THURSDAY’S BIG STORIES

Football endured by Matt Busby

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There comes a point, deep into an FA Cup replay, where the mind turns to penalties. Perhaps this comes a little earlier when the game — and the previous game, come to think of it — is a little dull, as Manchester United games often seem to be these days.

For The Warm-Up, watching last night’s “action” from Old Trafford, this came just after the hour. A hundred and fifty goalless minutes, all on television, enforced by VAR: surely the nation deserved some reward. A few minutes later, noted philanthropist Juan Mata scurried through a crooked Wolves defence, chipped John Ruddy, and crushed the dreams of a yawning nation.

Looks like that Nice Guy stuff was all an act. You monster, Juan.

Still, any flickering happiness United might be feeling at their progress through to the next round will have been tempered by the injury to Marcus Rashford. This season’s silver lining came on as a substitute after 63 minutes, then hobbled from the field holding his back 17 minutes later.

Why was he on the bench? Well, United have got Liverpool on Sunday and his troubled back needed a rest. Why did he come on? Well, without him United are pure, undiluted bobbins. The Warm-Up’s best wishes are with you, Marcus. Future FA Cup television broadcasts need you.

Tidying up the Cup

Not on television, much to the pained amusement of BT Sport’s commentary team at Old Trafford, was Carlisle United against Cardiff City. Brunton Park was treated to seven goals, though in the end the giant refused to be killed. Cardiff are through to play Reading.

So that’s the entire fourth round sorted, with the exception of Watford’s replay with Tranmere. The Warm-Up is most excited by the thought of West Brom visiting West Ham, a tie which has GIANTKILLING written through it like a stick of rock. Elsewhere, Millwall’s traditional late win will come against Sheffield United, and Northampton Town get to host the Wayne Rooney farewell tour.

All of which will hopefully make up for the fact that you’ll also have to watch Manchester United draw 0-0 with Watford or Tranmere. Twice. And you’ll enjoy it.

Go ‘ed, son

Gedson Fernandes of Tottenham Hotspur poses for a photo on January 14, 2020 at the Tottenham Hotspur training ground in Enfield

Image credit: Getty Images

Alongside the actual football runs a parallel dimension, a strange, noisy place called Transfer Land. Or at least, it’s usually noisy: so far this January, not a lot has been happening. Liverpool have bought a squad player. Dortmund have bought somebody to sell in a couple of years time.

Darren Randolph has gone back to East London. Try to keep calm.

However, in the interests of getting things moving a little, Tottenham announced on Wednesday that the first signing of the Jose Mourinho era is here. 21-year-old midfielder Gedson Fernandes has arrived from Benfica on an 18-month loan, and the Warm-Up is tremendously excited to see another promising young player make it in the Premier League … by being sacrificed on the altar of Mourinho’s neurotic pragmatism.

Only joking! With Christian Eriksen off to pastures new, with Moussa Sissoko out until April, and with Tanguy Ndombele’s fitness coming and going like the tide, there’s places going in that midfield. Fernandes may have fallen out of favour at Benfica, but perhaps Mourinho’s tough love is, er, just what he needs.

As for the length of the loan deal? The Warm-Up was confused, initially, but it makes a certain cynical sense. After all, there’s a decent chance that there’ll be nothing left of Mourinho by that point, bar tears and recrimination. No need to sign up to anything too long term. Just in case.

IN OTHER NEWS

Poor Paulo Dybala. Could have had the move of his dreams to Manchester United. Instead he got stuck at little old Juventus, where he has to play alongside Gonzalo Higuain and score goals like this.

RETRO CORNER

A quite literal retro corner here: 17 years ago today, Graeme Le Saux pinged the ball into the Norwich City penalty area, and Gianfranco Zola backheeled it into the net. It may seem strange to younger readers, but back in the early 2000s Chelsea were actually pretty likable. How far away that all seems now.

HAT TIP

Over on the Athletic (£), a deep dive into the state of things at Bournemouth, who are in deep trouble this season. The mysterious injury crisis is particularly intriguing.

But the symptoms of the malaise that has left Bournemouth in the relegation zone reflect long-standing issues. They run from the besieged medical department, through the make-up of a changing first-team squad to on-field performances from a team lacking confidence. Most worryingly, there is deep concern about what relegation after five years of top-flight football could mean for a club almost entirely reliant on Premier League television revenue.

COMING UP

Thin pickings today, but Parma play Roma in the Coppa Italia. A fun Serie A fact to pad this bit out: did you know that Parma’s Wikipedia page lists seven different foundation dates for the club, the first in 1913 and the latest in 2016? Well, you do now.

Here tomorrow to end the week with style, panache, and just a dash of vinegar (to bring the flavour out), Tom Adams.

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