Manchester City 1, Leicester City 3 — Manchester’s second team settles for second
Most people get demob happy when they are close to the end of their notice period. Manuel Pellegrini seems to have embraced it for the last two seasons, and most of his players have joined in too. That can be the only excuse for the squad not bothering last season, and why should they, when Pep Guardiola was going to be on his way anyway. The same for Pellgegrini. He was paid millions to turn up, answer some questions two or three times a week, and make sure City didn’t fall out of the Champions League places.
As it is, Pellegrini has definitely got the turning up and answering questions thing down. You could ask him any football-related question, and he will deliver you an answer that is so fantastically unprovocative, you’d have to think that he wasn’t really fussed one way or another. Just as Manchester City’s players couldn’t be bothered against Leicester City. Despite Leicester being merely effective, and not special in any way, David Silva, Yaya Toure, and Martin Demichelis were more interested in working out how many paper clips they can steal between now and May than playing any actual football. Pellegrini’s still trying to work out how he can steal a whole kitchen.
Bournemouth 0, Arsenal 2 — We watched it so you didn’t have to
Arsenal failing to score in five hours isn’t very good, but they fixed that against Bournemouth. Arsenal failing to win the league this year, against a Premier League more interested in what they’re having for tea, is criminal. Arsenal plays Leicester next weekend. If they lose, expect us to dust off our Big Book Of Arsenal Criticism, which is given free of charge to every football blogger when they write their 100th blog on Arsenal’s lack of mental strength.
Chelsea 1, Manchester United 1 — Can two men wear one tracksuit?
If there’s such a thing as demob unhappy, then Louis van Gaal is embracing it. First, he claimed he could not believe that Manchester United had been talking to Jose Mourinho. He could barely say anything else because he’d been backed into a corner by Manchester United, er, talking to Jose Mourinho. They want him to take over in the summer, and he wants to take over in the summer. This means that Van Gaal’s three-year contract will be terminated in May, or it means that it will be very awkward when the two of them turn up to work on the first day of pre-season, trying to sit in the same office chair, talking over each other at team meetings, even trying to fit into the same tracksuit at the same time. It sounds impractical, but don’t rule out Ed Woodward seeing if he can get away with it to avoid an argument.
Anyway, away from the idea of a synthetic cloth being the sausage skin to a Van Gaal-Mourinho mince, and to the game at Stamford Bridge. Manchester United played adequately and occasionally impressively. Chelsea played conservatively and then dominated for much of the match once United had scored. Then Van Gaal went back to his tactic of keeping endless, sterile possession, but was only able to get United to pursue a tactic of curling into a fetal position and hoping David de Gea would stop every shot going in. It almost worked, but for two poor decisions. First, putting Memphis on, a man yet to convince the average Manchester United fan that he should not be sent back to the Netherlands, along with gouda cheese. Second, choosing Daley Blind in central defense despite him consistently proving his mind takes flight to focus on whatever trip-hop mixtape he’s listening to these days. Neither are terrible players, just out of form or not quite right for the side, and Memphis clearly gets more than his fair share of shit from people because he has the temerity to be young and black. But a bit of common sense from their manager was required. Unfortunately, he’s too busy sketching designs for a two-person tracksuit in his notebook.
Liverpool 2, Sunderland 2 — Enough is enough
Liverpool fans are many things. They are often ardent defenders of racism on the internet. They are fluent speakers of Rioplatense Spanish. They write hilariously overwrought forum posts comparing Brendan Rodgers to one of the dragons from Lord of the Rings. They come up with ever more complex statistical models to show that, actually, they are the best team in the world, football is just scored wrong, so there.
But often they are capable of standing up for themselves like others can’t. There’s the Hillsborough campaign, which has only recently had real success against an establishment mixture of politics and press trying to stop it from getting anywhere. There is their history of militant socialism. Liverpool is one of the few places left in England where radical, left-wing thought isn’t mainly reserved for academics. They also campaign for the 20’s Plenty cause, trying to get football tickets for away fans to be capped at a more reasonable £20. It seems that latter cause has failed, and given that it has the support of the utterly toothless Football Supporters Federation and the completely pointless Manchester United Supporters Trust, that can’t be pinned on them.
At the game at Sunderland, though, roughly 25% of the crowd left the stadium in the 77th minute to protest £1,000 season tickets and £77 one-off tickets, which will be introduced next season. There are more protests planned, and it seems that the club has had second thoughts. We should all hope that other fans take a similar attitude soon.
That said, it’s worth remembering, die-hard Liverpool fans, you don’t have to go down the silly route of inventing some kind of Liverpool myth; there is enough real achievement to celebrate without the fabrication.