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Mourinho teetering, Sturridge stunner

Jose Mourinho was special, once. But a previously captivating, successful figure is a shadow of his former self, his Manchester United side cast in his sullen, dour image. If now isn't the time to sack him, when should it be? Just because there's no eye-catching alternative, it doesn't mean the incumbent deserves a reprieve. Give the job to Michael Carrick, Zinedine Zidane, Fred The Red; anybody.

This is the club's joint-worst Premier League start, mirroring the wretched 2013-14 season. Saturday's defeat to West Ham featured a team who sacked David Moyes, losing limply to a team who sacked David Moyes. And you thought his regime was bad.

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You have to go back almost 30 years for it to be worse than this. Sir Alex Ferguson started 1989-90 with four defeats in seven games, the last of which a 5-1 drubbing against Manchester City -- what on earth will Pep Guardiola's City do Mourinho's rabble in 2018? -- but held on to his job and went on to win the first of 38 trophies later that season. But that was a different era, before the importance of finishing in the top four became paramount. Mourinho might have been brought in to restore the glory days of Ferguson but they seem further away than ever.

Like a drunk at kicking out time, Mourinho is picking needless fights and losing them. There was little point in choosing Scott McTominay as part of a three-man defence with Eric Bailly on the bench at West Ham. There was little point in making a fit Alexis Sanchez travel and then not name him in his matchday squad. There's little point in anything that he does right now, because on the evidence of Saturday afternoon's 3-1 defeat he's lost his players. He's run out of ideas and excuses: he complained about the lack of VAR in the Premier League following West Ham's opener from Felipe Anderson but could offer little in way of explanation as Marko Arnautovic waltzed past an open defence to make it 3-1. 

Why would you want to fight for a manager who castigates you more often than not? Paul Pogba, the protagonist in the latest soap opera to engulf the club, was substituted for Fred during the defeat after another lifeless display. Mourinho hailed West Ham's intensity in the aftermath ... where was United's? West Ham were fired up -- United's performance should be enough to get their manager fired. 

A pathetic defeat on Saturday capped a hellish week and should seal Mourinho's fate. It started with Pogba's veiled attack on his own manager after newly promoted Wolves outplayed United at Old Trafford, continued with the revelation Mourinho had removed vice-captaincy duties from the Frenchman, escalated with a tense exchange on the training ground between the pair following defeat to second tier Derby in the League Cup and the London Stadium was the nadir.

Mourinho's acolytes refuse to countenance the idea the Portuguese is yesterday's man, yet he's offering nothing to suggest he can recapture his former glory. The damning thing is everywhere you look with new managers, their respective teams are responding. Chelsea are buying into Maurizio Sarri's methods, pressing high and buzzing about with Jorginho at the fulcrum. Arsenal are showing the odd glimpse under Unai Emery, as he seeks to impose a new playing style after 22 years of Arsene Wenger.

Jurgen Klopp is in his third full season at Liverpool, like Mourinho at United, but the difference in approach, philosophy and optimism is stark between the two. For goodness sake, even Derby County are showing promise under Frank Lampard. Leeds are thriving under Marcelo Bielsa. Mourinho? Three seasons in, hundreds of millions spent and you still can't figure out what his game plan is meant to be. It's static football from an analogue manager in a digital age. You won't witness tears of agony when Mourinho leaves United, like Marco Materazzi at Inter Milan in 2010. Tears of joy, perhaps. 

Mourinho has based his football career on locking games down from the start and exploiting weaknesses to ruthless effect. But United are crumbling week by week, tormented constantly by also-rans and never-weres. They had conceded three times in a Premier League game twice in two seasons under Mourinho. It's three times in seven games in 2018-19 and counting. What do you expect when a dud like Victor Lindelof, so out of his depth, is picked? Mourinho took his eye off the ball on that one and it doesn't help when Lindelof does just that every week. His record in the transfer market, mixed at best, was summed up on Saturday; Sanchez kicking his heels after being dropped following a wretched run of form. The man signed in a swap deal with another flop, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, is drowning at United. Issa Diop, who ran all over Mourinho's men in east London, was praised by the United boss afterwards, as was the scout who found him. Whether a passive aggressive dig at United's scouting or not, it was an interesting aside. 

