Mourinho's 'poisoned gift'
United boss mindful of fixture congestion despite beating Zorya
Don't rule Allardyce out
Many say his football career's over, but Stoke may well come calling
MAN UNITED v STOKE
(Tomorrow, 6.30pm, Singtel TV Ch 103 & StarHub TV Ch 228, ELEVEN Plus HD)
If you were compiling a chart listing the most famous falls from grace in the history of sport, then where would you fit ousted England boss Sam Allardyce?
He'd have to fall below the undisputed No. 1, O J Simpson. After all, "Big Sam" didn't murder anyone, as Simpson allegedly did. And, to be fair, he did leave the England job with a 100 per cent winning record.
Lance Armstrong would surely be ahead of him, as would Ben Johnson, Marion Jones and Barry Bonds.
Allardyce would probably nestle in well behind the leading contenders, but with plenty of daylight between himself and those at the bottom end of the standings, which is a reasonable enough metaphor for a managerial career that has produced a plethora of mid-table finishes.
The story of Allardyce's demise would be funny if it wasn't so tragic.
A council estate boy who realised his dream when he was appointed England manager, but whose love of a pound note ultimately proved to be his downfall.
So where does Allardyce go from here?
In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday's seismic parting of the ways, various pundits dived in to claim that there was no way back, that Allardyce was finished as a manager, unemployable as a pundit, and should hide behind the walls of his Bolton mansion until the end of his sorry days.
But, in football, there's always a way back; particularly for someone as well connected as Allardyce undoubtedly is.
And let's not forget that his record as a club manager, when you consider the constraints with which he's had to operate, stands up against anyone outside the very top echelons of the game.
Tomorrow, Eleven Sports Network will broadcast Manchester United's latest Premier League clash with Stoke City.
While jobs like the United one have never, or will ever, be within reach of Allardycio's bear-like grasp - despite his claims a few years ago that he should have been managing Real Madrid - it wouldn't be the greatest surprise in the world if the 61-year old was parachuted into the Britannia Stadium, should Mark Hughes suffer a crippling loss against his former employers.
Stoke and Allardyce are a perfect fit - the footballing equivalent of a statuesque model slipping into an elegant black dress (try not to accidentally visualise "Big Sam" in a black dress. With a head the size of a standard cement mixer, it wouldn't be a pretty sight).
If you look at the state of Sunderland under David Moyes, it makes you wonder how on earth Allardyce kept them in the top flight last season.
After nine games, the Black Cats had accrued just three points from a possible 27. However, three wins and three draws from their final half a dozen games kept them afloat - much to the detriment of the Premier League, judging by the state they're in this term.
Stoke are in a similar situation this season to the one which Allardyce inherited at the Stadium of Light, despite having once again invested heavily in the squad. Xherdan Shaqiri, Gianelli Imbula, Glen Johnson, Wilfried Bony, Bojan Krkic and Marko Arnautovic are not names you would readily associate with a relegation dogfight.
If he was appointed, Allardyce would immediately do what Allardyce always does; get the team organised, lift spirits in the dressing room, work his players hard, leave no stone unturned from a sports science and analysis point of view, and make them as well drilled as possible.
If Allardyce became Stoke manager next week, I'd guarantee that the Potters would find themselves comfortably clear of the drop zone by the new year.
Maybe I'll set up a meeting between Allardyce and the Stoke board, and the former England manager can dazzle them with one of his trademark keynote speeches!
Away from the cameras, of course.
- Richard Lenton is the lead presenter at ELEVEN SPORTS NETWORK. Join Richard and his studio guests for ELEVEN's live coverage of the Premier League, which includes today's clash between Hull City and Chelsea from 9.30pm, and tomorrow's showdown between Manchester United and Stoke City (6.30pm), and Burnley versus Arsenal (11pm). For more details, visit www.elevensports.sg
Swans will be sitting ducks
Pep faces toughest test
Spurs' settled, pressing side best equipped to stop City
TOTTENHAM v MAN CITY
(Tomorrow, 9.15pm, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
In the end, Manchester United turned out to be the appetiser, the hors d'oeuvre, the strange sausage on a stick served at cocktail parties.
