April 26, 2016

United salvaging its season

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Don’t look now, but it could be possible that Louis van Gaal might still be Manchester United’s manager when the 2016 EPL season kicks off in August.

Thanks to a last-minute Anthony Martial goal, the Red Devils are in the FA Cup final against an average-at-best Crystal Palace side.

Could bringing home that silverware to go with a top-5 finish be enough to keep the Dutchman employed? Or will it be Jose Mourinho stalking the sidelines at Old Trafford, as is very much rumoured.

United is getting healthier, too, as the season comes to an end, with Wayne Rooney back in action and the defence getting sorted out.

Even better, with a lot of youngsters playing big roles thanks to those injuries this season, they’ll be more prepared for their EPL futures than they could have been by playing U-21 games and practices.

Marcus Rashford looks like a quality youngster and should figure into both United’s and England’s future. Look for him to get plenty of playing time in United’s Europa League campaign next season, as well as Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Jesse Lingard, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Andreas Pereira and a couple of others.

The future is bright for United and winning the FA Cup will go a long way to building towards building confidence and developing this squad.

WHO NEEDS VARDY?

I admit it: I thought that Leicester City would be in at least a little bit of trouble with Jamie Vardy out suspended.

With the outstanding Englishman out, it was Leonardo Ulloa who stepped up and put in a brilliant performance. The Argentine who played a huge part for the Foxes last season, scored twice against Swansea in his team’s 4-0 rout. Between him and Riyad Mahrez – who is seemingly always brilliant – it was enough to match his team’s best offensive output this season.

Between this big win and Tottenham’s draw with West Brom on Monday, Leicester is potentially one game away from clinching the title.

Yes, the Foxes are just three points are away from the title.

Let that sink in for a second.

Seven points up with three games to play, this thing could be wrapped up on Sunday morning.

And with Vardy missing next week’s game too thanks to his improper conduct charge, we’ll get to see if Leicester can do it again without a player that we assumed was an indispensible piece.

It should be fun to watch, to say the least.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

A Manchester City striker scored two goals and had an assist this week against Stoke City to earn our player of the week honours, but it’s not the City striker that you’d expect.

No, it wasn’t superstar Sergio Aguero, but Nigerian youngster Kelechi Iheanacho that filled up the scoresheet, putting in an excellent performance that shows the promise that the club sees in him.

Aguero did have a goal of his own, but this was Iheanacho’s game.

He has certainly earned some more playing time going forward, especially with Aguero likely to get some rest in league play with a Champions League semifinal date against Real Madrid looming.

And when you consider that Iheanacho’s two goals are two more than Wiflried Bony has scored in 2016, well it’s hard to think that the youngster isn’t the top backup option up front right now.

AWARD SEASON

Sure, the season’s not over for another three weeks, but that hasn’t stopped the FA from handing out their end-of-season awards.

Mahrez was named the player of the year – and rightfully so. He beat out a couple of his Leicester teammates and Dimitri Payet, Mesut Ozil and Harry Kane to name a few.

With his team about to clinch the title and Mahrez having an even better season than last year’s winner, Eden Hazard, had, you can’t really argue against this.

As for young player of the year, Dele Alli certainly deserved his award too.

The Tottenham midfielder stormed onto the scene, originally starting in a more holding role before bursting forward and showing his attacking prowess.

His 10 goals are fourth-best among midfielders and 12 assists are third overall – not too shabby for a guy that’s just 20-years-old.

Let’s just hope that his season isn’t over after cameras caught him punching West Brom’s Claudio Yacob in the stomach during Monday’s game.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Since Kevin De Bruyne’s return, City has really been rolling. He didn’t play in this one, resting up for Tuesday’s clash with Real Madrid, but it’s hard to think that it wouldn’t be closer to contention if he didn’t miss so much time … On nearly the anniversary of winning player of the year, Hazard reminded people that, yes, he still is in fact playing football. The Belgian scored for the first time the EPL in 356 days, a streak that is mind-boggling when you consider his quality … Craig Dawson technically picked up a brace, but it’s too bad for Baggies fans that it was a goal apiece for Spurs and them … Olivier Giroud has failed to score in 19 of the past 20 games he has played. His spot in the Gunners XI should be in question and you have to wonder what French management thinks of him heading into Euro 2016.

RELEGATION ROUNDUP

Sunderland is making this race a bit interesting after scratching out an unexpected draw with Arsenal. The Black Cats are now level with Norwich and a point above Newcastle, but have a big advantage in goal differential over the two fellow relegation battlers.

Both Sunderland and Norwich have a game in hand over Newcastle – which came back to draw against Liverpool – which doesn’t bode well for the Magpies.

The only thing that we know for sure is that at least one of the Tyneside teams will be plying their trade in the Championship next season as it’s incredible unlikely that Crystal Palace will get dragged into this mess being eight points up in 16th.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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