This week’s Rant Cast focuses on one thing: the Europa League final. Much like the team, Ed & Paul have been phoning in recent shows in order to ensure full fitness for this special length preview of Wednesday’s game. The pod also includes an interview with Dutch football pundit Michiel Jongsma.
After 118 years Tottenham Hotspur prepares to say goodbye to White Hart Lane. The century has not aged the old ground well, with Spurs’ facilities outdated and other clubs moving ahead. It is testament to Mauricio Pochettino’s talent as a manager that he has taken the Lillywhites to second on the Premier League’s sixth largest budget. José Mourinho might typically be out to spoil the party, but with the Manchester United manager has long since prioritised winning the Europa League. It might not be a scratch team on Sunday, but it is likely to be far from full strength.
Perhaps, in private, José Mourinho will admit that Manchester United’s performance at Arsenal last Sunday was one of relentless mediocrity. In public, of course, he said something very different, defending his players and bemoaning a heavy schedule. Yet, United remained competitive against Arsenal for no more than 15 minutes at the Emirates. Then the home side took charge, with two quick goals securing the points for a beleaguered Arsene Wenger. It was a performance that should stimulate plenty of scrutiny about the manager’s approach this season – not least in his management of a squad that contains a mix of players too shattered to be effective and those too rusty to impress.
In the fortnight since the last Rant Cast Jose Mourinho has executed on a seemingly long-held plan: to bet everything on Manchester United winning the Europa League, at the expense of domestic league success. Draws with Manchester and Swansea City, then defeat at Arsenal has all but ensured a fourth successive season outside the top three.
“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future,” Niels Bohr, physicist.
“No serious futurist deals in prediction. These are for television oracles and newspaper astrologers,” Alvin Toffler, author.
“I’m going to make a prediction – it could go either way,” Ron Atkinson, soothsayer.
When Manchester United drew Celta Vigo in the Europa League semi-final it had fans looking at Wikipedia, checking Whoscored for data, and reaching for the long-lost Galician guide books. Celta may not be one of La Liga’s giants, nor doing particularly well this season, but it is a team that has dispatched some decent quality opposition in this year’s competition. Celta is also the club that stands between United and a date in Stockholm at the end of May – and possible Champions League qualification.
It is a little under three years since Swansea City arrived at Old Trafford and embarrassed Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United side in the Dutchman’s first competitive fixture in charge . It wouldn’t be the last time the Dutchman was humiliated while at United, but it is a result that remains lodged in the memory, as if to underline the mediocrity that has engulfed the club since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. It is almost 12 months since the Iron Tulip’s tenure at United came to end, and there are plenty of reasons to believe progress is being made. Signs that it hasn’t come fast enough as well.
Manchester United’s victory over Burnley on Sunday brings José Mourinho’s side to within a point of Manchester City in the fight for Champions League places. After all, it may be just two from four, with only one of City, United, Liverpool or Arsenal likely to make it to Europe’s top table next season. Thursday’s clash may not come in the midst of a fight for the league title, but it is the most important derby for some time. Victory for Mourinho’s side at the Etihad will push the Reds into the top four for the first time in 2017; a City win might secure Pep Guardiola’s side Champions League football. But who has the advantage on Thursday? Rant investigates…