The Warm-Up: The greatest hits of Liverpool's Fab Four
Jack Lang assesses Wednesday's Champions League action, laughs with Arsene Wenger and cringes at Gary Lineker...
THURSDAY’S BIG STORIES
Reds on a roll
Liverpool will probably never be the most obvious candidates for the role of neutrals’ choice in any particular season. Winning everything, ruthlessly, for absolutely ages will do that, of course, and there has long been something especially grating about them in the Champions League, Peter Drury’s relentless talk of “special European nights at Anfield” soundtracking their every move.
But you know what? The Warm-Up is all-in on Liverpool as far as continental football goes this term. Jurgen Klopp’s charges have been tremendous fun in the group stage, either collapsing defensively, rattling in goals, or both. They’re good enough to be admirable and bad enough to be loveable.
Philippe Coutinho helped himself to a hat-trick, but some of the sheen was taken off his personal display by his refusal to look even vaguely happy at any point during the whole evening. The Warm-Up assumes there is some unspoken “No Smiles ’til Catalonia” policy at play in the Brazilian’s head, but his performative moping was about as subtle as a cymbal crash.
In truth, The Warm-Up had more time for the other members of the so-called Fab Four (Coutinho is clearly John Lennon here, with Barcelona in the Yoko Ono role) on the night. Sadio Mane scored best goal, clattering home a volley after good work by James Milner, while Mo Salah’s relief after finally getting on the scoresheet in the dying moments was cute.
Roberto Firmino, meanwhile, restated his case for being Football’s Most Unselfish Man, putting Coutinho’s second on a plate for him when 99% of footballers would have shot.
Being generous is cool. Scoring goals is cool. Qualifying in first place is cool. Liverpool are going to be worth watching in the knockout stages.
Human after all
Fred (Shakhtar), Fernandinho (Manchester City)twitter
Goal inflation hits new heights
After a fairly middling Tuesday night, the Champions League really hit its stride again, with 33 goals across eight matches. That tally took the total for the group stage over the 300 mark – a first in the competition.
Is this a good thing? It clearly looks like one at first glance: The Warm-Up isn’t one of those masochists who sees 0-0 draws as the pinnacle of football and goals at least make the highlights packages at the end of the night worth watching.
But maybe, just maybe, the inflation is telling us something. There have been 29 victories by three goals or more, and considering how many groups had already been settled before the final round, one could reasonably worry for the competitive balance of the competition.
Tottenham Hotspur's Spanish striker Fernando Llorente (C) celebrates after scoring the opening goal of the UEFA Champions League Group H football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Apoel Nicosia at Wembley Stadium in London, on December 6, 2017.Getty Images
IN OTHER NEWS
This just in from our colleagues on the Jack Wilshere Ice-Skating Desk: Arsene Wenger has managed to see the funny side after the midfielder’s novel choice of extra-curricular activities this week.
If you missed this the first time round, the intrepid Arsenal injury-collector tweeted a picture of his family smiling away at a shivering graveyard of ankles, knees and hips. Or, as the sticklers insist on calling it, an “ice rink”.
Wenger, who probably didn’t start the season expecting to have to talk about ice-skating in a pre-match press conference, made light of developments.
“It’s not ideal, honestly, but for your balance it is not bad,” giggled the Frenchman. “For a footballer, I don’t think it is great, but it depends what you do. You can do ice-skating and make sure nothing happens. Ice skating violently, I don’t think he did that.”
Nope, no knee-high lunges to be seen. Wilshere’s just not that kind of skater.
14e j. - Wenger : ''Lacazette s’adapte physiquement''Perform
HEROES AND ZEROES
Hero: Cristiano Ronaldo
Look, he’s obviously having a fairly tricky season: Real Madrid have been struggling in La Liga and the goals have not been flowing as usual. And yet Ronaldo’s strike against Borussia Dortmund made him the first player ever – ever! – to score in all six games of a Champions League group stage.
Would that all our fallow spells be so fruitful.
Even bigger hero: Paulo Fonseca
Late entry, so excuse the new category, but this needed recognition:
Zeroes: Borussia Dortmund
The Black-and-Yellows put up a fight at the Bernabeu, but that does not change the fact that things are looking pretty bleak for Peter Bosz and his charges. Dortmund have now managed just one win in 12 (and that was against third-division Magdeburg) and limp into the Europa League on goal difference, thankful to Spurs for beating APOEL.
Peter Bosz (Borussia Dortmund)Getty Images
IN THE CHANNELS
Then yesterday he strayed into another of the sport’s grey areas, dusting off an opinion about doping that looked naive at best, chronically misguided at worst:
To which the only reasonable response was this:
Lineker, perhaps seeing the error of his ways, deleted the tweet. But a man who sailed through his playing career without even so much as a booking is finding out the hard way that preserving one’s reputation is a little harder when you wade into football’s rumbling ethical debates.
Arsenal's Mathieu DebuchyReuters
Our Europa League representatives have not done a very good job of keeping things interesting through to the end of the group stage: Arsenal have already sealed top spot in Group H and Everton are out after completely tanking Group E.
Given both teams have used mostly reserves in their games so far, you dread to think what their line-ups will look like in their final games, against BATE and Apollon respectively. It’s going to be like a Football Manager regen party.