Mourinho's running out of excuses in the Eternal City: John Brewin picks his standout matches

The Roma boss is up to his old tricks, there’s a North London derby and just one fixture scheduled in La Liga this weekend.

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EVERY FRIDAY, FOOTBALL writer John Brewin – who has clocked up countless air miles covering the European game over the past decade – looks ahead to five key fixtures from the Premier League and around the continent. 

As well as explaining why you need to know about these matches, he’ll also pick out a tip for each one along with the latest William Hill prices. 

Below, John wonders whether yesterday’s man Jose Mourinho may be nearing the end of his short spell in the Italian capital. 

Roma v Cagliari, Serie A – 5pm Sunday 

rome-italy-09th-jan-2022-jose-mourinho-manager-of-as-roma-gestures-during-the-serie-a-match-between-roma-and-juventus-at-stadio-olimpico-rome-italy-on-9-january-2022-credit-giuseppe-maffiaal Jose Mourinho. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

José Mourinho is up to his old tricks, and they are getting old and tired, even if the pace of his boom-bust cycle appears to quicken at each new employer.

Last week, after coming off worse in a Serie A game for the ages by losing 4-3 at home to Juventus, he threw his players under the bus. In his Chelsea and Inter Milan pomp, he was known for parking the bus and being beloved by players but such days appear long gone. The stereotype has altered.

Roma were 3-1 up, and then a man up after Matthijs De Ligt’s red card gave them a chance to equalise from the penalty spot. But Lorenzo Pellegrini’s poor attempt was followed by a classic Mourinho grimace.

Even when he attempts to hide his emotions, the disgust is explicit. “There are people in this locker room who are a bit too nice, a bit too weak,” he said, repeating a familiar mantra and begging the question of just how unlucky can a manager be in being confronted by such chicken hearts at every club he turns up at. Just what are the chances?

Nine points off fourth-placed Atalanta, nine defeats all season, and with Roma having spent more than most in the cash-strapped Italian top flight, it does not feel like Mourinho has long for the Eternal City.

Cagliari are managed by former Inter and Watford manager Walter Mazzarri — someone almost as notorious for his post-match excuses as Mourinho — who is constantly bemoaning poor luck and infamously once blamed an Inter draw with Verona on the rain.

geraldino-dos-santos-joao-pedro-cagliari-and-walter-mazzarri-head-coach-cagliari-celebrates-after-scoring-a-match-during-uc-sampdoria-vs-cagliari-calcio-italian-soccer-serie-a-match-in-genova Walter Mazzarri and Joao Pedro. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

They lie 18th of 20, playing in a temporary ground while waiting to move into a new stadium, but have begun 2022 in good form. A 2-1 win at Sampdoria was followed up by victory by the same scoreline over Bologna last weekend thanks to a 90th-minute winner from Gaston Pereiro.

The veteran striker, Leonardo Pavoletti, has scored in both games so far in 2022. His partner in attack, Joao Pedro, has bagged nine league goals this season but none since 6 December.

Roma — flushed with three Englishmen in Chris Smalling, Tammy Abraham and now Ainsley Maitland-Niles — do not lack for goals but they concede plenty, letting in seven last week over the games with Milan and Juve.

Should Cagliari pull off a famous win, the pressure can only increase on Mourinho, but don’t expect that to be his fault.

John’s bet: Roma and Cagliari to draw and both teams to score @ 5/1

Tottenham v Arsenal, Premier League – 4.30pm Sunday 

tottenham-hotspurs-harry-kane-right-and-arsenals-ben-white-battle-for-the-ball-during-the-premier-league-match-at-the-emirates-stadium-london-picture-date-sunday-september-26-2021 Arsenal defender Ben White and Spurs talisman Harry Kane. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Has the sheen dropped from Antonio Conte at Spurs after his team’s meek surrender in the Carabao Cup to Chelsea?

One suggestion was the selection of a weakened team to send a message to chairman Daniel Levy, so that he can begin to clear out a squad that isn’t fit for purpose.

