The Worst Piece Of Defending In The History Of Football

That's a big claim. We know that. But … well, let's consider the evidence.

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One: that's Demba Ba. Who has had a long and exciting career filled with incident, but who will be remembered by history — and by the Manchester United crowd — for, yes, scoring a goal after running from the halfway line. At least Steven Gerrard had the excuse of slipping.

Two: there's a big line painted on the pitch there, lads. White, so you can tell it from the green. They call it the halfway line, all football pitches have one, and offside doesn't work once you get past it.

Three: while we're thinking about colours, he's wearing orange. Bright orange. More or less exactly the colour that American hunters wear to make sure they don't accidentally shoot one another: a colour invisible only to deer. And, apparently, Nemanja Matić.

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According to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who coaches the squad and picked the team, they simply "forgot":

The first one we forget about the man up top and that's unforgivable. The second one, we're not very well organised to counter-press and win the ball back when we're playing. So two tough goals to give away and then we didn't have enough to come back second half.

If there is a silver lining for Manchester United, it is that this goal was so spectacular in its ridiculousness that the other goal, a more ordinary piece of miserable defending, might sneak under the radar. This time, United's entire defence were only marooned in the wrong half of the penalty area, not the wrong half of the whole pitch. Hey, that's progress! They'll be in the wrong half of the six yard box come Christmas.

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Some More Ordinary, But Still Terrible Defending

Nobody can match Manchester United for giddy, whiplashing unpredictability, but PSG are giving them a decent go. From 1-0 up, with a penalty to extend their lead, to 2-1 down and two men sent off. Some teams slide into the Europa League apologetically. PSG are trying to do it with style.

Special appreciation must go to Presnel Kimpembe, who delivered a masterclass in poor decision-making. Perhaps we can forgive the handball as instinctive, though he had an empty box behind him. But his second yellow, a pointless trip in injury time of a game already lost, availed him and his team nothing bar a suspension.

You'd have to imagine RB Leipzig are feeling pretty good about the return game, with Kimpembe and Idrissa Gueye both suspended, half of PSG's midfield injured, and Neymar still feeling tight around the hamstrings. Losing a group game 5-0 and still getting through would be quite the rollercoaster.

But while all this may not be doing Thomas Tuchel's job prospects much good, it's doing wonders for Group H. (Which stands for Ha Ha Ha.) Each of United, PSG, and RB Leipzig have made their arguments for that Europa League place, and all have looked worthy winners. Er, losers. Tune in next week for more of the Race for Third.

Alessandro Florenzi of Paris Saint-Germain reacts during the UEFA Champions League Group H stage match between RB Leipzig and Paris Saint-Germain at Red Bull Arena on November 04, 2020 in Leipzig, Germany. Sporting stadiums around Germany remain under str

Image credit: Getty Images

Mamadou Sakho: Vindicated

Football is filled with alternative futures: what if this, what if that. A ball breaking the other side of a goalpost, a penalty given or not. And one of the strangest of recent years was with Mamadou Sakho.

Flashback to 2016. Liverpool are in the Europa League final thanks to a comeback of extreme nonsense against Borussia Dortmund. Sakho, established in Jurgen Klopp's first choice eleven, scored one of the goals in That Famous Night at Anfield™. But come the final he's ineligible, thanks to a failed drugs test. A prohibited fatburner.

So he doesn't play in the final, and Liverpool lose. Then he doesn't make France's squad for Euro 2016, and they lose in the final as well. And then, over the summer, he mortally offends Klopp and is cast out into purgatory. Well, Crystal Palace. Potato potato.

Would Liverpool have beaten Sevilla, or France beaten Portugal, with Sakho available? We cannot know. Nor can we know if this played a part in Sakho's row with Klopp. We do know, however, that his career was going in a positive direction before the ban, only to veer off wildly afterwards.

And now we know, for sure, that the drug suspension was complete nonsense. Yesterday the World Anti-Doping Association formally apologised to Sakho and agreed to pay him substantial damages.

He'll never get that Europa League final back, of course. But while vindication doesn't come with a medal, it does at least come eventually. And we're betting it feels sweet.

IN OTHER NEWS

A heartwarming tale from Dynamo Kyiv's game against Barcelona, which isn't even slightly ruined by the fact that they lost.

RETRO CORNER

Happy 55th birthday to the great Abedi Pele: trailblazer, Champions League winner, and all-round jinking genius.

HAT TIP

Make a cup of tea and settle down with this Long Read from the Guardian, by Mark Williams and Tim Wigmore, on why athletes choke.

As every England football fan scarred by penalty shootouts could attest, failure seems to beget more failure. Every choke, real or perceived, creates more of a burden the next time the team is in the same position, making the hurdle even more overwhelming. Gareth Southgate spent 22 years looking back at his part in England’s defeat by Germany in a penalty shootout at Euro 96, trying to work out what had gone wrong. His conclusion was that he had rushed.

COMING UP

Approximately one million Europa League games: can you find the good one? We're going for Benfica v Rangers, the Graeme Souness derby, with one eye on Ludogorets v Tottenham. Later on AC Milan play Lille, Arsenal play Molde, and Leicester City face Braga.

We're not sure about Ole, but Tom Adams is definitely at the wheel. Of the Warm-Up. Tomorrow.

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