WEDNESDAY’S BIG HEADLINES
Chelsea are in it to win it
How good were Chelsea last night? The kind of good where a 1-1 draw away at Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League final feels like a desperately unfair result. An insult to the very game of football. A crime against humanity which someone needs to be pulled up in front of the Hague for.
Erling Haaland is breaking football - The Warm-Up
As it turns out, swapping Frank Lampard for Thomas Tuchel was a little like trading in a Nokia 3210 for a new iPhone. Sure, you got some rudimentary enjoyment from playing Snake, and you understood the basic functionality of hammering buttons and speaking to people, but now a whole world of possibilities has opened up. Maps, apps, having to check in with a QR code every time you want to have a coffee. They both might be phones, but one thing is simply not like the other.
Chelsea were particularly exceptional in the first half, inspired by a truly peak N’Golo Kante display and a goal from Christian Pulisic. This was a night when they outclassed and outthought one of the grandees of European football, the grandees of European football, on their own patch. It was a statement of intent, a sign that Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea are in it to win it. They could very easily be Champions League winners in a month’s time. Considering the way the German has transformed them into one of the world’s best teams, it is incontestably a live possibility.
And yet even if Chelsea controlled the match, kept a tight rein at the back and created far more chances than Madrid, it was also a match which showcased the one big chronic weakness which could undermine them in any one-off match: Timo Werner.
It may feel harsh to single one player out, but while Karim Benzema took the chance which dropped to him to with a sublime piece of control and finish to move level with Raul on 71 Champions League goals, Chelsea’s striker was left with another sinking feeling after somehow contriving to miss another absolutely massive sitter. And okay, it was a great save from Thibaut Courtois. But come on.
“He missed a big one against West Ham, now he missed another big one here,” Tuchel told BT Sport.
That does not help, but it also does not help to cry about it or to regret it all the time. It is like this. There are millions of people who have harder things to deal with than chances that you miss, so this is the good thing about sports – nobody cares tomorrow.
Which is not strictly true. This tie shouldn’t even be in any doubt for Chelsea. It’s frankly a joke that they go into the second leg on level terms. And if they do make the final, it could be one chance which settles a match against PSG or Manchester City. Timo Werner is a classy player who will come good and score bucketloads of goals for Chelsea. But right now you wouldn't want it to fall to him.
Ek of a deal won't happen for Arsenal
The fundamental problem with the model of football club ownership at the elite level is that when your club’s hated billionaire incumbents decide to sell up (and they are almost always hated), the only people who can afford to buy are just more billionaires you don’t want owning your football club. The latest Forbes list puts that global population at 2,755 people.
The latest billionaire throwing his financial weight around is Spotify guy Daniel Ek, who has cleverly earned some goodwill amongst Arsenal fans by signing up Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira for his takeover attempt. But even though the Kroenkes have been bad, there’s no way of knowing that Ek will be good.
Despite the extreme corporatisation of football, our clubs are still ultimately social assets and until they are returned to community or supporter ownership, or at very least community or supporter control, the cycle of billionaire-to-billionaire-to-billionaire is doomed to continue because no one else can afford to get in the game. And even those who start off well end up making a mess of things, like FSG at Liverpool. Because, ultimately, they are billionaires, and their wants and desires are not compatible with those of football fans.
So even if Ek has got some of the most notable Invincibles on board, ultimately it probably won’t make a lot of difference. Which is why news that the Kroenkes aren’t going to sell up is struggling to provoke more than a shrug from The Warm-Up.
"In recent days we have noted media speculation regarding a potential takeover bid for Arsenal Football Club," read a statement released by Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE). "We remain 100 per cent committed to Arsenal and are not selling any stake in the club. We have not received any offer and we will not entertain any offer. Our ambition for Arsenal remains to compete to win the biggest trophies in the game and our focus remains on improving our competitiveness on the pitch to achieve this."
Get ready for El Cashico
Leandro Paredes, Marco Verratti, Kylian Mbappé et Neymar (PSG)
Image credit: Getty Images
Actually, a quick correction: The Warm-Up was wrong to suggest that it’s only billionaires who can buy elite football clubs these days. States can as well. Which brings us nicely onto tonight’s battle between plucky PSG and pluckier Manchester City, both of whom are striving to win their first ever European Cup.
Given that Mauricio Pochettino is only a few months into his role at PSG, and that he reached the final as recently as 2019, it feels like all the pressure here is on Pep Guardiola. It’s the first time City have got past the quarter-finals in his time in charge and Guardiola hasn’t been back to the final in 10 full years, since Barcelona put on one of the performances of the century to defeat Manchester United at Wembley. Which is probably why Guardiola has clearly been trying to relieve some of the pressure on his players.
“I learn from Johan Cruyff: when you arrive at these stages there is only one thing you can do and that is enjoy the game, the responsibility and the pressure,” he said yesterday.
Enjoy the fact that you have not lived [too many] of these situations. Top players enjoy this situation because they take the responsibility. That’s why the greatest win this competition and the greatest clubs win this competition because they play it as a friendly game. That’s what I want to see in my team and that is we are going to do.
“We are privileged to be one of the best four teams in Europe this season and we must enjoy it. We know how tough, how difficult it is to be here and that’s why Cruyff had this idea. Once you arrive at this stage you are nervous because you [may be] thinking of the consequences, not the joy of playing the game and the [potential] pleasure of beating them. … You have to say: ‘We are good too so let’s go.’ This is the mindset of the greatest teams and athletes in all sports.
“When I arrive in the semi-finals, I am always calmer than in other competitions, other moments. I have the sense of the work well done already, and I see the team so happy. I think I’m in a good mood.”
Pep talks a good game, but quite how calm he or City’s defence will be with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe steaming in on them remains to be seen. Who’s the favourite tonight? City maybe? But there’s so much quality on the pitch that decisive moments could come from anywhere.
IN OTHER NEWS
A Toronto FC training session was interrupted this week because, well, see for yourself.
Alligator crashes Toronto FC's training session in Florida
Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of one of the all-time great Jose Mourinho moments as he effectively accused UEFA and UNICEF of being involved in a conspiracy to ensure that Barcelona reached the Champions League instead of his Real Madrid team. Sublime.
It’s the second of the Champions League semi-finals as PSG face Manchester City. We can’t build it up any more than that really.
Andi Thomas is back tomorrow for Thursday's Warm-Up. We can't build it up any more than that really.
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