The Warm-Up: Momentary redemption in Chelsea: The Soap Opera
Jack Lang runs the rule over last night's Premier League action and says happy birthday to two goalkeeping legends...
THURSDAY’S BIG STORIES
Spurs get walk-on part in Chelsea am-dram
“Hi, is that Tottenham? Yes, this is the Chelsea Department of Soap Opera Scriptwriting. Long time no speak! Oh good, so glad you liked it! Absolutely banged on social. Keep this quiet, but Kepa actually got a massive bonus for it all. Such a good performance.
“Anyhoo… about tonight’s game. We’re going to drop Kepa, just to give Maurizio some vague illusion of authority. You’ve seen The Truman Show, right? He suspects, but let’s just say he hasn’t got in the boat and bumped up against the horizon just yet. Kepa won’t mind if we sling him a bit more cash, and his sponsors will love the extra camera time.
“Two reasons for calling. The first is to ask if we can win this. It would help with a little mini-redemption storyline we’re planning before eventually sacking Maurizio. Y’know… let people think he’s actually weathered the storm and then ditch him.
“Great potential for engagement on that. Sarriboom to Sarribust, or whatever. Sorry, we’re literally addicted to putting words after Sarri’s name.
“The second is a bit more delicate. It would be really cool if we could win with a massive goalkeeping error at your end. Like… ‘oooh, Chelsea are having trouble between the sticks, but at least their right-back isn’t knocking the ball into the bottom corner past a keeper who has decided to rush out for no apparent reason.’ Just an idea. Speak to Hugo about it.
“Oh, and one more thing. We don’t want Willy to even make a save. Lollllll, bye!”
No change in the title race
Elsewhere in the Premier League, Manchester City and Liverpool continued their fun game of taking it in turns recording a dominant win and just about scraping a result. It was the turn of Jurgen Klopp’s men to cut loose, sticking five past Watford, while City beat West Ham 1-0 courtesy of a Sergio Aguero penalty.
There were also wins for Arsenal and Southampton, and Manchester United beat Crystal Palace while serving up a future pub quiz question, courtesy of a name-that-midfield trident of Fred, Diogo Dalot and Scott McTominay alongside Paul Pogba. Come back, Rafael da Silva and Ji-Sung Park; all is forgiven.
Sit down, stand up
What’s better than scoring a Panenka? Scoring a Panenka that seems to press the slo-mo button on life itself, such that the opposition goalkeeper has time to half-commit to a dive, realise he’s beaten and ACTUALLY STAND UP AGAIN before the ball hits the net. Bravo, Luis Suarez. Bravo indeed.
And, indeed, bravo to Barcelona, who booked a spot in the Copa del Rey final by clobbering Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.
OK, so apparently 28 February is the day of the goalkeeper, because two of the greatest custodians ever are celebrating their birthdays.
The first is Sepp ‘The Anzig Cat’ Maier, who is 75 today. Here are some of his best ever saves:
Just two years older is Dino Zoff, World Cup winner in 1982 and arguably an even more iconic figure:
Also (unrelated to goalkeepers, this one): WOOF.
"What kept me going during these dark 76 days? Knowing that the whole world was witnessing the injustice. Millions of people saw me barefoot and shackled at a hearing in Bangkok, not because I had committed any crime — I had not — but because, I believe, Thailand’s ruling family happened to be tightening its relations with the Khalifas, the family that rules Bahrain, where I was born and which I had represented on its national soccer team."
HEROES AND ZEROES
Hero: Beth Mead
It’s not every day England beat Brazil, but the Lionesses achieved the feat last night, starting their SheBelieves Cup campaign in excellent fashion. And it’s fair to assume Arsenal forward Mead will be reliving this glorious winning goal every night for the rest of her life.
Zero: Claudio Ranieri
Not only have Fulham failed to start picking up points under the artist formerly known as the Tinkerman. They’ve also managed to stop scoring: it’s now just one goal in four games after the limp defeat to Southampton – a result that leaves the west London club fully 10 points away from safety.
On some faraway beach, Slavisa Jokanovic smiles as he pours himself another cocktail. “Dilly ding, dilly dong,” he whispers to himself between sips. “What’s that?” asks his wife? “Nothing, darling,” he replies.
IN THE CHANNELS
This week in managers going after well-meaning journalists: Marcelo Bielsa vs The Independent‘s Jack Pitt-Brooke.
Not too much going on, but the Copa del Rey comes up trumps again for us, with the second leg of the other semi-final. Real Betis and Valencia shared four goals at the Benito Villamarín three weeks ago, and there’s good reason to think this will be every bit as entertaining… not least because Betis are about as mad as a box of frogs.