THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES

Who Needs Goals?

We got 240 minutes of AFCON yesterday, plus injury time, and did we get a single goal? Did we heck as like. Oh, sure, everybody tried to score one. Egypt even hit the bar. But nobody could manage it. The entire point of the whole game, and nobody could come up with anything.
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But. If for some reason you were trying to explain to a visitor from outer space exactly why football is both the best and the worst sport in the entire world, yesterday could provide you with exhibits A and B. For the goalless tussle between the Ivory Coast and Egypt was, in defiance of its scoreline, an intense and weirdly compelling thing. Each side pushed and pressed and was in turn pressed and pushed; the game was shaped not by goals but by the threat of them, by the absolute terror of them.
You probably couldn't call it exciting: not when the Ivory Coast had come to play and Egypt had come to stop them. But in its own way, a side striving for control and almost but not quite getting it is just as intriguing as a side trying, and failing, to score a goal. Perhaps. At this point our friend from another planet raises two tentacles to their upper nostrils and emits a low beeping noise, which we think means "You're just trying to make the best of the fact that we have to watch Carlos Queiroz's Egypt again."
Maybe it's a crime, to take the best attacking player in the world and ask them to do this. Maybe it's a thought-provoking piece of performance anti-art. Maybe it's just Queiroz being Queiroz, the loveable, miserable old so-and-so.
Anyway, after the goalless excitement came the goalless nothing-much-of-anything, as Mali and Equatorial Guinea took it in turns to waste possession. A penalty decision got VARred away, that was quite fun. Equatorial Guinea looked like they might talk themselves into a red card, that was alright. Time drifted. The seconds stretched. Each goalkeeper made precisely one (1) save.
And then came penalties. If you were trying to persuade a visitor from outer space that penalties were the best thing ever, you wouldn't need to bother. They speak for themselves. Football boiled away to its very essentials: ten minutes of kick-net-hero or kick-save-hero or kick-miss-villain.
In the first shootout, Queiroz's gamble — that the Ivory Coast will make exactly one (1) more mistake than Egypt — came home in precise and terrible fashion. Nine perfect penalties and one Eric Bailly stutter-skip. In the second, Mali and Equatorial Guinea sent penalties flying over the bar and into the goalkeeper, passed the lead back and forth, and delivered all the excitement that the game didn't have.
"So," asks our visitor, emitting a cloud of pink gas. "You had two goalless draws, and at the end of each of them the more exciting team went out? And you somehow enjoyed most of this?" And we answered "Yes." And they said, "Well, this sounds like a silly sport for a silly planet," and flew away. Sorry, NASA. We blew it.

Miserable Toffees

It's really quite heartwarming. You'd think, given his past with the Other Lot, that the sacking of Rafa Benítez might not have been too upsetting for Everton's fans. And yet here those fans are, out in the cold, showing solidarity with their former manager… [earpiece crackles] Wait, what's that? [earpiece crackles] They want more sackings? Oh. Oh that makes sense.
Everton, according to the table, aren't the worst side in the Premier League. But taken altogether, from the fans through to the boardroom, they might be the unhappiest. One of the banners outside Goodison read, in a cute spin on the clubs motto, "No Status No Optimism", and that rather sums it up. This is a club so messy they've foreclosed on the possibility of hope.
Indeed, in what may be a first for English football, we've reached the point where dissatisfaction is ignoring the linear flow of time: "Pereira Out, Lampard In" appeared on a wall near Goodison recently, a demand that Vítor Pereira be removed from a job he hasn't even been given yet. Maybe there's a time traveller out there, looking out for Everton's fans. Or maybe, and with some justification, one fan has decided that any decision made by this club can only be the wrong one, and is getting ahead of the game. "Oh yeah? Well I was demanding Pereira's dismissal before it was cool."
Earlier in the day, Pereira had appeared on Sky Sports News to provide an account of his conversations with the club. If you're struggling to recall anything similar — a managerial candidate going on television to say "I am a managerial candidate! My interview went very well! Here is where I see myself in five years!" — then don't worry, the Warm-Up is right there with you.
You could, perhaps, take this as an encouraging sign: Pereira wants the job, and is doing all he can to get it. At a time when Everton's appeal has to be pretty low, that can't hurt. But equally, you might look at a potential manager already on firefighting manoeuvres and conclude that, as with almost everything else coming out of Everton these days, this is a club gone entirely peculiar.

More Wheelbarrows Filled With Cash, Please

It's not easy, spending all the money in the world. For some strange reason the price of everything goes up. So you have to feel for Newcastle as they— no, really— no, no, stop laughing.
Obviously nothing is certain in transfer land, and that goes for the denials as much as the rumours. But Lyon's statement on the future of Bruno Guimaraes—
Olympique Lyonnais categorically deny the false reports spread by a number of outlets stating that there was an agreement between Newcastle and OL for the transfer of Brazilian international midfielder Bruno Guimaraes.
—would seem to suggest that it's not just a question of signing here, here and here. And now, we learn, Jesse Lingard's loan move from Manchester United may be approaching the verge of the point of looking a bit like collapsing. Possibly.
According to reports, Manchester United have been running the numbers, and have realised that if Lingard does for Newcastle what he did for West Ham — that is, score goals — then he might be the difference between relegation and survival. And that, in turn, would represent quite a lot of money. Therefore some of that money should be given to Manchester United. Now. Please. Now.
None of this is particularly unexpected: take the usual January difficulties, multiply by the pandemic, multiply again by rich club inflation, then add on the relegation zone. And we can't imagine anybody at Old Trafford will be too upset if the Saudi Arabia project ends up in the Championship for a bit.
But as you read this, on Thursday morning, Newcastle have just four days to pull some footballers out of those deep pockets. If you've got a midfielder you're trying to shift, or a defender, or a goalkeeper, why not give Amanda Staveley a call?

IN OTHER NEWS

Hands up if you want to see Wales international Rabbi Matondo kicking the ball incredibly hard? Good stuff. And a nod to the commentator as well, there's some real poetry in: "Didn't seem to be a lot going on until there was."

HAT TIP

Over to ESPN for a lovely piece from Mark Ogden, who went to the coast and stood in the cold and watched Dover Athletic pick up their first win in 364 days. A tangled story of Covid regulations and points deductions, prudence and defiance, hope, despair, and some bloke who's really big on TikTok.
Two fans were pictured wearing T-shirts under their coats bearing the words "I saw Dover win." They'd been wearing them to games for the past three months, in hope rather than expectation, as the worst run in the side's history grew longer and longer.

COMING UP

Arsenal take on Brighton in the WSL, and the league leaders will be hoping to regain some momentum after a few wobbly performances. Over in the men's game, we've got a handful of World Cup qualifiers across Asia and South America: Brazil away in Ecuador looks like the pick of the bunch.
Andi Thomas understands Everton are a massive club and will do everything in his power to get them back to winning ways. Starting with tomorrow's Warm-Up.
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