THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES
Phil Foden is here
Obviously, the Nations League isn't entirely immune from a measure of pointlessness. Iceland were already relegated, and England were already out of the running for a spot in the finals. And so Gareth Southgate loosened his waistcoat a little, and let Phil Foden come out to play.
Fans of slightly contrived stats may like to know that Foden becomes England's youngest player to score more than once at Wembley, a record set in 1958 by Bobby Charlton. There are worse footsteps to be following in.
And beyond Foden, there was much to encourage Southgate. Bukayo Saka looked enterprising and dangerous down the left, and the double-playmaker formation of Mason Mount and Jack Grealish, which struggled against Belgium, looked ideal against a side sitting deep and attempting to defend. Not a universal solution, perhaps, but definitely a useful one. Certainly the manager was pleased with his youngsters:
For the last three days the mentality has been outstanding. It was a very difficult game. If all they're hearing are messages it's meaningless and there's nothing to play for … whenever you play for England there is something to play for. There are big opportunities for young players, especially, and also for older players. We are trying to build and improve all the time. There was some lovely football. It was good to watch and for the young players to get the goals was very special for them.
So a high note to end a mixed campaign. Beating Iceland: good. Losing to Belgium: not great, but probably forgivable. Taking just one point off Denmark: that's not the Nations League the crowd weren't allowed to come and see. As ever with England, you can be as optimistic or as pessimistic as you like.
And then there were four
Right then. Nations League 2: Covid Boogaloo is over, and we have our finalists: Italy, Belgium, France, and Spain.
And you know what? It's not bad, this Nations League. Obviously all international football feels ridiculous at the moment, and that's before we start reckoning with weird things countries have had to do to get their fixtures fulfilled. Norway had to call up a whole new squad just to draw with Austria yesterday. At least this lad got a game.
But on its own terms, this weirdly byzantine tournament seems to be working. Amazing what pointing at some games and saying "this is a competition now" can do. All over the continent, small-scale stories of triumph and despair, strangeness and charm: Wales and Hungary earning themselves places in League A; Spain putting six past Manuel Neuer in one game; the Republic of Ireland managing just one goal in six games.
It's just a shame Wales let their concentration waver against Finland: going all six games without conceding a goal would have been quite the statistical triumph. Ah well. A place at the top of the queue for World Cup play-off spots will have to do.
Back to those final four, then. Italy and France have made it all the way through their group unbeaten, and the Italians in particular can feel pretty good about that, given a decent chunk of their first team ended up missing the last two games under orders from Italian health officials. Belgium were the competition's top scorers, with 16 from six: Roberto Martínez staying on brand.
And Spain, as mentioned, ended their campaign by banging six past Germany. Six-goal wins always provoke the question "What on earth happened?" with respect to the losing team, but at least half the answer is that Spain were really, really good.
Obviously it's at this point the pandemic reasserts itself. Euro 2020 became Euro 2021 and so the Nations League's final rounds shuffled back to October to make way. What state any of the sides will be in after this compressed season, and the Euros, and a good chunk of the next season remains to be seen. For this reason we're tipping Italy: if they can ride out emergency quarantines, everybody being knackered should be a breeze.
I (the manager) got 5 (substitutes) on it (the pitch)
Good news for the hamstrings of tiers 2 through 4: the EFL will be permitting five substitutes per game as of this coming weekend. Championship teams will be allowed to name a bench of nine, while Leagues One and Two can name up to seven substitutes. Obviously, changing the rules of the competition once it's already underway isn't ideal, but credit to the EFL for realising it's better than everybody getting injured all the time.
As ever, as soon as anything happens anywhere else in English football, the nation asks: well, what does this mean for the Premier League? According to the Times the Premier League's managers have been busy during the international break, and at a meeting 15 of them agreed to support the introduction of five subs. There has even been rarest of things in football: a changing of minds.
Those managers believed to have changed their position [to backing five changes] include West Ham United’s David Moyes, Crystal Palace’s Roy Hodgson and Brendan Rodgers, of Leicester City.
Get it done, says the Warm-Up. There is exactly one time we want to see footballers walking away from the pitch, head bowed, and that's after they've scored an unlikely yet beautiful own goal. And they can't do that if they've limped off 15 minutes earlier holding their groin.
IN OTHER NEWS
Lovely Dan James. More of this, please.
On this day in 1969, Santos scored a penalty against Vasco da Gama. Not very interesting, you might think. Except that Santos' penalty taker was Pelé, and that goal was the 1,000th of his career … well, citation needed. The Warm-Up can't vouch for the accuracy of any of the claims in the video below, whether made by the narrator or the man himself, but the footage is tremendous.
Off to the Guardian today, where Andy Bull takes a sobering look back at the history of research into the connection between heading a football and serious long-term brain injury. By his reckoning, we've been asking the question for getting on 50 years.
In the end there’s always the question, if he knew then what we do now, would he choose to go through it? Of course, it wasn’t their job to know. They trusted in the men who ran the game, trusted in the clubs who employed them and the doctors who cared for them. Besides, it’s a moot question, isn’t it? They didn’t know. No one did. Did they?
International break is done and dusted, but never fear, the WSL Continental Cup — not, confusingly, a continental competition — is here to keep you busy. The women's teams of Manchester City and Manchester United face off again, just days after their highly entertaining 2-2 draw in the league.
You think Pelé's all that? Well, not only has Tom Adams scored 2,000 goals, but he'll also be here with the Warm-Up tomorrow.