THURSDAY'S BIG NEWS

How the mighty

Barcelona's men's team began their Champions League campaign with a 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich. Last night, under a new manager with a new project and a whole new attitude, they ended it with a 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich.
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When the teamsheets dropped, and we saw Bayern at full strength, bloodthirsty neutrals began to anticipate something spectacular. Maybe even brutal. Barcelona are now a worse team than the one that got turned over 8-2, after all. But instead we got something quieter and sadder and maybe even stranger: Bayern in third gear, cruising; Barcelona frozen like a learner driver, totally unable to find their way out of neutral.
The last time Barcelona failed to make it out of the group stage was 2000-01: they finished third in their group behind AC Milan and Leeds United, and neither Ansu Fati nor Pedri had been born. The last time they played in the Europa League was 2003-04, when it was still called the UEFA Cup. It has been a while.
But it's been coming. Ever since Lionel Messi left, and Barcelona lost the Champions League's finest get out of jail free card. Ever since that 3-0 loss away at Benfica, the end of Ronald Koeman in spirit if not in fact. Ever since the reverse fixture: Barcelona at home under new management, Barcelona needing a win, Barcelona failing to even score.
Our own Graham Ruthven outlines the reality here: Barcelona are currently a second tier team. To that, we'd add that this game made something about the future very clear. The Xavi project is going to have to be more than just an exercise in restorative, mood-shifting nostalgia. Barcelona didn't just look outclassed, they looked under-evolved. While the club's been mortgaging itself over and over again in the search for shiny new celebrities, the game has moved on.
Xavi's appointment is not one gamble. It is three, all tangled up together. The first is that there is some kind of Barcelona DNA to be activated, on-field and off; the second is that Xavi is the person to activate it. You'll have your own views on the first point, and nobody really knows about the second.
But the third gamble, and perhaps the biggest, is that this will be good enough. In the game as it is now, in the game as it will be in five years' time. Bayern manager Julian Nagelsmann is seven years younger than Xavi — admittedly, Xavi did a fair chunk more playing — but the more important comparison is that his football looks 15 years fresher.
Or to put it another way: the important thing about Pep Guardiola's time in charge of Barcelona, and indeed Johan Cruyff's before him, wasn't just that they were geniuses on their own terms. It's that what they were doing was better than what everybody else was doing. The focus on the lines that run between the generations rather distracts from the fact that both were at the absolute cutting edge of coaching thinking. Maybe Xavi is too; we don't know. But thanks to Bayern, we know that he has to be.

Old Lady says no

Meanwhile in the Women's Champions League, plucky underdogs Juventus travelled to Chelsea with a mission: block. Block again. Then some more blocking. And a little more blocking, just in case. They came for a point and — diligently, excellently, admirably — they got it.
Chelsea had 71% of the ball, and 25 shots to Juventus' two. But Juve keeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin was equal to all that Chelsea could throw at her, fortunate that Sam Kerr's mishit cross hit the bar, and deservedly mobbed by her defence at the final whistle.
All of which means that if Juve can beat Servette in the last round of fixtures — they are currently bottom of the group with no points and a goal difference of -10 — then something exciting has to happen in the other game. One of Wolfsburg and Chelsea will go out. Wolfsburg, at home, need a win; a draw will do for Chelsea. Group stages aren't always exciting. But when they work, they really work.

London fog

Things are getting confusing in the Europa Conference League. Tottenham, currently Covid-stricken, announced yesterday that their game against Stade Rennais had been postponed. "Probably fair enough," thought the English footballing public, "but when are they going to fit the game in?" Spurs' pre-Christmas schedule is already squeaking.
However, over in France, this news landed badly. Apparently this call was made by Tottenham, not UEFA. Here's Rennes' statement:
Faced with this "London fog", the SRFC reserves the right to approach UEFA. This lack of fair play is all the more glaring as Tottenham had confirmed by email that the match would be held at the start of the afternoon before warning Rennes of their intention not to play just after their landing in London City.
So what happens now? Rennes are in London, sitting in a London hotel and breathing the London fog. Tottenham, meanwhile, have a partially closed training ground and, we can assume, absolutely no intention of turning up for the game. Today is going to be a day of frantic Zoom calls and tense negotiations, but as far as we can tell, Rennes have the technical right of it, while Spurs do rather have a point.
UEFA's rules stipulate that if a team can find 13 registered players, they have to play. Spurs seem to satisfy this, pending any further positives, and so Rennes have every right to expect some opposition, even if they might not know who they are. But, "there's a lot of Covid knocking around. Not just generally. Here, very specifically" is a pretty persuasive reason not to play a game of football.
Obviously the Warm-Up's preferred option is the Scotland-Estonia Manoeuvre, which would see Rennes turn up and kick off with no opposition at all. Football, sadly, is a little too sensible for that these days. Whether it's sensible enough to find a reasonable compromise here remains to be seen.

IN OTHER NEWS

Emotional scenes at Old Trafford last night, as Robbie Savage, on co-comms for BT Sport, contemplated the presence of his son Charlie on the United bench. A lot to like here, from the touching pride in his voice to Rio Ferdinand gleefully accepting his open goal, but our favourite thing is Savage Sr. struggling to balance being a commentator and being a dad, and giving his own son his full name: "Charlie Savage."
Savage the Younger eventually came on with a few minutes to go, and there wasn't a dry eye in the gantry.

RETRO CORNER

On this day in 1942, Billy Bremner was born. In the course of his 700-odd games for Leeds United he won the first division (twice), the second division, both domestic cups, and the Fairs Cup (twice). He also got an 11-game ban for fighting Kevin Keegan in the Charity Shield, which doesn't come with a medal but does earn you a very special place in history.
Here he is kicking some footballs very, very hard.
Bremner died aged 55, which denied him the pleasure of collecting all manner of awards that came his way posthumously, including places in the halls of fame of both English and Scottish football and a statue at Elland Road. And, of course, he never got to see Stephen Graham's twitchy, intense turn in The Damned United. No idea if he'd have liked it. Must be weird, seeing somebody else pretending to be you.
But for the Warm-Up's money, his greatest accolade came in 2006, when he was named Leeds' greatest ever player, ahead of John Charles, Eddie Gray, Jack Charlton, Norman Hunter … you get the idea. So if you've got 20 minutes to spare, make yourself a cup of tea and settle down with this Yorkshire Television tribute made after his passing. It gives some sense of the esteem in which he was held.

COMING UP

An uncertain amount of Europa, both League and Conference. No idea if Spurs will play, but Leicester's depleted squad are in Naples and need a win. We also have a surprise Champions League game, after Atalanta vs. Villarreal was snowed off yesterday. Villarreal are a point ahead, so Atalanta need a win. That sounds fun.
It'll be Andi Thomas with you again tomorrow, assuming his laptop doesn't get snowed in. (How would that work? Don't put it outside, you'll be fine.)
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