MONDAY'S BIG STORIES
Boing Boing Splat
Another weekend, another weird Manchester United performance, and another result that will have made the blue half of Manchester very happy indeed. One day after City outclassed Spurs, United went to relegation-bothering West Brom and played themselves.
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For some reason, where every other team in the league has turned up and played West Brom as they are, United turned up to play one of those powerful, irritating Allardyce sides that Big Sam has built his reputation around. At the back, Victor Lindelöf looked absolutely petrified, as if the ghost of Kevin Nolan was following him around, whispering "Percentages... elbows… second ball…" into his ear.
Harry Maguire and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Image credit: Getty Images
And up front, United were tired, unimaginative, and sluggish. Obviously nobody likes trying to score goals past an Allardyce defence but, if we're being honest, this hasn't looked much like an Allardyce defence so far. Fun fact: since West Brom broke the emergency glass and got rid of Slaven Bilić, only two teams have failed to score two or more goals against the Baggies. Liverpool and Manchester United.
Of course, if we're looking for an explanation beyond the Remembrance of Boltons Past, this game was a great advert for the absent Paul Pogba. Without him the ball rolled through midfield slowly, predictably, Freddishly, and West Brom's defence could shuffle from side to side at their own convenience. Huge gaps completely failed to open up. In the end, United were poor enough that we don't have to talk about VAR, which is pleasant.
And if the prospect of a proper title race is receding into the distance along with Manchester City — now seven points clear — than at least we may get the consolation prize of a proper scrap for the top four. Three places in the Champions League, and seven or eight teams that are all well capable, on their day, of being absolutely dreadful. That's what the Premier League is all about.
Clear Eyes, Fulham, Can't Lose
Down at the bottom, there's another seven-point gap, keeping Newcastle in safe 17th away from Fulham and the relegation zone. But that gap might have been larger had Fulham not gone to Everton yesterday and won. Won convincingly. Won in style.
Now, Everton's home form is a mystery that has baffled even the greatest minds, as well as the Warm-Up. But still, Fulham were mighty impressive. They've been trapped in that awful limbo of playing quite well but not winning for a while now: here, at last, the ball did as it was told and went into the goal. Twice. Both thanks to January signing Josh Maja, making his full debut up front.
Josh Maja of Fulham celebrates
Image credit: Getty Images
You could call that a dream debut. But dreams are wild and uncontrolled things, and a dream debut should really consist of a 40-yard screamer, a flying overhead kick, fireworks, circus animals, and the slow realisation that the strange beeping noise is your alarm clock and you have to get up. It's cold. Where is the sun?
Instead, this was a very boring, very professional, very promising full debut. Two goals from two pieces of proper striker play: the right run into the right area at the right time. There are many ways to get relegated from the Premier League, but having a side that plays neat football without a proper finisher is a classic. In fact it's almost a cliche. But if Fulham have found their no.9, well, seven points is just a couple of wins away from one point.
Particularly since Newcastle have lost their proper striker for six to eight weeks. They play Chelsea tonight without Callum Wilson, and if you've got any clever ideas on how to replace him, the Warm-Up would be interested to hear them. We're guessing Steve Bruce wouldn't mind a call either. We don't make predictions and we never will, but there's the shape of something interesting here. Maybe. If you look really, really closely.
Klopp Still In, As Far As We Can Tell
Not all defeats are created equal. Liverpool's loss to Brighton a couple of weeks ago felt freakish, strange. A blip. Confirmation that they weren't the monstrous machine of last year, of course, but there's no shame in that.
Saturday's loss against Leicester, however, coming on the back of the loss against City, felt different. Bigger, heavier, more important. In a way this is counterintuitive: Leicester went into the game three points above Liverpool, and good teams are allowed to lose to other good teams occasionally. Whatever Roy Keane might say.
But against Brighton, Liverpool lost the game. Against Leicester they lost their heads. Brendan Rodgers rolled the dice late on and went from one striker to two, and in response Liverpool went from 1-0 up to 3-1 down, and from well in control to conceding their title.
Obviously, Brendan Rodgers is capable of some pretty wild tactical innovations. But "two strikers, pop it over the top" isn't exactly a full pyramid inversion. The fact that Liverpool were so deeply unnerved by it is perhaps more damning than any individual error. Liverpool had enough experience and quality, on the pitch and by the touchline, to recognise what was going on and respond. Instead they froze, then shattered.
IN OTHER NEWS
Banter, but make it old-school. And plastic.
Atlético Madrid are five points clear at the top of La Liga, with two games in hand over Real Madrid, and Luis Suárez is one goal clear in the race for top scorer, with two games in hand over Lionel Messi. Here's the Guardian's Sid Lowe with the story of how Barcelona let the league's best striker go on a free.
The decision had been made by the club – I’m not the bad guy in this film, the new manager, Ronald Koeman, insisted – but he delivered the news, playing the role of executioner, and was seeking a new style with younger, more dynamic players. Suárez didn’t ask for an explanation and didn’t get one. Fine, he replied, but they would have to fix his contractual situation. If he was to leave on their say so, he would do so on his terms – as a free agent."
Leeds couldn't finish the job yesterday, but just for a moment, the spectre of that 4-4 draw loomed over Arsenal again. So let's have a look at it. And let's have a look at Theo Walcott's smile after scoring the first. He's got no idea what's coming.
West Ham can clamber up into the top four if they beat Sheffield United at home. But they might only get to stay there for a couple of hours, as Chelsea play Newcastle immediately afterwards.
And Marcus Foley will be here tomorrow to tell you all about all of that. In style.
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