Van Gaal and Man United impress but Arsenal disappoint
Iain Macintosh runs the rule over another Premier League weekend in the latest edition of Heroes and Villains.
Other, more serious columns will spend time lauding Louis van Gaal for his mood-transforming victory over Arsenal. We only want to discuss his contretemps with Mike Dean. Who among us has not, at one point, wished to highlight our frustration with play-acting by sarcastically hurling ourselves to the floor? Van Gaal obviously has. And Van Gaal did it. With the grace and flexibility of a far younger man, he dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes. This column may have suggested in the past that time was running out for the Dutchman. Now we're desperate for him to stay.
We thought that the age of the comic book hero had passed. Roy Race is retired, Mighty Mouse is back sweeping hospital floors and Billy Dane's boots have surely perished in the attic. But there's something very familiar and reassuring about Marcus Rashford's rise to prominence. The serendipity of a warm-up injury that thrusts our hero into the limelight, the willingness to take the chance, the impetuosity of youth and, of course, the goals. Oh, the goals. We've seen this sort of thing before. This is Boys' Own stuff.
And to think people said that Manuel Pellegrini should recall Joe Hart for the League Cup final instead of staying true to Willy Caballero. The Argentine understudy's heroics secured Manchester City's second win under Pellegrini in the competition and no-one will underestimate him again. He may not be the most complete goalkeeper, but there are few who can match him for the simple art of shot-stopping. He blocked almost everything that Liverpool fired in at him, like some sort of genetically enhanced octopus-man hybrid. What a performance.
When Alberto Paloschi opened the scoring for Swansea, Tottenham fans must have feared the worst: Too many games. Too much travel. Too few players. Only one Harry Kane. But this Tottenham side don't give up easily and, despite the best efforts of Lukasz Fabianski, they fought back and eventually overwhelmed the Welsh side. Can they keep this up? Can they do what no Spurs side has done since 1961? It's becoming harder and harder to think of reasons why not.
Leicester fans have been asking when the rest of the Premier League is going to show them some respect but, after Saturday's stress, they must wish they were still being taken lightly. Norwich packed the defence and dropped deeper than the Mariana Trench in an effort to neutralise the league leaders. And it nearly worked. But while Claudio Ranieri's willingness to tinker has brought scorn in the past, his bravery and his ability to find solutions has never been more crucial than it was this weekend. His tweaks changed the game. His substitutions brought the win. And Leicester continue to lead the way.
Oh, Arsenal. There will never be a better season to mount a title challenge and there will never be a better time to go to Old Trafford. It's not just that Manchester United are an underwhelming football team, it's that they're so ravaged by injuries that their team sheet looks like a development squad roster. And what do the Gunners do when presented with this golden opportunity? They defend like a team that woke up three minutes before kickoff and still isn't entirely sure where they are, what they're doing or who all those children in red shirts are. Pitiful.
Oh dear. There are certain traditions to be upheld in English football and, by blowing a penalty shootout in a cup final, Liverpool's players have let everyone down. Winning on penalties is what Liverpool do, going all the way back to a European Cup final triumph in 1984. Their last three trophies were all won on penalties and you have to go back to 2003 to find the last cup that was won in normal time. Liverpool. Don't. Mess. Up. Penalties. Except they just did. And what is there to believe in now that this has happened? How shall we live?
Just three months ago, Crystal Palace were riding high in the league and Alan Pardew was mooted as a potential England manager. But the Eagles haven't won since December and they are spiralling down the table. West Bromwich Albion are a side with obvious strengths, but goalscoring is really not one of their fortes. No team should be conceding three goals in 30 minutes to the Baggies. Palace need to buck their ideas up quickly. This season is fast becoming a write-off.
Talking of teams in freefall, spare a thought for poor Norwich. Saturday's defeat to Leicester was their sixth in seven games, a run that has seen them concede a whopping 19 goals. Alex Neil's side made a bright start to the season, but the wheels have really come off now and they're in serious trouble. They need a result and fast. So, who's up next week? Ah. It's Chelsea, who are undefeated in the league since December. This could get a lot worse before it gets better.
Now that FIFA has a new president, it's time for some new policies and the way that football deals with head injuries should be high on the to-do list. You can understand why Jurgen Klopp did not immediately replace Mamadou Sakho after his apparent concussion; he wanted to be sure before he used a crucial substitution so early in the game. But why isn't there an option to make a temporary change in order to assess the injury? With a legal tweak similar to rugby's blood rule, players with head injuries could be quickly removed from the fray and then sent back on later if deemed fit to continue. We shouldn't sit and wait for a catastrophe before we exercise some common sense.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.