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Dublin: 9°C Friday 23 October 2020
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Mourinho's United fan comments and more Premier League talking points

Plus, why John Stones needs to start maturing fast as he prepares to return to his former club.

Jose Mourinho has urged Man United fans to create a formidable atmosphere for this weekend's big clash with Liverpool.
Jose Mourinho has urged Man United fans to create a formidable atmosphere for this weekend's big clash with Liverpool.
Image: Martin Rickett

1. Mourinho’s fan criticism indicative of a wider footballing issue

JOSE MOURINHO AIMED a less-than-subtle criticism at Man United supporters following his side’s comfortable EFL Cup semi-final win over Hull during the week.

“Sunday is a special match for us, for United fans,” Mourinho said after the game. “My invitation is don’t come to the theatre, come to play, play with us.”

To be fair to the fans, the Hull match was a poor encounter with both sides’ play lacking intensity more often than not in a game that was all too frequently played at half-pace.

This weekend will undoubtedly be different, with both the sixth-placed Red Devils and second-place Liverpool badly needing three points to maintain their title push.

However, Mourinho’s point remains valid and the supporters problem is not specific to United by any means, as emphasised by the fact that the Portuguese boss issued similar complaints during stints in charge of Chelsea and Real Madrid.

Nowadays, high-profile clubs’ big stadiums are filled with tourists and casual fans requiring constant entertainment in exchange for raising their voices.

The corporate culture that football has embraced in recent years means stadiums seldom become the frenzied cauldrons they once resembled.

Whether Mourinho and others like it or not, it’s the way football has gone, and the odd much-hyped derby aside, that is unlikely to change anytime soon.

2. John Stones needs to start maturing fast

There are times where John Stones truly resembles the world-class player some believe he will become.

The elegance and comfort with which he carries the ball and reads the game has led to comparisons with a genuinely great English centre-back, the late Bobby Moore.

But too often this season, Stones has failed to live up to the hype, and Everton’s decision to sell him for €54 million is looking like a wise move as it stands.

Of course, Stones is still young, but at 22, and with over 100 appearances at senior level under his belt now, it’s getting to the stage where these glaring errors are no longer acceptable.

Stones said during the week that he no longer listens to pundits’ criticism, while acknowledging that some of his displays have not been good enough.

And while ignorance may be bliss as far as he’s concerned, the England international needs to step up his level of performance sooner rather than later and there is one cautionary tale he should pay heed to.

Like Stones, Titus Bramble was once considered a star in the making. The former Ipswich defender was invariably excellent on the ball and he had all the makings of a top centre-back, with such potential prompting a £6 million move to Newcastle in 2002.

Yet perhaps partially due to some well-documented off-field troubles, Bramble never came close to fulfilling his potential, continuing his capacity for making calamitous errors as he matured, with his career prematurely petering out as a consequence.

3. Can Dele Alli continue phenomenal form?

Britain Soccer Premier League Dele Alli celebrates scoring against Chelsea. Source: Alastair Grant

Like Tottenham in general, Dele Alli has enjoyed a remarkable upturn in form recently following a slow start to the season.

The 20-year-old has scored seven goals in his last four Premier League games, in contrast with three in 16 previously, inspiring his side to a six-match winning run in the process.

Having looked lackadaisical at times this season, particularly in their disappointing Champions League campaign, Spurs have improved markedly in recent weeks, and could go second at least temporarily by beating eighth-place West Brom on Saturday.

An in-form Alli will go into the game with plenty of confidence, amid recent reports linking him with Real Madrid and Barcelona, though the England international and his teammates will surely not be complacent, given what happened in the same fixture last season.

With Spurs on a roll amid a late-season title push, few people expected them to slip up at home to the Baggies, but Tony Pulis’ side managed to secure an unlikely point, effectively ending Tottenham’s title challenge as a result.

And Mauricio Pochettino’s side could similarly only manage a 1-1 draw away to West Brom back in October, so the outcome of this game is by no means a foregone conclusion, despite the White Hart Lane outfit’s superb recent form.

4. Leicester capable of upsetting Chelsea

Leicester may have had an extremely disappointing season thus far and so not many people will be expecting them to beat league leaders Chelsea this weekend.

However, Claudio Ranieri’s side are in 15th place right now largely because of three draws and seven losses in 10 games on the road this season.

At the King Power Stadium, Leicester’s record of five wins, three draws and two defeats is quite respectable by comparison.

A loss would further sap the morale of Antonio Conte’s side after their incredible winning run came to an end earlier this month against a Tottenham side that were slightly sharper on the night.

And if there is any sense of complacency about facing an out-of-sorts Leicester, Conte only needs to show his side the DVD of the Foxes’ emphatic 4-2 defeat of Man City last month as evidence that the reigning champions have not left last season’s spectacular Premier League-winning form entirely behind.

5. Will a renewed feel-good factor inspire Arsenal?

The obvious anger displayed by Alexis Sanchez in light of the 3-3 draw with Bournemouth indicated all was not well at Arsenal.

The future of Sanchez and Mesut Ozil has been much-discussed in recent weeks, with both players having only 18 months left to run on their existing contracts with the club.

Yet the Gunners were handed some good news this week as a trio of important players – Olivier Giroud, Laurent Koscielny and Francis Coquelin — committed their futures to the club.

Ozil, meanwhile, has at least suggested he is open to the idea of extending his stay at the Emirates, even if there were some much-publicised caveats in that statement.

It is surely no coincidence that Tottenham’s form has improved significantly in recent weeks after the club tied down a number of their key players, and Arsenal may well also benefit from the feel-good factor that this situation tends to create, starting tomorrow against Paul Clement’s struggling Swansea side.

This weekend’s Premier League fixtures (all games kick-off at 3pm unless stated otherwise):

Saturday

Tottenham v West Brom (12.30)

Burnley v Southampton

Hull v Bournemouth

Sunderland v Stoke

Swansea v Arsenal

Watford v Middlesbrough

West Ham v Crystal Palace

Leicester v Chelsea (17.30)

Sunday

Everton v Man City (13.30)

Man United v Liverpool (16.00)

Originally published Friday at 15.36

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Paul Fennessy

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