The recent derby whetted the appetite, but United were not the main course for Manchester City.
That comes tomorrow at Tottenham.
Pep Guardiola sits for his toughest test not at Old Trafford, but White Hart Lane.
Spurs have operated beneath the radar for weeks now, largely sidestepping the hype that has engulfed Manchester and Merseyside to sneak up on the shoulders of giants.
When City look behind them, they practically see themselves, a neat facsimile of their attacking philosophy.
When Guardiola shakes hands with Mauricio Pochettino, it'll be like looking in a mirror.
Both managers champion the omnipresent p-word, the tactical flavour of the month that has replaced the other p-word, which has fallen out of favour.
Possession, for its own sake, is so tika-taka now, so Barcelona and Spain in the 2000s, so yesterday's news.
Today, it's all about the pressing and nobody presses better than City and Tottenham (although Liverpool aren't far behind.)
Guardiola obviously has better players. But Pochettino has the foundation.
As the Argentinian fine-tunes and tweaks in his third season in North London, Guardiola has barely completed three months.
The Spaniard's early impact has exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations, taking a lethargic squad and injecting them with greater confidence and creative freedom.
City remain the title favourites, but even Guardiola concedes that they are a work in progress, smartly deflating the hyperbole that follows the English Premier League like a foul odour.
Tottenham, on the other hand, are established and quietly determined.
From front to back, there is an admirable resilience and organisation, which are a testament to Pochettino's work ethic, one that insists on double training sessions throughout the season.
Unbeaten after six games, Tottenham are enjoying their best start in 51 years. Singapore was taking its first, fledgling steps as an independent nation the last time Spurs were anywhere near this consistent.
And Pochettino could hardly care less.
He's the antithesis of the cliched English manager, bringing an entirely different barometer of what constitutes success.
Under the likes of Harry Redknapp, all silly sound-bites and outdated ambitions, a Champions League place was considered a trophy in itself, the end of Tottenham's rainbow.
Pochettino rejects such archaic thinking. Being an outsider, he doesn't accept the old hierarchy and Tottenham's traditional place in the world. He's at White Hart Lane to win the title.
Like Guardiola, Pochettino pursues perfection. It's a destination he can never reach, but he has no intention of derailing the journey.
Spurs are not only undefeated, they've also conceded the fewest goals, which provides a clear advantage over their opponents.
Swansea and Celtic breached the City wall far too many times for Guardiola's liking this week, but Tottenham's back four fit hand in glove.
Close defensive relationships were forged in the last couple of years and reinforced through relentless training drills. The fantastic four of Danny Rose, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Kyle Walker are also the familiar four.
They pick themselves.
And, even then, the likes of Ben Davies and Eric Dier are prepared to plug gaps when necessary.
The shenanigans at Celtic suggested that Guardiola needs another season to put together his own fab four. With John Stones in the middle, it's more a case of Cliff Richard and the Shadows, rather than The Beatles.
City boast the highest possession rate in the EPL - 64 per cent - but they're up against the meanest defence and a team that counter pressing by counter-pressing.
United's disastrous first half in the derby showed that any attempt to absorb City pressure can be the tactical equivalent of wide-eyed lemmings scampering towards the edge of a cliff.
Swansea did the opposite. They squeezed City's defenders. It almost worked.
And Celtic fought fire with counter-attacking fire in a blistering Champions League contest.
Tottenham also press fast and feverishly, eager to release the in-form Son Heung Min and Dele Alli, safe in the knowledge that Dier or Victor Wanyama are on hand if the move breaks down.
On current form, Spurs represent the great white hopes for those seeking to avoid a one-horse canter to the title.
Should Guardiola still find a way to pick the locks at White Hart Lane, then everyone else might as well pick up their ball and go home.
