Big Weekend: Guardiola, Van Gaal, Tottenham

Daniel Storey

Pep Guardiola
There has been some extreme overreaction to Manchester City potentially missing out on Champions League football, with some wondering whether Pep Guardiola could exercise a get-out clause. That would be completely ludicrous.

In fact, Europa League football wouldn’t be the end of the world for Guardiola. He must effect an overhaul on an ageing squad, and giving the Premier League his sole focus would allow him a far gentler first campaign in charge.

Yet Pep wasn’t appointed for gentle. He was appointed to lead an assault on the Premier League and Champions League in combination, and will be handsomely paid for the privilege. Unless City take at least a point at Swansea on Sunday, Guardiola’s first competitive match in charge could be in Azerbaijan. It’s not how he envisaged it.


Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero
Conceivably, De Bruyne and Aguero are the only two players whose first-team places are truly safe after Guardiola’s arrival. These are Manchester City’s jewels, and both deserve and desire to play on the highest stage. Time to force that issue in south Wales.


The last time Tottenham finished ahead of Arsenal, John Major was the Prime Minister, Robson and Jerome’s Unchained Melody was at No. 1 and Stewart Houston was Arsenal’s manager. St Totteringham’s Day has become as traditional as Mother’s Day, but without the forgotten cards, service station flowers and tough roast lamb.

After two missed attempts, Tottenham finally have a chance to secure their position above their greatest rivals. Take a point at St James’ Park on Sunday and they will be safely sat in second position, looking down at everyone besides the most baffling league champions in history.

Despite missing out on the league title, supporters will feel exhilarated at the improvement in their team. With Mauricio Pochettino’s new contract signed and sealed, time to celebrate in style.


In many ways, this is Arsene Wenger’s last badge of honour. Arsenal missed out on league titles, and their manager had an excuse. Arsenal sold key players, and their manager had an excuse. Arsenal missed out on transfer targets, and their manager had an excuse. Arsenal failed to make significant strides in Europe, and their manager had an excuse.

Finish behind Tottenham in the league, having paid off their stadium debt and sat on top of the league in January, and there are no excuses. Denying their rivals local bragging rights will not erase the memories of another opportunity missed, but it would at least send supporters into the summer with a fond souvenir.


Louis van Gaal
In all the rumour, counter-rumour, counter-counter-rumour, counter-counte…OK, lots of rumours, it’s easy to forget that Sunday may well be Louis van Gaal’s last home game in charge of Manchester United. Unless Manchester City lose and United win, Van Gaal will surely be sacked irrespective of what happens in the FA Cup final.

Every week, it feels like United slip further into tedium, dreary football only alleviated by either Anthony Martial’s brilliance or some slapstick defending. The club’s set-piece organisation must make Alex Ferguson cry salty tears.

The question posed by Sarah Winterburn is whether United fans should hope to miss out on the top four and thus be rid of Van Gaal, or embrace Champions League football whoever is in charge. There are thousands hoping that the two can be mutually exclusive.


West Ham
Beat Stoke by 14 goals and pip both Manchester clubs for fourth place and even Leicester’s title victory will be pushed into the shade. Good luck, fellas.


Crystal Palace
Joe Ledley has a broken leg, Yohan Cabaye has a chest injury, Wilfried Zaha has a pulled muscle and Brede Hangeland has a knock. Palace’s players may have been coasting to the end of the season in the league, but this weekend at least two players have the chance to push for a start in the FA Cup final. That should be plenty enough initiative to perform.


Roy Hodgson
Can picture the scene now, Hodgson sending a group text message (he doesn’t do WhatsApp) to each key senior player:

‘Bonjour amis (it’s French, Wayne), it’s Roy. Just to say good luck tomorrow, and look after yourselves (French is the language of France, Wayne). Give me three rings after the final whistle or I’ll only worry (France, Wayne. That’s where the Euros are) I’ve arranged for bubble wrap and cotton wool to be delivered to the ground. You should be fine without, Jack; you’re playing Villa. A bientot! (Yes, still French, Wayne)’

We’ve already lost Danny Welbeck and Jack Butland, and that’s about all we can take. Everybody stay away from Charlie f**king Adam.


Jordan Henderson
“With Hendo, it is really good news,” said Jurgen Klopp on Tuesday. “With the injury he had, we had to rest him for a long time so we could not really do a lot because we tried everything to avoid the surgery. That’s how it was and we even met the possible surgeon and he said ‘no, it’s good – it’s not necessary’.

“He can start now because he’s felt good the whole time, but we couldn’t do anything because it was an injury. Yesterday, he was on the pitch and he trained, not with the team but with Jordan [Milsom] and the rehab department.

“It looked good. It was only passing and running but everything was OK and so now we have to [go] step by step by step.”

That’s all lovely, but we’d still really like to see Henderson step onto the pitch before his is named in England’s Euro 2016 squad. We’re already unsure of Henderson’s value to this England team without him struggling for match fitness on the eve of the tournament. Minutes, any minutes, at the Hawthorns would be welcome.


Jack Wilshere
As good a time as any for Wilshere’s first league start since May 2015. What’s a year between friends?


Fringe players
It might seem like a meaningless day for most Premier League players, but for the youngsters (and those less young) on the fringes of first-team squads, the final day can be a time of great opportunity. Last season, the list of last-day appearance makers included Reece Grego-Cox, Cole Kpekawa, Andreas Christensen, Reece Burke, Brandon Comley, Elliot Lee, Kenji Gorre and Fredrik Ulvestad. Pretty sure at least three of those are made up.

NB: I’ve also got an excellent Jonathan Leko joke for lined up when he scores for West Brom, so if we could sort that out it would be lovely. Thanks.


Everton players
Yes he’s gone. No he has, we promise. You can all come out and start trying again now.


Newcastle fans
Maybe if you all chant that superb Rafa Benitez song throughout the 90 minutes, he might just want to stay. Failing that, kidnap is the only resort.


Daniel Storey