Welcome back Fantasians
After a couple of discombobulated weeks set aside for the F A Cup, mid-season break and players jetting off to AFCON and the Asian Cup, we’re back this weekend with ten games Saturday to Monday, save for those still involved in AFCON and the Asian Cup, both at the QF stage.
How was it for you? For Scott who nailed 88 points, it was the best week of his life, KDB provided 34 armband points. Chris B started his second half of the season comeback just in time with a decent 79 points, with Mr Wright (69) in third.
Leading the league in the league leaders’ position on 1317 points is Nick, continuing an impressive run in collecting points. Mr Wright (1295) and Michael (1294) are second and) third. Pete won MoTM for January with a nifty 155 points.
What happened this week? It was a weekend in which we saw the very best and worst of FA Cup culture, from the plucky non-league minnows of Maidstone slaying Ipswich in a classic upset, to crowd ugliness so unsavoury at the Hawthorns that not even the surreal, genuinely hilarious sight of a grown man dressed as a boiler making placatory gestures in an attempt to lower the temperature made them the kind of scenes we want to see.
There were other games too. Billed as the tie of the round, City v Spurs Friday proved to be anything like it, a dreary encounter in which the visitors ran rings around their hosts for 87 minutes without doing anything so vulgar as scoring was eventually settled by a contentious goal from Aké, the defender prodding home from a corner after the ball was flapped his way by Vicario. The debate over whether or not the Spurs goalkeeper was fouled by Dias was contentious, but he could scarcely have looked more forlorn.
Playing their seventh game in this season’s FA Cup, Maidstone ensured they’ll get an eighth by beating Ipswich, despite the two clubs being separated by 98 places in the pyramid. In a textbook giant-killing, the National League South side comprised of part-timers rode their luck with fierce tenacity and defended like dervishes – with some woodwork assistance – to earn their place in the last 16.
Meanwhile at Fulham, Alan Shearer watched from the away end and seemed to have a splendid time as Newcastle advanced. Despite his best attempts to keep his presence inconspicuous, his decision to wear a coat and hat in January was always going to make him stand out in a group of hardcore travelling Mags and he was duly mobbed and serenaded.
This week’s photo Everyone laughed when Kevin-Prince Boateng got married on a digital version of the moon in the metaverse. The former AC Milan midfielder held an online ceremony attended by cartoon recreations of the happy couple and their three dogs, plus a smattering of guests who shelled out €50 for an NFT ticket.
But their lunar love story came crashing down to earth this week when Valentina was spotted cavorting on a beach (in the real world) with another man, and they’re now splitting up (also in the real world). No word on ticket prices for the courtroom battle over custody of the digital dogs, but I’ll keep you posted.
Reading. There’s a reason you’re here, and it definitely isn’t the reliable hilarity, rather, what probably brought you to this debilitating wilderness of facetious football smuggery is that you are seeking another hit to satisfy your congenital, preternatural, and incurable fantasy footballaholism. We love football, more than we love almost anything else. Even in Reading. Which is why what’s currently going on with Reading should be agitating all of us.
During their recent League One match against Port Vale, the game was first halted for three minutes after fans threw tennis balls on to the pitch – yes, that sounds very Berkshire, but it works – then abandoned after 16 minutes when fans invaded the pitch. It’s fair to assume that the majority of them generally spend the week looking forward to the game and do not want to do this. Rather people acted out of desperate fury, sick of watching a major chunk of their identity and heritage being vandalised with the apparent consent of the authorities responsible for safeguarding it.
Which brings us to Dai Yongge, Reading’s owner. He acquired 75% of Reading with neither the Football League nor the Department for Culture, Media and Sport finding anything amiss, yet again. And, yet again, both bodies failed in their duty of care, Reading have been deducted points three seasons in a row and relegated from the Championship, failed to pay players, staff and taxes on time and in full, been placed under transfer embargo and served with a winding-up order. Note to self: check out the fit and proper person test.
