Louis Van Gaal has come in for more serious criticism after Manchester United’s UCL exit. The Dutchman’s comeback of “‘Facts say we are better than last year” has been met with derision but in the context of the EPL table, it is a riposte that is difficult to argue with. After 15 games last season, the Red Devils were third, just as they are now but crucially, not only are they one point better off, they sit just three points off the EPL leaders Leicester which is a far more appealing prospect than the eight they trailed Chelsea at the same stage last December. Manchester United fans seem to think they have a divine right to top the charts and play like Barcelona. All things considered it is nonsense. The debate over whether the EPL is as competitive as it ever has been is over. It is and United fans better wise up to the fact that the Dutchman’s brand of safety first football is the way to go, in the short term at least. Yes the nature of the UCL exit was disappointing but here’s an idea, how about an English club embracing the Europa League for a change? Borussia Dortmund need be the only team to fear and if you are so concerned you will finish outside of the top four in the league, the UEL winners get a nice looking trophy AND a UCL place for next season. Van Gaal inherited a club that was always going to find it hard making the transition to the post Ferguson ‘era’ / David Moyes ‘moment’ and the fact that their league standing has been achieved while not playing to anywhere near their potential I take as a positive rather than a negative. Bournemouth’s heroics against Chelsea was a great story. I fancy the Cherries will come back down to earth on Saturday.
The hardest job in football at the moment outside of being a doctor at Chelsea has to be my Malay Mail colleagues and I having to submit correct score predictions for the EPL every weekend. I give maximum respect to Nantha Kumar and MAILSPORT for each getting two spot on last week. I drew a complete blank and am dreading this week’s crystal ball gazing. Newcastle beating Liverpool caught everyone out and their game against Spurs on Sunday is another potential match up where stating the obvious is dangerous. The Toon have come away from their last two EPL trips to White Hart Lane with maximum points and off the back of a Wijnaldum inspired home victory, may be good enough to pull off a second shock in as many weeks. Tottenham have not lost at home in the league this season but the “Lane’ has never been a fortress and never will be. Having made me look foolish last week no doubt Steve McClaren will do so again this but a Newcastle side combining the performances of the first 44 minutes of their loss at Sunderland with the last 45 of their win against Liverpool can give the Lilywhites something to think about.
A record ten different nations will be represented in the knock out stages of the UCL this season and that bodes well for the competitive nature of the expanded 24 team EURO 2016 tournament which you can watch live and exclusively on Astro SuperSport next June and July. Amongst those ten countries is Belgium who have a side (Gent) in the last 16 of Europe’s elite club contest for the first time since 2001. With that in mind, please report to me any pundit you hear tipping Belgium as ‘dark horses’ for EURO 2016 as they are late by about four years. Their national squad contains some real superstars, a world class keeper and against the logic of economics a domestic league on the up.