Premier League: Time for another argument about Manchester United and penalties - The Warm-Up
Manchester United's trip to Chelsea didn't deliver much football, but we got a nice helping of conspiracy theory instead. Once again, the very clear takeaway appears to be this: being a referee seems to be an entirely miserable business. Also, Arsenal are suddenly good now, just to keep things interesting.
Manchester United's Norwegian manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (C) congratulates players on the pitch after the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge
Published 01/03/2021 at 08:49 GMT | Updated 01/03/2021 at 08:57 GMT
MONDAY'S BIG STORIES
Well, we probably should have seen that coming. Another Big Game, another nil-nil draw for Manchester United. This blank with Chelsea was the second of the season, and we can file them alongside the others against Arsenal, City and Liverpool. Hours of our life we wish we could have back.
You can apportion blame according to taste: maybe Chelsea, as the home team and also the team more in need of a win, could have taken the initiative. It looked very much like United came to break, found nowhere to break into, and so just sort of faffed about. Personally, we're blaming Tottenham. That 6-1 scarred United good and proper, and they swore on that fateful day never to let any Big Game be any fun ever again.
But it's okay! As if realising that the world was looking for something, anything to talk about, Luke Shaw quickly rolled out a juicy refereeing conspiracy theory for us all to enjoy. Are refereeing conspiracy theories as good as decent football matches? No. But they're pretty noisy.
I don't know why they stopped if it wasn't going to be a pen. The ref even said to H [Harry Maguire], I heard him that, 'if I say it is a pen, then it is going to cause a lot of talk about it after', so I don't know what happened there.
Once you've processed the horror of learning that Shaw call's his captain "H", we should make it clear that this claim has since been walked back by United. Shaw, it appears, was mistaken. He didn't hear the referee say, effectively, that he wasn't giving United a penalty because it would be controversial to do so. And perhaps that's the case.
However, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer does think that this is still happening. He's annoyed it's been mentioned on Chelsea's website. Frank Lampard started it, he thinks. And now:
I’m a bit concerned we don’t get them penalties after noises were made a month or two ago about us getting penalties. Clearly there is a point of managers influencing referees."
Solskjaer: 'We should have had a penalty and that's clear'
Obviously, sympathy for a Manchester United manager over unawarded penalties is going to be about as scarce as… well, sympathy for Manchester United in general. But it's interesting where the line seems to be. Suggesting that referees are influenced by managers: fine, normal, just a thing that happens. Suggesting that referees are aware of this, that they might admit this: hugely controversial.
Once again, the big takeaway is this: being a referee seems an entirely miserable business. They're in your subconscious! The managers are actually in your head, moving things around! And you can't tell anyone because Luke Shaw might overhear you and tell the press, and then there'd be shouting for weeks and weeks. Oh, if only some football had happened instead.
Many years from now, when Sir Mikel Arteta OBE, QC, FRSL looks back at his pile of medals — the Premier League, the Champions League, the Booker Prize, a Nobel for Peace and another for Chemistry — he will look at the week just gone, and he'll say: that one. That was it.
Thursday: minutes from going out of the Europa league; minutes from the season ending in February. And then Sunday. A slow start against Leicester, an early goal for the Foxes. Youri Tielemans running at the defence; the defence running away. A feeble goal. A very Arsenal goal, in the worst possible sense.
But this Arsenal side are not, it seems, quite as Oh, Arsenal as some that have come before. Leicester's goal was the cue for the visiting side to start playing well. Nicolas Pépé scored again. Martin Ødegaard looked dangerous off the bench. Even Willian had a really good game. Even Willian had a really good game. We had to type that twice because we didn't believe it the first time.
Okay, so it helps when your opponents start the game without one of their best players, then lose two more in the course of the afternoon. But on the other hand, Arsenal were resting Bukayo Saka, who has probably been more important to his team than James Maddison, Harvey Barnes, and Jonny Evans have been for theirs. Maybe. We, er, haven't actually done any maths to back that up. We just think Saka's pretty good, and Arsenal have been terrible.
The race for the top four is already murderously tight, and Arsenal are only just back into the top half. But there's still the Europa League and, perhaps more importantly, there a sense that things are starting to come together. You can't win football games with trust in the plan. Not in its own. But you definitely can't win them without.
'Really important' - Arteta on Europa League win over Benfica
Some Day At The Office
Always an awkward time, the notice period. Everybody knows you're leaving, but there you are: nodding along in meetings, answering emails, trying to keep things going. Who among us hasn't let things slide a little, once the end was in sight? Who can honestly say they haven't, for example, gone into a really important meeting and given away a penalty after six minutes?
Not Dayot Upamecano, that's for sure. A week or so ago his summertime move from RB Leipzig to Bayern Munich was announced; on Saturday he had a very exciting start to the game against Gladbach.
Definitely a pen. And Gladbach were pretty quickly 2-0 up, after Marcus Thuram — standing in front of Upamecano — managed to score with his shoulder. Achievement unlocked.
But back came Leipzig: first to parity, and then to steal all three points at the very last moment. A big header from Alexander Sørloth. A big scream from Julien Nagelsmann. And a big, big sigh of relief for Upamecano: the title race is still alive, and he gets to carry on trying to deny his future employers a league title. Think we can all agree, that would make excellent workplace banter.
IN OTHER NEWS
What do you get when you cross Zlatan Ibrahimović with Grace Jones? You get whatever this is. Ridiculous behaviour. Absolutely ridiculous.
Over on the Guardian, Jonathan Wilson takes a look back at the career of Roy Hodgson and wonders if it's coming, at long last, to its end. (This was written before Palace managed to have exactly zero shots on target at home to Fulham, which is presumably why it doesn't call for Hodgson's immediate arrest and imprisonment.)
Hodgson has adapted, of course – nobody survives four and a half decades as manager without the capacity to evolve – but he endures as a reminder of an era when English football belatedly embarked on a process of self-discovery and for a time stood at the forefront of tactical thought.
It's 41 years since Dixie Dean — the man Bill Shankly called "the greatest centre-forward there ever will be" — died at the age of 73. Here's some delightful British Pathé footage of the great man skipping, boxing, and climbing along the crossbar. And also playing a spot of football.
In England, Everton will attempt to heap more misery on Southampton. In Spain, Real Madrid welcome Real Sociedad to the Alfredo Di Stéfano.
I've just overheard the referee say that Marcus Foley will be here with the Warm-Up tomorrow. But you didn't hear that from me.