Louis van Gaal thinks Manchester United may have won the Premier League this year had it not been for their wretched start to the campaign.
Table toppers Chelsea stretched their lead over third-placed United to 11 points last weekend with a 1-0 victory over the Red Devils at Stamford Bridge.
Eden Hazard grabbed all three points for the Blues with a 38th-minute winner, but there was little between the teams and Van Gaal is already plotting to overthrow the champions elect next season.
And he says had it not been for a poor run of three wins in their opening 10 games, it could have been United running away with the title in April, rather than Chelsea.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 26, 2015
“Yes, we had a very bad start,” the United manager told MUTV when asked if he wondered what might have been this season.
“I have already explained that after several matches why so I don’t have to repeat myself but if we had started well, we could have been the champions.”
Meanwhile, Everton’s Steven Pienaar is a major doubt for the hosts today with muscle fatigue.
However, fellow midfielders Leon Osman (groin) and James McCarthy (ankle) both returned to training and should be available.
— Everton (@Everton) April 24, 2015
Striker Romelu Lukaku reported no after-effects from his first appearance in a month last weekend.
Defenders Phil Jones (ankle), Marcos Rojo (adductor) and Rafael (rib) are out and midfielder Michael Carrick (calf) is also unavailable.
Centre-back Jonny Evans returns from suspension, but there are doubts over midfield duo Daley Blind (ankle) and Adnan Januzaj (ankle).
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho values Eden Hazard at £200million (Dh1.1bn) and says if Real Madrid wanted the Belgium playmaker, he would be among the first to know.
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Real coach Zinedine Zidane this week spoke of his admiration for Hazard, who is favourite to be crowned PFA Player of the Year tonight after a sparkling season for Chelsea.
Zidane is 24-year-old Hazard’s idol and the comments were interpreted as the beginning of a courtship designed to lure Hazard to the Bernabeu.
Asked if £100m (Dh550m) would be enough for Chelsea to part with Hazard, Mourinho said: “Plus one of their three best players. £100m each leg, because he’s very young.”
Mourinho on Hazard: “We just signed a new contract with him. We didn’t put a gun to his head. I don’t think he’s interested in going.”
— Oluwashina Okeleji (@oluwashina) April 24, 2015
The prospect of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez or Karim Benzema moving to Stamford Bridge would appeal to Chelsea supporters, but they would not wish to lose Hazard. Mourinho, who left Real in 2013 to return to Chelsea, does not expect it to happen.
“I don’t believe (it) because they didn’t tell me,” he said. “If they want him, I think I would be the first to know, because my relationship with the president (Florentino Perez) and with the CEO (Jose Angel Sanchez) doesn’t give space for something to happen behind me.
“I trust them completely. If they want him they get on the telephone and they call me to tell me they want him.”
Hazard has scored 18 goals this season ahead of today’s trip to Arsenal, who are 10 points behind. Victory at the Emirates Stadium would see the Blues move within three points of a first Premier League title in five years.
His work ethic and willingness to play for the team has impressed Mourinho as much as his individual skill.
“We are not the kind of group that is looking for somebody to be special, for somebody to be more than the others. This is not our culture,” Mourinho said.
“He knows that he’s a special player for us and that we need him in many occasions to be decisive for us but, he’s such a normal boy that he doesn’t belong to that glamour.
“He wants to be a special player and a normal person. He’s a fantastic boy, a golden boy. He doesn’t cheat. He doesn’t dive. Nothing. So I think, even for opponents, I think he’s a fantastic kid.”
Yaya Toure’s future is again a hot topic as the season draws to an end with a sense of deja vu as we wait to see if he stays at Manchester City or moves on.
No matter how many times City say, be it through manager Manuel Pellegrini or his team-mates, that the towering midfielder is a vital asset in their quest to win more trophies, speculation and doubt remain.
It was the same last season after the rumpus over not receiving a cake to mark his 31st birthday when the Premier League champions headed out to Abu Dhabi, and the club not giving him compassionate leave when his brother, Ibrahim, was dying of cancer. That left a bad taste in the mouth.
Only Yaya can decide his next step, and he has to stop hiding behind the bluster and just tell the truth.
— Sky Sports News HQ (@SkySportsNewsHQ) April 22, 2015
One day he says he loves the club and is not going anywhere, yet the next there are comments attributed to him, or his agent Dimitri Seluk, that says he is open to new challenges and offers if he feels unwanted.
No one would begrudge him a new challenge and perhaps he needs it to rekindle his love for the game. He will be 32 next month and this is his longest spell at any club.
But the uncertainty, the vague comments, could also be perceived as a message to City to improve his contract, again, with the promise of an ambassadorial role when he quits playing.
And herein lies the problem. As he has been instrumental in City’s rise from mediocrity to winners rather than also-rans, with two league titles, the club have shown how much they value him by making him their best-paid player on a reported £240,000-a-week.
Pellegrini: @YayaToure is a doubt for Spurs next week but Clichy and Nasri could be back
— Stuart Brennan (@StuBrennanMEN) April 25, 2015
But, on current form, he does not warrant more than say Sergio Aguero right now. Nor does his current behaviour, or inability to control the antics of his advisor, make him a role model or someone to revere.
Either he leaves, or he needs to commit, wholeheartedly, and get back to showing his class and and that he still has much to offer because at the moment he looks a shadow of his former self.
Pellegrini has made him captain in the absence of Vincent Kompany and he needs to lead by example, on and off the field and there wasn’t much sign of that while he was on the pitch on Saturday.
His performances generally this season have been a let-down. He has been nowhere near the fearsome force of the previous campaign where he should have been a contender for the Ballon d’Or let alone English football’s Player of the Year.
He scored 24 goals last season, was imposing and inspired, but has just 10 this time, and defensive inadequacies and dismal displays have been highlighted far too often for his manager’s liking.
As City have struggled, so has he. As they have lost ground on their rivals, Yaya looks to have lost interest.
Apart from one sublime defence-splitting pass to Jesus Navas, he was a peripheral figure in Saturday’s 3-2 win over Aston Villa before being forced off at half time with a hamstring injury.
It would be sad if that injury keeps him out for the run-in and proves to be his final contribution and that fans remember only the lowlights rather his inspirational role in helping City establish themselves among the elite.
He deserves better, and so do City so, for everyone’ sake, he needs to get it sorted one way or another.