Chelsea sacked Mourinho in December 2015 with the defending champions sinking towards the relegation zone. The similarities are so pronounced: the manager created massive conflict with his own team back then, with the Eva Carneiro fracas. He hit out at the club's transfer policy, believing he wasn't backed enough, just like he has done constantly this season and throughout the summer in the United States. Three years ago to the day, Chelsea lost 2-1 at Porto and Mourinho blamed his players' attitude and warned he'd play the kids if things didn't improve. His respective teams, full of superstars and emerging talents, looked like strangers. Mourinho's third season struggles are as predictable as the football he presides over. Tedious, mind-numbing monotony that only the most rose tinted of the United brigade should be able to stomach by now. 

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Match-goers remain among the most loyal in the country, standing by their man even when Derby and West Ham fans sing "You're getting sacked in the morning." But how long can their patience last? How can they look at Liverpool entertain the Premier League and excite their fans while United bore their own into submission with a manager who radiates negativity at every turn? Pep Guardiola moved to Manchester at the same time as Mourinho and his City side broke all manner of records in their title winning campaign last term. It must make United fans sick.

But there's a cure to all this. If executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, a man who could sell ice to eskimos such is his commercial acumen, had an ounce of football knowledge, he'd act now before it's too late. The season is still salvageable, there's an antidote to this poison. A change in manager would kill the internal conflict between manager and star player Pogba, wipe the slate clean and give these under performing players one last chance to show their worth.

It's time for Mourinho to go.

Everton midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson headlined his team's 3-0 win against Fulham on Saturday after responding to his penalty miss with two goals to help the home side return to winning ways after successive defeats.

Whatever manager Marco Silva said at half-time seemed to work as Everton played with greater urgency and much-needed composure after a ponderous first half. Such composure saw substitute Bernard patiently assist the third goal by waiting for support before releasing the onrushing Sigurdsson to fire home his second.

This efficiency in the final third will have pleased Silva every bit as much as a first clean sheet of the season at the other end of the pitch. Silva could also take comfort from how his players responded to the penalty miss to still claim three points.

Positives

Cenk Tosun is unlikely to score many easier goals than the header from a few yards out that ended his goal drought and gave the hosts a two-goal cushion in the second half. There was palpable mixture of delight and relief on the pitch and in the stands when Tosun scored and this goal could be just tonic after recent struggles. Everton need a genuine goal threat in the centre-forward position and an in-form Tosun remains the most viable option at this stage.

Negatives

The way Fulham scythed through the Everton midfield in the build-up to Ryan Sessegnon hitting the crossbar in the first half should concern Silva. While central midfield pair Tom Davies and Idrissa Gueye are at home pressing the ball and chasing down other teams, their ball-hawking tendencies can leave a gaping hole in midfield if opponents beat the press. This pairing offers an energetic approach but leaves the defence vulnerable and Silva is still searching for the right blend in central midfield.

Manager rating out of 10

7 -- Silva acted quickly after the missed penalty to change things after an unchanged starting XI stumbled through the first half.

Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Jordan Pickford, 7 -- No Fulham shots on target meant Pickford enjoyed a straightforward afternoon. On the one occasion the Everton goalkeeper needed to act, Pickford raced superbly from his line to snuff out a Fulham attack in the second half.

DF Jonjoe Kenny, 7 -- Solid in defence and willing to support his teammates in attack when possible. One such foray typified his endeavour as Kenny successfully scrambled to keep alive the move leading to the opening goal.

DF Michael Keane, 7 -- Another impressive performance as Keane played a key role in helping Everton to their first clean sheet of the season. Timely interception in the second half with Everton stretched at the back capped his display.

DF Kurt Zouma, 7 -- Relished the physical battle with Aleksandar Mitrovic and limited the in-form Fulham striker to one speculative effort from distance in the first half. This was a welcome return to form after a couple of shaky performances in the two previous matches.

