Singing the Blues
‘The one team who can really knock [City] off course is United’ – Alan Shearer, The Sun.
‘Think what you want about Jose Mourinho and Manchester United but be grateful for one thing: if it wasn’t for them, we would no longer have a Premier League title race. Liverpool have fallen away because they can’t defend, Chelsea and Tottenham because they didn’t invest properly in the summer and as for Arsenal, well, they were never really credible contenders in the first place’ – Ian Ladyman, Daily Mail.
Chelsea are only three points behind United, guys.
Hair and the tortoise
Mediawatch breathed a sigh of relief when Garth Crooks’ BBC Sport team of the week was published. Not even this maverick could leave out David de Gea, despite the keeper not fitting the usual criteria of scoring a goal.
One man who does fit said criteria and thus must take pride of place in the XI is Antonio Valencia. ‘I have commended the performances of Valencia on a number of occasions already this season and continue to do so,’ Crooks says.
But who assisted the goal? One Paul Pogba, of course, which Crooks says ‘wasn’t wasted’ on him. That’s right, ‘Crooks v Paul Pogba: The hairstyle strikes back’ continues into a 427th chapter:
‘I refuse to allow the Frenchman’s dreadful fluorescent-styled Mohican haircut to influence my regard for his talents.’
You literally are doing precisely that, Garth.
Later, in selecting Nemanja Matic, Crooks obviously mentions his French teammate once more.
‘De Gea, Valencia and Matic are key to United’s title hopes. If they can remain fit for the rest of the season it will release the likes of Pogba and others to get in behind enemy lines and do untold damage. That is, of course, if Pogba can stay on the field.’
That was Pogba’s first red card in four years.
By hook or by Crooks
Elsewhere, Crooks chooses Ashley Williams as his centre-half. The Welshman was solid for Everton as they beat Huddersfield, so fair enough. But hold on…
‘I was interested to hear him say in his post-match interview that the dressing room is now a much happier place. I should think it is: six points, two clean sheets and six goals in two games is title-winning football.’
If Garth thinks beating teams in 19th and 16th and securing two clean sheets is ‘title-winning football’, just imagine when he finally watches Manchester City or Manchester United. Minds will be blown.
David Silva then gets the nod in midfield.
‘I was so impressed with his performance against the Hammers because he appears to be another player who has had to adapt to the ‘Pep Guardiola philosophy’. We all know Silva is an immensely gifted player, but this season I have seen him get into areas he wouldn’t have dreamed of getting into under Roberto Mancini or Manuel Pellegrini.’
Having scored 12 goals in the 2014/15 season under Manuel Pellegrini, one can only imagine he got into said ‘areas’ on a couple of occasions.
Crooks’ final choice is Roberto Firmino, a selection he naturally ends by suggesting Jurgen Klopp should find another job.
‘Losing 5-1 is no fun, especially when Reds manager Jurgen Klopp is fist-pumping every goal and celebrating with his staff like it’s the final of the Champions League. I understand the importance of winning, but this was Brighton. What I do take exception to is any manager being kept waiting to shake hands once a game has finished, while his opposite number finishes hugging and kissing his players and staff in celebration of their victory. I sense this was exactly what happened after the final whistle, and why Chris Hughton tore a strip off Klopp immediately after the game and quite rightly.’
A bit extreme, but nothing completely out of the ordinary. Ian Wright said similar at the weekend, after all.
But what’s this? Crooks is not even nearly done, and embarks on a rant about the existential crisis facing the very fabric of football if not even the handshakes can be respected.
‘What is happening to the traditions of this great game? Has winning and money destroyed everything we hold dear? The convention is we shake hands immediately after a game because it brings closure to the occasion, and it starts with the managers. The game’s conventions are bigger than any manager or player, and if either can’t be bothered to perform the duty, I suggest they find another profession that can afford their bad manners.’
When Garth Crooks is not afforded ‘closure’ to matches, is there even any point in football anymore?
‘So where exactly was he meant to put his foot?’ begins Martin Samuel for the Daily Mail, arguing that Pogba should not have been sent off against Arsenal. ‘Not in Hector Bellerin’s calf’ is the easy answer, but he does go on. He has a tendency.
