Was it really worth losing a domestic weekend in football to watch France put a rugby score past Gibraltar (they won 14-0), or England labour to a win over Malta and play out a dead rubber away to North Macedonia? It was interesting to see that over 80,000 fans had turned up for a game where England had already qualified and were playing one of the weakest nations in world football. Granted it wasn't the fans fault that England's best player Jude Bellingham was injured, but it did seem to add salt to the wounds that the real piece of magic in this England team wasn't on the pitch. The fans looked bored after five minutes but were expecting goals- they only got two in the end and this game quickly transferred from an England victory to a brilliant work out for the Maltese. The 90 minutes really felt like an exercise in money. It was a couple of hours that would have generated (including food and drinks) at least £5 million. Did anyone get their money's worth?
At least there was a little excitement in the Ukraine-Italy match where the Italians had to win or draw to qualify for Euro 2024, in the end they drew 0-0. But even then one has to question a rule that sees the holders of a competition having to qualify for the next. This goes back to the World Cup in 2002, when France as holders were knocked out at the group stages. The feeling is that they had not played a competitive game for two years because back then they qualified as winners. How could this talented team have been knocked out at the group stages? Well, this is football it can happen and their star player Zindine Zidane had been injured in a pointless warm up game days before the competition and only came back for their last group game still half injured and out of sorts. The governing bodies chose to believe it was because of a lack of competitive games. So we could have had a situation where the champions of Europe in Italy would not have been at Euro 2024 and that feels cheap and empty. Finally Gareth Southgate has come under pressure for England's last two games and this feels like lazy journalism. Perhaps Southgate will never win a trophy for England and people will feel justified but to heap criticism on two dead rubber games makes no sense. Both games were poor, perhaps the players fed off of the atmosphere or perhaps they understood that these two games were simply obliged to be played. These matches were not vintage of course, but who expected to see anything special.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is going to be charged by the FA after his reaction to the VAR officials after the Gunners lost 1-0 away to Newcastle. But does Arteta deserve to be charged? It's true that Arteta was visibly angry but he didn't physically attack anyone and he didn't swear on television. He was heated but he was also just giving his opinion. This feels like a form of censorship and if managers are going to get charged and possibly receive a huge fine in the process that feels sad because Arteta didn't seem to overstep the mark, he was just angry and frustrated. We have seen some colourful managerial interviews after games, isn't that part of why we tune in? Who wants to see the sometimes robotic scripted footballer interviewers after games that are mostly dull. Arteta felt he had a point to complain and a charge seemed harsh.
Everton have been deducted 10 points of course and this is because they have spent £20m more than they should have. Fans will be protesting this weekend and also on Friday they will go down to the FA headquarters in London to protest more. The FA have opened up a huge can of worms here. If Everton can lose 10 points over £20m what will happen to Manchester City and Chelsea? Some suggest that the clubs will not be charged for another two years, which seems wrong but it will be interesting to see what type of penalty they receive and one has to wonder if relegation would be the right thing to do? Pep Guardiola will probably have left the club by then and of course with the ever revolving door at Chelsea they may have had a few managers come and go. But you can't hand out 10 point fines over a £20m overspend and not punish other teams who seemingly have done much worse so let's keep our eyes peeled on those developments. Everton's penalty has now made the club 3.25 to go down although despite this they are just two points from safety.
The Premier League is back this weekend and it is the 12th game of the season and while it may not be a surprise to see Manchester City in 1st place the league is one of the closest in years. City lead by just a point over Liverpool and Arsenal and Tottenham who are in fourth place are only two points behind the leaders. From 1st to 5th there are only three points in it and the top sides will play this weekend, what a weekend this promises to be.
To win the Premier League: Manchester City 1.50, Arsenal 5.00, Liverpool 6.00, Tottenham 29.00, Newcastle 81.00