Next six games after win over Leeds at Elland Road
Manchester United are the only top-flight club in England still left in as many as four competitions.
Some crowns may be more attainable than others. 90 minutes stand between the Red Devils and the Carabao Cup compared to four more months of Premier League football. But Erik ten Hag’s side dips their toe into all four competitions across the next six matches as the season builds towards a crescendo.
Here is what lies in store for Manchester United in the coming weeks.
The Camp Nou was the scene for the greatest night in Manchester United’s history. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s last-gasp winner to snatch the 1999 Champions League final – and thereby complete an unprecedented treble in English football – was so iconic it ushered him into the managerial hot seat two decades later.
United return to the crumbling cathedral on Thursday 16 February, 17:45 (GMT) in dramatically contrasting circumstances. Rather than the culmination of a history-defining achievement, Manchester United travel to Barcelona for the first leg of a Europa League play-off to battle it out for a spot in the last 16 of the continent’s second-tier club competition.
When Ten Hag led Manchester United to King Power Stadium in September, Leicester were in free fall. Jadon Sancho consigned the Foxes to a fourth consecutive league defeat with the only goal of the game, leaving Brendan Rodgers’ thrifty side at the foot of the table.
Leicester have collected 23 of the 24 points in the intervening six months, untangling themselves from the relegation mire and bounding into Sunday’s contest buoyed by January arrivals, James Maddison’s recuperation and eight goals in two games.
“The draw has given us the most difficult opponent once again,” Xavi lamented when Barcelona learned their fate in November. After finishing third in a Champions League group which contained Bayern Munich and Inter, Xavi’s side had their ball drawn alongside Manchester United after dropping into the Europa League.
United can hardly be happy about the prospect of facing La Liga’s leaders but they at least have home advantage for the decisive second leg.
Ron Atkinson was manager the last time Manchester United endured a trophy drought as long as the current wait for silverware. Big Ron cracked open one of his many bottles of champagne after the 1983 FA Cup triumph over Brighton ended a six-year drought.
Ten Hag has the bubbly on ice as Manchester United’s Carabao Cup final against Newcastle United on Sunday 26 February at 16:30 (GMT) gives the Red Devils their first shot at silverware since the 2017 Europa League triumph under Jose Mourinho.
As United pivot from one cup competition to another, David Moyes returns to the unhappy hunting ground of Old Trafford. Either side of drinking from the poisoned chalice that was the role of Sir Alex Ferguson’s immediate successor, Moyes has won just two of 19 visits to the Theatre of Dreams, losing 13.
Ten Hag maintained Moyes’ grim tradition with a 1-0 Premier League victory at home to West Ham in October.
The visit of Liverpool to Old Trafford in August served as a watershed moment in United’s season. After consecutive defeats to begin the campaign against Brighton and Brentford, Ten Hag was treated to his first victory at the club in his debut derby.
However, United haven’t beaten Liverpool at Anfield since 2016. To put into perspective quite how long ago that was; Louis van Gaal watched on from the dugout as Wayne Rooney scored the only goal of the game.
Jonas Eidevall hails dominant Stina Blackstenius performance in north London derby victory
Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall has heaped praise on forward Stina Blackstenius after her sensational showing in Saturday’s 5-1 victory over Tottenham.
The Swede opened the scoring after just a few minutes and continued to lead the line with real dominance all game, creating plenty of chances for those around her in what turned out to be a comfortable victory.
Blackstenius’ performance did not go unnoticed by Eidevall, who took the time to praise the forward after the game.
“Every game poses different challenges, but Stina gave exactly what we needed at the start of the game by posing a threat from balls in-behind against a very compact Spurs’ team,” Eidevall told Sky Sports.
“I think it was very nice to see her take the first finish on her first touch when she first spots the goalkeeper a little bit out of position.”
On the wider performance, Eidevall continued: “I was very pleased with the performance. There are still some aspects of our game we need to get better at compared to the first half. I think our players were brilliant and were very well positioned in the second half. I think we could have controlled the game right from the start.
“I think it starts with the way we attack. We were well positioned. I think we constantly overloaded them out in the wide areas and set up players that can play forward with the ball. We are good at arriving into the box with pace. In the first half and the last ten minutes, we got a little bit complacent and a bit of standing still which suits Spurs’ really well. We didn’t get into that trap in the second-half and that was pleasing.”
The win keeps Arsenal in the WSL title race, moving the Gunners up to 35 points, two behind leaders Chelsea having played a game more.
Emma Hayes’ Blues are in action on Sunday against fellow title hopefuls Manchester City, who can blow the title race wide open with a win.
Why do Liverpool fans boo the England national anthem?
Few managers of the modern era have developed a bond with their club’s fanbase as strong as the link between Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool.
