“No I don’t think so [there is pressure on his job if City lose]. It’s an important game and we all want to qualify, but I don’t think what happens will have any link to my future” – Manuel Pellegrini, December 10.
“This is an absolutely solid project, carried out the right way. I’ve never felt that if I don’t win I’m out. Of course we want titles but the vision inside is different. We want development, constant improvement. And it’s not always sack the coach. Sometimes it’s reinforce the squad or bring in younger players. The way we work matters too. Not just in my case: Roberto [Mancini] didn’t continue, but not because one year he didn’t win anything. It’s not ‘lose and you’re out” – Manuel Pellegrini, March 16.
“I’m not concerned about my job. That is one thing I am never concerned with. I never have fear about it, I do my work, I’m very happy. The team maybe have a difficult season but never worry about me” – Manuel Pellegrini, April 7.
We’re not quite sure if Pellegrini is trying to persuade himself, everyone else or both, but things are getting a bit desperate. Manchester City have now lost four consecutive away games for the first time since 2006. Those were the days of Nicky Weaver, Paul Dickov, Ousmane Dabo and Stephan Jordan. And Stuart Pearce as manager, of course.
There appears to have been a message from City that Pellegrini will not be sacked before the end of the season. In that case he needs to address an alarming slump of five wins in 15 matches. Lose the derby to United on Sunday, and there remains very few reasons for keeping the faith. He looks like a dead man walking.
The growing suspicion is that Tottenham are half-knackered, labouring towards the finishing line after a season that has already reached a half century of matches. Spurs’ form is far from disastrous (their performance at Old Trafford aside), but they have seemed incapable of hitting their straps. They have not won a match in any competition by more than a single goal since January 31; that’s 11 games.
The performance against Burnley last weekend seemed to cement that suspicion. Two shots on target, fewer shots than their struggling opponents and a lack of cohesion in the opposition half that undermined any hope of victory. Christian Eriksen was left starved of the ball, Harry Kane isolated up front.
Defeats for Manchester City and Liverpool mean that Spurs’ top-four lifeline still remain intact. Beat Villa this weekend and, if City lose the derby, Spurs would be four points from the top four with Manuel Pellegrini’s side still to come to White Hart Lane. Incentive enough for marked improvement.
With a top-four place all but secured, the derby against City is the biggest remaining date in Louis van Gaal’s first season at Old Trafford. Manchester United have lost their last four league matches against Manchester City, but have never lost five in a row against any club in the Premier League era.
United are also in the recently unusual position of going into the derby in a better frame of mind than City. After the 1-0 defeat at the Etihad in November, United sat tenth in the table, level on points with West Brom and Newcastle. Van Gaal’s insistence that supporters should keep the faith now seems at least partly vindicated.
Sunday now presents a chance for redemption. After four straight defeats, United can pour further misery on Manuel Pellegrini and City, gaining the upper hand again in the now-constant wrestle for Mancunian supremacy. If you thought they celebrated victory over Liverpool…
Little tip, fella. If you happen to get an early booking, try not to dive stupidly into a challenge shortly after. You’re welcome.
Seven goals and four points in two away matches in a week, and yet QPR still have the shortest odds for relegation.
Beat Chelsea on Sunday and that will change. Time to call on the blissful memories of Shaun Wright-Phillips 2013 and Heidar Helguson 2011.
Five of the top seven still to play after 19 points from their last 25 league games. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
There is no doubt that Tim Sherwood has given Aston Villa a lift in their battle to survive relegation, but that largely reflects badly on his predecessor rather than depicting Sherwood with a shiny halo above his head. There was a widely repeated line that the worst job in football was being the man who replaced Alex Ferguson; the opposite of that is being the man who followed Paul Lambert. Most supporters at Villa Park were just grateful that their eyes had stopped bleeding.
For all his bravado and bluster, it’s worth remembering that Sherwood has only taken seven points from his first seven league games in charge at Villa. It’s hardly a rate that will see them gallop clear of the relegation dogfight. The return of goals to Villa Park is a pleasant experience for fans; being three points ahead of 19th having played a game more is not.
Furthermore, the seven league opponents faced under Sherwood currently hold an average position of 12. The average position of their remaining opponents is 9.5. Reduce that to the five games before the final day and it is 7.6. Villa are going to have to step up their game.
