It’s December already and Premier League clubs are out looking to build a head of steam before a direly busy Christmas period which could stop their momentum dead in its tracks. Tonight, we have a host of midweek fixtures, but let us have a look at the two that promise us the most captivating storylines: Manchester United vs Tottenham, and Liverpool vs Everton.
Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur
Kick-off: 1 am
Is this Jose Mourinho’s Redemption Arc?
Every copy starts off as a blank page. A blank page with Tottenham Hotspur is where Jose Mourinho would like to script the first flourish in his new story in the backyard and at the expense of his former team, Manchester United. A story that is far removed from the collateral damage he seems to cause every team he leaves behind.
He wears the visage of a changed man in his press conferences. The glint in his eyes has been replaced with a soft focus and his voice has taken on a more granular tone (the kind you’d associate with a man who has suffered). The chin-out bravura has been substituted with a smirky-coyness of an old uncle who knows all the inside jokes there is to know at family dinners.
The sharp edges of the Portuguese’s contours have in fact shrunk. No longer does he have those shoulders as sharp as raven-claws exaggerated by his even sharper ocean-blue suits, he appears to us in tracksuits and training gear in grey, with his greyed out hair. He’s seen gushing with warm excitement about the potential of Dele Alli and Heung-Min Son as potential world-beaters; lauding Moussa Sissoko, Serge Aurier for their enterprise.
The latter two will have a lot to do if Tottenham’s front-three is to have all the joy that they wish to have. Thankfully, in the South Korean, Son, Jose Mourinho has a skilful player with high spatial cognition and an even better set of lungs capable of covering his left-back. This is an area that Manchester United has succeeded in hurting opposing teams, especially Liverpool’s marauding left-back Andy Robertson.
The batten-down-your-hatches football characteristic of a Jose Mourinho team hasn’t reared its ugly head, not yet. So far, the London club under his stewardship has scored 10 and let in 6. This harks back to the early days of 2014-15 when the romance with Stamford Bridge was rekindled, the campaign ending with an unsuspecting Chelsea winning the Premier League, and he being named the Manager of the Season. Back then Jose ‘the Special One’ played a brand of football that spoke a lot about his internal motivations: he wanted to be loved again. And so it may be the case at Tottenham, wherewith endearment, he is on a mission for redemption. That has begun with not taking potshots at former employers despite soured relationships.
“Chelsea won four Premier League titles in all of their history. Three with me and one was won by the team I left behind,” Jose Mourinho controversially said returning as the opposing manager to Stamford Bridge with Manchester United three years ago. We’d imagine he’d have a lot more to say about his much-villainized stint at the Manchester-based club, starting with the obstinacy of rockstar footballer Paul Pogba.
The French international’s already burgeoning ego was inflated exponentially after his World Cup win. The friction between the two made the situation untenable, while the widely-documented incompetency of CEO Ed Woodard with whom Mourinho confronted with in regards to the daily (mis)management of the club and recruitment policy meant that the two-time Champions League winner was left feeling growingly alienated, pent up in a suite at Manchester’s Lowry Hotel. This spell caricaturised Jose Mourinho as King Lear, as someone who has lost the plot, as a fraud, an anachronism, as everything that is wrong with football, etcetera, etcetera.
Instead, the ringmaster who has thrived throughout his career in using the media as his private PR circus lead his pre-match press conference against United with appeals of wanting to talk about the game and not himself. Even going as far in his new role as a pacifist to quote Nelson Mandela:
“Manchester United is a closed chapter in my history book. I’m not a villain, I’m not an enemy, I simply am the coach trying to win against United (as my duty). Mr Mandela said you never lose, you win or you learn. At United, I learned. We (Spurs) have a lot of work to do.”
Tonight’s match against an ailing Manchester United (with 4 wins in 14 games) will give us the first evidence of how much Jose Mourinho has reformed. The way he sets out his team, the brand of football Tottenham play will address whether the Portuguese manager is fashioning the team to its strengths or plying it to play in his former image. At 56-years-old, Jose Mourinho could show us, if he chooses so, that it’s never too late to start.
On the opposite corner, Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is needing to have an altogether different kind of evidence: “I can just go on the evidence of the game days and supporters I’ve met. They know there’s a lot of work being done behind the scenes – putting culture into the team, with what’s happening here at Carrington [in training]. We just need results. All the six games we’ve drawn, I feel we should’ve won. That’s the evidence; that’s all the answer we can give.”
Manchester United, ironically, 10th on the table (with 18 points), don’t care how the wins come as long as they do. Tottenham are 6th on the table with 20 points. A win for United would mean that they hop over Tottenham, while a win for the London club would mean they remain at a touching distance of the Champions League spots.
Liverpool FC vs Everton
Kick-off: 1:45 am
Grief Shared is Grief Halved
Liverpool vs Everton is altogether a unique derby where sisters and brothers may be seated with their fathers, mothers, grandmums and granddads in the same row but adorning different colours — red and blue.
The 234th Merseyside derby will be a poignant moment and a moment that is perhaps even more important than the crucial sporting spectacle it provides. Happenings of last week are going to foreshadow this meeting.
Match commander in-charge of the game that resulted in the Hillsborough tragedy, David Duckenfield was acquitted last week on charges of gross negligence manslaughter despite the admission that his “professional failings led to the deaths of 96 innocent men, women and children” in 1989 at a fatal crush at Lepping’s Lane during an FA Cup match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. This news was greeted with shock, despair and disillusionment in the city of Liverpool as a whole; not as communities separated but as a whole.
Many match-going Liverpool fans have been in some way, shape or form been affected by it. Many in the stands tonight would have had someone seated beside them, had it not been for the tragedy. Everton are expected to show a resounding strength of solidarity for their Stanley Park neighbours as they have done ever since that day. Don’t be surprised by shouts of “Justice for the 96” echoing through louder than ever before.
On the football side of things, Liverpool will be looking to extend their lead at the top of the table to 11 points between themselves and Manchester City (who won 4-1 away at Burnley).
Near the opposite end of the table, Everton find themselves at 17th position with 14 points from 14 games. This match against Liverpool will the ideal opportunity for Marco Silva and his men to muster some momentum heading into the congested Christmas period. A win here would mean that Everton end a 20-year streak without a win at Anfield.
He said in the pre-match conference: “They (Liverpool) are in a very good moment and maybe the toughest opponent we can face. At home, they are almost unbeaten against everyone who went there. You can look at it this way or the other way – it is a good opportunity for us in a special game. We have to go there and embrace the challenge, to enjoy it.”
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will be looking to quash any Evertonian enjoyment heading into this match with a record that reads ‘undefeated in eight Merseyside derbies.’ But he’s aware of the unpredictability a match like this provides: “Most of the time [there are] really tight results, late deciders, especially last year.”
Liverpool have no injury worries to speak of apart from Fabinho who is out till the New Year, and Joel Matip is nearing match fitness.
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Updated Date: Dec 04, 2019 15:23:23 IST