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Jose Mourinho's 'ball boy' comments did just what they were supposed to do

It's been a long-running debate. Does a screw fall out causing him to lose all perspective? Or does he know exactly what he's doing?

With Jose Mourinho, you do wonder. And the answer is that sometimes -- like when he's eye-poking or identifying UNICEF as grand conspirators against him -- he does lose his cool. And he does say and do things he comes to regret.

Other times, he says things for effect. Because he's a clever guy and he knows the reaction he'll get and he believes that reaction will ultimately benefit his team.

Mourinho's post-game comments hit the mark perfectly after defeat in Newcastle.

Cynical? No -- clever. Very clever. And in some ways justified too. He's paid to do what's best for his employer -- right now, it's Chelsea Football Club -- and he does it by any means necessary. Saturday at Newcastle was Exhibit 101.

Chelsea fell, 2-1, meaning there won't be an unbeaten season in the Premier League. He didn't blame the referee ("he was good") and he didn't find fault with his players ("they gave absolutely everything"). He brought up time-wasting. And, specifically, the ball boys.

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- Liverpool ratings: Another lacklustre performance

"One thing is to waste time on the pitch in a proper way -- you keep the ball, you go to the corner, you hold the ball..." he said. "But another thing is what happens outside the four lines which is not the responsibility of the referee."

"Things were happening that the referees cannot control," he added. "He cannot punish the ball boy that disappears, the people in the crowd that keep the ball or somebody that throws a second ball on the pitch."

He then made it clear that there was an acceptable way to waste time and an unacceptable way. "Do what you can to win, but not everything," he said. "[Otherwise] you may as well put a cow in the middle of the pitch. And then stop the game because there was a cow."

A cow? Yes. Moo.

This is not Mourinho being a sore loser. It's also not Mourinho opening up a worthwhile debate about time-wasting and what can be done to stop it. (Heck, if he wants a solution, I have one.)

What it is instead is Mourinho setting the news agenda for the next 48 hours. And, sure enough, the English media lapped it up. How could you not? It's Mourinho! It's cows! It offers countless possibilities for his supporters to point out how funny and witty he is and for his critics to point out his hypocrisy!

Instead of talking about Cisse and Newcastle, the media fell for Mourinho's master plan.

He got exactly what he wanted. We're talking about that and not about the fact that we could have a title race or that Manchester City have made up five points on Chelsea in the past nine days.

All good managers are lightning rods to some degree. They deflect attention and blame away from the players and on to themselves when the going gets tough. Mourinho, however, does it better than anyone, not least because he understands how the media -- particularly in England -- work.

Bayern vs. Leverkusen what we should have expected

Pit two of the two most attack-minded managers in Europe against each other and you won't necessarily get a game filled with goals and might-have-beens... which is what we witnessed when Bayern hosted Roger Schmidt's Bayer Leverkusen.

Anyone curious as to how Pep Guardiola would react against an opponent that went for the jugular at the AllianzArena got their answer. No special tweaks or packages; in fact, we saw the virtual 4-1-5 (or is it a 2-3-5?) with Thomas Mueller, Mario Goetze, Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Robert Lewandowski on the pitch at the same time.

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Schmidt's swashbucklers had the chance to go ahead early -- Juan Bernat cleared Karim Bellarabi's finish off the line in the first few minutes -- but then the chances dried up and it turned into a war of attrition. At least until the second half when Sebastian Rode came on for the disappointing Mario Goetze, giving Bayern a platform and stability in the middle of the park. It was enough to snuff out Leverkusen's threat. Bayern bundled one in with Ribery and then should have had another with Lewandowski en route to a 1-0 win.

The evidence showed that for all of Schmidt's forward-thinking, there is still a very obvious talent gap separating his team from Bayern. And, equally, this Bayern formation with Xabi Alonso on his own holding up the midfield like some kind of Spanish Atlas is still very much a work in progress.

Messi magic lifts Barcelona... not for the first time

More than yesterday's hat-trick, more than becoming the all-time record goalscorer in the Catalan derby (what sort of people keep track of these stats?) and more than the fact that he has nine goals in his last four games, what stood out to me about Lionel Messi was the way he loaded a tentative and insecure Barcelona side on his back and carried them across the finish line in a 5-1 win.

For much of that first half, Barca looked fearful. They went 1-0 down to Sergio Garcia's goal after 13 minutes, struggled to move the ball into the final third and, when Espanyol broke, the back four looked jittery.

