Manchester United’s up-and-down form under Louis van Gaal won’t spare the Dutchman from the sack, Roberto Martinez’s excuses are wearing thin, while the ‘positives’ in Joe Hart’s injury are looked at.
Derby win does not alter Van Gaal’s long-term prospects
Reports this weekend suggested Manchester United have an agreement in place with Jose Mourinho to become their new manager, with the club liable to pay the Portuguese compensation if they fail to appoint him by set dates.
The dithering is now typical of the United boardroom, which appears to be a place crammed full of executives and figureheads each with an agenda of their own. The reported agreement ties in Mourinho but allows the club to change their mind. But why would they? Certainly nothing will change at Old Trafford between now and May that will alter the suitability of any of the candidates for the manager’s job next season.
Only a few hours after reports of the deal emerged, Louis van Gaal led United to one of their best performances of the season. But despite that and his obvious admiration for the Dutchman, Ed Woodward can no longer cling on to any hope that Van Gaal would justify staying until the end of his contract.
Winning the derby after the shame of their Europa League exit to Liverpool was typical of Van Gaal’s United this season. They have lurched from shambles to revival and back again so often that it is impossible to see any victory as a turning point.
Woodward has many voices in the boardroom and beyond pecking away at him, but the chief executive must show some uncharacteristic decisiveness. If he has identified Mourinho as United’s best prospect, then don’t deviate from that vision, regardless of what the next two months might bring.
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Smooth-talking Martinez fooling no one
Everton were so bad against Arsenal that even Roberto Martinez admitted it.
“We had doubt and we were pedestrian… It looked like a fearful performance.”
Such a cutting appraisal is rare from Martinez, who consistently shields his players from criticism. Even on Saturday, there was mitigation.
“It was a one-off,” said the Spaniard. Only, it wasn’t. This could turn out to be Everton’s worst ever season for form at Goodison Park.
This weekend brought the Merseysiders’ eighth defeat in front of their own supporters this season. As the Liverpool Echo have noted, that number is only one more defeat away from equalling the 1993/94 season, when the Toffees needed a second-half fightback on the final day of the season to swerve relegation. They must avoid defeat during visits from Southampton, Bournemouth and Norwich to avoid matching that wretched season 22 years ago, or the 1950/51 campaign – which were both 42-game seasons.
There is now a sizeable chunk of Evertonians who have grown tired of Martinez’s relentless positivity when it doesn’t tally with what they see from his team. Only their FA Cup run is saving him from even greater scrutiny, but that will surely come if Toffees fail to lift their first trophy in over two decades at Wembley in May.
Across Stanley Park, the previous Liverpool manager was often ridiculed for his ‘Brendanisms’. Martinez is lucky not to get similar treatment.
“My philosophy and my way of working is not to keep clean sheets, my philosophy is to win games,” said Martinez in January, seemingly failing to recognise that the two often go hand in hand. It was obvious again on Saturday that the Toffees don’t spend much time in training working on defensive shape. No wonder they have conceded more goals at home than anyone else in the league – three more than even Aston Villa.
How can that be, with “the best footballing centre-half” in John Stones and, ahead of him, Gareth Barry, “one of the best English players ever”, according to Martinez.
If the problem is not a lack of quality in the playing squad, then the manager must shoulder the responsibility for this season’s woeful underachievement following a bottom-half finish last year. He insisted last week that he is the right man to lead Everton into a new era with billionaire investor Farhad Moshiri, neglecting to mention that he failed in two out of three of his own critieria: “Whatever you’re fighting for: the FA Cup, fighting relegation, trying to get into the top four; I have that experience.”
Everton simply would not sack an FA Cup-winning manager and Martinez desperately needs that protection this summer.
‘Silver lining’ to Hart injury woe
Safe to say Martin Demichelis had an afternoon to forget at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, and one man who will unlikely be sending him an Easter gift this weekend will be Joe Hart.
The City keeper was forced to make a mad dash from his goal to clear a short back pass from the defender; a clumsy action for which the Argentinian can really have no excuse. But in hurrying to clear the ball before Anthony Martial could pounce, Hart pulled a calf muscle and now faces a month on the sidelines, ruling him out of England’s games against Germany in Berlin and Holland at Wembley.
Whether Hart would have started both these games is irrelevant now, but what his injury means is that Roy Hodgson, with two able deputies in Jack Butland and Fraser Forster, will now be forced to take a look at his other goalkeeping options.
Butland especially had arguably enjoyed a better season than England’s first choice Hart, but with only three senior caps to his name, seriously lacks international experience. Forster, meanwhile, has also shown his brilliance since his comeback, none more so than in shutting Arsenal out at the Emirates and in subsequently helping Saints set a club record 708 minutes without conceding a goal.
It would be nice to think both will be given the full 90 minutes to shine and prove their worth as challengers to Hart, who will hopefully be back in good time this season ahead of the Euros.
Cherries have popped – but Howe deserves credit
Bournemouth put in arguably their worst display of the season on Sunday in going down 3-0 to Spurs, with the Cherries seriously second best in every department and putting on a performance stereotypical of a team already ‘on the beach’.
But few could bemoan Bournemouth for their poor display at White Hart Lane, and having accumulated 38 points already this season, have almost certainly guaranteed their place among the elite for another season.
The setback at White Hart Lane was only their fifth on their travels in the Premier League all season (and their first away from home in 2016) and Bournemouth – whether befitting of a poor Premier League or otherwise – deserve credit for what they have achieved this season. Even more so when you consider some cutting injuries they suffered to the likes of Max Gradel, Tyrone Mings and Callum Wilson.
Next season will again be another test of Bournemouth’s survival credentials, but having invested wisely in both transfer windows, will hope to build on this campaign and Eddie Howe and his staff deserve an enormous amount of credit for ensuring their safety with plenty of matches to spare.
By Ian Watson and James Marshment