A first midweek evening Premier League programme since March 3/4, 2015. Feel the love.
Louis van Gaal
Writing about Louis van Gaal? Again? So soon? Okay.
Van Gaal has taking more kickings than most this season, but his claim that “Manchester United fans should be happy that we’ve won our last two games” was as laughably optimistic as his praise for United’s defending against Conor Sammon. United have been wretched of late.
After the FA Cup dirge, United supporters now await more Premier League excitement. Only four teams have taken fewer points than Van Gaal’s side over the last eight games, and two – Swansea and Aston Villa – have scored fewer goals. That might be why there is unrest, Louis.
If United supporters were being extra greedy, they might even ask for a first-half goal at St James’ Park from the away side. Van Gaal’s babes have managed four goals before half-time in all competitions since October 17, a run of 17 matches.
If Van Gaal had been sacked after the Boxing Day defeat, with all the ‘no/one/two game(s) to save his job’ in the newspapers that followed, there would be a sense that the club’s hierarchy cared about the current stagnation. Instead, they have simply become a willing accessory to the decline.
‘Southampton boss Ronald Koeman opens talks over a new contract – but won’t decide until summer,’ said the Daily Mirror on Sunday. ‘The Dutchman is an outsider for the Chelsea job and with another season left on his current deal, Koeman said he’s in no rush to put pen to paper.’
Whoever is doing Koeman’s PR deserves a massive raise. Chelsea? I’m not even sure that Koeman deserves Southampton right now.
Southampton’s season seemed to turn on Koeman’s very public demands for more investment, made on December 1. Before that, Southampton had won six, drawn two and lost two of their last ten games. It’s a win, a draw and six defeats since. Even the draw was at home to Aston Villa, the victory an inexplicable 4-0 win over Arsenal that looks far more like exception than rule.
In fact, Villa are the only side with fewer points in their last eight league games than Southampton, who now sit only seven points outside the bottom three. Time for a couple of wins to stop the beads of perspiration appearing on the foreheads of worried supporters. Especially if Chelsea are to come calling.
“He’s getting stronger in every game,” said Arsene Wenger of Campbell this week. “He makes me think about Francis Coquelin last year. Nobody expected him and suddenly he knocked on the door and said, ‘hey, my friends, I’m here’. What I like is you see the way he plays, he has more certainty in his game, more assurance in the final third and he scores goals.”
Injury to Alexis Sanchez was a cause for panic among Arsenal supporters, but their record without him is imperious: WWWWLWWW. Campbell’s form has played a significant part in compensating for the Chilean’s absence. An opinion piece in the Evening Standard even suggested that the Costa Rican is now part of Arsenal’s first-choice XI when all the squad are fully fit.
That’s probably a (massive) step too far, but Campbell deserves credit for his progression from outsider to go-to guy. Impress against Liverpool on Wednesday, and Wenger will continue to look very pleased with himself for such extended patience.
Also, huge fan of any player knocking on the door of any room and saying “Hey, my friends, I’m here”.
“It’s a huge setback to the club but I don’t think it will impact the game on Wednesday and the rest of the Premier League,” said Alan Curtis after Swansea’s 3-2 FA Cup defeat to League Two Oxford. “We were very disappointing and we’re going to have to lift everybody for Wednesday but I’m sure that won’t be a problem.”
Forgive me for disagreeing with Curtis, but I’m sure that lifting an entire squad of players in three days might be a problem. It’s more of an issue that Swansea’s new manager couldn’t even lift them for Sunday, his first game in permanent charge.
We had our say on Curtis’ appointment in 16 Conclusions, but the caretaker simply hasn’t improved fortunes enough to convince us that his familiarity can atone for a lack of experience. Having never previously managed, putting Curtis in charge of a sinking ship was an extraordinary leap of faith, particularly given that he had one hand on the wheel when the iceberg was hit.
Swansea have now taken six points from their last ten league games. Their next two home games, against Sunderland and Watford, must bring about a meaningful improvement in points and performance. If not, you really do fear for a club that were for so long the blueprint for sustainable development.
Swansea’s attacking players
Swansea’s top league scorers are Bafetimbi Gomis, Andre Ayew and Gylfi Sigurdsson. Between them, they’ve contributed three goals and no assists since October 24. Filth.
Liverpool on set-pieces
“It feels as though 98% of the goals we concede are from set pieces!”, moaned Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp after Sunday’s 2-2 draw at home to West Brom. The German is prone to exaggeration, but his frustrations are valid. Conceding goals through scintillating attacking play is palatable, but when a defence ignores everything they have worked on in training, a manager is liable to lose their temper.
Although Liverpool may be boosted by the return to the team of Mamadou Sakho and the return to the bench of Adam Bogdan, their issues with set-pieces could well remain. Only two teams have scored more goals from dead ball situations than Arsenal this season. Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud are licking their lovely lips.
The arrival of Guus Hiddink at Chelsea has engendered an improvement in every player, but in the case of Pedro, the Dutchman will hope that there is still far more to come.
The subject of a summer tussle between Chelsea and Manchester United, the hope was that Pedro would demonstrate the form that made him a fixture of Barcelona’s strikeforce, even if his opportunities had lessened since the arrival of Neymar and Luis Suarez. It hasn’t worked out that way.
Since his home debut against Crystal Palace in August, Pedro has contributed one goal and one assist in 14 league games. More worrying still, the Spaniard has had just six shots on target in that time. Having created eight chances in his first two Chelsea appearances, he’s done so at a rate of 1.5 per game since.
With Eden Hazard’s injury only likely to keep him out for a short time, Pedro must seize his chance to impress. Wrestling a starting position away from Hazard, Oscar and Willian looks a difficult task.
Victory in their last league game made it nine points from their last eight matches, but beating this Aston Villa side is little cause for celebration. If Sunderland are going to survive relegation, they need to improve their away form. A record of four points from a possible 30 on the road is the worst in the division. Allardyce’s side have conceded away goals at a rate of 2.8 per game; 2.2 is the next worst figure.
In fact, Tuesday’s match is doubly important, give Sunderland’s opponents. Should they lose their ninth away league game of the season against Swansea, the gap to safety will be at least six points. The cheer of recent home victory will have evaporated like a puddle in hot summer sunshine.
After Swansea, six of Sunderland’s next seven league games are against the sides currently third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth in the table. Statistically pleasing for my OCD-ravaged brain, but not for Allardyce and supporters. Take your points where you can.
Getting really sick of saying it, but McClaren really needs to stop talking about bad luck and start performing. He has the demeanour of a dishevelled uncle in sad disbelief that Julie has left him, before admitting that he’s been out four evenings a week and playing Grand Theft Auto 5 through the night.
Newcastle’s last three home games against Manchester United have ended in three defeats, conceding eight goals and scoring none. That really has to change, or McClaren’s side are in danger of being cut adrift.
Aston Villa’s players
It’s okay telling supporters that you’re trying, but that fails to explain just why Aston Villa have been so bloody terrible this season. Most expected them to struggle, but they are currently on course to be the second worst team in Premier League history. It all stinks.
Against Crystal Palace on Tuesday, fans might like to see Villa’s players ‘doing’, as well as “trying”. Relegation may well already be a certainty with Remi Garde’s side 11 points from safety, but there are still four months to save some face. On current evidence, very few of Villa’s under-performers will be wanted by Premier League clubs next season.