SEARCHING FOR VILLA PERKS
When it all comes down, Liverpool may reflect that Sunday night’s effort against Aston Villa wasn’t so bad after all. Shipping seven goals while stumbling around in oversize shoes, spilling buckets of confetti, and asking folk to smell a funny flower isn’t ideal, of course. But it’s a hell of a sight better than letting in 10, or maybe 12, or 14, which could conceivably have happened had Ross Barkley been just a little more ruthless in the first half. So in that sense they dodged a bullet. Having limited their opponents to single figures, Liverpool were able to leave with a sliver of dignity retained, as they headed back north aboard their square-wheeled coach in a plume of steam and smoke. Parp! Honk! Well done, everyone! Hats off to the reigning club champions of the world!
Exactly where Sunday’s queasily psychedelic result sits in the pantheon of Liverpool’s Villa Park-based humiliations is up for debate. We’re saying second, ahead of last season’s 5-0 first-team no-show in Energy Tin, and the 5-1 thumping suffered by Bob Paisley’s reigning champions in 1976, but just behind the fiasco of 1899, when Tom Watson’s side rocked up needing a win to clinch the title, only to concede five goals in the first 44 minutes. Imagine poor Jamie Carragher having to feign detached amusement while co-commentating on that.
“We weren’t good enough,” admitted Andy Robertson on Monday afternoon. “All credit goes to Aston Villa, unfortunately. They were better than us. That scoreline becomes embarrassing when you play for this club, it’s not acceptable and that’s something we all have to deal with.” Whether it was fair to send out Robertson to face the music is a moot point, seeing as he was one of only three Liverpool players, along with Mohamed Salah and Diogo Jota, who just about managed to rise above the level of Supernaturally Abysmal. But he probably was the best man for the job, given his wealth of experience in pitch-perfect mea culpae as captain of Scotland.
Perhaps this thrashing will prove beneficial to Liverpool in the long run, a wake-up call ahead of the upcoming Merseyside derby for a collective that had started to get … what’s the word … sloppy. Teams have bounced back from this sort of thing before: Paisley’s men went on to retain the title after their Villa Park disgrace, for example, while Newcastle won the league in 1909 despite a 9-1 defeat. At home. To Sunderland. So momentary humiliation needn’t be the end of the world. And in any case, this absurd scoreline has taken some heat off Ole Gunnar Solskjær after events at Old Trafford, ensuring he keeps the Manchester United job a while longer. Every cloud, eh, Liverpool fans?
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QUOTE OF THE DAY
“There’ll be 30-year-old fans who have grown up with that dinosaur. I think it’s poor – it’s terrible for Arsenal. I find it not classy” – Paul Merson gives his hot take on reports that Arsenal have bundled Gunnersaurus through the door marked Do One.
What has happened to the Premier League? It’s Football Weekly!
“Would you mind turning football off and then back on again? After you did last time, something seems to have broken” – Thomas Krantz.
“It’s probably safe to assume that Ed Woodward has an Excel spreadsheet of players to buy with young English forwards currently in Germany that you would have to pay over £100m for in column B and, after rapidly inserting columns over the past week to include 33-year-old Uruguayan strikers whose names sound like those faux-Italian brands in dodgy suit shops in Central London (yes, that’s you Edinson Cavani) and young Ivorian wingers that have spent this season on the Atalanta bench, has clearly ended up with quality central defenders pushed out beyond column XFD (which is the limit in Excel post-2003 for those not au fait with Microsoft Office, especially you Public Health England)” – Noble Francis.
“Pep’s squad plays a stinker early in the weekend. So, he places a quick call to Ole to take some of the heat off. Six goals later, Ole is on the phone to Jürgen for a bit of help. And seven more go on the board. Is there any way I can join a trade union with such immediate and impressive camaraderie?” – Mike Wilner.
“So, Villa and Everton are now the only teams in the Premier League with 100% records. Well, that is just one huge Cazooincidence” – Bogdan Kotarlic (and no other shirt sponsor spotters).
“Shocking news that Arsenal have reportedly got their mascot Gunnersaurus off the payroll by sacking the beloved dinosaur. Surely (today on all days) they should have offered him to Manchester United first, given Ed Woodward’s penchant for signing slightly past-their-best icons in imminent danger of extinction?” – Justin Kavanagh.
Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our letter o’the day prize is … Noble Francis, who wins a copy of Football’s Black Pioneers: the Stories of the First Black Players to Represent the 92 League Clubs [postage available to UK only, sorry – Fiver Postal Ed].
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Whatever else is said about José Mourinho, no one can deny that he knows how to win. “I feel sympathy for him,” he sniggered after returning Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s December head pat.
Meanwhile, Manchester United have agreed a deal to sign the 18-year-old Atalanta winger Amad Traoré for €30m (£27.2m) plus add-ons but he won’t be joining until January so don’t get too excited Stretford Enders.
Tammy Abraham, Ben Chilwell and Jadon Sancho will not join up with the England squad for this month’s games against Wales, Belgium and Denmark until the FA has investigated the trio’s attendance at a party that allegedly breached Covid-19 regulations.
Aston Villa groundstaff were left feeling fresh and funky after Graeme Souness blamed the pitch instead of Paul Pogba for Liverpool’s defeat. “Graeme Souness’s uneducated comments about the Villa pitch are insulting to all the massively hardworking groundsmen up and down the country who put their hearts and souls into their proud work! #clueless,” tweeted a member of staff.
Matteo Guendouzi is on the move. Real Madrid and Barcelona weren’t ready for him yet, so instead, he’s leaving Arsenal to join Hertha Berlin on loan. And it could soon be Partey time at Arsenal!
And Theo Walcott, 31, will get the chance to fulfil his potential at the club where it all began for him if he can successfully cough for the Southampton doctor.
STILL WANT MORE?
Losing 6-1 at home to Spurs – Spurs! – is not so good for Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Jonathan Wilson has more.
Just the 43 Premier League goals this weekend, then. Here are 10 talking points following another quiet night in at the Barclays library.
Borussia Mönchengladbach beat Köln to win the Rhineland derby, in a fixture that retains its identity despite the current circumstance. Andy Brassell has the details, along with the rest of the Bundesliga news.
Juventus pretended there was going to be a match against Covid no-shows Napoli. Nicky Bandini explains why here.
In the WSL, Everton are absolutely flying, while Manchester United are also looking good. Rachel Finnis-Brown rounds up the weekend’s action.
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