They’ll face trickier games in their quest to defend the Champions League. And despite the 4-0 scoreline, they’ll probably put in better performances. But there won’t be many sights quite as heartwarming for Liverpool fans as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s return to the scoresheet after that career-scrambling injury.
He got going after just two minutes, His first goal was good — very good, in fact. A threaded drive from outside the area into the far post. Rumours that the Warm-Up was heard to mutter “What’s he doing shooting from— oh.” have been firmly denied.
The second, though. The second was disrespectful in the extreme. He’s not even facing towards the goal. That’s some stage magician misdirection nonsense. Chipping the keeper while making finger guns at the dugouts.
Obviously, a fit and firing Oxlade-Chamberlain is good news for Liverpool, as Jurgen Klopp continues his quest to win all the trophies, particularly that one.
But more generally, it’s a positive for everybody. Shooting from outside the box is one of football’s purest thrills, yet it has a slightly tarnished reputation these days. The people in charge have noticed that it’s terribly inefficient, and that sensible recycling of possession is generally the better. But when somebody’s this flippin’ good at it, who’s going to tell them to stop?
Pulisic-ing his weight
Wednesday was a big day for Christian Pulisic. Chelsea were away at Ajax, last season’s semi-finalists, in the Champions League, and so he had to get ready. He limbered up. He went through his visualisations. He made sure he knew where his favourite pen was.
And he smashed through five sudoku, one codeword, four dot-to-dots, and one-and-a-half quick crosswords in just 66 minutes. He’d have finished the second one, too, had Frank Lampard not rudely asked him to go and run about a bit. He only had one corner left.
Still, he thought, now that I’m on, I might as well get involved. A stepover and a shimmy on the right hand side of the box, a pull-back, and there was Michy Batshuayi to slam it home.
That gave Chelsea a valuable away win against last season’s finalists, but it also capped an impressively dangerous cameo for Pulisic. His exile to the fringes of the first team has been a cause for minor curiosity in the early days of Lampard’s reign, but he might just have played himself into the first-team. Good news for him; bad news for the crosswords.
The subs they are a-changin’
Earlier this week, a joint study published by the FA and the PFA revealed that ex-footballers are three-and-a-half times more likely to die from neurodegenerative diseases — Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and the like — than the general population.
Then, on Wednesday, IFAB — the body that makes, tweaks, and breaks the laws of the game — met to discuss concussion protocols. The subsequent announcement sounds a little Sir Humphrey…
Given the complex nature of assessing and managing concussion at different levels of the game, the members recommended that an expert group should focus on this important topic in the coming months.
… but was welcomed by FIFPRO, the super-association of players’ associations. They are calling for 10-minute concussion assessments, with associated changes including the use of temporary substitutes, and also the introduction of independent doctors.
How quickly we get any or all of that is an open question, but the Warm-Up wouldn’t be surprised if we get the whole package eventually. And as for the FA and PFA report, they declined to make a specific finding as to the cause, but more investigation will follow. Maybe, in a few hundred years’ time, once football gets going again after the Second Water War, they’ll wonder why on earth anybody thought it was a good idea to deliberately head a football.
IN OTHER NEWS
"Stand up. Stand up. Stand up. Stand up. You’re booked, sit down."
And kudos to Richard Jolly for this tremendous stat.
HEROES AND ZEROS
Hero: Marcel Sabitzer
Marcel Sabitzer, for this piece of delicate violence. You know a hit’s a good hit when you can hear the contact just by looking at it. Even on mute, even over the noise. And this one rings out like a wineglass. Ping.
Zero: These fans
The clown or clowns who thought it might be a good idea to hang an obscene, racist banner up in the Liverpool end for their game against Genk.
Over on the Athletic [£], Daniel Taylor’s been to meet 52-year-old Kazuyoshi “Kazu” Miura, the oldest professional footballer around.
When he finally broke, telling his family he wanted to go back to Japan, he encountered a distinct lack of sympathy. His father was so angry he was said to have struck his son across the face. “Going back to Japan? If you’re that feeble then, yes, go back to Japan.”
Now that the show ponies are out of the way, it’s time for the real European competition to get going again. The Europa League is back, friends, and it’s bristling with delightful fixtures, including an Old Firm double-header. First Rangers go to Porto, then Celtic host Lazio. Delicious.
With you on Friday to see you through to the weekend, it’s international man of mystery Tom Adams.