THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES
Central defenders don't generally get to be great footballing enigmas: that's reserved for the creative types in the fancy positions. But John Stones might be the exception there: a passing midfielder trapped inside a centre-back, a thrillingly inconsistent presence in the position that most demands tedious consistency.
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And, at the beginning of the season, arguably City's fifth choice centre back, behind the established Aymeric Laporte, the newly arrived and expensive Nathan Aké and Rúben Dias, and the emerging Eric Garcia. But football loves a comeback almost as much as it loves an injury crisis, and Stones has taken advantage of the latter to mount the former, capping a fine run of form with the opening goal in last night's Manchester derby.
Alright, the goal itself wasn't much to write home about. Stones strolled into United's six-yard box almost unbothered, as the entire defence were checking their phones to see if there was any news going on. Then he poked home with his hip. But the celebration was quite special: the fist-pumping cathartic howl of a man who has been given a chance when he thought chances were gone, and has taken it.
Stones re-emergence, and his flourishing partnership with Rúben Dias, has underpinned City's ominous run of recent weeks: a stealthy creep back into the title reckoning, and now back-to-back away wins over Chelsea and Manchester United. And another League Cup final. Should City win their fourth in a row, it will become Pep Guardiola's most won trophy as a manager. Not bad for a three-handled curiosity that people keep trying to abolish.
As for United, they will be annoyed to have lost the game to two goals from set pieces, but perhaps most worrying was the near-total absence of Bruno Fernandes. Turns out carrying an entire football team is quite hard work, and the lad could do with a rest. We're guessing he won't start against Watford. We're not ruling out the possibility that he'll be on after an hour.
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And then there were none
AC Milan have finally lost a league game. The last unbeaten record in Europe's major leagues has gone, destroyed by those eternal enemies of all that is good and pure: Juventus.
Only joking, Juve fans. We loved Pavel Nedvěd.
Oddly enough, for two teams defined in large part by their veteran forwards, this was a game decided by the youngsters. Cristiano Ronaldo was present but quiet; Zlatan Ibrahimović absent with injury. But it was Federico Chiesa, 23, who first gave and then restored Juventus' lead, cutting in from the right wing with devastating effect. The third was even greener: Dejan Kulusevski, just 20, jinking his way into the box before poking it to Weston McKennie, 22. The kids are alright.
Inter lost earlier in the day, so Milan stay top, and that's not bad going considering their injuries. But if you were thinking of breaking out the Somebody Else Won Serie A bunting, maybe hold your fire. Juventus, it turns out, might still be pretty good.
Is there anything to be said for doing another test?
And now, an update on English football and the pandemic: it's all getting a bit weird. In what we think is an unprecedented move, Derby County's entire senior squad and managerial staff will skip their FA Cup third round tie at the weekend, as they attempt to isolate the Covid outbreak at the club.
The U23s, who have been training apart from the main group, will play Chorley on Saturday lunchtime, while Wayne Rooney follows the game from a hermetically sealed blimp hovering above the ground. Or he'll watch on TV. One of the two.
This is almost certainly a better solution than a postponement, because there has already been a worrying number of those. And it appears we're going to get at least one more, as Shrewsbury Town almost certainly won't be able to get a team together to face Southampton.
Once the third round is over, the Football League will be moving to twice-weekly testing. Before then, every team still in the FA Cup is being tested 72 hours before the third round kicks off, which means [counts on fingers] we should start getting the results of those tests today. Given the way infection rates are pointing across the country, and within football, perhaps the only surprise is that England's enterprising bookmakers haven't opened a market on how many postponements we'll get each weekend.
IN OTHER NEWS
AC Milan may have lost the game, but football isn't about victories. It's not even about scoring goals. It's about the production of peculiar statistics. And Daniel Maldini's late cameo rounded out 1,000 games for three generations of Maldinis. Beautiful.
Here's Pep Guardiola: "It’s an honour to dedicate this victory to Colin Bell and his family. He helped to build something special for this club. It’s an incredible victory for us to beat United away and it was for him, absolutely. When Colin Bell has a stand at the Etihad, when his name is the King, it’s because he was something special."
He was the last piece in our puzzle that was missed. He was a winner through and through. I had long discussions with him before reaching an agreement to sign him for us. Back then I got an impression of how difficult this guy could be. But I thought: If he is as determined and straight on the pitch as he is in the negotiations, I am fine with it.
Time spent with Arsène Wenger is never time wasted. Here is talking to 11Freunde's Ron Ulrich about the principles and processes behind his two greatest achievements: building an invincible football club, and managing Jens Lehmann.
We almost can't believe we're saying this, but there is no Premier League game today. How has this been allowed to happen? But if you need a fix, there's a couple of games in Portugal's Primeira Liga, and the second round of Spain's Copa del Rey.
You know who else is a winner through and through? Tom Adams. And he'll be here with your Warm-Up tomorrow.
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