MONDAY'S BIG STORIES
Manchester City are going to win the title. You know this, we know this, they know this. So this thing they're doing now, where they keep not quite winning the title: nobody will remember it in a few years from now. Or even, maybe, a few weeks.
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But Sergio Agüero missing that panenka? Years from now, when the sun has dimmed and the seas have risen and the Warm-Up is hiding out in the deep caves while water gangs roam the surface, we'll remember it. And we'll think "Oh yeah, that was quite funny."
Not amused: Pep Guardiola, the poor Manchester City employees who had to take all the fireworks down from the stadium roof having only just put them up there, and the man himself. Generally the post game apology is reserved for daft red cards or absolute thrashings; here, City's finest ever forward is apologising for the crime of trying to look cool on television and in front of all his mates.
And let's be clear, that's what this was. The panenka, like a lot of penalty techniques, lives or dies on whether the keeper dives in the wrong direction. It looks more interesting than the others largely for reasons of schadenfreude. Who doesn't enjoy a goalkeeper sitting on the floor watching the ball float slowly through the space they've just vacated? But it's greatest power is as a trick shot, something the goalkeeper doesn't expect.
However, this is Sergio Agüero that we're talking about. A player who has made a very good career out of kicking the ball very hard, very accurately, into the parts of the goal that the keeper can't reach. He's one of the best at that in the world. He doesn't need a panenka. He doesn't need the keeper to dive the wrong way. So when he chips the ball down the middle of the goal, you know it's for one reason and one reason only. He wants to look cool.
It's always a shame, when a footballer feels they need to apologise for Trying To Be Cool. A reminder that this isn't the playground; that this is all very serious. Penalties go in the corner. We're not here to have fun.
But of course, this wasn't just a league game. This wasn't even just a win-the-league game. This was a foreshadowing of the big game coming in Turkey, or maybe Wembley. And so this mostly-meaningless panenka is almost certainly going to end up written into footballing folklore, as the forerunner of major events. We just don't quite know what it means, yet.
City win? Clearly that little run of defeats to Chelsea galvanised them, or let Chelsea get over-cocky, or sent Pep Guardiola off to his magnets, there to devise the perfect plan. City lose? Well, of course they did! This new-look Chelsea just get in their heads. And either way, there sits this misfired panenka, the narrative pivot of something massive. We just don't know what yet.
But either way, we can all agree that this was Aguero's most important iconic moment in a City shirt. The Warm-Up is greatly looking forward to the statue.
Boing, Boing, Splat
When Sam Allardyce took the West Brom job, way back in dim and distant last December, the Baggies were three points behind 17th-placed Burnley. Sean Dyche's elegant variations are still in 17th, but West Brom are now ten points behind, which is enough to see them properly and officially relegated.
Fair to say Operation Big Sam hasn't quite gone to plan.
19 points from 22 games is an improvement on seven points from 13 games, so it would be unfair to suggest that West Brom didn't get better. They just didn't get better enough. Whatever counter-relegation magic Allardyce was supposed to bring ran into the brutal reality that this season, three teams have been quite a bit worse than the other 17, which is why relegation can be entirely taken care of this evening.
So is Allardyce staying or going? Lucky for us, somebody asked him.
I’m not going to tell you whether I’m staying or going, I’m not going to answer that after the disappointment of the situation we’re in and losing tonight. We put in a good show, we gave it everything we’ve got.
How coy. The Warm-Up's guess is that he will want to, on the grounds that he won't want this to be the last act of a long career. But the Warm-Up's other guess is that Allardyce staying or going is less important than what happens to Matheus Pereira, the silver lining to a cloudy season. Both Norwich and Watford held onto players good enough to impress in the Premier League, which is why they're both coming back at the first opportunity. Time for Allardyce to get charming.
There was a frankly stupid amount of important football this weekend and not even the Warm-Up, pinned in place in front of a bank of televisions with barely any blood in our caffeine stream, could keep up with it all. Everything started to blur together: PSG could only draw with Sheffield Wednesday which keeps Wayne Rooney in a job but a controversial VAR decision in Madrid secured a playoff spot for Reading as Lionel Messi drew a blank for Portsmouth. Here come Atlético Oxford.
But as the dust settles and the twitching subsides, we do know one thing for sure. Juventus need snookers.
Already dethroned as champions by the blue-black side of Milan, on Sunday night the red-black half turned, stuck three past Wojciech Szczęsny, then walked off laughing. That leaves the Old Lady of Turin outside the top four, a point behind Napoli with three to play. One of those three is against Inter. There's also a cup final against Atalanta.
Obviously the Super League kerfuffle lends this all an entertaining edge: you wanted out of the Champions League? Here you go! But let's not get ahead of ourselves. For a start, relying on Napoli is a dangerous business. Let's just enjoy the moment, the possibility of something strange happening. And also enjoy this goal from Ante Rebić.
This might be one of the Warm-Up's goals of the season. Maybe not the Best, probably not the Most Important, but a strong contender in the category of Wait, Why Has That Ball Done That. He's side-footed that thing, and it's gone off all wibbly-wobbly. A thunderbolt inside a firework.
And it's this, as much as anything, that makes us think Juventus might well be missing out on the Champions League for the first time in a decade. For ten years, they've been the only truly sensible team in Italy. Now things like this are happening to them. Oh, how the mighty.
IN OTHER NEWS
Never mind, Sergio. Could have been worse.
IN THE CHANNELS
The best team in the country won the WSL — congratulations Chelsea — and they rounded it off with a thumping 5-0 win over Reading. 69 goals in 22 games works out at just over three a game, which is pretty nice going. Here they all are.
And staying with Chelsea's all-conquering women, it's over to Katie Whyatt at the Athletic for the story of manager and "relentless genius" Emma Hayes, who has dragged, poked, and prodded her team halfway to a quadruple.
Days before Chelsea flew to France for their 2019 Champions League semi-final against seven-time winners Lyon, Hayes invited three journalists into her office and pushed aside the coffee table so she could reach the tactics board and spill that week’s contents of her mind in a fervent frenzy. She spoke for close to half an hour without pause, reciting myriad permutations and possibilities, her fingers a whir of marker pens and magnetic shirts. "We’re playing the Harlem Globetrotters on Sunday," she said. "Every player arguably is the best in the world. You can either sit here and shit yourself, or you face it and go for it."
If Burnley beat Fulham, Fulham are officially relegated. If Burnley don't beat Fulham, then Scott Parker and friends are still fighting. For at least another week. If the Premier League is getting a great escape this season, it begins here.
Ben Snowball, the Warm-Up's most reliable penalty taker, will be here tomorrow.
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