Finally! Write this date down, folks. You may wish to refer to it in the future when the conversation strikes a chord of â€œyeah, but when did Everton last get anything right, eh?â€
Youâ€™ll be able to pipe up the 16th of January 2022 – when they sacked Rafa Benitez early enough on a Sunday that it was able to be accurately reported in this column with no deadline issues.
Of course, this still wonâ€™t please the vast majority of Everton fans who will remind us forevermore that Rafa should never have been appointed and should, at the very least, have been sacked before he could flog Lucas Digne to his Champions League-winning skipper Stevie G for a mere Â£25m.
Thatâ€™s the kind of blinkered thinking that has got Everton into this mess in the first place.
The final nail in the Benitez shaped coffin came courtesy of Norwich City (and Michael Keane) who have now achieved the most remarkable of feats in not being bottom of the Premier League despite having only scored ten goals in 21 matches. Michael Keane now has 1/10th of Norwichâ€™s Premier League goals this season and as soon as he screwed in a cross from a tight angle, you just felt that this was the beginning of Rafaâ€™s funeral march.
Benitez claims he was trying to fix five-years worth of mistakes at Goodison Park. Be that as it may, itâ€™s not easy to manage a small club, eh Rafa?
January 15th 2022 was the day the â€˜greatest Premier League title race of all time finally came to an end. Man City increased their overnight lead at the top of the table to a mere 13 points with their 1-0 win over Chelsea. Tuchelâ€™s nearly-Â£100m man looked cumbersome and disjointed and so did Pepâ€™s actual Â£100m man to be fair. But, City have a fully-fit Kevin de Bruyne to play with now and that does help ever so much. He banged one in from distance but it could have been so much more.
Liverpool, now playing for second if we can all accept the title is on the way to the Etihad, were supposed to crumble and fall without Sadio Mane and a certain Mohamed Salah to rely on. Their 0-0 draw with ten-man Arsenal in the League Cup semi suggested that without the two African stars, Liverpool were clueless and, more worryingly, goalless.Â
Brentford came hopeful of matching their performance at home, but fell three goals short of the last result. Liverpool eased home 3-0 with more than adequate stand-ins Oxlade-Chamberlain and Minamino getting a goal each – Minamino will have been particularly happy to see his hit the back of the net given his midweek effort.
Manchester United were without Cristiano Ronaldo and Anthony Martial for their trip to Villa Park and one of those two actually couldnâ€™t be bothered to turn up. Marcus Rashford was also missing, just like his form and ability as United leapt into a 2-0 lead – Bruno Fernandes (sans Ronaldo, we urge you to note) scoring twice and looking like, well, Bruno Fernandes.
Stevie G rolled his Barca-reject dice and landed on Philippe Coutinho – who came on for the second half, created one, scored one and generally looked like the whole Barcelona thing had been a very bad dream.
Newcastle unveiled their big new attacking signing that not one single Newcastle fan hoped would arrive in January. Chris Wood set Eddie Howe back a cool Â£25m – quite the outlay for a striker with a single goal to his name this season (even if it does weaken a direct relegation rival). Wood didnâ€™t really knock on much, and it was a late Joao Pedro header (the kind of goal the St Jamesâ€™ Park faithful love seeing scored) who grabbed a point for Watford.
Wolves are making quietly efficient progress under Bruno Lage and saw off newly-purchased Southampton 3-1 at Molineux. There was some standard VAR tomfoolery as Southampton conceded a penalty that wasnâ€™t an obvious contender for a clear-and-obvious award. VAR can change the direction of a match in an instant and so it was here – even Adama Traore (possibly wanting to impress Antonio Conte) managed to get on the scoresheet.
Brighton versus Crystal Palace is delightfully spiky given the actual mileage you have to put in to get from one ground to the other and it normally guarantees late drama. Friday nightâ€™s clash did not disappoint as Brighton got another late goal to nab a draw that they may or may not have deserved. Those who actually watched the game might have a more informed opinion.
Many thought West Ham would chalk off another simple enough win at the Athletics Stadium – the visitors being struggling Leeds. Not a bit of it though, as Jack Harrison conjured up a hat-trick in a 3-2 win meaning my spurious claims that Bielsa might not last January look more foolish than ever.
How about some transfer gossip?
Christian Eriksen could soon be back in the Premier League as he â€˜isnâ€™t bothered about the moneyâ€™ and just wants to play football again. This news has pricked the ears of many sides looking to pick up a bit of a bargain – providing they can get him insured, of course.
Arsenal reckon they need a bit of bite up front and are linked to Diego Costa, currently on the verge of leaving Atletico Minero in Brazil.
Newcastle want to build on the excitement around snaffling Chris Wood and bring in Sevillaâ€™s Diego Carlos, Unitedâ€™s Jesse Lingard, Phil Jones and Dean Henderson and Napoliâ€™s Robin Gosens (who has been injured since September).
Chelsea are desperate for cover at left back and are throwing money at Inter and Ivan Perisic to come and help them out – otherwise theyâ€™ll have to suffer Marcos Alonso single-handedly meaning they miss out on the top four.
Finally today, Arsenalâ€™s best move of the season so far was the one that led to the North London derby being called off with just one player down with COVID. Sure, Martin Odegaard managed to test positive after the game was kiboshed, but Arsenal were unable to field a team (or maybe just their preferred team?) with Xhaka banned for his Anfield sillyness, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Balogun loaned out and a few other little injuries. Given the game was down to be played on Sunday, the fact it feels very Sunday league indeed is somewhat apt.