MONDAY'S BIG STORIES

So is this a crisis or not?

If anybody was looking for proof that the FA Cup was magical, you got everything you wanted and more at Old Trafford. Something strange happened. Something we thought impossible. Manchester United played Liverpool, and it was a really good game.
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Not perfect, of course. We'd have needed 76,000 paying customers being squeezed through the mangle for that. But five excellent goals, the lead see-sawing back and forth, and enough salt about refereeing to power everybody's sense of moral outrage. Clearly, the Premier League is too serious for this kind of fun. Clearly, the FA Cup is better for it.
And clearly, what has to happen now is we have to work out how this performance fits into the wider atmosphere of crisis (or "crisis", or even CRISIS!!!) around Liverpool. Because they lost. Again. Crisis continued, on the face of it.
But they also looked more dangerous, more like Liverpool, than they have at any point since they scored too many goals against Crystal Palace and upset the order of things. There were familiar patterns: steal the ball in midfield, slip the pass through the defence, Salah chip. 1-0. The kind of thing that just hasn't been working since the year turned. So, crisis abating?
Jurgen Klopp certainly thinks so (and, secretly, we suspect he's not too unhappy to have been given a couple of free weekends):
I saw a lot of steps in the right direction and that's all good. It's not what we wanted, so it's frustrating. We weren't on our absolute top, but we made a lot of steps in the right direction. You don't have to worry about us, as a group we are really together.
For Rhys Williams' sake, let's hope so, because United spent an hour and a half bullying the poor lad. If Williams were 29, we'd be asking questions about him; as he's 19, the questions all have to be pointed elsewhere. In the long term, towards whoever decided to try and navigate the most compressed season in the recent history of English football with just three senior centre backs, one of which can't play three times a week.
In the short, however, Matip and Jordan Henderson should be back to face Spurs. If Liverpool are snapping out of their funk, it's just in time: they've got Tottenham, City, and a Merseyside derby coming up, along with West Ham, Leicester, and Atletico Madrid. February's the shortest month of the year, but for Liverpool it's going to be massive. One way or the other.
As for United, you know the drill by now. A little bit skittish, a little bit vulnerable, a lot excellent, and very, very Bruno Fernandes. Whether they can keep doing it in the league is one question, but between their deep bench and their refusal to lie down, they've got the makings of an extremely good cup team. And here was proof that they can go into these big games on the front foot and still prevail. Maybe they'll even make it past a semi-final this time.

Tammy Abraham makes his point

As for the Premier League's other flailing giant, Frank Lampard's Chelsea (managed by Frank Lampard in association with Frank Lampard) were given a bit of scare by Luton Town. But ultimately, the big boys prevailed.
We don't know if Lampard spent the night before asking the gods of football: "Who is my best striker? Please, send me a sign." But if he did, he got what he asked for, and if he didn't then he got told anyway. A hat-trick for Tammy Abraham and a missed penalty for Timo Werner: not quite a lightning bolt, but about as subtle.
On the other hand, if Lampard was hoping that his out of form players might be able to play themselves back into shape, he'll have been disappointed. The stand-out performances came mostly from the edges of the squad: Abraham scored three and looked dangerous, Callum Hudson-Odoi did more in 20 minutes than Christian Pulisic managed in 70, and Billy Gilmour strolled around like he owned the place.
Of course there's only so much that can be learned from the FA Cup's magical mismatches, and Luton gave Chelsea a helping hand with an ambitious starting formation. Nathan Jones changed his side's shape after 20 minutes, at 2-0 down, and later acknowledged that he might have miscalculated.
But what a strange game football can be. Lampard will have wanted nothing more than a comfortable win, a few goals, a moment's temporary relief from the league. He got all that, and it leaves him with nothing but more questions. Well, that and a place in the fifth round. It's at this point we realised we've done two FA Cup stories and focused mostly on the league implications. Appalling behaviour. We can only apologise.

Klopp creates 'huge problem' for Real Madrid – Euro Papers

Here comes Martin Ødegaard

Credit to Arsenal's scouting department. The departure of Mesut Ozil to pastures Turkish has left the Arsenal squad short on two things: imagination in midfield and exciting punctuation. So here comes Martin Ødegaard to solve both problems at once.
Deal agreed yesterday, medical coming up today; the highly online Arsenal community could be altering their usernames by this evening. And on paper, he looks ideal. Ødegaard is exciting, creative, intelligent, and young, but not as ridiculously young as Emile Smith Rowe. Sure, he's not been getting in the Real Madrid team. But Real Madrid are weird.
You know what else is weird? A half-season loan. And this one puts Arsenal in a slightly peculiar place. Essentially, Ødegaard gets four months on Arsenal's dime to show the whole world what he can do. They will want Ødegaard to do well, obviously. But if he does really well, then there will be plenty of competition for his signature come the summer. Some of those teams will have more money than Arsenal. Some might have Champions League football; Arsenal may not.
Which means that the ideal result here is for Ødegaard to play well enough to earn a place in Mikel Arteta's grand rebuild, but not so well that somebody else — somebody already quite built — nips in and pinches him. It's all a question of balance. Consistent sevens out of 10.
Obviously we're well into pure speculation here. And if he does really well, then Arsenal will be back in the Champions League and there'll be nothing to worry about. That seems the best plan for all at the Emirates. Just have Ødegaard win every game. Easy peasy.

IN OTHER NEWS

Cheltenham Town couldn't quite hold on against the moneybags might of Manchester City, but it wasn't for a lack of effort from Ben Tozer.

RETRO CORNER

Happy birthday, David Ginola. You know, when the year 2000 flashed up here, we instinctively thought, "Huh, that doesn't seem that retro." And then we remembered that the year 2000 was 21 years ago, and we felt tiny and insignificant in the face of pitiless time. Some lovely goals, though.

HAT TIP

Over to the Guardian for today's lesson in applied footballing history, as Jonathan Wilson tries to work out if Manchester United's lack of philosophy is, right now, the best philosophy of all.
Not having a philosophy, paradoxically, is the United way. When Noel Cantwell arrived at Old Trafford in 1960, he was appalled by how primitive the thinking at the club was. He had come from West Ham, where players would meet after training at an Italian cafe near Upton Park to discuss the latest trends and innovations. At United, training was a few weights, a few sprints, a bit of head tennis and an often violent kickabout on the cinder-strewn waste ground between the back of the stand and the railway fence.

COMING UP

The FA Cup fourth round continues, and Tottenham play their 1,073rd game of the season away to Wycombe Wanderers. Hey, Gareth Bale might get a game.
Marcus Foley, sometimes known as the David Ginola of the Warm-Up team, will be here tomorrow.
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