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.

Guardiola lauds Man City after record 15th straight win

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Pep Guardiola is breaking records pretty much every time Manchester City step onto the pitch right now.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

On Wednesday they set a new Premier League and English top-flight record for the most consecutive wins in history, with City winning 4-0 away at Swansea to seal their 15th-straight win and stay 11 points clear of the table.

City beat Arsenal’s previous record of 14-straight wins in the Premier League from February to August 2002, and now they remain unbeaten with 17 games of the season gone.

Guardiola now holds the record for most consecutive wins in the top-flight of Spanish, German and English soccer with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Man City respectively. He’s a machine and he’s turned Man City into one.

Speaking to the BBC after beat Swansea, Guardiola was delighted with the win, especially coming so soon after the energy-sapping Manchester derby win at Manchester United on Sunday.

“Considering we have a lot of games in our legs, a demanding game at Old Trafford three days ago, we were solid, we were serious and we made a good performance,” Guardiola said. “You suffer and enjoy, like a manager you see many things. When the team play good we are happy. Our feeling – we understand what we want to do. We play good inside, outside. I’m so happy for David (Silva), we cannot disguise his quality but in the past he didn’t score too much goals. He’s sharp, he’s in an amazing condition.”

Man City’s manager rightly pointed towards David Silva‘s brilliance as the Spanish playmaker scored twice at Swansea and he’s now scored four times in his last three games, including a late winner against West Ham and setting City on their way to a win at United on Sunday.

With the record now in hand and Man City also stretching their club-record unbeaten run in the top-flight to 25 games, is there a risk his side will be complacent as the bookmakers have slashed their PL title odds to 1/25?

“That is not going to happen. We are so demanding for our players. We can lose, we can drop points but complacency, never happened in the past, the present or the future,” Guardiola said. “Winning 15 games in a row gives us a lot of confidence. If people are happy watching us that is the best gift.”

Ahead of the festive season, Man City are the gift which keep on giving and they have to be up their with the best teams English soccer has ever seen.

Less than halfway through the 2017-18 season they show no signs of slowing down and the Premier League title is simply theirs to lose.

More records will fall this season as an imperious, attacking unit has been fine-tuned by Guardiola. We are watching history being made in beautiful fashion.

Tottenham 2-0 Brighton and Hove Albion: Spurs back into Top Four

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  • Spurs outshoot Gulls 25-7
  • Earn 10 corners to Gulls’ 2
  • Aurier, Son score
  • Spurs back into Top Four

Serge Aurier‘s sailing cross and Heung-Min Son‘s late insurance goal led Spurs to a 2-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday.

Tottenham is back in the Top Four with the win on 31 points, while Brighton is 13th. The Gulls are now just three points clear of the drop zone.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Spurs had a pair of early possibilities, and Heung-min Son was blocked by Shane Duffy just after the latter got enough of the ball to avoid a penalty for going to ground.

Harry Kane then had two chances, one cleared off the line and another blocked by the Gulls.

It took a drifting cross to put Spurs on the board, as Aurier’s effort sailed over Mat Ryan and into the upper 90.

The second half didn’t have much pep, though Hugo Lloris was called upon to stop Tomer Hemed.

Kane blasted the bar with a free kick in a bid to make it 2-0 in the 70th, and Spurs found that second goal through Son’s redirection of a Christian Eriksen free kick.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Manchester United 1-0 Bournemouth: Lukaku nets winner

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  • Early Lukaku goal stands up
  • Cherries outshoot hosts 14-9
  • United three clear of Chelsea

Manchester United remains second in the Premier League following a 1-0 win over Bournemouth at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Romelu Lukaku headed home in the 25th minute to move United to 38 points, 11 behind Man City and three ahead of Chelsea.

Bournemouth remains 14th with 16 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

A bit of sloppiness plagued United, who was well in control of the early proceedings apart from the less than ideal passes.

Anthony Martial tried a clever cross from outside the 18 that missed both Romelu Lukaku and Juan Mata at the back post.

At the other end, Phil Jones cut out a Callum Wilson left-footed rip for a throw. David De Gea then made two interventions including a stop on Charlie Daniels.

You’d think Lukaku was a former Cherry the way he mildly celebrated his opener, nodding a Mata cross past Asmir Begovic.

De Gea managed typical heroics when he got went low to stop a slippery bounding Wilson should through traffic.

Martial missed a sitter as the second half wore on, with Lukaku’s cut back going for naught.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

West Ham 0-0 Arsenal: Cagey Irons snare point

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
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  • Arnautovic everywhere
  • Wilshere stars in rare start
  • Gunners 70 percent possession
  • Arsenal 22-6 edge in shots

Another dominant Arsenal display was missing the final product, as West Ham held the Gunners to a 0-0 draw at the London Stadium on Wednesday.

The Gunners sit seventh with 30 points ahead of a visit from lowly Newcastle on Saturday, while 19th place West Ham is one of three teams with 14 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

A slow start in London had Arsenal passing the ball around a packed-in West Ham formation.

Yet it was Marko Arnautovic and West Ham who appeared to be going in front only to see a flag raised in offside.

Jack Wilshere made his first Arsenal start in league play since May 2016, and set-up Alexis Sanchez for a decent chance only for the Chilean blazed over the bar.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Arnautovic chopped a leaping volley over Cech, but also the cross bar, as the second half picked up the pace.

Olivier Giroud turned a cross toward the far post which was deflected out for a corner than turned into another.

Cech’s poor punch of a West Ham free kick had Arnautovic shooting toward goal again, but Nacho Monreal cleared the effort off the line.

Wilshere saw a chance go for nothing moments later.

Substitute striker Javier Hernandez cranked a shot off the bar in the 90th minute.