Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea announce themselves as true Champions League contenders - The Warm-Up
Thomas Tuchel is making the business of managing Chelsea look very easy, although he had some help from a woeful Atletico Madrid performance. Bayern Munich's defence of the Champions League is proceeding smoothly. And there's an England squad coming which has everyone excited. Kind of. It could be a fun one.
Emerson Palmieri of Chelsea celebrates with teammates after scoring their team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 match between Chelsea FC and Atletico Madrid at Stamford Bridge
In fact, in an odd sort of way, Chelsea looked quite a lot like Atletico were supposed to look. Not in style, perhaps: Thomas Tuchel didn't spend his time prowling up and down the touchline like a caged Tom Waits, and Antonio Rüdiger is no Diego Godín. (But then, nor is Stefan Savić.)
But the common factor is that Chelsea, after a couple of months of adjustment to Tuchelball, look absolutely miserable to play against. It's getting on for 10 hours of football since they last conceded a goal, and last night Atletico looked like they were playing with 10 men even before Savić was sent on his way. Whatever they tried, however they attacked, Chelsea always had a spare man on hand to slam the door. If not Kanté then Azpilicueta, if not Azpilicueta then Rüdiger.
And it's starting to click up the other end as well. The opening goal, the tie-killer, was a perfect break, every touch weighted and judged appropriately. "No one wants to play against us," claimed Tuchel after the match. He'll certainly get no argument in half of Madrid.
As for Atletico, the short version is they were hugely underwhelming. The even shorter version is: terrible. The longer version is they were terrible but it might not have mattered in the slightest, had they not been inexplicably denied a penalty and a red card in the first half.
But in an odd way, that injustice did everybody a favour. First it meant that we don't have to sit through two more miserable legs of whatever that was. And second, if you can't win a game, the next best thing to take home is a simmering sense of righteous fury. Better than a trophy, we're saying. Certainly better than getting gubbed 7-1 by Bayern in the quarter-finals.
'Ziyech needs to adapt' - Tuchel on Chelsea goalscorer
They're an odd bunch, these defending champions. By our amateurish estimation they're just as deadly going forward as last season, what with Lewandowski and his rotating support cast: the brilliant, the brilliant, the differently brilliant. At the back, though… can they defend? Really? Properly?
Obviously, any team can fall asleep at a set piece, as Bayern did against Lazio. But, fun fact: Bayern have conceded more goals in the Bundesliga this season (35) than they did last season (34), despite there being nine games left to play this time around.
On this solid evidential foundation *cough* odd statistical quirk *cough* we are confidently predicting that they won't find things so easy in the late stages of this season's Champions League. In fact, we'll go further. We're calling it now. This time around, they might not keep a clean sheet when they win the final.
'We deserve to be in quarter-finals' - Bayern boss Flick
Gareth Southgate announces his England men's squad today, for three World Cup qualifiers at the end of March. And if there's been a weirder time to pick an international squad, we can't immediately bring it to mind.
Between the injuries that already exist, and those that will mysteriously appear over the next week; between Southgate's compromises with the knackered players he is able to take and their grumbling club managers; between the travel restrictions and the quarantine rules… the England boss presumably has an idea in his head of what his best 11 and his best 23 look like. Suspect we'll be lucky to see half of either.
But! The powers that be have decided that international football must roll on in the face of rare circumstances and common sense, so here is a gold-plated opportunity for a few footballers to mess up Southgate's planning. Presumably Luke Shaw will get a chance to reassert himself in the international reckoning, along with the reborn Jesse Lingard. Most excitingly, Patrick Bamford seems likely to complete his circuitous journey to an England cap. Glory and/or Sporcle quiz immortality awaits!
IN OTHER NEWS
Poor N'Golo Kanté. You put in a man of the match performance, you dominate midfield for 93 minutes, you sprint the length of the pitch in injury time to make yourself the best option for the pass… and it goes out to the full-back instead.
HAT TIP #1
Some hard but necessary reading: yesterday saw the publication of an independent report into the FA's failure to protect children from predatory sex offenders, in the years between 1970 and 2005. Daniel Taylor broke one of the stories back in 2016, and here he is over at the Athletic summarising and contextualising the findings of the report.
What nobody can ever calculate is the number of young players who suffered as a result but the FA says it is aware of 692 victims and acknowledges that the real number is bound to be significantly higher. [The report] is, in short, one of the more damning pieces of work that has ever been put together about the football industry, some of the biggest clubs in the country and the people at the top of the sport.
HAT TIP #2
Over at the Independent, Melissa Reddy has written an admirably frank and, frankly worrying, piece about the harassment that comes with being a female football journalist. Again, hard reading, but important.
I do not want to admit I’m shaken. I pack up, make sure they have gone far enough away and then walk the 50 or so steps into the hotel. I send my manager a WhatsApp, explaining why no video will be forthcoming tonight. He is aghast at what has happened, but I tell him it’s "just one of those". Part of the job — and life as a woman."
It's Europa League Thursday again, and the continent waits in anticipation. AC Milan or Manchester United. Rangers or Slavia Prague. And quite a few other games that are less in the balance, if we're being honest, but still. Europa League!
Tom Adams will be here tomorrow to bring the European draw hype and explain just what Harry Maguire was trying to do.