FRIDAY'S BIG STORIES

Serie A is back!

Well, almost. Despite suggestions from the Italian authorities that all yesterday's games would go ahead, regardless of such trifling matters as pandemics and quarantines, in the end four games were postponed. This included Inter's game against Bologna, which meant that all of a sudden, the chasing pack had a chance to close the gap down.
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And AC Milan took it. A lightly experimental line-up proved too much for Roma, who managed to simultaneously play quite well and completely fall apart, who weren't exactly awful but also could have conceded six. That doesn't make much sense written down, but then it didn't make much sense while we were watching it either.
In the end Milan just seemed to overpower their opponents.
That bumped Milan up to just a point behind their neighbours. And just as they finished in Milan, Napoli kicked off against Juventus. As with Milan, injuries and Covid and international call-ups meant that Luciano Spalletti had to be creative with his squad. And from a distance: he was missing as well, at home in isolation.
On the one hand, the result leaves Napoli six points behind Inter, having played a game more. But on the other, getting a point out of Juventus with nine players missing has to feel pretty good. This, perhaps, is going to be the dominant feeling around Italian football, as it attempts to power on through the pandemic. Play the kids and the stiffs and get a decent result: great. Play the kids and the stiffs and lose: c'est la vie. Wait, that's French.
Well, the dominant feeling will probably be one of light administrative farce. Inter's game against Bologna was only postponed at the very last minute, after the league leaders had travelled to the city, then turned up at the ground, and then warmed up in front of a lot of empty seats. Making the sensible call: sensible. Making the sensible call at the last possible minute, despite having had a couple of days warning: daft.
And if Napoli's title challenge is now mostly theoretical, the bunfight for Europe is on. That draw leaves Juventus three points behind fourth-placed Atalanta, having played a game more, and three points ahead of Fiorentina, Roma and Lazio. The full chaos scenario of Juventus missing the Champions League — missing Europe entirely! — is very much alive.

Mutiny!

Exciting times at Old Trafford. A draw with Newcastle, a loss to Wolves, and suddenly the alarms are blaring and the sky is falling and the statue of the Holy Trinity has come alive and is lurching and clanking its way down the road.
There are even rumours of a confrontation brewing between unhappy players and their interim manager, Ralf Rangnick. According to the Manchester Evening News, the players in question are those that want out this January, and this isn't a general mutiny. Not yet, at least. Which is a little bit of a shame, since the idea of the whole squad facing up to Rangnick over the general state of themselves is a deeply amusing one.
"Boss, this isn't comfortable for anybody, but somebody's got to speak up. This is Manchester United. It's supposed to be the biggest club in the world, and we think standards have slipped unacceptably low."
"You've all been here a lot longer than I have."
"Yes. Er. Well. Right. Um…"
"But you're right, of course. I watched the game against Watford. I watched it twice."
"So we'll just be going."
You have to feel a little sorry for Rangnick, who between a Covid outbreak and the Christmas fixture list has had, by our reckoning, about two hours of training time with his new squad. Hardly time to learn everybody's name, and already Jesse Lingard is banging on his door and demanding to be released from his suffering.
In theory, it should be impossible for a manager to lose a dressing room before he's found it. But Rangnick, if he reads the papers, will be learning that the United dressing room is leakier than a machine-gunned piñata, and any unhappiness in there very quickly becomes sourced, reported and understood out here. 11 players unhappy. No, 17! With a bloated, imbalanced squad put together by agents and incompetents, a certain amount of ambient misery is practically guaranteed.
By all accounts, Rangnick blew the club's hierarchy away in his interview. It's perhaps a small point, but we wonder just how that was communicated to the players, if at all. Did any of the decision makers sit down with the squad, or even just the senior players, and say to them: This is who we're appointing. This is why we're appointing him. This is what he plans, what we hope will happen. Any questions?
Perhaps Rangnick's status as a relatively obscure interim manager means that he'll never really capture the imagination of United's squad. Perhaps that's understandable: the club's hierarchy has imposed one experiment — get a club legend in! everybody likes a club legend! — and then another — a legendary thinker of the modern game! — and so ended up with two very odd appointments, with very odd CVs.
But with Rangnick set to move upstairs at the end of the season, perhaps the best thing he could do for the club is carry the weight of the necessary clearout. Imagine you're the next manager of Manchester United. Would you like a squad coached in the basics of pressing and modern football? Naturally. Would you like a squad that is smaller, happier, and much less prone to telling the press that they're going to march down to the manager's office and give him what for, just see if they don't? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

IN OTHER NEWS

Honestly, it's not right that central defenders can do this. It completely defeats the whole point of the position. They are in the team for heading, tackling, clapping, pointing, fouling, and occasionally shouting "Mark up!" if the mood takes them. That's it. Apart from anything else, Jules Koundé, you'll make the midfielders feel bad.

RETRO CORNER

Daniel Maldini got onto the pitch for AC Milan last night, so naturally our retro choice today is all about his dad. Apparently Paolo once said that if he had to make a tackle, he knew he'd already made a mistake. Apparently he made a lot of mistakes, since there's loads of tackles in here. All of them are perfect, obviously.

HAT TIP

As noted above, Ed Woodward is leaving Manchester United to spend more time with his golf clubs. He will be remembered fondly by supporters of all the clubs he wasn't actually working for: as Daniel Taylor notes in the Athletic, his reign saw Manchester United become unusually gracious hosts. Wolves' victory last weekend was their first at Old Trafford since 1980. And…
Don’t forget Newcastle’s first win at Old Trafford since 1972. Or Cardiff’s first since 1954. Or West Bromwich Albion’s first since 1978. Or Sheffield United’s first since 1973. Or Burnley’s first since 1962. Swansea City did it for the first time in their entire history. Sunderland had waited 46 years, Norwich over a quarter of a century. Crystal Palace put together successive wins at Old Trafford after not having one in the previous 30 years.

COMING UP

The third round of the FA Cup gets underway as Premier League leaders Manchester City travel to League Two fifth-placers Swindon Town. The Bundesliga returns, with Bayern Munich at home to Borussia Mönchengladbach. And Marseille travel to Bordeaux in Ligue 1. All of that comes with a "Covid allowing" disclaimer, naturally.
Andi Thomas is off for showdown talks with himself, so have a good weekend. Tom Adams will be here on Monday.
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