On the brink
I’ve used the phrase a few times on the blog this season, but there was certainly a manager who looked like the cat who had got the cream this weekend and he was to be found at The Etihad. Yet again, as his head seemed to be on the chopping block, Louis van Gaal managed to pull out an important result to earn a stay of execution. United’s regimented, defensive mindset,that has seen some success in big games this campaign, worked a treat this Sunday, with the pace and direct running of their youthful strikers unpicking a creaking Man City defence. But the Dutchman went somewhat overboard as he revelled in the glory of the day, with his post-match comments. As if winning at his local rivals wasn’t enough, van Gaal embarked upon telling the assembled press how his team had managed to simultaneously beat Liverpool, despite them playing on the south coast at Southampton. Making reference to his team’s recovery time since Thursday night’s Europa League match, he stated, ‘You have seen for example that result in Southampton. I haven’t seen the match but I can only conclude that it is because of the tiredness and that is what we have done to them.’ So United managed to beat Man City and Liverpool in the space of a couple of hours – not a bad day at the office, Louis and bloody good tactics on your part. Just a shame you couldn’t actually beat Liverpool in the afore-mentioned tie and ended up getting knocked out of another competition.
Aside from his side’s shapeshifting exploits, Louis van Gaal betrayed a rather unusual side to Manchester United during the same press conference on Sunday. When talking of the race for fourth place, he seemed to have adopted a small club mentality and taken on the role of being grateful for the bright lights of a fourth-placed finish. ‘We have a big possibility and the players feel that,’ he claimed, as his team clung onto West Ham’s coat-tails. It almost feels like he is admitting that the players have only just started to believe that they can make the Champions League places, like they are a plucky underdog, finally daring to dream. Regardless of whether he makes the top four or not, the fact that Europe’s elite club competition is a straw to clutch at must surely tell the United hierarchy that it is time for a change. Especially in a season as wide open as this, the fact that they have not nailed down a Champions League place should be a damning indictment of van Gaal, whatever he wants you to believe during his interviews.
Moving ten yards down the touchline at The Etihad, we can find a manager who at least has some clarity on his future. Manuel Pellegrini has looked hapless in recent months and this weekend was no exception. His description of Martin Demichelis as ‘nervous’ just about sums up Man City at the moment. The fact that such an experienced international player was inhibited by the occasion shows the deep-lying fragility that runs through the entire club. With Guardiola waiting in the wings, very little Pellegrini can say will have any impact on a group of ageing players who seem to have lost their way badly. All we can hope for from the Chilean’s press conferences before the end of the season is that he cuts his losses and goes nuts before Pep strolls in through the door. Alas, I think he has too much class for that, but we can hope.
Talking of class, there seems to have been a severe lack of it in evidence behind the manager’s door at Selhurst Park of late. Even before the match against Leicester this weekend, Alan Pardew took the chance to have a pop at his detractors in his programme notes. The target of his ire? Jamie Carragher. The reason? Sharing an opinion as part of his role as a pundit for the nation’s most prominent sports broadcaster. I know, the world’s gone mad. Pardew spouted, ‘What annoyed me most were Jamie Carragher’s strong comments after the game stating that Christian Benteke was right to go down and win the penalty.’ Well, to be fair, Alan, he had some help from the trailing knee of your centre half as he dived into a rash, last minute challenge. The Palace boss went on to lament that ‘loyalties can blur opinions at times.’ This from a man who, just weeks ago, insinuated that Watford shouldn’t have been awarded a penalty at Selhurst Park when a Palace defender was guilty of holding his opponent back in the box, because it was not fair that it was awarded at the first corner. Pots and kettles, Alan?
MICHAEL CREANE – Follow Michael on @MichaelCreane
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