“I have a thought process…,” Gary Neville begun. “You do?” interjected Jamie Carragher. “When did that happen?”
At times, the game we love can be dull. There were moments in the biggest game of the season between Liverpool and Chelsea that, while tactically intriguing, were downright boring. As Brendan Rodgers would argue, that’s what happens when Chelsea park two buses. One thing you can usually count on is the punditry, especially on Sky over the past year or two, to be enthralling.
RTE has always been praised for the outspoken nature of its pundits during Champions League games and international tournaments but the British channels are starting to catch up. ITV have Roy Keane, Sky have Carragher and Neville and the BBC have… Alan Shearer. Well maybe the Beeb are still trailing behind somewhat but the level of punditry for football on TV has certainly reached a new height. Here at Pundit Arena, this column will take a look at what those talking heads have been saying; whether insightful or stupid.
Apropos to nothing, Jamie Redknapp made some pretty strong comments about Jose Mourinho last week after the Portuguese’s sarcastic remarks about the referee and Mike Riley when his Chelsea side lost to Sunderland at Stamford Bridge. The tight-trousered one got off his usually comfortable fence and branded Mourinho “embarrassing”.
It’s hard to argue with what Redknapp said and it was refreshing to hear him stick his neck out to some extent, knowing the wrath of Mourinho. Perhaps this was Redknapp’s attempt at straying from his image of being a cliché spouting bland personality in a blossoming line-up with the likes of Carragher and Neville getting rave reviews for Monday Night Football. Well, it certainly got Jose’s attention.
Mourinho didn’t disappoint in his response to Sky and Jamie Redknapp in particular after his triumphant victory over Liverpool at Anfield that has blown the title race back open, in true Mourinho fashion. ‘The Grumpy One’, as he has been hilariously nicknamed this week, was in a defiant mood as ever when questioned by Sky’s Geoff Shreeves. The ever intrepid touchline reporter was trying to get something out of a very guarded Jose who, when asked about his tactics, replied,
“You have your pundits; Jamie Redknapp and his big football brain, they can explain you everything.”
Mourinho going for sarcasm two weeks in a row and ensuring the next Redknapp-Lampard clan meeting will have an interesting/awkward dinner conversation. (Watch the full post-match interview here)
Watching the same match, former Liverpool captain Graeme Souness admitted through gritted teeth how good Jose Mourinho was at handling big games. Souness seemed to have the bit between his teeth after Manchester City had a comfortable win at a potentially tricky Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace. The Scot seemed to take his frustration out on City, saying he expected more from them, much to the bemusement of the BFG Niall Quinn alongside him, who just wants everyone to get along. Souness argued that a Yaya Toure-free City team has a more earthly status then when the big Ivory Coast midfielder is present.
Monday Night Football rolled around and everyone was still talking about Liverpool-Chelsea. Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville dissected the game in typically meticulous detail, with Carragher pointing out the lack of options Chelsea players gave when they had a throw-in; they never chose to receive it short, instead opting to throw it down the line in order to eliminate any chances of being caught in possession and countered by the dangerous Liverpool attack. He also pointed out the calls from the outfield players to Mark Schwarzer to slow down the play when the goalkeeper had the ball in his box, much to the irritation of Luis Suarez.
Neville showed examples of how Liverpool were frustrated by Chelsea’s game plan and ran out of patience in trying to find an equaliser. He explained how instead of playing the ball to the feet of their attacking players like Suarez, Sterling and Sturridge, Liverpool’s urgency to get a response forced them out of their natural way of attacking. Long shots and crosses from deep areas resulted in nothing, playing directly into the hands of Mourinho.
Carragher also showed that bias is not a problem for him when Ed Chamberlain put the question to him about Mourinho’s defensive strategy, saying Liverpool fans have criticised the tactics, do they have a point? Carragher’s response was firm. “No. Because we’ve done it. I’ve done it playing for Liverpool.” The former Liverpool defender also mentioned playing Chelsea at their own game under Benitez, and doing exactly what the Blues did to Liverpool on Sunday. Many will remember those encounters and most will want/easily forget them, which validates Carragher’s point. (Watch the full discussion here)
As the show came to an end, and the lads had gone over Arsenal’s routine 4-0 win against Newcastle, the topic of the vacant Manchester United manager’s job arose. Carragher pulled no punches and asked Neville straight up if he was interested in a role in the hot seat. “I’m happy here with you”, Neville responded. You could cut the bromantic tension in the studio with a knife.
John O’ Connor, Pundit Arena.