The Olegarch occasionally gazes into his crystal ball and makes outlandish, half-baked predictions on how a course of events is going to play out. In fact, The Olegarch launched this very platform with an ambitious prediction of factors that would influence The Race for the Top 4. Now we know the outcome of the race, The Olegarch holds himself accountable, looking at what he got right, and what he got wrong:
1) Arsenal’s Away Form
The Olegarch’s prediction: Arsenal would have to take 8 points from their away games to make the Top 4.
What happened: As predicted, Arsenal were basically useless away from home, rake-stepping their way to just 7 points on the road. But that wasn’t what sunk them – it was their desertion of duty at home, taking just 1 point from matches against Brighton and Crystal Palace.
Verdict: Largely accurate old boy, well done. Didn’t account for some putrid home form though.
2) Everton’s Home Form
The Olegarch’s prediction: Everton would take points off both United and Spurs
What happened: Everton were terrific at home. They walloped a despondent United 4-0, and held Spurs to a 2-2 draw on the final
Verdict: Spot on, tally-ho!
3) Manchester City
The Olegarch’s prediction: Spurs would draw/win at least one game of their City trilogy; United would lose to City.
What happened: United lost underwhelmingly to City. Spurs won one match against City, losing the other two. But Spurs won the war, as they progressed on away goals in the Champions League, and finished in the Top 4.
Verdict: Again, The Olegarch was spot on, although even he didn’t see it leading to Spurs featuring in their first Champions League final!
4) United – Chelsea
The Olegarch’s prediction: The team that won this game would qualify for the top 4; a draw would eliminate both.
What happened: The match ended 1-1, but while United failed to qualify for the Champions League, Chelsea finished the season in 3rdplace.
Verdict: Half right is all wrong, in The Olegarch’s book. He missed on this one, since Chelsea finished in the Top 4. Having said that, you’d think that if United had won this game, they’d have had the motivation to make a push and win their remaining fixtures, instead of soiling themselves the way they did.
5) Progress in European Competitions
The Olegarch’s prediction: Clubs that crashed out of Europe would double down in the League.
What happened: Incredibly, only 2 clubs – Manchesters United and City crashed out of Europe, with both European competitions hosting all-English finals. United’s season fell off a cliff, while City clinched the League title on the final day of the season, after a thrilling race
Verdict: A swing and a miss from The Olegarch here – European progress had nothing to do with domestic football. The Race for the Top 4 was not determined by progress in Europe.
The Olegarch’s assumptions: Clubs would take care of bizness against bread and butter teams, particularly at home; clubs that crashed out of Europe would double down in the League.
What happened: in a nutshell, all the top 4 Challengers behind City and Liverpool displayed a stunning reluctance to make any real progress in a quest for the top 4.
Verdict: This is where The Olegarch really missed the mark. First, nobody took care of bizness. Arsenal were the first to properly rule themselves out of serious Top 4 contention, dropping the ball right from the start at Crystal Palace, and continuing through Wolves, Leicester, and Brighton. Then Spurs inexplicably refused to shut the door behind them and make their spot safe. Only for Manchester United to collapse in the most inglorious mess of all: losing to Manchester City and Everton; failing to beat Chelsea at home; before drawing at already relegated Huddersfield and losing to already relegated Cardiff. Even Chelsea, who had the balls to finish the season 3rd, stumbled at home against Burnley, lost to Manchester City, and were held at Old Trafford. It was an ugly mess all round, which is disappointing because the race could have been a real treat for football fans worldwide.
The Olegarch would like to conclude with the final assumption: doubling down on the league after crashing out of Europe. One Top 4 competitor crashed out of Europe: Manchester United. The Olegarch was watching closely to see if the team would double down on the league and didn’t actually didn’t think 4th place was out of the question. But there is one thing I didn’t account for: the appointment of Zinedine Zidane as Manager of Real Madrid. On 6 March 2019, Manchester United overcame the odds against PSG, winning 3-1 in Paris. On 10 March, United played well but fell 2-0 against Arsenal. Zidane returned to the Madrid post on 11 March. And on 16 March, United lost the first of two matches against Wolves.
Paul Pogba is the only leader in that fragile, placid dressing room. Under Solskjaer, he was revitalized and played some of the best football of his career. And then his head was turned. He wanted to play for Real Madrid. He wanted to play for Zidane. And he wanted it now. Look, The Olegarch does not blame Pogba for wanted to play for his Nation’s greatest ever footballing hero, at a stage like Real Madrid. Of course, the whole “come back to finish what I started” spiel seems a little weak right now. But The Olegarch understands why Pogba might have been tempted by Madrid.
What The Olegarch finds unforgivable, in fact almost despicable, was how Pogba’s form fell off a cliff the very minute Zidane was appointed, and with it went the team’s. A decent professional would be able to focus on the season and rally his teammates. Pogba is not that. He is a generationally talented player with a prime physical specimen but a fair weather mentality. He needs an alpha in the dressing room, to step up and lead the troops when the chips are down. A figure like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Giorgio Chiellini, or Gianluigi Buffon. He’s just not that guy. But Pogba downed tools the second Zidane was appointed, and for that kind of dereliction of duty, The Olegarch hopes he’s shafted. He’s just no good for our dressing room, or our club. In fact, The Olegarch hope he’s flogged to PSG, just out of spite. But if we send him to Madrid, then The Olegarch would like to see players like Raphael Varane or Isco coming the other way. We need leaders in that dressing room. We need to fix the club culture.