A rapidly stacked trophy cabinet has obviously helped Klopp win over Merseyside but the humble and honest German coach has forged such a deep connection with the people of Liverpool by taking time to understand the history and beliefs of the city.
However, even Klopp was left a little perplexed by the deafening swell of boos which his supporters delivered in response to the English national anthem ahead of the 2022 FA Cup final.
“I know our people that well that they wouldn’t do it if there was no reason for it,” Klopp reasoned, before admitting: “And I’m not here surely not long enough to understand the reason for it.”
Don’t worry, Jurgen, we’ve got you covered.
As a port city which has welcomed countless immigrants over the years, many Liverpudlians have an ancestral reason to not consider themselves English. The xenophobia and racism which remains a plague on these shores are not exactly a set of welcoming, open arms.
The term ‘Scouse’, which is a traditional stew, was originally used as a derogatory term for Irish immigrants that could only afford to frequent soup kitchens. But the city’s inhabitants have harnessed the slur and the sense of otherness it was meant to hold.
Engraved in in the wall of the Museum of Liverpool is a quote from the former Gronby councillor Margaret Simey in 1999 which reads: “The magic of Liverpool is that it isn’t England.”
Liverpool’s port points west, which was particularly unhelpful during the 1980s when trade with Europe on the other side of the Isles was being prioritised. Naturally, this only stoked the flames of a dire relationship between Liverpool and the British government.
“Never Trust A Tory” is another common banner which can been seen circulating the Liverpool end on trips to Wembley.
This distrust has only festered over the last decade of Conservative rule. Labour – the more left-wing opposition in England to the Conservatives – have not had a prime minister in power since Gordon Brown in 2010.
Unlike the rest of the country, Liverpool have not given in to the blue invasion. The Labour Party has received more than 50% of the city’s votes in every general election between 1992 and 2019.
This unwavering favouring of Labour came immediately after Margaret Thatcher’s unpopular reign as Conservative party leader and prime minister. Thatcher’s Chancellor Sir Geoffrey Howe argued that Liverpool should be left to “managed decline”, as revealed by cabinet papers from the era which fed the distrust of that regime on Merseyside. In the wake of the Toxteth Riots, Howe urged Thatcher “not to over-commit scarce resources to Liverpool”.
The Conservatives and Thatcher were also in power at the time of the Hillsborough disaster and their handling of the situation, over a course of a decades-long quest for justice, also enraged a wounded city and its people.
The Tory hatred wasn’t always so suffocating. When the Iron Lady became prime minister in 1979, Sir Malcolm Thornton was first elected as Conservative MP for Liverpool Garston.
However, the distrust very much extends to the modern era as Boris Johnson, when prime minister, was asked to apologise for publishing an article in the Spectator which accused Liverpudlians of “wallowing” in their “victim status” while he was the publication’s editor in 2004. Shockingly, he did not offer a sorry amid his blustering response.
At Liverpool’s first FA Cup final triumph in 1965, the travelling Merseyside support belted out “God Save Our Gracious Team”. For many reasons, Liverpool fans have opted for a blunter approach over the subsequent years.
Reece James withdraws from England squad due to ‘ongoing issue’
Reece James has left the England camp and returned to Chelsea due to an ‘ongoing issue’.
The right-back was expected to start Sunday’s Euro 2024 qualifier against Ukraine at Wembley after Kyle Walker played all 90 minutes of Thursday’s 2-1 win away at Italy. But James has failed to prove his fitness and will reconvene with Chelsea at their Cobham training base.
A statement from England read: “Reece James has withdrawn from the England squad and will not feature against Ukraine on Sunday.
“The full-back has returned to Chelsea for assessment on an ongoing issue.
“No replacements are planned as Gareth Southgate’s squad, including the suspended Luke Shaw, continue their preparations at Tottenham Hotspur Training Ground.”
Though James’ fitness record is patchy and he was suffering with a hamstring injury earlier this month, he joined up with the England squad this week having played 90 minutes in two of Chelsea’s final three games before the international break and was expected to be fit and healthy.
He came on as an 85th-minute substitute on Thursday for Bukayo Saka as 10-man England sought to hold onto their lead.
James missed England’s 2022 FIFA World Cup campaign after sustaining a knee injury in the autumn.
Chelsea will be hoping that James’ problem isn’t serious ahead of a busy month that sees them face the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Real Madrid.
James has already missed 17 games for Chelsea this season – 15 for his knee problem, one for a hamstring issue and one because of illness.
Prior to this season, James has been reported as to having nine other injuries during his time in the Chelsea senior setup, missing a total of 51 matches for the Blues.
On this edition of Son of Chelsea, part of the 90min podcast network, Daniel Childs reviews Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Everton & Graham Potter’s performance. If you can’t see this embed, click here to listen to the podcast!
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