Monday, 5 September 2016

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

It’s rightly been said that we’re living in a unique time in world history. Donald Trump is winning votes, David Cameron is losing them, Fox is somehow conjuring new Ice Age sequels and a video game is both making people exercise (‘gotta catch ‘em all’!) and revolutionising the way people nearly die in car accidents.

The footballing world has been no exception- recently recuperating from the culmination of the European Championships, where Ronaldo and ten traffic cones overcame the heavily favoured hosts in unbelievable circumstances.

Deschamps must have ordered all the Chardonnay in Saint-Denis when Ronaldo picked up an early injury and was replaced by another traffic cone, but Portugal played to their strengths. By this, I mean they let boredom waft over the French eleven to the point where the French would rather be doing anything at all other than winning the European Championships.

Last season, the Premier League also gave us plenty of results that made the proverbial jaw hit the floor. That proved to be a real inconvenience for bookmakers, pundits and other logic-abiding good Samaritans who would really just like average teams to stay average and the teams that spend the most money to win the league.

But, this season, there seems to be a reversion to normality. Early signs indicate that we could return to those simpler times when there were just seven teams vying for the title and Arsenal vying for the top four.

This return to simplicity has been fuelled by the entry (and in some cases, re-entry) of some extraordinary gentlemen. Let’s take some time and analyse these special men, and the tremendous impact they’ve already had this season.

Mike Phelan (All Hull breaks loose): I start with Phelan because he’s the one man who’s both helped and ruined this reversion to normality. Orchestrating a masterclass against the Champions on day one, ‘Micky’ ensured Leicester’s dream turned quickly and brutally into reality.

However, he subsequently over delivered and stumbled onto another win with a squad plagued by so many injuries that his bench looked like the cast of every Transformers movie- irrelevant. And pretty terrible. As the wise men say, “there’s only so much you can do with Shia Labeouf in a lead role”. Expect usual service to resume from the Tigers.

David Moyes (Tyne sighed): After Leicester won the league, every team started to believe this year could be their year. Liverpool fans were, literally, not walking alone on that path of delusion.

However, new man at the Sunderland helm David Moyes is certainly doing his part to restore normalcy- signings like Donald Love and Paddy McNair are making the Black Cats’ bench look rather like the Hull City bench. Moyes faced a lot of criticism recently for coming out and admitting that his side would face a difficult relegation battle, but we applaud him for his honesty, commitment and dedication in the transfer market to ensuring that will happen.

Claude Puel (The Saints go mildly crawling in): Southampton overachieved last season, by any reasonable person’s expectations. Many thought Ronald Koeman’s men would struggle after star midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin transferred to Manchester United, but the Saints (much like United) looked a lot better without him.

This season, however, Claude seems to have hit the reset button and the Saints’ recent hard-fought draw with Moyes’ Sunderland leaves us optimistic that they will not surprise anyone (at least not in a good way).           

Walter Mazzarri (That team with Ighalo in it): Watford have started changing managers faster than Donald Trump changes his stance on immigration. The newest character on the touchline at Vicarage Road is Italian legend and Alec Baldwin look-alike Walter Mazzarri. His start fills us with confidence that he, much like Messrs Puel and Moyesie, will ensure Watford perform well within expectations. The fact that Watford’s only point so far this season came against good old Puel’s Saints seems to neatly back this assertion.

Special mentions: Sean Dyche (Turf Bore) and Aitor Karanka (Beg, Boro’, Steal).

There’s much cause for optimism when one surveys this cast of characters. Things are already looking up (unless you’re Southampton) and we should be in for a wonderful, emotional, definitive return to normalcy.

There are also some new faces that didn’t quite make our list, but we don’t expect them to significantly change anything this season. 

Monday, 11 April 2016

Eternal Sunshine of the Pointless Kind

“I’m sure there’s more to this than meets the eye”. “He’s doing something that other managers wouldn’t have even imagined”. “Maybe he saw something in training?”

*Erik Lamela fires Spurs into an irretrievable 3-0 lead*

“If only Fosu-Mensah was still on..”. “Ashley Young as a centre forward?! To be fair, I guess he doesn’t do much better as a left winger”. “Memphis coming on at 3-0; remind me next time not to ask how things could get worse”.

The above reactions were taken from interviews with ardent Manchester United fans (better known as ‘will soon evolve into Liverpool fans’) on Sunday night. LvG, as he’s lovingly known by his multiple critics, is thought to be an unusual kind of genius. The special kind- the kind that win less football matches, and more award nominations for the actors that play them in movies.

