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Football in Images

January 2021

When football first went into shutdown last spring, we don’t think anyone would genuinely have considered that games would still be taking place in fanless stadiums into the new year.

This is exactly where we have been in January 2021, however. It’s grim, yes, but that football has continued is something to be grateful for in times of continuing uncertainty. Some things have remained the same, too – January is traditionally a month that delivers a bit of FA Cup romance, and things were no different this time round. The obvious place to start our first monthly gallery of 2021, then…

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Magic of the Cup: Part I
Even in these modern times, when many doubt the enduring relevance of the FA Cup, the third round – when the big boys join in – never fails to deliver. This year, it rustled up the biggest mismatch in the entire history of the competition, when Marine of the Northern Premier League Division One North West hosted mighty Tottenham Hotspur at their Rossett Park home. Just the 160 places separated the Premier League side from a team operating in the eighth tier of English football, but Marine acquitted themselves well in going down only 5-0. José Mourinho might have looked pretty cold on the touchline during the game, but the freezing temperatures didn’t stop the locals coming out to line the streets in support of their team. Best not mention yer coronavirus, eh?

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Magic of the Cup: Part II
Marine might not have pulled off a miracle against Tottenham, but sixth-tier Chorley followed up shock wins over Wigan and Peterborough by dumping Championship club Derby County out in the third round. The win wasn’t as unexpected as it looks on paper, after a Covid outbreak ruled out the entire Derby first-team squad, caretaker manager Wayne Rooney and most of the Under-23 side – the average age of the starting XI in their eventual 2-0 defeat was just 19. Chorley’s excellent run would come to an end at the hands of Wolves in the fourth round.

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Rooney rules
Less than a week after the Derby kids were beaten in the FA Cup, the club announced that Wayne Rooney would be assuming the role of manager on a full-time basis. The 35-year-old signed a two-and-a-half-year deal while simultaneously announcing his retirement from a playing career that yielded, among other honours, five Premier League titles, one Champions League and a record 53 England goals from 120 caps. The Championship is no respecter of reputations, however – his first game in the full-time hotseat ended in a 1-0 home defeat by relegation rivals Rotherham (above), although two subsequent 1-0 victories hint at better things to come for Rooney the manager.

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Ruthless Roman
The Chelsea fans behind the banner featured above might have thought it reasonable to think that Frank Lampard’s long and trophy-laden spell as a player with Chelsea Football Club would buy him more time to impress Roman Abramovich as the club’s head coach. They were wrong. After 18 months in charge at Stamford Bridge, Lampard became just the latest in a long line of managers to feel the full force of the Russian owner’s impatience, paying the price for an unconvincing start to a campaign prefaced by heavy investment in the playing squad. That his last game in charge was a victory, seeing off Luton in the fourth round of the FA Cup, will come as little consolation to Lampard, whose replacement Thomas Tuchel kicked off his own Stamford Bridge reign with a 0-0 draw at home to Wolves.

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Snow storm
We are used to snow causing a surprising amount of chaos in the UK, but this year it was the turn of Spain to fall foul of the white stuff. Madrid was particularly hard hit, with both of the capital’s major teams struggling to fulfil fixtures – Atlético had their home game against Athletic Bilbao postponed after the visitors’ plane made it to Madrid but couldn’t land, while Real just about managed to get to Osasuna only to draw 0-0. The pain is all relative, however – the picture above comes from Cañada Real, a shanty town only 14 kilometres from central Madrid whose residents faced 90 days with no electric power over winter.

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Kieled over
Who said the magic of the cup was limited to English football? Over in Germany, Bayern Munich – the reigning European club champions, lest we forget – somehow managed to get knocked out of the German Cup in the second round. Their earliest exit for more than 20 years came at the hands of second-tier club Holstein Kiel, who in their shootout victory proved that the most likely candidates to beat a German club on penalties is, well, another German club. Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer failed to save any of the victors’ six spot-kicks, which presumably explains why he looks so riled above. Much like each of Kiel’s successful penalties, though, it’s a great shot.

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Turkish delight
On the subject of highly paid German footballers, January finally saw the end of the affair between Mesut Özil and Arsenal. After seven years, more than 250 games, three FA Cups and one very ill-advised new contract, the supremely talented but enigmatic playmaker departed for Fenerbahce on a three-and-a-half-year deal. He left the Gunners at the age of 32 and with 54 Premier League assists to his name – the same as Didier Drogba, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata, but one behind Kevin Davies.

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Floored
Özil’s Arsenal career wasn’t the only thing that came to an end in January. Heading into the new year, Premier League champions Liverpool hadn’t lost a league game at Anfield since April 2017 – when, impossible to believe as it sounds now, Christian Benteke scored twice in a 2-1 win for Crystal Palace. Jürgen Klopp’s injury-hit team hadn’t been at its best for a number of games before Sean Dyche and Burnley visited, however, and the only team not to take a Premier League point from Anfield last season duly went and scarpered with all three this time round. Ashley Barnes was the hero for the visitors, scoring from the spot after drawing a foul from Reds goalkeeper Alisson with only seven minutes remaining. It ended Liverpool’s 68-game unbeaten Premier League run at Anfield.

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Tunnel vision
While one long unbeaten run came to a shuddering halt at Anfield, another shows no signs of letting up. Chelsea Women cantered to a routine 4-0 win away at Aston Villa Women in the last week of the month, replacing Manchester United at the top of the Women’s Super League table. It was the team’s 32nd WSL game without defeat – a run that dates back to January 2019 and eclipses the previous record held by Manchester City. Much of the credit must go to the hugely impressive head coach Emma Hayes, not that she was having any of it. “This team will go down in history, I’m certain of it,” she said after the game. “I know when you’re winning a lot there’s just this expectation you’re going to keep doing it, but this is the best Chelsea team I’ve ever had. This is a moment to recognise how lucky our club is to have such a wonderful team full of amazing humans.”

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Off he pops
Lionel Messi was sent off in a matter of minutes when winning his first Argentina cap back in 2005, but he had never once been sent off in his entire club career with Barcelona – not until this month, anyway. Messi’s 753rd game in a Barcelona shirt promised so much more, being that it was the Spanish Super Cup final against Athletic Bilbao. There would be no silverware for Messi and his team, however, as the underdogs prevailed 3-2 after extra-time. With time running out, Messi lashed out at Athletic substitute Asier Villalibre – and even though age does not yet appear to be catching up with him, on this occasion VAR definitely did. To think we almost got through the whole feature without mentioning it once. Maybe next month.

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