Jürgen It’s been a rough week for the good people of Liverpool, who greeted Jurgen’s bombshell departure with the stiff upper lip of a 14-year-old who just learned One Direction are splitting up. Before you feel too sorry for Liverpool fans, spare a thought for their spiritual cousins in Hamburg.
Back in 2008, they interviewed then-Mainz manager Jurgen for their vacant manager’s position. But while they were impressed by his slick gegenpressing and luminescent teeth, Jurgen exhibited one fatal flaw: his ripped jeans. The club’s directors compiled a dossier of other evidence against Klopp, complaining he had a “gruff” appearance and was “not a great timekeeper”. They appointed ex-Spurs boss Martin Jol instead.
Klopp joined Dortmund and led them to two Bundesliga titles, while Hamburg slid into mediocrity and were relegated in 2018 – two weeks before Klopp led Liverpool out for the Champions League final. They’d take those ripped jeans now…
So, what happens next? Well, most likely what almost always happens next. His own abdication, staged on club media, carried echoes of both Shankly and Dalglish departures. It is that I am, how can I say it, running out of energy. I have no problem now, obviously, I knew it already for longer that I will have to announce it at one point, but I am absolutely fine now. I know that I cannot do the job again and again and again and again. Perhaps the signals were there all along. Nobody can doubt the pressure of managing Liverpool.
The guffawing, japing Jürg of old has been absent this season. He was last season, too, the expression beneath the baseball cap betraying anxiety, the exuberance greyed out. Eventually, it’s all too much. The rows with refs, the difficulty with Egypt over Mo Salah: all part of the rich tapestry of managing a global superclub, though one with less resources than the global superclub down the M62 with the manager who is just as driven as Klopp himself, even more willing to surrender himself to go again and again and again and again. Could Klopp’s Liverpool have won more than one Premier League and one Big Cup plus assorted other pots? The answer, of course, is Pep Guardiola. At least Klopp has left room for one last shootout.
TV scheduling for more years than I care to remember, I’ve been fed up with the Premier League and TV companies from taking liberties with match going fans. It is a drum I have banged like Keith Moon on amphetamines. Take the scheduling of the recent Friday night’s match Burnley v Luton which was originally supposed to be played the following Monday.
As if forcing travelling Luton fans to take an afternoon off work and make a 400-plus-mile round-trip wasn’t inconsiderate enough, the Premier League chucked in a few additional caveats to make their lives just that little bit more difficult. The match would definitely be on Monday … unless Burnley made the Carling Cup semi-finals … in which case it would definitely be on Sunday … unless Luton drew with Bolton in the FA Cup, which is what happened.
The upshot? As if the prospect of spending an evening of leisure time sitting in the freezing cold at Turf Moor watching Burnley play Luton in a football match wasn’t hard enough, the Premier League and their paymasters fell over each other in their eagerness to make the experience a whole lot worse. They moved it from Monday to Friday…on the Monday of week of the Friday – yes just four days’ notice.
Supporters need to have certainty about when games are being played so they can make their arrangements in good time. While both Sky Sports have never attempted to disguise their contempt for match going fans when it comes to scheduling, the Premier League has paid lip service too, doing the square root of chuff all. For the Premier League, eyeballs on screens have always been far more important than bums on seats.
This weekend With the January transfer window having all the drama and high-octane excitement of a Liberal Democrat conference, the trolley-dash spending by Premier League clubs dipped significantly after three successive record-breaking windows – with teams splashing out £715m less than in the 2023 winter window.
So, who to bring in this weekend? Nunez hit the woodwork four times on Wednesday night v Chelsea – a Premier League record – so maybe worth a go. Haaland or Toney? The most difficult call this week is what to do if you own Arsenal and Liverpool defenders with the two teams meeting on Sunday. The Palace duo of Eze and Olise look a decent shout.
I’ve got a feeling Richarlison will score for Spurs against his former club Everton at Goodison, while United’s Rasmus Hojlund has now delivered back-to-back double-digit scores with a home game against West Ham coming this week.