Master LVG needs to tame pupil Mourinho
CHELSEA v MAN UNITED
(Tomorrow, 12.30am, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
Forget about a late dramatic twist to the English Premier League title race.
Almost nothing can alter its course by now, not even a convincing Manchester United victory at Stamford Bridge.
But for United manager Louis van Gaal, it will prove a point. Against his disciple, no less.
The Dutchman took Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho under his wing during his Barcelona days, nurtured him as an assistant, and trusted him so much that he would even let him lead the team in the Copa Catalunya, which he won.
But he probably didn't count on the pupil overtaking the master. He certainly didn't expect to discover the true gulf between Mourinho's Chelsea and his side when he arrived at Old Trafford last summer.
Yet, the Red Devils somehow made up some ground in recent weeks. Following several months of staid, laborious football that raised doubts about van Gaal's appointment, United suddenly sprung out of their shackles and hit a purple patch.
Six Premiership wins in a row, including over Man City, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, mean United go into this game in much better shape than they did in the corresponding fixture earlier in the season.
Back last October, van Gaal needed striker Robin van Persie to haul them out of trouble, with a 94th-minute equaliser, in Manchester.
NO NEED FOR LUCK
The general feeling is that they don't need to rely solely on good fortune to take something away from London this time round.
Their stunning form has also fuelled a prediction that van Gaal's rejuvenated side are ready to mount a strong title assault against Chelsea next season.
That's on paper, at least.
This game against Chelsea will tell van Gaal where they stand.
He has led them to victories over Man City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs this season, but they don't offer the kind of resistance that Chelsea do in their own backyard.
No team in English football presents a bigger obstacle. No venue in the English top flight offers a tougher assignment.
Mourinho has moulded his team into a lean machine that focus on economy. They are more organised, compact, and motivated than any other team in the country. They have lost only two Premiership games all season and none at home.
With a seven-point lead at the top of the table, a match in hand, and only six games left for their title rivals to attempt an overtaking manoeuvre, they have as good as won the championship.
They will be United's litmus test.
United might have turned the corner this season, but van Gaal's job isn't done yet. He must help them make the big leap. He might have gotten them to finally perform like thoroughbreds, but he must now inject into them the winning mentality.
Beyond that, the Dutchman also has a score to settle.
There is the small matter of beating his protege for the first time in his managerial career.
It's about time he reminds Mourinho who's the boss.
"With a little bit of luck, they could win this season, let’s hope so. Believing in the philosophy of Louis, at the start of the new season, I think he can bring the club back to where they belong."
- Former Man United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar on manager Louis van Gaal
OTHER FIXTURES (Tonight):
Crystal Palace v West Brom
Everton v Burnley
Leicester v Swansea
Stoke v Southampton
Man City v West Ham
Newcastle v Tottenham
JOSE MARIO DOS SANTOS MOURINHO FELIX
Years in management: 15
Teams managed: 6
League titles: 7
Domestic cups: 7
Champions League trophies: 2
Players signed this season: 6
Transfer expenditure: £108 million ($218m)
ALOYSIUS PAULUS MARIA VAN GAAL
Club: Manchester United
Years in management: 24
Teams managed: 6
League titles: 7
Domestic cups: 3
Champions League trophies: 1
Players signed this season: 7
Transfer expenditure: £155 million ($312m)
BY THE NUMBERS
Chelsea have handed Manchester United more English Premier League defeats than any other side in the competition.
Manchester United have already picked up more points this season than they did throughout the whole of last (64).