ne of the biggest challenges for today’s managers is getting top-flight footballers to buy into their methods.
That’s half the battle – convincing a bunch of independently minded, very wealthy people that your approach will lead to success. If they’re engaged, enthused by the ‘project’, you’ve got half a chance. If they’re not, you can basically forget it.
Players lose faith very quickly if results go against, especially when asked to work incredibly hard. Whispered moans at the training ground easily spread. ‘Why are we doing this?’, ‘Why’s he asking us to do that?’
I suppose you can guess where that kind of whingeing might be more prevalent just now. Up at London Colney, the mood won’t be great following a succession of very poor displays. Mikel Arteta’s demands, which felt so fresh at the start, might now be grating with certain individuals.
You’ve got to remember that it’s never the players’ fault. It wasn’t in my day and it isn’t now. Forget about looking in the mirror. Shifting the blame has always been an art form. As a result, some will be wondering if Arsenal’s rookie manager is up to the job.
And it isn’t, in truth, an unfair question. Arteta is learning on his feet. He’s bound to make mistakes in these uncharted waters. But the one thing he must do is keep the players onside, otherwise the task becomes impossible.
Jose Mourinho knows all about that. He seemed to lose the dressing room at Manchester United, where displays and results became intolerable. It looks a bit different now.
The Tottenham boys are lapping up their manager’s methods, not because they are particularly enjoyable to carry out (I’m pretty sure they’re not), but because they’re producing results. ‘Top of the table? I’ll have a bit of that!’
I mean, who doesn’t want success in this short career? George Graham once famously told us we might not always enjoy working under him, but come the end of our time, with silverware on the sideboard, we would all look back with great satisfaction.
He wasn’t wrong. And I sense it’s a similar situation these days at Spurs, where Mourinho’s tactics might go against the grain for those reared on Mauricio Pochettino’s more expansive approach. But come the end of 90 minutes, with three points in the bag, no one’s complaining.
Yet, that can soon change, as proved at Arsenal. But who will be smiling on Sunday night? Despite contrasting moods, that’s harder to say.
For those of a certain age, this fixture brings back memories of the brutal FA Cup Final in 1970, won after a replay at Old Trafford by the Londoners. For much younger souls, it is an intriguing tussle between an expensively-assembled team enjoying good form and a fearless outfit new to this level.
If Leeds play with the same skill and verve as at Everton last week, they are going to make things very interesting at Stamford Bridge. It could be an awkward test for a club possibly still celebrating Wednesday’s Champions League triumph in Seville.
Manchester City vs Fulham
Would you believe it: Fulham beating Leicester last week in surprising style? Is it time to revise that impression of Scott Parker’s side as relegation fodder? I don’t know. We need more evidence of Fulham’s capabilities before getting too excited. And as crazy as this season is turning out, I can’t really see that evidence turning up at the Etihad.
City’s mauling of Burnley last week suggested a return to their old ruthless ways. With Liverpool up next up for the Cottagers after this, they might have to wait a while to build on that Leicester win.
West Brom vs Crystal Palace
After losing their last two, Palace could do with picking up points against a West Brom side that registered their first League win of the season against Sheffield United last week. Mind you, United could easily have scored four that day, given the chances they created, which should encourage Roy Hodgson on his return to an old stomping ground.
It would also buoy him no end to have Wilfried Zaha back. Forced to self-isolate after a positive Covid test, Zaha has been missed across those two defeats.
West Ham vs Manchester United
Rarely have I seen a manager look so disappointed in victory as David Moyes after beating Aston Villa. West Ham’s manager knows his side can and should play a lot better. Still, we all know that cliche about good teams being able to scrape a win after performing poorly. That said, you do not want to make a habit out of it.
And Manchester United have an attack that can go to town against any defence. With Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford in dangerous form, Angelo Ogbonna and his fellow defenders will need to be at their best.
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