Often times, he’s thrown formations at the world that look like he’s jotted down his best eleven, and subsequently decided to test all of them by playing them out of position. But, he is a genius. A Champions League winner. A master tactician.

So, I’ve decided to pull a leaf out of the proverbial LvG book. I’m naming my team of the season below, playing everyone out of position. I’m also providing sound ‘logic’ for doing so, along the lines of LvG’s astute post-match revelation that he played Ashley Young upfront “because he can run. And we needed that”.

Goalkeeper: Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)\

L(vG)ogic: “He scores goals, we know that. But, so does the opponent. We must try to surprise the opponent. They will never expect this.”

Left Back:  N’Golo Kante (Leicester City)

L(vG)ogic: “He is used to playing on the left. In central midfield, he plays to the left. He will be a natural.”

Centre Back: Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City)

L(vG)ogic: “I think we must move to an era where defenders dribble past the strikers. It is the future of football.”

Centre Back: Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)

L(vG)ogic: “These days, defenders need to move forward and play long balls to the strikers. Nobody plays more accurate long balls than Mesut- he is the assist king.”

Right Back: Delle Alli (Spurs)

L(vG)ogic: “He is very good- very good on the ball. Right full backs must be very good on the ball.”

Left Winger: Wes Morgan (Leicester City)

L(vG)ogic: “He tackles very well. We will need him to track the run of the right winger. Him and Kante play a lot together for Leicester- this will be a very good partnership down the left flank.”

Central Defensive Midfield:  David De Gea (Manchester United)

L(vG)ogic: “He is a goalkeeper who is good on the ball. That is something special. I would be foolish not to use his distribution skills.”

Central Defensive Midfield: Harry Kane (Spurs)

L(vG)ogic: “The opposition is always trying to deny him space. In a defensive midfield position, he will have plenty of space. This is very good. Also, I need a midfielder who can score 20 goals a season. Kane can do that.”

Right Winger: Toby Alderweireld (Spurs)

L(vG)ogic: “Like I said, our wingers need to be able to tackle. Plus, Delle Alli has played a lot with Alderweireld, I think. They shall ‘spur’ each other on. Heh-heh-heh. Good one, Louis.”

Central Attacking Midfield: Hector Bellerin (Arsenal)

L(vG)ogic: “Bellerin is very fast. And he is Spanish, so he can definitely pass. It makes him the only choice for the number 10 role.”

Centre Forward: Ashley Young (Manchester United)

L(vG)ogic: “He can run. We need that.”

I’d like to invite you, dear readers, to spot the piece of tactical nous from the gems listed above, that actually transpired this weekend.

Indeed, we are lucky to live in this age of managerial wizardry. Louis waved his wand and looks to have conjured fifth place with a squad that finished fourth and spent over a hundred million on new signings.

On the plus side, it was heartening to see Memphis doing as he was told. After all, Louis sent him on at the Lane with the instruction “cross from the left”, and he most certainly did. Just ask Kyle Walker.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

La Decimation

Real Madrid were at a veritable zenith of their powers in 2014. They secured a remarkable tenth Champions League crown, went on a record 22 match winning streak in all competitions and, perhaps most astonishingly, managed to convince the world that Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema are great mates who love playing with each other.

Fast forward a year and Real are third in La Liga, 2 points off arch-rivals Barcelona- who have a game in hand. Being 4 points off the top (possibly 5, if Barca win the game in hand) is pretty much equivalent to relegation at Real Madrid, and Rafa Benitez’s bags were packed for him when he reached the team hotel after the 2-2 weekend draw with Gary Neville’s Valencia.

In some quarters, Rafa has garnered sympathy, but sadly those quarters lie firmly outside Madrid. In truth, it was a harsh dismissal if one considers the fact that Real won their Champions League group and are still in contention for the Copa De- err, La Liga title.

By comparison, Manchester United are out of the Champions League and 3 points off the top 4 and Louis van Gaal is saying it’s been a good year. Sadly, those lamentations deserve their own article, and will get one when the time is right.

So, where did this collapse of (relatively) Herculean proportions come from? Most experts opine that Real Madrid made a mistake by letting go of Carlo Ancelotti and, in hindsight, you’d have to say they’re probably right.

