The Warm-Up: Don Claudio's unimpeachable priorities
Leicester buck the trend and get their priorities right. Plus Buffon, Lloris and Scifo all get a mention in Jack Lang's Warm-Up.
WEDNESDAY’S BIG STORIES
Fun > Money
Leicester were never going to win the Premier League this season. Lightning does not strike twice in the gilded environs of football’s richest domestic competition. Their rivals reinforced their squads and managerial teams over the summer, and only the most starry-eyed believer can have expected the Foxes to maintain the intensity that dragged them to the title last term. Even finishing in the top four again looked a long shot.
They won’t get relegated either, despite their shaky start. They’re far too good for that. So their prospects were and remain worse than last term but still not terrible. Reverting to the mean, they call it.
With all that in mind, Europe always seemed Leicester’s best bet for good times this season. Yet such is the modern obsession with stability and bank balances, many managers opt to tank it in continental competition in order to focus on dull incremental gains in the Premier League table.
Thankfully, Claudio Ranieri is not one of those managers. He understands the novelty value of this Champions League campaign, both to the fans and to his players. If anything, the Italian seems content to sacrifice league points to preserve energy for midweek assignments: Riyad Mahrez, Islam Slimani and Jamie Vardy have all been rested already this season.
Leicester's Riyad Mahrez (right) scores the winner in their 1-0 victory over CopenhagenPA Sport
It’s working, too: Tuesday’s victory over Copenhagen made Leicester the first English side ever to win their first three games in the competition. Mahrez, who flicked home the only goal of the game after a Slimani nod-down, looked especially motivated once more and is clearly enjoying the chance to test himself at this level.
With nine points already in the bag, thoughts will already be turning to possible opponents in the knockout stages. Imagine the thrill of seeing Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid to the King Power Stadium. That would be worth more than a couple of places in the Premier League and a few thousand pounds in the bank, wouldn’t it?
Long may Don Claudio’s priorities remain unimpeachable.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
Gianluigi Buffon is king among goalkeepers, of that there is no doubt. But the crown has slipped a touch in the last few weeks, with two high-profile errors for club and country almost proving costly.
For Italy, a rush of blood to the head gifted Spain winger Vitolo a goal in Turin a fortnight ago. Then, at the weekend, he let Jakub Jankto’s speculative effort squirm under his body as Juventus made heavy work of beating Udinese.
The Juve fans showed their support for Buffon during that game, unveiling a banner that read: “Even Superman is ‘just’ Clark Kent sometimes.” And the 38-year-old was back to his heroic best on Tuesday, saving an Alexandre Lacazette penalty and making stupendous stops from Nabil Fekir and Corentin Tolisso as the Old Lady recorded a smash-and-grab win over Lyon.
Form is temporary. Class is permanent.
What do you get when two high priests of the high press do battle? A catalogue of chances but no goals, if the match between Roger Schmidt’s Bayer Leverkusen and Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham was anything to go by.
Spurs shaded the first half, with Dele Alli, Vincent Janssen and Erik Lamela all coming close to breaking the deadlock. But it was one-way traffic in the other direction after the interval, the hosts creating countless opportunities.
Tottenham can count themselves lucky that Hugo Lloris was in full brick-wall mode. Among a string of fine saves was this logic-defying stop to deny Javier Hernandez, which capped a fine night for the goalkeeping profession.
HEROES AND ZEROES
Hero: This guy
VR isn't the future, it's now.
Zero: This guy
(The one in the story, not Nick Miller.)
Belgium playmaker Enzo Scifo was involved in major tournaments until 1998, but here he is in his pomp ahead of World Cup 1990, rocking the kind of layered, voluminous sweep-back for which any east-London hipster worth his artisan Himalayan salt would give his right arm.
Excuse us while we go for a quick lie-down.
IN THE CHANNELS
News has filtered through of important developments on the team-news-tweets frontline. First up, this Subbuteo-inspired effort from Bristol City:
Pioneering stuff, but they were soon blown out of the water in the novelty stakes by Barnsley:
What next? Braille? Morse code? VR? Only time will tell. More as we get it.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is preparing to face his old club BarcelonaPA Sport
Not sure whether you’ve heard, but there’s a bit of a game on at the Camp Nou. Yes, it’s Barcelona vs Manchester City – aka PepFest 2016 – at 7.45pm, heading up another full spread of Champions League action.
Also on the slate: Arsenal 3-0 Ludogorets (Walcott 12, 18, Moti OG 84), Celtic 8-8 Borussia Monchengladbach (there goes the goalscorer-prediction joke) and five other games. Fun!
Alex Chick is the leader singer on the next Warm-Up EP, available from all good record stores on Thursday.