THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES
The rules are the rules
For an hour or so, this was game of the season stuff. Up one end, City racking up chance after chance and Villa throwing body, soul and kitchen sink in front of them. Up the other, every now and then, Villa coming this close [holds fingers really close together] to conjuring something, only to fall agonisingly short.
Parker: Man United won’t win the league until they sort out their midfield
It was almost enough to make the viewer feel warmly about the nil-nil draw. None of that careful nothingness we got at Anfield, no: this was (going to be) a nil-nil that defied common sense, baffled science, and made a hero out of Emiliano Martínez. It's possible there won't be a better goalkeeping performance all season, even if he did end up shipping two.
But instead of that, instead of the great strange result, we got something even better. A multi-stage argument about the offside rule! Oh, Premier League. How did you know?
As we understand things, here's what happened. Rodri, pottering about in an offside position, became magically onside the moment Tyrone Mings did anything deliberate to the ball. Paradoxically, the best thing for the defender to do in this particular situation is not to play the ball at all. Otherwise, the tricky business of controlling the long punt becomes even trickier as the attacker appears in a cloud of smoke, shouts "Ah-hah! Read the rules, sucker!", and makes off with the ball.
Or Mings could have just contrived to accidentally control the ball. Some kind of Laurel and Hardy thing, perhaps. 'Oh, where's the ball. Oh, I'm sat on it'.
This is one of those exciting occasions where the rules of football become less about precision and more about vibes. Because while the decision was right, it felt wrong. Deeply and strangely wrong. We're not sure we'd have been quite as feisty about it as Dean Smith, but we can sympathise. He told BT Sport:
It was a farcical decision. I've not seen a goal like that given. It needs to be looked at. I don't think anyone in this stadium thought it was a goal. I thought they would go over to the VAR screen. I saw the incident and saw it was kicking off, so I asked the fourth officials did they get juggling balls for Christmas. Are we just going to leave players behind the line then? It's farcical. He was 10 yards offside and came back and tackled our player, it's a pathetic law and a pathetic decision.
That was what got him booked. What got him sent off was, we're guessing, something like "Could you show me a red? It's absolutely rodding down out here. Nice one. Ta." We're joking, of course. Dean Smith doesn't feel weather.
In amongst all the excitement was a lot of genuine encouragement for Villa, who are playing with real confidence and commitment, and a bittersweetness for City. The sweet: a sixth win in six, and a brief visit to the top of the table with the promise of a return. The bitter: Kevin De Bruyne, their one truly irreplaceable player, limping off, hand to leg. A muscle injury, thinks Guardiola. Very fashionable at the moment.
Manchester City roll on, with a little help from the rulebook - The Warm-Up
Image credit: Getty Images
Another game, another one of those Manchester United performances. You know, the ones where they look a bit scrappy and weird and even in danger for a moment or two, but manage to pull themselves through thanks to somebody doing something brilliant.
That sounds like a criticism, but it isn't meant as one. There's more than one way to skin a football game, and having brilliant players who really want to win is a perfectly legitimate approach. An expensive one, sure, but that's the United way. In association with Yanmar Tractors.
There's a theme emerging through United's cockeyed charge to the top of the table. The formation changes with each game, and so does the starting eleven: the attack morphs, and the midfield scales up and down in attacking ambition. But you can point at any one of those line-ups and find a player that could and maybe should have been in some kind of slump, and instead they're playing as well as they ever have for the club.
Luke Shaw, who has been messed around and messing around for season after season, finally playing consistently and impressively. Fred, apparently not just another expensive midfield punchline. Harry Maguire, a complete state at the beginning of the season, now back doing what he does best: winning the ball at corners and then completely missing the target.
And, of course, Paul Pogba. A walking, talking, goalscoring testament to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's ability to get players to play: a man who wants to leave Old Trafford, playing like he wants to retire there. Scoring 20-yard exocets with his weaker foot. If he'd managed to lift that late chance against Liverpool slightly higher, he'd have three winners in three games.
On balance, it's possibly for the best that Pogba didn't manage that. Your humble Warm-Up would have got carried away and compared him to Eric Cantona, and you'd have all pointed and laughed, and then we'd have had to apologise to everybody. So, cheers for that, Paul.
Something sensible is happening
Some genuine and unalloyed good news, for once! Well, apart from the lingering sense of "took you long enough," but never mind that for now. Concussion substitutions are coming to the Premier League!
Two of them, in fact: teams will be able to make their usual three substitutes, plus up to two more in cases of confirmed or suspected concussion. There's a mildly tasteless joke about seeing double there but we're going to carefully step around it. Instead we'll just note that according to reports this could be happening as early as next week, once some issues around medical confidentiality have been resolved.
Exciting times, and not just from a medical perspective. The Warm-Up can't be the only one feeling that faint buzz of anticipation that comes in the knowledge that soon we will have a brand new piece of sporting trivia, fresh and ready for the pub quiz. Well, the Zoom quiz. Immortality (of a small and particular kind) awaits the next unfortunate soul to get a smack in the head.
IN OTHER NEWS
Game of yesterday was probably Chelsea's comeback in the Conti Cup. And you know what? We've thought about this question for some time, and we honestly can't decide.
IN THE CHANNELS
Heart-tweaking stuff from York City, who are on the move. What precious things football grounds are.
The cynical so-and-so's over at the Athletic (£) seem to think that Frank Lampard, of Frank Lampard's Chelsea, won't be in charge at Stamford Bridge forever and ever and ever. Here's Dominic Fifield and Simon Johnson explaining why Chelsea's next manager, whenever they arrive, will have a background in the Bundesliga.
Many of those mentioned in dispatches as possible candidates to replace Lampard — Julian Nagelsmann, Ralf Rangnick, even Ralph Hasenhuttl — have worked with [Timo Werner] at RB Leipzig. They might expect to eke more from the 24-year-old than he is currently contributing and would all presumably relish the chance to coach Havertz, who is so highly rated in his homeland. They will be familiar, too, with Pulisic’s abilities given his three-year spell at Borussia Dortmund.
After wins for the rest of the top four, there's just a little bit of extra pressure on Liverpool's game against Burnley. Who aren't perhaps the team you want to face when the goals have dried up. Obviously they'll score six now. You're welcome, Liverpool fans.
We can neither confirm nor deny that the author of tomorrow's Warm-Up, Tom Adams, received juggling balls for Christmas. He definitely got a unicycle though
Solskjaer role under scrutiny as Conte hovers; Pogba ponders future - Inside Football
Townsend wonder-biff has Everton fans dreaming again – The Warm-Up