Writes John Cross in the Daily Mirror:
‘Funny how the Premier League can follow a familiar pattern over the first few weeks.
‘The title race is already shaping up as a shoot-out between the two Manchester clubs, City as the great entertainers and United resolutely ready for a challenge.’
Chelsea are three points behind both, and would be level with City if they beat them on Saturday. Tottenham are five points behind both. Heck, so are Liverpool (and Watford).
Didn’t we all make the same mistake of declaring it a race between the two Manchester clubs at this stage last season?
Arsenal beat BATE Borisov 4-2 in the Europa League on Thursday. How did the national newspapers view the game?
‘In the tractor capital of Belarus, Jack Wilshere drove Arsenal to victory but it wasn’t an easy ride,’ writes Neil McLeman, who saw a ‘wide-open match’, in the Daily Mirror.
Gary Jacob of The Times says that BATE could have ‘snatched’ a draw, and that Arsenal were ‘unconvincing’.
‘It might have been easier,’ writes Riath Al-Samarrai of the Daily Mail, ‘given they led 3-0 and 4-1 and never quite found their highest gears. But it might also have been harder.’ BATE made things ‘awkward’ as Arsenal looked ‘vulnerable’.
So BATE, as the scoreline suggests, hardly embarrassed themselves against the favourites to win the Europa League?
Not so for Mark Irwin of The Sun, who describes the Belarusians as ‘truly awful’ and ‘bewildered’, adding that Doncaster ‘gave them a tougher time in the Carabao Cup’.
Did he watch the same game?
Jack the lad
As derogatory and dismissive of BATE as Irwin is, he is as effusive and in awe of Jack Wilshere.
‘Jack Wilshere rolled back the years to remind Arsene Wenger that he still has what it takes to be a major Arsenal player.
‘The injury-plagued midfielder is fighting for his future after being allowed to enter the final year of his contract without a new deal.
‘But almost three years since his last European start, Wilshere delivered the sort of performance which once led to talk of the English Xavi.’
The Sun‘s dream team ratings give the midfielder a 7 out of 10; Theo Walcott was a 9.
The Sun is shining
Sergio Aguero was involved in a car crash on Thursday evening. Reports claim that he broke a rib in the accident, although the only official line from Manchester City is that the striker ‘has sustained injuries’, and ‘his status will be checked’ ahead of the club’s game against Chelsea on Saturday. So nothing too serious.
Still, it is a situation that should be reported by every outlet as respectful as possible, with no hyperbole or exaggeration just to generate clicks. Because that would be a shameful thing to do.
ACE CHEATS DEATH pic.twitter.com/eRMpjxqjst
— Football365 (@F365) September 29, 2017
For what it’s worth, the story is also top of the Daily Mirror‘s website. Their headline? ‘Man City striker Aguero faces race against time to be fit for Chelsea clash after being involved in car crash.’
Do they not realise he CHEATED DEATH?
Martin Samuel has noticed something in the Daily Mail: Slaven Bilic is constantly under pressure, while the similarly struggling Craig Shakespeare ‘sails on undoubted’.
‘While Slaven Bilic exists under a cloud of negative conjecture, there is no mention of trouble for Shakespeare,’ Samuel writes.
‘This despite West Ham not being a sacking club – and Leicester’s board being arguably the most unforgiving in the league.’
At this stage you can sense where Samuel is headed.
‘Leicester dumped Claudio Ranieri roughly half a season after performing a miracle, the greatest title win in the history of English football.
‘Not long previously, they had sacked Nigel Pearson, who had pulled off one of the greatest escapes from relegation. So Leicester’s board are merciless.’
It’s been a while since the can of worms with ‘Ranieri was harshly done by’ emblazoned on the front was opened, but Mediawatch is more than happy to oblige.
Leicester sacked Claudio Ranieri on February 23. They were 17th at the time, one point above the relegation zone after 25 games. They had lost their last five consecutive games in the Premier League.
Having sacked Ranieri, Leicester finished 12th under Craig Shakespeare, 10 points above a relegation zone that, under Ranieri, they were threatening to slip into.
