch or in the coaching setup, Pochettino needs a couple of old hands that know what it’s like to taste success and can transmit that to the players. Even Leicester had Robert Huth. With such a young squad, there are presently few calming influences able to help push Spurs over a winning line. For Pochettino, it appears the last piece of the jigsaw is more mental than physical or tactical.
Arsenal beat Man City due to a combination of factors, few of them to do with Wenger’s newly-adopted back three. Against City, he threw all his principles out the window and went long ball, which didn’t work because that was not the reason Man City were beaten. After a typically exhausting season, Guardiola’s players lacked energy and struggled to sustain any sort of collective press. The fact is, too many players are struggling to adapt to Guardiola’s tactics and are incapable of concentrating for 90 minutes.
Having said that, Guardiola’s side did have a perfectly good goal disallowed and didn’t have much luck, hitting the woodwork twice. David Silva was knobbled by a bad tackle early in the game, as was Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho who barely made it into extra time. Not that Guardiola looked for any excuses. Arsenal showed fighting spirit, which once again demonstrates how Wenger is unable to motivate his players; they turn up when they feel like it.
Most people haven’t got a clue what Guardiola is trying to do at City and how difficult it will be for him to accomplish his objectives. His side are clearly not comfortable playing the ball out from the back and he has players like Bravo, Clichy, Otamendi and Navas who make stupid defensive errors in almost every game. Yaya Toure can still create a chance or produce a moment of magic, but he couldn’t press a lemon and his overall contribution is pitiful. China beckons.
Personally, I don’t think Guardiola’s side will even begin to come into its own until the season after next. At the moment, Man City is nothing like a Guardiola team, where the players dominate possession with purpose, use fluid movement to open up space for each other and hunt in packs to win the ball back. His tactics are complex and go well beyond Tika Taka - a terminology Guardiola dislikes and relates to having possession for the sake of it.
Yes, he has some supremely talented technical players like Silva and De Bruyne, but he doesn’t have deep-lying intellects like Xabi Alonso spraying pinpoint passes like he did at Bayern or technique freaks like Xavi and Iniesta to control the midfield.
At Barca, Guardiola created a collective of players so comfortable and intelligent in possession, and so well-drilled out of it, that traditional positions almost became meaningless. That was his genius. However, at Man City it’s obvious that a disproportionate amount of players do not have the technique, temperament or intelligence to adapt to Guardiola’s tactical instructions, and at the moment it all looks completely dysfunctional.
It’s much more difficult to recreate Guardiola’s brand of football in the Premier League than, for example, Klopp, whose tactics are more often predicated on sheer blood and guts and motivationally driven. Guardiola will need two or three years to get things right, but he will – given time.
In the PL, Man Utd brushed Burnley aside with goals from Martial and Rooney. Mourinho is slowly weaving durability into his squad, building the club up from the back as we knew he would. They are now in a position to leapfrog Liverpool and claim a place in the Champions League, but Ibrahimovic and Rojo are out for the season with ACL ligament tears, joining Pogba, Mata, Smalling and Jones on the injury list. Ibrahimovic could have kicked his last competitive ball.
Liverpool have similar problems. They have the weakest squad of the so-called ‘big’ teams and have been hit by key injuries to Mane, Lallana and Henderson. Like Man City, Klopp’s side are only able to play their pressing game intermittently and are vulnerable because of that. Klopp’s well aware of this and has had taken some big gambles recently. He put out a shadow team against Stoke recently but still managed to turn the result by bringing Coutinho and Firmino on in the second half.
Ultimately, however, they don’t have enough in the locker at the moment and are finding it tough going with so many physical demands being placed on a small squad that can’t cope with injuries. But Liverpool only have four games left, and with one weeks’ recovery between each could still find the legs to mount a late charge and take advantage of Utd’s busy schedule.
The fact is City, Man Utd and Liverpool are working their way back to being strong clubs again. They have great managers who are trying to mould the players in their own image. With only one season under their belts, all have made advances (albeit Guardiola’s have been minimal), but all three managers need more time to bed in last summer’s signings, adapt new and existing players into their tactical setups and start bringing in the final pieces of the jigsaw.
Antonio Conte had a head start over all those managers because he inherited a former title-winning team with a deep squad that had a collective understanding and winning mentality. Over the next few years, I predict a bigger gap opening between the current top five and the teams below them. During this transition, City, Utd and Pool regularly drop points against teams they ought not to, but they will become more consistent against lower place sides, meaning the matches against their direct competitors will start to become crucial six pointers.
Note: Arsenal Truth is now on Twitter @TruthArsenal.
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