Jose Mourinho has decided to axe some under-performing stars for the FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham in the wake of Manchester United’s alarming loss to West Brom.
A season-defining week kicked off in embarrassing fashion on Sunday as Jay Rodriguez fired the beleaguered Baggies to their first Premier League win in three months, sealing the title for Manchester City in the process.
It was a meek display from the hosts and a performance in stark contrast to the way they roared back to victory at the Etihad Stadium the previous weekend – a result of what Mourinho believes was over-confidence and complacency.
The United boss has now vowed to drop some big names ahead of Saturday’s Wembley semi-final against Spurs, with changes also in mind for Wednesday’s Premier League trip to Bournemouth.
“Rotating is not the right word,” Mourinho said of his approach at the Vitality Stadium.
“If I play a player against Bournemouth and the player is phenomenal, he plays the semi-final.
“So is not rotating, because rotating looks like a player that plays against Bournemouth is to give a rest to somebody that is going to play against Spurs in the semi-final.
“So, the word is not rotation, it is an opportunity for people, for some people to play and to try to get a place in the team for Spurs – and some of the guys that played (against West Brom), they don’t have a place in that team.”
Asked to clarify if he meant that some of those who under-performed against West Brom would now not play against Tottenham, Mourinho retorted: “Yeah.
“What is the criteria for a manager to choose a team? I only know one criteria: the way you play is the only way I can select players.
“Or do you want me to go for the price they cost, or their salary, or their beautiful face? The only way is to go with performance.”
Ander Herrera was replaced at half-time on Sunday and Ashley Young was taken off in the 75th minute, while Paul Pogba was withdrawn in the 58th minute.
The France midfielder was a shadow of the imposing, match-winning presence seen in the second half at the Etihad.
“It was not just him,” Mourinho said of Pogba’s performance.
“And he had a yellow card, so he was in a more difficult position than others.
“And playing with only two midfield players, you cannot play with one player in risk of not being able to make a foul.
“You can do it if your team is not losing the ball, but our team was losing the ball so easy with the complication, everything was complicated, so we were losing lots of balls.
“So, by losing lots of balls, with turnings and flicks and tricks, the midfield players and central defenders are at risk of one touch, one late challenge and they are out.
“So, Paul was out because of the yellow card, because in terms of the way he played he was not worse than some others that were on the pitch for 90 minutes.”
Mourinho’s disappointment will have no doubt been compounded by the fact some of those under-performing have been key players for him.
“Consistency has nothing to do with age,” the United boss said when asked if he was getting the best out of the experienced, established players.
“It has to do with personality, has to do with the way you live for football, what is your priority in your life, your ambitions. It has not to do with age.
“I met players 30-years-old, not consistent at all, and I found boys of 18, 19, 20, real men, real pros, so it’s not about the age.”
The Gunners slipped to a fifth-successive league defeat on the road for the first time since December 1984 when they lost 2-1 at Newcastle on Sunday, leaving them in sixth place, six points behind Chelsea in fifth and 13 adrift of fourth-placed derby rivals Tottenham.
Arsene Wenger’s men have struggled to balance the demands of the Europa League – in which they face Atletico Madrid in a two-legged semi-final – and their domestic commitments since the turn of the year with the game at St James’ Park a case in point.
Cech told the Evening Standard: “We are in the two competitions, so now need to keep switching between them and do our best. We are in a position now where we must win all our remaining games and hope it lifts us in the table.
“We are in a very difficult moment because everybody else has a big advantage.
“In the Europa League, we have a semi-final to play, so we need to make sure we are ready.
“It’s not the first time we were 1-0 up away and we didn’t get anything in the game.”
Alexandre Lacazette‘s 14th-minute strike got the visitors off to the perfect start and although Ayoze Perez equalised 15 minutes later, Callum Chambers and Premier League debutant Joe Willock both passed up good opportunities as their side dominated the first half.
But the Magpies raised their tempo after the break and won it through Matt Ritchie’s 68th-minute goal, leaving Cech and his team-mates to once again bemoan their failings away from the Emirates Stadium.
The 35-year-old said: “It’s very difficult to explain why because until last season, we were one of the best teams in terms of the away record. But somehow it has completely reversed this season and we don’t seem to find the answer for it.
“When you commit so many team mistakes, away or home, you get punished and Sunday proved that. Of course you try to address that, but clearly the same things are happening.
