Is it time for an unlikely hero? – James Calvert

Is it time for an unlikely hero? – James Calvert

Updated: 1 month, 4 days, 11 hours, 51 minutes, 13 seconds ago

I know it feels like the season only just started – possibly because of the World Cup interruption – but it’s already time for the first piece of domestic silverware to be decided.

In one corner we have a resurgent, Rashford-powered Manchester United, fresh from their thrilling victory over Barcelona, who will be desperate to formally announce their rebirth by grabbing the first trophy of the Ten Hag era.

In the other we have Newcastle United, a team so starved of trophies and success that most of their fans won’t know the proper meaning of either word. Heck, they haven’t been in a major final this century, and last won a cup way back in 1955. This is one hungry team.

Normally I would be cautious at this point, suggesting finals have a sneaky way of letting us down, not living up to the hype and turning out to be dour, soulless draws. When opponents that are both desperate for a trophy come face-to-face at Wembley, they can end up being so afraid of losing that their collective cautiousness cancels each other out.

But no such fence sitting today – I think this one is going to be an absolute scorcher of a match. Neither of these teams is really designed for caution and conservatism. And I can’t see either manager suddenly going all ‘park the bus’ just because there is silverware on offer.

The big story in the run-up to this afternoon’s match has, of course, been about Newcastle keeper Nick Pope, who misses out having being sent off against Liverpool last weekend. That the player’s automatic one-match ban happens to cover the final is deeply unfortunate for Newcastle and desperately sad for Pope. However, people like Gary Lineker, who have called for Pope to be allowed to play, are trying to make a mockery of the game.

Rules are rules, and the very thought of changing them mid-season is entirely ludicrous. Adapt them moving forward, if you like. Maybe in future, automatic bans should only apply to the competition in which the offence occurred, for example. But you can’t make changes in the days before a final just because you feel sorry for a lad who is missing out.

Interestingly, the Pope issue, combined with their reserve keeper being cup-tied, means Newcastle could be about to hand a debut to Loris Karius, the man notorious for making two horrendously costly errors in the Champions League final when he played for Liverpool. That would be a remarkable turnaround for a player who achieved instant pariah status in that game against Real Madrid.

In fact, the more I think about it, this is almost a Hollywood movie in the making, with Karius returning from football exile to redeem himself with a match-winning performance on his debut. In fact, I am going for this on the prediction front: a high-scoring, hard-fought Manchester United victory. But if Karius plays, then all bets are off...

I am going for this on the prediction front: a high-scoring, hard-fought Manchester United victory


Scratching the seven-year itch

Jurgen Klopp isn’t going to be fired, and neither is he going to quit. Anybody who thinks either of those things is going to happen imminently is a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

But last week’s record home defeat by Real Madrid is further evidence – if any more were needed – that Liverpool are in need of a complete overhaul. Root and branch, top to bottom.

Back-to-back victories over Everton and Newcastle led some to believe, including the manager himself, that the Merseyside club had turned finally a corner. However, that 5-2 defeat showed what they had turned was not so much a corner as a roundabout that took them right back whence they came. And that isn’t a happy place.

The current Liverpool team lack confidence, organisation, and most of the other hallmarks that made them champions of England and Europe in recent years. They are a poor imitation of the side that used to strike fear in the hearts of their opponents.

These days, the once stable defence creaks every time it comes under pressure, the midfield looks disorganised and leaderless, and the previously formidable attack no longer has the power to outscore their rivals.

What I feel Klopp has been trying to do over the last year or two is focus on evolution rather than revolution, slowly replacing players who are getting on in years with promising youngsters. But what really needs to happen now is a massive clear-out.

The likes of Thiago Alcântara, Joël Matip, Jordan Henderson, Roberto Firmino, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner and Fabinho need to be moved on to make way for a new generation. Maybe even Virgil van Dijk and Mohammed Salah too, although there are substantial arguments for keeping those two.

A lot has been said about Klopp’s teams having a seven-year cycle. Although the man himself has obviously denied this, the evidence at Mainz, Dortmund and now Liverpool suggests otherwise.

If he can come to terms with the situation and act decisively to rectify it, then there is no reason why he shouldn’t be at Anfield for another seven years to come – a year of rebuilding and six more of success.

If he remains in denial, however, it might not be beyond the realms of possibility that the words ‘Klopp’, ‘mutual’ and ‘consent’ appear in a headline we thought we would never see.


What’s in a name?

Note to commercial directors of all football clubs: if you are going to sell the naming rights to your stadium, pick your sponsors wisely.

Last week Bolton Wanderers announced they had signed a lucrative five-year, stadium naming deal with a local building manufacturer. And the name of that sponsor – Toughsheet.

Yep, that’s right, for the next half a decade Bolton will be playing their home games at the Toughsheet Stadium.

A lot of the club’s fans were left in shock at the deal, with many taking to social media to question whether this was some kind of early April Fool’s joke.

But others were quite happy with the schoolboy humour of the whole thing.

“If people don’t like, it’s tough sheet,” one said.

And there’s no arguing with that...



Twitter: @maltablade

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