How is everybody? Were you all excited by...um...the international break? It was absolutely riveting wasn't it? ETW would be honoured to take this chance to moan about the international break but it wasn't so bad. There is the added bonus of smiling while Mourinho moans about fixtures, another disadvantage his "little horse" has to endure this season. It is very difficult to feel any sympathy for Chelsea or Jose Mourinho for reasons that run into extraordinary numbers. What ETW will gleefully point out, much to Chelsea's genuine cause for ire, is that Oscar, David Luiz, Ramires, and Mikel clocked quite a few air miles in midweek.
This is what it has come to. Looking around at other clubs and finding points of interest. Sure there are other European leagues but nothing concentrates the mind quite like a supposed title race. Supporters have to do their bit as well. Liverpool have quite a bit of break to recuperate and tactically prepare for the next match. Great. So what do we do until then? Stalk our perceived rivals' matches to assess how they're shaping up. Manchester City, Everton, and Arsenal have FA Cup matches to play but we're no longer in the competition even if we outplayed Arsenal in defeat at the Emirates. So who's left? Chelsea, Tottenham, and Manchester United.
A word or two about Manchester United before moving onto teams that are legitimate challengers for the league title and a place in next season's Champions League. Manchester United will always matter to Liverpool supporters. and vice versa. We watch them and they watch us. We'll keep a discerning glance reserved for any potential upset headed their way while they store a hearty laugh in the locker if Liverpool manage to slip up somewhere.
While we know Manchester United probably (adverb used for disclaimer purposes only) cannot catch us, who is hoping that Manchester United fail to win at the Hawthorns before losing to Brendan Rodgers' band of entertainers? If that happens, David Moyes and his reluctant acolytes can do whatever they choose to for the rest of the domestic season because it would only serve to secure a Europa League spot, nothing more. What remains is to become the biggest Olympiakos supporter when the club arrives in the North West with a two goal advantage later this month. That will be all, thank you David.
Manchester United can be so distracting. Tottenham are still close to Liverpool and Arsenal. It is remarkable to think that Tottenham still harbour genuine hopes of achieving Champions League qualification in light of the many setbacks suffered this season. Indeed, this season has been the season of the unexpected. Score zero goals in heavy defeats against Manchester City, West Ham, and Liverpool alongside replacing a promising manager with a completely inexperienced one. Furthermore, a few big Spurs signings have failed to successfully adapt even if their talent remains unquestionable at this stage. This should spell crisis in most newspapers and while Tottenham's fortunes have been scrutinised, there is still much to play for.
The departure of Gareth Bale enabled Levy, Baldini, and AVB to bring in plenty of quality players and it seemed that AVB would be in charge of the Premier League's dark horses when discussing title contenders. Liverpool's current position is one that many observers would have expected Tottenham to hold at the season's genesis. It has not worked out that way. Erik Lamela, Roberto Soldado, Christian Eriksen, Paulinho, Étienne Capoue, Vlad Chiricheș, and Nacer Chadli were impressive additions. Thank you Gareth Bale...or Daniel Levy.
Here's another task for you keen boys and girls. Add those signings to Moussa Dembélé, Sandro, Aaron Lennon, Andros Townsend, Jermain Defoe, Lewis Holtby, Gylfi Sigurðsson, Jan Vertonghen, Hugo Lloris, Younès Kaboul, Michael Dawson, Kyle Walker, and Emmanuel Adebayor. Not a bad squad eh? Even with the promotion of Adebayor and the permanent departure of Defoe, it's a band of players worth respecting. Nabil Bentaleb's rise has resulted in fewer opportunities for Lewis Holtby, a player now excelling on loan at Fulham.
Perhaps it was a case of buying too many players in one transfer window or not keeping your star player for another season but Tottenham's season hasn't been quite what it was supposed to be. Yet this is a side that remains within a respectable distance of the top four and stands alone as English football's last representative in the Europa League. There is much to play for but March will be a testing one for North London clubs. Arsenal's March Madness is oft discussed and has started in the worst possible way: a defeat away to Stoke. Tottenham face Chelsea (away), Benfica (home), Arsenal (home), Benfica (away). Southampton (home), and Liverpool away in 22 days.
More Helpings of Misery
Tottenham's trip to Chelsea represents the first part of what shall henceforth be known Tim Sherwood's Trials (TST). These trials will not only dictate the future of the head coach at the club but will also steer Tottenham's direction in Europe. It could be a renewal of a familiar Europa League passport or a reinstatement of the shiny Champions League passport with added sheen and extra bonus points for coming through self-inflicted adversity. Tim Sherwood says there's no pressure against Chelsea but there is Tim. Some Dutch managers are looking over your shoulder and it's not like you can get your AVB on again and have another result like this one is it? Tottenham haven't won at Stamford Bridge since 1990. As Liverpool fans know, that's a long time so maybe Tottenham can join Liverpool in getting close to ending 24 years of pain, suffering, hope, and dashed dreams.
Chelsea are the first hurdle for Tottenham to overcome and of course, we want the sides to draw. What is best for Liverpool will always triumph over the desire to see Mourinho humbled at every opportunity. It is a noted conflict for Mourinho is a manager ETW has liked from his days at FC Porto. Sure, he clashed with Liverpool and Rafa Benitez but he merited respect with what he achieved on the field. The years have not been kind to ETW's Mourinho admiration. His football philosophy continued to be brutally efficient, his odes to the Dark Lord intensified with each passing season, and his capacity for gamesmanship was as vast as his creepy glances at the Manchester United managerial throne. Mourinho just is. He's a little older but he is what he is. He's a winning coach at highly funded projects who has previously proven that he can lead a side to punch above its weight. He's a manager who thrives on an environment where both physical and tactical diligence and discipline is not expected but demanded. He's a footballing pragmatist who will eschew a flamboyant approach in favour of a solid one.
Mourinho is the man who sees Matic over Mata. Maybe he was trying to spell the word "pragmatic" and Mata didn't fit especially when he had the more mobile Hazard, Willian, Oscar, and Schürrle. He's also the man who omitted the purchase of Kurt Zouma in his calculations when claiming that Manuel Pellegrini required a calculator. Underdogs they are not and against Tottenham, the self-anointed successor to the Dark Lord needs to manage his squad intelligently to achieve victory over Tottenham. This will be the game that Liverpool fans will be following more than any other because this weekend it's all about other people's problems.
Disclaimer: Manchester United cannot catch Liverpool this season but ETW refuses to fully immerse itself in the luxurious bathtub otherwise known as David Moyes' miserable Manchester United odyssey. Until Mr Moyes discovers that home is truly where the heartbreak is, ETW will refrain from being absolutely certain on matters of misery pertaining to Manchester United and David Moyes.