THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES

Tetchy Tuchel

Typical Brighton, right? Decent performance, carve out some chances, miss the lot of them. Everything hits the goalkeeper, and when it doesn't, there's a man there to block. Or the ball won't behave. Or it's one pass too many, one pass too few. Look, Danny Welbeck's got a chance in the 91st minute. As if that's going to—
Transfers
Chelsea to spend £200m to compete with Man City and Liverpool – Paper Round
24/05/2022 AT 23:15
Oh! It's gone in?
No wonder Chelsea's defenders looked so shocked. Nice goal, too: a good jump between two defenders, a firm redirection of the ball. Half timing, half neck muscle. Brighton may not be on for Europe, as the beginning of the season promised, but this point nestles them neatly into 10th place between Crystal Palace and Leicester, and that feels about right, right?
Chelsea, for their part, stay in second, but it's getting increasingly lonely. Amazon's experiments in staggered kick-offs meant that the final whistle at Stamford Bridge didn't immediately mean points lost in the title race, but even if Manchester City had slipped up against Brentford — spoiler, they didn't — the expressions on the faces of the home side said it all. Not good enough.
It's probably fair to say that Chelsea had the weight of Expected Otherness on their side. This is a pseudo-stat we've just invented to measure alternative possibilities, what might have been. If only Callum Hudson-Odoi had scored that break rather than trying for the pass. If only the ref hadn't whistled for that foul. If only the ref had whistled for that penalty, which if we're being honest we didn't think much of at the time, but Thomas Tuchel seemed pretty angry about it.
Obviously it seems possible that the referee might also have decided to take a sterner, redder view of Antonio Rudiger's brief and ill-advised transformation into a surface-to-air missile, so let's call the refereeing angle quits. That work for you, Thomas? Thomas? Oh, he's gone.
Manager rails at universe after surprisingly poor result: this is not news. But Covid has given managers extra ammunition, and Tuchel wasn't about to waste it.
We have seven Covid cases. We have five or six players out for six or more weeks. How should we compete in a title race? Everyone else who has a full squad, everybody in training has the full power to come through this league. We would be stupid to think we can do it out of Covid and injuries. Just play and everybody would be stupid to do it without 23 fit players.
It is, of course, hard to muster much straightforward sympathy for the manager of a literal billionaire's favourite side project. Particularly when Chelsea's general strategy over the last decade has been "Let's have as many footballers as possible attached to the club. Armies of them. Legions." But there is, of course, the germ of a point hidden in Tuchel's fury.
Every season, we accept the outcome of the league on the understanding that two significant complicating factors — injuries and bad refereeing decisions — will sort of even themselves out over the course of a season. We do this even though it is obviously, intuitively incorrect: some teams get lucky, others don't. As with money, injuries and mistakes are not evenly distributed.

'Be calm Pep' - Guardiola insists title race not over after Brentford win

And when we think about the league as a sporting competition, we price this in, and depending on how its affects our team we breathe a sigh of relief, or shrug, or start compiling spreadsheets about the grand unfairness of it all. All part of sport's rich flavour. The game is the game, but justice, luck, injustice and ill fortune are the seasoning.
Covid adds another confounding factor, and like the other two it is not evenly distributed. For some teams it is an injury crisis on top of another injury crisis; for others it can be borne, at least so far. Playing through it is probably the sensible thing to do from the league's point of view, given the health benefits of a pause are contested, but it's doing very weird things to the league table and even weirder things to playing squads.
How this will affect the table as a whole, where imperfection is commonplace, remains to be seen. But up the top, the margins are so fine that even a tiny drop-off for one team — three draws in four games, say — sees a gap balloon up to eight points in a couple of weeks. To win the Premier League, at this moment in time, superclubs cannot afford very much mortality. And for Tuchel, the knowledge that this season will go down as a weird one cannot, in the moment, offer much consolation.

Chelsea-Coach Thomas Tuchel

Image credit: Getty Images

The Best Move Is No Move At All

Two days to the transfer window, dear friends, and have things ever been this quiet? Indeed, the biggest news so far is that Kylian Mbappe will not be moving, to Real Madrid or anywhere else, until at least the end of the season. Unless he's just been lying to CNN, that is. But he seems too nice for such a deception.
I will give everything I have to win the Champions League, the league and the cup. And to give all the pleasure to the fans, because they deserve it.
He didn't go on to say: "Look, why the hell would anybody switch clubs right now? There's a pandemic on, which means quarantine regulations of one kind or another almost everywhere, and chances are you'll pitch up at a club only to find the training ground closed, or the league paused, or half your new teammates are in isolation for two weeks. And moving house will be a nightmare. Wait for spring. Wait for the coming of the sun. Wait." But we can read between the lines.
Accordingly, here at the Warm-Up we are braced for the least spectacular January window since records began. Reporters checking in from their laptops at home, a medium-sized totaliser, a muted shade of yellow across Sky Sports News. Constant updates from Newcastle, on the grounds that surely they'll have to do something. Kieran Trippier. Sven Botman. Kieran Botman. Sven Trippier. Sieran Tripman. Kven Bottier. Philippe Coutinho?
As for Mbappe, you can see the logic. At the end of this season, when his contract with PSG expires, he will become the most coveted free agent in the history of football: 23 years old, already brilliant, already a star. He will receive serious contract offers from every big football club on the planet, and comedy ones from half the others. His is a position of perfect power and serenity. No wonder he's waiting. There's no need to do anything else.

IN OTHER NEWS

We now go live to Neil Maddison for the last moments of Middlesbrough's visit to Blackpool and, yes, it looks like there's been a goal. Neil?

RETRO CORNER

Today would have been Gordon Banks's birthday, so that's a handy excuse to indulge some nostalgia — and some sunshine! — by looking back at the top 10 saves of the 1970 World Cup. Obviously the great man's Great Save comes in at no. 1, but there's some pretty decent stuff rounding out the chart. Also Felix, tending the other net as Brazil play England, gets pretty solidly kicked in the head.

HAT TIP

Over to Sid Lowe at the Guardian for an interview with André Onana, who is that rarest of sporting rarities: a footballer that actually failed a drugs test. His explanation was that he'd mistaken one pill in the medicine cabinet for another; UEFA accepted this, and still handed down a nine-month ban. But whatever you make of that, his account of coping and rebuilding through the suspension is fascinating.
There will still be people who think [I’m guilty]. People don’t always have time to be informed. The police stopped me in Belgium. The normal thing: 'Documents?' When I show my identity card, one of them recognises me. 'Mr Onana, get out of the car.' They check the whole car. The whole thing. I hear one say: 'This guy takes loads of drugs.'

COMING UP

Burnley, who haven't played in so long they may have forgotten the rules, head to Old Trafford for the latest episode of Educating Manchester with Ralf Rangnick. We've also got the last games of the year in the Championship, including league leaders Bournemouth at home to Cardiff City.
Andi Thomas can exclusively announce that he will not be joining Real Madrid either. Instead, he'll be back with the Warm-Up tomorrow.
Premier League
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