FRIDAY'S BIG STORIES
Today's Warm-Up is brought to you by the letter P, twice, with a little dash between. Football fans are by their very nature news obsessives, which is why this vast ecology of content thrives around the game, filling up all the moments that don't contain actual football with football stuff. That big yellow Sky Sports News ticker lives in all our heads.
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At the time of writing, half of the weekend's Premier League fixtures have been postponed following Covid-19 outbreaks within one or both clubs. So too five in the Championship, five in League One, and four in League Two. That the other games are all still on tells us that the authorities in England are sticking to their chosen strategy: better to postpone a game here and a game there than pause the whole thing.
The logic, perhaps, is that it will be easier to deal with a load of individual fixtures: they can be tucked into the calendar on cup weekends, early on European nights, maybe the odd Friday-Monday here and there. Whereas the only place to put a whole weekend is another weekend, or a midweek, and there aren't many of those left. Every game played now is a headache averted later on.
And, of course, the bigger picture is a question of cost. Nobody can quite agree how much stopping football the first time around cost the clubs, but everybody important guesses at a lot, and too much, and nobody wants to expose football finances to another round of ruinous stasis.
The big assumption here — perhaps calculated risk is the better phrase — is that the particular health impacts of playing through this latest surge, where possible, will be acceptable. That the playing squads will be able to bubble and isolate their way around the worst of the problem, that the vaccine numbers within the game can be taken as high as possible, and that the fans — armed with lateral flow results, vaccine cards and boosters — won't be endangering themselves and the wider world around them.
They've had more expert advice than we have, we can be sure of that, so we're not going to try and pronounce this right or wrong. But it's the kind of calculation that absolutely needs to be correct: it's one thing if football isn't making anybody less safe; it's quite another if it's actively making things worse.
While pausing everything has a certain reassuring seriousness about it, there is some debate about whether a 'circuit breaker' would have any effect. At least, that is, if football acts alone. The Athletic have spoken to one expert who suggests that the impact would be minimal.
It won’t help a great deal. If clubs have a circuit-break and then come back, Covid will still be around. Even if we had a national-level circuit-break for two weeks and managed to stop (Omicron’s) growth, at the end of that period it would probably take off again. [...] What I think is more important is what’s going on in the population as a whole.
The Premier League and the Football League agree, it appears. At least for now. And as goes the nation, so goes its national sport: case by case, hour by hour, with one eye on the news and the other on the thermometer, and with fingers firmly crossed.
There is a persistent belief, in and around football, that it is sometimes harder to go into a game needing not to lose than it is needing to win. It's the muddling of purpose that gets the blame, as perfectly competent football teams collapse into the gap between stick or twist.
Anyway, if you're a believer, then Chelsea's remarkable defeat to Wolfsburg in the Women's Champions League last night stands as proof. Thumping proof. For Chelsea went to Germany needing not to lose, or at any rate not to lose too badly. And Chelsea got thumped.
Whether it was Chelsea's unusual mission that unsettled the players will be something for the psychologists to sort out. Afterwards, Emma Hayes pointed to Covid-related anxiety: both Drew Spence and first-choice goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger were missing. And while it would be unfair to blame Zecira Musovic as an individual, Wolfsburg is a pretty awkward place to go with an unsettled defence.
In the end, the aggressive pressing that did for Arsenal in the FA Cup final served only to pull Chelsea's own structure apart, and Wolfsburg feasted.
But as convincing as this defeat was, the blame for Chelsea's exit from the Champions League lies elsewhere. Back in London, to be precise. That chaotic 3-3 draw against these same opponents; that hilariously one-sided nil-nil against Juventus. Which is to say: it's not that Chelsea weren't good enough in one game. That we might ascribe to some strange quirk of the sporting mind. They weren't good enough in three, and that's a proper problem.
IN OTHER NEWS
Look how hard Trent Alexander-Arnold kicks this ball. And sure, nice hit, lovely goal, well done everybody. But look how close it passes to Mike Dean's head. Think about how close we were to the loudest "Whhhhheeeeyyyyyy" in recorded history.
IN THE CHANNELS (GOOD)
Ahead of their game against Newcastle, with three first-teamers missing after positive Covid-19 tests, Liverpool published Jurgen Klopp's programme notes on their website.
Klopp opens with the usual stuff — Eddie Howe's a good coach; Newcastle are a dangerous opponent; hello to old friends — but then swerves off into more serious territory.
If I come across friends or people I care about in my life away from football and they tell me they haven’t had a jab yet, I do my best to encourage them to listen to experts. It’s never a case of 'listen to me' – it’s always 'listen to those who know'. Ignore those who pretend to know. Ignore lies and misinformation. Listen to people who know best. If you do that, you end up wanting the vaccine and the booster.
Too often the understandable desire not to misuse a position of authority can lead to a blanket refusal to say anything much of anything, as if football could be depoliticised and decontextualised by the magical power of keeping quiet. Refreshing, then, to see Klopp take his lines of communication and use them. More of this, please.
IN THE CHANNELS (NOT SO GOOD)
By contrast to the above, we present the single worst sentence in the history of football.
Once you've taken a moment to recover, and been outside to collect your laptop and pick up what's left of your window, here's what's going on. Bradford City are being bought, maybe, possibly, by investors who plan to fund the club with crypto speculation, then run it according to analytics. There's a whole article about it over on the Washington Post, but be warned. It's lots of this sort of thing —
WAGMI United aims to create a collection of NFTs associated with and branded by the soccer club, which might feature characters, uniforms, videos or photos. For many, it could be an investment; for others, a chance to have a unique piece of a sports franchise. Unlike many sports-related NFTs, which often limit commercial pursuits, the group hopes to transfer some IP rights to the NFT owners, allowing fans to pursue their own merchandising opportunities. Or NFT owners might sit on their digital asset, content to perhaps brandish their team-created NFT as an online avatar.
— and you might end up sending that laptop back out the window.
Obviously this is all provisional, given everything, but in theory Barnsley host West Brom tonight in the Championship: second from bottom against third from top. There's also Bayern against Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga, Celta v Espanyol in Spain, and a couple of Serie A games as well. Get it while the going's good.
Have a good weekend. Stay safe. Tom Adams will be here on Monday with a special one-of-a-kind Warm-Up NFT secured by the blockchain.
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