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MEET THE NEW BOSS, SAME AS THE OLD BOSS?
The Fiver was in a state of suspended animation during the Christmas break, a bit like Percy Pig but in reverse. But now we’re back, baby! And we’re back, baby, just in time to report that everything is pretty much exactly the same as it was before. Manchester City are still a shoo-in for the league. Norwich remain near-certainties to go down. And the stuff being served up at Old Trafford would make a Goodison season-ticket holder reconsider complaining about the fare Rafa’s slopping in front of them. Context, you see. There’s always somebody worse off than you.
Yesterday evening, Manchester United tribute act Manchester United really excelled themselves with a performance of such abject poverty that comparisons were instantly drawn with those Late Solskjærian fiascos, only this time there was even less hope. A miserable state of affairs, given the club had added some fresh new hope only last month with the appointment of Ralf Rangnick. But hope is a nebulous concept, quickly evaporating if it doesn’t catch alight, and now look where everyone is. In a deep funk, only five games into the new manager’s reign, is where everyone is. Which doesn’t exactly seem fair, but Big Cup qualification is looking far from a given, and this is the impatient way of super-club football in the modern world. Oh Ralf! How could you!
“If I say we are 100% convinced we will finish in the top four, I don’t know if people will believe that,” Rangnick correctly stated after the match, an observation designed to prove his comprehension skills to sceptical fans who’d earlier loudly booed his substitution of Mason Greenwood with 2020’s Bruno Fernandes. Luke Shaw went one step further in telling it like it is, by claiming he “didn’t think we were all there together”, suggesting the squad are seriously missing a Roy Keane figure who would give those dragging their feet a proper what-for, and issue beneficial advice while he was doing it.
To be scrupulously fair, the Bootleg Red Devils didn’t do a great deal of conspicuous moaning about all the misplaced passes last night, which is an improvement of sorts, in that it at least saves some emotional energy. But there were few other plus points, as Wolverhampton wandered around Old Trafford with the sort of assured superiority not seen from them since the days of Stan Cullis, or at least 1980, which is when they last won there. Phil Jones was impressive, even if his clearing header led directly to João Moutinho’s winner, but if someone who hasn’t featured for 708 matches turns out to be your star man, you can be sure things aren’t running quite as smoothly as you’d ideally like. Oh Phil! Oh Ralf! Oh Ole! Oh José! Oh Louis! Oh David! How could etc.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I had hoped to rediscover the joy in playing football but it was not to be, as I don’t feel comfortable in the world of football. I don’t want to be part of it any longer. I will take time to discover what my interests are and what I will take up” – Former Brighton midfielder Davy Pröpper announces his retirement from football, aged 30, having “lost the love of the game” only six months after returning to join PSV.
“As a belated New Year’s resolution, can I suggest An End to Whataboutery? There’s been plenty of it about this weekend, with my fellow Arsenal fans doing a lot of especially petulant bleating. I don’t mind cathartic grumbling: that’s fine. But massed whingeing is shrill, unpleasant and undignified. Enjoy the good stuff. Celebrate the talent. There’s plenty to like” – Charles Antaki.
“So. The most competitive Premier League season in years lasted about 19 games. And now it looks like it’ll be three out of the last four for the current champions. In unrelated news, at mid-season, it’s a nailed down 10 in a row in the Bundesliga, eight in nine in France and two in three in La Liga. It looks to me that the Fiver’s Stop Football campaign has worked… just not in the way we €xp€ct€d. Are congratulations in order?” – Adam Uncamas.
“In light of Plain Old John Terry’s New Year gongs apoplexy, I propose we rename him OBEJT – Old Brave England’s John Terry” – Darren Leathley.
Send your letters to email@example.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Darren Leathley.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Romelu Lukaku has rejoined the Chelsea squad after talks with Tommy T following his loose-lipped riffing on returning to Internazionale and other disgruntlements. It is thought senior Chelsea suit Marina Granovskaia was involved in the requisite banging-together of heads.
Talking of huffy Chelsea managers past and present, Antonio Conte insists he has nothing to prove when he takes Spurs to Stamford Bridge for Wednesday’s Rumbelows Cup semi-final. “We did a really good job and I think in my position I mustn’t prove anything to anyone,” he parped.
In Episode One of many, Kieran Trippier looks set to become the first major signing for Eddie Howe, with Newcastle confident of completing a deal for around £25m.
Napoli captain Lorenzo Insigne is off to USA! USA!! USA!!! Well, Canada actually, with Toronto FC handing the 30-year-old a basic wage of €11m a season for five years, with another €5m in potential add-ons. Woof!
Another takeover! Southampton are the latest club in the crosshairs, with Gao Jisheng expected to sell the 80% stake he bought in 2017 to Serb media magnate Dragan Solak.
Wrexham owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElheney have donated £10,000 to a charity fundraising page after the stillbirth of the baby son of midfielder Jordan Davies and his partner Kelsey Edwards.
Innocent cash-strapped victims of circumstances Barcelona insist they’re back as big players in the transfer market after announcing the signing of Ferran Torres from Manchester City after discovering €55m down the back of the sofa. “Everybody in the world should get ready, as we are back as big players in the market,” roared Barça head honcho Joan Laporta, three months on from the club announcing itself to be “technically bankrupt”.
Wazza continues to work his marvels at Wayne Rooney’s Derby County, with the Championship’s bottom club storming back to draw 2-2 at Reading on Monday with two goals in the last five minutes. Yesterday’s Championship roundup is here.
STILL WANT MORE?
Transfer season is upon us, which means you’ll want to be perusing both our men’s and women’s transfer interactive, with all the latest deals from Europe’s top leagues. Oh, and the Rumour Mill is back, with all the transfer news that’s fit to print, and plenty that isn’t.
Ten things we learned from the first Premier League “matchweek” of 2022.
Tactics Tommy T appeared to have the perfect formula at Chelsea but his team have regressed to Lampardian ways lately, notes Jonathan Wilson.
It’s Sid Lowe on Getafe being Real Madrid (and why they have been inspired by Crystal Palace).
Footballers have political power and must use it, says Philipp Lahm in his latest column.
And if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!