Matthew Dunn addresses the only real talking point to come out of the Premier League this weekend – satisfied United need to set bar higher; PL fixture farce; Chelsea boss has Guardiola’s number.
RAISE A GLASS BUT RAISE THE BAR TOO
CONGRATULATIONS to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for cementing a top four place and remaining in the title race for longer than any of Manchester City’s other challengers.
But the bad news is that such empty praise will simply not be enough next season as the United board expect some repayment for the faith they have shown.
Genuine title contenders next season right down the wire and the Champions League quarter-finals are the minimum benchmarks for the United manager next season and the next four games are going to show how close United are to achieving that.
He has his detractors, but Harry Maguire is going to be a big miss if that boot is as serious as it looks and United have to show they are solid enough without him.
Interestingly, though, United have conceded just one goal in the five games in which Maguire has not featured so it is time for that much-maligned defence to step up again.
GAMES SCHEDULING MORE THICK THAN FAST
JUST when we seem ready to breathe a sigh of relief at getting through another difficult season through brilliant management and common sense, the Premier League cannot help but score one last own goal.
Managers grumble – that’s a given. But it is a truth universally acknowledged that asking teams to play every other day is a step too far.
No wonder Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is going to weaken his team when asked to play Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday.
The trouble is, their opponents Leicester and Liverpool are locking in a European qualification race. And in circumstances when ‘integrity of the competition’ is a phrase always looming in the background, it is a shame the Premier League have let themselves down by creating such an unnecessary problem.
With fixtures already being moved around wholesale to let fans in, this situation should have been avoided. No wonder David Moyes at West Ham is so frustrated.
GUARDIOLA NOT TUCHEL FOR A SCHOOLING
THIS is not a rehearsal! THIS is not a rehearsal! Hopefully, for all the changes, a few alarm bells were ringing at the Etihad on Saturday.
It is just over four months since Pep Guardiola took a City squad ravaged by coronavirus to Stamford Bridge and was 3-0 up within 34 minutes.
So the fact that Thomas Tuchel found a way to make it two wins out of two against Guardiola since taking over is significant even if City had made nine changes from their usual Champions League outfit.
It is the measure of the new Chelsea manager that he seems capable of finding a way to beat anything in front of him and as Real Madrid found to their cost, City will have to be at full strength and firing on all cylinders come May 29.
WEST HAM NEED EXTRA RICE FOR CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MEAL TICKET
THERE is still a shudder at the memory of a presentation in Westfield Shopping Centre, Stratford about the future of West Ham United after their move to their new stadium.
Top of the list of ‘visions’ for the club was the simple statement, ‘Regular Champions League football’.
Even the miracle of this season looks to have left them short of achieving that holy grail even for the first time, but perhaps worse for the club would have been for them to finish in the top four and think that they had cracked it.
As has been shown in recent games, West Ham do not have the squad to mount a season-long assault on the very top of the table.
The owners should focus on unearthing, or creating, a few more Declan Rices to bolster their squad rather than having to rely on just the one.
At least if Moyes does still nick European qualification it will give the club a reality check on the playing resources required to wage battle both domestically and on the continent.
ARSENAL’S YOUNG PUPS NEED A LEAD
IN the last 12 matches, Arsenal have only managed to beat West Brom, Newcastle, Slavia Prague and Sheffield United.
Three days after stinking the place out in terms of lack of positivity or desire against Villarreal, they have what it takes to pull the plug on West Brom’s Premier League misadventure.
It is no good Arsenal players only turning it on when going is easy – it highlights the true leadership vacuum in the dressing room.
With no European football, Arsenal can focus on building from young next season – Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, Eddie Nketiah, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson are testament to that.
It could be an exciting team and Mikel Arteta may even be the manager to oversee it.
Arsenal, though, need to recruit some help for him on the pitch. Urgently.