THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES

Bragging Rights

Watching your football team lose a game can be a miserable experience. Watching them get hammered always is. But not all miseries are created equal, and watching the opening moves of Liverpool's visit to Everton last night the Warm-Up started wondering, is getting hammered by Liverpool worse than getting hammered by anybody else?
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YESTERDAY AT 15:18
Obviously, that's always true for Everton fans, but we don't just mean them. It's not like getting turned over by Liverpool is unexpected. There are three brilliant teams in the Premier League this season, and a whole lot of not brilliant ones, and that tends to come out in the scorelines. More on that in a minute.
What we have in mind is more a question of style. There's something about Liverpool at their very best — the combination of speed and simplicity, precision and inevitability. Then you add to that the evident pleasure they all feel in doing this with each other, doing this to their opponents. There's a collective giddiness about the way they pounce on even the tiniest opposition mistake, like hunting cheetahs bringing down the weakest in the pack.
Or to put it another way: other teams beat you, and some of them beat you very well indeed, but Liverpool? Liverpool beat you up.
Anyway, that was the first 20 minutes. An xG expressible only in punctuation marks and the prospect of Rafa Benitez getting fired at half-time, rehired, then fired again for emphasis. Perhaps it's a relief for everybody else that Liverpool can't do it for the full 90, or perhaps it's a positive sign for Everton that they managed to calm things down a bit. Certainly, there was the threat of something truly apocalyptic, and in the end all we got was a 1-4 scoreline that flattered the 1.
Saying that, Everton weren't the first team to get Liverpool'd this season and they won't be the last. The same will be true when they get City'd and Chelsea'd, though that likely won't be as spectacular and it certainly won't be as painful. There are three brilliant teams in the Premier League, and there is only one other team with a positive goal difference…
… which is why David Moyes must-win manager of the season. That's a joke, and also a position we will earnestly be advocating come May.
The top three aren't invulnerable to their inferiors, of course. Liverpool lost to West Ham not long ago and have dropped points against Brentford and Brighton; Chelsea to Burnley and Manchester United; City have lost twice to normal teams. Twice! What they are, though, is too good too often: their ordinary days are better than everybody else's good days; their off days are better than everybody else's ordinary days. That's how you get such a stark disparity not just in points but in goal difference. All three faced potentially tricky away games last night. All won.
There is the tantalising prospect of a proper three-way title race this season. And honestly, if three teams are going to be so insistent on beating the snot out of everybody else, it's the least they can do. At least then fans of the small seventeen can take consolation in the fact that their humiliations, those past and those yet to come, are all in the service of a higher cause. The highest possible cause, in fact: Premier League entertainment.
As for Everton, the disquiet in the stands seemed to be directed more at the board than the manager, and Benitez was quick to point to the difference between Liverpool and other opponents.
Everybody has to be disappointed, we have lost the derby, but we lost because we made mistakes against a top side. You have seen how much money Liverpool have been spending and they have been successful over the last few years and it can happen if you make mistakes. Against other teams maybe not, but against a top side, you suffer.
He also seemed to think that this defeat, in itself, would not factor into his job prospects. About that he is surely correct. But Everton, in the run-up to Christmas, have Arsenal at home, Palace and Chelsea away, and then Leicester at home. Some advent calendars contain chocolates. Others booze. You can get ones with Lego in. But this year, the Everton club calendar is filled with banana skins. And they're already off-balance.

'Everybody has to be disappointed' - Benitez after thrashing by Liverpool

Watching Brief

Manchester United announced their new manager on Tuesday. Manchester United have a game tonight, which is Thursday. Assuming we haven't got the direction in which time flows wrong again — once more, apologies to all involved in The Incident — you'd expect Ralf Rangnick to be in charge at Old Trafford tonight, against Arsenal. And you'd be looking forward to it.
But no! This little wrinkle probably won't make the cut when the great histories of Brexit are written, but at the moment it looks a little bit odd. Rangnick will be in the stands, a visitor, a man without a work permit and so a man not permitted to work. Michael Carrick will be in the dugout, doing his best. But he won't be doing as Rangnick has told him.
It's pretty much as it was when I said there with the games we've already been through, because of the process and work permit we haven't been able to [speak to him], we've carried on, it's worked well the last two games and hopefully will tomorrow.
We make no pretence to legal expertise, but it's quite interesting to hear Carrick saying not only that he hasn't spoken to Rangnick, but that he hasn't been able to. Presumably, if Rangnick wasn't about to become an employee of Manchester United, Carrick would be able to give him a ring any time he liked. "Hi Ralf, it's Michael. Michael Carrick. Very well, thank you. Tell me, have you had an accident that wasn't your fault? Yes, us too. Don't know if you saw the game…"
One interesting consequence of Rangnick missing tonight's game is that from here United's fixture list gets relatively calm. Obviously, there are No Easy Games™ in the Greatest League in the World™, and there's the Tricky Festive Period™ and The Magic of the Cup™ and all the rest of it. The Champions League starts up again as well. Those are the Best Teams™.
But after Arsenal tonight, the next time United play a team with top-four pretensions is, depending on how you slice these things, either West Ham on 22nd January or the Manchester derby on 22nd March. So if you were going to attempt a mid-season overhaul of an under-coached super club, you could do a lot worse than start on Friday. Ole Gunnar Solskjær built his reputation at Old Trafford by always coming on at the right moment. It's possible he timed his departure just as well.

IN OTHER NEWS

Hey, do you want to see a guy kick a football really hard? Of course you do. Kapow.

RETRO CORNER

Happy birthday to Francesco Toldo, who would surely have earned a million caps for any country in the world bar Italy. But 28 international caps while playing at the same time as Gianluigi Buffon is pretty impressive going. Some wonderful saves in here.

HAT TIP

Xavi's been working at Barcelona for a few weeks now, which means it's time to find out precisely how he's been going about things. Dermot Corrigan over at the Athletic brings us the hits: communal meals are back, fines for lateness are back, staying together in hotels before games is back. The only thing missing from this piece is Xavi's position on ketchup.
Xavi’s first public statements as Barcelona coach were a surprise for some who thought they knew him as a playmaker-philosopher mostly interested in complicated team tactics and perfect pitch surfaces. At his presentation, he sounded a lot like an old-school British manager complaining that standards around the team had slipped since his days as a player, but making clear that nothing but maximum commitment and discipline would now be allowed.
This being Barcelona, simultaneously super and skint, nothing is ever simple. The piece highlights the efforts Xavi is making, and they make sense, but it also brings out the pinch points and pressure points. All the little frictions that might rub and rub and eventually catch fire: the lack of cash, the power struggle over recruitment, the overweening presence of Joan Laporta who knows, and who knows we all know, that Xavi was somebody else's project. Good luck everybody! We're sure it will all be fine.

COMING UP

As well as Arsenal's trip to Old Trafford, we've got Brentford against Tottenham, another one of these "London derbies". Honestly, there are too many. The capital should have four teams: North and South, West and East. We foresee no problems with this plan. Up in Scotland, it's second against third as Celtic host Hearts.
It'll be Andi Thomas with you again tomorrow, answering all the big questions. How did Jesse Lingard do that? From there? And why?
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