Premiership Roundup: Mourinho - Oh so predictable

Last updated : 05 March 2006 By Aidan O'Byrne
While Alex Ferguson has had a decade's worth of experience in building title-winning sides through the creation of a siege mentality, the Mourinho attempt at building a "no-one likes us, we don't care" ethos has come out in reverse – "I don't care, so no-one likes me" – and accordingly sour old Jose seems to be wandering around with a chip on his shoulder sufficiently large that if he were transported a century and a half back in time he'd have been able to single-handedly solve the Irish potato famine with it. Actually that seems to be the closest he'll come to finding anyone outside Stamford Bridge who's still pleased to see him around – and there are interesting signs that some of those within the club are getting a bit fed up with him too.

Perhaps there will be more serious repercussions than just Jose's attempt to emulate Man U's 1999 Treble if Chelsea fail to play – or alternatively, as helpfully admitted by the ever more dim-witted Carvalho, to cheat – their way back from behind in Spain on Tuesday? One can only wonder. If you were to look at the truly key players for Chelsea in what will surely be a "retain the title" season, you might pick out Lampard, Terry, Crespo, perhaps Gudjohnsen, and Joe Cole – every one of them a Ranieri signing! – and then wonder what Carvalho et al were meant to be contributing to the party, other than helpful insights into the win-by-whatever-means-necessary ethos that flows down from the man in the intentionally shabby-looking overcoat.

West Brom, a little hard done by to lose in Saturday's early kickoff considering the attacking ethos they'd adopted, nevertheless failed to convert a number of chances, and thus came to look with some mystification at why Kevin Campbell was not awarded a penalty late on when felled in the box. The answer, of course, was that the ref was by then inured to an incredible level of ever-escalating play-acting as Chelsea tried their best to get the Baggies reduced to numerical parity after that nice Arjen Robben had justifiably seen red, the pirouetting Drogba's performance being particularly noteworthy (but unfortunately for the Ivorian muppet, falling right between the winter Olympics and the Oscars, so being eligible for awards in neither).

Chelsea and their manager are thus on an FA charge. Again. And UEFA seem to have noticed too, mooting the possibility of using two referees for Chelsea matches in the future, though any such innovation will have to wait until well after the Barca crunch match. Of course that restriction doesn't apply any more to the Stamford Bridge pitch which in advance of the Catalans' visit had been declared impossible to relay until the summer, but what do you know, is now being dug up and returfed! You probably have an idea who I'll be rooting for in that Champions League match, I suppose.

England's other remaining Champions League contenders were both in league action with something to prove this weekend, Liverpool climbing into a best ever Premiership position (second) thanks to the goalless draw with Charlton at Anfield, in which a very late return to goalscoring form in front of the Kop was denied to Robbie Fowler only by the most questionable of linesman's flags, and Arsenal going down to the river for an afternoon's intricately constructed mayhem against Fulham.

I didn't see much of the Liverpool game, but even though Charlton managed a clean sheet, I don't think that will be much comfort to Benfica, who will need to do more than try to hold out for a nil-nil if they really want to go through.

On the other hand, I very much enjoyed my first trip back to Craven Cottage since going to Andra Rigby's 18th birthday party in the social club there. Although that first trip is memorable over these many years for reasons unsuitable for publication here (and not involving Andra herself, I should add!), I also got a distinct sense of déjà vu from watching the Arsenal performance, albeit a less long-distance one. For there were elements of the play, the interchange of passing, the combined effort and spirit that seemed to hark back to the 2004 vintage style, and in no one player was that renaissance more obvious than in Thierry Henry, the very embodiment of the "class is permanent" concept.

Substituted just before the fourth Arsenal goal, having scored two and made the other, Henry was applauded from the field by all four stands in what must surely serve as an excellent warm-up for the forthcoming Highbury visit of 9 time European champions Real Madrid. While for a transient moment (comprising the four minutes between Henry's first and Adebayor's on-a-plate second) there remained the possibility that the home side might come back and gather a less than deserved point, I nonetheless took a certain wry comfort in the knowledge that some of my work colleagues, having foolishly relied upon a betting tips column pointing out Fulham's impenetrable home form and Arsenal's crumbling away confidence, had bet heavily on a Fulham win, which it was soon evident was never going to happen. Not, you understand, because I necessarily wanted them to lose their money, but because this germinal betting club had gathered their seed capital from finding a bookie who had been willing to offer 9-1 against Henry in the Bernabeu, and had thus chosen to look their gift horse squarely in the mouth (I know that's a metaphor that would have worked even better for Van Nistelrooy, but needs must). I wonder will they now be trying to make it third time lucky on Wednesday when Real come to town?

To round off our comparison on the class point, I was particularly impressed by one Sunday paper's skilful juxtaposition of two photos - a snarling Mourinho having to be restrained by the police on the one hand, and on the other a peacemaking Henry intervening to prevent a half-time fight on the way to the dressing rooms between frustrated members of the bamboozled Fulham defence. Actually, the paper seemed to miss the point that one member of the scrapping Fulham duo was Moritz Volz, a former Highbury teammate, so Henry may just have been stepping in to help a mate, or perhaps they just chose to ignore that bit in order to reinforce the contrast (could you ever imagine Thierry being called "an enemy of football"?). Top work, that picture desk!

In the weekend's other games, home boys Viduka and Baros nailed their teams maximum points over poorly traveling Birmingham and Pompey respectively, the Villa win in particular meaning that Harry Redknapp now has an even worse away record (in his latest spell as Portsmouth manager, that is) than Alain Perrin who was sacked to make way for him. At St James' Park, the "anyone's better than Souness" theory gathered more evidence, Solano sending the Toon on their way to a win with a great free kick, that result robbing Bolton of one of their games in hand in chasing up to the final Champions League place. Tottenham, the current holder of fourth place, continued to dangle hope in front of their fans with a 3-2 win over Blackburn late on Sunday, only two of the Spurs goals being in the least bit totally disallowable on another day, while the last London club in action, West Ham, twice led, but could not remain ahead of last season's ultra-successful European qualifiers Everton.

In the only other Premiership game of the weekend, Sunderland played right up to their plucky losers image, gifting Man City – and Greek striker Samaras – two goals in as many first half minutes, only to then pull a goal back and battle on towards the final whistle without quite managing an equaliser, and losing their captain to a needless red card on the way (the ensuing suspension will ruin his record as their only ever-present player). The curious thing about Sunderland, who after all were the runaway Championship winners last season, is that they are clearly capable of better, and would have made a much better stab at staying up in the Premiership had they actually spent any significant money on players to compete in the higher division – it was thus handpainted "Murray Out" rather than "McCarthy Out" signs that were to be seen fluttering from the away section at Eastlands.

Given their abysmal goal difference, the Mackems are 17 points from safety with 10 games left to play, which looks insuperable considering they've managed only 10 in their first 28. So if anyone you know tries to tell you that having a Black Cat cross your path is meant to bring good luck, they're clearly mad.

Whatever you do, don't join a betting club with them!