It also suggests Conte feels the game against Arsenal, a crucial match in the race for fourth, is more important than winning cups. Losing to Arsenal, a struggling side back in September, was a result that preluded Nuno’s fall as manager.

Conte has far more credit — and credibility — in the tank but has a poor record against the Gunners. In eight matches within 17 months during his time as Chelsea boss, he won just once, losing four to Arsene Wenger.

Can Mikel Arteta, with Arsenal smarting from losing to Nottingham Forest last week and that New Year’s Day loss to Manchester City, repeat his former manager’s hoodoo?

John’s bet: Arsenal to beat Tottenham @ 9/5

Elche v Villarreal, La Liga – 1pm Sunday

bergamo-italy-9-december-2021-arnaut-danjuma-striker-for-villareal-c-f-in-action-during-the-champions-league-football-match-between-atalanta-and-villarreal-credit-stefano-nicolispeed-mediaala Arnaut Danjuma of Villarreal. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The vagaries of the Spanish fixture list mean the weekend is full of Copa Del Rey fixtures plus Real Madrid and Barcelona taking a break after their Supercopa tie in Saudi Arabia in midweek, for a doubtless small fee.

That leaves just one La Liga match. It involves 16th-placed Elche and Villarreal, whose form in November and December pushed them to the edge of the top six, only for their four-match winning run to be ended by last week’s 2-2 draw with Atletico Madrid.

Gerard Moreno and Arnaut Danjuma have scored nine goals each, the latter linked with Liverpool of late, and look likely to have too much for Elche despite last week’s win at Espanyol.

John’s bet: Villarreal to win and both teams to score @ 29/10

Köln v Bayern Munich, Bundesliga – 2.30pm Saturday 

jubilation-anthony-modeste-k-after-his-goal-to-1-0-gesture-gesture-football-1-bundesliga-17th-matchday-fc-cologne-k-vfb-stuttgart-s-1-0-on-december-19-2021-in-koelngermany-dfl-re Köln's in-form striker Anthony Modeste. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

In being defeated by Borussia Monchengladbach last week, Bayern showed that not even the strongest squads can withstand the Omicron variant when it strikes. Nine players were out, and Gladbach ran out 2-1 winners.

Thankfully for FC Hollywood, six stars returned to training in midweek, captain Manuel Neuer, as well as Leroy Sane, Dayot Upamecano, Alphonso Davies, Omar Richards and Tanguy Nianzou.

Kingsley Coman and Corentin Tolisso had already come back, leaving just Lucas Hernandez in quarantine.

There’s a possibility that Bayern may struggle to return to full tilt which may be good news for Köln, who have been in decent form after winning their last three matches and moving up to sixth. A slow start for the champions is a possibility.

John’s bet: Bayern to come from behind to beat Köln @ 24/5

Rennes v Bordeaux, Ligue 1 – 12pm Sunday 

laurent-koscielny-of-bordeaux-during-the-french-championship-ligue-1-football-match-between-girondins-de-bordeaux-and-paris-saint-germain-on-november-6-2021-at-matmut-atlantique-stadium-in-bordeaux Bordeaux captain Laurent Koscielny. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Two teams desperately out of form in Ligue 1 but at opposite ends of the table. Rennes have lost four from their last five matches but are still sat in fourth, while Bordeaux have been beaten in three and drawn one of their last five matches but are sat fourth bottom.

The Girondins are traditionally far more of a force than their fellow western France club, but their last three finishes of 12th, 12th and 13th now look a dream for a club struggling against relegation.

Rennes, sixth last season, have stalled under coach Bruno Genesio in recent weeks when they seemed set for a place in next season’s Champions League.

John’s bet: Rennes and Bordeaux to both score and the match to be drawn @ 5/1

William Hill odds above correct at the time of writing. New online customers get €30 in free bets when they bet €10 with William Hill. Just use the promo code H30. For all the latest prices, visit williamhill.com. 18+, always gamble responsibly. For more information, see gamblingtherapy.org  

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