Stitched up good and proper by that piece of work Virgil van Dijk

Scott Murray
·7-min read

LEADERS < LEEDS

The Premier League continues to be a maelstrom of glorious unpredictability. On Friday night, Aston Villa, the only team left in England with a 100% record, were outplayed, outpaced and outfought by Dirty Leeds, who made off with their Leftfield Title Contenders status in the 1970s comic-book style, giggling like they’d just taken possession of a large bag of sweeties. “Yoinks, now for a feast!” guffawed a carefree Marcelo Bielsa, who already held the Hipsters’ Choice award, which for the record is shaped like a giant plate of mashed potatoes with sausages sticking out of it. Good luck wresting either of those distinctions from his grasp this season.

On Sunday, leaders Everton had their charcoal and seafoam shorts handed to them by Southampton at St Mary’s. To be fair, they’d been stitched up good and proper by that piece of work Virgil van Dijk, who as Carlo Ancelotti explained the other day, stuck one on their star man James Rodríguez in the first minute of the recent Merseyside derby, limiting him to just 179 of 179 minutes of football since. Not only that, by sneakily enticing Jordan Pickford into that crotch-first challenge, the wily Van Dijk has cleverly established a virulent anti-Everton agenda within the refereeing community, clearly evidenced by the red card awarded to Lucas Digne for taking a wild swipe at Kyle Walker-Peters, missing, then clumsily standing on his ankle and bending his leg to an alarming degree. Virgil, you rotter!

“Maybe all the rumours all week against Pickford affected the decision,” insisted Ancelotti, his studied super-cool slipping a little after the match. “The red card was a joke.” While the Fiver certainly agrees that Digne didn’t mean to land on Walker-Peters’s leg, he was however out of control to an extent that his opponent was in danger. It’s also the third time in two games that an Everton player has, intentionally or not, made such a challenge, the Digne recklessness coming hot on the heels (no pun intended) of Richarlison vs Thiago Alcântara and the Battle of Jordan’s Junk.

Asked whether Everton are developing a little problem here, Ancelotti bristled. “It’s not right. It’s not fair. It was not the right decision. We will appeal for sure.” Many more of these careless challenges, though, and they’ll soon be getting themselves a reputation. They’ll not be getting the Leftfield Title Contenders or Hipsters’ Choice tags off Bielsa any time soon … though perhaps there’s another descriptor they could take from the men from Elland Road? Five letters; answers on a postcard.

KEVIN McCARRA (1958-2020)

The former Guardian football correspondent Kevin McCarra died on Saturday aged 62. One of Scotland’s finest sports writers, Kevin wrote for the Guardian between 2002 and 2012, having previously worked for the Times, Sunday Times and Scotland on Sunday. Kevin was a prescient, pioneering writer but beyond that, he was a nice, thoughtful and caring man – borne out by tributes from former colleagues Jonathan Wilson, Sachin Nakrani and Ewan Murray. RIP, Kevin.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I am appalled, angry, shocked and frustrated some ‘media’ sources use me to make total fake headlines, adding my religion and the French national team to the pot. I am taking legal action against the publishers and spreaders of this 100% fake news. In a quick shout out to The Sun, who normally could not care less: some of you guys probably went to school and will remember how your teacher said to always check your sources. But hey, seems you did it again and on a very serious topic this time, shame on you!” – Paul Pogba hits back in style on Instagram at baseless reports that he had retired from international duty.

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Football Weekly has landed! Max, Barry, Jordan Jarret-Bryan, John Brewin, Sid Lowe and Jonathan Wilson chew over the weekend’s Premier League and European action.

FIVER LETTERS

“Seeing it was Pelé’s 80th birthday on Friday brought to mind the worst-produced press release I have ever received, to accompany a World Cup video in about 1990. It was clearly typed up by someone who knew nothing about football from a badly handwritten original that included an imprecisely placed accent above one particular ‘e’. As well as singing the praises of someone called ‘Goeff Hirst’, it asked: ‘And who can forget the incomparable Pete?’” – Philip Cornwall.

“Pelé only ‘the fifth person listed on the first celebrity birthday website The Fiver found’ [Friday’s Fiver]? Big Paper had the great man at No 15, mainly as it’s in alphabetical order. Perhaps he should change his name to AFC Pelé for next year” – Mark Waters.

“On the subject of clubs’ crests being borrowed, apparently it goes beyond football. I can’t imagine where the village of Swansea, Illinois got the idea for their logo from” – Gareth Rogers.

“Despite having subscriptions with both football broadcasters, I was unable to watch the game last Saturday. One of my packages even promises me a 3pm Saturday match, because of where I live. This was replaced with a Polish league fixture, which seems fair enough. To them. Even with my dubious moral compass, I couldn’t bring myself to stump up another 15 quid so I decided to cut the grass instead. I had to clean up after the dog in order to do so; this felt like a metaphor” – Adam Uncamus.

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is … Gareth Rogers.

NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

England Women’s 2-1 friendly defeat to Germany on Tuesday has been called off, after one of Phil Neville’s backroom team tested positive for coronavirus.

Premier League suits will meet on Tuesday to discuss whether to continue their wildly unpopular yet lucrative pay-per-view arrangements. We think we know how this one will pan out.

$tevie Mbe may be riding high with the Pope’s O’Rangers, but that slip in 2014 is still on his mind. “I park it up but it comes back, all the time,” he trilled. “What triggers it? I don’t know. TV. Images. Just me reflecting. I am someone who thinks a lot.”

Joël Matip, Naby Keïta and Thiago Alcântara will not be fit in time for Liverpool’s Big Cup clash against Danish number-crunchers FC Midtjylland.

Isco isn’t happy with his treatment by Zinedine Zidane. “If he has to take me off, he does it in the 50th or 60th minute. Sometimes even at half-time,” he sobbed. “If he has to put me on, he’ll do it in the 80th minute.”

And Laurent Koscielny is still a fan of Arsenal admin Mesut Özil. “He is in my opinion a phenomenon,” he panted. “He can find passes that no one sees, he’s a maestro. He can rock a game with incredible passes.”

STILL WANT MORE?

Che Adams and Patrick Bamford are finally delivering in the top flight, plus eight more things we learned this weekend.

Take a trip across the continent, starting with Sid Lowe in Barcelona where for all Ronald Koeman’s flailing, the real story was his team giving up in the clásico …

Next stop Naples, where Nicky Bandini has a heart-warming tale of sibling rivalry in a Campania derby …

A quick change at Lille, where a young and hungry team are threatening to end PSG’s title monopoly …

And finally to Leipzig, where Julian Nagelsmann’s Rasen BallSport outfit have sent a warning to Manchester United, according to Andy Brassell.

Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!

2020 CONTINUES