"Of course, he is one of the best managers in the world who has showed his quality at barcelona and bayern Munich before coming to Manchester City and I think it is exciting to play his team."
- Mauricio Pochettino, on Pep Guardiola
"I don’t think he’s one of the best managers in England — he’s one of the best in the world. If I hadn’t been a coach, I’d just be a fan. If I were a young coach, I would see Tottenham and say: ‘I want to play that way.’"
- Guardiola, on Pochettino
BY THE NUMBERS
2 This game pitches together the only two unbeaten teams left in the Premier League this season.
Reds boss warns against complacency as they meet sinking Swans
Milner the all-rounder
Milner is once again the go-to guy - at left back
When Alberto Moreno became a liability and early efforts to find a replacement proved futile, Liverpool turned to the only other solution.
James Milner, naturally.
At the time, Liverpool fans were in disbelief.
Even for such a versatile player, Milner at left back seemed like an awkward choice.
Playing a right-footer in such a position was always going to be a risk.
And turning to a boring 30-year-old English midfielder who had just retired from international football seemed like a desperate move.
And, to begin with, Milner wasn't keen on manager Juergen Klopp's idea.
He had played as a right back for Manchester City and hated it.
One month on, Liverpool are rolling along nicely and Milner passed the test in his new role, where he has consistently scored high marks.
Klopp's gamble is now looking like a stroke of genius.
Since missing the Reds' opening match at Arsenal because of a heel injury, the midfielder has been first-choice left back in every Premier League game.
If he starts at the Liberty Stadium against Swansea today, it will be his sixth successive Premiership game as Liverpool's "emergency left back".
His virtuoso performances are reflected in the impressive statistics: Five Premiership appearances, three goals, one assist.
When Liverpool dismantled Hull City 5-1 last Saturday, Milner scored twice from the spot, whipped in 10 crosses from the left, and made four successful dribbles (one more than Roberto Firmino).
MAN OF THE MATCH
His sterling display prompted Southampton legend and Sky Sports pundit Matt Le Tissier to pick Milner as his Man of the Match.
The Milner fan base is growing fast.
Sky Sports pundits Tony Cottee and Tony Cascarino have named Milner in their Premier League Team of the Season (so far).
Former Leicester City midfielder Robbie Savage has singled him out as one of the best left backs in the Premier League.
Those who have followed his career closely would not have been surprised that Milner became an instant remedy over a tactical dilemma.
When he joined Manchester City from Aston Villa for £26 million ($46.1m) six years ago, it looked as if he was set to become one of the top central midfielders of his generation.
He had caught the eye during his final season at Villa Park, and at just 24, he had age on his side.
But at City, he seldom featured in his preferred central midfield role and instead, he developed into a utility player who often found himself on the fringes of the starting 11.
Despite winning two Premier League titles, he was never happy, filling in as a left winger, right winger, right back and even striker.
Until Manuel Pellegrini - his last manager at Man City - said so, no one would have thought that Milner's contributions were appreciated.
The Chilean said in an interview with The Guardian last year: "I'm Milner's No. 1 fan. Find me a more complete English player.
"There are players who're better technically, yes. Quicker players, yes. Players who head better, yes.
"But show me one who does all the things Milner does well. There isn't one."
When Milner left for Liverpool on a free transfer last year, he spoke of having to make a "difficult" decision to leave a "great" club.
The promise of a return to his favourite role was a huge factor.
He said: "I want to play football and play more centrally if I can - and that's where the manager said he sees me playing."
Alas, that manager, Brendan Rodgers, didn't last very long.
By October, Klopp had come in, and once more Milner became the victim of his own versatility.
But even he would have been surprised by the plaudits he has received over the past six weeks.
Milner, the jack of all trades, would never have thought that he could finally be the master at left back.
"I’m Milner’s No. 1 fan. Find me a more complete English player... Show me one who does all the things he does well."
- Ex-Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini, on his former player James Milner