After this weekend’s preposterous Premier League activity, Sir Alex Ferguson’s earthy, plainspoken phrase meant to distil the madness and unpredictability of this sport can no longer suffice. Football, bloody hell, has gone batshit crazy.
Even before the true lunacy of Sunday’s giant-slayings, the weekend’s Premier League had offered the inexplicable alongside the exquisite.
How else to interpret West Ham’s abrupt metamorphosis from doomed failures, so lacking in ambition that even club captain Mark Nolan gave voice to his discontent on social media, to this current marauding incarnation of the Irons, casually clobbering Wolves 4-0 and following it up with a similarly comfortable 3-0 win over Leicester (themselves having trashed Manchester City a week earlier 5-2). Who knows, maybe if David Moyes had chosen to manage Man Utd from his living room it might have been a whole different story seven years ago.
As it turned out, West Ham’s win over the Foxes was simply a pleasant prelude for the delirious footballing fever dreams still to come. First Manchester United were swept aside at Old Trafford by a Tottenham side led by former United boss Jose Mourinho.
Dismissed as yesterday’s man by countless footballing ‘Einsteins’ (the term Mourinho used during his spell in Manchester to deride the pundits who criticised him), it seems the Spurs coach hasn’t forgotten the science of winning.
On Sunday, Mourinho saw his team concede a penalty in the first minute of the game – yet Tottenham immediately fought back, going 2-1 up by the seventh minute before reality started to wobble.
For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United, there were (partially) mitigating circumstances. His United side were harshly reduced to 10 men just before the half hour mark, when an annoyed Anthony Martial lightly struck Eric Lamela in retaliation for a similar blow – and Lamela reacted, shamefully / hilariously depending on your disposition, by tumbling to the ground.
It was a devious, despicable reaction that worked brilliantly, Martial’s sense of burning injustice all too understandable as he was shown a red card, Lamela’s cartoonish playacting breath-taking in its audacity – and from nothing, Man United were down to 10 men, with an hour still to play.
That Tottenham would win the game now barely seemed in question – more importantly for Spurs, they looked good for victory even before the sending off. But still, to see United end up shipping six goals seemed to offer an awful truth.
Solskjaer is not a man made for these times. The Norwegian is the nice guy finishing last, an unexceptional tactician unable to impose plans or personality when it counts, incapable of providing the answers when the questions are too difficult, unable even to stanch the blood and limit the damage when no better outcome is feasible.
At least, that’s what I was thinking before the Aston Villa vs Liverpool game. If Ole’s horror show is proof that the man isn’t up to the job, that leaves us in a tough spot regarding Jurgen Klopp, at least on a direct game-by-game comparison.
In reality, Klopp’s outstanding achievements with Liverpool mean the 7-2 loss to Villa, painful as it is, can essentially be dismissed as a very bad day at the office. Similarly, Dean Smith (along with faithful lieutenant John Terry) has not become a world-beater overnight. Still, the sight of the Villa manager trying to maintain a stoic, professional look and keep a lid on the giddy disbelief he must have felt as his side scored another, and another, and another against the reigning league champions was quite something – if you’re not a Liverpool supporter, these are rare, joyful moments.
Or they should be. Surely, the otherness of life right now explains, at least in part, the madness of this season’s scorelines. There were mitigating factors for Klopp too; the absence of Sadio Mane, who had tested positive for COVID-19; the presence of replacement goalkeeper Adrian, who was sorely tested by an effervescent Aston Villa.
But perhaps the true problem is that, for the players, football doesn’t feel real anymore. Watching at home on the TV, it’s not that different from watching pre-pandemic. But in the stadiums, with no supporters, no-one to chide mistakes or cheer moments of brilliance, perhaps the pressure’s off. Certainly, right now the spectacle is off the scale. But will the entire season have an asterisk next to it, come next summer?
Who knows what this more forgiving atmosphere will mean, as the season advances? More mayhem to come? Almost certainly. Enjoy the ride, because who the hell knows where this is going.
To bet on a wide range of markets, visit 32Red Sport today. If you’re looking for a different kind of flutter, check out our 32Red Casino site – there’s plenty of slots and table games to keep you entertained!