Messi's unbelievable goal set the tone for Barca when they needed it most.

And then came Messi's absurd goal at the end of the first half. You'd say it was "out of nothing" if not for the fact that with Messi, there's always something to work with. Watch the replay and you'll see him effectively shooting wide of the post only for the ball to arc and bend its way back in. Like a trick shot in pool, the ball does something it's not really supposed to do.

That made all the difference. It reset the game and Barca's nerves and, in the second half, Espanyol were swept away. Indeed, within ten minutes of the restart, Barcelona were 3-1 up and it was game over.

Will Aguero's injury ruin Manchester City?

What Messi did at the Camp Nou is something Sergio Aguero has done for much of the season, as evidenced by his 19 goals in all competitions, many of them coming in matches where Manchester City simply weren't clicking.

So does his injury mean it's now lights out for the defending champions?

Not quite. As of now, we're not certain how long he'll be out for -- though he'll miss the trip to the Stadio Olimpico and that's a big blow. More importantly, City have other weapons. Some haven't quite fired yet as consistently as they might (Yaya Toure), others have been on the shelf (David Silva, Aleksandar Kolarov) and others are only just returning from injury (Edin Dzeko, Samir Nasri).

But it's worth noting that City won the Premier League last year with Aguero making just 20 league starts. There are others who can step up in his absence and even if he had stayed fit, it would have probably been unrealistic to expect him to continue at these levels all year long.

Talent isn't a problem for Manuel Pellegrini. It's getting the right guys to perform at the right time.

Roma resilience is something for City to worry about

Roma, Man City's opponents Wednesday night in that pivotal Matchday 6 Champions League clash, squandered a chance to to close the gap at the top of Serie A to a single point on Saturday. Juventus had been held away to Fiorentina, the giallorossi faced little Sassuolo at home -- foregone conclusion, right?

Hardly. Sassuolo are one of those sides who play with no fear against the big boys. They held Fiorentina away and Juventus at home as well as giving Lazio away an almighty fright. And they raced to a 2-0 lead inside of twenty minutes.

Rudi Garcia may have reflected on how this was the worst possible preparation for City. Roma weren't just behind; they were awful, both at the back and in midfield. Kevin Strootman looks miles away from full fitness and Daniele De Rossi got himself sent off.

But then Adem Ljajic stepped up with two late goals to give Roma a point via a 2-2 draw. Gervinho came off the bench and weaved some magic. Most of all, they held their nerve and didn't let the crowd or the occasion get to them. You wonder if maybe that fight and that character they showed might serve them better against Pellegrini's crew than a gaudy win.

Fans have right to boo, but show some respect

Leicester boss Nigel Pearson gets abused by a fan at pitch-side and responds with an obscenity. Following Arsenal's 3-2 defeat at Stoke, Arsene Wenger was greeted by two fans: one throws the usual expletive at him, the other asks him to "get out of my club."

Cue the usual debate about managers and pressure, the right to boo and how they should react when abused by their own fans.

I think it's reasonable to demand that managers or players not react in a game setting. Crowds shout all sorts of things, some of them funny, some of the rude and objectionable. It's the nature of going to games and while coaches are human too and have feelings, you expect them to block it out. That's why Pearson should apologize or at least acknowledge that what he did wrong. You're in a public place representing your club; your actions are magnified.

Pearson was wrong to react as he did but fans should know better about how they engage their teams.

Fans have the right to boo and criticize. Ideally, they'd be doing it in a civil way but in the here and now, if they're not breaking any laws and if it's socially acceptable to boo your own team -- and right now, it is, whether we like it or not -- we can't have managers turning to the stands and shouting obscenities back. Not in the Smartphone era, anyway.

Wenger's situation is different. He didn't react, which was the right thing to do. But it was also cowardly on the part of the supporters. They knew that in those circumstances, Wenger couldn't and wouldn't fire back at them. He was a sitting duck. Which is fine -- to some degree -- in the heated atmosphere of a stadium during a match. Less so on a train platform, hours after the game, when you shout insults from behind the protective wall of a police cordon.

Maximum respect for the supporters who give their money -- and, more importantly, their time and passion -- to follow a club. They don't need to blindly back them all the time as some would have you believe, but context matters too.

Or, put another way, would the guy who insulted Pearson have done it in the same way in a dark alley, mano-a-mano? Would he have said those things to his face if it was just the two of them and nobody else?

You don't need me to answer that for you.