DF Lucas Digne, 8 -- The summer recruit excelled in most aspects and has adapted well to his new surroundings, quickly cementing his place as first choice left-back in recent weeks.

MF Idrissa Gueye, 8 -- Tireless effort saw Gueye lead the team in both tackles and interceptions. There are few better in the league at regaining the ball and disrupting opponents in possession than Gueye in this form.

MF Tom Davies, 5 -- A passenger at times as the match threatened to take place around him. Faultless effort but often lightweight as Fulham caused problems, especially in the latter stages of the first half.

MF Theo Walcott, 6 -- On the periphery for periods of the match but there was a timely contribution for the second goal as his wonderfully weighted cross found Tosun unmarked at the far post.

MF Gylfi Sigurdsson, 8 -- In a backwards kind of way, the penalty miss kick-started his performance. His two goals showed the finesse and accuracy lacking when his wayward penalty crashed against the crossbar.

MF Richarlison, 6 -- Received special attention with the visitors frequently doubling up on the Everton winger. There were flashes of quality, but the extra attention and some robust tackling limited his influence.

FW Dominic Calvert-Lewin, 5 -- Started for the second successive match but struggled throughout this 55-minute outing. Clumsy control punctuated a difficult afternoon for the young striker.

Substitutes

FW Cenk Tosun, 6 -- Tosun ended his goal drought with a simple header and will hope to progress after this.

MF Bernard, N/R -- Touch of class to assist the third goal will only enhance calls for the Brazilian to play a more prominent role in matches.

MF Morgan Schneiderlin, N/R -- Bolstered midfield in the final few minutes.

It was honours even as Chelsea and Liverpool played out a thrilling 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge. The Blues looked to be heading for a second win inside a week against the Reds as they held on doggedly to a lead that came thanks to Eden Hazard, who scored an excellent goal midway through the first half, but a superb 89th-minute strike from substitute Daniel Sturridge denied Maurizio Sarri's men victory.

On balance, it was a fair result given that Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz both cleared Liverpool chances off the line. However, Sarri will be frustrated that his side once again failed to make the most of the opportunities that came their way to seal victory before Sturridge levelled.

Positives

This was an excellent team performance that saw every Chelsea player make a positive contribution. The Blues crowd too deserve much credit. Often criticised for not being vocal enough in their support of the players, they made themselves heard throughout the match.

Negatives

Conceding a goal at such a late stage of proceedings is obviously disappointing. Not for the first time, Chelsea frustrated their fans by failing to make the most of the chances that came their way to kill off the opposition in a tight game.

Manager rating out of 10

8 -- Chelsea have made significant progress under Sarri and another high-intensity, impressive performance against a Liverpool side who are probably as good as they are going to get under Jurgen Klopp is a measure of what the Italian has achieved in a short space of time. Sarri will be disappointed at conceding a late equaliser, but was blameless in this respect.

Player ratings (1-10, 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Kepa Arrizabalaga, 6 -- Made a fine save to deny Sadio Mane what looked a certain goal midway through the second half. Will be disappointed perhaps that he was deceived by the flight of the ball from Sturridge's shot that tied the game.

DF Cesar Azpilicuata, 7 -- Worked tirelessly to contain the threat down the left flank of Mane and Andy Robertson. Had little opportunity to play a more advanced role.

DF Antonio Rudiger, 9 -- A heroic performance that deserved a clean sheet. Stuck limpet-like to Mane and made a superb goal-line clearance to prevent Mohamed Salah equalising on the half-hour mark.

DF David Luiz, 8 -- Luiz's best display for Chelsea this season. Like Rudiger, the Brazilian also deserved a clean sheet for being well placed to clear a goal-bound effort this time from Roberto Firmino in the 72nd minute. Played some excellent long-range balls out of defence, linking up particularly well with Willian.

DF Marcos Alonso, 6 -- Had his work cut out containing Salah, often allowing the Egyptian too much space, particularly in the first half, in which to operate. Got tighter to his man in the second period, which ultimately saw Klopp withdraw his star man in the 66th minute.

