It is entirely understandable that the reaction to Manchester United’s victory over League Two Yeovil Town would focus on Alexis Sanchez, with effusive praise for his two assists and general play.
Even if you considered the compliments to be slightly over the top — and I did — that only reinforces why this is such an important signing to United.
You see Sanchez represents more than just his ability. This is a vital good-news story in the middle of a season that Manchester City have dominated, a transfer to perhaps define next season rather than this. Jose Mourinho has been permitted to spend huge wages on a player for the right now rather than the future. That must have smoothed negotiations over the manager signing his new deal.
Sanchez is also a dragger when in form and happy, in that he lifts the players around him and drags them up to meet his standard of work ethic and end product. When Yeovil started the game brightly and threatened United, it was the Chilean who demanded the ball and made things happen.
There was no sense of Sanchez easing himself into United life in auspicious surroundings. It is that streetfighter spirit that Mourinho believes his team has lacked.
We may finally have seen the last of Daniel Sturridge in a Liverpool shirt. The England striker was left out of the matchday squad to face West Brom in the FA Cup, and when a recovering Danny Ings is ahead of you in the pecking order, it’s pretty clear your services are no longer required.
Sturridge’s problems under Jurgen Klopp began with his injury issues, but that has long been an easy excuse for his absence.
In fact, Sturridge has been fit for most of the last 12 months but has still drifted badly from Klopp’s radar. Liverpool’s manager has doubts about Sturridge’s intensity, and it is a demonstration of how far the striker has fallen that the club are now prepared to accept a £1.5m (€1.7m) loan fee. Against West Brom, Klopp’s three substitutions when chasing the game were to bring on Ings, James Milner, and Jordan Henderson. Sturridge is hardly a Plan B — his game is a lower-intensity version of Roberto Firmino’s — but it’s hard to believe he could not still be useful. A temporary move to Serie A is the last chance to save his World Cup hopes.
You do have to sit through a great deal of dirge in search of an FA Cup fairytale, but Saturday evening’s tie at Rodney Parade was the perfect example of why it’s worth keeping the faith. The wind was howling, the pitch was slippy, the crowd was feverous, and members of the local community watched over the small stands from their bedroom windows. You can stamp every number on your FA Cup cliche bingo card. It is extraordinary just how much these conditions can act as a leveller.
Tony Pulis was born in Newport, and his local team produced a display to match every one of his managerial ideals. Michael Flynn’s team played balls down the channels and launched long passes to the head of Pádraig Amond and Frank Nouble. They tried to win free-kicks out wide and put pressure on Tottenham’s defenders to clear the ball out for throw-ins. On both touchlines, towels were provided to facilitate the ball being hurled into the penalty area. Tottenham survived, but only just. It took the introduction of Heung-Min Son and Dele Alli to support Harry Kane for Mauricio Pochettino’s team to even force a replay at Wembley. For all the disappointment of giving up a lead, the smile on the faces of Flynn and every home supporter told the story. Que sera, sera...
David Moyes’ appointment at West Ham sparked a run of form that took the club away from the relegation zone, but Moyes is quickly allowing that goodwill to dissipate. Having taken seven points from three consecutive league games in December without conceding a goal (including London derbies against Chelsea and Arsenal), West Ham have won three of their last ten matches.
One of those three was a miserable extra-time victory over Shrewsbury Town, and West Ham followed up that with limp defeat at League One Wigan Athletic. Moyes played down the importance of the FA Cup before the tie, and his players followed that lead.
Moyes does have a ready-made excuse, with West Ham’s injury list becoming farcical. And yet the manager may have to accept his own part in that problem too. In November, he insisted he was prepared to flog West Ham’s players to get them performing.
“In this job, I’m having to go back to the David Moyes at Preston where the players were crying at their work, or even Everton in the early days as well,” said Moyes.
Two months later, four key first-team players (Marko Arnautovic, Michail Antonio, Manuel Lanzini, and Winston Reid) have muscle injuries.
Is that really a coincidence?
How quickly things can change. Under Jaap Stam, Reading were a penalty shootout away from promotion to the Premier League. Stam would have improved his reputation five-fold, including possible links to taking over as manager of his national team.
Eight months later, Stam is fighting for his job. Reading are 18th in the Championship but only five points off the bottom, and on Friday evening limped out of the FA Cup at Sheffield Wednesday, one place above them in the league.
Reading have not won in eight league matches and haven’t scored in three league games. Their defending has become shambolic, and supporters hoping a good cup run could atone for their league slump are now coming round to the idea that Stam should be sacked.
The club’s financial issues might be the only thing that save him. Can they afford the payoff?