THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES

One Regular Day Of Tottenham

It was pretty clear how this was going to go. As the fourth minute of injury time began, Leicester were going to take the points and Spurs would be taking the positives, which is a lot more effort. The kinder match reports would mention the weight of chances created; the cheekier would throw in the word Spursy. Antonio Conte would look grumpy. Brendan Rodgers would wax magnanimous.
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Then everything went weird. Steven Bergwijn scored a goal. Steven Bergwijn scored another goal. Tottenham went from unlucky losers to delirious winners in the space of a few minutes of actual time and barely a minute of football. Antonio Conte, never the calmest man in the world, imploded. He became a cloud, drifting through the night air. And every journalist in the stadium groaned and started over from the top.
What to make of such a mess? Perhaps Bergwijn, finally, will be able to build a Tottenham career out of it. There is the shape of a brilliant footballer there, one of these skilful technicians able to play anywhere across a modern front three. Somewhere. Locked away behind the injuries and the inconsistencies. That's why Tottenham picked him up two managers ago; that's why Ajax, who love to rehabilitate a wonky Premier League transfer, want to buy him now.
You suspect they'll be getting a thanks-but-no-thanks fax tomorrow. After the game, Conte told BT Sport:
I spoke about Steve in the past. For me he is an important player with a special type of characteristics. No-one else in the team has these characteristics. He is good technically, he beats the man, he is a striker and in good physical condition. It is an important choice for me - I can make him in the starting XI or bring him on in the game.
Which, roughly translated, means: Squad depth! Finally, some squad depth! They said it couldn't be done! They said it was impossible! Ah ha ha ha ha ha! You know, for all that he's obviously a brilliant manager doing brilliant work wherever he goes, being Antonio Conte does seem a very tiring business.
So does being Harry Kane. It's strange, saying this about a game in which he scored, but Spurs' captain does seem to be going through a lean patch at the moment. It's very peculiar timing. Kane, having scored regularly whatever the state of things behind him, finally runs cold just as the team in general is spinning back up to something like competence.
But then the point of having a team is that one player doesn't have to do everything. In the long run, Tottenham winning a game that they should have won, but also shouldn't have won, and Kane playing a leading role but also a supporting role, is perhaps the best thing that could have happened for the Conte project. Even if that sentence doesn't really make a lot of sense.
As for Leicester, you have to sympathise. Or point and laugh. Or both, at the same time: resulting in a weird squeaky noise. Tottenham's greed — taking the positives and the points — leaves little for Leicester to console themselves with. Hey guys! You got comprehensively outplayed at home! And your mugging, which you were all ready to enjoy, got flip-reversed into a much larger and significantly funnier mugging!

We Can See You Clocking Off

Based on the last month or so, it's looking increasingly likely that Manchester United's incoming football consultant, Ralf Rangnick, will not recommend that Manchester United's interim manager, Ralf Rangnick, be given the job full-time. Or if he does, there'll be some awkward laughter, and then the conversation will move on.
Obviously there's still plenty of season left to go. United were appalling in the first half against Brentford, then basically competent in the second period: if they keep improving at this rate, they'll be the greatest team in football history by the middle of next week. But for the moment, it looks like come the summertime, somebody else will be coming in.
And you have to wonder: Manchester United's players do know that Manchester United's next manager can see all this, right? Be it Erik ten Hag, be it Mauricio Pochettino, be it Thomas Tuchel or Steve Bruce or mysterious moustachioed man Kcingnar Flar, their soon-to-be boss will at some point run the tape of last night's game and see 11 men, dressed in blue and yellow, perfect strangers to one another and to the football and to this strange concept of "passing".
That's Thomas Frank after the game. Salty, yes. Begging to be retweeted with hypodermic needle emoji and laugh-cry emoji and "cry more", absolutely. But his diagnosis of the first half: well, he's not wrong, is he? "Smashed them" and "destroyed them", both about right. Neither as good as "scored against them," but such is life.
Decent for 70 minutes against Aston Villa, then wretched for the last 20. Miserable for the first 45 against Brentford, then 3-1 winners after 90. And all this against a background of drip, drip, drip into the press. Players unhappy. Players unsettled. Players think their new manager is a bit too loud.
There was plenty to enjoy in the second half for United's new manager, whoever and wherever they might be. Goals from Anthony Elanga, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford suggest that, whatever else is going on, the kids are alright. A tweak to the midfield brought Bruno Fernandes into the game, so that's another positive. Put the best player in his best position and he makes things happen.
And Cristiano Ronaldo went and sat on the steps and did his best Do You Know Who I Am? act, which is probably going to prove quite useful for any incoming manager that decides Ronaldo, player or man, isn't worth the bother. In-game management already looks complicated enough, nobody needs to be handing out ego massages to ageing goalscorers that have decided they're too good to sit on a chair. You're 36 years old, Cristiano. Sit on a chair. For your back's sake, if nothing else.
From where the Warm-Up's sitting — on a chair, as it happens — there's a lot of that about. The Manchester United job remains an attractive one. But the Manchester United squad, as a collective, is doing itself few favours. And with each weird, half-cocked performance, each show of petulant dissent, each sources close to the squad understand story, the argument for a comprehensive rebuild gets heavier, and the new manager's hand gets stronger. There was a lot for United's long-term future in their second half performance. There was, perhaps, a lot for the short-term in the first.

IN OTHER NEWS

Flipping heck. 15 years of age and doing this. Flipping heck.

IN THE CHANNELS

We take a break from our usual diet of football accounts to check in with the Ghanaian Ministry of Youth and Sports. They've released a statement about Ghana's early exit from the Africa Cup of Nations, and let's all take a moment to admire this precise, pitiless, perfect deployment of the word "abysmal".
As the Athletic's Carl Anka points out here, the future of Ghanaian football isn't necessarily as bleak as the present. So perhaps this meeting will be a convivial and constructive one, with flowcharts and action plans and the agreement of key performance indicators.
Oh no, sorry. That will be the meeting after this meeting, when they get the new guys in. This meeting is going to be first a telling off, then a firing, then a rehiring just for the pleasure of firing again. Abysmal!

HAT TIP

You might have noticed something odd about FIFPro's women's World XI for 2021, as revealed earlier this week. You might have noticed the complete lack of any player from Barcelona, the side that has spent the last couple of years kicking the absolute snot out of the rest of Europe. Here's the Athletic's Katie Whyatt trying to work out just what was going on.
I thought back this week to the night I attended an awards ceremony in 2019, and the words of the former Premier League player sat next to me as we watched Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema crowned Women’s Player of the Year. "Miedema," he said, as the montage of her 22 Women’s Super League goals played on the big screen and the Dutch forward skirted through defences with her trademark insouciance. "Never heard of her."

COMING UP

Appointment viewing in Cameroon, where defending AFCON champions Algeria — currently bottom of Group E with one point from two games — need to beat Ivory Coast to get through to the knockout stages. Then in the evening, pandemic allowing, it's the second leg of Liverpool and Arsenal's Carabao Cup semi-final.
Assuming his back holds up, Andi Thomas will be here again tomorrow.
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