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Opinion

‘We have hit a brick wall’: Ole's damning assessment, Chelsea's magnificent seven, King Claudio

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25th October, 2021
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This Premier League weekend saw a hat-trick of hat-tricks, incredible comebacks, home defeats that could cost careers and the gulf at the top became more obvious than ever. So there’s quite a bit to talk about…

Klopp makes Solskjaer look like a rookie
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is running out of time to save his career as Manchester United manager and on Sunday, Jurgen Klopp showed the Man United board exactly how out of his depth Solskjaer seems to be right now.

In the past few weeks United have only won once from six domestic matches. In the past two rounds of the Premier League they’ve conceded nine goals as their defensive efforts have been made to look embarrassingly amateur.

Against Liverpool it was always going to be a tough afternoon but Solskjaer would have gone into the match with some hope that the spirits of Old Trafford would help his team lift and show that they still should be considered one of the big names of English football.

It took Liverpool just 50 minutes to destroy any of that optimism and replace it with the stark truth that Solskjaer is out of his depth.

His players didn’t perform well for which the manager must take some of the responsibility but not all. But what was all his fault was the tactics that they used and how poorly they were set up to try and compete with Liverpool. The only surprise of the afternoon was that Liverpool didn’t score more, especially once Man Utd went down to 10 men with Paul Pogab being shown a straight red 15 minutes after he came off the subs bench.

Man Utd haven’t lost by this many at home without scoring since 1955 and the last time a Liverpool player scored a hat trick at Old Trafford, the Second World War hadn’t been fought.

They were a defensive shambles and looked so weak in attack that Liverpool were never under any real pressure. Perhaps the moment that sums up the performance best was when Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw – two international defenders – ran into each other as Liverpool threaded the ball through the Man Utd defence and scored another goal.

An analysis of their tactics shows just how big a gap there is between Klopp and Solskjaer. Man Utd kept trying to press Liverpool and compete high up the pitch. But then when Liverpool found a way to pass out of their own third, the Man Utd defensive players were all over the place. Time and again players would run out of position to try and make a tackle that they had no chance of making meaning that not only were they out of play, but there was then plenty of space where they should have been for Liverpool to play into.

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While Klopp was running up and down the touchline, constantly shouting out advice, instructions and motivation to his side, Solskjaer sat back in his seat in shock. Even when Liverpool were 5-0 up, Klopp kept his players accountable and never let them settle.

Solskjaer has spent over $737 million on players and has amassed a squad of talent that he has no idea what to do with. In an interview after the game, he admitted that the loss was his “darkest day” but he showed little sign that he was considering resignation.

“I have come too far to give up. I am not built that way. In the last few weeks results haven’t come, and we have hit a brick wall,” he told BBC Radio 5 live.

He is a club hero and will always be loved at Old Trafford. But he doesn’t have the skills to lead this team and Man Utd fans should expect the slide to continue with Champions League qualification being the best they can hope for from this season if things don’t change soon.

Norwich almost relegated by November?
Perhaps the only manager feeling worse than Solskjaer come Monday morning is Norwich’s Daniel Farke. His club didn’t just lose to Chelsea at the weekend – they got absolutely torn to pieces. Losing to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge isn’t a bad thing. Conceding seven goals is just inexcusable and Farke is running out of lifelines.

Norwich haven’t won in the Premier League for 19 games and on Sunday they started their 38th consecutive game in the top flight in the relegation zone. They are leaking goals at the back like a colander and can’t create chances in attack.

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Until now, the club’s board seem to have been comfortable with the yo-yo style nature of the team where they bounce back and forth between the Premier League and Championship, but that comfort might be running out.

It’s one thing to be a scrappy club that is hard to beat and despite loads of hard work, doesn’t have the funds to mix it with the big teams. But to score only twice in nine games and concede 23 goals in the same period is just embarrassing.

Fans don’t want to spend a season as the league whipping boys with the consolation prize that they will hopefully earn promotion in the next season just so that they can go through another 9 months of pain. It seems like the manager himself believes Norwich just don’t belong in the Premier League. After the game Farke said in an interview “It’s an unbelievably tough day. In all areas we were not good enough for this level.”

