MONDAY'S BIG STORIES
Name On The Trophy?
Super Sunday was a busy old time for Phil Foden. He started the game as a false nine in a front three. That didn't work particularly well, so after half time he became one half of a highly unconventional front two. Then, just to keep things fresh, he went and played on the right wing for a bit.
Premier League title race is back on thanks to United - The Warm-Up
He also scored one, set up another, humiliated a number of opposing defenders, and went from "Hey, this kid's going to be brilliant" to "This kid is brilliant, right now". If he wasn't there already. As he danced, skipped and slithered through Liverpool's defence, you could almost feel the future reshaping itself around him.
City went to Anfield without Kevin De Bruyne, their best and most influential player. Perhaps the Premier League's best and most influential player. And thanks to Foden, they barely missed him. Even Carles Puyol was impressed, and he seems a man with high standards.
By the laws of physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and Foden's brilliance was balanced out by Alisson's descent into The Karius Zone. Of course, while Foden's brilliance felt like an announcement of the way things are now, Alisson's fecklessness felt like a blip. Next time he'll put it in the stands. Next time he'll put it over the top for Salah. Maybe next time he'll even have a functioning defence? A goalkeeper can dream.
But perhaps there is such a thing as an emblematic blip: mistakes that, while weird in themselves, nevertheless seem to reveal something about their authors. In this case, the revelation might be that Liverpool are knackered. Body and mind. Brain-fogged and bone-tired. Making bad decisions, then making them again.
But more, they haven't found a way to cope with being knackered. Thinking more broadly, City have adjusted to this weird season in a way that Liverpool have notably failed to do. City changed their approach in November and have been unbeaten since. They changed their approach at half-time at Anfield, and turned a draw into a win. They've been shifting and morphing and adjusting as they go, and that's why they are five points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand.
Meanwhile Liverpool, while still capable of brilliance and of beating Spurs handily, have looked ordinary at times and vulnerable at others. You can look to the injuries, or a lack of squad depth. Perhaps, if you're feeling dramatic, you can diagnose a grander malaise: one cycle ending and another failing to begin. But barring something else deeply weird, Liverpool's title defence ended here, with a few unbrilliant swishes of their brilliant goalkeeper's feet, as he tried the same thing over and over again, and it failed.
Best League In The Country
The Premier League title race may be all over (we say confidently, loudly, desperately trying to jinx the thing back into competitiveness). But the WSL got significantly more interesting over the weekend, with not one but two major upsets at the top of the table.
First Manchester United, unbeaten until fairly recently, completely forgot how to mark opposition players at set pieces. This gave Reading the opportunity to burgle two goals and three points, inflicting United's first home defeat since before the pandemic. (Yes. It's a measure of time now. Somewhere between a year and forever.)
It also gave Chelsea the chance to pull away at the top against Brighton. That went predictably for the first five minutes, as Sam Kerr gave the defending champions the lead. But again, some miserable defending from set pieces sent the game all weird, and Brighton made off laughing with the three points.
Of course the real star of the was whoever ordered the games: after those two chocks came City against Arsenal, a big game made bigger. And it got a frankly massive header to decide things, as Lauren Hemp turned Chloe Kelley's beautiful cross into the goal it deserved.
So: Chelsea and United level, and City three points back. United have played a game more. And it's Chelsea against Arsenal on Wednesday, and then the Manchester derby on Friday. If this thing were any more poised it would fall over.
With bleak predictability, the weekend's on-field action was greeted with another wave of racist abuse online. Axel Tuanzebe has been targeted twice over the last two weeks, along with Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Lauren and Reece James, Romaine Sawyers, Alex Jankewitz, and almost certainly plenty more that haven't quite tipped over into the public consciousness.
We're going to take the absolute unacceptability of this as a given — you may click away if you disagree — and look at the FA's proposed solution. The FA have called on the government to bring in new legislation but also, more immediately, are demanding that the platform owners take steps.
Social media companies need to step up and take accountability and action to ban abusers from their platforms, gather evidence that can lead to prosecution and support making their platforms free from this type of abhorrent abuse."
The reluctance of social media companies to regulate their platforms stretches well beyond football. This week the Daily Mail reported that Twitter informed the Premier League clubs that racist abuse involving the monkey and banana emoji does not violate their rules and is not in fact racist, a position that Callum Hudson-Odoi has politely disagreed with; a position that we're happy to impolitely call incredibly stupid.
Individual footballers leaving social media is nothing new, though it is usually dispiriting. But given the pointedness of this line from the players and the FA, we wonder if some kind of coordinated mass departure might be coming soon. Hopefully that won't be necessary: whether it's teammates gently teasing one another or Marcus Rashford directing families to local food suppliers, these spaces are better for the footballers that spend time there.
IN OTHER NEWS
Goal of the weekend came nice and early, as this act of applied violence from Mana Iwabuchi gave Aston Villa a 1-0 win over Spurs. Extra points for nearly hitting the inside of the post at such a pleasing angle.
If you're looking for more information on the (absolute) state of the National League, then Ian King over at Two Hundred Percent is here to help. Spoiler: it's a big old mess, and it might get bigger.
Clubs are split over whether the season should continue or just be voided. Putting matches on, travelling to matches, being a football club… costs money, and clubs cannot run on fumes forever. The public arena has become a free-for-all of different opinions, potentially causing rifts at a point when these clubs need to be acting in their collective self-interest more than ever."
Happy birthday to the great Hristo Stoichkov, author of a career with more highlights than this column can reasonably contain. But that run to fourth place in the 1994 World Cup seems a good place to start.
Monday night football brings a clash of two of football's greatest and most opposed philosophies. Leeds against Crystal Palace, Bielsismo against Hodgeball. To the victor, the argument. And three points.
Ben Snowball will be here tomorrow to hoof the Warm-Up straight into the stands, no messing. Safety first.
Real Madrid hand Varane transfer ultimatum - Paper Round
Opinion: Liverpool's wretched form could speed up exits of Salah, Mane and others