THURSDAY’S BIG STORIES
Keeping Things Interesting
Once upon a time, Chelsea against Arsenal was one of the Premier League’s most reliably ridiculous fixtures. David Luiz red cards, John Terry falling over, Arsène Wenger gazing into the middle distance in stunned disbelief at the cruelty of the universe… good, wholesome Barclays just like mother used to make.
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And for a few glorious seconds last night, it all came flooding back. A no-look backpass from Jorginho, an excellent, scrambling, sprawling save from Kepa Arrizabalaga, and then a pause. The watching world thought as one: “Hang on. That’s a backpass. That’s a free-kick on the goal line.”
But we were all wrong. Partly because the free-kick would have been on the edge of the six-yard box — football’s lawmakers just hate fun — and partly because Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was actually paying attention. Not really in the spirit of things, but hard to blame him. Cut back to Emile Smith Rowe, one-nil.
In less tired times, this would have been the spark for a cavalcade of nonsense, the first goal in nine or so. Sadly for the spectacle, normal pandemic football quickly returned. Chelsea passed the ball around, Arsenal defended in numbers, and everybody looked a bit knackered. Mohamed Elneny got man of the match and, while we have no particular problem with Elneny, that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the game.
So what happened to Chelsea, prospective Champions League winners? Well, Thomas Tuchel knows, but he’s not saying. Just in case Pep Guardiola is listening. Just in case Brendan Rodgers has Sky Sports News on.
I felt it a little bit coming in training and I’m a bit unlucky that it’s proven today on the pitch … The choices were not so good from my side for the line-up. This is on me. We were unlucky. We can lose in football. We did everything today to lose. I’m not happy with my line-up. There were too many changes and I shouldn’t have done it like this. It was something in particular but I don’t want to tell you.
In the absence of actually knowing what Tuchel’s getting at here, we’re going to assume Chelsea have spent all week practicing well-hit backpasses between the posts. City will never see them coming.
Still, what the game lacked in chaos it made up for in consequences. With the title and relegation all decided, we’ve nothing left in the Premier League but the Race for the Top Four. Now Liverpool have renewed hopes of crashing the party. Leicester’s game against Chelsea, the one that isn’t a cup final, becomes a Champions League six-pointer, if that’s even a thing. And Arsenal can carry on dreaming of the [checks notes] UEFA Conference League.
Europe’s most intense title race took another turn last night. After Barcelona’s inexplicable meltdown against Levante, it was Atlético Madrid facing one of those tricky should-probably-win, could-easily-lose games. But tricky games are made a little easier with first touches like this:
In truth, Atleti looked relatively comfortable for most of the game — until Real nicked one late on, at which point they absolutely did not look comfortable at all. Barcelona had been two-up, after all, before everything went the way of the pear. What’s the Spanish for “the most dangerous scoreline in football”? Diego Simeone started to vibrate at a dangerously high frequency. Luis Suárez threw his boots around. Don’t worry, he wasn’t on the pitch. He didn’t throw them at anyone.
But they held on and they stay top, still in charge of the title race. And though we obviously can’t prove it, we’re going to assume that they were carried over the finish line by the sounds of their fans filtering in from the car park. There were fireworks afterwards as well. Two games to go.
The Price of Football
Like Paul Gascoigne, the Warm-Up doesn’t make predictions and never will. But if we were going to guess at the biggest news story of this particular Thursday, we’d go something like: the big Premier League television deal in the morning will be followed by a protest at Old Trafford in the evening.
Taking the television deal first, the Premier League has renewed its current deal with all three current broadcasters: Sky, BT Sport, and Amazon Prime.
What we may be getting, then, is two different statements as to what any individual Premier League game is worth. First, in pounds and pence, to the television companies; and as something to be weighed against the wider concerns animating the protests, questions of identity and ownership and just what a football club is for.
A game against Liverpool should be an event, after all, though that doesn’t guarantee a good game. And a Liverpool win, even by default, does them a massive favour; no self-respecting United fan would under normal circumstances want to give them a leg-up. But here it’s precisely the value of the game that makes it the natural occasion for protest. The hype and attention, all those greedy eyeballs bought and paid for, are there to be captured.
IN OTHER NEWS
Obviously the gesture is very nice, but the downside of Ajax’s grand plan to melt down their Eredivisie trophy into stars, then send them out to all their season ticket holders, is this announcement video. It’s great. It’s too great. We want to see the whole film!
Our thanks to Mr Football Cliches for this reminder that the backpass rule isn’t just about the occasional comedy freekick. It also stops this kind of thing happening in moderately important games like, oh, the actual final of Euro 1992. Still, time spent looking at that goalkeeping kit is never time wasted.
It is understood tensions between manager and club have been building for a while, and that training facilities were part of that. Training was moved from Leigh Sports Village to Carrington in recent weeks after concerns were raised about injuries that have hampered United’s season. The US World Cup winner Tobin Heath, Leah Galton, Ella Toone, Alessia Russo and Lucy Staniforth have had lengthy spells out.
First, Aston Villa vs. Everton. Then Manchester United vs. Liverpool, maybe, possibly, depending on how things go. And then Real Madrid away at Granada: a win narrows the gap at the top of La Liga to two tiny points.
Tom Adams has the best coat game of the Warm Up’s writers, and he’ll be here tomorrow, sensibly warm and stylish.
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