THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES
Is it on? Could it be happening? Sheffield United took two points from the first 17 games of the season. Now they've won two of their last three. That moves them up to [checks notes] 20th, and means they're only [checks notes again] ten points from safety.
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Obviously it would be brave, at this stage, to suggest that Sheffield United are going to stay up. Courageous, even. But if they are going to put together the Premier League's greatest and most ridiculous escape, this is exactly how it should start. A tremendous defensive performance away at Old Trafford, capped with a bizarre winning goal. A heroic showing from Phil Jagielka. Heart and luck. They've not lacked the former at any stage, but the latter has been missing, presumed extinct. Until now.
As for the other United: what a funny old team. Both peculiar-funny and haha-funny, given the state of the second goal, as the entire defence summoned the spirit of Istanbul. Okay, so they weren't all stranded in the wrong half this time around. But they might as well have been, and it would have been a good deal more dignified.
It would probably be unfair to pick out anybody in particular, since United were underwhelming all over the pitch, but David de Gea won't want to see either goal again, and Axel Tuanzebe — a late inclusion — had a moderate nightmare. Clearly, Ollie Burke and David McGoldrick are a level above Neymar and Kylian Mbappé.
The temptation is to read doom into the details here: to conclude that United's league position, previously inflated, will now undergo correction. Results have rather dampened the criticism in recent weeks, as good results will tend to do, but there was nothing unfamiliar about this performance except the lack of a comeback.
The inability to crack open a set defence. A reliance on Bruno Fernandes, here thoroughly off his game. And that persistent defensive skittishness, here actually punished. If football is a game of opinions then Manchester United are a grand ongoing argument, and this was one long instalment of "See! Told you. They are rubbish.
The Warm-Up will not be jumping to any such conclusions, for reasons of caution. Well, cowardice. But we will note that United's next three games are Arsenal, Southampton and Everton. If United are secretly rubbish, this seems like a good chance for us all to find out.
Here is a writer's impression of an artist's impression of Chelsea's performance against Wolves: pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, cross! Pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass … cross? Pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, hang on, Burnley have scored three? Why am I watching this?
Obviously anybody watching a Wolves game does so at their own risk. Just because Chelsea have a "new manager" and it might "be interesting", doesn't mean that the Premier League's most suffocating team have to play along. Point played for, point got. Hope you're happy, Nuno.
It is, of course, wholly unreasonable to expect Tuchel's team to click instantly. He's only got the job because things were a bit of a state, and he's only been in the country a few days. What we're looking for here are signs and suggestions as to what the future might hold, and based on that 90 minutes, it seems we can safely conclude the following:
Callum Hudson-Odoi might make a half-decent wing-back.
But not to worry, Chelsea fans and interested parties. Tuchel's side may have struggled to get going against a well-drilled side that were happy to defend forever, but Chelsea's next game should be more fun. It's against … oh, hang on. Burnley. And the one after that? Right, Tottenham. Mourinho. Er, onwards and upwards?
A Good Week for Manchester City
We all secretly knew it was coming, right? A month ago, this was the most chaotic Premier League title race in history. Any one of about ten teams could win it. Now, Manchester City are a point clear at the top with a game in hand, and playing a level above anybody else in the division.
On Tuesday, they beat West Brom 5-0: a gauntlet thrown down to the rest of the sides in or around the title race. And then on Wednesday, everybody failed to pick it up. If that's what you're supposed to do with a gauntlet, it's been a while since our last duel. Honestly, it might be better to leave it there. The fight's barely started and you're already a glove up.
Leicester and Everton took points off each other. Chelsea and Wolves did likewise. Manchester United, as noted above, faceplanted. Of the whole top half, excluding City, only Arsenal and West Ham managed to pick up a win, and neither look particularly well set-up to challenge City. (Sorry Hammers.) Spurs and Liverpool haven't played yet, to be fair. But they are playing one another.
City have now won seven on the bounce, and that's a consistency nobody else has looked capable of approaching. There's still time — we're only just halfway — but if this week is anything to go by, a month from now they'll have pulled away into the middle distance, and we'll all be gripped by the race for the Champions League places.
IN OTHER NEWS
Interesting fact: at the height of the grass shortage of the early 70s, some football teams were forced to play on chocolate pudding. (Make sure you stick with it to 1:40. Glorious scenes.)
Here's Sid Lowe in the Guardian answering the question we're all asking: any good, this Ødegaard lad?
Playing just to the right of the midfield or off the front, his season with Real Sociedad had been a revelation. Until lockdown, it would be no exaggeration to suggest he might have been the best player in Spain, full of energy and invention, the ball describing implausible angles and discovering spaces no one saw, passing through gaps that weren’t there."
On this day in 1967, Berwick Rangers, managed by a young Jock Wallace, pulled off one of the great Scottish FA Cup shocks by beating defending champions Rangers 1-0 in the first round. There's longer highlights if you want them, but here's the goal. And if that was surprising, the alien invasion that followed must have really thrown people off.
Time for the latest chapter of "Crisis or Not Crisis?", as Liverpool head to Tottenham. And if the rest of this week's results are anything to go by, they'll both lose.
Marcus Foley, who might have been the best player in Spain all through lockdown, will be here tomorrow with another Warm-Up, fresh out of the oven.
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2021-22 football season start dates across Europe: Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and more