The Warm-Up: Champions League Ring of Fire edition
Jack Lang dusts off his scalpel to perform a post-mortem on last night's events at the Etihad...
THURSDAY’S BIG STORIES
Love is a burning thing
Look, The Warm-Up is more than prepared to sit through the odd drab goalless draw, maybe deriving a small microdose of pleasure from the way the two defences are calibrated. Football isn’t always in-your-face amazing. There are album tracks and B-sides to wade through to get at the good stuff.
But find me a fan – a single sentient bundle of football-loving cells – on the entire face of this planet who wasn’t absolutely mainlining adrenaline between 8pm and 10pm last night, and I’ll show you a fraud. Manchester City vs Spurs wasn’t so much an “I was there” match as an “I survived” one.
Goal, goal, goal, goal: those first 11 or so minutes were literally incredible. There’s always the risk of stasis in two-legged knockout ties, and you really wouldn’t have blamed either team for feeling their way into the game. But there was none of that. This was a bar-room brawl of an opening, two old-timers slugging away. Clearly drunk out of their minds, too.
There were injustices here, and not of the VAR variety. Raheem Sterling, sharp as a razor blade, did not deserve to be on the losing side. Ditto Kevin De Bruyne, who seemed to be playing about six positions at once, and nailing them all.
But you have to hand it to Spurs (or maybe hip it to them, we’ll have to check the replay again), who showed remarkable reserves of grit to come through. Starting Victor Wanyama and being forced to bring Fernando Llorente on before half-time: these are not the ideal building blocks for success in matches like this.
Yet Mauricio Pochettino, once again dipping into his Man-in-Black wardrobe, got the job done. His feral snarl at the final whistle said more than any words could. Tottenham fell into a burning ring of fire. And they came out breathing.
“For us to be in the semi-finals is unbelievable. The second time in a row is something really crazy,” Jurgen Klopp said, in the most Jurgen Klopp way imaginable.
What was that? That pool of saliva on the keyboard? Sorry; The Warm-Up was just thinking about that upcoming Liverpool vs Barcelona semi-final.
As if Paris hadn’t had a bleak enough week already, their football team only went and lost to Nantes last night. PSG, recall, were also thrashed 5-1 by Lille at the weekend, so have now had back-to-back league defeats for the first time since… well, The Warm-Up can’t be bothered to check, but let’s be conservative and say… 2002?
“There was no performance, no performance at all,” said a bemused Thomas Tuchel. “I always defend my players, but today it’s not possible.”
IN OTHER NEWS
In the biggest crossover event since whichever the last crap Marvel film was, Rafael van der Vaart is set to embark on a career in – you guessed it – darts.
“The ex-Tottenham midfielder will enter the Denmark Open in Esbjerg, where he now resides, having finished his playing career in the Danish top flight,” runs the Daily Mirror’s report.
Excellent stuff, although after some cursory research, The Warm-Up isn’t entirely convinced this isn’t just the consequence of a clerical error involving actual darts player Vincent van der Voort. More as we get it.
Enjoy that super-slick Ajax move that was doing the rounds on social media last night? Then you’ll probably enjoy this lovely little slice of telepathy between Francesco Totti and Antonio Cassano, from back when Roma were the coolest team in the galaxy by an absolute mile:
While we’re at it, here’s a goal from every single season of Totti’s Serie A career. So many classics, but the 1997/98 one against Parma is the absolute zenith. Ice-cold dinks over goalkeepers are always lovely, but with your weaker foot? ADD. TO. CART.
For The Warm-Up’s money, though, the best moment in Er Pupone’s career wasn’t a goal or even an assist. No, it was when he went for a surf on Carsten Ramelow’s chest.
IN THE CHANNELS
After months of painstaking research, The Warm-Up can now exclusively reveal the the most blood-curdling sentence in football broadcasting.
Ready? (This is a trigger warning for any easily startled souls.)
All together now: “Let’s bring Peter Walton in on this one.”
Ah yes, BT’s resident referee-in-a-box, always there to tell us exactly what we knew already. “He was beyond the final man, so that’s offside.” Cheers for that, Pete. Here’s your cheque.
Except, of course, Walton also has a knack of muddling things up. Last week, he kept getting confused between Roberto Firmino and Fernandinho, and called Pascal Kimpembe “Kimbele”.
Last night, he appeared to be baffled by simple human anatomy. His incisive take on Llorente-gate? “It’s hit him on the knee!”
Erm, sure. Maybe time for a sit-down and a glass of water. Now how many fingers am I holding up?
We guess — and this really is a guess, albeit a highly educated one that helpfully explains the strange situation we have here — that at some point this video review system was improved to the point that it could directly impose solutions, without needing its overseers. From there, it became just a matter of time before an in-game decision — a penalty, say — was reversed by the system reaching back into the tangle of events that led up to the moment and tweaking something.
"An illness, picked up on the morning of the game? A moment in training a week or two beforehand? An accident at a young age, ending a child’s ambitions to officiate? We don’t know. But when the directive is to ensure that the correct outcome is reached, then it just becomes a question of power, and whoever gets to define correct. And as we know from the Paper Incident of ‘42, these decisions aren’t always best left to machines."
It’s time to find out whether Arsenal’s inability to kill off Napoli last week will come back to haunt them. The Warm-Up isn’t the biggest horror fan in the world, but there’s definitely something about leaving a dangerous opponent breathing that just screams THEY’RE STANDING RIGHT BEHIND YOU IN THE MIRROR, JANET!
Elsewhere: Chelsea’s latest tragically dull Europa League success and, hopefully, plus exciting comeback efforts by Eintracht Frankfurt and Villarreal. Because if you’re not rooting for Santi Cazorla – limping and grinning, like your favourite dog with a thorn in his paw – to torment his former employers later in the competition, you’ve got no nose for narrative.