football

The Fiver | The second coming of David Bellion and William Prunier


PLAY IT BACK

If there is a manager suited to the VAR era, it is $tevie Mbe. The explosive badge- and camera-kissing celebrations of his glorious playing career are long forgotten now he is a grim-faced manager with the pitchside manner of Lord Ferg confronted with a copy of Thatcher: the Downing Street Years. Perhaps conditioned by those moments when he maybe got a little bit too amped before giving the ball to Demba Ba/nobbling Ander Herrera mere seconds after coming on, he does not celebrate until the VAR lady sings.

He knew. Everyone knew. Even The Fiver knew. Somewhere amid that scrambled Aston Villa ‘equaliser’ at Old Trafford on Monday night would be a minor infringement that might rule out Danny Ings’ bundle home, and with it would go the chances of Prince William, David Cameron, Tom Hanks and Geezer Butler’s chance of their knees getting all trembly on the road to Wembley. As it turned out, the refs in the video bunker had to rewind the footage almost as far as Peter McParland’s charge on Ray Wood in the 1957 FA Cup final to rule out the goal, and it turned out an NFL-style blocking manoeuvre from Jacob Ramsey on Edinson Cavani sometime amid 1979’s Winter of Discontent had saved Manchester United’s blushes.

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United got lucky. Very lucky, since Big Red’s performance had been absolute bloody rubbish. Again. This time there wasn’t even an emotional return for Phil Jones to distract from just how teeth-grindingly badly United had played. Fans of their rivals may draw sweet joy from United’s continuing travails under Wreck-It Ralf Rangnick, but there’s an extra dimension to the team’s mediocrity; they are duller to watch than a documentary on the history and evolution of the micrometre screw gauge. Those terrestrial stations sharing the FA Cup rights may beware televising United’s fourth-round tie with Middlesbrough for fear of driving the viewership towards repeats of Grand Designs and Poirot.

Aside from just about everything, what’s wrong? Bruno Fernandes looks less a new Cantona than the second coming of David Bellion. Raphaël Varane’s previous palmarès counts for little when he plays like the second coming of William Prunier. Marcus Rashford, booed for not chasing a ball he perhaps may not have reached in any case, is proving that becoming one of Britain’s leading humanitarians at a young age is not mutually exclusive to being a desperately out-of-form footballer. Teenager Anthony Elanga eventually came off the bench to zip around with a zest beyond United’s lethargic senior pros, as rumours swirl they think Ralf and his coaches aren’t up to the job. Their sense of irony appears in yet shorter supply than entertainment.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I can see that my ownership has caused unrest within the club and the fans. I want the best for the club and I think the best for the club is that it is now passed on to new owners. My team is speaking to certain credible bidders and I am happy to speak to others” – Oldham supporters may not want to hold their breath, but owner Abdallah Lemsagam claiming to want out should spark some lesser-spotted celebrations around Boundary Park.

Oldham fans earlier this season.
Oldham fans earlier this season. Photograph: MI News/NurPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock

FIVER LETTERS

“The FA Cup third round never fails to deliver the drama and romance for which the world’s oldest knockout competition is famed. Rubbish teams come up against superior opposition and on occasion, they prevail. Never has Monday night’s Manchester United v Aston Villa clash better illustrated the joy of this tournament” – Lindsay Williams.

“I would like to raise a query with the Fiver IT department, though no doubt it will be one of your relatives; living in the basement, swigging Tin, hiding from the light, mining for Bitcoin and NFTs (whatever they are). The problem is this: since new year, The Fiver has been going straight to my junk folder. It’s just a bit too inconvenient to have to retrieve it from there. Is this a recommendation for your work? Is there anything I can do or can you improve things your end?” – Jonathan Dobson.

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Lindsay Williams.

NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

Konyaspor and former Turkey defender Ahmet Calik has died in a car crash, aged 27.

The Football League has no plans to investigate Liverpool over a number of false positive Covid-19 tests which led to the postponement of their Milk Cup semi-final first leg against Arsenal last week.

Meanwhile, Mo Salah has been getting his chat on with a fancy lifestyle magazine in which the subject of his Anfield contract negotiations handily came up. “I want to stay, but it’s not in my hands,” he cooed. “It’s in their hands. They know what I want. I’m not asking for crazy stuff.”

Sierra Leone are celebrating after holding reigning Afcon champions Algeria to a 0-0 draw in their opening game.

Sierra Leone players celebrate after the match.
Sierra Leone players celebrate after the match. Photograph: Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

Kazuyoshi Miura, 134, will continue his professional career for another year after moving to Suzuka Point Getters on loan from Yokohama FC. “I am grateful for the opportunity to play here and will do my best to contribute to the club on the pitch,” he cheered.

And Chesterfield chief suit John Croot says the club had to shell out £4,500 for the pleasure of VAR being in use at their FA Cup defeat to Chelsea. “We got a letter from the FA the week before saying that the cost of it would be deducted from the expenses of the game, so between us and Chelsea we had to pay over £9,000,” tooted Croot. “It was a bit of a shock to me, if I am honest.”

RECOMMENDED LOOKING

David Squires reflects on a weekend of FA Cup shocks, from Tyneside to Aggborough, via the Humber.

Oof.
Oof. Illustration: David Squires/The Guardian

STILL WANT MORE?

Our men’s and women’s transfer window interactives have just got a whole lot shinier.

Kylian Mbappé’s wish to leave PSG for Real Madrid shows it’s an unhappy band of galacticos in the French capital, writes Jonathan Liew.

Marcus Rashford is short of form and confidence at Manchester United: Jamie Jackson picks out two moments from the FA Cup win against Villa that sum up his lost season.

“It’s improved the atmosphere”: Paul MacInnes canvasses opinion from fans on the recent safe standing trials in the Premier League.

Martin Laurence looks at which strikers Newcastle should be buying this month.

Who will lead the line for USA! USA!! USA!!! at the Human Rights World Cup? Graham Ruthven looks at the contenders.

And if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!



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