THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES
It's Real Madrid's world, we all just live here
A block here, a block there. A tip over the bar here, a shot straight at the keeper there. And, of course, a chance blammed over the bar at top speed and into the empty seats. Liverpool's players asked the Anfield staff to turn up the volume on the pre-game music, to better get them in the mood for one of those "famous nights". And it almost worked.
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But not quite. Liverpool made the chances they needed but failed to take them, which is a better way to go out than getting hammered, but in some ways a more annoying one. Perhaps all those stories about the Anfield crowd sucking the ball into the net were true. The FA should really investigate. That's definitely cheating.
In any case, Liverpool's wastefulness was only half the story. Real Madrid, having done the actual work of winning the tie in the first leg, turned up to Anfield to hold what they had. And they did it pretty well, for a team held together by sticky tape and crossed fingers. Liverpool made chances; Liverpool are always going to make chances. But Madrid threw themselves in the way of those chances with great dedication.
And while that much-admired midfield didn't offer much of the spectacular, they still moved the ball around neatly, defending through possession. The upshot was that Liverpool never quite turned their pressure into the kind of sustained siege that might have overcome Madrid's improvised defence. Also, Nacho's Sergio Ramos impression was pretty decent.
All of this puts Real Madrid in a rather unfamiliar position. They will be used to the semi-finals, of course: the late stages of this competition belong to them in a way that goes beyond common sense. But this is perhaps the first time that they will go into those semi-finals as the sympathetic choice for the neutral.
Two superclubs backed by nation states, another by Roman Abramovich, and then: plucky little Real Madrid. Noble defenders of all that is good and true and — okay, fine, we'll stop. None of that sounded particularly convincing, did it? It's not like Florentino Pérez is skint, after all.
Still, by superclub standards, Madrid are having a frugal season: a squad clearout compounded by an injury crisis. Yet here they are, leaning on their veterans and squad players, finding a way through. Asking the neutral to actively like them might be a stretch. But by the Warm-Up's reckoning, they're definitely the most interesting of the sides left in the competition.
But can they both play in the same team?
You could almost hear the thinkpieces writing themselves. Another weird City result in Europe, another Guardiola "failure", another— oh no, hang on. Emre Can's stuck his arm out like a lemon and City have equalised. Carry on!
In the absence of a shock, and in the absence of anything particularly exciting from Erling Haaland — kept unusually quiet by City's defence — the thoughts of viewers in England drifted naturally to the summer. Jude Bellingham: excellent. Phil Foden: delightful. Combined age: 37. This paragraph was supposed to end "That's the same age as James Milner", but it turns out Milner is somehow only 35. Cheers James. Joke's ruined.
We already knew how highly Pep Guardiola thinks of Foden. Turns out he's quite a fan of Bellingham as well:
I cannot believe it, maybe he's a liar! He's so good for 17 years old, he's a fantastic player. There was one moment when he didn't get the ball from central defenders, how he shouts and demands that ball to him at 17 means a lot. I spoke with his manager, Edin [Terzic], and he told me what you see in these two games is like every training session.
This all has one logical consequence: Guardiola for England. You heard it here first.
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Dreams of the two of them lining up together for England this summer will have to reckon with Gareth Southgate's innate conservatism, and also the ludicrous competition for places in England's squad. Neither of them can play right-back, after all. But the future, surely, is some arrangement of Bellingham and Foden, or endless arguments about Bellingham or Foden. Of all England's bright young things, they seem the two with the potential to shine brightest.
In the here and now, Bellingham's goal wasn't enough to see City off, and goals for Foden and the rather boringly-aged Riyad Mahrez did the job. That sends Dortmund out, and there's a decent chance they'll miss out on next season's edition too. That noise isn't thinkpieces. That's the phone of every agent in Europe ringing all at the same time!
And City are through to their first Champions League semi-final under Pep Guardiola, where Foden will face off against Kylian Mbappé, a grizzled veteran at 22. Now if you'll excuse us, our back's starting to hurt.
Do you have anything in grey?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had some criticism in recent days, but here at the Warm-Up we have nothing but respect for his ongoing attempts to sound and act as much like Alex Ferguson as possible. Even if the spicy quotes do sometimes come out a bit more Roy Keane.
But this is 2021. Everything is bigger now. You may remember Ferguson made his team change their shirts at half-time: Solskjaer has taken this to the next level. He's made the whole stadium change its shirt. United's new anti-racism campaign called for black seat wrappings, and Solskjaer agreed with one eye on social justice, the other on United's wobbly home record.
We've looked into this. There shouldn't be a reason, really, but some of the players have mentioned that split-second decision you have to make where you look over your shoulder to see if your team-mate is there or not and the red shirt is on a red background with red seats.
Since the change, United haven't dropped a point at home. Which is a fun way of saying: they beat Brighton. But Granada arrive tonight for another test, and this time we all know what United are up to. Keep an eye on those split seconds. And incidentally, looking back… you can kind of see where Ferguson was coming from, right?
IN OTHER NEWS
Everything about this is transcendentally beautiful.
Happy birthday to Finidi George, beloved in Nigeria and Amsterdam and, we assume, also remembered in Ipswich. George Burley may not have seen the best of him, but you can.
The oddest story in world football this week has come from Pakistan, where the national association has been suspended by FIFA following a "hostile" takeover of their headquarters. John Duerden has the story for the Guardian. And to be clear, that's hostile in an alarmingly literal sense, at least according to FIFA staffer Haroon Malik:
As we were leaving, they physically restrained some of my staff. When I got to the door at the lower level, it was padlocked from the inside and I was already mildly panicked and didn’t know what to do. It was a glass door so I threw the doorstop through it and kicked the rest of the glass out and we left.
Some Europa League quarter-finals? Well, why not. Manchester United have a two-goal cushion as they welcome Granada to Old Trafford, but Arsenal have work to do in Prague. Elsewhere Roma have a one-goal lead to defend against Ajax, as do Villarreal against Dinamo Zagreb.
Always distinctive against any background, Tom Adams will be here with the Warm-Up tomorrow.
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