Little or no niggle as United heap more misery on Chelsea
Even in the BBC studio Alan Shearer and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink kept it civil
Manchester United’s Paul Pogba celebrates scoring his side’s second goal of the game during the FA Cup fifth round win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Photo: Nigel French/PA Wire
FA Cup magic has, in truth, been in short-ish supply so far this season, Newport County aside, so you couldn’t but invest a whole heap of hope in this – the last tie of the fifth round – leaving us feeling enchanted.
Not that there’d be any plumbers, electricians or double glazing salesmen on view, this being Chelsea v Manchester United, although Chelsea fans would, it seems, very much like Marcos Alonso to take up any one of those professions in the very immediate future. And hire Kepa Arrizabalaga as his assistant.
Of course, what you need to make these games entertaining is a bit of niggle and an edge, and by selecting Alan Shearer and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink on the same team, the BBC were clearly attempting to provide just that even before the game kicked off.
Disappointingly, though, there was no evident sign of tension between the pair when you might have thought there would be some lingering ill-will from that time Shearer said scoring goals was better than sex. To which Jimmy replied: “If you say that, you’re not having proper sex.”
But, tension-wise, the prospects looked better once Gary Lineker picked out John Terry having a pre-match chat with some of his old Chelsea pals on the touchline, shortly before Wayne Bridge appeared on said same touchline, just a few feet up the way, to give his thoughts to the Beeb on how the game might go. Would it all kick off? Alas, no idea, when you hide behind a couch, the telly screen is no longer visible.
Team news. With Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard ruled out of the game through injury, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had talked up Alexis Sanchez’s saucy qualities before the game when asked about his struggle for goals. “You know that bottle of ketchup that you squeeze when it never comes out – but when it suddenly comes there’s loads?”
The ketchup bottle? Squeezed in on the bench.
Chelsea? Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Rudiger, Alonso, Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic, Pedro, Hazard, Higuain.
Gareth Southgate, in attendance, must have wondered why he’d left his fireside. Although, you’d guess he’d have been happy enough to pay in just to see Marcus Rashford.
Just time for a quick chat between Guillem Balague and Sanchez and Ander Herrera. It wasn’t quite the Nixon Tapes at the start – “Who’s got a better taste in music?” “Who’s better at table tennis?” – but it improved, Sanchez admitting that he hated being taken off early in games by Jose Mourinho. “Great stuff,” said Gary.
Anyway, the game. Martin Keown almost put the kibosh on it by declaring that “both teams are showing they can really pass the ball”, a nano second before Chris Smalling passed to the hot dog sellers at the back of the Matthew Harding Stand, but other than that it was indeed enchanting, Paul Pogba’s pass to Herrera’s head and Rashford’s pass to Pogba’s head leaving you feeling you should be paying the BBC a licence fee.
(Mind you, Martin’s observation that Pogba’s header left “no chance for the ‘keeper”, when Pogba’s header was directed straight at the ‘keeper’s right paw, was exceedingly generous.)
The same Martin could only conclude that “Solskjaer has picked that up from Sir Alex – a will to win”, although Moyesie, van Gaal and Jose might have countered that they didn’t actually have a burning desire to lose.
Still, come full-time, there was Alex in the stands beaming like a baby sucking Liga smothered in Nutella, the fella wearing a smile that suggested he’d got his United back.
And Manchester United’s decision to focus on the FA Cup this season, eschewing the gaudy commercialism of the Premier and Champions Leagues in a commendable salute of respect for the grand auld lady of competitions, is paying off handsomely.
All over and Maurizio Sarri is wearing the look of a man desperately in need of a nicotine fix, and directions to the nearest job centre, while Ole is lighting up his cigar.
The quarter-final draw: Matt Doherty v Manchester United. Tricky.
Before then, though, Ole’s World Cup final: United v Liverpool. If he manages to thwart Jurgen’s lads’ title hopes, they’ll reckon he’s Busby’s love-child. For the United faithful, this is proving to be better than sex. Jimmy? Hush.