There is still time for the club to turn it around this season but based on current form, they look like they will confirm their relegation very, very soon. Farke has a good relationship with the fans, the players and the club leadership. But that can’t save him if his club continues to perform so poorly.

Chelsea Home Grown Talent Look Better Without Lukaku
As we just discussed, Norwich are in a terrible state and didn’t put up any sort of opposition against Chelsea this weekend. So the result wasn’t exactly a surprise.

What was impressive though was that Chelsea scored seven goals against Norwich and only let the opposition get one shot on target and they did so without major club names Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner and with five of the seven goals scored by Chelsea Academy graduates.

There is a lot being written currently about the amounts of money in football and with overseas investments currently at the heart of teams like Man City, Man Utd and now Newcastle, there are those who believe some teams are just buying success. Chelsea themselves have come under the same scrutiny with Roman Abramovich having invested huge amounts into the club over the years.

But on Saturday, Chelsea showed that the success that they are earning right now is not about buying in huge talent. It’s about investing in youth programmes that identify and develop incredible players who are then loyal to the club.

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Mason Mount scored an emotional first hat trick for the club he’s been at since the age of six and BT Sport’s Joe Cole couldn’t speak highly enough of the 22 year old. “What he does is unbelievable. I am yet to meet a player or coach who doesn’t think he is outstanding,” said the former Chelsea player about Mount.

WIth this depth to his squad and the form they are in, Thomas Tuchel knows that this huge 7-0 win over Norwich will have many believing they are run away favourites for the Premier League title and perhaps retention of their Champions League title as well.

A new Watford as Ranieri has an impact
Last week we saw Wolves come back from 0-2 down and win in the final 10 minutes. This week we saw Watford come from 1-2 down with just 12 minutes to go and win 5-2. It is definitely the season of the come back!

What makes the Watford win so sweet is two factors. Firstly this was the first win for new manager Claudio Ranieri after just two games in charge and Watford seemed to be responding well to the new boss’ ideas and plan.

The second sweet point for Watford was Joshua King’s hat trick which came against the team that had him in their squad last season but refused to start him. There is clearly some bad blood between King and Everton with the Watford hero telling Norwegian outlet Dagbladet that former manager Everton Carlo Ancelotti had lied to him.

The hustle and intensity that Watford showed throughout the game was very different from their performances earlier in the season. Even when they went behind to Everton, they kept coming at them and never let them settle. The final score demonstrates how flustered the home side got in the final phase of the game and it had been building for 80 minutes as Watford played with great heart and commitment.

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The win takes Watford six points clear of the relegation zone and will give them a great amount of confidence as they head into a crucial few weeks. In early December, they have to play Chelsea and then Man City back to back, but before then they have Southampton, Arsenal, Man Utd and Leicester City. If they can pick up 6 or more points from the potential 12 from those four fixtures that would be a very good return.

The gulf at the top is bigger than ever
While it’s entertaining to see games with loads of goals in them, this past weekend has highlighted that the gap between the top three sides of Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool and the rest is vast and likely to get bigger as the season progresses.

Chelsea scored seven goals this weekend. Liverpool scored five while playing against the 7th best team in the league at Old Trafford and Man City scored four against the 5th best team, again away from home.

This season so far, the top three have played 27 games. They’ve lost just twice between them, scored 70 goals and conceded only 13 times.

Meanwhile, the next best five sides have lost 14 times in the same period, scored only 65 goals and conceded 61.

Talk earlier in the season that this would be a competitive Premier League was true and false. It is certainly true that right now it’s hard to predict whether Liverpool, Chelsea or Man City will lift the trophy. But it’s false because there is no way any of the other 17 sides can come anywhere close to these three. Even after having spent over three quarters of a billion dollars, Man Utd are so far behind them it’s scary. Teams like Arsenal and Spurs are struggling to put together three wins in a row, let alone a title attack.

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The most competitive part of the Premier League is who is going to qualify for Europe next year. But the race for the league title is down to just three names and that isn’t going to change over the rest of the season, and perhaps not for quite a while to come. They have some of the best academies, incredible talent on the pitch, good squad depth, plenty of cash and some of the best managers in the game. Who can compete against that?

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