We’re about a quarter of the way through the 2016–17 edition of the Premier League, and we know about as much as we did before things kicked off back in August: almost nothing. On the latest episode of Channel 33’s soccer podcast, Chris Ryan and Ryan O’Hanlon discussed seven questions from what’s been a wacky, unpredictable season.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Is José Mourinho Too Lonely to Be a Champion?
Chris Ryan: The last few days have seen a 100 percent uptick in the amount of stories about how lonely the United manager is. So apparently, he is living in a hotel in central Manchester, basically the equivalent of Times Square or Sunset and Vine in Hollywood, and he can’t go out of the house because people recognize him and mob him. So he can’t take a walk. And then his family is still living in London.
C.R.: The José Mourinho Yelp review. Well, this isn’t his Yelp review.
R.O.: This is the worst Yelp review of the Lowry Hotel, which I’m sure is great. I actually have no idea. This is the review: “Too cold. Too contemporary. Not enough pizzazz. It’s the only five-star hotel in Salford, not Manchester, as it likes to brand itself.” Point two: “Menu for food is out of this world. Quite pricey, but I guess you get what you pay for.”
C.R.: But José has been getting, it sounds like, whatever the Manchester version of Seamless is. He’s like, Ah, the apps are great here.
R.O.: He literally said, “But I have my apps,” which, I can’t picture him using a phone. And then the last line is “Very high turnover of staff, and it shows in their lack of professionalism.” If you wanted to apply this Yelp review to what’s happening in Manchester United, I think it would almost be too on-the-nose.
With His Team Tied for First Place, Is Arsène Wenger, José Mourinho’s Best Friend and Favorite Pervert, Smarter Than All of Us?
C.R.: Arsène Wenger’s really good at buying players. He just takes too long to buy them. Like, [Shkodran] Mustafi seems like a really good center back. The three central defensive midfielders he has now, [Granit] Xhaka, [Francis] Coquelin, and [Mohamed] Elneny, are all really solid. He has probably the best collection of attacking midfielders outside of Spain at his disposal. Still hasn’t bought a striker per se. Lucas [Pérez] was supposed to be basically bargain-bin Jamie Vardy, but I think Wenger is doing a really nice job winning all the games they were supposed to win, so the jury’s still out. I think that hot streak Theo Walcott is tough to ride. And you just know that there is a six-week Alexis [Sánchez] thigh injury coming. There’s probably a “Mesut Ozil gets the midseason break flu” thing coming. I do find it pretty interesting that they have really clicked together without [Aaron] Ramsey. What do you think of that?
R.O.: I think I agree for the most part. They were terrible against Liverpool in that first game. Even though it was 4–3. I don’t think it was really that close. And to give up four goals is just bad in any situation, but they’ve had these amazing highs. They totally destroyed Chelsea, one of the best teams in the league. When everything’s clicking, the team looks totally incredible. Maybe the best team when they’re going forward at full speed. But it seems like the littlest thing can trip them up. So it’s really hard for me to put faith in that they’re going to stay at this level and win the Premier League.
Is European Competition Worth It?
C.R.: Leicester is 100 percent the example of why you should be in the Champions League. Because Leicester got a good group, they’ve basically already qualified, they have a perfect system for Champions League, and they’re going to have a pretty tasty game in the first knockout. Leicester is going to the round of 16.
R.O.: For a team like Leicester, the bump isn’t as big as it used to be from the Champions League because the EPL teams get so much TV money. But compared to all the richest teams, the match-day revenue and the [Champions League] payments you get, that’s a huge deal.
C.R.: They were talking about this on The Football Ramble with Celtic. And I had noticed that I had been thinking about Celtic more in the last two months than I had in the last three years. They played a really exciting game against Man City, which pretty much set Man City down the road of this bump that they’re having now. And all of a sudden I was like, Wow, it’s so romantic to see Celtic in the Champions League. They have an incredible stadium. And they were talking about this on The Football Ramble: If you’re Moussa Dembélé and you want to get yourself on global television playing against big teams, you can start and be the fulcrum of a Celtic offense. Like, that’s pretty good.
R.O.: Yeah, and all of the Dembélé rumors are directly tied with him playing and playing well against Manchester City, so there is that appeal. I think with Celtic, they’re going to make the Champions League every year, so when they’re in it, they might as well just try to play in a way that’s fun and encourages a guy like Dembélé to want to even come to the team. And Leicester has nothing to lose, too, because I think it’s obvious they’re not going to make the Champions League again — at least through the Premier League. They’ll probably win the Champions League this year.
Did the Striker Suddenly Go Extinct Without Anyone Telling Us?
