Wednesday's big stories
The great pragmatist
After their 2-0 win against Inter Milan, Real Madrid confirmed their status as contenders for everything. They sit top of Liga - by a margin of eight points - and have qualified top of their Champions League group that also contained the aforementioned Italian side, FC Sheriff and Shakhtar Donetsk. They are on a nine-game winning streak and have lost just two games all season. Two of their marquee signings are offering up as much output as an actual marquee might - Eden Hazard last started a game on September 28, and Gareth Bale last played a game for the club in August. They were also without their talisman - Karim Benzema - for the match.
'It was a bit Jekyll and Hyde football' - Klopp
The two games they lost - against Sheriff and Espanyol over the course of a six-day wobble - laid bare their defensive frailties, as articulated here. Yet, in the 12 games since those defeats, Real have conceded just six goals and kept six clean sheets, winning 11 of those games.
By any measure, Carlo Ancelotti has done a remarkable job.
- Real Madrid seal top spot with Inter win
- CL round-up: Sheriff enter Europa League knockouts, Ajax thrash Sporting
So what has he done? First, a confession, the Warm-Up does not have a UEFA Pro Licence, but please allow it to be as bold to posit a theorem.
Ancelotti - it appears to these untrained, UEFA Pro Licence-less eyes - has done what he does best: problem solved. Does the Italian have an overarching coaching/playing philosophy à la Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola? 'Ish' is probably the answer to that question: and that philosophy-ish is pragmatism. This is a Madrid in transition; they have some excellent young players but their engine - Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric - while hardly gnarled, have an ability to press that is, it is fair to say, sub-optimal. Here comes a fact: in the midfield third they rank in the bottom five for midfield pressures in Liga. Their midfield three don't really press, and in an era where pressing is massively au fait, that should seem like a problem. It isn't.
And as stated by Ancelotti after his side's 2-0 win, he doesn't ask a team who can't compete in one way - pressing high - to compete in that way. He asks them to compete in areas they are good at.
“We’re doing well,” Ancelotti said post-match.
We’re at a high level right now and we’re playing with greater defensive solidity. Sometimes we don’t press so high but we’re fine, we’re comfortable. We don’t want to defend an open game. Sometimes that isn’t so aesthetic, but we’re doing very well.
“We have the quality to win La Liga and the quality to compete in the Champions League. There are no teams with the quality to win the Champions League, only to compete. There are more intense teams, others with more quality. We’re not intense in the defensive aspect, we don’t like defending an open game. But we have a lot of quality, a lot of experience and a lot of commitment.”
So, there you have it. Ancelotti has made a collection of good, very good and excellent players even better by asking them to do things they are good at. It seems a fairly obvious way of doing things but some - no special names mentioned - seem to be vehemently against such pragmatism.
Liverpool make mockery of 'Group of Death'
On paper, Liverpool, Atletico Madrid, Porto and AC Milan looked like your archetypal 'Group of Death'. The champions of Spain, Europe's perennial over-achievers and a resurgent super club looked like a tough gig for the Reds. Liverpool, though, were having none of it. Six games played, six games won with their closest challenger - Atletico Madrid - some 11 points in arrears. The feat means Liverpool are the first English team to win all of their group stage matches in a single season.
The striking thing about their come-from-behind win at AC Milan on Tuesday was the team named by Klopp. It was very much of the second-string variety, with Neco Williams, Nathaniel Phillips and Tyler Morton all starting alongside more established names like Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
Part of Klopp's genius is imbuing other worldly levels of confidence in his players and that was on full show when Phillips produced this moment of verifiable filth midway through the second half.
“Yeah, that was the moment of the night - c’mon, the game he played was outstanding, it’s really ridiculous!” said Klopp afterwards.
Klopp 'filled with pride' after 'exceptional' win over Milan seals group record
Storm Barra is no joke. Three balls gone in five minutes during Fleetwood Town's match against Bolton Wanderers. Top hashtag though #OnwardTogether or if you were one of those balls #Onward.
Then later on in the same match a duck trotted on to the pitch, as you do.
IN THE CHANNELS
Benfica fans are brutal. They are not happy with the performance of their coach Jorge Jesus. Some want him out. And thus they have created a website that is best described as a click-to-return to his former club Flamengo.
NB: The Warm-Up did not click.
It is another absolute swath of European football minute-by-minute commentaries at your home of European football, Eurosport. Juventus v Malmo, FC Zenit v Chelsea, Bayern Munich v Barcelona and Manchester United v Young Boys get the treatment this evening.
In a tenuous link, Andi Thomas provides a threat tomorrow: he is here and will have been the author of the Warm-Up.
'Jota on fire' - Klopp praises forward after his goals send Liverpool to Carabao Cup final
Spanish Super Cup
‘Xavi effect’ starting to be seen at Barcelona, despite El Clasico defeat - Inside Europe