THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES
Are you sure this thing is safe?
We were going to kick off with a few hundred amusing but nevertheless insightful words about Spurs' nervy but ultimately comfortable win over Fulham. Or their frustrating 1-1 draw. Another late equaliser! Or Fulham's surprise win: just beautiful from Ademola Lookman.
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But no. A few hours before kick-off the game was postponed, following a number of positive Covid tests in Fulham's squad. Spurs, having already prepared for the game, are apparently less than happy, and José Mourinho even permitted himself a little sarcasm on Instagram. As a treat.
Best league in the world.
To postpone one Premier League game may be regarded as a misfortune; to postpone two inside a week starts to look like a problem. But the league are sticking with their plans for the moment, and they want you to know that everything is fine:
The Premier League has not discussed pausing the season and has no plans to do so. The League continues to have confidence in its Covid-19 protocols to enable fixtures to be played as scheduled, and these protocols continue to have the full backing of Government.
There's a level of self-belief here that the Warm-Up can only aspire to. Asserting total confidence in your ability to get games played as scheduled, in the very statement responding to a cancellation! Not just carrying on, but refusing to even discuss the possibility of stopping! We don't know if a coronavirus can be stiff-upper-lipped into behaving itself, but the Premier League is giving it a damn good go.
With the exception of those isolating, City's squad are back in training and so, in theory, will be able to play Chelsea on Sunday. We wait for news of Fulham. We wait for news of the next round of tests: last time brought 18 positives, the highest yet. And we wait to see if the Premier League's official position — nothing is wrong! nothing is going to go wrong! — ends up looking very silly in a few weeks time.
Roast Beef & Horseradish Sandwich 1-0 Football
So we saw out 2020 with the year's best Premier League team, Liverpool, taking on the year's most Newcastle team, Newcastle. And, perhaps appropriately enough, we got a nil-nil draw where everybody looked a little bit knackered from the first minute.
But if you were lucky enough to be watching on Amazon — other all-consuming trans-continental megacorps are available — then you were treated to a quiet masterclass in the art of commentating on a not-great game of football, as Jon Champion and Ally McCoist got their audience through.
Football commentary works best when it adapts to the state of the game being described. Breathless hyperactivity or profound declarations of importance can work, when the game deserves it. But most games don't. Sometimes, for example, Liverpool can't score and Newcastle are holding on and nothing much is happening, beyond the occasional Karl Darlow save.
In such circumstances, you need a commentary team that are happy to chatter away like … well, like two friends helping one another through some pretty dull football. So last night, as a football game happened in the middle distance, Ally McCoist told us about his half-time sandwich, and Jon Champion teased him about his goalscoring record, and time passed, pleasantly enough.
Oh, and that draw means that Manchester United can go top of the table on New Year's Day with a … counts on fingers … 9-0 win. Something to look forward to there.
The immovable object
Diego Simeone was named coach of Atlético Madrid on 23 December 2011. Nine years later, he's just overseen his 500th game in charge: a 1-0 win. Of course.
Everything about Simeone is strange, when set against the moment. Nine years at any club is borderline nonsensical: since he took the job, Real Madrid have had six managers, one of them twice; Barcelona have had seven. And as the game has moved from its breathless love affair with tiki-taka through to its current obsession with counter-pressing, half-spaces, and other technical terms the Warm-Up is half-pretending to half-understand, there go Atleti. Defending, defending some more, and defending brilliantly. Most of the time.
Simeone isn't just a brilliant coach, though he is that, nor just football's finest accidental Tom Waits lookalike, though he is that too. His sides are a reminder that football, though it has its trends and fashions, is never monolithic: somebody is always doing something different, somewhere. Football has ideas, good and bad, better and worse. But it is not and never solved.
That win puts Atleti two points clear at the top, with two games in hand on second place. They've played 14 games, scored 27 goals, and conceded just a miserable, magical five. Nine years and five hundred games later, it still works.
IN OTHER NEWS
Until this very moment, we'd never even imagined Luka Modrić heading a football. It would seem somehow beneath him. And yet, look at this. Firm, almost verging on thumping. What strange times we live in.
There are all manner of strange New Year games to look back at, but we've chosen Hearts 0-7 Hibs from 1973. Partly for the weirdness of the result, but mostly for the adorable line of what we think are police cars, just off to the side of the pitch. What a shame that law enforcement has moved on from toothpaste green.
McLean was one of the first managers to introduce performance-related pay. Bank managers would afford his first-team squad members quizzical looks when mortgages were sought on a basic salary not at all in line with the perception of what footballers of the time earned. But this is what I get when I play would be the explanation.
Sticking with Scotland, it's worth heading over to the Guardian for Ewan Murray's look back at the life of legendary Dundee United manager Jim McLean, who died on Boxing Day. They don't make them like that any more may be an overused sentiment, but in this case it's entirely true.
Get ready for New Year's Eve in the appropriate style: a La Liga double header. First the Basque derby, Athletic Bilbao vs. Real Sociedad, and then Osasuna vs. Alavés.
No Warm-Up tomorrow as we all make and immediately break our resolutions, so we'll see you next Monday. Happy New Year.
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