What better place to start than at White Hart Lane, about which Sherwood has had plenty to say. I’m imagining him sauntering into the ground, pursued by a cameraman. Tim stops, points at the stadium and winks. “This is where the magic happened,” he says in true MTV Cribs fashion. “Until those w**kers started speaking to proven successful managers like Louis van Gaal and Frank de Boer.”
There has been an awful lot of talk this week about Arsenal’s resurgence, with Arsene Wenger taking the opportunity to make his monthly boast of his side’s mental strength: “We have a good mentality and good cohesion in the team. There is something happening, that shows you that they are ready to fight for each other.”
It all smells like Arsenal pride before the inevitable fall. Supporters (in the F365 Mailbox, at least) have been discussing the potential for sneaking into the title race. The best don’t talk, they just do.
Burnley have taken points off every other member of the top four this season. Wenger must avoid completing that set.
Tony Pulis was meant to be the answer. He was meant to be the only answer. And then along came Alan bloody Pardew, and suddenly everyone has a new hero.
That is not to say that Pulis has done a bad job at West Brom. He took over when the club were one point from relegation, and they are now seven points from danger. They will stay up, and Pulis will retain his record of never having been relegated as a manager.
But (and I’m aware I’m not being particularly generous here), did we not expect a little more? Pulis has taken 15 points from his 11 Premier League games. That famed defensive resilience looks questionable when you ship four goals at home to QPR and four in two games to an Aston Villa side that couldn’t score against anyone until then.
His performance has also been overshadowed by the impact of Pardew at Crystal Palace. Whilst Pulis has taken 1.36 points per game at the Hawthorns, Pardew’s record at the West Brom manager’s former employer is exactly two points per game.
It turns out you don’t have to lead Palace away from relegation trouble by just making them difficult to beat.
Pulis’ reputation has not been tarnished during his spell at West Brom, far from it. But, after four defeats in five games and last week’s abysmal defeat to QPR, a home game against Leicester suddenly becomes must-not-lose.
“There has always been one [dream club] – and that is Manchester United,” said Sam Allardyce this week. “Playing at Old Trafford myself and then going back there as a manager, so I think probably in this country, they are the one.”
There is no problem with a manager have ambitions, but even Allardyce knows that the Old Trafford gig is light years away. Of greater significance is where Big Sam ends up next season. It’s a difficult conundrum.
Intially, Sunderland seemed the only likely fit, but Thursday brought rumours that Dick Advocaat will be given a one-year deal should they stay up, leaving Allardyce cut adrift.
There just isn’t another obvious destination, a problem exacerbated by West Ham’s run of two wins in 14 games. Those tabloid columns about him being unfairly ignored for big jobs predictably look very silly indeed.
Allardyce’s PR wasn’t helped by quotes from France international Alou Diarra, clearly bitter at his lack of action in East London. “I did well in training but it just wasn’t football. They played a lot of long balls but for me that is too easy. I’ve always played hard stuff. I like to get into position with pressure. I didn’t learn anything during my two years at West Ham.”
Whatever the sniping, Allardyce faces an important six weeks in his career. It may feel as if West Ham’s players are coasting towards the summer, but most of them will be there next season; Allardyce will not. Who knows where he will end up next?
Robin van Persie
“Back to training with the group today,” Robin van Persie announced on Wednesday. “Was a great session. Happy to be fit and able to play again. Looking forward to my next game.”
When that ‘next game’ finally comes is another question entirely. As I wrote recently, the elephant in the Old Trafford dressing room is that Manchester United look better without Van Persie. This week brought media reports that he will be allowed to leave the club this summer.
So who would you drop? Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini? No, no and no.
“We are working day in day out and we have to see how players respond because the way I train,” said Van Gaal after the win over Aston Villa. “Which I’ve explained a lot of times, is not easy for players. It’s a whole process. We started at the bottom, unconscious, capable and then your next step is conscious and incapable. And then it is conscious and capable. Maybe we are now in the last step of that process. I hope so. What I’ve seen in the last five matches I think so.” That’s Van Gaal fluff for ‘we have improved recently’. He’s right, too.
The problem for Van Persie is that Louis van Gaal’s side have found their form in his absence. Even if that is closer to coincidence than evidence of his own decline, it isn’t a good look. A goal off the bench in the derby would certainly help to remind supporters of his importance.