THURSDAY’S BIG STORIES
Ten Hag on ‘luxury’ of deep Man Utd squad as Sancho returns
11 HOURS AGO
Perhaps a true collapse was always a little unlikely, given that Nottingham Forest began with a three-goal deficit and United haven’t lost at home since September. But we could at least have had a little wobble, right? David Moyes’ United would have given us a wobble. So too Jose Mourinho’s and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s.
The closest we got here was Erik ten Hag saying “Fine” at about the hour mark and replacing his whole front three. On came Marcus Rashford and Antony Martial. And on came Jadon Sancho.
If this game is to be remembered for anything, then it will be remembered as the day Sancho began his return. He didn’t come onto the pitch, seize possession, dribble round a million defenders and score, which is perhaps something of a shame. But he looked absolutely fine, and that might be more encouraging, given the mysterious nature of his protracted absence.
Ten Hag brought him on to play at No. 10, and later explained that he was trying to create a “different dynamic” in the team. “Often we mix it around and that is what I like.” But we suspect another motive. Perhaps he was trying to make sure that Sancho, on his return, saw plenty of the ball. Wingers can disappear, sometimes by accident. Or perhaps Ten Hag, like the Warm-Up, is very into those outside-of-the-boot crosses that Bruno Fernandes stole from his forebears.
It’s all very placid at Old Trafford at the moment. Suspiciously placid. On paper, this season has been a tumultuous one: a new manager with new methods having to deal not just with an underperforming team, but also with Cristiano Ronaldo’s flounce, Sancho’s absence, Christian Eriksen’s injury, Martial’s recurring injuries. But on the grass, they just keep ambling along. And all of a sudden: depth. United now have two legitimate options for every position up front, and while only Rashford is in truly hot goalscoring form, there is an enormous amount of ability there. Variety, too: a big man, a young tearaway, an Antony.
You couldn’t call them perfect, and Forest had their moments, but you have to call them functional. Even the weird improvisations in the transfer market appear to be working: Wout Weghorst may not be rattling them in, but he’s making a lot of co-commentators admire his link-up play, and that’s the real quiz. And to go from ‘Christian Eriksen is injured’ to ‘Hello, Marcel Sabitzer’ in the space of nine hours is… well, it’s competent. What a world.
Jadon Sancho of Manchester United and Erik Ten Hag the manager / head coach of Manchester United during the Carabao Cup Semi Final 2nd Leg match between Manchester United and Nottingham Forest at Old Trafford on February 1, 2023 in Manchester, England.
Image credit: Getty Images
Speaking of the transfer market, here’s La Liga president Javier Tebas, with some warm words of congratulation for Chelsea’s hard-working negotiation team.
“We read, the ‘strength’ of the Premier League, but it is a competition based on millionaire losses of the clubs (their ordinary income is not enough for them), most of the clubs are ‘financially doped’.”
The general chatter around the Chelsea splurge is that they think they’ve identified inefficiencies in the market and intend to carry on doing this for another couple of years, on the understanding that the club can double in value. And maybe they’re right, and maybe they’re not, and maybe it works, and maybe it doesn’t. The Premier League now has seven teams with short- and long-term Champions League ambitions, and still only four spaces to go around.
But if the size of the numbers and the weight of the imbalance makes you feel faintly dizzy, the Warm-Up is right there with you. We’re hopeless at predictions, so take this with a lorry-load of salt. But if we were going to guess at the conditions that might lead to the creation of a European Super League – without England, a kind of Brexit Super League – then they might look something like this.
Chelsea rolled the dice this month
Image credit: Getty Images
The question: “Which of Arsenal’s striking options is better, Gabriel Jesus or Eddie Nketiah?” The answer: “A secret third footballer.” Last night, Folarin Balogun scored a hat-trick for Reims, taking him to 14 league goals for the season: that’s more than Jesus and Nketiah combined. It’s also more than Kylian Mbappe, who you may have heard is quite good.
We don’t know whether Arsenal gave any thought to recalling Balogun when Jesus picked up his injury. But we’re guessing they were tempted, and so some credit must go to Arsenal’s braintrust for resisting. He seems to be doing fine, and so do the club.
That said, if Balogun is as good as he looks, then we’re intrigued to see how things shake out over the next few seasons. Arsenal began the season with a clear hierarchy up front: a shiny new first-choice striker from Manchester City, and Eddie Nketiah. But Nketiah’s excellent performances since Jesus’ injury have rather complicated that picture. They may end the season with the Premier League title. They definitely will end the season with two strikers able to make a serious claim for a single spot.
And then add Balogun to the picture! It’s a lovely problem to have when every other club in the universe seems to be struggling for a proper striker, but it’s going to be interesting to see how they handle it. Identify the worst of the three and sell him to Chelsea for a million squillion pounds, probably.
IN OTHER NEWS
Balogun’s rival for the golden boot had a miserable evening yesterday: first Mbappe missed the same penalty twice, and then he limped off injured. However, PSG were still able to squeak out the win, thanks to this through ball from the greatest player in football history, Fabian Ruiz. (Is that right?)
IN THE CHANNELS
Here is Harry Kane paying tribute to Tom Brady, who has retired from the American kind of football again. For good, this time. Perhaps we’re going soft in our old age, but we pressed play expecting to find plenty to mock… and instead we found it quite sweet. He just comes across as an honest-to-goodness Brady nerd.
Hopefully Brady returns the favour whenever Kane hangs up his boots. Hands across the divide.
The last time Manchester United and Newcastle United met in a cup final, it was 1999, and it was probably never going to live up to the semi-final replay – that ludicrous 2-1 win over Arsenal. Suspensions meant that Roy Keane and Paul Scholes started despite there being a Champions League final four days later; an early injury meant Keane limped off after eight minutes. But his replacement, Teddy Sheringham, scored the opening goal, and a couple of hours later, the treble was two-thirds complete.
Of course, the real action came before the game. Here’s Richard Keys giving Rodney Marsh a quick lesson in climate science.
Barcelona won last night and now lead La Liga by eight points, so Real Madrid really need a win against Valencia tonight. And Juventus host Lazio in the Coppa Italia.
More from Andi Thomas tomorrow.
Goodbye to the Man Utd title bid that probably never was – The Warm-Up
19/01/2023 AT 08:04
The Emirates FA Cup
‘Footballers are not robots’ – Ten Hag says he will be patient with Sancho’s return
06/01/2023 AT 09:29
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