It goes Manchester City, then Crystal Palace, then Man United and finally Liverpool. That is how this works. Also: TOP SECRET DOSSIERS.
Definitions of the word ‘secret’ include the following:
‘A piece of information that is only known by one person or a few people and should not be told to others’
‘Kept hidden or separate from the knowledge of others’
‘Containing information whose unauthorised disclosure could endanger national security’
Well someone get on the phone to MI5 because this Sun back page…
— Sun Sport (@SunSport) March 21, 2022
…spawns this exclusive headline on their website:
‘Erik ten Hag now FAVOURITE to become Man Utd boss after secret dossier puts him ahead of Mauricio Pochettino in race’
By ‘secret dossier’, they literally just mean ‘exhaustive background checks’ and other such things a football club ordinarily undertakes when identifying and assessing managerial candidates. But why not make it sound like some masked spy has infiltrated Carrington and dropped some indiscriminate files labelled ‘TOP SECRET’ (quoting their PhotoShop job) on Ralf Rangnick’s desk?
Lesson the blow
The Manchester Evening News seem to agree that Ten Hag is the Old Trafford choice. Real Madrid lost at the weekend, after all. So they are going all in on this bandwagon.
We are promised ‘three lessons Man United and Erik ten Hag can take from Xavi’s Barcelona rebuild’. And as good as Xavi has been since his appointment, is following a five-month-old blueprint really the best approach?
Maybe. Maybe not. The only way to find out is to check these three lessons. ‘Make use of youth’ is fair and ‘get the structure in place and everything else will follow’ is imperative. But the first – ‘let the manager sell whoever he wants’ – is questionably.
Apparently ‘all the deadwood was cleared out’ when Xavi arrived at Barcelona. ‘It didn’t matter if the players were sold at a loss or just loaned out, they were taken out of the picture completely.’
Barcelona loaned out three players in January: Alex Collado, Philippe Coutinho and Inaki Pena. Sergio Aguero also retired. They sold no-one, at a loss or otherwise. That doesn’t sound like a revolutionary clear out; it’s actually very similar to what Man United actually did in the winter. Barcelona even desperately and publicly tried and failed to get rid of Ousmane Dembele, kept him and are now playing him again.
Man United not playing a game for well over a fortnight has not prevented them dominating the headlines, such as this creative offering from the Daily Mirror website:
‘Man Utd misery compounded as Gareth Southgate snubs show how players are viewed’
Do go on.
‘Manchester United’s poor season is reflected in Gareth Southgate’s England squad for the upcoming friendlies against Switzerland and Ivory Coast.’
Not entirely sure we follow here. Please explain.
‘United have endured a mixed campaign under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick and the club has just two players in the Three Lions squad. Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw are the only United players to have made the cut, with Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Jesse Lingard and Dean Henderson among those to be left out.’
Right. Gotcha. They only have two players in the England squad and that is officially bad.
‘United’s demise was underlined by the fact that, following the update of the squad on Monday, Crystal Palace now have more players in the England squad than Rangnick’s side. Full-back Tyrick Mitchell has been added to the squad, which also includes centre-back Marc Guehi and midfielder Conor Gallagher.’
Wow. That does sound pretty poor, Crystal Palace having more players in the England squad than Man United. That really ought to compound their misery.
Of course, this is the same England squad that contains one Chelsea player, one Liverpool player and one Tottenham player. It turns out Man United having two representatives does not prove how sh*t they are.
Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail has his own hot takes from Gareth Southgate’s latest international selection:
‘Southgate picks on form, we know that. Rashford is not the first player to be excluded after a fall in standards and won’t be the last. Yet how is that consistent with Harry Maguire’s place in the team? He looks short of confidence, he is making mistakes, United are fragile with him at the heart of defence. Yet Maguire is a guaranteed selection.’
He started nine of England’s last 11 matches, helping keep six clean sheets in that time. He played every knockout minute of their run to the Euro 2020 final and every knockout minute of their run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals. It is possible to count the amount of bad games Maguire has had for England on one hand. And as manager of an England team that has proved incredibly capable of masking the centre-half’s flaws, it is no surprise that Southgate picked him.
‘Southgate may counter that Maguire hasn’t let England down but he makes that argument about Jordan Pickford, too, and it isn’t strictly true. Both Maguire, and Pickford, have made mistakes in an England shirt, and Maguire’s for Manchester United of late have been glaring.’
There is a reason Samuel does not list those ‘mistakes’: they are few and far between. Maguire and Pickford have generally been very good for England and to pretend otherwise is to be disingenuous for the sake of it.
Shake it off
‘Gary Neville and Roy Keane want Manchester United to appoint old Liverpool enemy as manager’ – Liverpool Echo.
It is one thing to hold a grudge. It is another entirely to describe someone as an ‘enemy’ because they ’caused controversy by refusing to shake Jurgen Klopp’s hand’ a few months ago.
How many sodding times do we have to do this?
‘Man City and Chelsea might be about to hand Liverpool major title boost’ – Liverpool Echo.
If they both get through to the Champions League semi-final and draw each other. And if John Aldridge is right that Manchester City then losing ‘would mess them up big time’.
Start engraving Liverpool’s name on the trophy now.
‘Premier League ref Mike Dean is set for shock reality TV appearance as retirement rumours swirl’ – The Sun website.
…according to odds from Ladbrokes.