THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES
Once, Twice, Three Times an Away Goal
Football, lovely football, wonderful football. Lots of it, all of it, all at once, football tripping over football into a giggling giddy heap of goals scored and unscored, chances wasted and taken. And at the end of it, halfway through it: the defending champions in trouble.
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For Bayern were bad. Very bad indeed. From Manuel Neuer diving out of the way of the first goal, to the entire defence jogging slowly out of the penalty area for the second, this was a masterclass in how not to defend against anybody, much less two of the best players in the world and all their very expensive friends.
Of course, PSG worked hard to take advantage of all this generosity, and Kylian Mbappé was, once again, brilliantly terrifying and terrifyingly brilliant. But when he missed a very presentable, possibly offside chance to make it 3-1, it didn't feel too costly. Even when Bayern then equalised. You knew another PSG chance was coming. It was that kind of game.
But! Bayern were also very good. In fact, they were almost brilliant: they created chance after chance and forced Keylor Navas to bounce and spring around all over the place; a blessing, perhaps, given how cold it was. And throughout the whole game, as they missed 29 of their 31 shots on goal, the whole continent came together in one grand unified thought: If he'd been playing, Robert Lewandowski would have scored, like, a million goals.
This might suggest that PSG's defence were just as vulnerable as Bayern's, and in a sense that's true, although injuries before and during the game meant that Pochettino was basically making things up as he went along. The Warm-Up has never really been convinced that the best form of defence is attack; clearly, the best form of defence is a Lewandowski injury. But PSG had clearly decided that they were better at one end of the pitch than the other, and were trying to play to their strengths rather than cover up their weakness. You can add your own punchline about Tottenham's managers, then and now.
This was everything knockout football is supposed to be, and everything the Champions League aspires to be. It also made an eloquent argument against the proposed changes to the competition's format. Sure, a pseudo-league system might mean we get to see PSG play Bayern more often. But without the mind-scrambling danger that comes with elimination, are those games going to be worth watching? Worth paying for?
As the old saying goes, it's a game of four halves, and the second leg of this game is now appointment viewing. Bayern, with or without Lewandowski, have to come out and win the thing, which means space up the other end for Neymar and Mbappé, which means, once again, we're going to get a multi-goal thriller. Guaranteed. Another one. Lucky old us. Good old Gazprom.
Mason Mount: Impressive Again
Over in the game nobody was watching, Chelsea took another step towards their accidental Champions League victory. And Mason Mount took another step to defeating any desperate haters still pretending that he might not be really, really good.
It really is a lovely goal, from the fizz on the pass from Jorginho, which tempts the defender into a lunge he can't make, through the precision of the touch and spin. A little lighter and the ball gets stuck under his feet; a little heavier, and he has to chase it, and the defence are back. As it is, he has time to place it: everything about the goal is judged and weighted perfectly.
Thomas Tuchel, expected by many to be a Mount-sceptic, has clearly been won over. After the game he was effusive in his praise for a "key player" that:
has the right mentality and the right attitude towards training and games. And he has the right attitude towards success. He’s got both feet on the ground, and he’s open enough and hungry to learn.
Isn't it fascinating how many managerial compliments boil down to "he listens to me and he does as he's told"? But it all seems to be working at the moment: another clean sheet, a firm response to that inexplicable meltdown against West Brom, and another step towards their destiny. The last Chelsea manager to get going in the Champions League like this was Roberto di Matteo, and we all know how that ended.
Andrea Pirlo: Clinging On
Juventus played an absolutely massive game last night, though presumably all involved are slightly embarrassed that it wasn't in the Champions League. Instead they beat Napoli to stay in third place and, if reports are accurate, to keep Andrea Pirlo in his job.
For now, at least. Because Inter also won, which means they are still miles clear in first place and 12 points ahead of Juve in third. A 12-point gap in that direction doesn't feel very Juventus. In fact, none of this feels very Juventus: they've been an inevitability for so long that the mere sight of them in third looks like an administrative error.
Nine games to go, so the title defence is technically still alive. Technically. But assuming that doesn't happen, then we reckon Pirlo's best chance of keeping his job beyond the end of the season is to point at Federico Chiesa. In an odd season, he's made a quick and thoroughly impressive journey from "Eh, do Juve really need him?" to "Oh wow, Juve need to build a team around him".
IN OTHER NEWS
It's Micah Richards' world, and we're all just living in it. Well, some of us are dancing in it too.
Rough night for Manuel Neuer last night, who dived out of the way of PSG's first goal and couldn't do anything about the other two. Lucky for him, some dedicated soul has put together 100 of his finest and fanciest saves on YouTube, so he — and we — can relive the glory days.
Over to the Guardian for a lovely Sid Lowe interview with Roberto Soldado, formerly of Spurs, now an elder statesman at over-achieving Granada. Here he chats grapes, home advantage, and just how Granada plan to take on mighty Manchester United.
The English game is very physical, fast, and world football is moving that way, which may be why Premier League clubs are a step above. United are quick from box to box, direct, which isn’t our style. We’ve watched the Real Sociedad game. We’ll try to avoid a long, high-tempo game. Control the midfield to stop them counterattacking. And when we’re in their half, we have to finish moves so there aren’t counters."
After two days of warm-up, Europe's finest competition is back, as the Europa League reaches the last 256. Er, eight. Manchester United travel to Granada, Arsenal host Slavia Prague, and if you don't fancy either of those, Ajax vs. Roma could be fun.
Tomorrow's Warm-Up comes from Tom Adams, who can do three cartwheels in a row. But who's counting.
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