Letters from London: The Most Talked About Team in Britain

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LONDON – “Did you see the attendance,” a man calls to another table at the Sussex Arms, a pub in Westminster. As Gary Neville analyzes the round’s results for Sky Sports, the two tables have started their own weekend review, with the most talked about team in Britain stealing the group’s attentions from the Premier League.

“They’re in the fourth tier,” a middle-aged man tells a group of young men from Manchester. Of course, he’s talking about Glasgow Rangers. “Normally, second and third tier, you get a 200, 300 people. Rangers got 44,000.”

The number was actually larger. Rangers got 49,118 to their Saturday match at Ibrox against East Stirlingshire, the third-highest attended match in Britain (only Arsenal and Newcastle drew more). The weekend’s four other fourth division matches drew a combined 2,402 people, with Elgin City’s 631 the largest non-Rangers crowd.

With such an ardent fanbase, it’s easy to see why Britain remains fascinated with the Glaswegians. The team was a prominent part of Football Focus (BBC’s traditional match day lead in), with Mark Lawrenson and Peter Reid still expressing shock at the circumstances, even though the club’s application to rejoin Scotland’s Premier League was rejected at the beginning of July. Throughout the weekend, most of Britain’s review shows echoed Football Focus’s attentions, Rangers’ first home match since relegation clearly a story to be pushed.

Reid, 56, and Lawrenson, 55, are from a time when Rangers were a huge and significant club. As evidenced by their attendance, they remain huge, but embodying the wane Scottish soccer has experienced in recent years, Rangers are hardly significant. Last season, the club failed to play their way into both Champions and Europa League. In a season of turmoil (entering administration in February), Rangers failed to win any of Scotland’s three trophies for the first time since 2007. Combined with the pitfall in the Scottish league’s prestige, Rangers’ significance outside Scotland may have never bene lower.

All of which makes this weekend’s coverage curious. Among younger soccer fans, you see Rangers’ waning significance (just as one example, the man quoting Rangers’ attendance numbers at Sussex Arms appeared twice the age of his target audience), but on television, nearly every show treated Rangers as if it were a story fit to put on a pedestal just below the Premier League’s opening weekend.

And perhaps it was. After all, the club did draw just under 50,000 people to a fourth-tier Scottish league match. That, independent of Rangers’ financial problems, is huge news. But if Rangers F.C. wasn’t one of the teams involved, 50,000 fans at a Third Division match would have been treated as final segment curiosity, like Ron Burgundy’s waterskiing squirrel in Anchorman. Instead, it was a top of the show issue that drew panel analysis.

When we see coverage like this – disproportionate attention given to a story that was more attractive to a preceding generation of fans – it’s important to know how media works. The people who make the final call on the big stories are usually ones that come from Ried and Lawrenson’s generation. They’ve worked their entire careers to become managing editors and editors in chief, levels they’ve reached because they’ve been successful at their jobs. That success was garnered by their coverage of big stories, and while those editors (in Britain) were coming up, Rangers would have been a big story. Once you’re on top of the pile, you’ve developed habits, routines, instincts, all of which lead to Rangers continuing to get headline coverage even though the person who’ll eventually take your seat is already focusing on other, more relevant stories.

In the United States, we see this with the Kentucky Derby. Do you see today’s major media consumers (the 18-35 demographic) consumed with horse racing? Neither do I. Same goes for golf, tennis, and to a certain extent, baseball. The people who are coming into their money now (the people who advertisers want to cultivate) still love their football and basketball, but they also love Mixed Martial Arts and soccer. If your major sports network doesn’t cover those, in 10 years, it’s not going to be covering anything.

Rangers coverage is a product of that cycle. In media, people spend their entire careers working to get the big chair only to find a cold water irony once they recede into its leather: Their knowledge is already outdated. The first thing most successful people in sports media must do is change.

But old habits die hard, which is why the Kentucky Derby is still huge in the States, baseball is still insecurely touted as the national pastime, and Rangers F.C. got disproportionate media coverage in Britain this weekend.

