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Sep 20, 2013

Cracks at the Bridge under Mourinho

Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.

Jose's non-Mourinho Chelsea

Amid all the funny egg jokes -- and, boy, have there been some absolute side-splitters -- there's our old friend "genuine cause for concern" on the line for Jose Mourinho and his Chelsea side. Let's be open about this, disrobe and talk facts: The Blues have lost three straight games if you include the penalty-shootout loss to Bayern Munich, and the most recent of those defeats was their first at Stamford Bridge in the group stages of the Champions League since 2003.

This is not good enough. The team, at the moment, does not look right. There's a lack of cohesion, with the squad top-heavy with attacking midfield personnel, not helped by the counterproductive hijacking of Tottenham's move for Willian -- though, of course, he still may turn out to be a valuable addition. There are too many pieces to fit the jigsaw, and right now it seems their Portuguese coach is randomly and hopefully forcing them together in the hope it will all click into place.

Granted, these are still early days, but that ignores that this is a Mourinho side not performing like a Mourinho side. The lack of thrust versus Basel was a case in point, as was the concession from a corner. "Three players made a mistake," Jose said of Marco Streller's match-winning header. Yet while 2013's edition of the Special/Happy/Rotund One may be less alluring in looks, he remains a talker of misleading talk, with all this about his players being young and naive; the average age of Wednesday's starting line-up was 27.

Their chance to recover comes against West London rivals Fulham, who, one feels, are there for the taking, with their manager on the receiving end of boos after a late West Brom goal denied them all three points last weekend. Martin Jol was prickly in his post-match press conference, suggesting some supporters are expecting too much from the side. With the Cottagers, like Chelsea, well-endowed in the midfield department, it can be predicted the middle of the park will be as congested as Fulham Road on Saturday leading up to the 5.30pm kick-off.

Pellegrini v Moyes

City's victory at Viktoria Plzen was an important one, for it followed a loss at Cardiff, an unconvincing win over Hull City and a goalless draw against Stoke City, which should really have been a defeat. Furthermore, it is common knowledge how highly regarded the Champions League is by the owners, who boost seemingly bottomless pockets. Indeed, Manuel Pellegrini might well breathe a sigh of relief that his half-time team talk on Wednesday roused his players from their first-half slumber.

It gets more serious for the Chilean this Sunday when City host champions United. This corresponding fixture from last season was mega, as Robin van Persie clinched a late and psychologically damaging three points for the men in red. That captain Vincent Kompany is primed in "perfect condition" for the match is major shot in the arm for the home team, while Samir Nasri might have to keep a watchful eye on his starting place if David Silva returns from his thigh problem after the Frenchman's yellow-bellied antics in the derby last term.

As for United, their beating of Bayer Leverkusen came with a positive performance, and arguably the scoreline should have been more handsome. Wayne Rooney, that miss aside, looked in the groove as his understanding with Robin van Persie -- his miss aside -- continued in earnest. It was an encouraging display overall, in particular from Marouane Fellaini, who seemed to balance matters. Surely the Belgium international will start at the Etihad Stadium this weekend, as Tom Cleverley and Anderson slip down the pecking order.

A return on Southampton's spending

Southampton spent a lot of money in the summer -- around £35 million -- as Dejan Lovren, Victor Wanyama and Pablo Osvaldo were brought in. Granted, for what the table's worth (nowt, really), the club are 11th after four games, so no need to get ourselves in a tizz, yet a failure against West Ham to clinch a first home win since March 30, when they beat Chelsea, raised eyebrows. Indeed, that scalp of the Blues followed one over Liverpool, which had come a little after beating City. Do the players struggle to motivate themselves at home against "lesser" sides? Regardless, they travel to Anfield on Saturday, so perhaps the summer investment will pay dividends then.

Di Canio a help or a hindrance?

As Paolo Di Canio's side put in their most promising performance of the 2013-14 term to date against Arsenal, their volatile manager threw a tantrum on the touchline, sarcastically applauding the officials. Now, it is fair comment that the Italian was right to be peeved at Martin Atkinson for not allowing play to go on when Jozy Altidore was in possession, but that is no excuse for the 45-year-old's reaction, which saw him resembling a spoilt toddler. Quite how his players feel about such behaviour is not known, but perhaps we'll get a gauge as to whether they're playing for him when they travel to West Brom (who have now scored a goal!).

The Hammers' lack of clout

Sam Allardyce has a problem. That issue is that, up front, where a visit to the club's official website and a "Ctrl + F" for the word "striker" on the squad page yields five results, yet Andy Carroll is injured, Elliot Lee is 18 years old, Ricardo Vaz Te wanted out in the summer, Modibo Maiga has two Premier League goals to his name, while Mladen Petric has only recently been brought in on a free. "No-one's like Andy Carroll," midfielder Kevin Nolan said during the week, reiterating the onus on England's own footballing tree trunk, and to make matters worse the Hammers take on Everton on Saturday, a side who have not conceded a goal in their last three games in the top flight.


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