Carlo knew how to manage the enormous egos of the biggest and best players and to get them to at least convincingly pretend that they enjoyed playing together. And one could say that’s been the biggest and most telling difference with Madrid this season. There hasn’t been that zest and enthusiasm to work hard for the team and perform at a high level, like there was with Ancelotti.

Jamie Carragher destroyed the Madrid front four after the El Clasico, rightly pointing the accusatory finger for not showing any desire to assist and Bale (do you see what I’ve done here?) out the hapless two-man midfield behind them. Casemiro, who had arguably been their best midfield player this season, was inexplicably left on the bench as Kroos and Modric were decimated by Iniesta and Co.

But, it’s been more than the odd bad result that’s cast a depressing, gloomy shadow over one of the world’s footballing super-powers. The style of play has been extremely erratic- ranging from a thunderous 10-2 win against Rayo Vallecano, to traditional Rafa Benitez kinds of resolute (I can almost hear Real fans shouting “boring”) displays.

The style of play wasn’t helped by the fact that Rafa isn’t the easiest manager to get along with and tends to impose his more pragmatic style on players who simply do not wish to play that way. It led to tensions with James, Benzema, Isco, Kroos, Ronaldo and (surprise, surprise) Sergio Ramos, who often goes flying into midfield leaving gaping holes in what was supposed to be a “resolute” back-line.

Cristiano Ronaldo is probably the last person you’d expect to track back and defend, but he used to do it regularly (at least on set plays) with Ancelotti at the helm. Now, he just floats around waiting for his team-mates to pick him out or tries to pick up the ball and beat entire opposition defences himself.

Ancelotti certainly had the support of Madrid’s main man, who took to social media to offer public support to Carlo just before he was sacked. Somehow, I don’t think we’ll be seeing a Rafa-Ronnie selfie anytime this week.

What next, for the world’s richest football club? Well, Carlo’s taken by Bavaria. Guardiola will never take that job, given his affiliation to the Blaugrana. Mourinho doesn’t want that job, given his lack of affiliation to Perez. Jurgen Klopp is at Liverpool (still can’t understand that one!) and Louis van Gaal has had a great year and will be spending millions to have another one. Quite simply, Real seem to have run out of managers.

So, they’ve turned in this dark hour to a man who often showed the light as a player. So does “Zizou” have what it takes to accomplish the seemingly impossible and please Florentino Perez and that excessively effervescent dressing-room? Can he show Madrid the path to recapturing former glory? At the very least, can he get them playing some exciting football?

Only time will provide the answers to these questions. But, Zidane needn’t fret. He’s received the full public backing of Perez and the Board which means his job is probably secure for at least another 3 days.

If not, I'll be back on Friday to report that Brendan Rodgers is the new Real Madrid manager.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Like Kloppwork

It’s been one of those fortnights that truly represent the stuff of football writers’ dreams. As a writer, I’ve always been drawn to the unexpected. An underdog winning the Champions League, Jose Mourinho praising a referee, Arsene Wenger purchasing a footballer- all fine examples of the wonderful and chaotic mess that this beautiful game throws up from time to time.

The last fortnight saw Arsenal defeat Bayern Munich, Jamie Vardy eclipse Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo for goals scored in domestic league football, Newcastle United win a game 6-2 and Chelsea Football Club win a game. There’s only so much damage to the established norm that this innocent world can take.

In the midst of all this madness, I’ve decided to write about something that actually echoed a semblance of sense. Or, did it? Jurgen Klopp was the most sought after manager in football when he announced his decision to leave Borussia Dortmund at the end of last season.

Many expected he’d take up residence in Madrid, under Florentino Perez’s thumb. Or, perhaps, send Luis Enrique packing since the latter only won the treble and gives terribly boring press conferences. City was spoken about, as was Arsenal. But, these severely average clubs faded in comparison to the allure of an institution that has won two significant trophies in the last 10 years.

Liverpool’s owners could barely believe their luck as they got off the phone with Herr Klopp’s agent, while Brendan complimented his players’ superb performance and unrelenting character in earning a 1-1 draw against FC Sion.

Yes, Liverpool fans were really sad and deeply moved to see Brendan go. Those 12 seconds were spent reminiscing on some of the best moments- Luis Suarez ripping defences apart, Daniel Sturridge signing for Liverpool, Raheem Sterling pledging loyalty and then asking for money, Daniel Sturridge returning from injury (all 7 times) and.. I’m quite sure there’s a Gerrard moment somewhere, but it seems to have slipped my mind.