Which, for three days, has made them the most talked about team in Britain.

Dele Alli, Pochettino after FA Cup ouster: “We can’t keep doing this”

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This felt like a different year for Spurs, one which would include something shiny.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

Instead, Tottenham Hotspur will exit another season without hardware after blowing an early lead and fairly controlling first half with a 2-1 loss to Manchester United in the FA Cup semifinal on Saturday at Wembley Stadium.

This was at their home venue, even if they weren’t the home team. And it just fell apart.

Here’s Dele Alli, from the BBC:

“Everyone talks. We want to win trophies, we have the staff that want to win. We can’t keep doing this. We can’t throw it away. We have got to improve.”

His boss, Mauricio Pochettino, was more upbeat regarding his Spurs project but no less disappointed in the result. The North Londoners are only going to face more questions all offseason and into next.

“I think we need to understand where we have come from,” he said. “It’s easy to talk about winning trophies. To win a trophy when you face a side like Manchester United, Chelsea or Manchester City is not easy. But the most important thing is we are able to compete.”

Tottenham is on the up, and will continue to grow in resources but not renown until it puts something in its trophy case under Pochettino. It really did feel like this could be the year.

Man Utd races past Spurs to reach FA Cup Final

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  • Man Utd reaches 20th FA Cup Final
  • Alexis plays role in both Utd goals
  • Dele scores for Spurs

Alexis Sanchez and Ander Herrera scored as Manchester United came back to beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 at Wembley Stadium in Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal.

United will meet the winner of Sunday’s semifinal between Southampton and Chelsea at Wembley on May 19.

Dele Alli scored Spurs goal.

[ MORE: Full box score ]

Spurs went ahead through Dele, as Paul Pogba lost Christian Eriksen as the Dane raced onto a long ball. Eriksen crossed to the back post for Dele’s sliding finish.

Pogba made amends in his preferred third of the pitch, stealing the ball from a Mousa Dembele and lofting an inch-perfect cross for Alexis to nod home. The headed finish was anything but easy, hit across the goal while falling to the pitch.

Michel Vorm made a save on a deflected Pogba rip in the 44th minute, and Ander Herrera hit a chance high and wide off the ensuing corner.

And Eric Dier cranked a shot off the framework in stoppage time.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

The best chance of the early second half saw Harry Kane‘s deflected shot go out for a corner, set up by Dele.

Herrera put United ahead just after the hour mark, as Lingard dummied a mistouch from Romelu Lukaku.

Three things we learned: Man United v. Tottenham

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LONDON — Manchester United fought back from 1-0 down to beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 at Wembley Stadium on Saturday as Jose Mourinho reached yet another major cup final.

Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs will have to cope with yet another season of heartache in cup competitions as their long wait for a trophy goes on. Dele Alli got them off to a perfect start but Alexis Sanchez’s fine header and a cool finish from Ander Herrera means United will play the winner of Chelsea versus Southampton in the other semifinal on Sunday.

Here’s what we learned from an enthralling encounter at Wembley.


ERRATIC POGBA DELIVERS

For the first 25 minutes Paul Pogba was all over the place, was caught out for the long ball down the left on Tottenham’s opener and he had every right to be concerned about getting the hook at half time. Then he turned on the style to drag the Red Devils back into the game.

Pogba’s topsy-turvy season continued after his Man of the Match display at Bournemouth in midweek, which came after Mourinho hooked him off early in the home defeat to West Brom and 10 days after his two goals at Manchester City in the stunning comeback win. Mix in with all of that Pep Guardiola‘s comments that Pogba was offered to Man City in January and more reports earlier this week that he will leave United this summer and the $130 million signing from Juventus in 2016 has had a turbulent few weeks to say the least.

Yet moments like the way he won the ball back from Mousa Dembele (never an easy task) then delivered a pinpoint cross for Sanchez to head home must be exactly why Mourinho is left infuriated by Pogba so often.

