FRIDAY'S BIG STORIES

In The Conference With Tottenham

For one beautiful moment, when Harry Kane scored his second, we thought the plan was coming together. Finally, somebody had scored two goals in a Europa Conference League game we're planning to write about. Finally, we could make our Conference Pair joke.
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11 minutes later he scored his third. Inconsiderate. There's no such thing as a Conference Hat.
Still, our very important problems aside, a comfortable win is exactly what Spurs needed. Well, not quite. What they need is [deep breath]: new owners, a new manager, half a new squad, another shot at the summer's business, the derby not to have happened, some new ankles for Kane, the belief to Dare, the capacity to Do, and a second Son. You know, just in case.
But five goals and a Kane hat-trick will have to do. The general rule is that a Thursday night European campaign is a distraction from the very serious business of the Premier League. But right now, Spurs will take any distraction they can get. In the Conference, nobody can hear your crisis.
Although if a crisis does have a particular sound, it's the sound of a stadium slowly tensing, tightening up, as the unfancied visitors get a goal back out of nowhere and the game starts to drift, just a little bit. It's the sound of the first team getting up from the bench, unzipping their training tops, stretching their legs. It's the shiver of relief as the big names make a difference and the game is finally closed down.
Afterwards, asked if his cameo was the plan, Kane said "No, but we were clearly in danger of c**king the whole thing up, so on I came. A reluctant and creaking hero. A grown-up surrounded by quivering children." Wait, that doesn't sound right. Oh, he actually said Spurs "lost our way a bit" and that his introduction "was all dependent on how the game was going". Tomayto, tomahto.
This was a good result for Spurs but the broader questions — does this team have a system? does the manager have buy-in from his players? are any of these new signings any good? — remain tantalisingly open. We were never going to get any solid answers from a game in which Spurs were such heavy favourites, and this weekend's game against Aston Villa will be far more illuminating. But at least everybody got to enjoy themselves for an evening.

The Upside Down

Off to the Europa League now, and to one of European football's great pleasures: the four-team group that is thoroughly the wrong way up. Napoli and Leicester City, mutual favourites to get out of Group C, stuck at the bottom with one point each. Legia Warsaw tearing away with two wins from two, Spartak Moscow following close behind. That's classic Europa.
Napoli, let's remind ourselves, are top of Serie A with six wins from six. They conceded more goals in yesterday's 3-2 loss to Spartak than they have in their entire league campaign. It just goes to show that having a man sent off after half an hour is a bit of a problem, tactically speaking. You're welcome, Luciano Spalletti. Happy to help.
But if that result can be pinned on Mario Rui's dismissal, Leicester's loss in Warsaw fits neatly into a dispiriting pattern. Çağlar Söyüncü, shaky again. Leicester's passing, wonky again. Leicester's attack, wasteful again. At least Kelechi Iheanacho getting stuck at the border made for an interesting change, though not a helpful one.
On the evidence of the last few weeks, Leicester are suffering from the coincidence of two serious problems, one at either end of the pitch. One has a fairly obvious solution: that big James Maddison-shaped playmaking hole will, we can assume, be filled by James Maddison, who is slowly returning to something like form.
The wobbly defence has no such quick fix. Jonny Evans missed last night's game with illness, and Rodgers' experimental back three left Söyüncü entirely adrift on the left-hand side. Jannik Vestergaard has made a chaotic start to his Leicester career, and the upshot is that Rodgers now has a problem of both shape and personnel, to go along with one win in five.
Obviously, the manager has too much credit in the bank and Leicester too much talent in the squad for this to count as a crisis. Not yet, at any rate. But it's definitely a wobble, and if it's not sorted soon, it might be enough to wobble them right out of Europe.

23 Lions

An international break! Next week! Oh, these things just sneak up on you, don't they? If only somebody like Arsène Wenger would come along and sort the whole calendar out for us … no, can't see any problem with that wish. Certainly won't be any unexpected consequences.
An international break means an England squad, and an England squad means drama and tragedy, as notable players are Snubbed or even Sensationally Overlooked, while others sneak in despite their awful form because The Manager Has His Favourites. Or that's what it used to mean, before Gareth Southgate turned up and started being all sensible about things.
So, Jude Bellingham and Mason Greenwood are both missing — shock! horror! — but only because they've been playing a lot of football. Jadon Sancho is still there, despite a slow start at Manchester United, because Southgate is utterly in hock to the big clubs. Or because he has faith in a talented player that has been involved with England squads for a good long while. It's the second of those. Of course it is.
The Warm-Up is studiously neutral when it comes to all matters England. But as Southgate's reasonable revolution rolls on, we do occasionally wonder if we've lost something important. England have become one of the world's most reliable football teams. And that's nice for them. But the world is a smaller, quieter place, now that they've cancelled one of the world's most reliable soap operas.

IN OTHER NEWS

Kane may have taken the match ball and most of the headlines, but Mura's Žiga Kous scored the goal of the evening. Bonus points for hitting the bar that runs across the back of the net, sending the ball bouncing back as if he were playing kerby.

RETRO CORNER

It happened again. We thought about Napoli for more than five minutes, and then we went hunting for Maradona highlights. The reverse angle scoop-chip at 1:12 is a particular favourite. Also the header at 3:35. And the volley at 5:06. And— look, you get the idea.

HAT TIP

Today's recommended reading is a fascinating and occasionally enraging article over on the Athletic (£). Stuart James and Phil Hay dig into how the men's game in Britain handles — or, more accurately, totally fails to handle — the issue of players getting time off when their children are born. Phil Neville makes a cameo. He does not come out of it well.
According to the Professional Footballers’ Association, a player is entitled to ask for paternity leave … It is not, however, the done thing and those working in the game suspect that it would be frowned upon within. One source who has worked for several Premier League clubs says that the only time he can ever remember a manager sanctioning an extended break following the birth of a child was with an overseas player who was out of favour at the time and viewed as a pain in the backside.

COMING UP

Some teasers for the weekend, from the European leagues. Stoke City vs West Brom in the Championship, FC Cologne vs Greuther Furth in the Bundesliga, Lens vs Reims in Ligue 1, and Cagliari vs Venezia in Serie A. Watch them all and melt your brain.
Have a good weekend. Tom Adams will be here on Monday to Warm Up the working week.
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