FourFourTwo's James Maw rounds up the weekend's Premier League action, as Manchester City take a big step towards the title, and Sunderland all but kill off the relegation battle...
Has Mourinho’s caution cost Chelsea?
Newspaper reports on Sunday morning suggested Jose Mourinho was willing to cash in on either or both of creative duo Eden Hazard and Oscar. Mourinho’s team selection for the Premier League stalemate with Norwich did little to quell those rumours, with Hazard dropped to the bench and Oscar omitted from the matchday squad entirely.
This followed a public ‘war of words’ (read: minor difference in opinion) between Mourinho and Hazard following Chelsea’s Champions League defeat to Atletico Madrid. Speaking to the French press, Hazard said Chelsea were "not made to play football" and merely "good on the counter-attack". He then added; "Often, I'm asked to do it all by myself and it's not easy."
It may have been that last comment that most riled Mourinho, who later in the week said: "It's normal [for Hazard to say this] because he's not the kind of player ready to sacrifice himself 100 per cent for the team and for his mates."
Mourinho went on to praise the defensive contribution made by Willian in big matches, highlighting the fact he wants his flair players to work hard at both ends of the pitch.
But before Mourinho considers disposing of Hazard in the same way he did Juan Mata, he should perhaps consider the way his team have repeatedly struggled to adequately break down crowded defences in the second half of this Premier League season. In six matches against West Ham, West Brom, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Sunderland and Norwich, the Blues have scored managed to accrue two goals and three points. While it’s entirely sensible to be cautious of being struck on the counter in these kinds of matches, it’s clear that these are matches where your creative players’ predominant function should be carving open the opposition.
Chelsea enjoyed plenty of possession in the first half of Sunday’s draw with the struggling Canaries, but rarely found that incisive pass. They created just six chances in the first half, compared to 12 in the second after the introduction of the busily probing Hazard.
There’s a time and a place for diligent coverers, but this season has shown that there’s also a time to throw caution to the wind. Incidentally, Juan Mata scored against Sunderland, West Ham and Norwich last season.
City striking the right balance
One team who haven’t struggled at the sharp end this season has been Manchester City, but it has been their defensive improvement over the second half of the season that looks like winning them the title.
Joe Hart and his defence had to be on their mettle during the latter stages of Saturday evening's win at Everton, but while many other back-lines would have wilted under pressure from Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley & Co., City held out for a crucial win.
Manuel Pellegrini's side may have conceded twice at Goodison, and three times on their last visit to Merseyside last month, but in the other 10 of their last 12 league matches, they have shipped a total of just five goals. In the same 14-game period, Liverpool have conceded 17. That seven-goal difference could be the deciding factor come next Sunday.
Praise should be reserved, not only for the improving Hart, but also fellow former figure of fun, Martin Demichelis. The Argentine centre-back has grown into a key figure for the new Premier League leaders, and if he can continue in the same vein for another week, he should have a medal to show for his efforts.
Arsenal get there in the end
It’s traditional for the Sunday Debrief to include insightful and in-depth musings on each and every Premier League game to have been played that day. However, Arsenal’s 1-0 win over West Brom was a dog of a match, so we’ll lose the ‘de’ and just keep it ‘brief’.
The Gunners are once again Champions League bound. Combine that with an FA Cup win and this is a season even the most hard-to-please Gooner would’ve taken back in August. So that early-spring crisis talk was all a big silly waste of time. Again. Relax, Arsene’s got this…
Gutless defeat shows why time’s up for Tim
There’s no doubt Tim Sherwood was correct when he said his Tottenham charges needed to show more ‘gut’ and ‘character’ – but what’s also now clear is that he’s not the man to inspire the best from the North Londoners’ squad.
Eight weeks on from Sherwood’s infamous televised rant after the 4-0 defeat at Chelsea, many of Tottenham’s players look like they just want the season over. The performance during Saturday’s defeat at West Ham was so flat and insipid it was hard not to imagine that most of the players would rather be elsewhere. Paulinho and Emmanuel Adebayor moving out the way of Stewart Downing’s free-kick was as clear an indication as you could possibly imagine that many of the players lack motivation and confidence.
Clearly, the players should have a little more professional pride, but Sherwood must also carry the can; there certainly have to be questions asked of seemingly inconsistent man-management. While he had previously made a point of saying players who weren’t suitably committed should be "dug out", Paulinho (picked ahead of Sandro despite playing poorly for much of the season) and Adebayor (the poster boy of ‘the Sherwood revolution’) were given a far easier ride by their manager.
He may have boasted of being Tottenham’s best-ever manager thanks to his win ratio, but there’s little doubt the Lilywhites can do better.
Sunderland have ruined the relegation scrap
Three weeks ago, a 1-0 home defeat to Everton left Sunderland bottom of the Premier League, seven points adrift of safety and seemingly destined for the drop. Then came the already legendary ‘miracle’ run. Man City were held, Chelsea were beaten, Cardiff were thrashed. Suddenly the mood at the club had been completely transformed – as had the complexion of the relegation scrap.
We looked to be heading for a tense finale, with five teams looking likely to go into the final day unsure of which division they would grace in 2014/15. But then Sunderland took it one step too far. Their by-now only mildly surprising 1-0 win at Manchester United not only sent down Cardiff (beaten at Newcastle) and Fulham (beaten at Stoke), but pretty much doomed Norwich too, thanks to their woeful goal difference and the fact Sunderland have a game in hand against West Brom on Wednesday night
So almost certainly no last-day drama at the bottom. No five-way battle for relative glory. No footage of befuddled fans with a transistor radio in one hand and an abacus in the other. And Sunderland are entirely to blame. So very selfish...