Three matches to save United’s season for LVG…
Despite five wins from eight and glimpses of something like the attacking threat we expect from United, LVG is only ever one game away from a crisis. He’s now got three in the eight days.
King Louis was irked before they even kicked off at Chelsea last Sunday. Suggestions that the recent upturn in Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata’s form could be linked with anything but his ‘philosophy’ were given shorter shrift than rumors the club were in contact with Jose Mourinho. As if.
Getting mugged in by arch villain Diego Costa in final moments didn’t cheer him up. And makes the next three assignments – all away – look perilous. Three bad results and the season is over. At least.
Before the banana skins of Midtjylland and Shrewsbury in the cups, United go to a Sunderland team on an upward curve. Whether it is steep enough to keep them in the PL remains to be seen. But they’ll fancy it…
12.45pm Sunderland v Man United
The ‘old’ Man United has threatened to burst out it’s shirt, Hulk-style in the last few matches. Wayne Rooney has stirred, Anthony Martial is enjoying himself, Juan Mata is being used in his best position (No.10) and Memphis De Pay his (the bench). This is a different test though. Sunderland are on the up. A bit. They will make this ugly and need to find a way past David De Gea, but can get something here.
Score Prediction: Another draw doesn’t really help either team, but 1-1
MVP: Wayne Rooney will fancy himself here.
3pm Bournemouth v Stoke
If Ryan Shawcross needs to make a case for a new contract he need only point to Stoke’s record in his absence. It’s not good. Since he left the field v Leicester, they have lost four of their five matches. Scoring just once in their last six. Bournemouth have enjoyed their best form of the season in that period and won’t be too disheartened at the Arsenal defeat.
Score Prediction: Stoke are reeling a bit. 2-1
MVP: Shackled v Arsenal but Benik Afobe will enjoy this more.
3pm Crystal Palace v Watford
Eight without a win has seen Palace drop into the Bottom Half, but it is less of a swoop by the Eagles than a tailspin. Just three goals in that period tell the story. The January gamble/ panic buy (choose one) of Emmanuel Adebayor might provide the narrative for the rest of the season. Watford have slipped to a lesser degree, but 10th place will do very nicely thank you.
Score Prediction: Would they both take a point? Probably. 1-1
MVP: Scott Dann is Palace’s joint top scorer.
3pm Everton v West Brom
Roberto Martinez’s consistently underperforming team might be under the impression they are now living up to their hype, following three 3-0 wins. But Carlisle, Newcastle and a badly misfiring Stoke are not admissible as evidence in such a claim. It’s taken until now to register two consecutive PL wins. Pah! West Brom have had an emotional week, spoiling Peterboro’s FA Cup dreams and are well capable of spoiling this too.
Score Prediction: 19 PL draws between them so far. Make it 20. 1-1
MVP: Okay, Ross Barkley. You deserve a bit of hype.
3pm Norwich v West Ham
If four PL defeats on the spin (plus another if you include their FA Cup exit) wasn’t bad enough, being out-played by Aston Villa has got to make you think you will be playing them again next season. In the Championship. Their best hope here is that West Ham’s players have spent the week celebrating their FA Cup win over Liverpool. Results have been patchy, but form solid. At least they beat Villa a couple of weeks ago.
Score Prediction: Norwich look caught in the current. 1-2
MVP: Dmitri Payet has 125,000 reasons a week to be feeling chipper.
3pm Swansea v Southampton
Southampton’s horrific mid-season run of eight defeats in ten (dumping them out of both cups and dipping their toes in the Bottom Half of the PL) seems to be behind them. It seems they’ve suddenly started to understand Ronald Koeman’s instructions – his English seems very good to me – keeping five clean sheets on the spin. Four wins from five has taken them back up to seventh place. Swansea too have put the brakes on their apparent descent. But this looks a tough ask.
Score Prediction: Saints go marching on. 0-1
MVP: Jose Fonte has got his mojo back.
5.30pm Chelsea v Newcastle
The point Chelsea smuggled out of Stamford Bridge last Sunday maintained their unbeaten record under Guus Hiddink, but fooled no-one. Four home draws on the spin is below par form a Chelsea team in 13th place, much less the one we know and hate. The visit of Newcastle is usually a welcome one though. They’ve managed just a single goal and no points in their last five away days, but do have history with Chelsea. No team has taken more points off them in the PL era than Toon.
Score Prediction: Surely not. 3-1.
MVP: Diego Costa will struggle to find anything to fight about here.
12noon Arsenal v Leicester
Arsenal are happy doing things the hard way. The final day squeeze into the Champions League places, the goal difference qualification to the knock-out stages, etc. Last week’s win at Bournemouth was essential and with Tottenham and Man United to come in the next couple of weeks, this has the same ring to it. Arsene Wenger couldn’t have expected Leicester to win at City – Claudio Ranieri certainly didn’t! But the recent promotion of pacey Gabriel Paulista to the centre of defence suggests respect for Jamie Vardy and Co.
Score Prediction: Advantage Leicester. 2-2
MVP: Jamie Vardy will take Arsenal’s back four all the places they don’t like going.
2.05pm Aston Villa v Liverpool
Herr Klopp looks a bit troubled these days. The wide grin is no more than a half-smile and the glasses knocked off celebrating Adam Lallana’s last minute winner at Norwich have been replaced minus the rose-tinted lenses. That was their last win, five matches ago. Villa meanwhile are staging a mini revival. Eights points from their last five is as many as they managed from their previous 20. They still look anchored, but – deep breath – they are only a point worse off than Leicester were this time last season!
Score Prediction: Tough gig for Arsenal. 2-2
MVP: Bekin Afobe bears no grudges against the team that released him. Yeah, right.
4.15pm Man City v Tottenham
A six-pointer. Maybe a nine-pointer. It will certainly tell us plenty about the relative, ahem, cojones of these two. City seemed to be moving through the gears at just the right time, until Leicester stuck a spanner in the works. Tottenham six from six (four in the PL) and fresh from four away wins on the bounce. So far the destiny of the PL has looked dependent on the firepower and momentum of Leicester v the consistency and squad depth of Man City and Arsenal. Right now, Tottenham tick all those boxes.
Score Prediction: Oh Pep, what have you done? 1-2
MVP: Harry Kane or Dele Alli. I dunno, you decide.
That’s how it looks from here…
Until next time.
Matt Nesbitt’s short, unspectacular but joyful playing career has given way to a much longer, more successful but immeasurably more rubbish one writing about football and providing betting advice. Email: Matt Nesbitt