Young's hopes for United title delusional
MAN UNITED v HULL CITY
(Tonight, 11pm, SingTel mio TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
In such moments, Premier League footballers must call upon the cliches.
Nothing too specific, just a generic comment about taking the season one game at a time and not looking past Hull City tonight.
That's all Ashley Young had to say.
But, as he so often does on the field, the Manchester United winger got ahead of himself. Yesterday, his unfortunate remarks ignored sobering reality in favour of blind faith.
"The manager has said we want to break that top four," Young said, standing on solid ground.
"But you know players and staff at the club, we want to win the league title," he added, before the ground gave way and swallowed him whole.
Unless he's hankering for a second career in stand-up comedy, Young is guilty of misplaced optimism. Or he's a tad delusional.
United aren't winning the title this season. They're not even getting close.
If the Premier League table never lies, then it's proving to be a master of deception right now. The Red Devils are fourth by default. They are the fourth least inconsistent side in an ongoing elitist battle of inconsistency.
With the exception of Chelsea, this season represents a transitional one for most of the leading contenders, the kind of season that is occasionally essential, but quickly forgotten.
The Premier League's cyclical process makes for entertaining peaks and troughs. Unfortunately, Chelsea's paper challengers are sniffing around the trough, waiting for either a transfer window buffet or for Jose Mourinho to clear off so they can gorge on their own success again.
United are fourth because they are the least bad of their other rivals, an unpalatable fact clearly underlined when their most patched-up first 11 in recent memory defeated the most gutless Arsenal first 11 in recent memory.
Porous defences do not prevail. Despite their improvements, Tyler Blackett, Chris Smalling and Patrick McNair are not the stuff that open-top bus parade dreams are made of.
Luke Shaw's ankle injury ensures Louis van Gaal is deprived of another player integral to his tactical plans. His loss - along with Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Rafael da Silva - has butchered the back line.
If dodgy defences do not win trophies, decimated defences are lucky to qualify for the top four. As Liverpool and Arsenal amply demonstrate, it's hard to take a club's title credentials seriously when there are cardboard cutouts playing in front of the goalkeeper.
United have lost only one of their last seven games, but statistics can be shaped to fit any reasonable hypothesis. This season also represents the club's poorest start since 1986 and the victory at Arsenal was the first away from home.
Van Gaal's men have conceded as many goals as Stoke and, more interestingly, the most expensive attacking line-up in the club's history have scored a goal less than West Ham.
Of course, the Hammers are not governed from the sidelines by one of the most decorated managers in the modern game.
Young mentioned van Gaal's aura, and then his presence, and then his belief, all in the same comment. It's a wonder he didn't wear a sign, saying: "Please pick me against Hull, boss."
The 29-year-old is not necessarily wrong. Van Gaal's personal magnetism makes him a formidable presence. His dictatorial stance at the Emirates Stadium contrasted noticeably with Arsene Wenger's.
Compared to van Gaal, the Arsenal manager displayed all the aggressive intent of a teddy bear's picnic.
The Dutchman's tenacity is a wonderful asset, but he doesn't boast enough on the pitch. Mourinho already has the monopoly on game-changing assets.
After just 12 games, United are 13 points behind Chelsea and the Blues' biggest obstacles have already been successfully navigated. They went to Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton and returned undefeated.
Young mentions a tilt at the title and hears stifled giggles. Bookmakers slash the odds on Chelsea finishing the season unbeaten and no one laughs.
A record points tally and a record margin of victory are already potential targets for the Blues. Everyone else is playing for second place. This title race can no longer be won, but only thrown away by those remorseless, relentless winning machines. And Mourinho's sides just do not implode.
At every club, from Porto to Real Madrid, the Portuguese perfectionist finished his second season at the summit. Mourinho is a creature of habit. He will win again.
United may make a pretty bridesmaid in the spring, but this wedding march is only playing the Blues.
6 The Red Devils have won all six previous EPL meetings with Hull City.
'Van Persie not certain to start'
Robin van Persie. PHOTO: REUTERS
Louis van Gaal has warned striker Robin van Persie he will have to fight for his place, as the Manchester United manager prepares to welcome Radamel Falcao back to his squad.
Van Gaal is hoping the injury-hit Colombian can finally display the qualities that have made him one of the most feared strikers in world football, especially important for United with van Persie struggling for form.
Falcao's loan spell at Old Trafford has been disrupted by injuries, but van Gaal is hopeful he will be in the squad for the visit of Hull City today.
Asked if Falcao's return would increase the pressure on van Persie, who was substituted against his former club Arsenal last weekend, having had just 13 touches of the ball, van Gaal said: "Every player in my selection has to fight for his position and I shall always take the best of the players and it must also be suitable for the mix of players. So it is also an obligation of a player that he does that."
Asked if he felt confident that Falcao can start to live up to his potential, the United boss added: "I hope so because we have him on loan because of that."
It is not just Falcao poised to provide a huge boost for United, but Argentina defender Marcos Rojo is also in contention after being out with a shoulder injury.
Van Gaal said: "We have to wait and see until the last training session of course. It's always difficult to say, but we have good news, yes. You have to read between the lines."
The Dutchman said he was happy that United were in the top four, despite their injury problems and having played some heavyweight opposition in recent games.
"When you see how our preparation was, how many injuries, then it was a very big test and, after the heavy opponents, we are still fourth, so I'm happy," said van Gaal.
"But we have to be at least fourth at the end of the league and not now. Now is not so important. We have to improve our playing style and beat our opponents more easily."
Van Gaal was also careful to provide an exact statement on England fullback Luke Shaw, who suffered an ankle injury against the Gunners.
A week ago, the United manager's comments on Daley Blind's knee problem were misinterpreted and led to the club's 3.5 million Twitter followers being erroneously advised the Dutch player was out for six months.
Van Gaal said: "Last time, I said something and it was not interpreted so good, so I have asked my medical adviser and maybe the Manchester United Twitter account can pay attention to it."
The United manager then read from a prepared statement, saying: "Luke sustained an ankle ligament injury but with no serious complications and he will be out for the next few weeks because of this."
Van Gaal also added that "with Daley Blind, it will not be six months".
- PA Sport.