“We don’t do these mistakes – the team mistakes – when we play at home. Unfortunately, it has affected our results.”
Manchester City wrapped up the title on Sunday without lifting a finger, as rivals Manchester United suffered a shock 1-0 defeat at home to relegation-threatened West Brom, handing the trophy to Pep Guardiola’s side.
City have not relinquished top spot in the Premier League since the fifth week of the campaign, having won 28 of their 33 games played so far, wrapping up the title with five matches to spare.
With 93 goals scored and some big wins along the way, including a 5-0 success against Liverpool, a 6-0 victory away at Watford and a 4-1 win against Tottenham Hotspur, City have provided plenty of entertainment on their way to winning the league title for the first time since 2014.
Here, our writers, Chris Bailey, Tom Biggs and Aditya Devavrat have their say on just how good this Manchester City side is, and what’s next for Guardiola’s men.
Is this Manchester City side the best Premier League team of all-time?
CB: Don’t let recency bias fool you into thinking that City’s class of 2018 are anything short of spectacular. Two of their three defeats on the bounce came against an inspired Liverpool in the Champions League – and they simply took their eye of the ball in the Manchester derby. Remember instead their 18-match winning streak, the countless clobberings of their ‘rivals’. No team has married style and substance quite like City.
TB: Guardiola and his City side have set the benchmark for others to follow. They have dismantled those around them – bar narrow defeats to Liverpool and United – and simply bullied everyone outside the top six. Their play, possession and passing has mesmerised and amazed. Should they set the record points total, as they are likely to do, there’ll be no question that this City side is the greatest the Premier League has ever seen.
AD: It’s hard to look past Manchester United’s Treble-winning side of 1998/99 and Arsenal’s Invincibles from 2003/04 in this debate. City have been imperious and just about all-conquering this season, and if they get to 100 points they’d merit a place in the conversation, just as the current record-holders for points in a season, Chelsea from 2004/05, do. At best, they’ll get into the top three – which is no small feat.
Can they be stopped in the Premier League next season?
CB: For sheer probability’s sake, the Sky Blues won’t have it quite so easy next season. But what should trouble the rest is how young their core is – Ederson, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane all 26 or comfortably under. It doesn’t mean that they have the perfect squad, of course, as they would do well to heed the lessons learned by an all-conquering Real Madrid – who bought no one in the summer and have been embarrassed in La Liga.
TB: The onus will be on Manchester City’s rivals. They have dominated against the league’s lesser sides this season, dropping just six points against those outside of the top six, while United have dropped 17 and both Liverpool and Tottenham have missed out on 15 points. If City’s rivals don’t improve against weaker opposition, Guardiola’s side will be ready to become just the third club to retain the Premier League title.
AD: Recent history suggests the answer to this question is yes. The same question was asked after Chelsea dominated the league last season, and two years before that. Both times, another team successfully took up the challenge. City’s consistency over this season will be hard to replicate – for City themselves. Liverpool, United and even Tottenham will feel they are only a few adjustments away from reaching City’s level, and Chelsea will also expect an improved showing.
What does Pep Guardiola need to do for them to conquer Europe?
CB: Not panic – as good as Liverpool were over the two legs, they hardly cast doubt on Guardiola’s methods. City were caught flat-footed at Anfield and the tie was more or less decided within half an hour. While the infamous attack on that bus cannot be blamed entirely for the collapse, it certainly didn’t help. In the second leg, a bizarre bout of team selection tinkering backfired. Guardiola needs to stay true to himself. Even in a perfect year, though, the Champions League is no sure thing.
TB: Keep it simple. Guardiola overthought his tactics for the first leg against Liverpool and they were unable to recover after a simply stunning 45 minutes from Jurgen Klopp’s side. Defensively they must be more resolute, but the key will be to simply produce their Premier League displays on the European stage. With the experience of the shock elimination to Liverpool behind them, Guardiola’s side will be in better shape come crunch time next season.
AD: It’s difficult to see what Guardiola can do differently. The changes he made in his team selection against Liverpool were born out of a desire to ensure even more control of a game; essentially, his Plan B was to take Plan A to the extreme. It’s been six straight Champions League campaigns where someone has managed to successfully counter this – it’s up to Guardiola to decide whether he sees a pattern or six one-off results.