Premier League Matchday 16: Top Observations

Van Gaal’s philosophy hits peak tedium

At Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern, Louis van Gaal’s sides were never this boring. There were mishaps along the way, but his current spell at Manchester United runs the risk of forever blurring his reputation as a managerial great. Every criticism of his side must be tempered with an appreciation of their league position, but after the week they have just had it is impossible to hold back.

After first dropping out of one of the easier Champions League groups, they were then deservedly beaten by Bournemouth, who despite notching up a great win at Stamford Bridge in their previous game were in the lower reaches of the table. More than that, they were beaten by a team playing the quick, attacking football United fans seem to chant for on a weekly basis. After a season and a half, and a quarter of a billion pounds of gross investment, it was United who looked, played and acted like the strugglers: cautious, rigid and desperately, desperately slow.

City win like champions/scrape another lucky win

The wonder of narrative is that the same evidence can be spun quite convincingly in two opposite directions. In the aftermath of Manchester City’s last-minute 2-1 victory against Swansea, the facts of the game had the ability to go one of two ways. On the one hand, title-challengers City did that thing that winners do: win all three points even when playing poorly, thus showing the spirit and stomach of champions. On the other hand City were yet again outplayed by a team adopting a high-pressing 4-3-3, and relied on a Joe Hart masterclass and a last-minute deflection to rob the visitors of a deserved point. Same stats, different outcomes. We will see which fits better come May.

Cameras both a blessing and a curse for Newcastle

It was, for a brief moment, a beautiful sight. Hapless Newcastle – the team seemingly so destined for a battering at the hands of two bigger sides – had snatched a late winner against Spurs, thus completing an unlikely league double by beating both them and high-scoring Liverpool the week before. After weeks of torridness, the presence of television cameras seemed to have been the thing missing from Newcastle’s performance: the big audience seemingly motivated the side to deliver their best on the bigger stage. For those watching, it was a rousing televised insight into a likeable, plucky team riding a wave of neutral-warming euphoria. Then the camera – that same camera of blessed strength – turned to their owner, bobbling around with glee. An owner who currently stands accused of running a near-illegal business operation of underpayment and terror. With that, the warmth quickly iced over: the camera giveth, and the camera taketh away.

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisDWorrall

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