And as for Pearson, it feels as though some context is missing. Quite why Samuel omitted the fact that Pearson’s son was sacked by Leicester earlier that summer, thereby making the relationship between board and manager untenable, is anybody’s guess.
With Antonio Conte, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho all complaining about the fixture scheduling this week, it seemed like only a matter of time before someone would take them to task. The man for the job is Neil Ashton, for he has ‘the inside track on all football’s big stories’.
In his column for The Sun, Ashton finds some neat symmetry with Conte and Guardiola’s quotes in particular. He recalls how both Chelsea and Manchester City met each other in the final of the Full Members’ Cup in 1986, both having played a league game just one day prior.
‘Chances are the Full Members’ Cup final between Chelsea and Manchester City in 1986 will not mean a great deal to Antonio Conte or Pep Guardiola,’ he writes.
‘That day at Wembley, when Chelsea won a crazy game 5-4, was crowbarred into the scheduling 24 hours after both clubs had played in the league.
‘City drew 2-2 in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford on March 22 and the Blues warmed up with a 1-0 victory over Southampton at The Dell.
‘The very next day, with the chance to lift some silverware, no matter how insignificant, in front of 67,000 at Wembley, nobody complained about fixture congestion.’
Ashton continues to deride the modern game – ‘football’s flatbed era’ – where players are pampered and ‘everything is taken care of’ for them. Not like in the good old days.
One would suggest that, while it is an interesting point, a much-derided competition that existed only for six years does not equate to Champions League football. There is a slight, but ever so important difference.
Also, it is important to examine both Chelsea and City’s form in the games directly after their cup final. Chelsea lost their next two games by an aggregate score of 10-0; City did not win any of their remaining eight games.
‘The game has certainly come a long way since Chelsea and City both made one change to their starting line-up for that final 21 years ago,’ Ashton adds. Yeah, for the better.
The Manchester Evening News have struck SEO gold with their latest headline. ‘Man Utd chief Ed Woodward has finally signed his Cristiano Ronaldo,’ screams an article on the website.
‘United’s executive vice chairman has spent his tenure in charge of the club’s transfer policy desperate to bring Ronaldo to the club,’ it reads.
‘He may well have secured his own version in an unlikely figure.
‘Lukaku may never be blessed with the skills of the four-time Ballon d’Or winner – he was never expected to.
‘But if he can continue to score at such a rate, he will provide United with kind of cutting edge they have lacked ever since Ronaldo’s departure in 2009.’
The piece revolves around the fact that Lukaku has scored ten goals in his first ten games, while Ronaldo had scored four at this stage in his final season for the club. Lukaku is said to be ‘setting new standards’, and ‘threatening to reach the realms’ of Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
So Lukaku is Woodward’s ‘own version’ of Ronaldo because he…scores goals? Mediawatch will settle for just calling him pretty bloody good in his own right.
Excuse the sickening 280-character tweet, but the MailOnline have scored their perfect hat-trick.
Imagine the excitement in the Mail newsroom when someone rushed in with photos of a black footballer in an expensive car going to a normal shop.
The venn diagram of spending too much of their own money and not enough of their own money aligned at last! pic.twitter.com/gsvNU0mJXu
— Nooruddean (@BeardedGenius) September 28, 2017
Expensive car? ✓
Footballer being normal person and going shopping? ✓
Footballer being normal person and spending time with his girlfriend? ✓
Alarming intro of the week
‘It was only six inches. Everyone said so. In the studios, on the radio. The lads around the monitors for Soccer Saturday looked particularly aggrieved. Merse, Thommo, Tiss, Charlie, even Jeff, the sensible one. They all shook their heads in disbelief’ – Martin Samuel, Daily Mail.
Recommended reading of the day
Paul Hayward interviews Pascal Gross.
Adam Bate on Liverpool’s attacking quartet.
Steven Pye recalls Chelsea’s Premier League and Full Members’ Cup final exploits in March 1986.