THURSDAY’S BIG STORIES
Schalke and cheese
Certain sentences are just guaranteed to make you happy. “Excuse me, you just dropped this tenner,” for instance, or, “Don’t worry, I’ll pay for these.” Everyone likes stray money and free drinks. Even staggeringly prosperous freelance sports journalists.
Football is a changeable thing, but as far as Manchester City go, one particular sentence will take some overhauling as the feel-good utterance of the season now. Deep breath, and: “They will play… Schalke.”
Champions League draws don’t come much easier. The Royal Blues are 14th in the Bundesliga. Their line-up last night was an unholy – if lovable – soup of Premier League rejects (Jeffrey Bruma, Nabil Bentaleb, Matija Nastasic) and obvious Football Manager regens (“Hamza Mendyl”, “Suat Serdar”, “Bastian Oczipka”). When Salif Sane gifted the opening goal to Sergio Aguero, events looked set to go a bit… Burton Albion.
And yet City are nothing if not committed to extracting maximum dramatic value from their European games. One feature-length VAR pause (The Warm-Up would go into this, but the only thing worse than watching VAR decisions is writing about them) and some Fernandinho brainlessness later, Schalke were ahead, with Bentaleb on a hat-trick. “We gifted the goals,” said Pep Guardiola after the final whistle.
When Nicolas Otamendi was sent off – apparently his first red card for City, but someone must have gone back and airbrushed the record books – things were looking rather desperate. Rather amusing for neutrals, too, but City had a couple of tricks left up their sleeve.
One was Leroy Sane, officially the greatest player in the world whenever The Warm-Up doesn’t have him in fantasy football, and the scorer of a free-kick for the ages. The other was Ederson, part goalkeeper, part quarterback, pinging an unreal pass to Raheem Sterling for a last-gasp winner.
Job done, then? Probably, although knowing City, they’ll find some way to allow Benjamin Stambouli to score a brace in the return leg, just to make things interesting.
Balls to the walls
If last week was peak Real Madrid in the Champions League – grimy away win with Darth Ramos being a brilliant idiot – city rivals Atletico clearly wanted a slice of the action against Juventus on Wednesday night.
Diego Costa booked after eight minutes and banned from the second leg for being annoying at a free-kick? Check. Goal from rugged Uruguayan centre-back? Check. Goal from different rugged Uruguayan centre-back? Check. Clean sheet? Check. Diego Simeone celebrating by grabbing his cojones? House!
Bridge over troubled water
Oh hi, Antonio Rudiger! Fancy mounting an impassioned defence of Maurizio Sarri’s methods ahead of the League Cup final? No? OK then!
“There’s no fatigue, because it’s not like we are doing box-to-box runs,” said the defender, asked about Sarri’s habit of holding training sessions on matchdays.
“It’s not physical. It’s just the tactical things he likes to do. That’s his way. It’s new for the majority of the players but we have to adapt to it. It’s the same if you sit in the school the whole time listening to someone. Of course, sometimes, it gets [mentally tiring] but at the end of the day you have to do your job.”
Stirring stuff. Still, at least Sarri has a masterplan for ending Chelsea’s poor run of form. Oh no, wait; his solution actually seems just to be “DO BETTER”.
“It’s very easy: we need to win three or four matches in a row,” the Italian said yesterday. “It’s the only solution. We have only to have good performances and good results.” Which… yes, obviously, but how?
IN OTHER NEWS
Dedicated readers (hi mum!) may recall The Warm-Up’s reaction to the release of the official 2018 World Cup song last May. We were sad. We were confused. We were angry. We really, really wanted to know what the phrase “make condition correct” meant.
Was it the worst football song ever? We thought so. But we may now have to reconsider in light of new evidence dug up by our friends over at Who Ate All The Pies. Say hello to Leo Aberer (us neither) and Shaggy, with the timeless “Football Is My Life”:
All together now:
The feeling’s so sensational, so free, so recreational
Hang loose for a while, run with us for another mile
Round and round it goes apparently, up and down incoherently
Let’s feel the flare, put your hands up in the air!
Football to the world, embrace it
From our youth we done have the basics
We love it so we can replace it
From ball park to field see we boots we lace it
Truly, words to live by.
HEROES AND ZEROES
Hero: Martin Keown
It is said that William Shakespeare introduced hundreds upon hundreds of words into the English language, including “excitement” and “amazement” – two feelings familiar to us fortunate souls who happen to be sharing this slice of human history with the one true heir to old Bill’s vocabular throne.
The Warm-Up is talking, of course, about Martin Keown, the Bard of BT Sport, who last night conjured his first – but surely not last – contribution to the vernacular:
Now obviously Keown has some way to go before overhauling Shakespeare, whose personal word tally stretched past the 1700 mark (more than a goal a game, even with inflation factored in). But the gap has never been smaller, and The Warm-Up, for one, is backing Mystic Martin to make a game of this yet.
Zero: Daniel Sturridge
Not just completely floundering on stage at the Brit Awards…
…but subsequently getting mocked by Jack Whitehall. Zero points for creativity with this gag, and not much of a response from the bemused pop crowd, but the great strikers’ maxim applies: they all count.
Happy birthday to cult favourite Ivan Campo. No footballer has looked more like an estranged former member of The Strokes (“I taught that Nikolai Fraiture everything he knows about bass…”), and his Indian summer at Bolton Wanderers remains one of the Premier League’s most gloriously weird episodes.
Have you watched Arsenal Fan TV lately? During the late-Wenger years, it became a sort of foul-mouthed outlet for the skittish spirit of protest sweeping through the Emirates at the time. Now, slickly rebranded as AFTV Media after a stern warning from the club, very little of that thrilling insurgency has survived into the new era. Claude stares listlessly into space, like a man who’s seen all of our futures. Troopz wears the haunted, crumpled look of a firebrand preacher who’s taken a job in telesales. Robbie grins desperately into the camera, trying and failing to congeal his thoughts on a Torreira-Xhaka midfield two into a tangible emotion. The result is less viral soapbox, and more a bunch of middle-aged blokes arguing about who has the worse lower back pain.
That’s Jonathan Liew, bang on the money about the loss of feeling at Arsenal. Also worth your time is ESPN’s damning long read on the tragic – and tragically avoidable – Flamengo fire.
Oh, and this Twitter thread, giving an appropriate Smiths lyric to every Premier League manager, is good fun:
“Loss of feeling at Arsenal,” you say? Well how about another dose of sweet, sweet Europa League action to take your mind off it? At least there’s some genuine peril to tonight’s game against BATE, given the Gunners managed to lose 1-0 on that farm field in Belarus last week. For what it’s worth, The Warm-Up is crossing every set of digits available for a hilarious last-gasp Alex Hleb equaliser.
Elsewhere, Chelsea will record a deeply forgettable win over Malmo, and Celtic will absolutely not mount a dramatic comeback against Valencia. Yay for Thursday nights!