herald

Monday 29 May 2017

Fear of failure now the enemy for Conte and Chelsea players

Ander Herrera (l) celebrates his goal for Manchester United in the win over Chelsea yesterday with team-mate Paul Pogba. Photo:
Ander Herrera (l) celebrates his goal for Manchester United in the win over Chelsea yesterday with team-mate Paul Pogba. Photo:

There's nothing like the sight of the finishing line to put the fear of failure into grown men.

Antonio Conte and his Chelsea players have a problem now and that's a big surprise to me. I really didn't expect them to lose at Old Trafford yesterday.

I haven't seen Manchester United play as well as they did in this game since Alex Ferguson's time.

And I haven't seen Chelsea play so badly since the start of the season. They had a couple of tough breaks with late injuries to Thibaut Cortois and Marcos Alonso but that was no excuse.

They were outplayed by United who had a simple enough game plan which worked beautifully.

A downbeat Chelsea boss Antonio Conte at Old Trafford. Photo: Reuters
A downbeat Chelsea boss Antonio Conte at Old Trafford. Photo: Reuters

Ander Herrera sat on Eden Hazard again and United played on the break. N'Golo Kante never got in the game which was fortunate for Mourinho because Paul Pogba was missing in action again.

He passed more than anyone else on the pitch but often sideways or backwards and contributed very little.

Critical

It was the young lads Mourinho has been so critical of who opened up Chelsea and the little investments made in the media over the last month paid off.

Marcus Rashford, one of Mourinho's targets for public criticism in recent weeks, looked like a man on a mission and I've no doubt that the manager's barbs had the right impact in this case.

Sometimes you read what Mourinho says when he has a go at a player and if you take it at face value, it looks like the last approach a manager would want to take.

Dressing rooms don't like managers who are busy in the media and it doesn't matter how many trophies you've won.

But Mourinho never says anything at a set-piece press conference without a plan in mind and he clearly felt that his young strikers needed a sharp reminder about why they have the money to buy expensive cars.

I'm certain he would prefer to avoid such direct criticism but the fact that he felt need to tells me that Mourinho doesn't have near enough generals in his dressing-room.

At Liverpool in my day, players sorted out someone who was lazy or taking advantage and the manager never needed to speak. In Ferguson's time at Old Trafford, Roy Keane barked the orders and kept young lads in line.

Mourinho can put that right in the summer with money but for the moment, I must tip my hat to him because he is doing a good job and deserves some praise.

He was the toast of Tottenham yesterday, that's a certainty.

Once again, Mauricio Pochettino has the form team going into the final furlong in this title race.

Spurs ripped Bournemouth apart and you have to assume that they learned a very harsh lesson a year ago when the wheels fell off their title challenge spectacularly and are better equipped this time.

He will look at a four-point gap as doable even if Spurs have, on paper at least, have a more difficult run-in than Chelsea.

Conte will be very concerned about the way Chelsea played in this game. They looked tired and rudderless and they shouldn't be.

Everyone marked Conte as a manager to watch during Euro 2016 when he knew he had nothing to lose with an Italian squad rated the worst ever to travel to a major tournaments finals.

Right now, he has everything to lose and we will see if the ultra-positive assessment most of us made at the time pans out.

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