Football NewsMonday 25th April 2016

Premier League Review: Leicester City find joy in playing without Vardy

Premier League Review: Leicester City find joy in playing without Vardy

Leicester City celebrating not stumbling towards the title

It is easy to make predictions in football. It is almost as easy to be wrong. If you predict a win, then, well, there are two other possible results that will make you wrong. Similarly, you can judge how a side have played all season and suggest that without one player, for a couple of games they’ll be fine. And it can turn out that actually, it’s not just the goals of the player that are decisive, but how he interacts with the side in other ways.

There was plenty of concern that Jamie Vardy’s absence from the Leicester team would be a real obstacle. Mauricio Pochettino declared it would have a big impact on the side. Again, there’s no way of really being sure of predicting what would happen - it was just Pochettino trying to put pressure on Leicester.

Pochettino didn’t really have any choice. The way Claudio Ranieri has managed his side this season has made it seem like a celebration rather than a slog. The players play as a team, and appear to respect and like their manager. There’s no talk of the side being broken up by the bigger sides at the end of the season (though that will probably happen), because they’ve all committed on this season. Pochettino had to try to affect the confidence of the side, but it didn’t work.

Throughout the season Leicester have faced obstacles and overcome them. Dogged opposition defence has been overcome. A lack of Vardy goals has been mitigated. Late defeats to title rivals has not dented their efforts. Against a Swansea side who have given up for the season, Leicester didn’t panic, and nor did they need to. Spurs might well be the best team in the country right now, but Leicester are evidently the most consistent side over the course of the season.

Everton or their manager need to change soon

Roberto Martinez isn’t going to come back from this. Even if he wins the remaining few games of the season, there won’t be enough to convince the owners or fans - and perhaps even the players - that he has a plan to turnaround a pathetic 4-0 loss to Liverpool. There may have been a brief spark of optimism when Everton equalised against a hapless Manchester United side, but even then they ultimately failed to bother to stand next to United’s best player, and lost as a result.

It is an old, established failing. Not just of Martinez at Everton, but Martinez generally. At Wigan, it was claimed that their late resurgence was because, due to a high summer turnover, it took so long for the players to adapt to his strategy. It’s a nice thought, and certainly when he moved to Everton, the ways of attack were more pleasant on the eye than the last few years of David Moyes.

However, whereas Moyes’ approach was prosaic and limited, it did leave Martinez with a solid defence to build on. Instead, it has fallen victim of decay, and a well balanced Everton side has become lopsided and disheartened. Few managers get a chance to turnaround such severe slumps anymore, and the fans certainly don’t have the patience for it. Everton’s new co-owner might see an easy way to ingratiate himself.

Everton's Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku reacts after missing a chance

Manchester United show their lack of respect for Van Gaal

United fans are just as belligerent when it comes to the future of their manager, Louis van Gaal. Against West Ham in the cup and now Everton, United have impressed early on, and then fallen apart in the second half. They have shown, at times, a disregard for the painfully dull and prescriptive training methods and playing requirements of their manager, because they realise they could actually win something.

In the league, they obey him, and we are all aware of where that has got United: nowhere, but at a cost of a quarter of a billion pounds. It is surely this which will remove Van Gaal at the end of the season, though there is of course the terrifying prospect that he somehow qualifies in the top four and gets to hang onto his job. If he does, expect not just more empty seats in the stadium, but in the dressing room. An FA Cup victory will be enjoyed by manager, players and fans, should they pull it off, but nobody in their right mind will imagine that playing for United or watching them will be anything other than unpleasant if Van Gaal continues.

The North East leave it too late

Two more impressive displays from the North East, who both have timed their resurgences poorly. The point of an end-of-season revival is to establish a gap, not simply stay in touch with another club desperately clawing for survival too. It’s not their fault now, and they have no other option to earn points simply to keep up with their neighbours. In a way, though, it sums up the slightly arrogant characteristics of both teams, that because they have their own cultural identity they are needed in the Premier League. There may be some truth in that, but in the last few years they have offered very little that is edifying or enjoyable. It is time for both of them to stop leaving things to the last minute and preparing so haphazardly, and try again in a couple of years when they’re willing to put the hard work in from August, not April.

Crystal Palace arrest their league slump

There is little point reading too much into a single game one way or another. Only when a circumstance repeats itself is there a good reason to look for a deeper meaning. But, with Palace, you can see that when it comes to the Cup, they have some sense of indefatigability. They are less likely to bow down to inconvenience and equalisers, and are willing to believe they can achieve victory. That is one way to read it, at least. Another would be that in 2016 the players have lost interest in the pursuit of mid-table under Alan Pardew, a manager with form for losing the belief of his squad and watching them tumble down the league alarmingly. The FA Cup is merely evidence that, like at Manchester United, the players now play only for themselves.

So, which one is it? As described in the intro, making predictions is a fool’s game. What’s that? Ah, let’s go with the latter possibility as the likeliest situation, then.