It is too early in the English Premier League for the sheep to be distinguishing themselves from the goats. Nonetheless, from these early rounds, it is clear that as the game becomes more tactical, coaching matters even more. Much takes place in training and in the locker room beyond the seeing eye of the public. But much also takes place during the ninety minutes in front of the eyes of the public.
A classical illustration of this was the Manchester United versus Sunderland game. Manchester United has begun the season like a sputtering old jalopy. Before confronting Sunderland on their home field, they had just been trashed by West Brom 2-0 at Old Trafford.
All eyes were on the Manchester United manager struggling to walk in Sir Alex Ferguson’s shoes. Moyes decided to act boldly. He sat down his aging central defender, Rio Ferdinand, and replaced him with the younger, Phil Jones. He sat down his over-size mid-fielder, Fellani who he had brought over from Everton at the twelfth hour of the trading deadline. He brought in the 18 year old mid-fielder, Januzaj, starting for the first time in the Premier League.
The move was a stroke of genius as the youngster leveled the score for Manchester United which had fallen behind. Januzaj tallied later in the game to secure three vital points for the team.
Like Manchester United, Manchester City was also in the throes of a shaky start. The previous week they had lost to Aston Villa 3-2. They were facing Everton who had not lost thus far for the season. Pellegrini didn’t make any drastic changes and unfortunately lost their skipper early in the game. But Manchester City with the return of Silva pulverized Everton with Yaya Toure and Fernandinho exercising hegemony in mid-field. Everton suffered their first defeat as Manchester City returned to their triumphant pathway defeating The Toffees 3-1.
Jose Mourinho has won in every major competition in Italy, Spain and in England. Some recognize him, especially with the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson as the outstanding manager in the game. Matched up against Norwich, he was face down in the weeds, late in the game with a 1-1 tie.
Mourinho went for broke and opted for a 3-5-2 system from the 4-4-1-1 system he began the game with. The move paid immediate dividends as the Norwich team had to fight back a barrage of Chelsea attacking players. He substituted Demba Ba with Eto'o, Cole with Hazard and Willian for Mata. Chelsea scored two goals after the 83rd goal that was a beauty. Mata wasn’t sharp during this game and Hazard displayed his guile and Willian demonstrated dexterity at finishing. Lampard played for ninety minutes but Frank is not the Lampard of old. He is now an old Lampard. John Terry has bounced back and David Luiz, time and time again, illustrates that he is the best central defender with concomitant defensive and offensive skills, a rare but precious attribute. For the time he was on the pitch, Demba Ba showed he adds the Drogba-like dimension to Chelsea’s game.
Mourinho is not afraid of making changes and the experiment for the right chemistry is still a work in progress.
Things are still sorting out themselves in the EPL. Southampton thus far has been a surprise and are perched in fourth place. West Brom under Steve Clarke are a well-prepared team that has beaten Manchester United and held Arsenal to a 1-1 draw. Sunderland is undergoing managerial woes. Liverpool is at the top of the tables and has shown that the tandem of Suarez and Sturridge is uncontainable for the first 45 minutes. Liverpool remains a potent first half team and an impotent second half team. They defeated Crystal Palace 3-1 after having them down 3-0 at half time.
Rodgers has shown that he is not averse to playing the formation that fits his personnel and in the last two encounters have reverted to playing with three at the back. He has critical decisions to make when Glen Johnson returns and Coutinho is again fit to resume his playmaking role. Victor Moses has been outstanding as a player on loan and deserves to be on the pitch. Rodgers’s mettle as a coach will be severely tested but he has already shown that he has brought together a collection of players that currently sits at the top of the Premier League.