The arrival of Jurgen Klopp filled Liverpool fans with an optimism and a passion that made them feel like they had won the league. It was an extremely unusual feeling for a lot of them, as I’m sure you’ll understand. But, given his start, there is valid reason for both optimism and a reality check.

Liverpool’s energy level in last weekend’s game against Spurs was through the roof. It was like the entire team were advertising an energy drink, or Jurgen Klopp had told them he would bring Mario Balotelli back if they didn’t start winning games. There was a real purpose about everything they did, and they won almost every 50-50 challenge in the first half.

The second half, sadly, represented the stumbling block in the emergence of a new league-dominating force from Anfield. The energy levels began to fade and Spurs gained much more control in the game. It should’ve been a higher scoring game, but a draw was definitely a fair result.

Klopp surely realized then (if he hadn’t already) that there was a way to go for this side to play like his Borussia Dortmund rockstars. The midweek Anfield opener for Klopp saw Liverpool face off against Rubin Kazan, and underwhelm once Rubin went down to 10 men. Liverpool pushed and pressed at a high intensity, but they lacked the quality up-front to finish good opportunities.

With Sturridge just watching from the stands, and Benteke and Origi evidently just watching from the pitch, Liverpool were left with a lot of bark and no bite. The bark is good, though, and once they supplement that with a decent bite, Liverpool will start winning more games.

Let’s not forget the biggest win from Klopp moving to Anfield- the multiple ridiculous word-plays that football writers now have access to with “Klopp being at the Kop”. Personally, if saving a sinking ship was his motivation, I wish he had joined the Dutch national team. It would have been the inspiration for my best piece yet- “A Kloppwork Orange”. 

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The gloves come off, unless you’re a goal-keeper

Somewhere far to the East, a rooster crows loudly. A new day, a new beginning, a new chance for players to justify hefty transfer fees and managers to take childish quips at each other. Yes, indeed. The new footballing season is almost upon us.

Fans’ expectations are higher than they’ve ever been, except at Liverpool. They’re about the same as every year- boundless optimism which will doubtless fade into the perennial shade of wondering what forces transpire to make them lose talented players and replace them with expensive pumpkins.

Granted, Christian Benteke doesn’t look much like a pumpkin, but he’s always in sub-par form till Halloween. I rest my case.

Then there’s the Chelsea faction who’ve kindly agreed to be good sports and level the playing field by selling Petr Cech and signing Radamel Falcao. Their focus on youth continues to set the bar- Danilo Pantic joined the club and left about 3 minutes into his medical for a loan year at Vitesse Arnhem. He is simultaneously “excited to join the English champions” and “looking forward to signing for another club after not making an appearance for three seasons”.

Speaking of not making an appearance for several seasons, Nani has left Manchester United for Fenerbahce. Robin van Persie joined him because the little boy inside him said there was more money in Turkey. Manchester United, thus, were bereft of striking talent. They solved that problem by signing two defensive midfielders.

Last season, United spent the year trying to turn a striker into a defensive midfielder. This season, they figured they ought to try the opposite. It is all part of the philosophy. Next season, Memphis Depay will be goalkeeper.

Arsenal won the Community Shield which, as we all know, is what the season is really all about. They’ve been accused in the past of only signing attacking talent so they have responded this summer by only signing a goalkeeper.

This radical switch in strategy might alarm some, but Wenger is supremely confident that Arsenal will challenge for the title as long as Giroud, Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez, Cazorla, Coquelin, Mertesacker and Petr Cech all stay fit simultaneously and Chelsea, United, City, Liverpool, Spurs and we should probably add Southampton here as well, have a bad year.

The burden of expectation has been lifted from Tottenham Hotspur. Seriously, nobody has any expectations. At all. They go into the campaign like Manchester United went into the 2011 Champions League Final against Barcelona. There is nothing to lose, except a trophy and significant financial benefits.

Southampton lost Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne but clever signings like Jordy Clasie and Juanmi show that Koeman still dons the proverbial thinking cap, occasionally. Last season was a landmark year for the Saints as they finished in a Europa League spot and coped with Liverpool’s summer raid on their squad. This season will show how close they really are to challenging at the very top of English football.

Or as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern call it, the very top of “strictly-average-honestly-even-PSG-is-better-than-that”.

Among the rest of the English top flight, look out for Crystal Palace and Aston Villa for exactly opposite reasons. Villa will be weak following their decision to replace their top goal scorer with Scott Sinclair. Honestly, one must question the validity of replacing anyone with Scott Sinclair at this point.