Pogba had an effort from distance in each half saved well by Vorm and after the goal it was as if a penny had dropped and he realized he could be the hero, his contribution could lead United one step closer to a piece of silverware this season. That not only meant he flourished in attack but he tracked back and started to do the dirty work.

Consistency is the main thing lacking with Pogba’s game and at the age of 25 and for his price tag, wages and reputation, he should be able to deliver week in, week out. That lack of focus and ability to do the dirty things like track runners and keep his possession is what will end up costing Pogba his United future under Mourinho.

Pogba showed with his surging run and assist at Bournemouth on Wednesday and then his fine cross for Sanchez that he has the ability to decide games on his own.

Now, if he’s given the chance to stay at United beyond this season, he must do it more often. His flashes of brilliance in recent weeks at least mean he has put himself in the shop window. The Mourinho v. Pogba battle will continue but the French midfielder had a positive impact as United reached the FA Cup Final for the second time in the last two seasons.


MOURINHO’S FAITH IN SANCHEZ REWARDED

Most of the talk leading up to this game was about how Alexis Sanchez was likely to be benched by Mourinho.

He wasn’t and, once again at Wembley, he made the difference. Sanchez scored a fine header to equalize which was his sixth goal in five FA Cup games at Wembley. He is a man for the big occasion and he delivered once again in the FA Cup.

There’s no doubt that Sanchez has got off to a slow start at United. He has given the ball away more than any of his teammates since he arrived in January and he has scored just two goals in the Premier League and was rested at Bournemouth last time out.

Sanchez still gave the ball away and still did some things which made you raise your eyebrows but he is battling through a tough spell to start life at United.

That was summed up by his role in United’s winner. The Chilean chased down a lost cause from Lukaku’s flick on and put Kieran Trippier under pressure to win the ball, then roll it cross for Herrera to eventually hammer home.

Sanchez rewarded Mourinho for keeping faith in him and there’s no doubt that once he becomes more comfortable at United over the summer then he will be back to his best in 2018/19.


SAME OLD STORY AS SPURS RUN OUT OF STEAM

Tottenham could have easily been 3-0 up inside the first 20 minutes but they didn’t make the most of their fast start and they weren’t clinical enough with good chances wasted by Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen.

Spurs have now lost their last eight FA Cup semifinals on the trot (the longest run of semifinal defeats in club history) as their wait for a first trophy now spans over a decade.

Playing basically at home after spending the entire season at Wembley as their temporary home, Spurs’ fast start showed how comfortable they are becoming with the big occasions. Yet that initial hope faltered, just like it did in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg defeat against Juventus last month. You can’t say that Spurs “bottled” this but they lost all of their early momentum as soon as United were level.

Mauricio Pochettino said in the week that winning the FA Cup “wouldn’t change anything” for Spurs and their main focus is to win the Premier League or the UEFA Champions League. That, of course, would be fantastic, but surely Pochettino can’t be that naive not to realize that winning a piece of silverware and getting that particular curse off of Spurs’ back would help his players…

Yes, Spurs have had a fine season, once again, and barring a late collapse they will finish in the top four for the third-straight campaign. That is their main aim each season. But at some point they have to start delivering on the big stage and no matter what you think of the FA Cup it is still one of the three major trophies dished out at the start of each domestic season in England.

And it is one of the three trophies Spurs haven’t won out of their last 30 attempts, dating back to the League Cup in 2008.

 

WATCH: USMNT’s Pulisic cues up ex-Man City teen for 1st goal

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Jadon Sancho made history for English players in Germany thanks to a little help from an American teenager.

Christian Pulisic dribbled free from a pack of would-be tacklers to cue up the ex-Manchester City player for a finish against Bayer Leverkusen in the 13th minute of a match at the Westfalenstadion on Saturday.

[ MORE: Klopp rips West Brom ]

Sancho just turned 18 on March 25, and becomes the youngest English goal scorer in Bundesliga history having entered the match with one assist in 415 Bundesliga minutes.

As for 19-year-old Pulisic, the USMNT prodigy has five goals and seven assists in 39 matches across all competitions this season.