‘We all know where he did put it. We all know how it looked. Not good. And like all incidents of this kind, the slower the replay, the worse it appeared.
‘By the time Paul Pogba’s tackle on Hector Bellerin had received five or six re-runs, it seemed as if he had all the time in the world to plan and execute a stamp on the Arsenal man.
‘Yet it wasn’t like that. In real time, Pogba is stretching to get a touch on a loose ball and Bellerin is – well, who knows what Bellerin is doing? He’s on his knees, his trailing leg extends behind him, it is not so much a tackle as a contortion. He looks like he’s trying to build the base of a gymnastic pyramid.’
No he doesn’t. He really, really doesn’t.
‘And it can be argued that this is irrelevant.’
Yes it can, and thus Samuel’s entire piece is rendered as such. As qualified former referee Graham Poll writes in the column directly below: ‘Remember that ‘intent’ is no longer required unless for handball. Pogba gets none of the ball and lands his studs on Bellerin’s leg, clearly endangering his safety.’
If only he could have told his Mail colleague and saved us all the bother.
Still in the Daily Mail, where Chris Sutton believes that ‘there is very little separating Liverpool and Manchester City in terms of who boasts the best forward line’. Except for a gap of 13 Premier League goals, of course.
Sutton does have ‘one criticism’ of Liverpool’s attack: ‘They lack a No 9, such as Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus. Without a traditional target man, Liverpool struggled to break teams down earlier in the season.’
Because Aguero and Jesus have got ‘traditional target man’ written all over them.
Sutton finishes by hastily constructing a straw man before proceeding to run straight through it.
‘Coutinho pulling the strings behind the front three will be vital to their top-four hopes. Liverpool’s ambition would have to be questioned if they let him go in January.’
Yes, it would. Is there any inclination that that is even remotely possible?
A run of one win in six Premier League games has seen Tottenham slip from title challengers to outside the top-four places. But never fear, for Adam Crafton has diagnosed their issues.
‘Spurs are now performing to their financial means,’ he writes for the Daily Mail. ‘They are sixth exactly where the spreadsheet dictates they should be.
‘Not only do they spend less than their rivals but their manager is also granted less time to introduce new signings to his squad.’
The second point is a fair one, but it is only right to point out one pesky fact: Tottenham spent more money than Arsenal this past summer, and only £3.3m less than Liverpool. To say that Mauricio Pochettino has ‘one hand tied behind his back’ is a bit rich.
Elephant in the Roon
John Cross has the big scoop in the Daily Mirror:
‘Gareth Southgate insists there’s no way back for Wayne Rooney.’
Next week: Gareth Southgate rubbishes chances of Emile Heskey recall.
Mediawatch has spent too long laughing at Neil Ashton trying his best to look as sad as possible in every picture taken of him in Russia during his World Cup 2018 coverage for The Sun that all we can do now is present our favourite lines of his latest piece (almost) without comment.
‘In between the beaten-up Ladas and rusty, old Zhigulis parked up against the perimeter fence of this sprawling building site, weary workers shuffle in and out of a tiny security hut. They clock in and, eight hours later, they clock out.’
Next you’ll be telling us they have lunch at 12 and complain about public transport. It’s a different world.
‘Nobody is allowed to even peek over the rolling barbed wire fences that protect this stadium from uninvited guests.’
‘Even the security guards, puffing away on cheap Yava cigarettes outside the main entrance, are working to strict instructions. They are programmed to bark “Niet!” at everything.’
‘It is the 2018 World Cup, being played against the backdrop of 70s Cold War paranoia.’
Bring our boy home. He seems to be having a sodding terrible time.
On Sunday, the Mirror published a story containing quotes from Ronald Koeman. They dress them up nicely as ‘his first major interview since leaving Everton’, and because they do not attribute said quotes, one can only assume that the Mirror themselves conducted the interview.
Not so. The quotes are lifted directly from a column Koeman has written for De Telegraaf in his native Netherlands, with the Dutch newspaper not receiving a single credit throughout.
Recommended reading of the day
Jonathan Drennan interviews Cédric Anselin.
Miguel Delaney on England’s elite.