Another weekend, another Suûùúüµper Sunday, and another opportunity for two theoretically decent, wildly expensive, staggeringly overhyped football clubs to embarrass themselves on national television. No, we’re not talking about Stoke; they’re fine. Or Arsenal, who won’t be of any concern here until they fall apart.
No, we’re talking about the Big Two, the Game of the Weekend, the Europa League Qualification Six-Pointer. We’re talking about Manchester United’s visit to Liverpool, and we’re going to start with the hosts, who have been reinvigorated by the innovation and freethinking spirit of their new manager, Jürgen Klopp, and appear to be trying to develop a brand of football that flies in the face of conventional wisdom by entirely ignoring both penalty areas. Shoot in their opponent’s box? No chance. Defend in their own? Don’t be so simple.
Why? We don’t know. Perhaps they’ve decided that the 18-yard-box is an arbitrary distinction, and yearn to return to the days when goalkeepers could handle the ball anywhere in their own half. Liverpool’s football, then, would amount to a dirty protest. Or maybe they’ve decided that the only trophy currently within Liverpool’s reach is Goal of the Season, and they’re attempting to manufacture long-range thumpers. They’re going to be furious when Arsenal fans get involved in the voting.
Liverpool, of course, has plenty of excuses for being a bit rubbish. The manager is new, and the squad was assembled by a process of passive-aggressive nose-thumbing between the last bloke and his superiors. Fine, Brendan, we’ll buy you a Christian Benteke. But we’re buying ourselves a Roberto Firmino. This incoherence has reached its natural conclusion with the arrival of Steven Caulker — a Championship central defender brought in to provide cover at the back — and his subsequent deployment, two games in a row, as an emergency striker. Perhaps the club could be turned off and turned on again.
Mind you, they nearly got away with it, for if Liverpool was poor, Manchester United was utterly broke. After a first half dominated by miscontrol, misdirection, and misery, it’s been reported that United’s players spent halftime shouting at one another so loudly that they could be heard in the Liverpool dressing room. Being exceptionally well-connected, we can exclusively reveal exactly what was being said, though being exceptionally absent minded, we forgot to note down exactly who said what.
“WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING HERE? I AM LITERALLY NOT A FOOTBALLER”
“HAS ANYBODY SEEN MY FRUIT SHOOT?”
“OW! THAT’S MY TOE! GET OFF MY TOE!”
“THERE’S A BLOKE THAT LOOKS JUST LIKE PHIL JONES IN THE AWAY END. HE’S REALLY PUTTING ME OFF.”
“I SHOULD BE PLAYING FOR REAL MADRID, YOU UNGRATEFUL ARSEHOLES.”
“SO YOU KICK THE BALL TO ME, AND THEN I KICK THE BALL TO HIM, AND THEN HE KICKS IT INTO THEIR GOAL, YOU SEE?”
“WHY IS THEIR CAPTAIN SO ANGRY ALL THE TIME? ALWAYS SHOUTING. HE’S GOING TO MAKE HIMSELF ILL.”
“SORRY, I DON’T FOLLOW. WHAT IS THIS ‘GOAL’?”
“YES, A NEW CONTRACT WOULD BE WONDERFUL, AND IT’S THE LEAST I DESERVE. SEND THE PAPERWORK THROUGH TOMORROW.”
“LADS, IT’S SPURS. WAIT, WHAT?”
Not that any of that mattered in the end. Manchester United won a corner, and things unfolded with hilarious/distressing inevitability. Liverpool’s defenders all flocked to Marouane Fellaini like flies to a fresh dog turd, he planted a header off the bar, and an almost-insultingly unmarked Wayne Rooney showed the world that while his pace and touch have definitely gone, he can still catch the occasional shot nicely. Louis van Gaal reckons that United can still win the title. They certainly won’t be winning Goal of the Season.
Speaking of club captains trapped in irreversible and increasingly obvious decline … John Terry! On Saturday afternoon against Everton, Chelsea scored three goals, clearly demonstrating that the departure of Jose Mourinho has liberated their attack. However, they also conceded three, demonstrating that the departure of Jose Mourinho has done nothing for the mess that is their defense.
But while the football didn’t go to plan, Terry was able to deliver a masterclass in the art of self-promotion. Men of less confidence would have shied away from the idea of beginning their performance with an own goal, but not Chelsea’s captain, leader, and legend. For Terry knows that English football loves nothing more than a footballer overcoming a challenge of his own creation. This is why England likes its central defenders to be slightly out of position — which provides the launchpad for the much-beloved desperate challenge — and distrusts suspicious, usually-foreign types who defend like grown-ups.
So into the Chelsea net went the ball, and Terry was set. And again, where cowards might have tried to get the job done before the 98th minute (of a minimum of 97), Terry knew what he’s doing. The lateness of the eventual equalizer only increased the impact, as did the slight transgression over the offside line. A point saved, and he was into the crowd. Truly, while the knees may be going, Terry’s old instinct for Captaining, Leadering, and Legending is as strong as ever.