MONDAY'S BIG STORIES

The Yawnchester Derby

Something strange is happening to the Premier League. Well, okay, lots of strange things, but the particular one we're concerned about here is: why are all the big games total rubbish?
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A DAY AGO
On Saturday Manchester City went to Old Trafford, home of their nearest and dearest. It was a nil-nil draw. And worse, it wasn't even a good nil-nil, one of those tense ones where two teams struggle mightily but in vain. City were flat, and United were happy to watch them being flat.
Perhaps that's a little unkind: everybody seemed to be working hard for their nil-nil. But also, everybody looked knackered. One substitute apiece suggests that both sides were fine with whatever was going on, even when what was going on was nothing at all. At least Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was pleased.
In my time against Manchester City that’s the best performance we have had. Not the best result but the best performance.
If you got a creeping sense of déjà vu at any point, perhaps you were being reminded of Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea. Or Chelsea 0-0 Tottenham. Or the second half of Manchester City's 1-1 draw with Liverpool. By the Warm-Up's reckoning, we've had exactly one properly spectacular game between two of the Hyped-Up Six this season, and that was Spurs sticking six past United.
What's going on? Perhaps this is how big teams deal with big games against the backdrop of chaos. One point is better than none, and it is better to be boring than broken apart. But it does make the Premier League rather flat. The hype machine is powered by these big occasions. If they don't go off, it starts to look … well, like an ordinary, sensible, occasionally dull football competition. And nobody signed up for that.

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Godspeed, Lucien Favre

On balance, right at this moment, we reckon the Borussia Dortmund manager's job is the best gig in world football. Just look at the list of kids: Erling Haaland (20), Jadon Sancho (20), Gio Reyna (18), Jude Bellingham (17), and Youssoufa Moukoko, a mere 16 year old, who may only have played a few seconds of grown-up football but who seems to be exciting all the right people.
Sure, every year Bayern Munich turn up and steal your best player. But apart from that. Pure good times.
So, dust off your CV and polish your smartest shoes. Lucien Favre has gone, after a 5-1 tonking by Stuttgart left Dortmund six points off the top of the table. Turns out having all these brilliant young kids is one thing but actually getting a functional team out of them is quite another.
We're not a very demanding Warm-Up, all things considered. But we do have a plea for the powerbrokers at Dortmund, and that is: don't let this hammering define the future. Whoever gets the job permanently must be absolutely committed to making this team as fun as humanly possible, for to do otherwise would be an affront to all that is good in the world.
Bring back the 2-3-5 if you have to. Get Ossie Ardiles back for one last mission. Just make sure that the message is clear: losing 5-1 is bad, but the solution isn't to try to work out how to win 1-0. It's to build a team that can win 6-5.

BVB-Trainer Lucien Favre kann es nicht fassen

Image credit: Getty Images

Here Come The Meringues

Three games to define a season? No problem, bring them on. Real Madrid's massive week began with a narrow win over Sevilla, got better with a comfortable stroll past Gladbach and into the last 16 of the Champions League, and then ended with a 2-0 win in the Madrid derby.
Other teams find themselves in a crisis. Real Madrid, football's most natural aristocrats, may have occasional … inconveniences from time to time. But the proper order of things always reasserts itself. Via Jan Oblak's back, if needs be.

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Anyway, just when we were ready to declare La Liga over — in, er, December, shut up — it's all gone right back up in the air again. Madrid, though not spectacular, were calm, controlled, and just that little bit better than Atleti in every department. Zidane's time in the dugout has been marked not by any great tactical innovation but by the consistent application of superiority, and this was an object lesson. Also it turns out Toni Kroos is still a quiet genius.
So Real Madrid move up to third, three points off the top with a game in hand and, perhaps more importantly, their mojo back. Atleti are still the race leaders, behind Real Sociedad on goal difference but with two games in their pocket. The reverse fixture, the second derby, comes at the beginning of March, all being well. Let us blow your mind with a prediction: it's going to be important.

IN OTHER NEWS

Sure, the keeper's out of his area. But we must not let that detract from the beauty of the arc of the ball.

RETRO CORNER

Happy birthday to Michael Owen, who you may remember from such goalscoring exploits as "Well done, he's 13".

HAT TIP

A quick Arsenal update, thanks to football.london's Chris Wheatley. Losing at home to Burnley: pretty bad. Threatening to "destroy" whoever's leaking information, only for that threat to get leaked: really, really bad.
It's no surprise either to see leaks emanating from the club. football.london was told that several agents of first team players briefed the media of the fight between Dani Ceballos and David Luiz. It's understood that Mikel Arteta told his squad in an internal meeting at London Colney that he will "destroy" whoever is behind the leaks.

COMING UP

Take your pick: Celta Vigo vs. Cádiz in La Liga, or Glenavon vs. Cliftonville in the Northern Irish Premiership.
With time to kill until he's offered the Dortmund job, Marcus Foley will be here with the Warm-Up tomorrow.
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