MONDAY’S BIG STORIES
The Communities Shield
Did you enjoy your break, then? Two weeks after Manchester City got knocked out of the men’s Champions League by Lyon, one week after Arsenal got knocked out of the women’s competition by PSG, English football returned with a bang. And a penalty shoot-out. Can’t say fairer than that, hey?
The bang came from Chelsea’s Millie Bright, who positively hammered the opening goal past Manchester City’s Ellie Roebuck. The game was perhaps most notable for a string of missed chances from Chelsea striker Sam Kerr, which looked weird in the moment but perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight, might be considered ominous. She’s clearly getting the chances. The finishes will come.
As for the penalty shoot-out, that came later in the men’s game, after Arsenal looked solid and scored once, and Liverpool looked rusty and scored once. The big news here was Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who capped a fine performance with a penalty so cool it momentarily reversed global warming. That, apparently, has convinced Arsenal that he might be worth hanging onto after all.
While neither game quite wound up to full intensity — despite Jill Scott’s best efforts — there was enough for everybody to suggest a season filled with intrigue and all the other good stuff to come. And so, to take advantage of this good feeling, it’s time for an international break. Hooray?
Arteta 'pretty confident' Aubameyang will sign new Arsenal deal
Manchester United: exist!
Looks like Ed Woodward’s remembered his PIN. Manchester United are reportedly in the advanced stages of buying a footballer, and a pretty good one too. Donny van de Beek is on his way to Old Trafford from Ajax.
You can see why any team would be interested in Van de Beek: he’s unpredictable, creative, imaginative, and he scores goals from midfield too. All good things. Quite how Solskjaer is planning to fit him, Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba into the same midfield is a puzzle, at least to our simple minds. But not a bad puzzle.
In any case, it was clear after the lockdown break that Solskjaer was markedly reluctant to turn to his bench, calculating that even his knackered first team was better than his other options. The best sides tend to have more decent players available than they actually need for any one game, and United would quite like to be one of the best sides again.
The continuing saga of Lionel Andrés Messi
Lionel Messi update: nobody has signed Lionel Messi for the new season. Yet. And that, apparently, goes for Barcelona as much as it does anybody else: Messi did not report for preseason Covid-19 testing over the weekend, a thoroughly modern finesse on the age-old wantaway tactic of not turning up for training.
AWOL Lionel Messi's delight at Barcelona release-clause bombshell - Euro Papers
The other big news from the weekend came from La Liga. Their position is that Messi is not allowed to just eject himself from his contract. Any club that wants him will have to pay his full release clause of eleventy squillion pounds and five guineas.
The contract is currently in force and has a ‘termination clause’ applicable to the event that Lionel Andres Messi decides to terminate his contract early. La Liga will not carry out the process for the player to be removed from the federation if they have not previously paid the clause.
And so, at least until something else weird happens in half an hour’s time, we have an impasse. Imagine — just imagine — if this plays out like some ordinary transfer. Messi waiting for an offer. Barcelona taking two weeks’ wages. Messi training with the reserves. Messi training with the reserves. The greatest player in the history of the game, sent to job round cones with the stiffs. Even the thought is a little overwhelming.
IN OTHER NEWS
To nobody’s great surprise, Lyon Féminin won the Champions League this weekend. They did this because they are the best team. But while their victory may have come as no surprise to anybody, this beautifully pure hit from Saki Kumagai definitely came as a surprise to Wolfsburg goalkeeper Friederike Abt. Piiiinnnnnng.
Happy birthday to Ian Harte, who took a lot of excellent free-kicks that last time Leeds were in the top flight. Let’s hope their return inspires more club-specific jangly indie music.
Over on the Athletic (£), Dermot Corrigan takes good long look at Josep Bartomeu, the man who is selling Messi, and at the general business of running Barcelona. Which, if we’re being honest, sounds like a complete nightmare.
Barca’s financial situation really is that bad. Less than 12 months ago, Bartomeu was proudly declaring that his club would be the first sporting institution in the world to cross the €1 billion annual revenues threshold. But the COVID-19 pandemic has helped uncover huge problems in its accounts, which have been building through recent seasons, as almost €1 billion has been spent on under-performing players, while the wage bill has also swelled to the biggest in any sport at over €500 million.
Not a lot today, as the world braces for the international break. Probably a good time to watch some cycling. There’s the tour of France going on, don't you know?
Marcus Foley will be here tomorrow to break down just how Ed Woodward ended up signing James Van Der Beek. From Dawson’s Creek. For £50m.