First Everton, now Leeds: Sackings making relegation battle very interesting -Up
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A pity for all concerned that Manchester United against Leeds wasn’t on television last night. Erik ten Hag has a very good stare on him, and we’re betting that he hit new levels of piercing after Leeds went 2-0 up. To concede one goal in the minutes after kick-off looks sloppy. To concede two, and in a grudge match as grudging as this one? That’s unforgiveable.
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Of course, the great advantage of a game having not been on TV is that you can privately nurture any injustice you like. Manchester United wanted a foul in the build-up to Leeds’ first goal and a handball in the build-up to the second, and sure, why not? Let’s say that Pascal Struijk sawed Bruno Fernandes in half for the first and Robin Koch picked up the ball and ran fully 20 yards for the second.
Not on the highlights? Ah, you can’t trust the highlights.
A good point for Leeds, and a great few days for the beloved footballing pastime of sacking your manager. It’s been going out of fashion in recent times, with Arsenal providing an object lesson in the power of patience. But now, both Leeds and Everton have taken points from games they were supposed to lose, and lose handily. Wielding the axe is back, baby!
More importantly, both Everton and Leeds confirmed everybody’s feeling that “Hey, when you look at this team on paper, it really isn’t that bad.” Which is a problem. A problem for somebody, though we’re not willing to say who just yet. If Leeds and Everton are both going to start looking half-decent again, then the third relegation spot becomes exceptionally interesting. Because Wolves are looking half-decent as well. And so are Leicester. When you look at the bottom half of the Premier League, all of a sudden there’s two obvious candidates for the drop, and then a whole clump of teams that are, in theory, too good to go down.
There is, then, a lot riding on Leeds’ managerial search. Because between the hard-running midfield and the delightful unpredictability of Wilfried Gnonto and his supporting cast up front, there really is a team in there somewhere. Most clubs that switch manager mid-season are a mess, of one kind or another – Leeds are more just looking for somebody to take all the talent and point it in the right direction. Somebody to say, “Here’s what you do once you’ve got the ball.”
Obviously, there’s the return game to be played at Elland Road, where we’re assuming Ten Hag will do one of two things. Either he’ll send out exactly the same starting 11 and tell them to sort themselves out properly this time, no messing, or he’ll make as many changes as possible, and in the confusion send Casemiro out in Fred’s kit. Anybody asking questions gets the stare.
Wilfried Gnonto durante Manchester United-Leeds – Premier League 2022-23
Image credit: Getty Images
The Restart Starts Here
United will be annoyed to have dropped points, but we’re betting Ten Hag is a little pleased to have seen his team mount a proper comeback – we’re not sure last season’s United would have got anything from this game. And we’re betting he’s a lot pleased that the equaliser came from the boot of Jadon Sancho.
We’re not going to pronounce this a full comeback yet. We’ll probably hold off on that until Sancho’s had another couple of weeks, or maybe months, or we’ve read the long broadsheet interview where he digs into exactly what happened and how he went about fixing it. But his return to the first team and to the scoresheet could not have come at a more useful time for Manchester United.
Through peculiar circumstances and wonky squad-building, United have ended up with an interesting and versatile collection of attacking players, exactly one of whom can be relied on to score. Anthony Martial can’t stay fit, Antony and Wout Weghorst haven’t looked like piling on the goals, Alejandro Garnacho and Facundo Pellistri are promising but terribly young… it’s not quite Marcus Rashford or nothing, but it’s pretty close.
Enter Sancho. Way back in the dim and distant past – that is, last August – it was Sancho’s winning goal against Liverpool that reset United’s season after their miserable start. (It also moved them out of the relegation zone, which is quite funny.) At the time, we expected him to kick on and maybe get himself back into the England squad, which didn’t happen.
In his absence, United haven’t lost in the league at Old Trafford. And just when it looked as though they might, on he came. Early days, baby steps. But if United have managed to find a second source of goals, then Ten Hag’s life is about to get a whole lot easier.
No good deed goes unpunished. Last weekend, Tottenham did their nearest and most beloved neighbours a huge favour by beating Manchester City. And what has this selfless act of brotherhood got them? An injury to Hugo Lloris, who will reportedly be out for at least six weeks.
Now, Lloris’ form has been patchy over the last few months, and we’re saying “patchy” because we want to be kind. But we find it very hard to imagine Fraser Forster replacing him, and we don’t mean that as an insult to Forster. Rather, it’s a question of style.
Officially, Lloris is 6’2″, while Forster is 6’7″. Not to get all conspiratorial here, but neither of those heights can be remotely accurate. As far as the vibes are concerned, Lloris is a small goalkeeper, in the great small goalkeeper tradition: all energy and reflexes and highly caffeinated decision-making. If his shirt got ripped and it emerged that he was in fact a bag of squirrels in a human suit, you wouldn’t be surprised. Well, fine, you would. But not too surprised.
Forster, meanwhile, is the precise opposite: he’s tall, and then he’s a bit taller, and then he’s a little bit taller on top of that. And so the entire defence needs to reorient itself around the unexpected arrival of the archetypical big keeper. All of a sudden corners are a lot less stressful, but everything else is a whole lot more work.
That said, if Lloris was going to miss a chunk of the season, this might not be a bad one to choose. At least, not as far as the league is concerned: with the exception of Chelsea, who have their own problems, Spurs don’t play a team in the top half until Brighton on April 8. And yes, there’s the Champions League, but Milan’s form has melted into nothingness. Tottenham might just get away with it.
IN OTHER NEWS
Right, so this isn’t news as such, but somehow we managed to completely miss it a few weeks ago. Here’s Aldershot Town boss Mark Molseley asking the hard questions.
That penguin one, though. That’s come out of a Christmas cracker.
Today is Rinus Michels’ birthday. Today is also Jordi Cruyff’s birthday, which is one of those cute little coincidences that make you suspect this is all a game, and some great cosmic demiurge is having fun at our expense. Anyway, here’s every goal from Euro 1988, the Netherlands’ only major honour to date. Michels was in the dugout. Jordi was probably watching on television.
West Ham take on Chelsea in the semi-finals of the Conti Cup.
After that wonderful round of applause – no, no, please, you’re too kind – Andi Thomas has agreed to return for another Warm-Up tomorrow.
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