March 15th, 2015. Tottenham Hotspur travelled to Old Trafford with the home side in what one could kindly describe as “patchy” form.
Louis van Gaal’s charges had been gifted a win away at Newcastle in their previous outing and were unconvincing in a 2-0 victory over Sunderland the weekend before. The Dutchman was already under significant pressure with both the dour style of play he advocated and his side’s inconsistent results drawing the ire of fans.
The Iron Tulip named a surprising team to start the game in what turned out to be an overdue switch to a 4-3-3 formation with Michael Carrick operating in a pivot role. United blitzed an inexperienced Spurs side in the first half with goals from the aforementioned midfielder, Marouane Fellaini and Wayne Rooney.
It was the peak of Van Gaal’s tenure up to that point and would only be topped by Juan Mata’s Anfield double and the FA Cup win in May.
It was a pivotal game and, unusually, United prevailed. When the pressure has been on the Reds in recent seasons, and three points have been a must, they’ve rarely managed one.
This Sunday is one of those moments.
Leicester are, if looked upon objectively and on the basis of this season alone, little more than serious relegation candidates bereft of a real attacking threat. They have to be beaten, regardless of their new title. Anything less than a win would mean either a fourth draw in a row or an end to their unbeaten run in the league. After the insipid performance against Hull yielded just a solitary point, Sunday’s test has suddenly become the club’s most important game since Tottenham arrived back in 2015.
Arsenal voyage across London at the weekend to face a seemingly peerless Chelsea side in Stamford Bridge. It’s not unfair on the Gunners to assume they’ll leave Fulham Road empty-handed. Liverpool try and go one better than United could in midweek as they take on Marco Silva’s side in the KCOM Stadium in what is rapidly becoming one of the more testing fixtures in the division. Jurgen Klopp’s side would do well take the maximum on Saturday afternoon.
In a considerably less ominous fixture, Manchester City host Swansea on Sunday in the lunchtime game. However, with Paul Clement’s side improving immeasurably week on week, they could pull off the kind of shock they managed at Anfield.
All this means that if United can dispose of Claudio Ranieri’s side in the late kick-off, while they’ll remain in sixth, they could potentially close the gap to just a point from their two nearest rivals and move to only two off Wenger’s Arsenal.
Returning to the utter mad man with the utterly dire philosophy, Louis van Gaal, some claim his defeat in the upcoming fixture in his first season defined his time. Far from it, it epitomised what his reign lacked and what made Sir Alex Ferguson’s era the golden generation of the club.
Falcao and co. tore the Foxes to shreds in the opening twenty minutes before Rafael decided he didn’t like defending and while the visitors continued to threaten, it all went a bit pear-shaped.
From that day on, Van Gaal reverted to the posession-based game that eventually led to his demise. The Leicester game was the most pivotal moment in his time at Old Trafford. Sunday could be just as important for Mourinho. If he can’t find a better result than his predecessor, he’ll find it almost impossible to match the former Barcelona coach’s feat of qualifying for the Champions League in his opening season.
Rory Murphy, Pundit Arena