C.R.: This is big. I do wonder whether or not you’re going to start to see — not necessarily Luciano Spalletti’s 4–6–0 formations — but a school of thought that says, “Let’s get goals from everywhere on the field” because relying on a striker both to be in form and healthy is Arsenal’s problem, right? They don’t have somebody like [Robin] Van Persie or [Thierry] Henry banging in 30 goals a season, so they’re dependent on Sánchez, Walcott, an up-and-down [Olivier] Giroud, and getting goals from the midfield from [Santi] Cazorla, from Ramsey, from [Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain], whoever. Liverpool doesn’t really have that problem. Tottenham, when they’re playing well, doesn’t really have that problem. They have goals all over the field. The only thing is that there is a logic to strikers being important.
R.O.: We talk all we want about possession and progressing the ball up the field and pressing, but all that matters is if you can score goals. Whether that’s nipping in and touching in a rebound, whether it’s just knowing where to be on a cross. Even if you don’t do anything the rest of the game, it’s still so valuable.
C.R.: Yeah. It’s [Christian] Benteke. It’s also why [Romelu] Lukaku is gonna get sold for 75 million when he finally gets sold.
After Samir Nasri’s Performances for Sevilla, If You Could Take One Role Player From a Big Club and Make Him the Focal Point of a Smaller Club, What Player and What Club Would You Pick?
R.O.: [Cesc] Fabregas. He’s fallen out of favor in Chelsea mainly because he’s just not the defensive player that Antonio Conte wants from center midfield. But he’s just such an amazing passer from weird angles, and he doesn’t have to be super high up the field, like most guys do. He’s so unique and so talented that there’s a way for any manager to fit him into the team if they want to. The team I want him to go to is Valencia, just because I think that’s a team I think we would all like to see be good again in Spain. Just play him how Juventus used to play [Andrea] Pirlo. Surround him with guys that are going to run up and down the field and let him pass the ball wherever the hell he wants.
C.R.: I was going to pick Alex Oxlade and just be like, “Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should just be the star of Sunderland.” But the more I think about it, the more I think Wayne Rooney should go to Inter Milan. Not that they don’t have someone who could play that position already there, but — and I don’t really care about Rooney — Rooney needs to be on a team where he is the best player on the team. He was really successful with [Cristiano] Ronaldo, but at this point in his career, Rooney being the third-, fourth- or fifth-best striker and the fourth- or fifth-best midfielder on a team doesn’t really work. He should just play the no. 10 on a team where he can be the focal point. Since his pace has been the problem over the last year especially, going to a league where speed isn’t the hugest deal would work for him. And Inter has a history of signing players from other countries, so Rooney to Inter Milan.
Is N’Golo Kanté the Best Player in the Premier League?
C.R.: No, but here’s what I really like that’s happening with Kanté at Chelsea. We have a tendency when we talk about these teams [to do it] in very fixed ways and we think about players in very fixed ways. I think we saw Kanté and [Nemanja] Matic lining up, we were just like, “OK, Antonio Conte is going to set up this boring team. He’s going to have this base of central defending midfielders, just so they don’t concede.” But if you watch Kanté over the last three games, he’s like basically playing more like a Xabi Alonso style, with [Steven] Gerrard’s energy.
R.O.: You think of a defensive midfielder as a shield that controls everything, but he’s a defensive-first guy who you just want to be able to go everywhere. I think that’s the most impressive part: all the stuff he does once he gets the ball, looking forward. It might sound ridiculous to ask if he’s the best player, but part of what we’re saying about strikers is that guys have this massive value just because they can score. If they’re now being relegated from their primacy, then maybe it’s a good question?
We Don’t Know Anything About the EPL, but What’s One Thing You’re Sure About?
R.O.: Hull City will be getting relegated.
C.R.: Even though Sunderland only has two points? Sunderland’s going down too.
R.O.: Sunderland have not been as bad as their points total suggests, but at the bottom of the table you’re only winning so many points to begin with, so if you’re behind from the start, you’re kind of fucked. But we do say that about Sunderland literally every season and they eventually find their way to get out. I just think Hull are so bad. One of the worst teams we’ve seen in the Premier League in recent memory. Their numbers are terrible, expected goal numbers are terrible. It’s so easy for teams to get the ball into the box. I think the quality of the Premier League is awesome. As good as we’ve seen in a long time. From first to 17th? First to 12th? But Hull is one of the worst teams we’ve seen. I guess we should’ve expected this when they came into the Premier League without a manager and four players on their roster.
C.R.: The thing that I am sure about: The top three right now are going to be the top three in this order at the end of the season.
R.O.: City first, Arsenal second, Liverpool third?
C.R.: My answer to this question was going to be, “Tottenham or Liverpool are really going to explode in a bad way,” just because I can’t imagine two teams playing at this pace over the course of the season with the amount of games that they have to play over Christmas in the cold, in the rain. No matter what kind of depth they have, one of these teams is going to run into a brick wall. I think that it might be Tottenham because of the extra European games. But I have a feeling this is going to be the top three.