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Dublin: 6 °C Thursday 26 April, 2018

Mourinho's mind games, Koeman's efficiency and more Premier League talking points

Elsewhere, it may go against their beliefs but a runners-up spot will provide some refuge for Guardiola and Klopp.

Shakespeare’s story is a good yarn but could still turn into a tragedy for Leicester

THE MIDWEEK MIRACLE actually happened for the Foxes and with a plum Champions League quarter-final against Atletico Madrid to look forward to now, the feeling is one of optimism.

Craig Shakespeare has come in and seemingly turned water into wine. They’ve played three, won three and scored seven times. But, is this the usual upturn that comes with the appointment of a new manager or something deeper?

Craig Shakespeare File Photo Source: Mike Egerton

They remain three points off the relegation zone and head to West Ham on Saturday. And that’s the biggest challenge for Shakespeare and his charges: an away game.

Only Burnley have a worse record on the road in the top-flight this term and the difference is minuscule.

Leicester have played 13, won 0 and racked up just three points outside of the KingPower Stadium.

The Hammers haven’t won in four games and are aiming to avoid three straight defeats – so, Leicester have every reason to feel confident.

Also, there has been a solid reaction to midweek European fixtures for Leicester this term – something many would’ve predicted as potentially costly.

They’ve played 8 Champions League games now and lost just once of the domestic games that has followed – under the much-maligned figure of Ranieri. Which is seriously impressive.

So the big question is whether Shakespeare really is the second coming or merely reaping the rewards of just not being his predecessor. If it’s the latter, the club is still too close to the edge and could easily plummet.

Koeman is quietly and efficiently impressing at Everton and his players should remember how far they’ve come

It’s been a tough week for Ronald Koeman but he’s shown that he won’t shirk a scrap if that’s what’s required.

Everton v Crystal Palace - Premier League - Goodison Park Source: Barrington Coombs

He’s had two players – Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley – at the centre of transfer speculation. The Belgian gave an interview in which he proclaimed it was the club’s lack of ambition that was behind his decision not to sign a new deal and that sparked some terrific feedback from his manager.

“If Everton is not a club with a lot of ambition I would not be manager”, was the delicious response.

The thing is that Koeman has quietly and efficiently developed a consistency at Goodison Park and the chaos of Roberto Martinez’s final days seem like a distant memory.

They are seventh right now but victory over Hull would push them above Manchester United, albeit temporarily.

The club are right in the mix for a top-six finish and while that may not seem so glamorous or sexy to the masses, it’s a terrific achievement considering the financial gulf between them and the elite Premier League sides.

Mourinho bemoaning fixture list seems like he’s preempting an inevitable setback

In the aftermath of securing a spot in the last-eight of a European competition, it was a strange time for Jose Mourinho to complain about fixtures and being asked to kick-off at midday on Sunday rather than 5pm.

Jose Mourinho file photo Source: Martin Rickett

Roy Keane, so often the Victor Meldrew of the football world, gave Mourinho short shrift on Thursday night and it was hard to disagree.

Mourinho told reporters that the Premier League didn’t care about United’s ‘plight’. A purposely outrageous remark. And, within context, quite ironic.

The reason United are playing at midday on Sunday is pretty straightforward: money- something the club knows a great deal about.

Because the Premier League make so much of it from TV broadcasters, they have to bow to their demands. And a United trip to the Riverside to take on the second-worst side in the league isn’t as high-profile as Mourinho likes to think it is, so it’s been pushed to secondary broadcasters BT Sport and their early slot.

Of course, Mourinho’s comments have deflected from the real facts. In the team’s last four games, they’ve won once, drawn twice and scored just three times. They’re just about getting over the line. With Everton breathing down their necks in the league table, any slip-up could be quite heavily punished.

So, when Mourinho is predicting a probable defeat at Middlesbrough, he’s just getting his excuses in early. He’s without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera while his side are treading water. The setback may not come this weekend (though Boro’s sacking of Aitor Karanka may get an immediate response from the players) but it certainly is coming.

Solid finish to the season crucial for both Guardiola and Klopp as criticism intensifies

The narrative is that Manchester City should be on their knees after a midweek Champions League exit. But they’re currently the most in-form team in the top-flight – slightly better than Chelsea on goal-difference.

Borussia Dortmund vs Bayern Munich Source: Friso Gentsch

And it’s quite important. And it’s a reminder to Pep Guardiola that the Premier League is a different place. Anywhere else he’s been – Barcelona or Real Madrid – potentially finishing trophy-less would’ve led to revolution. In England, it’s about context.

No one would’ve batted an eyelid if Claudio Ranieri had Leicester in the emptiness of mid-table earlier this season. But 16th place was just too much. The league table is still such a weird barometer for so many.

Maybe it’s a money thing. For those elite clubs, it certainly is.

Top-four is a pre-requisite. But for Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, they’re motivated by something else. They want to see improvement and their respective strategies being deployed. Yet, they will both be drilled on the importance of finishing as high as possible, no matter what.

In many ways, the top-flight is all about illusion and distraction. For Guardiola and Klopp, second place is not first. There is no moral victory. But with critics circling and chasing, a runners-up spot will provide some degree of refuge.

‘I’m sick to death of him’: Keane hits out at Mourinho and questions his ability for the job

Real-Bayern among tasty ties as Leicester face tough Champions League quarter-final

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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