MF Jorginho, 7 -- Another game of controlled and measured high-tempo passing from Jorginho, who worked the ball well with Mateo Kovacic. Offered little, though, in respect of shielding the defence behind him.

MF N'Golo Kante, 7 -- Sarri continues to deploy Kante in a more advanced role with a question mark remaining against the concept that won't have been removed after this performance. Showed some neat touches in linking up with both Willian and Hazard, but arguably could have served Chelsea better by helping take some of the heat off their over-worked backline.

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MF Mateo Kovacic, 8 -- Worked well with Jorginho and bossed Jordan Henderson in midfield. Played a precise ball through to Hazard with which the Belgium international opened the scoring. Withdrawn late on for Ross Barkley.

FW Willian, 7 -- Had a chance to open the scoring for Chelsea but was denied by a smart save by Allison. Linked up well with Olivier Giroud in the first half but looked increasingly jaded after the break, squandering possession and putting his side under pressure as a result. Withdrawn in the 73rd minute.

FW Eden Hazard, 8 -- A second goal in as many games against Liverpool looked to have set Chelsea on their way to victory, a win that Hazard could have sealed had he buried the chance that came his way when Kante played him in midway through the second half. Allison was equal to his shot, and with that the opportunity had gone.

FW Olivier Giroud, 6 -- Worked hard to hold the ball up and make a nuisance of himself when Chelsea advanced, but ultimately was unable to have a telling influence on the game. Withdrawn in the 65th minute.

Substitutes

FW Alvaro Morata, 6 -- Replaced Giroud and offered a pair of fresh legs but little else that could be construed as constructive to Chelsea's cause.

MF Victor Moses, NR -- Replaced Willian and was able to give Chelsea added impetus on the flank. Lost possession too often when attempting to cross the ball.

MF Ross Barkley, NR -- Replaced Kovacic and revitalised Chelsea's midfield.

LONDON -- As tempting as it is to bill Liverpool's clash with Manchester City next Sunday as the fixture most likely to provide this season's Premier League champions, Chelsea might just have something to say about that between now and May.

Just like the two protagonists at Anfield, Maurizio Sarri's men remain unbeaten in the league this season and they are gathering momentum with each positive result.

This was another. Despite surrendering a lead with just two minutes left following Daniel Sturridge's late equaliser for Jurgen Klopp's team, a 1-1 draw with Liverpool is not a bad result in a title race and it ensures that Chelsea can continue to point to a zero in their defeats column.

"When you are winning 1-0 and concede a goal at the end, you can be sad," Eden Hazard said. "But I think the draw is the fair result.

"I think we can challenge against Liverpool, with City too," Chelsea's goalscorer continued. "These are the best teams in the country, but we are not far away; we are winning games and confidence is high."

Having failed to mount any kind of defence of their title last season with Antoniuo Conte in charge, Chelsea look like a team again under Sarri and Hazard's spellbinding early season form is a sign of the improving mood at the club.

No club does yo-yoing quite like Chelsea -- it has been boom one year, bust the next, far too often for the club's liking in recent seasons -- but the bounce is back at Stamford Bridge and that makes them a dangerous outsider in this year's race for the title.

The lack of a reliable centre-forward, as well as juggling the demands of a deep run in the Europa League, are issues Chelsea might have to address if they are to win a third Premier League title in five seasons, but as former Napoli coach Sarri admitted following this game, they are beginning to believe in themselves.

"I thought City and Liverpool were the two strongest teams," Sarri said. "But I now believe we are closer than we were a week ago. They are both one step ahead of us, but we can fight for the champion."

So do we have a two-, three-, or maybe even a two-and-a-half horse race?

City and Liverpool are going to slug it out at the top of table; both teams are strong and Liverpool have improved significantly since last season due to a major spending spree.

Yet while next Sunday's encounter might give an indication as to which team is the most likely to emerge as champions, Chelsea have many aspects in their favour to argue their case as a third challenger.

