18 weeks in and still nobody wants to claim the 2015/16 Premiership title. Leicester, Arsenal and Man United all suffering defeats on Boxing Day. Is time running out for Louis van Gaal?
There used to be a time when I would stand in the terraces singing, “Ryan Giggs, Ryan Giggs, flying down the wing; feared by the Blues loves by the Reds, Ryan Giggs.” The United of old were a team designed to attack with the best players in the world marauding the flank, and a genius or two in the middle of the park holding it all together. On the other hand you had Stoke. The team that wet its knickers when Rory Delap was injured.
Oh how times have changed.
Stoke has Marko Arnautovic, Bojan Krkic and Xherdan Shaqiri. United have Marouane Fellaini. Stoke maraud. Stoke fight. Stoke play some beautiful attacking football. United Muddle. United have no fight. United play beautiful pass the ball back to the keeper type of football.
Louis Van Gaal lost it in his midweek press conference. Louis Van Gaal dropped his captain. Louis Van Gaal is at the helm of a United ship that has now lost four games in a row. The last time that happened was in 1969. There is no doubt about it. Van Gaal is walking the plank. The United players are prodding him in the back with a cutlass. Sharks such as Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and his left hand man Ryan Giggs are waiting to devour him.
United’s first half display against Stoke was abysmal. Van Gaal later said in a press conference that his team ‘didn’t dare to play football.’ It is the Dutchman who is responsible for this lack of expression. His players play football with manacles around their ankles. They reek of fear.
Stoke on the other hand are a bunch of Mavericks who have turned Mark Hughes grey. At times they look like Barcelona; other times they look like Bolton Reserves. If only Hughes could get some consistency with this side, they could be pushing for a Top 8 spot.
Early strikes by Bojan and Arnautovic send United into a crucial tie against fellow strugglers Chelsea on Monday. Should United lose for the fifth consecutive tie, I wouldn’t worry about United sacking the Dutchman. He will walk.
United weren’t the only side left eating humble Christmas Pie on Boxing Day. Arsenal became most people’s favourites to win the Premier League title that nobody seems to want, after their 2 v 1 win over Man City. It was their sixth game without defeat, and they had won five of those, so an away tie against struggling Southampton was an inevitable three points.
Arsenal were stuffed.
Southampton, who went into the game earning only one point in five, and without scoring a single goal in their last three home outings, suddenly found enough firepower to smash four past the so called title contenders.
“This is what Arsenal do.” Said Danny Murphy on Match of the Day when discussing their chances of winning the league.
Cuco Martina opened the scoring in the 19th minute with a goal reminiscent of the 1997 Roberto Carlos free kick that seemed to bend in more ways than a slinky. Virgil van Dijk had a header ruled out for offside before a brace from an impressive Shane Long, and a header from their captain Jose Fonte sealed a 4-0 drubbing at St Mary’s.
Arsenal’s hammering gave Leicester the opportunity to go five points clear at the top, if they could beat Liverpool at Anfield. They failed to capitalise on the opportunity, losing for only the second time this season, and failing to score for the first time.
It was a much needed victory for Jurgen Klopp, who currently boasts a worse 2015 record that his predecessor Brendan Rodgers. Christian Benteke once again started the game on the bench, but the former Aston Villa man, came off when needed to score the winning goal. It was only his fifth goal of the season.
With Arsenal and Leicester both losing, Man City and Tottenham smelled blood. City hammered woeful Sunderland 4 v 1 in a game controlled by the twinkle toed Belgian Kevin de Bruyne. He scored one and set up headers for Raheem Sterling and Wilfried Bony with David Beckhamesque crossing of the highest quality. Yaya Toure also got into the scoring. Fabio Borini scored a consolation goal for the Black Cats. The only downer for City was another injury blow to their talismanic captain Vincent Kompany who came on as a secon d ahlf subsistute before heading back down the tunnel after a reoccurence of his calf injury. Sunderland are in all sorts of bother.
Tottenham have quietly and assuredly moved into title contention after a 3 v 0 mauling at home to Norwich City. Harry Kane scored two goals to surpass Teddy Sheringham’s club record of 26 goals in a calendar year. He is looking every inch the world class striker. His relationship with 19-year old Dele Alli must have Spurs fans drooling into their prawn sandwiches. Another young Engishmen, Tom Carroll, finished off the rout with a cracking strike from the edge of the box. Tottenham have a young, mean looking squad with quality in every area of the pitch, and must now be given a seat in this Mad Hatter type Premier League championship chasing party.
From a London club full of tradition at the top of the league, to one at the bottom. Gus Hiddink’s first game in charge at Chelsea ended in a frustrating 2 v 2 draw at home to Watford. It wasn’t all bad news. Diego Costa returning to his rampant best with two goals. The only downer for the Spaniard was his fifth booking of the season. And what a game to miss. Man United at home. Watford continue to comfortably punch above their weight with another fine performance. Troy Deeney scoring from the spot, before Odion Ighalo scored his 13th goal of the season.
Here are the rest of the results in full.
Week 18 Results
Stoke 2 v 0 Man Utd
Chelsea 2 v 2 Watford
Man City 4 v 1 Sunderland
Liverpool 1 v 0 Leicester
Aston Villa 1 v 1 West Ham
Bournemouth 0 v 0 Crystal Palace
Newcastle 0 v 1 Everton
Swansea 1 v 0 West Brom
Tottenham 3 v 0 Norwich
Southampton 4 v 0 Arsenal
Premier League Standings (After 18 Games)
1st. Leicester – 38 pts.
2nd. Arsenal – 36 pts.
3rd. Man City – 35 pts.
4th. Spurs – 32 pts.
5th. Crystal Palace – 30 pts.
6th. Man Utd – 29 pts.
7th. Watford – 29 pts.
8th. Liverpool – 27 pts.
9th. Everton – 26 pts.
10th. West Ham – 26 pts.
11th. Stoke – 26 pts.
12th. Southampton – 24 pts.
13th. West Brom- 20 pts.
14th. Bournemouth – 20 pts.
15th. Chelsea – 19 pts.
16th. Swansea – 18 pts.
17th. Norwich – 17 pts.
18th. Newcastle – 17 pts.
19th. Sunderland – 12 pts.
20th. Aston Villa – 8 pts.