It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.
“…with Matteo Darmian at centre-back,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer mutters to himself, glumly closing the book. Literature is supposed to provide solace, he thinks. But not many things are what they’re supposed to be at the moment.
Solskjaer sighs and moseys over to his desk, heavy in the half-light beneath the life-size effigy of Sir Alex Ferguson. He opens his notebook to the page marked ‘IDEAS TO TURN THIS SHIP AROUND’. Last night’s defeat to Manchester City, not a hammering but pretty bleak in its own way, will require him to go even further down this list.
He recalls the first ideas he had, and looks at his own feedback, scrawled angrily in the margin. The page reads as follows:
– Talk relentlessly about the spirit of Fergie sides, to the point where it almost risks self-parody. Spirit of ’99 and all that. TRIED THIS – DIDN’T WORK.
– Put your arm around the shoulder of Paul Pogba. WORKED FOR A BIT. COULD REVISIT.
– Take the players to train at The Cliff before a big match. Just like the old days. NB – some players may need to be told what The Cliff is. DIDN’T WORK. LOOKED LIKE A GIMMICK.
– Play Matteo Darmian at centre-back against the best team in the league. CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR.
– Rehabilitate Fred. NOT LOOKING GOOD
– Rehabilitate Phil Jones. NO.
Solskjaer shakes his head, whispers half a prayer to Lord Ferg. At least there’s still one more page of retro schemes he can turn to in the months ahead:
– Buy Marouane Fellaini back.
– Get the Class of 92 in for a seminar. Maybe forget to invite Phil.
– Ask Gary Pallister if we can clone him. Would have to be a young version, obviously, because a 53-year-old version wouldn’t be that much better than Marcos Rojo.
– Ritually sacrifice Alexis Sanchez as a team-building exercise.
– Get a Roy Keane tattoo on my chest and rip my shirt off moments before a massive game, roaring “DO IT FOR ROY, MY DARLINGS!” (Also look into laser removal.)
– Move to Govan in search of inspiration.
He sinks back in his chair. The beginnings of a smile creep across his lips. No matter how bad it gets, he’ll always have Govan.
Blue is the colour
City: pretty, pretty good. Even without really hitting top gear. Even with Kevin De Bruyne injured and Fernandinho joining him.
In fact, given Ilkay Gundogan was limping and David Silva could well be cited for a karate kick on Andreas Pereira, the City midfield could look a little… lightweight over the next week or two.
Time for the classic Bernardo-Foden-Danilo central trident? Ah, who are we kidding? They’ll still be amazing.
May the fourth be with you
Last night’s other game provided yet more incontrovertible proof that nobody actually wants to finish fourth. Not Manchester United, not eternal miserablists Chelsea, and certainly not Arsenal, who were clobbered by Wolves.
Exactly how many players from those three teams would make a combined Premier League XI? The answer is one, and he’s probably going to Real Madrid this summer.
IN OTHER NEWS
Some stories cannot hope to live up to their own headlines. Sometimes the whole thing is just so perfectly formed that you really don’t want to know anything further, lest you end up disappointed.
Before yesterday, the 2018/19 pacesetter was the immortal “Andrey Arshavin steals a horse and rides away from strip club”, which still very much reeks of chef-kissing-fingers-dot-gif.
But look! On the horizon! A challenger approaches!
“Eric Cantona posts bizarre Instagram video of penis smashing egg.”
If there has ever been a more perfect 10-word premise, The Warm-Up hasn’t come across it. And yes, you could watch the video, or read a description of what it depicts if you really wanted. But it won’t match the headline.
HEROES AND ZEROES
The Warm-Up is never anything less than 100% up for breakaway goals. This Joaquin Correa effort, which gave Lazio a 1-0 aggregate win in their Coppa Italia game against AC Milan, will do very nicely indeed, thank you.
Zero: Whoever was refereeing the Bayern game
You know which team absolutely doesn’t need a helping hand from officials? Perennial German overdogs Bayern Munich, that’s who. This ‘challenge’ on Kingsley Coman resulted in a penalty.
If you'd have given that, you’re probably a Bayern fan.
At least it wasn’t worth mu… OH NO WAIT, it cost Werder Bremen a place in the German Cup final.
One drill tests reaction speed by firing balls at you from random locations, and having you hit them on different coloured parts of your boots; another is designed to measure your peripheral vision, having you count how many players are over your shoulder and then pass a moving ball into the corresponding numbered goal. If there are five red players and four yellow and the ball fired at you is red, you pass it into the goal with ‘5’ superimposed on it.
Johan Cruyff would have turned 72 today. Here is a nice little documentary about his eternal genius:
And here are his best ever dribbles, some of which The Warm-Up hadn’t seen before. More evidence, as if it were needed, that being two-footed is basically the sporting equivalent of a cheat code.
Usually, Getafe vs Real Madrid is just about the least competitive derby imaginable. The last 10 meetings have gone the way of Los Merengues, by an aggregate scoreline of 37-8. Ouchy.
Tonight’s edition, however, could well be different. Real are about as coherent as Boris Johnson on acid, for a start, and then there’s Getafe’s form. Los Azulones, incredibly, are closing in on a Champions League place, despite having zero big-name stars and spending as much as their rivals splash on sandwiches for the board room.
The Warm-Up wants Getafe to win. You want Getafe to win. And you can see how they get on at 8.30pm.