Hazard's form is the obvious one and Chelsea desperately need the Belgian international to stay fit and firing, but this is also a squad packed with players who know how to win the title. City also have that, but Liverpool do not and the experience of going down the finishing straight is something that cannot be overlooked.

But Chelsea's credentials are not just down to Hazard and their ability to draw on recent successes. While Liverpool and City are both faced with the demands of the Champions League and the inability to rest players in the competition, Chelsea can use the Europa League group games as a chance to rotate and ensure that fringe players get crucial competitive action.

- Sturridge stunner denies Chelsea 
- Chelsea, Liverpool play out thrilling draw

The benefits of that were borne out against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday, when Hazard's late goal sealed a 2-1 come-from-behind win and Chelsea appeared to have a stronger and more convincing second string than their opponents.

In terms of their best XI, Kepa Arrizabalaga is proving himself to be a sturdy replacement for Thibaut Courtois in goal and the midfield axis of Jorginho, N'Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic is as good as any in the league.

Jorginho has been an exceptional addition but Kovacic, on loan from Real Madrid, has quietly improved the team and he is not short on big-game experience.

The key weakness in their title aspirations is the lack of goals being scored by Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata. Six-goal Hazard is making up for that at the moment, but it may require a move into the January transfer market to resolve that problem if Chelsea continue to threaten top spot.

But in a league featuring several weak teams that will be beaten convincingly by the pace-setters, Sarri and Co. know that they can blow the lesser sides away at the same time as being competitive against City and Liverpool.

Therefore, while they might be third favourite in the race, they are a horse with pedigree and cannot be ruled out. It would be wise not to focus too heavily on the top two; Chelsea might just surprise them both.

LONDON -- Maurizio Sarri admitted that Chelsea are closer to the level of Manchester City and Liverpool than he thought a week ago, but maintained that the joint-Premier League leaders remain "one step forward" from his side.

Chelsea were on course to record their second victory over Liverpool in the space of three days at Stamford Bridge thanks to Eden Hazard's first-half strike, but a sensational long-range curler from Daniel Sturridge in the 89th minute preserved the unbeaten league record of Jurgen Klopp's men in a 1-1 draw.

The result leaves City and Liverpool tied at the top of the table with 19 points from their first seven matches while Chelsea have taken 17. Sarri has repeatedly insisted that it would likely take a year for his team to become genuine contenders, but their performances at Anfield and Stamford Bridge have softened his stance.

"I think they are a step forward, but I think also that we are more close than I thought one week ago," Sarri said. "[To finish] in the first two for me it's very difficult, because City and Liverpool are a step forward to us. But I can think we can fight for the [Champions League].

"Here it's very difficult to arrive in the first four. There are six or seven top teams, top in Europe, not only in England, so it's not easy to get into the Champions League. We have to try of course, and we have to try to stay very close in the table to the top level teams, and we have to improve more."

Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Xherdan Shaqiri all missed big chances for Liverpool prior to Sturridge's moment of brilliance, while Chelsea's main attacking weapon was once again Hazard, who scored his seventh goal in eight club appearances in the first half and spurned a gilt-edged opportunity in the second.

"I'm disappointed because they scored in the last minutes, but at the end I'm really very happy with the performance, and also [because] the draw maybe is the right result," Sarri said. "The match was wonderful."

Olivier Giroud and substitute Alvaro Morata offered very little in the way of threat for Chelsea, and the two strikers have combined for just one Premier League goal this season -- but Sarri said that he is not prepared to consider benching both in favour of a false nine system just yet.

"I want to use in this moment Giroud and Morata, because I think it's right to use them in the first part of the season," he said. "You know the characteristics: Giroud is very important for [teammates], and I think Morata in the last 25 minutes was more aggressive than usual.

"I'm not really worried about it, because we have a winger [Hazard] that is able to score so frequently."

Asked if it is dangerous to rely so heavily on Hazard for goals, he replied: "Maybe, but I think at the end of the season we can have four or five players over 10 goals, so it's not only Hazard.

"Of course Hazard is the first, but I think Pedro, Willian, Morata will be able to score more than 10 goals in a season. Pedro is at three goals [already]."

ESPN