Palace have signed Yohan Cabaye to add to an already impressive squad (how did no clubs come in for Yannick Bolasie?). If they start well, Palace could finish as high as top seven this campaign. Watch this space for more.

A new year promises several delicious encounters, intriguing battles and new challengers to the golden throne. Points will be dropped, players will be injured (Wenger, look away now!) and controversy will doubtless show its tantalizing head. But, in the midst of this outrageous kerfuffle, let’s not lose sight of the crux- nobody will ever be a better Premier League manager than John Carver. I honestly don’t know why the others are even trying.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

That's a Wrap!

The Barclays Premier League, the Liga BBVA and the German Bundesliga all culminated this weekend, plunging football enthusiasts worldwide into a pit of temporary despair. It’s true that the Copa America and the Euro U21s are on the way, but nothing quite matches up to the excitement of the week in, week out jostling for positions by teams in the top leagues.

The struggle for the Champions League places, the scrap to avoid relegation and the perhaps more enthralling scrap to avoid the Europa League spots have captured our hearts for many a month now.

Wait, did I say avoid? I meant “to get the Europa League spots”, of course. It does wonders to a club’s chances of achieving things domestically. Just ask Roberto Martinez.

It’s been a see-saw season for City, and a see-saw-conquered season for Chelsea. United managed to get top four, and more significantly managed to find Ashley Young. Liverpool started and finished abysmally, but that is clearly Sterling’s fault. Or Balotelli’s. Or Lovren’s. Or everyone but Gerrard’s. The rest of Brendan’s team did excellently and he is very proud of them.

Arsenal had an exceptional season. Finishing third, possibly retaining the FA Cup and having less than half the squad injured for most of the year puts this down as Arsene’s best in a long, long time.

Pochettino wisely left Southampton for a much bigger club that finished a massive four points above them and will be in the Europa League. Lallana, Lovren and Lambert wisely left Southampton for a much bigger club that finished a massive two points above them and will be in the Europa League. Southampton need to wait and see if Arsenal can beat Aston Villa next weeken- who are we kidding? Southampton will also be in the Europa League.

Leicester City pulled off the two greatest hustles the Premier League has probably ever seen- winning 7 in 9 to avoid relegation and convincing Roy Hodgson that Jamie Vardy is the next Thomas Muller.

Nigel Pearson may be some people’s manager of the year, but let’s look at other managers who have had real impact. Tony Pulis transformed West Brom from decent to extremely decent, Alan Pardew transformed Palace from good to extremely good and John Carver transformed Newcastle from poor to extremely poor.

Sunderland found themselves hovering above the relegation zone with two months to go, perfectly in line with their annual managerial recruitment drive. A rather sensitive chap for a man named Dick, Advocaat shed many a tear when he saw a frontline of Danny Graham, Steven Fletcher and Jermain Defoe for the first time. When they kept a clean sheet at Arsenal, he couldn’t hold back the tears because he knew they were never going to score in a million years.

Stoke, Swansea and Southampton overachieved, but why do things on a smaller budget that you can do by investing millions of pounds? These clubs bring shame to the top flight. Liverpool spent millions on Balotelli and Lambert, only to play Gerrard as a false nine. United spent millions on Di Maria and on Falcao’s wages, only to play Fellaini as a false footballer. That is the Premier League way. What is the point of financial fair play, if the commercial and transfer revenue generated by such clubs is not being wasted away?

This article would be incomplete without a review of other big European Leagues. Let’s talk about the Liga BBVA. Barcelona. Let’s talk about the Bundesliga. Bayern Munich. Let’s talk about the Serie A. Juventus.

Now that a thorough examination of domestic leagues has been completed, let’s shift our focus to a quick preview of a massive match coming your way in early June- an international friendly between the Netherlands and the United States. The Netherlands will be favourites, but the States will know that anything can happen in an intense, high-stakes game like an international friendly.

Also coming up is the UEFA Champions League Final between Barcelona and Juventus. It is one night after the massive friendly, so don’t expect many will be following this one. Still, let’s do a quick preview.

Messi, Neymar and Suarez are in frightening form and will look to put Barcelona in control. Juventus’ midfield quartet of Pirlo, Marchisio, Pogba and Vidal could, however, easily prove to be the difference. As we know, there are players on both sides who are great mates- like Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez, so it should be a rather friendly encounter devoid of any controversy or incident.

Thus, another season comes to an end and with it ends what every football fan called “the weekend”. There is still much to write about, though, and many questions to answer. 

