The English Premier League is only into its fourth week of action, but things look rather bleak for Chelsea in an awful start for a defending champion, while Liverpool and Manchester United have quickly forgotten about the optimism that flowed after the first two matches, replaced by concern over the managerial capabilities and quality of their players.
The most evident thing about Chelsea is the poor individual form so many players are in. Throwing the Mourinho third year theory on it seems a little bit early, but one can’t help but think it. Branislav Ivanovic suddenly becomes the worst right back in the Premier League. Eden Hazard can’t go past a single defender. Diego Costa? Well it’s actually not surprising to see him play this badly. His first half of last season felt a little bit too good to be true. Cesc Fabregas playing poorly? Maybe it all comes down to Nemanja Matic no longer looking like the best defensive midfielder in the kingdom, and he’s Chelsea’s most important player.
Things do seem like they’re spinning out of control for Mourinho. The head-to-head clash with the popular doctor didn’t help, although trying to guess the influence that story had is nothing more than speculation, just like all the analysing of the third-year syndrome. Mourinho probably won’t change his tactics. What he will do is either get his struggling players into shape by throttling them or simply starting those he usually doesn’t rely on. He doesn’t have much of a choice.
It’s a bit more than poor form at Manchester United, who have 7 points out of 12, making the early season slump seem less severe. They’re playing bad football for one. Wayne Rooney hasn’t scored a league goal in 10 matches, looks overweight, out of shape and out of position. The club seems too busy playing games of pride instead of rationally thinking how to sign and sell players. Anthony Martial, a 19-year old, is now thrown into very difficult situation. David de Gea; that issue should have been settled a long time go. Now it seems like it’s all being rushed in the last minute.
And then there’s one manager, who seems arrogant and stubborn, too much for his and the club’s own good. His insistence on certain tactical surprises seem to be costing the club points, not to mention some style points as well. You can always rely on a nice run of good results like the one from last season to get you into the Champions League. But are Manchester United really putting themselves on par with Manchester City and (formerly) Chelsea when it comes to reckless spending and zero forward thinking just so they can finish fourth?
Liverpool have some smaller expectations, but you wouldn’t know by looking at their trophy cabinet or talking to their fans. This club is probably an outsider to finish in the top 4, but that’s the goal, and Brendan Rodgers missing out on it will probably end his tenure at the club. The 3-0 loss at home to West Ham was further proof of the tactical glitches in his mind, or how little he has learned since taking the job.
How can one use the same lineup that worked well on an away match against Arsenal and expect it to function against West Ham, at Anfield? Liverpool fell into a trap they should have seen from miles, and the inability of Dejan Lovren to justify his overpriced transfer fee should be the final example of why he shouldn’t be on the pitch for the club. There’s still a long way to go, and Liverpool have gotten 7 points, but that home defeat might erase all the positivity from the first three weeks of the season.