Over the course of the last month, managers of the so-called top six sides in the Premier League – Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur – have all been guilty of criticising and moaning at the tactics deployed by some of the teams they have been playing against.
While it may be getting towards the stressful and busy festive period, their comments certainly won’t have painted them in a good light to the bosses and fans of the other 14 teams that make up the English top flight.
Southampton travelled to leaders Manchester City at the end of November on the back of an impressive 4-1 win at home to Everton at St Mary’s, but with Pep Guardiola’s men looking almost invincible and winning 12 of their 13 Premier League fixtures – drawing the other – Mauricio Pellegrino decided to set up with a defensive 5-3-2 system at the Etihad Stadium.
The hosts also had a goal difference of +34 at that time, so it was no surprise that the Argentine boss decided to ultimately keep things tight at the back and then try and use the pace of Nathan Redmond and Shane Long up top on the counter.
Saints came so close to a point before Raheem Sterling’s cruel 96th minute winner, but the final whistle was followed by an unsavoury looking incident where Guardiola was right in Redmond’s face and appearing to shout at him after what would have been a bitterly disappointing end to the game for the forward.
The Spaniard – and the winger – confirmed afterwards that they were just chatting about why Southampton had played quite defensively and been happy to play for a point considering the attacking players they have, but Guardiola did not come over well in the incident.
He has no right to tell any of his counterparts how they should play against him – especially when he has a free-scoring team put together with the biggest budget for transfers and wages in the division – and it showed a complete disrespect to Pellegrino.
Arsene Wenger had a similar moan against the south coast outfit in the Gunners’ 1-1 draw at St Mary’s earlier this month, when he accused them of time-wasting before Olivier Giroud scored an 87th minute equaliser.
As reported by the Daily Mail, the Frenchman said: “The waste of time is becoming a real problem in England in the last two seasons. First, it has to be in the head of the players to respect the game and to play.”
On the same night that Guardiola spoke to Redmond, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte was sent to the stands during his team’s 1-0 win against Swansea City at Stamford Bridge.
The Italian shouted in the face of fourth official Lee Mason and referee Neil Swarbrick after Swans goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski was accused of taking too long over a goal kick.
As reported by The Independent, Conte said: “I hope also the referee will learn something about this, because Swansea were wasting time. In this situation the referee has to protect the team that wants to play football, to try to win the game.”
The club that has perhaps got it most in the neck in the last few weeks is undoubtedly West Bromwich Albion though.
It all started against Tottenham at Wembley last month when they came into the game managerless and on the back of four successive Premier League losses.
The Baggies were slipping ever closer to the relegation zone and they managed to secure a 1-1 draw in the capital, but Mauricio Pochettino and his players weren’t impressed with the tactics of the visitors.
As reported by The Sun, Spurs’ Eric Dier said: “If you watch the game from the first minute and add up the amount of time wasted by their keeper [Ben Foster], it would be a big number.”
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp was similarly unimpressed by the west Midlands outfit as they picked up a goalless draw at Anfield last week, and according to Sky Sports the German said: “I told the ref after the game, three minutes [added on] in a game like this where there are six changes, time played from the first second from the opponent, and he said it was right.”
According to ESPN FC, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho was concerned about the Baggies’ time-wasting ahead of their clash at the Hawthorns on Sunday, although he had little to worry about afterwards as they ran out 2-1 winners.
At the end of the day though, West Brom haven’t won a Premier League match since August, so why shouldn’t they go to the likes of Wembley and Anfield and play tactically to pick up what could prove to be a crucial point come the end of the season.
The reality is that staying in the top flight is arguably more important and lucrative than it has ever been, and the managers of those clubs fighting to stay in the division know what they have to do – even if it means setting up not to lose rather than trying to win.
If they want to waste a bit of time here and there then it should be accepted – the top six clubs would do exactly the same in the Champions League or if they were winning by a one-goal margin against one of their Premier League rivals.
With the money he has spent on his squad and the fact that his team had been so prolific in front of goal, Guardiola had no right to call out Pellegrino on his tactics at the Etihad – ones that almost got his team a point.
If Southampton had have attacked up there, they probably would have lost 4-0 or 5-0, and it would have been the same for West Brom and Swansea too.
The budget and the quality of players available to the top six managers means that they have no right to moan and whinge for something that is part and parcel of the modern game, and they should perhaps concentrate on why their teams are struggling or failing to beat the sides towards the bottom of the league instead.
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