MONDAY'S BIG STORIES
Crisis? What Crisis?
It wasn't too long ago that Liverpool were wobbling hard. The attack was misfiring, the defence was dissolving, and Jürgen Klopp was reprising those sad last days at Borussia Dortmund. Fortress Anfield: fallen. Title defence: done. And they were scrambling to defend their European place, as West Ham moved up into seriousness.
Amazing what a couple of wins can do. Back in the title race, all smiles again.
Of course, footballing discourse tends to assume that whatever is happening, is happening for the most exciting reason. A crisis is more fun than a blip, a disaster much more compelling than a temporary loss of form. Which means we can now swing right back over to "Liverpool are the bestest best" again. The heavy metal mentality monsters are back. Did you see that second goal?
Of all the different genres of great goals — your piledrivers, your mazy dribbles — the lethal counterattack almost certainly offers the best value for money. Here, Liverpool give us 100 yards of work in under 10 seconds, and in just a handful of sweetly balanced touches.
There is a great and spectacular cruelty to such goals. Dribble past a defender and you humiliate them individually, but do that to a team and you embarrass them as a group. The whole defensive team facing their own goal, clattering back as fast as they can; the ball being dangled before them then whipped away once, twice.
Thought you were attacking, did you, West Ham? Thought you were being positive? You fools! You can see why David Moyes doesn't usually go in for that sort of thing.
We won't actually find out if Liverpool are truly back, and if their title bid is truly reborn, for a while yet. For a week, in fact. They play Manchester City next Sunday, and we know two things for sure. One, City will put a little more pressure on Liverpool's defence than either Spurs or West Ham managed. And two, we're planning to draw some absolutely massive conclusions, whatever the result.
Oh, That Crisis
It just doesn't seem fair. Everybody knows two things about Brighton: they play nice football, and they don't score goals. Imagine Jose Mourinho's surprise, then, when Leonard Trossard poked the ball home to give the Seagulls the lead and, eventually, the game. That wasn't in the script.
It certainly caught his team cold. In the presence of such strangeness, and in the absence of Harry Kane, Tottenham did practically nothing for the first half, and not a huge amount more in the second. It turns out that relying on two players to do all the goalscoring isn't a great plan when one gets injured. Son Heung-min is a wonderful footballer. But he isn't an entire front line.
As for Gareth Bale, he certainly proved his manager right. Both his managers, in fact: Zidane for moving him on, and Mourinho for hardly picking him. It's a little early to write him off completely, of course, and it would be wholly miserable to do so, but Bale used to break football matches apart. Last night he stood there and watched one drift by.
The rules of the Premier League state that at least one Big Six manager must be in fear of his job at all times, and it's definitely Mourinho's turn now. He told us his side couldn't manage a title challenge, and he was right. And the historical record does him no favours: Pochettino, much loved and with several great seasons behind him, was sacked after taking 14 points from 12 games. This season, Spurs have 15 from the last 12.
Of if you want to go a bit further back, André Villas-Boas was cut loose after picking up 27 points from 16 games. That's 1.68 per game. Spurs this season? 1.65. Tim Sherwood, as it goes, came in and picked up 1.91 points per game, proving that he is in fact the greatest manager Spurs have ever had.
So we think it's likely that Mourinho's position is at least under review. Of course, Daniel Levy is, by all accounts, a huge fan, and there's a League Cup final coming. But perhaps Mourinho's biggest advantage is the general state of things. It's a weird season, everybody's knackered, and it's not like there's a José Mourinho-figure hanging around nearby, looking for a job. Well. For the moment, anyway.
Mind Your Fingers
… because the transfer window is slamming shut TODAY and we want you to be safe out there.
Yes, if you want to buy yourself a footballer, you've got until 11 o'clock tonight to get it done. Or at least to get the first part of the paperwork in, given how standards have slipped. When the Warm-Up was a lad, a deadline was a deadline. Fax machine playing up? Too bad! Now it's all "intent to complete" and "yeah, give us another hour or so". Honestly, directors of football these days.
Ahem. Sorry. Not sure where that came from. So … what's going to happen? Well, it looks a lot like Liverpool are going to sign at least one defender. Preston's Ben Davies is at the "fee agreed" stage, and there are other rumours floating around too, including Marseille's Duje Ćaleta-Car. Liverpool can offer him a decent wage, the chance to hang around with James "James" Milner, and a training ground that isn't on fire.
Beyond that? Not much. Maybe Ainsley Maitland-Niles will move up the table to Leicester. Maybe Dele Alli will escape from Spurgatory. Or maybe, just maybe, he'll fancy his chances staying put. But given that the pandemic has done great damage to football's finances, and everybody's ability to plan for the future, don't be too surprised if the window closes with a careful, gentle *click*.
IN OTHER NEWS
We're sure scientists of comedy can explain precisely why this is so perfect, but here at the Warm-Up we've no explanation beyond "It doesn't bounce! It's supposed to bounce and it doesn't!" But you don't have to understand why something is beautiful, to fall in love with it.
Today's recommendation is Daniel Taylor's interview with Manchester United's third-choice goalkeeper Lee Grant, over on The Athletic (£). Grant seems to be (a) excellent company, and (b) dealing with the life of the non-playing footballer pretty well, all things considered.
When United set about trying to find someone to fill this position, they wanted an experienced, dedicated professional, who would accept being on the edges without creating disruption behind the scenes. What they heard about Grant told them he was devoted to his work, still capable of playing at the highest level, and a popular member of the dressing room wherever he had been. Personality is key. Grant, to quote one United official, is 'the professionals’ professional'."
Ah, David Bentley. One of the great career arcs. Fifteen years ago today he scored a hat trick as Blackburn Rovers beat Manchester United by the odd goal in seven. Three years and a few days after that, he kicked a football off the top of a building into a skip to win a watch.
Watford continue their push for an immediate return to the Premier League against QPR, who are trying to avoid getting dragged into the relegation murk. And it's the Lisbon derby as Sporting take on Benfica.
Marcus Foley could kick a ball into a skip if he wanted to, but he's too busy working on tomorrow's Warm-Up for that sort of thing.