Jose Mourinho has often had Liverpool’s number since 2004, when he guided Chelsea FC to victory in his first meeting with the Reds. Mourinho has coached against Liverpool more than any other team in his 20-year career, compiling a 12-7-9 record in 28 matches.
Mourinho and Tottenham will be strong underdogs when they host Liverpool on Saturday. But Mourinho should not be counted out, partly because he has often been able to set the tone of play.
Mourinho has had success against Liverpool as an underdog, stoking a rivalry that peaked in a 2-0 Chelsea victory that spoiled Liverpool’s Premier League title chances in 2014. In that match, which included current Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah starting for Mourinho as a 21-year-old, Chelsea was able to slow things down with spoiling tactics. Mourinho even became directly involved, keeping the ball away from Liverpool’s Jon Flanagan and Steven Gerrard, who were attempting a throw-in, to the consternation of Anfield supporters.
But soccer has changed in recent years, refereeing and rules changes discouraging ultra-defensive tactics. Plus, Mourinho has not had time to instill his philosophy with Spurs, who are playing without Harry Kane and Erik Lamela (hamstrings), and Moussa Sissoko (knee).
So, Mourinho likely will be trying to merely keep Tottenham in contention for a Champions League berth in upcoming matches. Spurs have seemed vulnerable this season, and Mourinho has shown signs of feeling the pressure.
In a 1-0 loss at Southampton on New Year’s Day, Mourinho was cautioned after a conflict with the Saints’ goalkeeper coach, Andrew Sparkes (who started his career as an assistant with the New York Red Bulls II team).
“I think the yellow card was fair because I was rude,” Mourinho said. “But I was rude to an idiot.”
Mourinho’s mind games are usually effective because they are calculated, and often turn the focus on him, relieving the team of pressure. But Mourinho has been the center of attention since taking over Spurs for lack of guile, as well. Asked how the holidays had been during a pregame television interview, Mourinho revealed that his Yorkshire Terrier, Leya, had died on Christmas Day, leaving the interviewer scrambling to set the mood. Mourinho later turned analytical, noting that the Video Assistant Referee should be called the “Video Referee” because they are “some guy in an office 200 miles away . . . in control of the game. They’re not assisting the referee.”
Though Spurs reached the Champions League final against Liverpool last year, under the guidance of Mauricio Pochettino, they have fallen off and are unlikely to challenge for any titles.
Mourinho is apparently interested in acquiring central defender Raphael Varane, who made his Real Madrid debut under Mourinho as an 18-year-old in 2011, and a striker such as Milan’s Krzysztof Piatek or Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha. All would be expensive — Varane’s contract includes a 500 million euro buyout clause, set prohibitively high to discourage buyers.
Mané getting due?
Liverpool’s Sadio Mané probably deserved to be named African Footballer of the Year on durability alone. During the 2019 calendar year, Mané played 64 games for Liverpool and Senegal, his teams compiling a 49-5-10 record.
Mané barely took a break in the action, going from Liverpool’s Champions League victory June 1 to play for Senegal in the African Cup of Nations from June 27-July 19. Less than three weeks later, Mané was in Liverpool’s lineup for the Premier League opener Aug. 9.
Two of the five defeats Mané’s teams sustained were against Algeria, the title match loss an especially bitter result. Mané told France Football he would have traded winning the Champions League for the African Nations Cup championship — Senegal has never captured the continental title.
Algeria captured the African tournament for the second time, but mostly failed to capitalize on the success. Les Fennecs stars such as Youcef Belaili and Baghdad Bounedjah, both 26 years old and near the peak of their careers, remained in the Middle East, instead of striking out for Europe.
Only Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez, named Maghreb Player of the Year, ahead of Salah, is making an impact with an elite European club. Remarkably, Algeria’s left back, Mehdi Zeffane, is not with a club and has not performed since the final. Zeffane last competed for his former club, Rennes, in May.
Salah, African Footballer of the Year the previous two years, failed to attend the awards ceremony in Hurgada, Egypt, partly because he has been in a dispute with the Egypt FA.
Algeria’s Djamel Belmadi, who played for Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, was named coach of the year.
Changing on the fly
Coaches sometimes overdo tactical preparations, but Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola seemingly decided to wing it before a 3-1 victory over Manchester United on Wednesday.
Guardiola went with a 4-3-3 alignment, but left strikers Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus on the bench. The lack of a traditional forward setup seemed to throw off United, as the Cityzens took a three-goal halftime lead.
City midfielder Kevin DeBruyne said the team worked on the alignment for 15 minutes “the morning of the game. That’s about it.” DeBruyne said Manchester City had played with a similar setup twice before, against man-to-man defenses.