MONDAY’S BIG HEADLINES

City’s empty triumph

Premier League
Guardiola: Aguero could be out for two months
2 HOURS AGO

Last night, concerned locals were reporting sights of a strange object floating over the north London skyline. Residents of Brent told local press that the unexplained phenomena started hovering next to Wembley’s giant arch at around 6:30pm on Sunday. Further investigations suggested that the object was in fact a giant asterisk.

Yes, we start with the fantastic news that a club expelled from European football for two years due to financial cheating continued their dominance of the domestic cups with a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa in the final of the League Cup. Truly a glorious day for English football.

Really, the story of the match was the spirit with which Aston Villa battled back after going 2-0 down to goals from Sergio Aguero and Rodri. With everyone predicting another 6-0 battering like last season’s FA Cup final, Villa pulled one back through Mbwana Samatta’s fine header. What followed was a spirited performance by Villa, a victory for City by the slenderest of margins. If Claudio Bravo hadn’t have pulled off the best save of his City career... come to think of it, if City hadn’t have been wrongly awarded the corner from which Rodri scored...

Those thin margins made all the difference, which made it all the more galling for Villa. They almost held their own against one of the most lavishly-assembled squads in the history of football. A squad which probably shouldn’t have been allowed to be so lavishly-assembled.

Because this is a team with a big asterisk next to all their success of recent seasons. A team found to have cheated UEFA’s rules - and not some obscure rules around Champions League etiquette, rules specifically designed to keep financial spending within set limits. And City weren’t cheating these rules in order to lavish more money on charitable foundations. This is how they have built the squad and paid the players who beat Villa by one goal.

'You didn't learn' - Guardiola riposte to reporter over City tactics

Frankly, it stinks. How anyone is supposed to stomach this is beyond The Warm-Up, especially with City likely facing a punishment by the English authorities too. Not that Pep Guardiola was willing to let this minor infraction p*** all over his chips.

“Since we started to win, the last nine [domestic] competitions we played, we won eight," he told BBC Radio 5 Live. "That is awesome. No club before in the history of domestic trophies, not counting Europe, won the amount of titles in a row we have won.

“Not even the biggest Liverpool in the 80s, the biggest Manchester United with Sir Alex Ferguson or Jose Mourinho, or Arsene Wenger [with Arsenal). These clubs were amazing but were never able to win in the last nine titles, domestic eight."

To which The Warm-Up would reply: yeah, but how exactly did you do that?

There was some good PR for City though, as the man of the match was Phil Foden, a kid from the academy. It would have been nice if he’d played a bit more this season - like his former City team-mate Jadon Sancho has at Borussia Dortmund - but when you’ve got so many richly-paid players it’s hard to give a chance to a young kid. In any case, the City juggernaught picks up another well-deserved trophy!

Madrid claim El Clasico

Vinicius

Image credit: Getty Images

The Warm-Up doesn’t want to unduly alarm anyone this Monday morning but, well, it regrets to inform you that Lionel Messi is now rubbish.

At least that was the impression formed in a somewhat bizarre Clasico last night which saw Real Madrid run out 2-0 winners to claim top spot in La Liga courtesy of goals from Vinicius Jr and Mariano, netting just 30 seconds into his first appearance of the season.

Madrid were clinical when they needed to be, but it was a strangely subdued performance from Barcelona, and in particular an off-colour Messi, who wasted one glorious chance when firing too close to Thibaut Courtois. At times it looked like he was sprinting through a vat of syrup where once he would have danced free of the nearest defender to tap it home.

In fact, Messi was overshadowed in the history books as well as the pitch as Vinicius nabbed his record for being the youngest ever goalscorer in a Clasico in the 21st century, at 19 years and 233 days.

The result sees Real Madrid overtake Barcelona by one point with 12 games remaining, setting up a thrilling end to the season in La Liga.

Howlers aplenty at Goodison

Manchester United's Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea reacts during the English Premier League football match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park in Manchester United, north west England on March 1, 2020

Image credit: Getty Images

The goalkeeper’s union had a stinker on Sunday - probably the worst day for a union since Jimmy Hoffa disappeared. First it was David De Gea taking so long to clear the ball that he allowed Dominic Calvert-Lewin to close him down and deflect the ball back into the net. Then Jordan Pickford’s miserable form continued with a weak attempt to save a long-range effort from Bruno Fernandes to make it 1-1.

De Gea’s lapse drew a typically compassionate response from Roy Keane.

“I’d kill him,” he said on Sky Sports. “He just takes too long. What is he waiting for? If you’re going to make a decision, at least do it quickly. These are huge moments for United, in terms of trying to get in the top four. I think there’s almost a bit of arrogance to it – ‘look at me, give me time’. They almost think they’re outfield players.

'De Gea is best keeper in world' - Solskjaer defends De Gea

I would’ve lynched him at half-time. I’d have no time for that carry on. I know keepers can make mistakes, but there’s no excuse for that.

Still, with Leicester and Chelsea both collapsing like a cheap set of Jenga, United are only three points off Frank Lampard’s fourth-placed side and Champions League football looks a distinct possibility at this stage, especially with Fernandes looking every inch a United player so far.

Even if the race for the top four is of a shocking standard, it could get very interesting between now and the end of the season.

IN OTHER NEWS

Remember Andre-Pierre Gignac? Yesterday he did this:

HEROES AND ZEROES

Heroes: Watford

In case you missed it on Saturday (unlikely given the sounds of celebration emanating from a certain corner of north London), Liverpool lost their unbeaten run when being battered 3-0 by Watford. Plenty has been written about Liverpool, so let’s devote a medium-sized paragraph to pay tribute to the side that finally managed to stop them. The result pulled Watford out of the relegation zone - which Gary Neville clearly felt so happy about, he had to crack open the champagne.

Well done Watford!

Zeroes: The Bundesliga

There were incredible scenes in German football this weekend as *two* matches were disrupted due to insults aimed at Hoffenheim owner Dietmar Hopp.

First, Bayern Munich’s 6-0 win at Hoffenheim was suspended due to offensive banners in the away end, before the match resumed to farcical scenes, as players just passed the ball between themselves.

Then Wolfsburg and Union Berlin’s match on Sunday was twice stopped for the same reason. All very unsavoury, and insults like these should never be tolerated, but it is interesting where football chooses to draw the line and the kind of person insults need to be aimed at to actually get a match suspended...

CORONAVIRUS CORNER

There were concerting developments in Italy over the weekend with multiple matches postponed, including the big Derby d’Italia between Juventus and Inter on Sunday. Italy’s struggle to contain their Coronavirus outbreak has seen the government impose bans on sporting events in some regions.

Inter chief Giuseppe Marotta has even suggested that the Serie A season might not finish as a result. “If more matches are called off then, yes, we run that risk,” he said. “(The) balance of the championship has been altered. It's a distorted tournament. You just need to think of injuries and suspensions. And there is the psychological aspect when you look at the standings.”

For context: Lazio have gone eight points clear on Inter having won two games while the team from Milan have not played.

COMING UP

It’s the slightly weird spectacle of having the FA Cup fifth round take place during the week, kicking off with Portsmouth v Arsenal in what some observers are calling the Kanu Clasico. We’ve got live text commentary on that one from 7pm!

There’s no asterisk next to Nick Miller’s name - enjoy his whiter-than-white Warm-Up tomorrow...

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