Jose Mourinho has vowed to silence the critics when Manchester United face champions Leicester, while his old rival Arsene Wenger hopes to celebrate a memorable milestone with a rare success against Chelsea on Saturday.
Mourinho finds himself under fire less than two months into his United reign after three successive defeats and an unconvincing League Cup win at third tier Northampton. United are already trailing six points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City and another setback at Old Trafford this weekend would be a huge blow to Mourinho’s bid to stamp his authority on a team that has underachieved in recent years.
After winning their first three league matches under Mourinho, as well as beating Leicester in the Community Shield, United lost to City and Watford, either side of a Europa League defeat at Feyenoord. Mourinho’s tactics and team selections have been called into question, while there have been suggestions the manager’s public criticism of individual players, including injury-plagued defender Luke Shaw, has not gone down well in the dressing room.
Seeing off minnows Northampton did little to quell the rising tide of discontent but, in typically bullish fashion, Mourinho has come out fighting. “It’s a learning process,” Mourinho explained about his singling out of players. “You make a mistake, especially the kind of individual mistake, you have to learn with what that means for the team.
“The critique is part of the evolution, the critique is part of the process, the critique helps people to learn how to cope with critics. “It’s their life. From you, they cannot expect other thing than be ready to smash them when they have periods of not so much success.”
That Mourinho is at a low ebb on the same weekend that Wenger celebrates his 20th anniversary as Arsenal manager won’t have been lost on the Frenchman — nor, although he brushed it aside on Friday, will the remark the Portuguese made in a biography being serialised this week in the Daily Mail that ‘One day…I will break his (Wenger’s) face’.
Wenger, who has endured many other barbs from Mourinho in the past, faces Chelsea looking to improve on a woeful record of five wins in his last 31 meetings against the Blues. His last major milestone — his 1,000th match as Arsenal manager — was spoilt by a 6-0 thrashing at Stamford Bridge. But having seen a second-string team win 4-0 at Nottingham Forest in the League Cup in midweek, following a 4-1 success at Hull last weekend, Wenger is confident the depth of his squad will help restore order after a sluggish start to the season. “We have four days to prepare for the (Chelsea) game, let’s focus on that now,” Wenger said. “The performance shows that the players who played at Hull need to be on their toes and that’s what we want — competition for places.”
– New situation –
Chelsea go into the London derby buoyed by a 4-2 League Cup win at Leicester in which they came from 2-0 down. Whilst in the Mourinho era Wenger could have expected a glacial reception but the present incumbent Antonio Conte is full of admiration for his longevity at Arsenal. “I think Wenger is doing a good job. It’s fantastic for someone to stay for 20 years in the same club,” Conte told reporters on Friday.
“Sometimes I think it’s important for a manager not only to win, a good manager must show his value with his work during the week.” Table-topping City head to Swansea for the second time this week after winning 2-1 at the Liberty Stadium in the League Cup. City have won all nine matches under boss Pepe Guardiola, including five in the league, and the Spaniard kept his team in south Wales to aid their recovery time during a busy period. Even so, changes are certain as Sergio Aguero is back from suspension and captain Vincent Kompany is struggling with an injury suffered in midweek.
“I want us to recover well, and train well, prepare as well as possible for our game in Swansea, for our game in the Champions League and for Tottenham away,” Guardiola said. Second placed Everton travel to Bournemouth aiming to bounce back from their first defeat, a midweek League Cup loss to Norwich, since Dutch coach Ronald Koeman took charge.
Fixtures (1400 GMT unless stated)
Arsenal v Chelsea (1630 GMT), Bournemouth v Everton, Liverpool v Hull, Middlesbrough v Tottenham, Manchester United v Leicester (1230 GMT), Stoke v West Brom, Sunderland v Crystal Palace, Swansea v Manchester City
West Ham v Southampton (1500 GMT) Monday Burnley v Watford (1900 GMT)