WEDNESDAY'S BIG STORIES
These Are Not Quite The Best Teams
It's Europa League final time! Unai Emery vs. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Yellow Submarine vs. the Red Devils. Carlos Bacca vs. Edinson Cavani. Dani Parejo vs. Bruno Fernandes. And highly-rated future transfer saga Pau Torres against… Harry Maguire?
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We don't know. United's captain is still injured, and missed the last training session before the game. But how injured is "injured"? Well, we'll find out an hour or so before the Europa League final kicks off this evening.
Has Solskjaer been playing us all for fools? That doesn't really matter, we're just going to watch the thing. What matters is whether Emery, a noted preparation obsessive, has been taken in by a clever ruse. There they are in their dressing room, going over the final plans for Eric Bailly, and then… ohhh, that's Maguire's music!
And if he does play? Then 10 minutes after kick off we'll find out if this was, indeed, a masterpiece of distraction, or just some good old-fashioned desperation. You can see it all. The sprint, the grimace, the slow sink to the floor. The stretch, the shake of the head. The slow limp from the field. Somewhere in the corridors of Wembley stadium, where we assume he lives, Gareth Southgate tears his waistcoat from his body and hurls it to the floor.
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Or maybe it's a double bluff. Maybe Solskjaer knows that Maguire has no chance of making it but is keeping the possibility alive. There's Emery, smiling, confident, hooked, lined and sinkered, briefing his team on Maguire's hidden weaknesses and… ohhhhh, that's Tuanzebe's music!
Or maybe — bear with us here — it's a triple bluff. Maguire will be fit enough to start, but Solskjaer wants Emery to think that Solskjaer's only pretending that he won't be, so that he sees through that and plans for him not to play, only for him to stride out with the little United pennant. No, hang on, we've confused ourselves. Too many italics. Erm.
Whatever's going on, it's all very exciting, and United keeping Southgate in the dark just adds an extra layer of mystery to proceedings. And it's one of a few selection dilemmas on Solskjaer's to do list, along with what do with Paul Pogba, who starts up front, and the question of a final game for David de Gea. Our guesses: stick him on the left so that McTominay and Fred can both play; Cavani; and why not give De Gea and Henderson a half each, with a formal handing-over of the no.1 shirt ceremony at half-time? It's the last thing Emery will be expecting.
And that's the key to management: always keep the opposition confused. Wheels within wheels, bluffs within bluffs. Is that an ace up his sleeve, or is it Master Bun the Baker's Boy? Oh, it's Dan James. Sorry, Dan.
Solskjaer - 'We expect to win' Europa League final
They Say You Should Never Go Back
One ordinary day of Tottenham. All we ask. Will never happen.
We thought yesterday was going to be a pretty boring day in Spurs' search for a new manager. And we were almost right: some reports of Roberto Martínez being on the shortlist, some reports of Roberto Martínez being nowhere near the shortlist whatsoever. Standard stuff. And then the Independent's Miguel Delaney went and threw a hand grenade into the discourse.
Some figures at the club are now seriously suggesting it could be worth returning to Pochettino. There is a feeling that he has found the nature of Paris Saint-Germain more of a headache to manage than expected, and may be open to it. Levy also feels the need for an exciting appointment, as a gesture to unhappy supporters as much as anything.
Now, the Warm-Up has fewer connections than Point Nemo, otherwise known as the oceanic pole of inaccessibility, which is the farthest point on the planet from land. There are fish swimming around that particular chunk of the Pacific that know Pochettino's thoughts better than we do. But we're going to say that we definitely believe the headache part.
We also, at a guess, don't think it will happen. But in a sense that doesn't matter: what matters is the possibility has been raised. It's out there. Everybody has thought about it. Even the most pessimistic Spurs fan — and oh, there are some pessimistic Spurs fans — has given themselves a moment or two. They've closed their eyes, and seen him returning in glory to the place he is most loved.
And this means whoever does get the gig can only ever be a disappointment. Whether it's Martínez, Graham Potter, or some sharp-eyed reserves coach plucked from Bundesliga obscurity because they once waited for a bus in the rain with Jürgen Klopp, they'll never come close to the once and future Poch. Your imagination is your keenest torturer, and they know all your weak spots, and they cannot be reasoned with, and they will never, ever stop.
Speaking of things we don't really have the connections to verify but want to talk about anyway, did you hear the one about Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus all getting kicked out of the Champions League?
That, according to reports, is the punishment coming down the line for the three Super League clubs that haven't made their apologies and promised not to be naughty again. That and a big old fine, which we're sure will be distributed out among the lower levels of the pyramids they were all so desperate to leave behind.
Obviously there's a certain chaos to this plan that we can't help but admire, even it does make a bit of a mockery of all that final day drama in Serie A. Hey, Napoli, you really stuffed that up. Come on in anyway. But there's also a neatness to it. They did want out of the Champions League, after all. They did think they could do better on their own.
Any such move would quickly become a court case and so we're not going to speculate as to the final outcome. But some kind of punishment is coming, and what other powers do UEFA have? They can fine them, but these are clubs willing to hose millions of Euros down the drain every summer just so they can feel important in the transfer market. What's one more IOU among a billion?
Suppose the other option would be to stick them in the Conference League. But let's be real. It's a potentially interesting competition that deserves better than to be viewed as a punishment. And anyway, Spurs have suffered enough.
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IN OTHER NEWS
Football clubs don't do cup final songs any more, do they? We have lost such grand traditions, and we are poorer for their passing. Anyway, here's various members of Manchester United's Europa League squad crooning — or not — their way through their initiation songs.
Keeping things in house today, we enjoyed Graham Ruthven's impressions of Gareth Southgate's provisional England squad. Even in weak years, England squads are always solid. Been a while since we've seen one so potentially exciting. And that moves all the pressure to the coach.
This is still a young England squad - Jordan Henderson, Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker are the most senior figures at 30 - but this is a group of players good enough, and experienced enough, to go all the way at a major tournament. Southgate must devise a system and approach to harness the talent he has at his disposal.
A funny thing happens when you go looking for England highlights from European Championships past: sooner or later you end up back at the disasters. So here's injury time against France from 2004. You remember what happens, of course, but do take the time to enjoy the commentary all over again. Perhaps this is where Gary Neville nicked that funny noise from.
It may not make as much money, it may not mean as much in the long run, it may not have quite such a ridiculous anthem, but the Europa League has one great advantage over the Champions League. The trophy is much weirder. And one of Manchester United or Villareal will get their hands on it tonight.
No connections? Us? Nonsense. The Warm-Up can exclusively reveal that Marcus Foley will be here tomorrow to tell you all about what happened to Harry Maguire.
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