Premier League: Liverpool and Manchester United both win by not losing — The Warm-Up
Once again, the fiercest rivalry in English football serves up ninety minutes of not very much. But that suits Manchester City just fine,and it is Pep Guardiola’s birthday. Happy birthday, Pep. Also, Jonathan Wilson breaks down why Manchester City are good at football again. And in Italy, Inter beat Juventus comfortably, to general surprise. While Lionel Messi goes full Luis Suárez.
Paul Pogba of Manchester United looks on during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on January 17, 2021 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.
Desperately searching for the positives, we might suggest that perhaps, on balance, there is always something to commend a game that leaves both teams feeling simultaneously relieved and frustrated. Such games contained possibilities, in both directions, even if none of them were realised. And it certainly sounds better than saying: you call this a rivalry? The state of it.
From a United perspective, they can take great satisfaction from their defensive performance: against a Liverpool side with most of the ball, David de Gea was never asked to do any real work, and United made the better chances, if not so many of them. Meanwhile Liverpool were in charge of the game for the most part. Sterile domination is still domination, and it's far better than the opposite.
But there are nil-all draws that could have been nothing else, and then there are those that might, on other days, have been something quite special. For a team set up to counter, United spent a lot of the game mucking up counters; for a team set up to score piles and piles of goals, Liverpool looked terribly short of ideas for doing just that.
Maybe nothing else could have happened. Between the ambient knackeredness of this compressed season, and the sense that not losing was far more important than winning, perhaps we were fools to expect anything else. Both sides remain in the title race, and neither has to deal with a shattering blow to morale. That, you suspect, will secretly do for all parties. It will certainly do for …
Luke Shaw of Manchester United is tackled by Mohamed Salah of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield
Image credit: Getty Images
Pep Guardiola: Time Lord
Manchester City beat Crystal Palace on Sunday. City scored four, John Stones scored two; Palace a plump round nil. And we didn't see any of it: we were watching Inter beating Juventus on the other channel.
But that's five wins in a row for City now, and they're up to second. Accordingly, we'd started writing this bit with a whole riff about them moving up on the rail for the finishing straight, timing their run to perfection, and a load of other horse racing stuff we didn't really understand … and then we realised. They've played 17 games. We're not even halfway through the season yet.
Manchester City's English defender John Stones celebrates after scoring their third goal during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Crystal Palace at the Etihad Stadium
Image credit: Getty Images
This is partly due to the generally weird things that the pandemic is doing to time: the way it simultaneously feels like last March but also next March. Too much is happening at the same time as not enough.
But it's also, perhaps, a consequence of the way the Premier League, which only exists on television now, has spread itself all over the calendar. There are games all the time. Super Sunday comes after Smashing Saturday, then sets up Manic Monday, Tired Tuesday, and Worn-down Wednesday. The only time we get a break is if the pandemic forces a postponement.
We haven't checked the numbers, but it certainly feels like we've watched an entire season's worth of live football. Or at least had it on in the background, or been checking the score. Moving through the games one after the other demands more of your time, more of your attention. And this is why City are, like a thoroughbred racehorse, poised to strike the killing blow … but also have another 21 games to play.
Internazionale Bright Young Thing
There are certain expectations that one brings to a big game involving Inter. Win or lose, you know that the team in blue and black are going to be nervous. Neurotic, even. There'll be ooohs and aaahs and head-holding and, by the end, nobody's going to feel good about themselves.
So the first half of their Big Game against Juventus certainly delivered. Inter took the lead early and then missed Big Chance™ after Big Chance™. They had the lead, and they looked terrified of it, and you knew it was coming just as surely as they did. Juve would take control, mete out punishment for Inter's profligacy. That's the Inter promise. That's the Serie A way. That's just what Juve do.
Except they didn't. Inter doubled their lead in beautiful fashion early in the second half, and then looked comfortable. At ease. Maybe even in control. Of course, you can take a moment. It's a lot to take in. Here, enjoy this pass from Alessandro Bastoni.
Cristiano Ronaldo was quiet to the point of absence. Juve's youngsters, when they came on, couldn't get the team going. As already noted, there's a long way to go, but Juve are seven points off the top. Ten, if Milan win tonight. Force of habit still insists that everybody else will collapse and Juventus will stroll through, of course. This just means the stroll will have to begin a little earlier. Any day now. Any day.
IN OTHER NEWS
Well, we knew Lionel Messi was missing Luis Suárez. But this is ridiculous.
And look! Bonus trumpet content! What a glorious day.
It's Pep Guardiola's birthday. Happy birthday, Pep Guardiola! Let's go back to 1994, when he picked up his first European Cup winner's medal, against Sampdoria. You don't see an awful lot of him playing, but he celebrates vigorously. And Johan Cruyff nearly gets stuck on the advertising hoardings. Simpler times.
If you're looking for an explanation of Manchester City's recent good form that goes beyond "John Stones is Beckenbauer again", then Jonathan Wilson in the Guardian is here to help. The secret, apparently, is "passing". Whatever will this Guardiola genius think of next?
This has not been in any sense a normal season. The usual rules don’t apply. The truncated pre-season and the compressed calendar have made a material difference to how teams play. Players are exhausted. Injuries are rife. The constant churn of two games a week has made it harder for those sides who tailor their press precisely to the opposition.
AC Milan visit Cagliari, looking to put three points of clear water between themselves and Inter. Alternatively it's 11th against 15th in the Premier League, as Arsenal and Newcastle try their best to make their people happy.
And Marcus Foley will be bringing you tomorrow's trumpet solos.