Mourinho’s losing gamble doesn’t make him wrong
Manchester United have often played badly, and been managed badly, especially of late. But as the game drew to a close, 2-0 down to Arsenal, this might have only been the second time they were managed sarcastically. The first came when Alex Ferguson lined up against Arsenal with Fabio, Gibson, Park and O’Shea in midfield, and still won 2-0. The second, briefer period was when Scott McTominay was brought on while losing to Arsenal on Sunday.
United had defended without any ambition to score for half of the match, when they conceded two quick goals. They barely changed their approach to the game, and Wayne Rooney was allowed on the pitch for the entire game despite playing as poorly as he ever has for United. With Liverpool drawing at home to Southampton, this was a chance to make a fist of a chase towards the top four.
Manchester United still haven't scored away against top-six opponents under Jose Mourinho. Five games, aggregate score 0-7.
— Richard Jolly (@RichJolly) May 7, 2017
It was a chance that Mourinho rejected. Making eight changes, leaving Paul Pogba on the bench, and bringing back the just-about-fit Chris Smalling and Phil Jones to defend. He obviously didn’t mind sacrificing his record to Arsene Wenger, as he is focused entirely on the Europa League. It is a gamble, but one that makes sense.
READ MORE: Arsenal end Man United’s unbeaten run
Can Arsenal qualify for the Champions League?
No, is the short answer. And the longer answer is:
No, probably not. They were dominant against Manchester United, but don’t forget they gave their opponent a one-on-one from a back-pass, and only got away with it because the player that had the chance was Rooney. They were open at the back, as should be expected of a team that has only recently switched to three at the back. Once in charge of the game, they played a team that was happy to roll over.
Qualification will require them to become a side that is ruthless, that focuses, and performs under pressure – not just when nobody expects anything of them. That is not the way that Arsenal have been able to play for the past decade or so. They also require the rest of the competition to make more mistakes than they do. On current evidence from this season, this seems unlikely.
Liverpool have a big rebuilding job on their hands this summer
It is obvious that these teams have much improvement to carry out over the summer. This is as clear this week as it was last. Manchester United need to cut the deadwood and find ruthlessness. Arsenal need to sack Arsene Wenger and rejoin the 21st Century. But Liverpool are the oddest team of the bunch. They are third, and relatively comfortable in the top four, needing to play West Ham (safe) and Middlesbrough (just a bad side) in their final fixtures.
Given their performances this season, they should be confident of six points. Given some of their other performances this season, they should be terrified of getting two, at most. They are alternately visceral and blistering one moment, and dour and uninspired the next. It appears that Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp are at a crossroads as they approach the transfer window. Will they be his next success, or will they show up the limitations of his methods in a tougher league than the Bundesliga?
Should they secure Champions League football then they can aim towards the top end of the market, and offer more to players than they were able to this season. But recruitment needs to be consistent. The squad is thin, unbalanced, and James Milner’s presence shows it is at times makeshift, too. The draw against Southampton was entirely unconvincing, but not at all surprising. Liverpool will need both quantity and quality, given the demands that Klopp’s approach places on a team. But compounding this is that surely Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City won’t give them so many free chances as they have this season.
Manchester City should finally be confident of Champions League football
Manchester City have perhaps the most favourable run in of the sides yet to be certain of a top four finish. They have to play both West Brom and Leicester City at home, two sides who have nothing to play for now they are certain of staying up, and Watford, who also seem quite content to let the rest of the season drift by.
City might have expected a tougher performance from Crystal Palace, who appeared reinvigorated by Sam Allardyce of late, especially as they are not yet certain to remain in the top flight for another season. Instead, they put in a performance that dismantled Palace’s organisation, and buffed their goal difference. They have had a poor season so far, with every improvement matched by a continued reminder that much of their squad is to be sold, and that their defence remains unreliable. Their best player, Sergio Aguero, is to leave in the summer according to many reports, and their goalkeeping position remains open to worry.
In short, like most of the better teams in the league, they are succeeding in spite of themselves. But like Liverpool, they can probably consider themselves favourites for a top-four position after Manchester United and Arsenal fell over themselves to be even more disappointing.
Marco Silva pulls off the impossible
Marco Silva has impressed everyone, even Paul Merson and Phil Thomson, since his arrival in England. He has motivated, organised and given life to Hull City when they looked absolutely doomed. But he has committed one of the gravest sins in football. He had Hull City in charge of their destiny, and he lost. At home. To Sunderland. Managed by David Moyes. When they were already relegated.