Ignore the Messi, Ronaldo haters and enjoy their work

Records come so thick and fast when Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are involved that it's easy to lose track. But for those keeping track at home, Ronaldo's hat-trick in Saturday's 3-0 demolition of Celta Vigo means he now has 200 goals in 178 career Liga games.

Ronaldo also set a new record for Liga hat-tricks (again, I'm always surprised there are folks who keep track of this stuff). He now has 23 Liga goals in 13 league appearances, which means that if he continues on this pace, he'll be at 62 come season's end.

It's unfortunate that Ronaldo's latest achievement came with so many social media caveats.

Some criticized him on social media for his dive to win the opening penalty, while others disseminated a stat whereby more than 20 percent of his Liga goals supposedly came from the spot. The juxtaposition of the two stats seemed designed to rubbish Ronaldo's achievement. I'm sure the Ronaldo acolytes will get their own back with Messi, perhaps bringing up the time he scored with his hand or, indeed, his ongoing tax issues.

If there is a downside to living in this era -- never before have two players legitimately ranking among the greatest ever faced off so many times and for so long while breaking so many all-time marks -- it's the hysterical fringe in either camp. They're a minority (thankfully) but they shout the loudest and the shrillest and seem hell-bent on slinging mud all over their idols' rival.

Gignac the epitome of Bielsa's masterful management

On Saturday, Paris St. Germain rode the Zlatan Ibrahimovic bandwagon to a 2-1 victory over Nantes to pull ahead in the Ligue 1 race. Twenty-four hours later, Andre-Pierre Gignac broke the ice as Marseille went on to win 3-1 against Metz.

PSG did it the way they've done it most of this season. Often uncohesive and occasionally plodding, waiting for the superstars to deliver but never letting themselves get pegged back. (It's an often overlooked fact because they've had so many draws, but now that Chelsea have lost, PSG are the only team in Europe's "Big Five" leagues to be undefeated in all competitions.)

PSG have Zlatan but Marseille have Gignac, a player reborn under Marcelo Bielsa.

And Marseille did it their way, which is to say the Marcelo Bielsa way. High press, intense work rate, bodies streaming forward tracing El Loco's trajectories on the pitch. Thiago Silva heaped words of praise on Gignac and you can see where he's coming from. He's the epitome of the Bielsa transformation.

Gignac is a guy who had weight issues to the point that he was sent to a specialized clinic; now he legs it around the pitch like some giant Energizer bunny, often, as Silva says, becoming OM's first defender. Clunky, one-footed and unpleasant on the eye, Gignac becomes an elegant thoroughbred in Bielsa's system. It's hard to believe this is the same Gignac who three years ago somehow contrived to score just one goal in 21 league appearances for the club.

But it is the same player. That's what the right coach and a heck of a lot of hard work and self-belief can do.

Is Rodgers still focused on the long term at Liverpool?

Brendan Rodgers spoke of the importance of going four games undefeated (after four losses on the bounce) following the 0-0 home draw with Sunderland. "We've having to go back to the basics of our game, making sure that we're solid and hard to beat," he said. "It is two clean sheets in three games and seven points out of nine this week."

Indeed it is, and you can see where he's coming from. He's trying to stop the free fall and to do it, he's raised the barricades, made the team more defensive-minded and -- in two of those three games -- he dropped Steven Gerrard.

Liverpool are getting results finally but is Rodgers right to completely change his approach?

You can understand how a manager of a middling club might take this approach. Or a big club in desperate times -- but I mean really desperate, like needing to hang on to advance to the next round of a cup competition or trying to avoid relegation.

Yet it's not really clear how this benefits Liverpool in the long-term. Rodgers didn't get the Liverpool job playing this way and he didn't finish second last season playing this way, either. He has a distinct philosophy and approach that won him plaudits at Swansea and it didn't involve sitting back and having your first shot on target with an hour gone.

That approach -- plus injuries and some of his signings -- let him down earlier this season. But when that happens, isn't it better to figure out how you can keep that philosophy and work to fit the players you have into it? Even if it costs you a few extra points in the present, won't it pay dividends in the future if you get it right?

Because the alternative -- essentially, what he has done over the past few games -- involves Rodgers trying to be a different, more defensive and more conservative manager. Sure, it got him some results. But is it forward progress? Are you building the Liverpool team you want to build (and your owner wants to see) by playing that way?

I'm not sure. If this was a very temporary measure just to move into the top half of the table and halt the slide, fine. But in the long term, Liverpool hired Rodgers to play Rodgers' brand of football.

Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.


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