Will Sterling leave? Will De Gea stay? Which English players will Liverpool overpay for this summer? Which world class players will Arsene Wenger underpay for and then lose to other clubs (only to remind us of when Arsenal go from “title challengers” to “consistently making top four since 1997”) this summer? The answers to these burning questions will come only with the passage of time.

Until then, as Jose said, “The Rottweiler barks, and the Prius goes by” or some such line about a car and a dog. 

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Four Give and Four Get

It takes something truly remarkable to bring a football writer on hiatus back to the pen and the blank page (or the Mac and the Calibri, whatever stirs the imagination). Something that shakes the very foundations of the footballing world.

Arsenal winning a trophy, Mourinho praising a referee, Zlatan scoring and not taking the credit, someone else scoring and Zlatan not taking the credit, Real Madrid lasting one week without being linked to a German, City lasting one week without being linked to an Arsenal player, Marco Reus lasting one week- all of these are fine examples of such oddities of the football universe.

This weekend witnessed one such outlier which has compelled me to get back to inflicting my opinions, such as they are, on my ten(s) of readers. A referee gave Manchester United a penalty at Old Trafford- and, unlike the red card that followed it, it was the correct decision.

The subsequent penalty was put away by defensive midfielder Wayne Rooney who was making a rare appearance in a forward role this season. He is now the highest scoring defensive midfielder in the history of the league.

The race for the top four places in English football has been a very forgiving one. Every team that gets up a head of steam seems to feel almost ashamed to be pulling away from its cohorts and takes it upon itself to slip up and let the others back into it.

If somebody had told Brendan Rodgers that Liverpool would be in with a shout of the top four after they lost 3-0 to United at Old Trafford earlier in the season, he’d have probably laughed politely and blamed Balotelli as he was wont to do back then. But the truth is, now, they really are in with more than a shout.

Many opined that with European football keeping the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal occupied, Manchester United would have an advantage with more resting time between games. But, Liverpool and Arsenal have done everything in their power to nullify that advantage.

Liverpool travelled to Turkish side Besiktas and did their best to lose in 90 minutes only to be thwarted into 30 minutes extra time and finally counted on ever-reliable latest failed signing Dejan Lovren to revitalize their campaign by knocking them out of Europe.

Arsenal, too, proved that the Champions League draw is totally irrelevant and that if they play badly enough, they can lose to absolutely any team in the Round of 16. Arsene Wenger relied on the clinical finishing of Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck who delivered, spurning sitter after sitter as Dimitar Berbatov’s blistering pace on the counter was far too much for the already sprightly Per Mertesacker.

Arsene is optimistic about the return leg, where he intends to use the experience of Francis Coquelin and Serge Gnabry to finish the job. Not to be left behind, Tottenham Hotspur is also a football club.

Southampton have no European football to be concerned about, but they do have European footballers to be concerned about- Graziano Pelle has had an awful time recently netting just thrice in his last 22 appearances. Koeman has been forced to ridiculous extremes and has reportedly even considered taking Radamel Falcao on loan from- oh wait, that’s for the other Dutch guy.

Louis van Gaal declared recently that Manchester United are the best in-form team in the league. Some have posited that that was actually heard wrong- he had said that Manchester United are the best INFORMED team in the league. While the latter may not make much sense, unlike the former it has a shot at being true.

United lumbered over the weekend to a 2-0 victory over Sunderland- relying on the ever-faithful Wes Brown and John O’Shea to get them over the line. The mid-week trip to Tyne-side was described by a fan after the game as “like watching paint dry”. United have defended themselves claiming that said fan is a painter and happens to love watching paint dry.

West Ham United have picked up one win now in their last 11 games and are just about still in the top ten. Big Sam maintains they are still on course for European football. The course just happens to be a long one, I suppose.

This race for the top four is so enthralling that Manchester City, too, decided to spice up their season by giving up the laborious and frankly pointless pursuit of Chelsea and throw themselves into it. From a seemingly unassailable 8 point lead over the team in third place, City have seen that reduce to just four. Pellegrini said recently that if Arsenal get any closer, they will buy Alexis Sanchez.

It all comes down to who can handle squeaky bum time. The final games are upon us and with them comes massive pressure, big performances, hilarious mistakes and plenty of stories for football writers to regurgitate. There couldn’t be a better time to get back to the old MS Word and font size 12.

The Premier League Grand Opera is playing its final symphony. But who is it four?