MONDAY'S BIG STORIES

Crash, Bang, Wallop

It's a funny thing, the Premier League. It's got most of the money, and more of the best players than any other league. It's where the very best managers want to work. And yet its trademark is still those games where all that skill and smartness gets overtaken by a wave of weirdness.
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Spurs 2-2 Liverpool, then. Very Premier League. We should talk about the refereeing. We'll get there.
But the most important thing about this game, more important than the result or the dodgy decisions, was Tottenham's performance. If you were worried that Spurs might be a little undercooked, early in their rebuild and coming off a rash of postponements, then you weren't alone. Instead they turned up with a plan and made enough chance to win the game twice over.
Mauricio Pochettino once described Harry Winks as his "little Iniesta", despite Winks having three inches over Barcelona's translucent genius. Games like this, you can sort of see what he was getting at. Perhaps he was fortunate not to be facing up against Liverpool's first choice midfield, but Winks was outstanding, in those fussy, busy loops — get, give, go, repeat; close down, hassle, harass, repeat — that keep a midfield moving.
On paper, Tottenham's team looked brave, which is a polite way of saying: "A front two and Dele Alli. And Tanguy Ndombele. You okay, Antonio? You know this is Liverpool, right?" But Winks kept the whole operation just the right side of collapsing. And Alli was great, despite some wonky finishing. Ryan Sessegnon was wonderful in both directions, which isn't bad going up against Salah and Alexander-Arnold. Eric Dier can defend again, which is nice, and he can also pass long and deep and devilish, which is a surprise. And Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min…
… well, it's better to make chances than not. That's what did for Nuno Espirito Santo. Impressive stuff from Kane, though, who managed to look like a man stuck in a scoring drought even though he did actually score. And that brings us on to the referee, and— no, no, we'll get there.
As an aside, one of the problems with "expected goals" as a concept is that word, "expected". When it comes to English football's various cursed clubs, of which Spurs are perhaps the most deluxe, nobody expects goals, however many chances come along. Always, always, always the opposite. We need to start calling them "look, we knew these clowns were going to miss them not-goals". Or lwktcwgtmtnG for short.
Liverpool, by contrast, are a properly good team, which means goals are expected even when things appear to be going badly. You could sort of see the template for beating them here: leave two up, hit the space behind the defence early, make Alisson come and play on the edge of his box, and hope not to get battered in the mean time. That Spurs basically got all of that right and still didn't win is testament to Liverpool's brilliance; likewise, the fact that Liverpool looked as vulnerable as they have all season and still could have won.
That's the bit that forces us to square up to the referee. Not in a Jurgen Klopp way. Any other walk of life, getting one call out of two right would be better than missing them both. Fifty percent! We can work with that! When it comes to red cards, all it does is make people angry. Justice is a question not just of accuracy but of balance.
Generally speaking, getting angry with referee decisions is like shouting at the weather. But the interaction between referees and VAR does seem to be breaking down at the moment. Kane may have benefitted from the diplomatic immunity that extends to all England captains, but no penalty for Diogo Jota, no second look at Granit Xhaka, no check on Ederson's journey though Ryan Fraser. All very strange, and all very strange in the same way.
We could be wrong. Perhaps this all makes sense and we just don't fully understand the rules, or the protocols for interpreting the rules, or the latest tweaks to the protocols, or any other aspect of the learned arcana that separates referees from mere mortals. But to the Warm-Up's jaundiced eye, it looks like referees are leaving decisions alone, knowing that the VAR is there to correct them if needs be, while VAR is leaving decisions along, not wanting to overrule the onfield referee too often. That creates a gap, and into that gap falls big, game-breaking moments.
That said, it's interesting how many of these Great Premier League Games rest on a refereeing performance that defies consistency, both internal and external. When the man with the whistle decides that today will be a day of vibes and shrugs and guesswork, things get weird. Vastly irritating for the managers and players, presumably, or at least half the managers and players. A whole lot of fun for the rest of us.

Interesting Times

Covid hasn't shut the Premier League down. Not yet. But it has started to mess around with it. A flurry of postponements and all of a sudden there are games in hand all over the place. The table is provisional. Arsenal may or may not be in fourth.
More important, perhaps, is what's happening to the games that are being played. We might wonder if Spurs' plan looks quite so effective against Virgil van Dijk, absent with Covid. And we can certainly assume that Chelsea's starting eleven against Wolves would have looked very different indeed.
As Thomas Tuchel pointed out afterwards, it's not just a question of having two, three, five, seven players unavailable. Teams are closely integrated, deeply social things, all crammed up in the same air together, and Covid is an illness that thrives in just those conditions. So too fretfulness. As Tuchel pointed out to the BBC:
We were struggling with the preparation because we had several consecutive days with positive Covid tests and then we travelled together for three hours with the team, we had dinner together we had another positive test with Jorginho. People are worried because they were on the same bus and had the same dinner. Obviously it was not enough to postpone the match and we had to play but you cannot demand 100% focus. It was everything else but calm.
You don't need to have any particular sympathy for Tuchel — weird that Covid forced you not to pick Saúl Ñíguez, Thomas — to take the broader point. To ask footballers to play through something as fundamentally weird as the pandemic means understanding that they will all be affected, and that they will all be affected in different ways.
This isn't an argument for pausing the season: that's a question of public health and nothing else. But it is, perhaps, worth remembering that this season is a weird season being played in a weird context, and it's a good chance that nobody involved — not a single player, not a single manager — is performing at their best. Is able to perform at their best.
Kevin De Bruyne, still recovering from Covid, started for Manchester City against Newcastle yesterday. He looked better than he has for a good long while; he still looked well short of his best. And City, though they eventually strolled to a 4-0 win and a three-point lead, turned in what Pep Guardiola called their worst first half of the season. Whatever happens from here, perfection is going to be a distant dream for everybody.

IN OTHER NEWS

The game of yesterday — with all due respect to the Greatest League in the World — came in Spain, where Athletic and Real Betis shared five goals and everybody did a lot of shouting. We got unreasonably excited when the fifth went in. Every goal a brilliant goal, we thought. That never happens! And then we saw the replay from the other angle and the massive deflection, which kind of ruined things.

RETRO CORNER

This video's voiceover is in Italian, a language the Warm-Up does not speak, so we apologise in advance if the narrator is saying anything particularly weird or inappropriate. But here's a short video about Inter stalwart Benito Lorenzi, who was born this day in 1925. And it's worth watching even if you don't understand what's going on, just for the joy in the pictures: old stadiums, old crowds, old footballs. A fleet of Vespas puttering down the dusty streets. A brass band. Delightful.

HAT TIP

Here's a piece we missed last week, from Andy Brassell over at the Guardian. He takes a look at Anthony Modeste rebirth at 1. FC Köln: it's not often a player gets a second crack at becoming a cult hero.
[Modeste's] incredible return to form at 33 is one of the stories of this Bundesliga season. The Frenchman is also the scorer of more headed goals than anybody else in the league so far, and of more headers than anyone at this stage of a Bundesliga campaign since the towering Jan Koller for Borussia Dortmund in 2004-05.
Sure enough, yesterday afternoon Modeste scored again. An 89th minute winner. A header.

COMING UP

Championship leaders Fulham take on Sheffield United, who are pottering about in mid-table. And Levante host Valencia in La Liga.
Tomorrow's Warm-Up, a circuit-breaker update special, will be brought to you by Marcus Foley.
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